Perched high up with wonderful vistas Lalibela is really just a very spread-out village. It is home to 11 extaordinary churches carved out of rock in the 16th century. They are quite wonderful with beautiful arches, windows and in some, relief carving. You creep through tunnels and teeter on rocks and marvel at how they were all constructed. St Mary's is the most detailed with porches, internal carving and detailed windows but St George's is magnificent with a bold cross on the roof. Each church has its own priest who is generally happy to don his robes and show off his treasures - usually intricately carved silver, gold or bronze crosses. We saw one cross - solid gold - 7 kilos - which the priest was passing over every part of a girl while her mother looked on approvingly- I, rather irreligiously, was reminded of the metal detector things they use at airports.
We stayed here for 3 nights, 2 of which Deepeka was with us, and went to the market where we bought candles, shawls and incense! We sampled wonderful fresh juices, local gin and on our last night went to a local restaurant where a charming man started talking to us and paid for our meal - amazing! We were then taken by someone else who wanted to celebrate his birthday with us - in particular Annemiek -and to try honey wine. Not a beverage that I would recommend!
A sweet girl took us to visit some churches and then invited us home to have coffee with her family. the coffee ceremony is wonderful. First the coffee beans are roasted, then ground up using a pestle and mortar. The coffee grounds are then put into a pot to which water is added and the pot is then heated over a fire. (Incense is sometimes burned to add further gravitas to the cermony and fresh reeds spread on the floor), and we were also given snacks of njera and cooked spiced lentils. coffee is served in little cups. We were so impressed by the hospitality and genuine kindness of many people. We liked the food, mainly vegetarian because for them it was still Lent, we loved the country and the sense of history and culture with which everyone seemed so comfortable.
When I told Sammy about our travels he said " Why don't we Africans know about this country, that it has art, history and traditions of hospitality and an ancient religion - all we know is that people are starving".
I might say the same about most Europeans knowledge of Ethiopia!
Our final night in Addis, we ate in a restaurant set in an art gallery with REAL paintings on the wall, drank wine and felt that we really were in a sophisticated capital! Now, of course I want to return to explore other parts of this fascinating country!
Reflections on return from 3 months in Rwanda
Being back in Rwanda was pure delight from the minute I spotted Han and Mans waiting for me, until the moment kind Kirsty dropped me at the airport. It was wonderful to be warm nearly all the time, to be greeted by children and their parents every morning,(often before I was even dressed), to exchange salutations all day long with old ladies carrying impossible burdens, children going to or from school, goat and cow boys, old men marching to the fields with hoes over their shoulders and to walk up to school every morning looking forward to my work! I enjoyed the weekends by the lake in the company of other volunteers, swimming far out into the lake, the thrill of a hot shower, the cameraderie of eating fish brochettes washed down by waragi and I really loved all the children with whom I worked and their polite, hard working and caring parents.
I knew what I was doing and why and I could feel the thrill of having the programme unfold according to plan. As always I enjoyed working with the teachers and children and had enormous fun planning and executing English training for primary teachers, with the kind volunteers who came to help me. On the last day of term we took all the children to the lake with a sort of a picnic and it was unforgettable to see how delighted they were to splash and swim in the water.
Nothing here quite compares with the sense of purpose that I gained from the project and I miss the constant companionship and casual encounters on the track from my house to the Centre. Uncertain now of how to fill my day in a truly meaningful and positive way I try to have daily contact with fellow human beings but it tends not to be quite so challenging or such fun! And I really miss the intellectual challenge of speaking French and planning the next activity.
Komera placement concluded
Writing the blog became increasingly difficult as my laptop developed serious virus problems, the computers in the Komera office had extremely slow and rather unreliable internet connections and when I went to the local internet cafe all the plugs fell out of the wall so that was the end for everyone for that day and I gave up! Whenever I was in Kigali or Butare there just didn't seem to be enough time to settle down to a proper update!
But the placement continued to be interesting, rewarding and worthwhile. I had some more English workshops assisted by wonderful willing VSO volunteers and attended by teachers who did seem to grow in confidence and fluency, Chris and Els came back for another Drama therapy weekend and Solange and Martin worked away with the parents to give them some means of communicating with their Deaf children. At the end we had a day of giving certificates to the parents which was attended by some smart, sophisticated Kigali Deaf. The parents were quite overcome to meet these dazzling creatures from the city and even more so when they realised that they were Deaf! It really gave them some hope and vision for their own children.
They said how pleased they were that they could now communicate with the children as it made giving them orders: "fetch this, carry that, do this do that" so much easier!
The end of the programme coincided with the publication of the Sign Language dictionary - something we had identified as being necessary and planned for at the start of my placement in 2005. It was very pleasing to see that the Deaf community had produced this more or less on their own, research, choosing the signs, drawing and putting it altogether... quite and achievement!
Engish for the masses
I've just returned from visiting the local Primary school. The headmaster is charming and speaks good English but admits that his teachers are having difficulty switching to English, which is what the government has ordered them to do. In addition to this the poor creatures have to teach two full timetables each day: once in the morning to one group of children and again in the afternoon to another group of children. The classes are huge -about 60 children- and they have virtually no resources. I sat in one class where the children and their teacher were busy conjugating verbs in the simple present: I hurry, you hurry, he, she it hurry etc. Unfortunately it became clear very quickly that neither the teacher nor the children understood the meaning of the verbs that they were conjugating so assiduously!
I then visited the staffroom and found teachers struggling to come to terms with words needed for the teaching of maths- minus, subtraction, times, mutiply by.
A fellow volunteer and I did a morning of English last Saturday and found that most of the teachers didn't know the days of the week but they are so willing to join in all the activities and have a go it makes the teaching fun and rewarding.
Yesterday 10 Deaf people came by invitation to Komera. Invited to come at 1.00 pm they arrived at about 9.00am but were so pleased to meet each other and to exchange signs that they didn't seem to mind that we were not quite ready for them! At the same time 3 lots of parents brought their Deaf children (3 little girls). For many of these it was the first time to see a white person (Muzungu), the first time to leave the village, the first time to see a motor bike! Some of the Deaf had NO signs at all and others had invented their own. One of them initially refused eye contact and was completely withdrawn but when it dawned on him that everyone was Deaf he became very animated and laughed and joined in with enthusiasm.
Father Murenzi continues to be as he describes himself " like a shooting star" - now you see him now you don't. He is still very pre occupied with signs and portents in the sky and the sun and with banishing demons but is otherwise all charm and reason!
We had a great Drama workshop with the traumatised children and staff last week - the only problem was letting the children get a chance to shine - the staff were so keen to roll on the floor, be fanned, play Grandmother's footsteps that at some points the children just sat down and watched!
It rains most days but is still much warmer than North Wales, where, incidentally, I still have a house in Llandegai and it looks unlikely that I'll be moving to Anglesey due to the would -be purchasers pulling out following an adverse survey!
Maybe I'll buy a house in Rwanda!!
Komera and the demons
This is unquestionably one of the most beautiful places in the world. High in the tall hills with distant views of Lake Kivu and its islands the prospect is of steep sided valleys, forested hills soaring into the sky and a garden full of flowers and vegetables. The sounds are very rural, cows and goats, people going about their business, wonderful birds and frogs at night. One is definitely nearer the stars which are brilliant. All this compensates for being somewhat remote. I have a room in the staff house with outside loo and washroom but it is fine and I am enjoying the walk, about 10mins, up the hill to the school. I eat with Leontia, who is the charming administrator of the school and am trying to restrict the intake of carbohydarates!
The children are in groups:Deaf, Mentally handicapped and Traumatised. I hope to spend some time with each of them although the main thrust of the project is with the Deaf. Martin should arrive tomorrow or Sunday. I have worked out a kind of programme with Solange and will discuss it with Father Murenzi when he finally returns. At the moment he is with 3 Dutch ladies who are here to select a large stone which will be transported to Holland to be part of a monument to remember the Unknown Child - victims of war, hunger, abuse and so on. This is already partly constructed at Arnheim. (Have I spelt it right)?
F. Murenzi is also very preoccupied with a programme of casting out demons with which he is, and has been for the last month, greatly involved. Apparently there are many many evil spirits on the tops of mountains, under rocks, by the side of the road just waiting to take over unprotected souls. There are also many wicked witch doctors who grind up human flesh and, invoking evil demons, put a paste of this concoction into unsuspecting and sick people. I have to admit to being more than a little disturbed by all this but hope that the demons will not interfere with what I am trying to do. It does all seem rather medieval and not quite the genteel, reflective, intellectual Catholicism with which I am more familiar.
Evidently the casting out of demons takes place in public and usually follows a full mass with much admonition to respect and pray to Mary. The instigator of this programme is some wandering Ugandan priest. A lot of shouting and rebuking takes place. The Dutch ladies were somewhat disquieted and said it was a VERY long and unsettling day.
I shall not be attending any such event.Next page >>
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