Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Dirt roads are like ski runs...

Yesterday I took Steven and Mary’s friend, Helen, out to the TTC for the day. When describing what the road was like for moto riding I found myself thinking in terms of ski runs. The route from Rwamagana to Nzige can best be described as a blue run. Not as challenging as the deadly black, but not exactly an easy green route either. It has a few horrid hills and twisty turns but most of it is fairly bearable. Helen coped admirably well with this blue route after only one week and a bit of moto riding, in fact much better than the first time I tried it where I fell off. This was in spite of having slightly over zealous moto drivers, or in my case the third moto in a row which ran out of petrol (fortunately it did just about make it this time), I think I must be cursed.

The road from Nzige to Kabuga is a green run. Even though it is long the road is fairly flat and wide. Now as a TTC volunteer I mostly manage to avoid the black runs as I seldom do school visits, but most of the district based volunteers have to contend with these on their way to remote schools and I must say, they sound terrifying. On these routes, you may well have to get off and walk part of it, you may suffer the indignity of the muddy fall or the prolonged, bone shaking jarring of very rough and stony patches. They are not to be attempted on your first ever moto ride by the way. But I guess they are satisfying if you arrive at your destination still intact.

However even green runs can become a challenge if you are trying to carry a ridiculous amount of luggage with you as I have found. Today I tried to balance no fewer than 100 big rice sacks on the back of the moto. The pile weighed several kilos and took up so much space that my backside was wedged on the uncomfortable metal bit right on the back of the seat. Now this was ok on the flat bits but as we went uphill I could feel a nice half moon shaped bruise being formed. Now I don’t want anyone to say that I don’t suffer for my profession!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Boredom and bookcases

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that returning to work has been a shock to the system. It seems over the past few days that while I have returned to work hardly anyone else has. The TTC is like a ghost school. I’ve still only seen about half of the tutors and my class of 52 students only had 21 present today. Small groups of students drift about aimlessly or can be found sitting and chatting under trees. The classrooms are mostly empty and the students are reluctant to do any work. The staffroom is far too quiet and the notice boards are full of exam timetables from the term before. It’s taking a massive amount of self motivation to be the all singing all dancing enthusiastic teacher in this general climate of lethargy. But fortunately for me a couple of golden moments have kept me going.

The first was when a student spent his whole morning yesterday making me a sign to welcome people to the TRC. He wrote that it was ‘a good place to visit’ which was so sweet and reminded me that despite appearances some of the students actually are interested in the resource centre. And the second moment of joy came today when the bookcases were delivered. I now have four large bookcases which is actually somewhat life changing. I can’t wait for the varnish to dry overnight so I can spend tomorrow putting things on the shelves. Jeez I’m a tragic case, what has become of me?! I’ve just re-read that sentence that ‘I can’t wait to spend tomorrow putting things on shelves’ and realised what a weird thing that is to be excited about. I don’t think I have ever said such a thing in my whole life. People who knew me before will remember generally I leave everything on the floor and couldn’t care less about arranging stuff neatly on shelves. So there we go. I am a changed woman....well....as long as you don’t look in my house...

Monday, 22 August 2011


Well today I found out something very interesting. We might be getting an American Peace Corp volunteer at the TTC, starting in January, it hasn’t actually happened yet but it is being discussed. I was shown all of the pre-arrival info that gets sent out about them and they get a whopping 10 weeks of training before they arrive in their placements, compared to our 10 days which we get with vso. So I’d better brush up on my American in preparation for their (possible) arrival. My American friend in vso, Lindsey, had been learning to speak British and she is doing very well. She so far has learned how to say ‘gobbledygook’, ‘anorak’, ‘proper’ and ‘brilliant’. She’s so good soon she’ll be appearing on downtown abbey or some other period drama. But my American lags behind, except for I keep saying ‘awesome!’ all of the time.

Another surprise is that I seem to have got fat in Africa. A woman stopped me on the dirt track and said something to me which I didn’t understand. And then unfortunately she decided to mime what she meant which was definitely the universal sign for ‘you have become a right porker’. I blame mum and dad. We ate too many chips and drank too much Primus on holiday. Chips are evil. The thing is when you eat out in Rwanda, every meal comes with chips. Brochettes (goat kebabs) and chips, steak and chips, omelette with chips in it, melange (mixed plate for people even less francophone than me) and chips...need I go on? So a sort of chip fatigue sets in. You wolf them down still, but their magic greasy appeal that sent me running down to the chippy in Bristol every Friday armed with my £1.50, has gone. They become routine, even dull, but they give you a spare tyre all the same. So I am going chip cold turkey for the next two weeks. Not a single chip will pass my lips!

I also think I’m starting to get a beer gut which is most unladylike, ewww. Now I’m faced with the task of trying to rid myself of it. As avid readers of my blog will remember, my attempts at running were definitely not without event. I do have some awful exercise dvds I could do on my laptop behind closed curtains (far too shameful to do in public view) which is a possibility. And there is always the Nzige tomato based diet. Or I could go on a Rwandan style Akins protein diet which would consist of...umm..goat and eggs...hmmm maybe not!

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Giraffes, gorillas and good times

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been a tourist in Rwanda showing my parents around. As I’ve said before, it makes you look at things with fresh eyes, but it also allows you to do all the touristy things that you don’t normally get to do because you are too busy with daily challenges such as trying not to burn yourself trying to seal the edges of rice sacks with a candle flame or trying to invent yet another tomato and potato based creation that you haven’t tried before.

So the gorillas. Well in theory we should never have seen them. I couldn’t get gorilla tracking permits from the tourist office because they are booked up for August months and months in advance mostly by American tour companies that charge a horrific price. But not to be deterred we still showed up (we had golden monkey tracking tickets anyway) and played the waiting game for no show standby tickets. And because fortune favours the brave we got lucky and got to go.

Now to say we got close to them was an understatement. I was at the front of the gorilla tracking group and as we got close a gorilla literally fell from the sky above my head which was something of a shock. Fortunately it had absolutely no interest in me whatsoever, merely regarding me with curiosity as I madly tried to photograph it. They were amazing actually. If you ever go to this part of the world you must see them! They are so cute, to me they resembled furry black beanbags wedged up in trees. I would have loved to run my fingers through their fur, but I didn’t think it was worth facing the wrath of the 222 kilo big lump of the daddy silverback gorilla, who incidentally spent most of the hour we were watching them sleeping or rubbing his balls!

And from one wildlife experience to another, we also went on safari in Akagera national park. We saw a really interesting array of animals including giraffes, zebras, hippos, buffalo and lots of gazelle like creatures called impala. Now unfortunately the car that was called for us by the safari lodge was somewhat dilapidated. It had a flat battery, a hole in the radiator and no suspension at all. And to top it all off it came with a driver who didn’t speak any English or French and appeared to have no idea how to drive. I must admit I was actually quite relieved when it broke down.  Being sat sideways in the back being constantly thrown from one side of the car to the other, I think I was only about 20 minutes away from losing the battle to keep my breakfast down. Fortunately there were no hippos or buffalo around at that point as we would have been easy pickings if they decided to try tasting human instead of grass. But all was not lost, the car did eventually start (with help) and the show did go on. And what a show it was. Giraffes in the wild are amazing, so graceful.

We had many good times over the two past weeks. My parents were introduced to the local beer, Primus, and much of it was drunk.  We chilled out in Gisenyi by lake Kivu (on the border with the DRC) and they tried ‘brochettes’ in Kigali. And now its back to reality. I’m back in Nzige filling up jerry cans with water and doing a crap job of bargaining for my tomatoes. The term starts again on Monday and its back to work. I’m sleeping in my own bed tonight for the first time in ages and trying to ignore the huge pile of oompa lumpa coloured clothes that I’ve just pulled out of my rucksack.

Up close to a mountain gorilla

Sleeping in the morning sun instead of getting up, a creature after my own heart


Dirty zebras. I'm glad I'm not the only thing that gets covered in red dust all of the time

The parents in Akagera

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Camilla's parents in rwanda.....

A couple of days ago my parents arrived in Rwanda and showing new people around the country does make you look at things with fresh eyes. The first thing that struck me was the comment my mum made today 'being on the buses is like playing musical chairs.' I had never thought of it like this before but she is right. There are fold down seats in the aisles of the buses and everytime someone near the back of the bus wants to get off, everyone with an aisle seat has to get up, fold the seat away and stand up to let them past. Then everyone will shuffle around to fill the newly vacated seat, so the bus newcomers will face the inconvenience of the aisle seat and thus, the musical chairs game.

Another interesting observation was when I showed them around the deserted TTC and primary school in my village yesterday. 'The classrooms are so empty' they said. Now this is something I noticed myself when I first arrived but now I'm so used to their emptiness it made me stop and think. There is no point locking up classrooms here for the summer because there is nothing to steal. There are no books, no computers, no visual aids on the walls, no art or writing materials and definitely no things to play with. Its funny how after a while you don't notice the emptiness, and you forget about its limitations. You are your greatest resource after all...

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

The wanderer returns

I am the nomad of vso Rwanda. I have seen more volunteer’s houses than I’ve had goat brochettes. I’ve shared a bed with more people than I can count on one hand (platonically!). I’ve even had a room in Mark and Tammy’s Kigali guesthouse named after me. But sometimes even I have to return to where I am actually supposed to be, if only to wash my clothes, have a lie down and pack my bag again. So why all this wandering one may ask?

Well the first reason is work. As the nearest TTC volunteer to Kigali  I often go as the TTC representative to various vso meetings, I get called to brief conservative MPs on working in a TTC in Rwanda (yes they did really do this, although only briefly!), and as my nearest large town it is the closest place where I can buy supplies for the teaching resource centre.  Unlike most TTC volunteers I can get there and back in a day so I don’t have to miss so much teaching time....but if my visit coincides with a weekend I seldom do rush back...because hanging about in Kigali is way too much fun. As an incredibly weak willed and ill disciplined person as soon as someone invites me out for a primus or dinner I’m there. I can get beer in the village but not without a certain amount of judgement and stain on my otherwise umblemished character...saint Muzungu.

The other main reason is that I just love to get out and about. While it is nice to stay still sometimes I don’t mind bus and moto journeys, you see so much of the countryside that way. There are so many beautiful places to visit in Rwanda. And while I do love my village as the only muzungu there it can feel isolating at times. I am used to my own company in the week but at the weekends its nice to be able to unwind with others, speak my language and have a good laugh. And now its the TTC hols Nzige won’t see much of my shiny white face, but the new term will start before I know it and I will hear cries of ‘muraho’ (basically meaning ‘we haven’t seen you in ages’) around the village.