Thursday, 29 March 2012

David Hasselhoff and marking in the dark

The T-shirts that find their way to Rwanda are fantastic. They certainly give me something to smile about when I’m crushed on some dying matatu bus, speeding by on a moto or simply stuck somewhere. They also remind me that there is still some work to do on teaching English out here. Some true jems that either myself or others have seen include ‘the village has lost its idiot’ (Stephen and Mary in Rwamagana); ‘drunk girls love me’ (me – Remera bus park) and ‘I am the Grinch who stole Christmas’ (me – Kimironko market). I also find it very funny when I see some big suited and booted guy walks past me with a tiny pink ‘Dora the explorer’ rucksack. Ah these cultural references...they have a lot to answer for. 

One of my favourite games recently has been to go to the market and try to find the most interesting/weird/outrageous t-shirt possible. So me, Lindsey and Kathy played this game at the weekend. Now one that caught my eye was David Hasselhoff . He was lying crumpled in a heap under an ‘I’m Irish’ t-shirt that I could have done with for St Patrick’s day. His cheesy grin and dodgy hairstyle just jumped out at me. Now I did bargain hard but I still think I was slightly ripped off. I tried to walk away but when the stall holder shouted ‘don’t leave David here!’ I crumbled. Poor guy, there’s no telling how long he had been there. And it’s quite weird walking around in a t-shirt that I wouldn’t be seen dead in back in the UK as no one other than me realises what a cheesy and ridiculous thing it is to wear. I have included a photograph just so you can see it for yourselves.

But alas that was the most fun I was to have all week. The rest of the time has been consumed by marking no fewer than 600 exam scripts. It took me three days of solid work to finish them and gave me a splitting headache. To make matters worse the power kept going off so I did quite a lot of it by torch light. And finding some of the names on the class lists in no mean feat. Rwandan names can be the best part of 10 syllables long and almost impossible for me to pronounce. And they are often spelled differently by the student to how they are written on the class list so there is definitely some guess work involved when it comes to identification. However, I’m all done now, just have a short meeting with the principal then I am a free woman for three weeks ;-)

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Cute kids and St Patrick

Just before my friend Tammy left Rwanda she invited me to spend a couple of hours at the school where she had helped at for the last few years, the Meg foundation in Kigali. I was shown around the school and saw some fantastic things going on including painting! That was so exciting to me to see that happening over here, the kids looked like they were having a great time. So I was lucky enough to spend a bit of time hanging out with the kids who were about the same age I taught back in the UK and I have to say I miss those little ones. They are so much fun and you get such as response from them, none of the ‘too cool for school’ stuff you get from teens and young adults. After spending some time counting with them in English and Kinyarwanda I found it hard to tear myself away. 

Well I’ve been kind of obsessed with taking photographs recently as I know I haven’t got limitless time left in Rwanda, so I couldn’t resist getting my camera out again. Unlike the kids in my village, these ones were used to seeing foreign visitors and they loved posing for the camera so much that in the end I had to stop and say no more! Some of the pictures were so cute I just had to share them, so here they are.

Also on the same weekend was the St Patrick’s day celebration in Kigali. I have to say that ironically I’ve never known so many Irish people as I have in Rwanda. It is strange that I’ve come all the way to Africa and I’ve got to know more people from my neighbouring country in the last year than I have previously in my lifetime, the world works in very strange ways. The September vso intake had a good Irish contingent and they were determined to put on a good show this year in the one and only Irish bar in Kigali. That is another thing I didn’t know until recently, there is actually an Irish bar in Kigali...those Irish have a bar in every city in the world, I swear. I have seen Irish bars in Sri Lanka, China and Cambodia to name but a few places. Needless to say it was a drunken affair and when I woke up the next day smeared in green face paint I vowed never to drink again...was St Patrick the patron saint of alcoholism or something? I think he must have been... 

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Rain in Rwanda

So it seems the rainy season is pretty much here. The signs that it’s about to be a vicious rainstorm are as follows: It gets really really hot, the temperature then plummets and it gets really really cold, then the tornado like winds begin. It is at this point that people start to go a bit crazy. Schoolchildren run, people begin to pedal their bikes furiously, moto drivers start to drive at a dangerous speed and the sky goes black. Loud thunder begins. Sometimes you get lightning but more often than not its just thunder. A few drops fall. Strangely there is always at least a minute of light rain before it becomes torrential. And then you’d better be inside or you’ll be sorry. Trees bend. Tins roofs come off. Roads become rivers. And public life ceases to be.
Well yesterday when this happened fortunately I was tucked up inside nice and warm in my house marking exam papers. I tried to capture the effects of the rain on my camera. I have also displayed some pictures I took just before as rainstorm in Kigali a few days ago to give you a sense of what its like. And the worst thing about the rainy season is a lot more people become sick. Up to now I have been remarkably healthy out here in Rwanda. But today I feel ghastly. I have fallen victim to what has to be the worst cold I’ve had in a long time. It’s one where your head feels all stuffy, joints ache, throat hurts etc. I had to supervise an exam during the hot period today and I nearly expired. Having a slight fever in hot weather is truly horrible. I have spent all evening sitting in a darkened room drinking cup-a-soups. And I feel really annoyed because I have so much to do! But hopefully I’ll wake up tomorrow feeling better as I really don’t want to get on a motorbike feeling like this...

Kigali in the calm before the storm...

My garden in the rain. I love watching the rain fall in my garden for some reason.

My front door. It has a gap about 6 inches big from the floor so flooding is inevitable.

My bedroom window, Bearing in mind that its only about 2pm in the afternoon.

My neighbour's yard. This shows you a bit what the mud can get like in the rainy season.

My neighbour's roof. I saw lots of twisted metal sheets that had come of rooves the next morning.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

The Journey of a card from Africa

Last week I ventured out to a card making enterprise on the outskirts of Kigali, for the second time, and on this occasion I actually found it! It is in a place so far out of the city that cows graze the grass at the side of the road and trees and flowers abound. Cards from Africa is a social enterprise business set up to provide teens and young adult orphans with skills and a good wage to support their families. When we arrived we were given a tour of the workshop by a young man who worked there. And so what follows is a photographic journey of a card from Africa.

Step 1: Make the paper pulp from recycled office paper. This is the messy part!

Step 2: Press the pulp into sheets and try to get the moisture out.

Step 3. Put the sheets out to dry on a board.

Step 4. When the sheets are dry, dye them different colours and leave them to dry in the sun.

Step 5: Store the paper carefully until you need it.

Step 6: Measure, cut and fold the paper so it is ready for card making.

Step 7: Carefully make the cards using scissor and glue. Each worker is responsible for one card design and they have a templete to follow.

Step 8. Put the cards out for sale in the shop or send them for distribution to supermarkets and hotel in Rwanda or for selling abroad. This is a belated mother's day card for my mum. Happy mother's day mum! xxx

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Village visit

When our car arrived at Cyeza, a small village perched precariously on a hillside, we were warmly greeted by the women of the Abarikumwe Association. This group of women of various ages meet regularly to make handicrafts, namely earrings and bracelets out of the sisal plant, cultivate their fields and generally talk about daily life. We were welcomed into our host Yusta’s home and dressed for the field in fabric wraps. Then, hoes in hand, we walked down into the valley to a nearby cassava field to help the women to harvest the cassava. We joined in with the harvest and Jeannine, our translator, helped us to understand what to do. The women talked about their homes and their lives as they worked, and helped us with our hoeing technique! We tried to carry our harvest back to the house on our heads which was a great experience and the women helped us when our loads began to wobble.

Then we peeled the cassava roots together, again listening to tales of Rwandan village life as we did so. We fetched some water together from the village tap, and on our journey we passed through fields of coffee plants, banana trees, maize and bean crops, all with the stunning green hills of Muhanga district in the background. After finishing our work for the day, we were treated to a home cooked lunch of fresh avocados, cassava, beans and rice, and we enjoyed the company of the women over lunch. The women laughed as we ate and with the help of our translator we shared stories about our homes.
After this hearty lunch, the women taught us how to make our own earrings and bracelets out of the sisal plant. Berthilde, my teacher, was very patient and guided me with her expert skill. We were shown the farm animals by our host’s friendly children and then we danced outside in the sun. It was a real privilege to spend a day with these lively, vivacious and welcoming women and we learned so much about rural life in Rwanda from our experience. We felt like we were part of the group as the women were so keen to involve us in everything they did. When I arrived back at the Azizi life headquarters I felt tired but very content after such a wonderful day out in the Rwandan hills

Thursday, 8 March 2012

International Women’s day

Ok so I hate to admit it but when I got a text message from my principal telling me to go to the stadium for a ceremony for international women’s day I inwardly groaned. It’s not that I don’t think we should celebrate it but more that I was not feeling in the mood for several hours of speeches in Kinyarwanda. Usually what happens on such occasions is after about 20 minutes of me playing the game ‘pick out a word of Kinyarwanda that you can understand’, I lose concentration. My eyes glaze over and a vacant expression forms on my face. My head begins to formulate holiday or travel plans, or consider how to make a good dinner out of those decaying tomatoes and bits of onion left at my house.  Yet I do try to appear like I’m listening, well at least for the first hour. 

Well this time I needn’t have worried. The ceremony was mostly done by the kids from the group scolaire school next to the TTC and our TTC students so actually it was delightfully light on the speeches for once as kids don’t generally make long ones, that privilege is reserved for officials and other important people. We sang the national anthem twice...well they sang while I listened and tried to pick out a few words. Then some girls from the primary school did some lovely Rwandan dancing followed by dancing from the TTC students. Rather predictably they grabbed me to dance and I danced in my usual idiotic way and got a round of applause which I really didn’t deserve!  

Some students put on a short play to celebrate women’s day which was very entertaining even though I didn’t understand the words, and the ceremony ended with some drumming from boys at the primary school. Last but not least some of the local village women got up to dance, some dressed in mushananas, some just wearing a t-shirt and khanga material wrapped around their waist, and others dressed in the African skirt suit and head wrap seen across the continent.  

So all in all I had a great time and left vowing to try and learn a few words to the Rwandan national anthem...well now I can sing frère Jacques in Kinyarwanda surely anything is possible? 

Women of the village strutting their stuff

Was it women's day or children's day? Once again my camera causes a stir..

Young drummers from the primary school

 This focused, confident young girl from the primary school is why we should celebrate international women's day. If only all girls could have that same confidence and belief...

Ok so some men were allowed to perform as well

The TTC students dance

 Young women dancing from the TTC

The students do a play on the theme of domestic violence for International Women's day

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The Akanzu vs TTC Bicumbi football match

Every now and then the huge Group Scolaire School next door to the TTC, GS Akanzu,  which has about 3000 students from P1 (about 7 years old) to S3 (about 16 years old) takes on the TTC students in a football match. It was serious today as it was the district competition. Classes were suspended in honour of the match so I thought I’d go to soak up the atmosphere and cheer on my TTC team.

The TTC Bicumbi team were in black and the Akanzu team were in any other colour. There was a fairly good turn out of people with loads of villagers, kids from the group scolaire school, students and tutors from the TTC, police officials and basically anyone who is anyone in Nzige was there. I have to say aside from the football it was a great people watching experience. Most of the time people were not really phased by my presence which was interesting. It seems that after a year perhaps I have become less of a curiosity. Now when I got my camera out I was suddenly very interesting as you can see by the cute kid pics but I was expecting that...I just couldn’t resist capturing the experience, I have been wanting to take photos at the stadium for ages but I was waiting for the right occasion.  

You see I am actually quite shy about getting my camera out in the village. I like to have an ‘excuse’ such as taking pictures for the students to see or pictures at work. I am always worried that people think I am prying on them and its difficult to explain to people sometimes as most of the kids (and many of the adults) out here have never seen one before. But it is always easier when there is something going on, ‘an occasion’ that allows me to feel that I can get away with it without upsetting anyone. Most Rwandans understand why you would want to take photos when it is an occasion so I find I can be more voyeuristic and just snap away. 

Now I have never actually taken photos at a football match and I found out its actually quite difficult. The ball keeps moving and so do all of the players. That combined with a big pitch so the players are often some distance away and fading light did make it difficult. Mind you to be honest I was more interested in photographing the crowds of onlookers than the football. Teens rode their bikes through the stadium with little ones on the back, little kids pushed homemade toys out of junk and women swept the track and the stands in honour of important visitors coming for international women’s day tomorrow (I daresay that will be the next blog post).  

Unfortunately the TTC team lost, and the excuse that was given by my handy student commentator who was keen to practice his English was that the Akanzu kids were less serious about studying and so had more time to practice...hmmm....not sure I believe that entirely but it’s a good angle to take! It was one of those great unexpected afternoons in the village. In fact the good times here are always unexpected and ad hoc. You can never predict when you will have one, but if you are here long enough they come by now and then and remind you how privileged you are to live somewhere so different and interesting. I wouldn’t have swapped this afternoon for any amount of hot showers, chocolate fudge cake or brie. An afternoon spent in the sunshine in a stadium amongst the banana trees in the company of lovely young people beats freezing to death back home any day.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The strangest museum...

So for reasons I will reveal to you later, I am doing a lot of research in Kigali at the moment. One place I needed to check out but never have was the museum of natural history. Located down a dirt road not far from the prison, I must admit I would probably not have bothered going if I was not required to research it as rocks and stuffed animals are not really my thing, but I’m glad I did just for the strangeness of the experience. The first thing that struck me as strange was outside the front entrance there looks to be an elephant’s skull stuck in a plant pot. It is actually mounted on a tree trunk on closer inspection, but I have to be honest it is a weird choice of object to entice people to enter. It reminded me of the book ‘Lord of the flies’ and the pig’s head stuck on a stick.

The next strange thing is that the text for all of the exhibits is in German and Kinyarwanda only. Now I’m not intending to diss the German language but how many people in this part of the world can actually speak German? I’ve yet to meet more than one German speaker here in over a year. I think the reason for this is that it was created by a German NGO but I do think French or English would have been a better choice for the second language if the museum was intended to be visited by people from afar or the wider East African community. When I asked if this was going to change I was met with a blank ‘why would that be necessary?’ look...

And the third strange thing was the exhibits themselves. Now I understood the displays of rocks and stuffed animals from the national parks, but if anyone could tell me what the purpose of a glass case full of plastic toy farm animals was I’d love to know. It would be better to take them to the nearest maternelle or pre-school in my humble opinion. That way they would really be contributing towards people’s education. However one thing that was wonderful and not so strange was the view from the terrace at the back of the museum. You can see all around downtown Kigali. You can peek at the clusters of mud houses nestled into the valley and see wisps of smoke rising from settlements. It was definitely the highlight of my day! A museum with a view....

The road trip

Last weekend we went on a road trip to see Kathy, a volunteer who lives of the edge of Nyungwe forest national park. Mark and Tammy drove there in their pick up and I have to say, it was a real treat to be in a car instead of being squished on a public bus or exposed to the elements and pot holes on a motorbike. It was quite a long way, about 4 and a half hours from Kigali, so about 6 hours from where I live in the East. It was amazing just watching the countryside from the window. It had been ages since I made it further than Kigali and it was a timely reminder of just how beautiful Rwanda really is. And where Kathy lives is, in my opinion, the most beautiful part of Rwanda of all.

The forest is stunning. On Saturday Mark drove us to the park entrance and it was amazing how much we could see from the road. The tops of the mountains were ringed by blue mist and the tea plantations formed a bright green carpet in the foreground. We even saw a monkey from the road. What kind it was I couldn’t tell you but it was black with white bits and not as horrid as the baboons in Akagera. And I had a fabulous panorama from the bumpy back of the pickup truck, I could see all around. We are going to try to come back in a few months and camp in the campsite and do some walks. In the forest itself, you can see lots of beautiful wild flowers and it is unbelievably green.

So we spent our evenings in Gasarenda town, where Kathy lives. I wrote about it on my previous trip as ‘the wild west of Rwanda’ and my view on this has not changed. There were still cowboy hats in abundance. We went to Kathy’s local restaurant on the first evening and sampled very special ‘special omelettes’ in the leopard room of love. They escorted us to this room out the back which was painted with hearts and leopards, some were upside down, some not. The second evening we went to her district town, Nyamagabe, and ate Rwandan rabbit. The rabbit here is definitely better than the chicken, more meaty and less stringy, thats for sure.

But one of the highlights was Kathy’s nightclub in Gasarenda town. For the first time I went clubbing in my pyjamas. This was partly because I fell over in Nyamagabe ripping my jeans open and grazing my knee, and partly because, well, I could. Complete with a rather good sound system, Whitney Houston’s greatest hits and a couple of crates of Primus, we all danced the night away in Kathy’s living room come nightclub. We woke up to a breakfast of eggs cooked on the charcoal stove, Gasarenda bread and hangovers, with a lovely scenic view of course! This has to have been yet another one of my favourite weekends here, great company in a beautiful place, can it get better than this?