Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Toilets again...

I apologise for going back to my preoccupation with toilets but something wildly exciting has happened in the last few days in Nzige...I have a bathroom! Now if I was looking around for a house to rent in Bristol and I saw a bathroom like this I must admit I’d be backing out the door faster than I can say ‘Massive Attack’ but everything is relative in this life, and relative to that tiny outside hole which was so small it took an expert aim (no chance if you are a girl) and where water continually dripped on my head this room is like the ladies at the Savoy or Ritz or any other posh hotel you can think of.

There are a couple of problems. The first is that I apologise if I sound rather high while writing this. The paint which they have used for the walls is giving off this noxious solvent smell which feels like it is destroying those poor remaining cells of grey matter. They cling precariously to my inner brain like limpets do to a rock but realistically, they don’t stand a chance. I do hope I wake up again in the morning...I guess only time will tell. If I do not turn up to the education steering group meeting in Kigali tomorrow it will be because of inadvertent solvent inhalation that was not due to using snowman marker pens in an enclosed space for once. I want the slogan from snowman marker pens inscribed upon my grave ‘beware of imitation’.

 The other problem is water. The taps on the sink look beautiful and so does the toilet but....lets just say its a case of many bowls and buckets on standby. But seriously, I’m delighted. I can now actually listen to Lionel Ritchie in the shower if I so desire and I can spend ages preening myself and rearranging my hair in the....wait for it....MIRROR! I know, it is sad but I think that is what I am actually the most excited about. I now have a mirror big enough to see my whole head and shoulders. It does mean that I now will actually know that I look like an oompalumpa from all that red dust when I leave the house though. On second thoughts, perhaps it is better not to be able to see yourself properly...ignorance is bliss....

Wednesday, 20 July 2011


As we get fully into exam time and marking I have started to get a bad case of endoftermitus. The symptoms of this disease include not wanting to get out of bed in the morning, bad moods, frowny face, not liking children/students, marking and report based boredom and repeated dreams of a palm fringed beach every time you close your eyes. This disease, which afflicts only teachers, can leave you feeling quite drained. There is no cure, but fortunately all symptoms usually disappear by a specified date, which in my case is 7 days away.

This leads to my next point, how to not die of boredom when invigilating exams over 3 hours long. There are several options available to you:

1) Daydreaming – This is a favourite one of mine. It is a very good option as you can kind of pretend to be looking at the students and walking up and down while doing it. It can also be about anything at all, including things which are hideously inappropriate because so far no one has invented a way of seeing your thoughts (well without the aid of brain scanners). Fortunately for me I have always been talented at this. My daydreams can last at least an hour, but 3 hours is pushing it...

2) Marking – This is the kill 2 birds with one stone option. Start to get through what they produce while they are producing it. You’re bored doing exams so I’m bored marking them. A safe and quiet option, but sometimes its difficult not to tutt very loudly and groan at some of the ridiculous things you read.

3) Sharpening pencils – You have to have a lot to sharpen to last 3 hours, but it can be quite therapeutic. Beware of blisters when you have sharpened more than about 40 pencils.   

4) Looking through travel guides and brochures – I love to do this but with it comes a slight sense of shame. I can’t help but feel a bit guilty that while the students toil away I’m planning my next trip outta here. So you must hide the travel guide inside the cover of a serious looking textbook.

5) Doing the S4 French exam – This feels like an ok thing to do because it is helping to improve my French. The trouble is it is essential to remember to take the French-English dictionary into the exam with you and you can get so absorbed by trying to understand the French that you forget to periodically scowl at the students and hand out more paper.

Well tomorrow I feel trying like option 4 or 5 as I’ve already exhausted all the others.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Under an African sky

I spent my 6 month anniversary of being in Rwanda looking at this beautiful sky. Nothing can match an African sunset. All of that intensity, that colour, that vibrancy and sheer raw beauty. In fact the sunset is just like the continent itself. And as I sit marvelling at this view, beer in hand, I think back to what I was like at the airport 6 months ago. I was pale, wrapped up in lots of clothing, bleary eyed through lack of sleep, a few pounds heavier...And now...I have a tan (well at least on my face and arms), I have forgotten what it feels like to wear socks let alone one of my many pairs of furry boots and my eyes no longer have that red raw ‘I haven’t slept’ look. Well at least not today as I haven’t been burning the midnight oil on the dancefloor.

And facing my arch enemy, the vegetable, has been very good for my health. Vegetables are not quite as bad as I originally thought. Because they are the only thing I can buy at the market I have had to learn to make peace with them. Now while I will never like peas or brussel sprouts I have learned to like aubergines and leeks and green beans. The problem I had in England is that I would never chose a vegetable over something nice to eat, like crusty french bread or cheese or cake so I just never really ate them. But in the absence of anything of those things here I’ve had to learn how to make vegetables taste nice. Its a fine art, it really is. Seasoning is the key.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The day the tables came

Today, finally, the long awaited tables and benches came. Now at last I will be able to teach in the resource centre. The tables were carried on heads and the benches were carried on bikes. How they managed to carry those tables on their heads without being squished right into the ground is beyond me. I couldn’t even drag one by myself. Me and Andrew, the Ugandan tutor who is helping me with the resource centre, found some of them hard to lift with two of us.

So today I spent ages arranging and re-arranging the tables. I’m so excited. Next term I’ll be able to teach lessons in the resource centre and life will hopefully be so much easier. I can set things up before lessons begin and I can feel like the queen of my classroom once more. I always think of my classroom as like an extension of myself...sounds a bit crazy I know but its important to me to have my own room that reflects the way I like to work. It has to have slightly untidy piles of paper everywhere (well at least enough untidy piles to lose things), it has to have things to play with and it has to have pretty pictures and photos on the walls. There will be a ‘Camilla’ classroom in Rwanda now. Heaven help them.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Are you getting with the culture?

Every now and then people ask me a question that really makes me stop and think. Today was one such day and the asker of this epic question ‘are you getting with the culture?’ was an old guy I often see on my way to or from work. He had me totally stumped. The whole rest of my walk home the question ‘are you getting with the culture?’ ‘are you getting with the culture?’ kept going round and round in my head.

In some ways I’m getting with the culture. The market now holds no fear at all and people now rarely crowd round me there. The little bits of Kinyarwanda I have learned come of my mouth more naturally and my vocabulary is expanding very slowly. I can get on and off of crowded buses with fewer bruises and getting on a moto feels as almost as natural as stepping into my car did before. If I wait somewhere for an hour I no longer regard it as a particularly long time and I’ve finally mastered the art of making vaguely decent chapattis. I have a load of Rwandese pop music downloaded onto my laptop, some of which I can even sing along to, and talking to my colleagues in the staffroom is much easier and we even share a few laughs (and they are not always laughing at me!).

But in some ways I am not getting with the culture. For starters I still walk too fast. This has been pointed out to me many many times over the past six months. But I just can’t change. I can’t walk at 0.000001 miles per hour, well unless I’ve just gotten bandy legs from being on a moto for a very long time. Then I can hardly walk at all....I have tried consciously telling myself , ‘you’re walking too fast, you’re walking too fast’ but the truth of the matter is that I like to walk fast. It feels purposeful and burns fat, which I guess is  not much of a concern for people here. In fact to be told ‘you are fat’ is supposed to be a compliment! The other thing I find hard is that I still think I only understand about 20% of what is happening. The location of bus parks and post offices change for no reason to a new place which no one can describe, people start shouting at each other in the street for reasons I can’t understand and buses don’t run at times where there were many the day before.

But overall I think I am ‘getting with the culture’ in my own way. I can cope with the randomness of life in Rwanda, enjoy the good times and laugh at the bad times....well when a period of a few days have passed!

Monday, 11 July 2011

People watching at the DRC border

Today I spent a whole hour in the Rwandan border town of Gisenyi watching people cross the border into the DRC. We won’t go into why I was there at this particular time but I must admit people watching has never been so interesting. The first thing I noticed was how busy the crossing was. In fact it crossing the border looked like a daily, habitual process for scores and scores of people...and my itchy adventurous feet wanted to join them but I resisted at least for the time being.

The second thing I noticed was the sheer number of big new shiny black 4X4s streaming their way across with Congolese number plates. In the DRC you don’t have to pay any tax so cars are actually very cheap. But the cars were a little scary in a way, quite mafia like. I know I shouldn’t stereotype but I couldn’t help but imagine them to be driven by some black suited and booted guy with a gold tooth. Talking of vehicles I saw the most amazingly strange bicycle type contraptions. I wish I could have taken a photo but I had already sneaked a couple of shots of the houses across the border and I didn’t want some irate policeman coming after me. Apparently they are for disabled Congolese people to get around and transport things, although in reality rumour has it that they are used by canny businessman wanting to avoid paying tax in Rwanda... They were like huge wooden or rusty metal bikes where someone sits on top, there is storage space underneath where they sit and people run beside it and push it. You really need to see them to appreciate why I found them so bizarre. If I ever get an opportunity to photograph one I will.

Another thing I noticed was how the houses across the DRC border instantly looked very different. This was interesting because across the Rwandan border into Uganda everything looked quite similar to Rwanda for some kilometres. It was quite striking seeing two rows of houses opposite each other. On the Rwandan side the houses had shiny new metal roofs and on the Congolese side the housing looked really makeshift.

And the Congolese women looked like they worked so very hard. They were going across the border carrying the most enormous sacks on their backs, something I haven’t really seen so much of in Rwanda. Apparently thats how you can tell that they are Congolese and not Rwandan! I think that Rwandan women only carry things that will balance on their head, very sensible in my opinion. So basically from what I could see at the border it looks like a country of massive contradictions. Huge shiny new cars, big rolex watches (I saw people sporting these in Gisenyi!) and bling for the rich and a desperately hard life for everyone else....Ok need to get off my political soap box before I get myself into trouble....!

The DRC!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Cowboy hats and steak for breakfast

Its official. The wild west does exist in Rwanda. Most countries in the world seem to have a cowboy hat wearing wild west town somewhere. I have found such places in Australia, China and Romania, and if you include the home of the cowboy hat, the USA, then I can safely say that the cowboy hat can be found on at least 5 continents. The wild west of Rwanda is a little town in the South near the forest called Gasarenda, and I went there to visit my friend Kathy, who is totally heads over heels in love with the place. It is pretty special actually. Seeing an old man wearing a zebra striped cowboy hat which probably originated on the head of some girl at a hen party in Newquay definitely gives you pause for thought. But rumour has it another vso volunteer saw a moto driver wearing a witch’s hat...just the thought of it standing up in the wind as the motorbike speeds on by....eccentric indeed.

The long weekend ended with a terrible indiscretion on Monday. We knew it was the wrong thing to do yet we couldn’t help ourselves. We knew that we couldn’t afford it but we did it anyway. Two days allowance spent in one morning....oh the guilt, the guilt. Well everywhere else was shut because it was a public holiday, where else were we going to go? What else were we going to do?

So me and partner in crime Rachel (yes we have decided that we are a terrible influence on each other) ended up at the famous Hotel Mille Collines in Kigali scoffing down their all you can eat breakfast buffet. I ate an entire plate of steak for breakfast which I know is really quite revolting. But in the context of the previous week’s food woes (see previous post) then I reasoned that it was fine. I think I’m something like a camel. On my weekends I literally gorge myself, I put on a few pounds in anticipation of not being able to eat much in the week. Then after the plate of steak I ate bacon, cheese, ham, croissants spread with liberal amounts of butter...need I go on?!