Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rovers survive in the Premiership

Rovers Supporter????
 Most of you know my feelings on football. I’ve tried but I just can’t learn to like it but a little bit of me feels I must be supportive of Blackburn’s fortunes and misfortunes if for no other reason than in the memory of my Dad who was a staunch supporter all of his life. The other side of me has to follow Crystal Palace because it’s a family tradition or is it obsession? Whichever, it’s there and cannot be ignored. It seems by the skin of their teeth, both teams survived in their respective leagues.

Meg, our Guyana VSO friend, sent me a Rover’s shirt with an extra special bit on the back which you can see in the photo. I’m very proud of it.

Now, I know that in 1960 Blackburn Rovers and Wolverhampton Wanderers played in the FA Cup Final. It took place on 7th May 1960 at Wembley Stadium in London. It’s etched on my mind because by Dad made my sister Irene and I record ourselves singing, at the age of 9 and 7, on his reel to reel, state of the art, Elizabethan BandBox tape recorder. We were to sing his own version of “Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?” adapted for the occasion to “We’re not afraid of the big, bad Wolves.”

Only 3s/6d
The Original BandBox
Unfortunately, his enthusiasm for technology and soccer did not affect the result and Wolves won the game and the cup after a 3–0 victory, with a Norman Deeley double after Blackburn defender Mick McGrath had scored an own goal. This was Wolves' fourth and, to date, final FA Cup success. Both teams have been in the Cup Final an equal number of times and have not had the honour to play again for this cup since 1960.

But just to let the world know that Blackburn do not hold a grudge about what happened in 1960, Rovers allowed Hunt his late strike to secure their position of 17th in the table (one above relegation) with Blackburn finishing 15th. How kind is that David?

This year's game

VSO Education Sector Conference

We’ve just got back from a three day conference in Kigali at the Amani Guest House where we were lodged when we first arrived. All of the education volunteers attended and it was organised by a committee of volunteers. It was very useful and most of the presentations were very relevant to our work. Well done to the organising committee. One of the things we had to do was to arrange for four of our local Headteachers, four teachers and four children from Primary 5 to attend on the second day along with the same from another district and a group of Teacher Training College students. They were looking at Rwandan Education as it is now and how they would like to see it in the future.

Having the students expressing their hopes for the future of Rwandan Education was extremely enlightening and it was humbling to hear that the three desires on the top of their list was for “two to a desk”, “cement floors” and “clean latrines”.

One of the best parts of these gatherings is the opportunity to meet up with other VSOs. All seem to be doing well and surviving the challenges of being a VSO volunteer.

We were the only ones to leave on Friday evening as we felt we could get home so we took advantage of celebrating again in the Dereva Hotel on Saturday night with a steak and chips Rwanda Style, pushing the boat out for our 133 days in Rwanda and counting. You know us – any excuse for a celebration even when it’s not one!

Wedding in Kigali

Happy Couple
You may remember that in March we went to a Dowry Giving of a young couple, the cousin of one of our teachers Eric. Now we were invited to the wedding. It was every bit as spectacular as the first event but quite different. It started with a Mass in a Kigali Church which lasted around 2 hours with singing and a joyful wedding ceremony concelebrated with around 6 priests and 300 guests. There were some similarities to our own service but celebrated in a Rwandan style. The bride wore white.

Mary and Stephen with friend Eric
This was followed by pictures and then on to a big hall which was lavishly decorated in the theme colours of green and orange. I don’t think we’ve ever been to such a big affair as that. We were made so welcome and the Bride and Groom seemed to enjoy the day but it was so different from any other wedding we have been to. There were dancers and drummers, singers, speeches and great hospitality.
Great Festivities

Cutting the cake

Traditional 3D Art

Trip Down South

Bus to Huye

A gang of motos ready for the off
At the weekend of the second week of May, Mary and I were invited to take part as facilitators in a workshop run by Sarah who lives in the south of the country in Gisagara which is about 30 minutes from Huye (formerly Butare) which is one of the major towns in Rwanda. We set off on the Friday, journeying to Kigali and then a change of bus for 2 ½ hours to Huye and off to Gisagara. A number of other volunteers were joining us as this Saturday workshop on “Planning” would have a whole sector of teachers – about 120.

Setting off on motos over pretty rough terrain we arrived for the workshop in a Groupe Scolaire School. They all turned up. I can’t imagine that happening at home on a Saturday! The workshop lasted from 9am until 4pm and they had Fantas and Mandazis (a kind of hard doughnut) for lunch and never complained. Well, not a lot anyway! It was good to meet up with other volunteers and see how they run workshops. The long trip back was not quite as exciting but 6 hours later on the Sunday, we arrived home to our little bijou residence in Rwamagana.

Planning on a Saturday
Another volunteer once said to us – you work in a tiny office in a container truck and live in what is probably the smallest VSO house for two and yet you are still speaking to each other. Well, we realise that all we have is each other so we have to make the best of it.

But best of all, when we got back we discovered that we had a new neighbour in the house next door in our compound – Akiko, a Japanese girl working for the volunteer organisation JICA and working as a science teacher in one of my schools. And she likes going to the bar for Goat Brochette, Chips and a bottle of the local beer Primus – what a result.

Sarah's Gisagara Residence

From School to School

Trying on my helmet
We’ve moved into a new phase of our work – intensive school visiting. Mary is now working with 8 schools as part of the Focus Schools Programme and I am working with around 15. They are a mixture of a few Primary Schools, mainly Groupe Scolaire (9 years basic Education from Primary to Senior 4 around 15 years of age) and a couple of secondaries. Mary is working with groups of 4 or so teachers, observing lessons and helping with planning and methodology. It’s not so easy with class sizes of up to 60 but there is a reasonable enthusiasm from the teachers despite the challenges they face. My visits consist of observing lessons with the Headteacher, school evaluation, strategic planning and any leadership issue which is felt appropriate. I am mainly working with the new Headteachers who were appointed just after we arrived. All are very enthusiastic and many run schools of over 2,500 children with probably the same number of teachers as a school of 800 in the UK.

Blown away with the wind

A couple of weeks ago, I crossed over on the road, with both of us on Moto Taxis, with the Headteacher of the school I was about to visit and he told me a couple of weeks later he had been called to help out in a school where the roof had been blown off. 15 classrooms with no roof and the school is still running!!!!

Headteacher's Office Ceiling

So, we spend four days a week in schools visiting on a weekly and fortnightly cycle and one day in the office preparing and writing reports. All our travel is on foot or mainly pillion on moto taxis over pot-holed red roads. A few weeks ago I had to get off five times because the bike wouldn’t go through the mud and on the 5th time the bike toppled over and we could only right ourselves with the help of a couple of passing villagers. We are shaken about, jostled, twisted and bumped up and down for up to 50 minutes at a time each way. However, we both have excellent moto drivers who really take care of us, although Mary desperately wants hers to go faster. I’m satisfied with plodding along as I value my life too much!!!!
Secondary in Groupe Scolaire
Out and about in the schools

Looking at the Muzungu

Half Way Break

Cam and Mary working on a Sunday!
A couple of weeks ago on 15th May we went for a meal with Camilla at the Dereva hotel in Rwamagana. This is where we had our first meal in this town and we decided to celebrate our “4 months” in Rwanda – one third of the placement – unbelievable! We always did this on 13th of the month in Guyana – the day we arrived in Georgetown. It was significant that at the very same time our Guyana VSO friends Meg, Sanny, Cheryl and Ann were also celebrating (without us) in Manchester pretty near the 13th!!!. So lots of texts flew backwards and forwards to congratulate each other and keep up the tradition.
Resources made with a stone and a nail
During that same weekend, a leisurely one after a few weeks on the move, Camilla stayed with us and on the Sunday, Mary and Cam made resources from old bits and pieces in preparation for her workshops to come in the next few weeks. These will be about methodology, making materials and child-centred education. Making resources is one of Cam’s roles in her Teacher Training College and she’s really fast at making bottle top counting rings and other bits and pieces from beer and Fanta bottle tops, pieces of string, a nail and a piece of rock as a hammer – improvisation rules.

Around the same time we looked up the flight prices for our mid-placement return home for three weeks. Around £800 each return – not bad we think. We checked with our employer the next day and then went on the internet to book for the last 3 weeks of July. Lo and behold the price had gone up by £600 each to £1400 in two days. Brussels Airlines lost the sale, I’m afraid and we’re now travelling Ethiopian Airlines for just short of £900. We’ll be arriving at Heathrow on Saturday 9th July and counting down the days!!!!

Home for a Holiday in July

Sunday, May 1, 2011

God Bless the Queen’s Grandson and his new wife!

The Royal Cake
Thanks to the Royal Wedding (no holiday here) we were invited to the Residence of the British High Commissioner in Kigali on Friday. About 200 people attended including all the British from the VSOs. It was a right royal affair with everything Union Flag. There were drinks galore, wedding cake, wine and nibbles and then we all went off to an Ethiopian Restaurant to celebrate Rachel’s birthday. Will this living it up ever end?

Secret Garden of the Beau Sejour
Now you may think that all we do is live it up. Well that’s been quite true for the last few weeks but now we are back home and the real work starts tomorrow and we’re ready for it. May day is on Sunday and we’re expecting to be working tomorrow unless it’s announced a holiday on the radio tonight which sometimes happens. Last week was a week of meetings – VSO Programme Review, Education Conference for the Rwamagana District and the meeting of the new Governor for the Eastern Province. From tomorrow, we will start visiting schools in earnest so will be on the road a lot of the time and hopefully getting back to the fitter state we were in before we started all this merry making a month ago.
Relaxing before returning to work

It doesn’t end there – Akagera National Park

One of hundreds
 But the fun continued with another safari – this time in Rwanda. On Easter Saturday, just two days after returning, Tricia came over to our house from Gitarama with her visiting friend Ann and Joan came from Byumba. It was our 38th wedding anniversary and we went to the Dereva Hotel (Rwamagana’s finest) for a meal. Great to spend it with friends. The next day at 5am, we were up again to meet a car and driver to go to Akagera National Park near the Ugandan border for another day of Zebra, Giraffe, Elephant, Crocodiles, Buffalo, Warthog, Antelope and the rest!

Giraffes spotted and into the swamp
It was a breathtaking day and we had the whole place almost to ourselves (except the animals). The pictures speak for themselves. It was an amazing trip totally organised by Mary and she even threw in several extra bits of excitement as follows:-
    Give it a push
  • Seeing giraffe, the driver suddenly veered off-road towards them. It was rainy season and within seconds the vehicle was sinking in the swamp. Now, as able as they appeared, the driver and the guide didn’t know what to do. I, being and ex- boy scout and having sunk in the mud in my Triumph Herald in Peckham Rye Park during the bin men’s strike in the 70s, immediately gave instructions. Find a tree that an elephant has knocked down, collect some branches, put them by the wheel, place the jack on top of the branches, jack up the 4 X 4, put more wasted elephant branches underneath the wheel, release the jack and repeat for each wheel. After 3 attempts and lots of swirling mud and pushing in reverse from the front, the car eventually darted onto dry land and away we went.
  • Bull elephant on the road and the driver reversed like the clappers after a few photos and back off road into the bush and around the back of it.
  • Spin on the mud and into the bush
  • Another flat tyre
The deed is done
It was nothing but, eventful, exciting and exhilarating and we lived to tell the tale. The moral of the story is, that when local knowledge tells you not to go on certain roads in the rainy season, do so only at your peril but it was ever so thrilling. We had breakfast with the herds of zebra, lunch with the hippos and crocs and afternoon tea on the road with the elephant. Beats Wallington any day.
Bull elephant on the track

2 Day workshop for New Headteachers and back to business with VSO

It was a delight to discover, despite the rain, that all 20 of the Heads turned up on time for a successful 2 day workshop. Mary and I ran it together and found that it really had to be done in English and French so that all would understand. The evaluations were good and we hope to be able to continue working with this enthusiastic group for the rest of our time here.

This was immediately followed by 5 days in Kigali again for the second part of In-Country Training which consisted of another four two hour sessions on Kinyarwanda. The teacher was very good but it has been a challenge for both of us as most of our work has been done in English and French. It was really good meeting up with the group again and we had the opportunity for two more big group meals for Camilla (far far far from 60) at Sol e Luna and Denis, in an Indian restaurant where we will definitely go again. We also had a trip to a cinema (of which there are very few in Kigali) and we got to choose the film “Team Africa” just for us and the time of starting – 7-30pm and our group were the only ones there. I would love such personal service in England – even the popcorn was the same!

Now, I referred earlier to our roaming birthday presents. There was little time at the training for personal stuff so we rushed off to the post office by moto one lunchtime and 6 weeks late we got our cards and presents. We presented ourselves at the Iposita and after searching through the book and several PO boxes we managed to round up out errant goodies – 29 cards, a bag, DVDs and a Blackburn Rovers Shirt from Meg with Harding 60 on the back. All inspired presents. We shouldn’t have any more problems now because we have our own PO Box in Rwamagana. Now, all we need is someone to write to us.

Mary and Stephen Harding
PO Box 90
Parcels arrive at last

At the end of all this time away, we were glad to get back to our Bijou residence in Rwamagana.

First Holiday in Uganda

Lake Bunyonyi
The first thing many people said to us when we said we were going to Rwanda was “Is it safe?”. The answer is decidedly “Yes”. They are thinking of those tragic 100 days in 1994 when almost one million people died in one of the worst Genocides mankind has known. It’s well documented everywhere and understandably there is a commitment for it never to happen again. On 7th April every year, Rwanda has its Memorial Day to remember those who lost their lives in this tragedy. It lasts for a week and then people remember for 100 days and for many it is always close to the surface. Like many, we used this time for a short break, feeling it better for people to experience this very personal time without foreigners present. We decided to go to Uganda which is just North West of here.

Total Blowout
We stayed the night in a Catholic Hostel in the centre of Kigali for an early start, getting up at 4-30am, followed by a short moto ride to the bus station for departure at 6am. Well, that was the theory but unfortunately, although we had tickets, they had forgotten to write the seat numbers on them and double booked. After some discussion, they put us in a car to take us to the border and then another car in Uganda to take us to our destination. What they didn’t tell us was that this had happened to several others and there were to be 6 in the car, sitting on each other’s knees, and the driver was a MANIAC!!!!!! However, we arrived in one piece in Kabale just half an hour from the border and then on to our destination of  Lake Bunyionyi which was an “out of this world” beautiful spot where we stayed for two days in a cottage overlooking the lake. We had gone with Tricia and met up with other volunteers who all went off in different directions but had a couple of relaxing days in a stunning location.

We had arranged with three others to hire a vehicle and driver to go to Ishasha in Queen Elizabeth Park for a two day safari to see all manner of wild animals in their own protected habitat, including tree climbing lions. The driver was great but the vehicle had dodgy tyres as we discovered with the first blow-out after two hours on a potholed, creviced red road. The spare was little better but it did get us to our destination where we discovered we were staying the night in a round hut with just candle light and the background noise of hippos a few metres away. Well, it was certainly different and the threat of roaming lions at night made my 50m nightly trip to the loo in the dark very exciting. Now, was it the hippos or a lion following me? Whichever, not a good way to go! Lions might deal with you quickly but hippos are reputed to be the most dangerous in the rivers and plains. In the end, neither caused any problems but I nearly lost my life in the long drop loo when two birds flew out of the hole, swirling around and flapping against me before disappearing off into the dawn. VSO is nothing but exciting.

Bed for the night

The next morning the spare was looking a little “iffy” so they changed it for a tyre half as big again as the others. It seems were going to limp on safari but it did the job. We saw every kind of antelope / impala type animals, hippos, buffalo, warthog, vultures, baboons, monkeys and elephants, crocodiles as well as a myriad of birds but the illusive tree climbing lions were not to be seen in their fig trees so we will have to save those for another time. We had a long boat ride on the Kazinga Channel (boat made in the IOW) and have never seen so many birds and animals in one place. The whole two days were  a real treat. Thanks Rachel and Roisin for organising all this.

Then, it was onto Kirembe in the Rwenzori Mountains National Park were we stayed in a backpackers’ hostel for the night, meeting up with two other volunteers, Camilla and Cathy. What an amazing place surrounded on three sides with cultivated mountains and spectacular lighting. What a treat in the middle of African mountains to have “Bangers and Mash” for dinner and a breakfast called “The Works” the next day. It certainly would match any fry-up back home. Mary and I had booked two more nights in Bunyionyi for a rest and our return to a two-day workshop for new Headteachers in the District so we spent 9 hours cramped in tightly-packed local buses with hens in plastic bags and all the rest to get back to the luxury of that cottage again.

Two nights later we were returning to Kigali and managed to get a shared car which was somewhat more comfortable than the one we’d taken 6 days earlier.

Mary wrote in her diary three interesting things we saw
  • 3 people on a boda boda moto (driver, Cam and Cathy) complete with huge rucksacks.
  • wooden bicycles
  • African Women wearing fur coats!

Mary Catches Up

Official Birthday Photo
You may have noticed that I am a month behind on the blog. No real excuse other than lots of work, daily challenges, enjoying ourselves a lot and sheer exhaustion. The evening routine consists of a quick DVD at 8pm and then in bed by 9-30pm to be up again at 5am. Anyway, it’s a month since Mary caught up with me and achieved the grand young age of 60. The reason I say this is because there’s been an amazing coincidence. Since my birthday, there has been another 5 of the VSO community who have celebrated their big 60. On top of that we also met another man who celebrated his 60th on the day of the Royal Wedding.1951 was a good year obviously and that explains why the average of VSO has gone up dramatically!

Anyway, back to Mary. Her big day started with the house boys playing the radio in the background with Happy Birthday, She’s 21 today and For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow. Not for Mary, I’m sure, but a nice way to start. As with my birthday, we took the day off and went into Kigali for the day where we went to a Chinese Restaurant we had passed many times on the bus. We celebrated with a little Waragi (Ugandan Gin) and tonic and had a great sizzling Chinese. We discovered our mail had been directed to the wrong PO Box and so still no cards or presents for either of us. All sorted out now about two weeks ago, Thanks to everyone!

Meal with David, Sarah and Neil

But you know us, we celebrate for as long as possible. We planned to go back into Kigali two days later with David and Sarah to celebrate his birthday with a meal at Sol e Luna Italian Restaurant. It’s one of the best restaurants around with great Pizzas and stunning views over Kigali. They arrived in Rwamagana in the afternoon of Friday and we took a leisurely stroll home via three bars finishing up with a Goat Brochette and Ifiriti in the Solidarity Bar near to home. The next night we stayed in the Beau Sejour Guest House close to the VSO office and Sol e Luna. It’s like an English country garden with a tropical feel. A great place to stay and close to town by bus. The next day was the day we discovered German sausage in a Kigali supermarket. It’s the thin end of the wedge and we don’t want you to think we are food fixated but to have such a thing, which keeps without a fridge, is a real treat. We’ve never looked back!

Round Room in the Beau Sejour