Saturday, 10 November 2012

Looking back, looking forward

The final meeting to evaluate and celebrate Growing Together was held on Thursday. Rachel spoke of how successful my teaching had been, Antoine of how the families where I stayed have changed their eating habits, and Augustin of how the churches have benefitted from my work. But Sizeli said the nicest thing: We saw Elizabeth return after her first visit with the Friendly FolkDancers and we thought OK, the woman has come back. Then we began to realise what she could do.

Yesterday, Friday, I wanted to buy a couple of things. Antoine said he would drive me into town and he would also be helping the new Mennonite Central Committee volunteer buy a second hand car. In our time together I learned that Matt Gates from Pennsylvania is an agriculturalist, whose PhD programme was about agriculture for the developing world. He has worked in Senegal. He will be here for three years.

Is Matt the person I have been seeking? I am so glad I didn't miss him. He is not an AGLI volunteer. Ironically, there have been a lot of conversations in the last few days about how beneficial it could be to integrate the various programmes of Friends Peace House and other organs of the Friends Church here. My sense is that if an MCC volunteer is to visit 'my' groups, offer support, and take the work forward, then that is what needs to happen. Matt has the appropriate education, which I lack. He won't do what I would have gone on doing if my project continued. But his presence seems to me to be a GOOD THING.

This afternoon I spent a couple of hours handing over some of my teaching materials, discussing sources of information and answering Matt's questions. I am to make him a list of the groups I've worked with. Then how he follows up will be for him to decide.


Cabbages and chaya

At the end of my last 2012 visit I went to see how Ruth, the new church manager, was doing with the garden. Now walled against goats and humans, it was ready for development. Here is Ruth with the first chaya plants starting to disguise the wall, and enjoying the prolific nasturtiums from some seeds I left a coule of years ago. This is the Ruth who, when I started looking at the Gasharu church surrounds, didn't think it was her role to get her hands dirty gardening.

Chaya is a shrub whose young leaves are not only edible but palatable - similar to spinach but with a bit more body. The other picture shows the commonest green vegetable, reputedly popular because it keeps reasonably fresh for a second day.

Friday, 9 November 2012

How did it go?

I'll tell it in pictures.

I haven't tried a definitive head count for the photo. But here we are, on the church porch out of the rain, photographed by a passing pastor because he had not been part of the workshop. I don't understand the desire to pose for a photo you won't ever see, but it's widespread.

To go back to be beginning of the day: Rachel arrived on time by bus and came down to the market with the women who had been waiting at the church for me. I had already bought 10 avocados and around 40 bananas and stowed them in Antoine's boot alongside yesterday's purchases and our overnight bags. I extracted the nail brush for cleaning potatoes and half the party returned to the kitchen to start scrubbing spuds and lighting charcoal. The market slowly woke up and we managed to buy everything I wanted except cauliflowers and cabbages.

Here is my most unexpected find - tiny mushrooms. They are a local delicacy, usually fried with tomatoes. My suggestion of garlic and a white sauce was greeted with surprise but later eaten with gusto.

I can't show you all the greens brought in because they were quickly seized and processsed as different women unpacked their baskets. However, there was plenty. (The little tables - painted in the Rwandese colours of green for the land, blue for the lake and yellow for the sunshine - are used for the feeding programme.)
Somebody found lots of lettuce, which I divided into tender for salad and tough for mixing with the other cooked greens. There was wonderful rocket too, and parsley, leaf celery, local spinach and spinach beet. In the brief discussion after the meal most women said everything had beeen delicious except the raw lettuce, mixed with celery, rocket, slivers of red onion and lemon juice. We brought it back to Kigali where it was happily eaten with supper.

Half way through the morning the rain arrived. And stayed.

Everything was taken under cover onto the back porch of the Compassion office or into the three little kitchens. Those with umbrellas acted as runners, fetching flour or salt or oil as required. Others braved the rain and I think I was the only one who slipped.

Every dry space was commissioned. This dark store room shelters pineapple, orange segments, peanut sauce, a mixed salad and a stir fry.

The cooking was completed more or less on time and a final procession carried all the dishes under umbrellas to the church. 30+
women, 2 teachers and 5 guests had plenty to eat and drink. In the picture Rachel is pouring the passion fruit juice into 40 cups while hungry women heap their plates. They were well satisfied and so was I.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Putting on the final show 2

We don't have lunch by the lake, as I proposed. The petrol guage has jumped from half full to nearly empty so we drive the 12 or 13 miles to the nearest filling stations, in Ruhengeri. In the gap between ordering lunch and getting it - often a full hour - I make a list of desirable ingredients that may not be available in the local market at Rugarama. After eating we drive to the market - the one where Rachel and I shopped for the Batwa feasts last year. (Did I tell you about the little girl here who after running her fingers up and down my arm and looking under my sleeve, surreptitiously licked me to see if the white would come off?)

Antoine parks at the side of the market but doesn't want to leave the car unattended, so I'm on my own. First I visit the shops outside the market proper. I get a cheese at the fourth attempt, and a 2 kilo bag of white flour. (The supermarkets in Kigali have 500g bags which would be better, but never mind.) In a small wholesaler's I price a box of 12 cartons of fruit juice, needing at least 8, but it seems very expensive.

I put the early purchases in the car and set off for the interior of the market. My eye is caught by a sack of raw peanuts. I buy a kilo for 1000rwf (one pound sterling and no pound sign on this keyboard) then a quarter kilo of peanut flour for Rachel's sauce. By now I am being helped or hindered by 5 or 6 boys of probably around 12 -14 as well as the stall minder who is not much older. It takes a while to sort out the weights for 250g. I add 2 sachets of tomato puree at 200 each and a bottle of vinegar substitute for 600, though they will also be available in Rugarama. Back to the car nearby. Turning to the market again, I have two of the boys jostling at my side. 'No,' I say, 'I don't need help.' One leaves.

I buy a kilo of green beans for 500, 4 large lemons for 300 (probably too much), 4 pineapples for 1000 (ditto), a bunch of garlic for 300, a piece of ginger for 50 and two large wooden spoons, initially 300 each, for 500. I see no papaya and decide not to spend time searching out sesame seeds. The boy is always there, peering into the pocket of my handbag where I have put all the money allocated for lunch and making sure I close the zip promptly, wanting to carry my bags, pointing at other things I don't need today.

I could pay him to carry the bags, but it's not far to the car and I am too irritated to be generous. Antoine, observing the situation on my arrival, says it isn't good to give money directly to beggars. I am not convinced either way.

Charcoal cookers, crudely made of gritty clay, are on sale at 300 each. 'That is so cheap it would be wise to get some', is Antoine's opinion. We buy 4.
Here are the four clay charcoal burners and one of the more expensive kind

Then we drive round to the juice wholesaler, since 12 cartons from her cost less than 8 elsewhere. To get me my change she sends one minion to change a 2000 note into two of 1000 and another to break a 100f coin into 50, two 20s and a 10. We wait at least 5 minutes to complete the transaction, then we can drive off.

Too late I realise that, distracted by my 'helper', I forgot to go back for some good looking cauliflowers. I hope they may also be found locally in the morning.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Putting on the final show

Several times I was asked about the composition of the group for the final workshop, today and tomorrow. I think I expressed myself clearly. The group was to comprise 10 women from Rugarama and 10 from Burera, making my usual total of 20.

When Antoine and I arrive in good time for this morning's start there are already 23. During the next 15 minutes another 10 come into the church, well on the way to 20 from each village. What to do?

I don't think I can send any away - they have all been invited. Identifying the breakdown in communication would be a waste of time and effort. Yesterday we had the opposite problem of only 5, then 7, then finally 13, being present out of the expected 20. So at least I have a little extra lunch money in hand.

I outline the programme for today: comments on successes and failures in growing veg since my visit a year ago; describing and handing over the final batch of seeds, including some new to Agrotec in Kigali since March; reading and discussing the vitamin and mineral notes; planning for cooking tomorrow.

The first woman to speak produces a handful of plants that she has grown but doesn't know how to use: a large shiny leaf of spinach beet, a sad sprig of parsley, some leaves and flowers of rocket, a tough leaf and a thick flower stalk from lettuce. Another gives a bunch of first class parsley, which I wish I could keep in that condition till tomorrow. Several more leaves of spinach beet are added to the collection.

The hesitation over parsley and leaf beet surprises me. Some, it turns out, have been using them along with other greens. I acknowledge the Rwandan cultural reluctance to try new foods. I tell the class about the lettuce gone to seed at Gahanga, and about somebody at Mutura (actually Alphonse) bringing me a giant rocket plant at arm's length because he thought it might well be poisonous, it tasted so disgusting. I ask the women to bring some of what they have grown for us to use tomorrow. We shall have to do without lettuce, however, for it has all bolted. They were particularly suspicious, they say, when the plants came up different colours. I show them some pictures of mixed salad leaves from my invaluable seed and plant catalogues. 'Oh!' they say.

I'm sorry I didn't manage to do a better job of explaining what I was giving them a year ago. But this workshop is in response to a request from the Burera representative at the conference in Kigali, so I am doing my best now to fill in some gaps. Antoine tells me several times in the course of the morning about how different things are here from in town.

I have texted Rachel, who is coming by the early bus from Kigali tomorrow, to warn her of the large number and ask her to buy beetroot and cucumber, which are not available in the village market. I had thought I might manage this last round of cooking without her, especially since Antoine has had some experience of my cooking for his family. With these numbers, however, I shall be very glad of her experience and her calm.

While the women are in small groups, reading the handouts, Antoine and I go to look at the kitchen we are to use tomorrow. It belongs to a local group of the long-established US charity called Compassion, who seem to provide basic food to large groups. They have half a dozen huge cooking pots, plastic buckets with lids as serving vessels, and 50 plates. There are two fireplaces for cooking with wood, but no charcoal cookers. The two staff showing us round are keen to be helpful. If I make a list of our requirements they will see what they can do. I thank them and go back to the group.

I keep half an hour free after the vitamins and minerals to make some plans for tomorrow: it is barely enough. I have listed what still needs to be found: smaller cooking pots and charcoal cookers, large cooking spoons, knives, trays for preparation and serving fruit and salads, dishes and ladles for serving.

Other groups have done well at bringing in what was needed, but these women are slow to respond. I wonder if they are ashamed of their shabby pots and pans and their knives without handles. I stress that everything can be taken home again. I say we shall be there all day if we have only a few saucepans but many dishes to cook, and that I would prefer not to serve the food on banana leaves.

Some tentative offers are made. Antoine takes over. We need to write down the names, he says. Eventually we have offers of 6 saucepans and 5 charcoal cookers, 2 cooking spoons, 9 trays and 10 serving spoons. Knives and serving dishes we leave to chance after a general request.

Then we start on the food. One woman will order the liver today and collect it early tomorrow: atypically, she says she will use her own money and I can pay her back. Another offers 2 litres of milk from her cow. 3 will meet Antoine and me when the market starts at 9 and load his car with a sack of charcoal, 15 kilos of potatoes, 3 kilos of rice, four packets of pasta, plus what fruit and veg is available. There are lively responses to the request to bring home grown veg - we may disappear under a mountain of spinach.

I'll tell you after tomorrow how things work out, and post some pictures when I can.

Friday, 2 November 2012


Written Weds and Thurs

Tropical storm Sandy, wreaking havoc in the USA, is leading the news bulletins from the BBC and Deutsche Welle. I learn from the internet that there have also been devastating floods in Argentina and Sri Lanka as well as in Haiti from Sandy in its earlier phase. Lives and livelihoods are being lost. The death toll mounts

Here it is merely raining, I think. Last night's downpour trickled under the door on to my floor again, but I now know where the puddles will form and can pick up anything that might be damaged, while giving thanks for a sound roof.

This afternoon the clouds were gathering but I had to go into town to make photocopies of Rachel's translations of my notes on nutrition. If any are spare after my 3 remaining groups, I will leave them for others to use. Photocopying is done near my bus terminus by a group of friendly rivals who swoop on any customer. 'Choose me.' 'No, me.' 'Why not me?' I had a big order last week, shared between two operators. Today several crowded round as I took out my originals and I parcelled out the work between three. After the original competition they share machines and paper supplies.

While they were at work - wheeling the copiers under cover, making the copies, tapping on calculators for the elementary arithmetic of 20FRW per side, sending out for change, finding an invoice chit and a rubber stamp to make it official - the rain began in earnest. After 10 minutes or so I was offered a stool. Another 15 or 20 minutes and a comparative lull allowed me to splash the 50 yrds to T2000, the Chinese supermarket occupying two floors of a smart new building, relocated from a dingy basement nearby.

Here as in many new buildings it's required to have one's bags inspected and to pass through a scanner. Usually this is a trivial annoyance but today access was blocked by people sheltering and I had to work quite hard to get in.

I had come to enquire again about an oven thermometer. Like many in Kigali, the household where I'm staying has added a gas cooker to the traditional charcoal - the cost of cooking is about the same either way. But there is no regulator for the oven. I'm learning to turn the gas up or down according to the sight and sound of what's being cooked. But I'm expected to demonstrate cake making and I don't want to waste good ingredients. Toasted cheese for lunch on Sunday was hard work and not very good - rubbery cheese and melt-in-the-mouth white bread; roast veg for 9 in the evening took longer than I'd expected - most things do, in the kitchen as elsewhere - and were then gratifyingly well received.

No thermometer though, despite assurances a few days ago.

I got back to the bus under my umbrella OK for what is usually a 20 minute journey, sat in traffic for well over an hour, and was very glad when Antoine texted that he would meet me from the bus.

As I write, while a visitor is welcomed and eating dinner is delayed, the TV news has pictures of flooding on the other side of Kigali - and four killed. Heavy rain rushes down the steep hillsides, sweeps away flimsy foundations and the roofs fall in.

The Bugesera district, where I'm teaching this week, is in the dry south east. When I ask the group in Katarara, on my third visit, to tell me of their successes and failures with growing vegetables, the only topic of interest is the chronic lack of rain. Actually this rainy season is wetter than usual and uncultivated land looks green between cultivated patches of beans, beans and beans interspersed with cassava. However, the rains have arrived only recently.

In the dry season not only does the usual piped water supply dry up and the crops shrivel - even finding enough water to drink is a problem. The women go down to the lake and fill jerry cans, then use the newly introduced water purifying tablets. The suggestion of making all that effort to carry water and give it to the garden makes them laugh grimly. Yes, it would save money spent on food at the dearest times of the year but it would be too much hard work.

I ask if there are ways of storing rain water. A few houses have gutters now and they are compulsory on new public buildings. The conversation about the price of domestic water tanks I've had many times. I wonder why they don't dig pits; the clay soil could be pounded into an impermeable lining even without plastic sheeting, which I've seen in use elsewhere in Rwanda. No, they don't think they could do that. Rain comes and then it goes.

Antoine's comment as we drive back is not new either: it's a matter of changing minds.

Minds could need changing in relation to climate chaos, too. When I hear, in Rwanda where even the main roads have many times more pedestrians than bicycles - ridden or wheeled laden like donkeys - and many more bicycles than cars, of New Yorkers having to walk for two hours to get to work because there is no power to pump the fuel for their cars, I must confess to moments of schadenfreude. Could this be a wake up call for some changes of mind?