Sunday, 20 May 2012

Moving out and Moving on

The past week has been a busy one for me. The first event was that I moved out of Nzige and into Butare. Me moving attracted a crowd of onlookers the same as the day I moved in, which shows that things have gone full circle. In some ways I felt sad to be leaving because Nzige had been my home for 16 months, but I had said goodbye at the TTC and to everyone I knew in Nzige, so I felt it was also time to move on. My work at the TTC had finished on Wednesday and there is not exactly a whole lot to do there, especially on a rainy day like it was. I was pleased to be leaving on a high, knowing I have handed my work over to a capable person and that I have done what I could.

My reason for moving to Butare was that it is on the main road and so it is a much more convenient place to be based for the last month of my work, where the plan is to do curriculum writing, organise the education conference and travel around to some other TTCs to work with the volunteers there. Butare is in the Southern Province of Rwanda and it is the third largest city. It is the main university town and so it has a more liberal vibe than anywhere else I have been in the country. It was also the colonial centre of Rwanda when the Belgians were here so it has a lot of character compared to most towns here. I am now staying in a strange mustard coloured old colonial house with creeping ivy, a chimney and a bizarre 1930’s style medicine cabinet in the bathroom. It feels like it should be a setting for one of Agatha Christie’s more exotic novels and I can certainly imagine a Belgian family living here in colonial times. I’m sure they all huddled around the fireplace living exactly as they did in Belgium while African life continued outside their windows.

So it is an interesting place but a frustrating one in many ways. It is so old that nothing really works...the doors are difficult to lock, the toilet doesn’t flush and when we arrived the house was experiencing something of a water drought. Rumour has it that before Monique moved in, the vso volunteer who is currently placed here, the house had been unoccupied for a long time. I think that richer people in Rwanda would rather live in a modern brick house where everything is smart and new and works well, and poorer families would not be able to afford the rent. And not everyone is fascinated by it’s bizarre colonial history. But despite its state of disrepair it is by far the most interesting vso Rwanda house I have been to and it does have undeniable character.

However I have actually not been in Butare for most of the week. I have been doing curriculum writing in Kigali and helping to run the education sector group conference for vso. But also as part of this I managed to catch up with friends and eat pizza, something that is always fun to do. Now the week is over, I am back in Butare once more, eating ice cream and just hanging about before next week begins. It will entail more curriculum writing and sorting out of minor matters before I leave such as closing my bank account and making lists of other things to do, but I am hoping to get a break or two...we will see!

Bosco from vso comes to Nzige to help me move out

My new house! (well for a short time)

The doorway with the Ivy

Hanging out on the porch outside

Pizza and beer in Kigali after a busy week of work

Friday, 11 May 2012

The amazing goodbye

On Wednesday it was time to say my official goodbye at the TTC, even if I did sneak back in for a couple of hours today. So I got all dressed up for the part in my Mushanana, the traditional Rwandan dress for women. I knew the students would love it and I wanted to make some effort as I knew the students and staff had been very busy planning something special for me. Well the Mushanana did the trick as I received a round of applause as soon as I walked through the gates of the TTC!  

So after a couple more hours the ceremony started. There was singing, dancing, poems written about me, songs written about me and speeches written about me. It felt like national Camilla day, I have never felt so appreciated in all my life! And it definitely brought a few tears to my eyes, which I had to keep in check because it is not the done thing here to show too much emotion in public. The students had made some amazing gifts for me, including a huge 3D model of the TTC (which will have to remain in the TRC because there is absolutely no way Brussels airlines would allow me to take it!), a map of the TTC, drawings and pictures of things from Rwanda including the national parks and scenes from everyday life and an Akaseke (traditional) Rwandan basket. I was truly amazed by how creative they had been and how much trouble they had gone to to make things for me.   

There was also a karate display, a speech from the sector education officer and the principal presented me with an official certificate of service which even had a stamp on it, as they do love their stamps in this part of the world. Then it was time for my speech...and this is definitely a skill I have learned in Rwanda because when I looked back at the video of it (which my folks back home will definitely be subjected to) it was almost 15 minutes long! That is a long time to make an impromptu speech in front of nearly 500 people, and in the beginning I could only manage speeches of about 5 minutes so now I am truly Rwandan. 

So I said lots of things about how lucky I had been to be given the opportunity to come to Rwanda but the most important thing came into my head only as I stood there in the moment. Rwanda has helped me to find my heart, my mutima, again. It had been lost for a while in England amongst the debris of the endless assessment grids, reports and paperwork of teaching in the UK, the mismatched matchstick men I met on in an attempt to find love and the horrible microwave dinners I would force down my gullet because I would never give myself the time to cook. But I am lucky because the people of Rwanda have helped me to find it again, so I think a piece of my heart will always be here in this country. I know I will come back to Rwanda, because I can’t bear the thought of leaving unless I know I will return to see that piece of my heart farewell TTC Bicumbi, you have given me far more that I have given you.

All dressed up. From left to right, Andrew, the principal, me and Alex.

Me and the other TTC Bicumbi staff

Me with some of the students who made me gifts

I knew I would have to dance...

Some of the dancers with the manchester united football I gave as a gift. God only know where the Chelsea one went...

We had traditonal Rwandan melange in the staffroom after the ceremony

Me and the other women of the TTC. From left to right, Bernadette, Jackie, Agnes and Jolie.

Me and Mr Macumi, my Burundian papa at the TTC

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The kindness of sisters

I am about to leave Nzige. I will be in Rwanda for another month before going back home, but I will be out and about doing curriculum writing in Kigali, organising and participating in the vso education sector conference and hopefully doing work at a couple of other TTCs. So I am moving to Butare (very temporarily, I won’t be there much) because it is on the main road and there is a volunteer with a big house that me and Lindsey can stay in. Also , I feel it is time to hand over my work to Julius now. He knows everything that I have done in my time here, he knows what to do next and he has a strategy in place to begin. It’s time to let go and move on, however hard it can be! I feel happy that I have achieved many things, but it is time to let someone else take charge now and give it their best. 

So I have been busy clearing out all of my stuff in my house in Nzige. This has been quite a challenge, it’s amazing just how much stuff I have managed to accumulate living in the middle of nowhere in a very poor place. It just goes to show how rooted in materialism I actually am, despite my efforts to change. I had lots of unwanted clothes because my parents brought me out some of my old clothes last summer, and I have wrecked or semi-wrecked a lot of even my newer clothes. So I filled an old broken suitcase to the brim with them, along with a few other things such as towels, soap, shoes and a few children’s toys. 

Over the last 16 months I have built up a relationship with the catholic sisters in my village, mostly because they own and run a restaurant right by my house which I often frequent, particularly in power cuts or when I just couldn’t be bothered to buy enough food at the market to sustain me for a whole week. One sister in particular, Vestine, always has a beaming smile for me and she really does brighten up my day. In fact I have never seen her look unhappy. She usually runs the restaurant alone so she is a very busy woman, but unfailingly cheerful, and incredibly patient and kind with my attempts at Kinyarwanda. 

So I knew that she was the person to give my suitcase of things to. I trusted her to find people who needed some help in Nzige. When we delivered the suitcase today she was absolutely delighted! She made me the biggest carbohydrate volcano ever for free and she told me that the things in the suitcase will go to help three orphaned girls who she has been trying to look after. She gave me a photograph which I’ve put on here. And later she came round to my house with lots more food, and I gave her some photographs of my family. And later still, she came round with a letter written in English (which must have been translated through someone else as we can only communicate in broken Kinyarwanda and French!) which said how much I had helped these girls. So I am sitting here feeling all emotional. I can’t believe that some of my old junk could really make such a difference and I feel so humble that someone could be so kind on receiving something which wasn’t even for herself.  

The people of Nzige pull together as a community even when people have so very little and there is a troubled history. Yes it does mean that everyone knows everyone else’s business but then that also means that people know when you need help, unlike back at home where people can die and no one even realises for months. If they know you are having a hard time they will not let you be alone, for example my TTC colleagues insisted on visiting my house when I was ill and also when my grandma died. Sometimes I thought I would rather be alone when I’m ill but then you realise how nice it is that people care enough to take the time to check that you are ok in person. So if there was one message I would take home with me from this place it is to take time to be with and be there for other people, no matter who they are and how different they might be from yourself.

The photograph of the girls that Vestine gave me. Vestine is the tall one in the cream coloured sisters outfit looking very serious for once and the three girls are the orphans.

The food that Vestine brought around to my house. The little fried balls are like traditional Rwandan doughnuts, the eggs come from the chickens who break through into my garden all the time to eat the leaves of my plants!

Wonderful work

This past week has been interesting for work. I’ve been trying to show Julius some of our child centred learning so he has been in observing our lessons. He made a couple of videos of our singing which I will put on here one day when I have good internet access. Also, we had a visit from a local group scholaire school. A group of about 8 teachers and their principal came to see the resource centre and make some resources. My, I have never seen such a hardworking bunch! They worked for about 2 hours in teams to make more than 10 rice sack pictures.  It was lovely to see such motivation and it reminded me that people here do actually want this stuff. They were all very proud of their rice sacks at the end. 

Finally, we had a meeting in Kigali with principals, tutors and volunteers from all of the teacher training colleges to discuss the sustainability of our project. Unfortunately it looks like the funding may well run out in the near future, so we discussed how Rwandans themselves can take our work forward. It was a really good meeting and I at least have the feeling that the will is there for it to continue. Our Rwandan colleagues were keen to speak up in the meeting and had some brilliant ideas of how we could make our work sustainable for when the money runs out. Because our course is now part of the official TTC curriculum it is examinable in the national exams, which means that motivation is high to find a way to continue this work.  

It was so good to have all of this positive momentum towards the end of my placement because after putting so much time and energy into getting something started at the TTC I feel glad that it will be safe for the immediate future at least. We also had a get together with just the TTC vols after the meeting because it will be our last chance before me, Lindsey and Joan go back to our respective homes. It was all a bit sad because we are all very close as a team.

Me and Andrew, a colleague of mine, expalin our resources in the resource centre

Principals, tutors and vso volunteers work together to discuss the sustainability of the TRC project

Lindsey addressing the group

Its not all work! The TTC volunteers in 2012.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Everyday life in Rwanda

As I find myself beginning to prepare to leave Rwanda in mid-June, I have found myself starting to think ‘This is the last time I will...’ and it’s making me keen to capture these things that make up my everyday life in the village. Because I have been here so long I take a lot of things for granted now. For example, hoping onto the back of an unknown person’s dodgy looking motorbike and zooming off down a steep and narrow dirt track seems like second nature. As does eating a carbohydrate mountain in a restaurant run by Rwandan nuns. Singing Frère Jacques in a strange African language and running around class like an idiot with a 60 teens and young (well mostly young!) adults also seems normal. I no longer wish for a sink as it doesn’t seem necessary for living anymore, and I feel a ridiculous irrational attachment to my jerry can as I have filled it up with water nearly every day. 

Having another volunteer here has been great as he has been able to capture all of those little everyday things that are actually not everyday at all back in Europe. It’s amazing how as human beings we can adapt and learn to live again in totally new surroundings. Your life becomes a different kind of normal. You develop your own daily rituals, such as the bucket shower routine: fill kettle, boil kettle, repeat if necessary, mix with cold water, move anything you don’t want to get soaked, get cup and pour, mop floor afterwards. Then there’s the drinking water routine: go out to water tap with bucket/jerry can, fill with water, pour into water filter, wait until water is filtered, boil water in kettle and wait for water to cool down again.

Yes it is true that everyday life takes much longer here. It can take 15 minutes to prepare your water to have a shower and it can take at least half an hour for the drinking water routine to be completed. But this is to be expected. The pace of life here is slower, people just take their time and don’t stress about it. Ok so you can’t have anything ‘right now’ but what you want will come in good time. It makes me wonder how I’m going to fit back into the fast paced, stress filled environment from which I came. A big part of me wants to stay here with my jerry cans, taking my time and watching the world go by.

But while vso is a wonderful experience, it is also not sustainable to live like this forever. At the end of the day, I am still half the world away from my family and UK friends. You learn to carry on with your life, but deep in your heart you still miss them. It’s exciting and interesting living in a new culture, but I also miss the comfort and convenience of my culture (yet when I am there, I miss the excitement of being somewhere new!) The longer you stay, the harder it can be to get back into having a job back home, getting somewhere to live etc and all those responsible things I’ve avoided. And the vso allowance does sustain you for life in the village, but if you want to travel to Uganda, Zanzibar and Bujumbura in your holidays, and see mountain gorillas and climb volcanoes on your weekends you have to have some extra savings to pay for it. And eventually the funds run dry L

But I’m sure I’ll be back in the future. I don’t doubt that at all.......

Chalk drawings around the TTC

The restaurant of the sisters, Nzige

My favourite sister!

Getting a moto to Rwamagana

The tree lined avenue on the moto ride back from Rwamagana

Rice fields on the moto ride back from Rwamagana