Monday, 29 October 2012

What a good project!

I wish I had had time to visit this one. Rwanda Aid have a street children's village in Kamembe. I can't quite envisage that, but I suppose it's a small complex for sleeping, eating and getting quasi-parental support. An American Peace Corps volunteer has a scheme there close to my heart.

Before the rainy season, she started the children on making compost. The difficulties of that are persuading the children to sort rubbish into what will rot and what won't, while also persuading curious observers that this is not an old-fashioned general rubbish pit, and therefore a bad thing.

With the coming of the rain - late this year - it is then time to plant seeds in a prepared bed, give them shade and water as necessary, learn to distinguish edible plants from weeds, and protect them from predators of all kinds. This phase is now under way.

When it is time for harvest there will be lessons on cooking: being scrupulous and consistent about hygiene; choosing methods that preserve micro-nutrients; putting all the vegetable waste back into the compost: not breathing smoke; eating as many different foods as possible, even in small quantities, for optimum nutrition.

And what child will not be attracted, and remain interested, by the promise of FOOD!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Networking comes good

Thursday 25 October

Felicien is quite outspoken. Chemical fertiliser and pesticides poison the earth and poison people. What a relief to hear those words from the mouth of a young Rwandan! He is 25. He works for a small British charity, Rwanda Aid (, based 100 yards from my guesthouse.

Alphonse and I are meeting him at the suggestion of Mary, friend of Dorothy and Vern (with whom I stayed in Byumba last week), retired from a career in NGOs and the UN, and now a VSO volunteer director at Rwanda Aid. It turns out that Felicien and Alphonse know each other from church: Felicien's wife works on the student support team at Friends School Kamembe. (I learnt yesterday from Dieudonne, the new head, that over half the students are genocide survivors or orphans, so support is essential.)

This morning I was trying to be tactful in expressing my dislike of chemical treatments. Before the class assembled, Odette, the pastor at Cyete, wanted me to see her garden, where she has been growing food since my first visit.
Odette and Alphonse with the unmodernised market behind

She has the ingredients for several large compost heaps,
not yet assembled, bought from whomever is responsible for cleaning the old-fashioned market when the traders have abandoned their debris. But she uses chemical fertiliser to boost the growth of her plants after starting them with natural compost.

She is planting a variety of potato new to this region and has been told to spray with insecticide every week. I suggest she might wait to see if she gets any pests, as the insecticide kills the benefical insects as well as the harmful ones. This is my first attempt, she says. I'd better do what they tell me.

Later, in class, I ask who uses artificial fertiliser. All but three. One of those says she gets better yields using only compost and manure. The others are dubious. It's not easy to go against the Monsanto orthodoxy promoted by officials at every level

It has been raining on and off all morning, often too loud on the tin roof for teaching, so I am short of time. I focus on the reasons for eating a varied diet - Odette has said the women need to know why to eat what they are starting to grow. I can't give recipes for plant tea or liquid manure. I can't even discuss the ingredients for compost, to revise what I taught last time. What I can do is encourage the group to look for information and support from local experts, who will know more than I do about local conditions. I mention my planned meeting with Felicien. Odette knows him slightly.

With Mary's encouragement Felicien takes Alphonse and me out to the farm where he does five-day organic trainings.
Here is the kitchen garden in front of the training and accommodation block

There are kitchen garden beds, pigs, cows, chickens. I learn later there is a widespread problem with rabbits weakened by inbreeding succumbing to disease, so we see no rabbits. He has a sequence of compost heaps and a tree nursery for fruit and fodder trees which he gives the students to plant at home.
At one side of the site is a demonstration smallholding, to show what can be achieved on a modest plot. Students who practise what they learn on the first course may be invited back for animal husbandry training and leave with a piglet.

He agrees to train six women - two from each of the groups where I am working this week, so they can train the others. It will cost them nothing, but they need to be free to leave their families for the residential course, where children cannot be accommodated. Alphonse undertakes to liaise with the pastors and the groups. I hope the women come forward.

I was permitted to photograph this wonderful bundle of pumpkin leaves and bean leaves in Cyete market, but not the trader who carried it on her head. Alphonse asked if you could harvest the beans as well as the leaves. She replied that the plants yield better if you take off some of the leaves.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

What does it take?

Tuesday 23 October, in Kamembe

Using a coin, I scratch the black covering to reveal the number on my airtime card.Shall I blow it away like everybody else, or brush it into the plastic bin with mesh sides in the corner of my guesthouse room? Will it make any difference?

There is very little litter in Rwanda. Offenders can be fined. Rubbish bins are now appearing on the streets in towns. But the habit of letting drop whatever is not needed - like the top and bottom of the plastic bottle used for the column of stones in the planting sack - is hard to break. Indeed, what to do with a non-returnable water bottle - always plastic, and replacing the recycled glass of Fanta etc - is a problem.

Sweet fizzy drinks are popular for the morning break

Don't put it in the rubbish/compost pit, where in simpler times everything would decay; don't drop it down the toilet, whose contents may now be used on the fields after a year or so; don't burn it and release poisonous fumes. In towns there is now rubbish collection - out of sight, out of mind, as my students in Gisenyi agreed. But yes, they could keep vegetable waste and make a little compost, now they have seen the sack planting. They had never thought about the landfill.

A few years ago at the John Woolman School, near Nevada City in California, above the central valley where a single field can stretch for several miles and the ploughed topsoil blows away on the wind, 14 year old Norah had been set an assignment: to take an everyday object and find out as much as she could about its components. She had chosen a cup of coffee to go (ie takeaway). She could trace the coffee and the milk; she was hopeful that the source of the inks and the cardboard would not be beyond investigation; but the manufacturer of plastic lids refused to reveal anything. She began wondering why.

Particularly since that conversation with Norah, I ask myself more often what irreplaceable resources have gone into what I buy and what I use. How much should I refuse or give up? The plastic bag for carrying my shopping home is easy: take my own bag. Cheap cotton grown with pesticides that poison soil and people is tempting but avoidable: buy only fair trade organic. And what of flying? Never visit Africa or N America again? Holiday only by bus, train and ferry? I'm seriously thinking about it.

Wednesday 24th

For about 30 minutes during the long bus ride on Monday I tried consistently to decipher the project announcement boards along the road. While new road signage is appearing in lower case, these boards are uniformly in block capitals and usually in French.


PROVINCE DU SUD (for example)



And only then a description of the work, followed by the agency or agencies responsible.

Here are the ones I noted: wetland management including 7 fish ponds; a rural burial site; 31 hectares of forest regeneration; a block of public latrines, composting style; improvement of a (feeder)road surface; a post office; a modern market; an integrated centre for artisans; extension of a drinking water system; a court house for enforcement of law and justice; a small hydro-electric scheme - and there it is, deep down beside the road.

This board, adjacent to the market in Cyete, is unusual in being in English

Would one wish any of those cancelled, in the interests of resource protection, climate stabilisation, reduction of carbon consumption or anything else? 'Our development here in Rwanda is at an embryonic stage', I was told yesterday by Mobile (pronounced with 3 syllables), the discipline master at Kamembe Friends School and assistant pastor at the Friends Church. For his introductory words to the group of women yesterday we were back with Genesis 2 and I was delighted to hear his interpretation - that where we live is our garden of Eden and we have a responsibility to tend it and use its fruits to give our children good health. He was delighted by Rachel's translation of my notes on vitamins and minerals, with lists of locally available foods. 'How did you learn all this? This is exactly what we need.'*

Mobile, with his son Triomphe, waits with other parents as lunch is prepared on Wednesday

Mobile phones make a huge contribution to everyday life here. At least until the fibre optic cabling throughout the country, laid at President Kagame's personal insistence, is enabled with a reliable power supply, the phone masts also carry internet traffic, so I can read email and post this blog. I'm not seriously worried about the tiny amounts of black dust from the scratch cards, whatever the ingredients. But there is accumulating evidence of the harm done by unseen microwave radiations, not only to human beings but also, for example, to aspens and tadpoles.

Something else I've noticed increasingly over the 5 years I've been visitng Rwanda is mechanisation replacing human labour. The surfaces of many roads outside the arterial network are much improved by stone-lined drains - still dug with picks and cemented stone by stone - and surfaces compacted by steamrollers, often then tarmacked or cobbled. (Are they still called steamrollers when not steam powered?) But where is the work for the displaced labourers, not to mention the cohorts of new secondary school and college graduates? Of course development brings benefits. And of course I think that by my work here I am contributing to the right kind of development through individual empowerment, or I wouldn't be here. But only the most naive would believe that benefit is only or always to the intended beneficiaries rather than to powerful interests and individuals. Ideally I would like to remember, every time I travel or shop, not only what does this give me but also what does it take from our finite planet.

*A significant part of the answer to that question lies in two sources. The first is a comprehensive textbook and practical guide for nutrition workers, now 20 years old but available on Amazon: Nutrition for Developing Countries by Felicity Savage King and Ann Burgess. I'm leaving two copies with Rwandan colleagues and hope they will be well used. The second is the work of Mary Abukutsa-Onyango, a professor at Jomo Kenyatta University of Technology and Agriculture in Nairobi, whose analysis of the nutrient content of African and exotic (eg cabbage) vegetables has enabled me to add many local Rwandan vegetables, often despised, to my lists of beneficial foods.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Technical update and some scenery

I now know how to insert paragraph breaks - thank you, Michael - and have gone back through previous posts making them easier on the eye. I have also added a few photos, but without editing. My attempt to load a video clip was unsuccessful, however.

Here is another view of Muhabura above Mutura

This view from the road between Gisenyi and Ruhengeri shows tea in the valley bottom. I was able to take a stationary shot because we waited 20 minutes at a spot check for smuggled goods, while the bus in front and all its passengers were searched.

At the end of Thursday's session in Musura the motos were late, so we walked back towards the main road. I never tire of the folding hills and the cultivation terraces. As you can see from the forest of stakes, this is the season for growing beans.

The camp for refugees from DRC dominates the hill top seen from Musura

Finally for now, and not really scenery, here is the two year old Russian kale in Gaudence's garden.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Another village group

Thursday 17 October

I'm back in Byumba, cool and fresh and with occasional views of the volcanos. I was to work with an HIV/Aids group, but my contact there, Rachel's brother Fidele, died in May and the group is 'not ready to work with me'. (His third wife, Lucille, was in my class in Gisenyi last week.)

So Rachel has made contact with Donata, a church women's leader she knows in the village of Musura. We set out on motos, down the side of the hill with the Congolese refugee camp (being extended as the violent disruption in North Kivu intensifies) at its summit, and round onto an adjacent hill, looking back over the valley to Byumba.
Looking across to the camp

The women gather slowly; they seem withdrawn - Rachel says they are shy because few trainings have come their way.
Singing while we wait for latecomers

The leader has seen Yvette- Marcelline's planted sacks in town and is curious. The women tell me they all have some ground for growing food. I wonder whether constructing a sack might not be the best use of our time but Rachel encourages me to give the usual practical demonstration. I concur, knowing by now that having a sack with different seeds in a small space can lead to the shift in mindset first described to me by Verena from Kamembe: to grow and eat many different foods.

As usual, we consider the ideal location of a sack: level ground: dappled shade; protection from envious passers by, destructive children and hungry goats or chickens; closeness to the kitchen for harvesting and watering. This church is exposed and somewhat isolated. I ask if a participant living nearby would like to host us. Alphonsine agrees.

A leisurely ten-minute walk brings us to her house and garden. She points to a healthy plant of sukumawiki outside (the Swahili name means the one that gets you through to the end of the week/wik): one of the dark green leafy vegetables some are learning to eat and others dismiss as fit only for goats. Round the back is the penned cow with a calf tethered nearby. (It is forbidden to let cows graze; they are fed two hundred-kilo sackfuls every day of grasses and other weeds cut with small sickles by children who are therefore not in school - I suppose there must be some justification for these arrangements.)
Here is the cow beginning on the girl's scant offering

We have everything we need. We have bought a small (25 kilo) sack, Rachel has drunk the water in my bottle so we can cut it top and bottom, there are small pebbles aplenty, good soil with compost, a knife, a hoe and a bucket, and good stakes. We choose our spot and the work proceeds.
Standing next to the sack, this is the view

Part two will include cutting and planting the sack, returning to the topics of looking after our families through good nutrition and hygiene, and looking after the soil. I've asked the group to think about how they will distribute the seeds I bring. Perhaps this time all will be sweetness and light.

Part two

Friday 19 Oct

We met and prayed, we walked to Alphonsine's and planted the sack with her chosen seeds - cauliflower at the bottom, leeks and leaf celery on the sides, and peppers on the top. I was encouraged to see she had already prepared another sack but we planted only one.
Cutting a hole for planting

As we walked back to the church, people were gathering. I was told there was to be a village meeting. I wondered whether my women would be summoned. Half an hour later they were. But I asked the organiser to stress that they had only a short time for the training, and to my surprise they were back in 30 minutes. What was it about, I asked? The reply was without enthusiasm - the usual: just development and peace.

After a little more teaching it was time to describe and distribute the seeds. The wind rose, the doors banged, we all wrapped up against the cold with whatever we had. Rain began to blow in through the unglazed windows along the whole of one side, half way across the floor. Benches were moved to the far side, then the table followed, cloth billowing and seed packets threatening to blow out of control. It was far too noisy for teaching.

After half an hour the wind and rain eased. During the downpour I had divided each kind of seed into two packets. (Small brown money envelopes are in my teaching kit.) The class moved into two groups according to where they lived. Each received their share of the seeds and lunch money. The moto drivers arrived in another surge of rain and were invited in to keep dry. Soon, thanks and goodbyes were over and so was the rain. There was no excuse for delaying the exposed journey back to town. If there was any disgruntlement among the students, I was too cold to notice.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Rwandese don't queue

Rwandese don't queue Not even the group of 18 women and 2 men invited by Rachel and Gaudence to a conference and advanced training for those who have worked with me, for evaluation and forward planning.

I suppose queueing for additional seed packets to add to the basic eight in everybody's 'goody bag' is seen as a kind of game - a 'light and lively' such as Theoneste - AVP trained - suggests when we are working together.

One of Theo's games in full swing at Gisenyi

We are in the meeting room in the church compound at Kagarama, where this all started for me, as a member of the Friendly FolkDancers in 2008. In my eight project visits for 'Growing together in Rwanda' I have been here many times. This may be the last, but there's scant opportunity for nostalgia. We have work to do.

We have had our morning break, with tea, buns and bananas thoughtfully brought by Rachel because the staff are all exhausted after yesterday's jubilee. (Later, when I take Rachel and Gaudence to a nearby restaurant, I'm glad to see them all being treated to lunch after the clear up and evaluation.) I suggested the women should take a look during the break at the seeds to be distributed
Looking to see what's on offer

...but perhaps I should have emphasised that they will be asked to choose quickly. Aided by Theo, I get them into a line. At the front of the press, Rachel stands firm, arms outstretched to restrain those behind. I give a simple instruction: take one packet and go round the circle of chairs to rejoin the end of the line for your second pick.

Theo translates and repeats my instruction. I can't say that order is established, but we do get to the point where no packets remain and nobody is complaining. That's good enough.

Queueing may not be their strong point, but these women fill me with hope. They get into regional groups and start planning. They invite me to return in a year or two and see how the work is developing. They are standing on their own feet.


It's the morning of the conference. We've gone through the usual pattern of arriving on time at 8.30, greeting the few early arrivals, moving furniture, checking the arrangements for refreshments, singing, praying...

By 9am a respectable 13 out of the invited 20 are here. One has a doctor's appointment; a couple text Rachel to say they are on their way; most are somewhat weary after the noise and excitement of yesterday and so am I.

We have a first brief go round for names and places. Rachel suggests following my practice of asking everybody to name their favourite vegetable. That's a good move because it immediately presents a picture of the rich variety available.

No pastor has turned up expecting to open proceedings with a sermon, which is what sometimes happens. So I take a couple of minutes to contrast the two crucial passages in Genesis: man is given dominion over nature, but Adam is also exhorted to 'dress and keep' the garden of Eden. Both theories have their outworking in Rwanda; my work is to bolster the chances of dressing and keeping.

Now we have the luxury of a leisurely review. Some of these participants I know well; others have not worked with me but are representing their church because they are already in Kigali for the jubilee. I'll give you a selection.

Daniel is from the new village where some Kinigi Batwa were resettled last year and I funded Rachel and Solange for several months to visit and encourage the owners of new gardens not to give them away. He has used my seeds in sacks, old car tyres, and cleared his plot for planting. They have eaten well and sold some surplus. (Solange later confirms that they are keeping their plots, though some have lost enthusiasm when seeds didn't grow.)

Sara is the pastor's wife at Remera (and mother of twelve), where I worked so hard cooking in the hot sun. She appreciates the planting, the gift of seeds, the cooking together and the flash drive with some useful files. When she had more vegetables than she could use she didn't want to sell but invited her neighbours to share the harvest. Her dream is to teach the whole village, not just church members.

Angelique from Burera didn't know vegetables are important for health. She used to use chemical fertiliser and is surprised things grow well without it. She hopes I will come again and show how to cook what they have grown but don't recognise. (It's in my schedule.)

Odette, the pastor from Cyete near Cyangugu, didnt know the importance of vegetables. In the village there is plenty of land uncultivated and she has created several vegetable beds. Her own health has improved and that of church members. (When I visited this group I thought I had done rather badly, with a translator from French who didn't understand what I was teaching.)

Odette, , the pastor's wife from Musanze who gave her kitchen for us to cook with two groups of Batwa, is now eating more variety of veg. But she doesn't know how to plant the sacks and hopes I can come and teach the church women, not just the others. (I can and will, though it's meant rejigging the schedule slightly.)

Gaudence, with whom I have stayed twice in Kigali, has encouraged many women to plant at home and established a circular raised bed beside the church at Gahanga. Local officials are now sending people to her to be trained.

Verena, the pastor's wife from Kamembe, now relocated in Gitarama, loves the way the sacks can be re-established when you have to move house. In Kamembe she sold surplus veg and bought goats. Then she made her own compost and didn't have to buy from neighbours. She collected enough seeds to sell some. When local radio did a story about her, the church got new members.

Leoncie from Musanze has been helped by the herbal rememdies made and sold by the Seventh Day Adventists. She started planting and has been rewarded with the gift of a cow because she is a good example. But she needs to learn about saving seed.

Yvette Marcelline, the pastor's wife from Byumba, was in the group that first suggested cooking together. (I've reported on her garden before.) Now she told us how she experiments by letting two or three of every kind of plant run to flower and seed. She has succeeded with peppers, tomatoes, leeks, onions, radishes, as well as traditional vegetables...

I could not have predicted these results. I am well satisfied.

Programme nearly finalised

Into my third week, I'm fairly clear after a discussion with Antoine what is in my schedule for the remaining three and a half weeks.

After inconclusive discussions in Antoine's absence (in Belgium and Holland) my first week was the best holiday opportunity, so I went to the lake for a couple of days.

Last week, Sun 7 Oct - Fri 12th, I was in Mutura and Gisenyi, with two return visits (Mutura and Gisenyi Batwa) and one new group of church women in Gisenyi.

Sunday 14th was the Evangelical Friends Church 25 year jubilee - 5 hours of over-amplified singing, speeches and preaching in a rented stadium, and a resume on the TV news in the evening.

Yesterday, Monday 15th, was the day of the conference for those who have worked with me. I'll write that up later today, I hope.

Today, Tuesday, is free. I am invited to lunch with Gaudence and Augustin and shall be cooking the evening meal as Annunciate, Antoine's wife, is still in hospital.

Tomorrow afternoon I go to Byumba, where I shall stay with Dorothy and Vern, Cornish F/friends, until Saturday. Thurs and Fri will be with a new group in a church Rachel knows, and on Saturday I can catch up on the little group of orphans being trained by Rachel with money from Ealing Meeting.

Sunday 21st is a free day after church - going to church is part of my contract!

On Monday 22nd I go on the 7 hr bus journey to Cyangugu, for two two-day workshops, probably including cooking - a bit scary without Rachel.

Weekend free, after return.

Monday 29th - Fri 2 Nov will probably involve 3 days in Bugesera - the drought-prone south east - working with a new group and an old one, with Antoine as driver and translator. I also need to find time to revisit the church garden group at Gasharu.

Another weekend free.

Mon 5 - Weds 7 Nov, again with Antoine, in Ruhengeri (new church group for sack planting) and Rugarama (including women from the lakeside church at Burera) for cooking the unfamiliar veg grown from my seeds as well as what we can buy in the market.

Thurs 8th - probably free.

Friday 9th - final evaluation, planning for continuing without me, celebratory lunch.

Saturday 10th - evening out with Antoine's family, and perhaps others, followed by final departure at 02.35 on Sunday 11th.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Singing again

What to sing? At the beginning of this project I had high hopes for teaching simple songs. Singing is many people's chief pleasure here - churches have several choirs for women, men, youth, junior and senior children. But I struggled to find material.

The culprit is the semitone, I realised. I gave up the search for suitable settings of recognisable words - especially Alleluia. I became resigned to taking pleasure from groups' choice of songs, and to humming the harmonies. Occasionally I have been given a hymnbook and tried to get my tongue round the syllables fast enough to join in. (I have some video clips I will try to post when I get home to a strong internet signal.)

Among Rachel's many talents is singing harmonies and holding a line. In our shared bedroom on Monday morning, waiting for the signal that our washing water was ready, I found myself teaching her a song I learned at Dance Camp Wales from Jane Read. Im sorry I don't recall the name of the composer. I've made a slight modification to the words, to fit the usual practice here of invoking God at every possible opportunity. The basic tune uses only 4 notes: soh, la, ti, doh, though not in that sequence. Yes, I know there's a semitone there but it seems to work OK. The words are these: We hold you in our circle; hold you in God's love.

Mostly I'm not explicit about community in what I teach here. However, I do usually point out that even filling a sack for planting is quite tricky for somebody working alone. The groups I work with are usually from a single church, so they know each other. Sometimes there are tensions. Especially when I give out seeds, however generously, some are disgruntled.

At the end of Monday morning's session in Mutura, when the pastor took over seed distribution and was somewhat high handed, muttering persisted. I started humming 'We hold you in our circle' and Rachel joined in. As the group settled, we taught the words and gave the translation and a commentary: 'This circle of students is the community for now, so we are all singing to each other.'

After 8 or 10 times through, I risked singing one of the higher parts with a different rhythm. We faltered slightly but recovered. Several more times through and I shifted to the highest part. Then down again. Then in unison for the close.

Wednesday and Thursday have been spent with a new group - women from several churches in Gisenyi. Theoneste, my translator, is now in charge of HROC in Rwanda. He is an experienced facilitator, using 'light and livelies' to relax and energise a group. I tell him I have a song I could teach and he is enthusiastic. After the mid morning break we have a first go. Later, when attention is wandering, I suggest he might like to introduce an activity./// All stand up, he says. Now hold hands. Then we sing again, pacing the rhythm. The song is serving its purpose.

Again on Thursday I finish by giving out seeds. Few of these women have planted before, often inhibited by living in short term rentals. (The cost of living here is even higher than in Kigali, with prices inflated to cope with shoppers from Goma, just across the DRC border.) Invited to devise a fair method of sharing, they settle on three bundles of seed packets and three groups of participants. Still there is a degree of dissatisfaction.

It's time to end. How shall we finish? Let's sing the song again before the final prayer. And we do.

The Batwa group I revisited danced to their songs of greeting and peace. And the church roof is nearly complete.

I tried posting some video clips but without success. So please be patient.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Some things get easier

Some things get easier with practice. Fortunately moto riding is one of them.

Sunday evening

Rachel and I got off the bus on impulse in Ruhengeri to buy a few provisions for cooking on Tuesday. Consequently we arrived at Kabali Station for our ride up to Mutura in complete darkness. Indeed we almost missed the place to get off: the driver had forgotten to set us down or didn't care, and the landmark I depend on - a huge limestone cliff - was invisible. As we walked the pitch black 100 yards or so back to the moto drivers at the junction, I wondered how we would survive the ride up. I checked with Rachel and neither of us had thought of this complication when we decided to shop.

We wrapped up against the chill and set off. To my surprise, the moto headlights were just as good as daylight for showing the road. Passing the turn off for the Friends Church, I thought how easy it had been. What I'd forgotten was that it was another 10 minutes or so to the house where we were to stay and that the road through the village and up, up, up beyond was badly in need of a new coat of clay and gravel to bury the volcanic rock. I think that without experience I really might have crashed forward into the driver of fallen off completely.


Our double act is quite fluent now. 4 of the early arrivals stayed with me while 3 went with Rachel to the market. Yesterday we'd talked a lot about food and personal hygiene - it's a current government priority, Rachel says - so hand washing was scrupulous. Then 3 large beetroot, not available in the market and grown by participants from seed I gave them last time, were grated; 7 kilos of potatoes scrubbed and not peeled; a huge bunch of chard divided into stalks and leaves to make two dishes; 3 heads of garlic peeled and chopped; 2 kilos of rice picked over; half a cheese grated fine; 2 large pineapples cut up. By now I was quite anxious for the remaining provisions to arrive, and fairly soon they did.

Red and white onions were chopped; a kilo of carrots grated and another sliced; a huge white cabbage laboriously shredded in Rwandan fashion; 23 eggs put on to boil. Following her teaching on clean water yesterday, Rachel had bought some hygienically bottled, for washing any salad not to be cooked. Tomatoes, parsley, green peppers got the treatment. It was too late for the beetroot or celery leaves but she let that pass.

Some work and some rest

Then we each started on our party pieces: Rachel making a sauce/gravy with peanut flour, a vegetable stir fry and a cheese sauce for the macaroni while I assembled a large salad on a tray and another in a bowl, made a white sauce for the boiled chard and celery stalks, and finished by frying slivers of ox liver dredged in flour and salt. (If any reader wants to discuss the ethics of that last, I'll be happy to engage.)

Cabbage, carrot and onion with parsley and vinegar and a surround of tomato and pepper slices (no lemon available)

There was enough, despite anxiety from the group that we should have bought 10 kilos of potatoes, and plenty to spare for half a dozen expectant children and for the host family to eat later. When I asked, dish by dish, whether the women had enjoyed the food, the answers were enthusiastic yeses.(Or should that be yesses?) Task accomplished.

Here is the feast before we broke into it

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Preparing for work

The lakeside holiday is over.

I've packed what I think I shall need for 3 groups in 5 days. It's as spare as can be because I shall have to carry it on a taxi-moto from Kabali Station on the main road up to Mutura, where Alphonse has found rooms for me and Rachel.

Clothing ranges from rain gear and several layers - it was chilly in Mutura last time - to a swim suit in case of a lakeside opportunity near Gisenyi at the end of the week. For teaching I have hand sanitiser, knives, graters and a scrubbing brush for cooking with the Mutura women and Rachel; then introductory visual aids and a cut down plastic bottle for constructing a sack garden with a new group in the Friends Church at Gisenyi; then notes on vitamins and minerals, and on storing and preparing food to preserve nutrition, translated into Kinyarwanda by Rachel, for the Batwa I met in March with Theoneste, some of whom can read and will remind the others.

I've become increasingly reluctant to make gifts that could be construed as hand outs, but I do continue to take seeds. I've sorted through my store this morning, choosing some from my own garden, some bought in England and some bought here. I've tried to choose what will grow well in cooler, wetter conditions. I was surprised to find brussels sprouts in the Kenya Seed Co in Kigali - I'd assumed they wouldn't do well here but am told they will be fine in the Virungas. Most of the unusual vegetables and salads I'm keeping for the women who come to the conference day next week, convened by Rachel and Gaudence, to decide what to carry on when I leave.

At this point, leaving is a long way away.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Rest before labour - and after

At 9am on Tuesday, 25 hours after leaving home, I discover my first mistake.

The second revealed itself at 1.30am, when I tried to unlock my big red suitcase. There is no padlock. Oh, I think, it's been broken off and somebody at Turkish Airlines has tied the zip with coloured string. The theory lasts a split second. Then I realise the real explanation - this is not my suitcase.

Theoneste met me at the airport with Rachel at midnight. He is driving her home now. But even when I plug in my Rwandan phone to charge it I can't call with credit of around 1p, and I can't buy a scratch card for more airtime in the middle of the night. All I can do is go to bed and sleep, eventually and somewhat, for a couple of hours.

At 5 the muezzin calls and sleep is definitely finished.

At 6 I get up and unpack one suitcase. Among presents and teaching materials I find shoes, underwear and tops. Better than nothing.

At 6.30 I go out and find a small shop open and able to sell me airtime.

At 7 I text Theoneste, asking him to call me when he is up. Soon he calls and I explain and apologise. He arrives soon after 8. At the airport he knows the procedure and I get my bag.

At 9 I finish unpacking. Almost everything is as I remembered, except that I have located the cable but no netbook. I clearly remember putting the portable modem and some flash drives with useful files into the pocket of the case. What I failed to do, it seems, is to put the case and its contents into either suitcase or my carry-on bag.

Fast forward to Wednesday afternoon. I have been lent a netbook and eventually got it to accept a replacement modem with a month's worth of internet access, bought on a trip into town. I have persuaded both bank cards to release money from cash machines, after yesterday's nasty scare when one card was declined at two different banks. I have persuaded Yahoo to let me log on instead of constantly apologising that the validation screen I needed wasn't available. I have a programme of teaching etc which starts with a journey north on Sunday afternoon.

So I phone to reserve a lakeside room at the highly recommended Bethany Hotel and make a second trip into town to buy my bus ticket for Kibuye.

It's now Thursday afternoon. The bus journey was exceedingly twisty, as I had been warned - and fast on a smooth new road. The first hour to Gitarama is now pretty routine, though the landscape continues to delight me. Thereafter I was in new territory, passing numerous land improvement schemes - irrigation for this hillside, tree planting for that; ditches for erosion prevention and plantes fixatrices for stabilisation. Groups of men in country style with black wellingtons and bleached walking sticks got on and off. Two policemen settled down with guns pointing skyward - presumably not loaded. Across the valleys occasional working parties of around a hundred men and women hacked deep terraces in hillsides - I hope they have the topsoil and some humus for when they've finished.

Im having my holiday first. It is wonderfully peaceful - lakeside, swimming, warm air and light breeze. And in Hotel Reception, tho not in my room, internet access.
Early morning commerce on Lake Kivu