Monday, 29 October 2012
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
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 (www.rwanda-aid.org), 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.
Saturday, 27 October 2012
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.
Sunday, 21 October 2012
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
Saturday, 20 October 2012
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.
Tuesday, 16 October 2012
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.
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.
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
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.
Thursday, 11 October 2012
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. Tuesday 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.
Sunday, 7 October 2012
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
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.