Monday, 31 January 2011

Cooking something edible

Today was momentous because for the first time in 5 days I have managed to cook something I wanted to eat on my hotplate. Its not through lack of trying but everything I make seems to taste gross. First there was the asda special ‘meat free chilli’ just add water mix (from home). I added too much water and it turned into a horrible watery soup with bits of fake meat floating in it. Then there was gritty tortillas. I was so proud of myself for getting wheat flour, making dough and frying tortillas in my pan. But unfortunately I didn’t sieve the flour or its flour that I’m not used to because my tortillas had gritty bits in them. The tortillas were also a very funny colour...
But today I sliced up some potatoes and managed to make passable chips. I even ate them with a bit of Heinz ketchup I took with me from the UK. True, they were floating in the lovely ‘golden fry’ cooking oil, but nonetheless they had that lovely chippy texture. Ok I’ll stop going on about food now. Its only been two weeks and already I’m dreaming of fluffy bread and chocolate cake. I can feel that on my next trip to Kigali I’m likely to succumb and buy some horrifically expensive imported food item, but so far I have remained strong and resisted the hobnobs and Cadbury’s chocolate...but I feel the resolve weakening with every passing day.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

A weekend away

I became very adventurous this weekend and I ventured out of the village for the first time to go to Christine’s birthday party in Butare across the other side of the country. The first thing I had to do was to take my first ever moto (motorbike taxi) ride. First of all I had to put on my horrible white vso standard issue helmet which makes me look like the white robot Eve from the film Wall-e. I was a bit scared at first but after a few minutes I found it quite fun. Its a lovely way to see the countryside whizzing past. Then I had to find a bus that went to Kigali, which I achieved after a few minutes of wandering around looking lost.
I had to change bus again when I got to Kigali. I had a bit of a disaster when the bus arrived in Butare because I didn’t know I had arrived. Some people stayed on the bus so I assumed we were going to a more central location. But as the buildings thinned out I had a feeling something was wrong. Apparently the bus was headed towards Bujumbura in Burundi! Fortunately I realised very quickly, got off and found a moto. He didn’t seem to know where the cathedral was and took me to the wrong place...eventually I managed to get him to understand where I wanted to go but I arrived feeling very dishevelled! Still I guess I have learned a lot of lessons.
It was lovely to catch up with volunteers old and new in Butare, and catch up with everyone about their first few days. I’m glad I made the effort as I think its going to be important to have regular face to face contact with people. Fortunately the journey back was considerably less eventful, and I even found a moto driver who had heard of the village where I lived! So all’s well that ends well as they say.

Friday, 28 January 2011

On lab coats and being mobbed

Well an interesting day to say the least. I spent most of the day at the TTC, I think I will have to leave the bank account opening for another day as I’m waiting for an electrician to come to install something called  ‘cash power’.
Today I found out that tutors at the TTC wear white lab coats to teach in and the trainee teachers wear uniform and have a master of discipline...Mind you I don’t think a master of discipline would go amiss in a UK teacher training college when I think back. I hope I get to wear a lab coat and return to my mad scientist days. It makes them look very smart although at the moment I can’t help but think its a bit bizarre. I was invited to watch a great lesson today taught by a tutor who has done work for the British council. It was a group debate and it gave me a few ideas of how to work successfully here. They did some beautiful singing in my honour too! By far one of my best moments in Rwanda so far. The students seem friendly and polite and I think they will be a joy to work with. Most of them looked to be around 6th form age in the UK. I have also been showing my face around the staff room to start to get to know the tutors.
I met with the methodology tutor I will be working with closely while I’m here. He is very helpful and friendly and has some really good ideas so I think we will work well together. He took me to the school next door where 2000 children go. The teachers were lovely but I could see the conditions looked more challenging than at the TTC as they have to contend with teaching  very young children in English, very large class sizes, small rooms and having to operate a double shift where some children go to school in the morning where others go in the afternoon. I got totally mobbed too! I was totally surrounded. I don’t think an Umuzungu had ever visited their school. I also got mobbed at the market too. It felt very difficult to bargain for prices when literally about 100 people were watching my every move! I think I’ll be lazy and send Dan next week.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Introductions and setting up home.

I tried to introduce myself in Kinyarwanda to 400 students today...they laughed at me, but in a friendly way. I even got a clap! Although it was probably for bravery/stupidity rather than because my Kinyarwanda was any good! I have hibernated for the rest of the day inside, setting up my house and deciding which room should be the ‘kitchen’ and trying to make my bedroom feel like more homely.  
Trying to make my house feel like home got me thinking about the things I brought and the things I wish I had brought.
Top 3 useful things –
Kettle – makes boiling water so much easier. I know it cost loads of my volunteer housing allowance but its so worth it. And its helped me to maintain my tea addiction.
Big throw down rug – makes the floor look better. Sorry Rachel for sending you out to get many more on my behalf!
Laptop with plug in modem – my window on the world! I don’t know what vso people did before the internet and mobile phones, they must have gone mad.
3 things I wish I had brought -
A she wee – need I say more?! Men have definitely got an advantage when it comes to squat toilets.
Hundreds more throw down rugs and humongous posters to cover walls and floors...
More smart skirts for work – My female Rwandan colleagues put me to shame when it comes to looking smart.
Tomorrow I might try to set up a Rwandan bank account and see if they will let me, among many other things.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The only Umuzungu (whitey) in the village

Today was a crazy day. I have finally arrived in Bicumbi, which is to be my home for the next 2 years. When I arrived at my house I must admit I did have a bit of a culture shock, especially as the furniture arrived after I did! By all accounts though, I have what is considered to be a very nice house. The staff from the college who helped me move in said that they wished that they could live here which made me feel very humble and grateful. It is fantastically secure with a humongous amount of locks. It is huge too. It has 5 rooms, an outdoor toilet and washroom and a very pretty and well kept garden. It is a squat toilet, but it is my own which I don’t have to share with anyone else. The wash room doesn’t have a shower of any kind, but I have a hang up solar shower which I can use once I’ve figured out how. The electricity appears to be very good here.
Everyone I have met in the village so far has been wonderfully warm and friendly. I have met the main police official who was lovely and made me put his number in my phone. I have met the owner of the local bar/guesthouse who is like the lady from the no. 1 ladies detective agency and all bar one of the training college management team. I have received a huge amount of support today from the college staff who helped to move me in and helped me to hire  my house help. He is going to fetch my water, do my washing, tend to my garden and keep everywhere clean. He speaks a bit of French but no English so negotiating his wage and duties was fun! Its amazing how you can pull out some French when you have to.
Tomorrow I have got to be at the training college for 7.30am to be introduced to all the staff and students. And then afterwards my principal (who is extremely nice and very forward thinking) will introduce me to lots of local officials. I’m really looking forward to seeing where I will work. I think I’m expected to do some kind of introductory speech which I’d better think about soon! Its quite an international college with 4 tutors from Uganda, 1 from the Congo and 1 from Burundi. And 2 of the management team are women which I was pleased to see. Right, I’d better think about what I’m going to say and have an early night as I’m totally shattered.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

I haggled for a spoon in Kinyarwanda

Today was our ‘rest day’ although it was anything but restful really. We went out to Kimironko market where my major achievement of the day was haggling for a wooden spoon in Kinyarwanda. I actually managed to say maganatatu na mirongwitanu (350) and someone understood me! The main difficulty I had was people automatically would say the price in Rwandan Francs in French because I am ‘umuzungu’ (white person) but my French numbers are not so great when you get into the hundreds and thousands...I always get my mille quatre-vingt-dixes mixed up!
We started our household shopping in earnest today and attracted quite a lot of attention when we carried our pillows and buckets and blankets and sheets around Kigali and tried to squeeze on a bus with it all...we must have looked quite fact I know we did because I have photographic evidence. Talking of photos I can’t seem to upload them onto my blog because the modem is slow as a snail. Trisha had told me something about ‘compression’ which I will try at some stage.
Tomorrow promises to be a busy day with the rest of our household shopping, Kinyarwanda, performance management and getting briefed on meeting our employers on Tuesday...its all about to start for real soon! Feeling excited, nervous, hopeful, anxious, but ready to get on with it now. It was the vso ‘family dinner’ last night where we got to meet all of the other current volunteers who were all lovely and I’ve been invited out next weekend which I’m really looking forward to.

Friday, 21 January 2011

An emotional day

I can’t believe its Friday already and I’ve been here for 6 days. I leave for my placement next Wednesday and I still feel like I’ve got lots to take in. Today we visited the Gisozi Genocide memorial where the remains of 250,000 genocide victims are buried in Kigali. It was a very emotional experience, and not one person from our group was able to walk out of there with a dry eye. The children’s memorial section was particularly harrowing and very difficult to look at. Seeing a photo of a lovely, happy 4 year old, reading that she loves chocolate and playing with her friends and then reading the horror of how she died just left me speechless. It was a struggle to make any kind of sense of it all.
Most people who were alive in 1994 have experienced some kind of trauma and many have witnessed horrors beyond my imagination. But then when you go back out on the street and you see children playing with a skipping rope and women fetching water you forget the horror which these people have lived through. I have huge admiration for the Rwandan people and what they have achieved in the past 15 years. They are amazing, and they are trying very hard to live in peace and build a better future for Rwanda. I feel lucky to be here and I hope I can help this place in some small way.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

A trip down fabric alley

I finally had a good night’s sleep last night which was such a relief! I know I said I wasn’t worried in my last post but that was more to try to convince myself rather than anything. Perhaps it was because I don’t have documentaries on mental asylums or Britain’s fattest man to fall asleep to anymore. Or maybe its because counting mountain gorillas isn’t as relaxing as I thought it would be because they make me think of that film Godzilla where a massive gorilla went on a rampage stamping on houses and breaking roads. But more likely it is because I keep imagining myself making all sorts of terrible cultural mistakes such as forgetting to walk someone to the door when they leave the house, addressing people in the wrong way or generally being rude without meaning to!  
I am in the ‘more confident’ Kinyarwanda class by virtue of the fact that I managed to reach the end of the online lessons before I came, even if saying  nde umukorebushake  (I am a volunteer) makes me make all sorts of strange contortions with my mouth.  Many of the words deserted me when I tried to converse on the bus to Kigali, but people seemed to be impressed by the effort!  Our Kinyarwanda teacher, Emmanuel, assures us that because we are ‘munzungu,’ otherwise known as ‘the white people’, people expect you to speak it strangely.
But by far the most exciting part of the day was our trip to fabric alley in Kigali. Not to be confused with Diagon alley in Harry Potter, although in some respects it is surprisingly similar, Fabric alley is a treasure trove of fabulous African fabrics. Buying fabric with my allowance is bound to be my guilty pleasure while I’m in Rwanda. I already bought once piece and I think I’m going to use half as a bedspread and get half made into a skirt.
So there we are, 3 days down and still just at the very beginning of the Everest sized learning curve!

Monday, 17 January 2011

The training begins

We started our ‘in country training’ today and there was lots to learn, such as how to light a kerosene stove without burning off your eyebrows and how to boil the candles in your water filter, and all of a sudden it all seems really real! Its going to be such a different life, looking forward to it but also feeling a little bit daunted by all the changes, I think I will become a much more practical person!
I found out from the programme office staff today a bit more about the teacher training college and where I will be living. Apparently there are birds roosting in the resource centre...its obviously a comfortable place to be!  I’m going to be living by myself in a small village in a house with electricity and water and a garden. I am about a 45 minute drive from Kigali, the capital city, so I won’t have far to go to visit people, although I will be the only volunteer about in my village and no volunteers have lived there before. I’ll have plenty of chance to make some Rwandan friends and meet the local people so I’m not worried.
There is so much more to learn tomorrow, its a good job they give you a file full of paper with it all written down, otherwise I’d have no hope of remembering! I particularly like the VSO Rwanda cookbook. There is a recipe for chocolate cake using things you can get hold of so I know I’ll be fine.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Hi from Rwanda!

Hi everyone, I arrived safely in Kigali yesterday evening and got the best welcome at Kigali airport ever! Had a big hug, lots of handshakes and a bunch of flowers. You guys have a lot to live up to when I eventually return! I had to pause for thought when filling out my immigration card. It asked me for the number of nights I was staying and I worked out it was a grand total of 730, what a long and exciting time I have stretching before me. It feels such a relief to finally be here, its not nearly as scary as I imagined!
 After a long night’s sleep and a big breakfast we headed off into Kigali itself to change money and get a modem thing which is apparently the way you get internet in Rwanda. Kigali is a lovely town. The streets are clean and orderly and the roads good. Everyone who spoke to us was friendly and polite and we were not hassled at all. There were quite a few shops and we visited the shopping mall to change our money and look around. My initial impressions are that I’m very lucky to be here. All the current serving volunteers are very positive about Rwanda and it does seem like a very beautiful country – very green and gorgeous. It also feels very calm and safe, much calmer and less busy than India which I visited last summer.
We have a rest day today, but from tomorrow our in country training starts and I’ll have lots to think about.  The climate here is very pleasant, around early to mid twenties, but drops at night so you can sleep easily. I am wandering around in a t-shirt and remembering that only 2 days ago I was wearing 2 jumpers and a coat all at once and looked and felt like a sumo wrestler, especially with all the cake weight I’d put on. I don’t envy you poor souls freezing to death in the UK, you know where to come now for a winter sun holiday.
Well I’d better go as my internet modem thing is quite slow and expensive. I’ll be able to stay in touch easily for the next 10 days as I can use my wireless modem at the guesthouse I’m staying in. After that I may have to figure out where the most local place is where I can use it, but there are a couple of cafes in Kigali with wifi so I’m fairly confident that I can keep up with the updates.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Leaving on a jet plane, don't know when I'll be back again...

The bags are packed, the jabs are done and most of the goodbyes have been said, I'm off to the airport in less than 4 hours and I don't think i'm going to get any sleep...just going to enjoy stretching out on the double bed, under a nice big feather duvet, stretch one way and then the other...bliss. These last couple of days have turned me into a right insomniac. Maybe its the larium messing with the mind, or just the reality of leaving my lovely familiar life for the great unknown.

Last night I watched a documentary at 3am on the history of mental assylums on bbc iplayer and still I couldn't sleep. Mind you watching a 1960's film of some poor soul getting a frontal lobtomy probably isn't the best thing to relax the mind. It was pretty horrible actually, I don't think I'm going to look at chopsticks in quite the same way ever again. Tonight i'll try counting sheep, or mountain gorillas, or something like that.

The next time I'll post i'll be in Rwanda and at last the blog will start to live up to the promise of its title. I hope everyone is well and I'll be in touch soon.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Only 5 days to go!

The time to leave is nearly upon me and I have been busy sorting out all of the little things that seem to take so long like changing my car insurance, bank details, packing and of course, learning Kinyarwanda which I'm trying to do a bit of nearly every day. I still have one lesson left to do so I had better put some time in today. I had a fantastic last weekend on British soil spending time in Bristol and Chesterfield with people I love but now I'm feeling ready to go and raring to get in Rwanda and get started. Bring it on! I can't wait to not be cold and wearing a thick coat all of the time and get stuck into all of the experiences and challenges that await me...feel like I'm skiving at the moment as it feels so strange not being at work. Not that this feeling will last for long as when I arrive I have 10 days of in country training where I have Kinyarwanda lessons starting at 8 in the morning, so it definitely feels like the calm before the storm.

Out for a walk near Chesterfield with Michelle in very bracing English winter weather wearing a reindeer hat for the last time...

Jo Jezz, Mark and Becky in Ocean night club in they have people in Rwanda like you lot?!

I have also had my lovely long locks cut off because I want my industrial sized bottle of tres semme shampoo to last as long as possible as I've heard that shampoo is horrendously expensive in Rwanda. That and cold water and long thick hair are a really rubbish combination. It does puff out in a really terrible way when its washed but never mind!

My new hair cut