I arrived in Butare on January 10th - it's really amazing to think that it's less that 24 hours door to door!There was no doubt that I was back though when the door of the bus opened, my feet hadn't even touched the ground and one of Butare's many street children saw me and called out "umugati" (Bread)!
I strolled up to school the next day expecting to find most of the children back and teachers busy supervising the cleaning of classrooms. Not a bit of it! The Directeur had decided that very week to embark on a building programme: knocking down walls and building up new ones to create 2 new classrooms out of the old dormitories. In addition to this the Brothers part of the Centre was being fortified by the introduction of huge reinforced metal doors with spikes on the top. I asked the Brother Superior who happened to be hanging around what this was all about and he replied it was to give the Brothers some privacy when they went to take their showers. It does seem a rather extreme measure! When I talked to the Deaf students they said it was to prevent them for sneaking in at night to watch television or raiding the Brothers' fridge!!! In any case one feels that more efficient supervision of the pupils would solve all the problems!!
Meanwhile the teachers had been instructed to re-write the entire curriculum to include the introduction of French and English at all ages! So this is what they spent some of last week doing. The pupils, including 30 or so new ones, eventually started to arrive on Wednesday. They and their anxious parents were greeted by a sea of rubble, a thick layer of dust everywhere, sparks flying all over the place as the welding of the Great Gates of the Brothers compound were further reinforced, the headmaster conspicuous by his absence and the teachers engaged in the important work of playing with their mobile telephones and combing and plaiting each other's hair. There still doesn't seem to be any water in the various toilets and showers so I shall have to interrogate the Directeur about this. I am reminded of the children's story about a family of mice who moved into a doll's house and were terrribly upset when nothing worked - no water in the taps, food in the fridge inedible!! He, the Directeur, has announced that he has asked his superiors to release hin from this onerous task: he's been there less than a year - the job takes too much energy and time and he's already quite worn out!! This, after more than 2 months vacation!
I have been visited by quite a lot of the older Deaf students who settle down, have a cup of tea, spend a long time studying my latest photographs, and then get stuck into Marie Claire or other magazines that I picked up at the airport. My presence is realy quite unnecessary as they (girls and boys alike) discuss the latet skimpy under wear or kitchen equipment and seem quite oblivious to the fact that I'm sitting at the table reading a book!
It's been very good to catch up with other volunteers and to be greeted very warmly by Josephine, my Domestique who is already undoing the good I did to my waist line in UK. Walking around Butare is fun too as one is accosted and greeted by so many friends and acquaintances from bicycle boys and moto drivers to waiters at the Ibis - where I've spent an inordinate amount of time this weekend!
I THINK that I shall start work tomorrow - I have, in fact already done a certain amount - planned a first year English programme and run a training session yesterday with Karen for our pre -school programme and started to plan other activities such as going to vist a possible new Centre for Deaf Children in the North West to which the BEST, most enthusiastic and inspired teacher from the Centre has defected.
Thus 2008 is under way and I begin my last 7 months with very mixed feelings. I love the pupils and the work I do but am under no illusions that once I've left the library will be put to some other use, the books locked up, the materials I've made left to gather dust and the loos allowed to become as filthy as they were a few months ago. However the experiences that the children have had on the class trips and doing the painting and pottery, the English and the songs I've taught them and the other skills that they may have acquired may be more lasting and that I will have, as I intended when I came, made a difference!
I've just looked at Cathie's blog and see that she has written virtually nothing about her wedding, (wretched girl!!), so I think I should give a bit of a description especially as it was such a happy day with a lovely bride in a glorious location.
Four of us volunteers and Cathie's father stayed at Paradis, the wonderful restaurant with rooms where the wedding reception took place. It is right on the edge of Lake Kivu with a beautiful garden. In the evening the fishing boats go out in groups of three and stay out all night with a single light for each group to attract the fish. They come gliding back in the morning - sometimes singing or whistling - allegedly they only sing if they have a good catch. The lake is delicious to swim in - which we did every day. The morning after the wedding Annemeic and I swam right round the point to look at a ruined but beautiful house that we all thought we should buy for VSO alumni , and the water felt like silk.
The Dowry Ceremony was the day before the wedding. This was held in the beautiful garden of the house by the lake that Cathie and Elson had rented for the month, just a few minutes walk from Paradis. A large contingent from Elson's family arrived in a taxibus and were greeted by Jennifer, (Cathie's sister), Mary (a former volunteer), who gave each person a red rose and were then welcomed officially by Annemeic who was MC for the day. Cathie, her mother and the two maids all wore black with very elegant matching umushanana - black with a turquoise wave through the material. We all sat in an open sided marquee. each family having its own side! Fantas were offered and then a representative from Elson's family had to explain that they had come to ask Cathie's father if E. could marry his daughter. He prevariacated a bit, saying first that he had two daughters so which one was it that they wanted and then pointing out that she was very well educated and talented and, therefore very valuable. A fictitious cow was then offered which Mans and one of E's family went to inspect and we were assured that she was a fine beast who would give lots of milk. John, (Catie's father ) then gave his agreement and there was a ritual exchange of gifts, before a meal, in foil containers appeared and more fantas and beers!! Goodwill on every side!
The day of the wedding was perfect: blue sky, not too hot and a little breeze. We walked round to wait with the bride and her family. In Rwanda the groom comes to collect his bride so, of course he was late! Off we all went - in taxibus - the bridal pair went separately- to the civil cermeony in Gisenyi which was mainly conducted in French although Cathie was asked to read something in Kinyarwanda. I rather think they had to swear allegiance to the flag and say how many children they intended to have. It was all over in an hour and then back to Paradis the taxibuses bumped.
Guests strolled around the garden and chatted until the Happy Couple arrived when the bar opened! a wonderful buffet had been laid out and before long we were urged to pile our plates with yummy food! There were traditional dancers - very energetic- and speeches proposing healths. I managed to put together a few words proposing the health of the bride and groom - well, according to Annemeic - nine minutes worth - but quite a lot of those minutes were the translation into Kinyarwanda! I had secreted a small bottle of waragi with which I laced my fanta citron, both to give me courage beforehand and to aid my recovery from the strain after!
Annemeic, Han and I had written new words to Cathies's hallmark English skills training song "We're going on a lion hunt" which we performed with the assistance of other VSO personnel present -"We're going on a husband hunt - we're not too old -we want one too....." the Rwandans were bemused but also quite diverted by this bold show of feminine bravado!
There was a magnificent cake with quite a ceremony to cutting it and then it was pretty much all over! It was both a privilege and a delight to be part of this marriage ceremony in which cultures blended.Happy New Year from Coulsdon!
I've been having a lovely time in Britain since I came back at the beginning of December: most importantly spending time with family including lovely Julia, and trying to discover how a Grandmother should comport herself, but also visiting Wales and being reminded of how heart- achingly beautiful it is, and, compared to Rwanda, empty! Seeing friends and renewing contact with European Culture.
There have been puzzled faces as I profer my hand to everyone I meet and several bumped noses when I do 3 kisses comme les Rwanandaises. Crowded buses and trains don't worry me a bit and I haven't eaten any chips or drunk any beer in the weeks that I've been home. It's been wonderful to eat smoked salmon, crumpets, roast beef and to drink good wine and go to the cinema! I've remembered my PIN numbers and how money works and have drooled over books wherever I see them. Walks in chilly air and scuffling through fallen leaves have been wonderful and being completely anonymous has been refreshing! No-one has asked me for money, water, bread or sweets and I've enjoyed being able to use the telephone without wondering if I need to buy a new 'phone card!
One more week to go and I'm trying to think what else I need to buy to take back and what else I need to do to prepare for the next seven months. And then it will all be over ......so what shall I do then?
Many thanks to everyone who has contributed so generously to the Great Loo Project and I shall be giving you an update once I'm back in Butare. Before I left I gave the Directeur some more money so that paint could be bought for all the repaired and new loos, so I hope that will have been done by the beginning of term. I'm a little concerned that he hasn't thought very carefully about the water supplies for all these new facilities so I could well be using the rest of the money to ensure that there is a better system for collecting rain water, of which there is plenty in Rwanda! Just not enough tanks connected to gutters!
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