Saturday, January 29, 2011

Amazing Welcome

Enjoying a Primus after moving in
Just a few words about our welcome here. It has been amazing. The Rwandese as a nation seem at first to be quite reserved and maybe a little suspicious of the newcomers. They have to cope not only with two foreigners but two “Muzungus” (white people) and two old Muzungus at that and one with a luxuriant head of grey hair. As far as I can see we are probably two of the oldest in the town. We are eyed suspiciously until we smile and say Mwaramutse (good morning) and then there is a slight smile followed by us asking how they are “Amakuru? And the smile gets bigger as they reply “Ni Meza, Namwe? And we reply “Ni Meza” and they burst out laughing and shake our hands with the efforts we have made with their language. For a few it might be in French with the same effect. One older man sounded as though he was going to burst with excitement as he described us as the Mama and Papa showing great respect for our ancient years!!!!!!! Today I went into every shop and every market stall and had a chat with at least 100 people. Shopping could be drawn out here. All speak Kinyarwanda, very few English unless they are professionals and a few older ones will get by with a bit of French because that’s how they were taught in school.

Children follow us everywhere and in their best English greet us and we have a little conversation in English. Some followed me to the house and today they were back with their friends and took off their shoes, entered the house and greeted us respectfully in the Rwandan way by shaking hands and holding their forearms with their left hand.

Two funny things to make you laugh. We had no food from 7am to 7pm because of all the difficulties sorting the house and making it secure. I went out in the pitch black for something or anything to eat. I arrived at a very very small shop and bought something to eat that was sort of donutty and hard. Ten boys about 18 followed me shouting Muzungu Muzungu and laughed heartedly at my hopeless attempts to barter. I know I paid over the top but I made 11 people happy. I then found a shop selling Primus (the local brew) and paid a fortune for the bottle charge but could not be cheated on the beer because I knew how much they cost. I turned to go back and in the pitch black I got seriously lost and it took me 45 minutes to get back, A moto driver stopped to give me a lift but I couldn’t take it because I didn’t even know my address. Mary waited panicking, although we phoned and was really pleased to see me.

We then had our first meal in the house – a large bottle of Primus and a sweet donnutty thing that resembled something quite unsavoury!!!!

More about the job in the next post.

Moving on and Moving In

Our house in Rwamagana

View from outside the gate

So much has happened since the last post. For a start I am sitting in the main room of our home where we will be spending the next twelve months. After the party, we went into Kigali the next day to do some shopping and on the Monday, after a session on Monitoring and Evaluation by the country Director, we were taken to Kigali again to buy things for our house. We had no idea whether anything had been left in the house by the previous volunteer so we decided just to buy some basics. As it happened when we arrived, there was nothing there so we have had to do a lot of shopping since.

Employers' Conference

On Tuesday, we had a conference with our employers. However, ours could only come for the afternoon as he h ad been summoned to a meeting. He decided to take us to our home a day early that evening. So the pick-up was loaded and off we went to Rwamagana. After a brief tour we eventually arrived at the house. It is in a locked compound along with a few others and has a small patio, a living area and a bedroom at either end. Fortunately we have an indoor toilet and cold water shower. The kitchen, like many Rwandan kitchens is a small room separate from the house where people use charcoal stoves and kerosene stoves. We decided to set up a kitchen in the main house which will be more convenient for us. However, the house was not ready for us and we had to stay two nights in a hotel at our own cost before we could move in. There is a lot to do here but we will eventually be able to turn it into a comfortable home.

We have had three visits to the market to buy some provisions and basic household things. We will probably go to Kigali tomorrow to get the things we can’t get here – quite a long list. I’ll describe the market in another post. We’ve opened a bank account and have access to most of the things we need.

First meal after getting lost

Sunday, January 23, 2011

VSO Family Dinner

Yesterday, most of the Rwanda volunteers and staff came from all over the country to meet us at a big celebration in a local restaurant. We set off at 4-30pm for a 5pm start but just had to go to the bar first! The celebration was at the Luna d’Oro and was a huge outside hall decked out with cloth covered plastic chairs, tables, a bar and food. We started with games to get to know each other – more than 50 of us, an amazing meal of dozens of local foods – and then after a few minutes sitting down, we heard the loud banging of drums and the Rwandan Dancers entered the room and entertained us for most of the rest of the evening, culminating in us all being up on the floor dancing in a way we have never danced before. An amazing treat and many thanks to the VSO office and volunteers who organised it. It was a thrilling experience.

Today is a day of rest and Mary and I decided to stay in the guest house and get ourselves up to date on the diary, the blog and the cross-stitch. Many of the others have gone to a market but we’ll leave that until we go to our town as we don’t know what is in the house and have been unable to find out. I will go into Kigali this afternoon and check a few things out and that will be another day gone.

One thing I must add before I go is that the climate here is just perfect!!!!! It’ll be hotter where we are going because it’s lower down but Kigali is high up and just right!!!!! Long may it last.

Rwandan Dancers entertain us

Kinyarwanda lessons

Learning Kinyarwanda
 We have now completed 5 of our 6 Kinyarwanda lessons (2 hours each) and will have more in April at the second set of training. We will have to continue learning either French or Kinyarwanda with a personal tutor for two hours a week. We are both likely to choose French. The lessons so far have been challenging but the teacher is lovely and puts us at our ease. The language is very hard and is only spoken here. So far, allegedly, we can meet and greet, barter in the market and with a Moto rider and make basic introductions. The pronunciation is not too bad but the grammar with various complex agreements is quite complex.

Probably one of the most useful phrases will be…..

Ni Menshi. Gabanya!   That’s too much, reduce the price. It appears that we will have to barter for everything.

It’s far from Mary’s favourite time of the day and the day doesn’t really start until it’s all over. I’m enjoying it but finding it just as hard. My real learning will be when I’ve actually got to use it.

In Country Training

Mary at the Resources Exhibition
We are now into our eighth day at the Armani Guest House where we are staying for In-Country Training. It is a large Guest House and Conference Centre where we have all of our meals and training on various aspects of our life here in Rwanda. In three days or so we will be moving to Rwamagana and that’s where it all starts. We have now met all the Programme staff at the VSO Office about 15 minutes from here with a bonus of excellent snacks. We have had a session on culture and two days ago we all went to the Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali. It was a hard experience for all of us but it is important that we all understand what happened here in the 1990s. We needed to have seen it to appreciate and understand the country we are living in for the next year. It was beautifully done and very informative.

We have had a few sessions on our work placements with existing volunteers and it helped us to understand what we will have to do and what we will find in the regions. Having done VSO before, we feel quite confident about this side of our work. However, for me I am having difficulty getting my head around the long and arduous journeys to schools on unmade roads on the back of a Moto and having to barter for the price every time. I’m sure that in a few weeks it will be a piece of cake.

We had meeting with our Programme Manager who told us about our house. It is in a locked compound with two others and appears to be in the centre of town, fifteen minutes walk to work and near the bus park. All will be revealed in a few days. Watch this space!

Yesterday started off with the usual language lesson and the rest of the day was free except for a resources exhibition put on by more experienced volunteers who came from all over the country. It all seems to be quite organised. I went for a walk to the Programme Office and back via some shops. Best part of an hour’s walking up and down very steep hills. Everywhere there were groups of young men peering into windows watching the final of the African Cup of Nations under 17s Football cup. Sadly Rwanda lost against Burkina Faso 2-1. Much excitement and then much sadness but that’s football! I did my first bartering and reduced the price to less than half price but know I still paid over the odds. Until we get some feel for prices, we will end up paying more, I’m sure.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

We have internet at last

The adventure starts here
 We can hardly believe it but we have been in Kigali now for four days and it feels like two weeks. We have been kept very busy with In Country Training (ICT) and I have just a little time to spare to write this blog entry. Our journey here was really good with all flights and connections on time and we were met by volunteers and VSO staff at Kigali Airport with a short ride to the guest house and conference centre where we are doing the training. There are about 20 of us with several nationalities from VSO International.

The last few days have been very full. On Sunday we travelled into the city with an existing volunteer and found a shopping centre. There are motos everywhere – a main form of transport – more expensive than the bus but personal service on the back of a motor bike. Rwanda grows delicious coffee so one of the stops was to taste it in a coffee bar. Most things are available in the big supermarkets and we’ve been told that there’s lots available in the town where our placements will be. We tasted the local brew on Sunday evening in a nearby bar. We had to try both main types of beer to make a comparison – Primus and Mutzig. Both passed the taste test and that’s our excuse and we are sticking to it. Accommodation and food are excellent.

So far our training has consisted of orientation in Kigali, visit to the VSO Office, demonstrations in the use of Kerosene stoves, mosquito nets and water filters. The last two we are used to from our last placement but the stove is a little scary but we are assured we will get used to it. We’ve set ourselves up with local phones with SIMs provided by VSO and tested them. This afternoon, after a discussion about our work we hope to go back into Kigali to buy a dongle modem so that I can post this blog.

We’ve been told that we will be taking over the house of a previous volunteer in Rwamagana so we’re looking forward to seeing what our home for the next 12 months will be like. The rest of the volunteers are a mixed group from the far corners of the globe and all have a great sense of humour and are fun to work with. Yesterday evening we were introduced to the British High Commissioner who gave us a talk about security and the context of our placements here in Rwanda. Everyone has been so positive. Long may it last.

The challenge for us and many of the other volunteers has been language. We have now had two lessons in the local language Kinyarwanda and, with the help of an excellent teacher, we have been put at our ease and we are really enjoying it.

So until the next time………

Mwiriewe turongera !        A bientôt        See you soon

Almost There

It’s Friday 14th January and we now have just 24 hours to go before our flight. Christmas and New Year are over and everything that goes with it and the bags are packed. We’ve a generous allowance of 2 X 23kgs cases each and hand luggage. We’ve filled the lot to the brim and now just have to redistribute to get them all to the right weights. We’re feeling good after a brilliant family send-off in the Everest Nepalese Restaurant last night. We nearly took over the whole restaurant and a great time was had by all.

Our flight is from Heathrow and it involves getting up in the early hours. We fly to Brussels and then on to Kigali – the capital of Rwanda. Needless to say we are brimming with excitement!

See you in Rwanda.