Sunday, August 7, 2011

Just a few bits and pieces

Comment - to the person who made the anonymous comment about the yellow snake, I am sorry that you did not understand my humour. It was about Jerrycans and how important they are to Rwandan life and to our lives whilst we were there. In order not to cause any more misunderstandings and indeed offense if any was taken, I have adjusted the article to make it more straightforward.

Starting early
In recent months, a spectacular red brick wall has sprung up as you enter Rwamagana on the left. It’s at least 100m long and 2m high. We’ve watched the whole process from beginning to end. The final stage was tidying up the pointing. Like many jobs, including mixing the mortar and, in fact anything, a job for women. There were six of them meticulously cleaning up the straight lines of the wall with trowels. Four had babies strapped to their backs, one looked as though she would give birth at any moment and the sixth was child free or so I thought. Her little tot, no more than 18” high and a babe who should be in arms was sporting a trowel, copying Mama, learning his trade. They start early here in Rwanda!
The interminable, metaphorical yellow snake
Collecting the daily water
Well, it’s not a snake at all really. It's a row of Yellow Jerrycans - sometimes as many as 20 or thirty of them when people are collecting their daily water. The row keeps moving, six inches at as time and gets longer and longer at the back and shorter and shorter at the front. They can be seen in many places in Rwanda, as people queue for water and chat as they wait. They come in all sizes and little kids look after the little ones. Some carry them on the back of bicycles and others can sometimes be seen on the heads of women.
They are essential to the survival of the nation They are probably one of every family’s greatest possessions. They transport the water from every available standpipe, well, river and water hole and lubricate the nation, keep them alive and smiling as well as healthy. It’s the humble “ijerrycani” as they are known here.. Everyone lines them up and moves them forward until it’s their turn to fill. Veritable “Eau de Vie!!!!”

When is a banana not a banana?
When it’s a stopper for a Jerry Can? Which came first the banana or the hole in the Jerry Can? Did bananas evolve to their unusually small size to be a water bung? Who was the first person to use one as a bung? What happened to all the little red caps? Unanswerable questions but nevertheless a normal part of Rwanda life?

When is a bed not a bed?
In our house when it’s used to store rice sacks, pens, rulers, markers, card, motor cycle helmets, shopping bags, jigsaw and board, worksheets, paper, flipcharts. Where does it all go when someone comes to stay? The bed's in the kitchen and there's nowhere else to store all the things we need to do our work in schools.

Where will the guests sleep?
The Humble Elastic Band
Perhaps the most useful accessory in our household and especially in the kitchen is the elastic band. It’s versatile, it’s cheap, it’s recyclable, it comes in various sizes and most of all it stops disease.

There are few things that don’t need wrapping up, tying up, protecting that cannot benefit from an elastic band. Imagine the earwigs in your cupboard, the cockroaches on your floor and the occasional gecko. They can wreak havoc with your flour, your oats, your herbs and all the other stuff that by rights should be in your fridge but when you don’t have one, the elastic band creates an impenetrable seal well away from the reach of these critters.

They are good for hanging curtains, securing candles in bottles as well as the usual uses associated with offices. The best 150 RWF we ever spent.
And that brings me to my favourite quotation about travel..........

"Travel has a way of stretching the mind. The stretch comes not from travel's immediate rewards, the inevitable myriad of new sights, smells and sounds, but with experiencing firsthand how others do differently what we believed to be the right and only way."
Ralph Crawshaw
Watch this space for more interesting facts about
our life in Rwanda.

Global Schools Partnership

Rwamagana Heads in partnership with Nottingham
There are quite a number of schools in Rwanda that are linked with the British Council / VSO Global Schools Partnership. About six weeks ago I was in the office of the Préfet d’Etudes of St Aloys Secondary School in Rwamagana. He told me he had such a partnership with a UK school (although not through GSP). He was keen to show me the pictures and immediately, totally taken aback, I recognised the uniform of John Fisher where our two sons had attended and nephew currently attends. Out of 24,500 schools in the UK, this joint venture had been embarked upon by schools we knew well in both countries. Whilst we were home, we went to John Fisher and gave a presentation to a Year 10 Group about the Rwamagana District and St Aloys in particular.

Rwamagana Display in John Fisher
Following the same theme, the Rwamagana District where we work has been partnered by the City of Nottingham. I had been working on this for a few weeks before we went home. Last Friday, there was a workshop in which we were involved with the coordinating committees of the ten schools which will be linked with the same number of schools in Nottingham. One snag might be, however, that some of the schools here of 2,500+ children will be linked with UK primary schools of around 350.

Perceptions of UK
We gave a presentation on facts and figures relating to Nottingham and another of the perceptions of our Rwandese colleagues of the UK. Understandably, without access to real information, they came out with many stereotypical views of England which often were far from the truth. They were shocked when they heard that English people drank tea and thought that it would make you fat (African tea has at least four spoons of sugar per cup). I was saddened when they were surprised to hear of one parent families, a population who didn’t go to church or even believe in God and that Old Folks could be put into a home and not cared for by their families. The concepts of credit cards, online shopping and women who might be independent was totally alien. But why would they not be? Rwanda was alien to us when we first arrived. The truth of the matter is that both cultures have systems, family structures and ways of doing things that are different, and in many cases, better and sometimes worse than the other. I have no doubt that the same exercise with Nottinghamshire teachers will produce the same results. Whichever way you look at it, it is two groups of educationalists hopefully doing their best for the children in their care in different cultural circumstances and the joint venture can only do some good in terms of breaking down those perceptions into understandable and realistic insights into the two totally different ways of life.
Fantas and Mandazis
As a total aside, we were reading the headlines of the Rwanda New Times yesterday and spotted the following quotation from Andrew Mitchell, the UK Minister for Overseas Development……

“Rwanda is one of our most successful development partnerships. It means that at heart we are friends of Rwanda……… It is one of our best development relationships we have in the world…….It has being piloted as a new pilot programme
for assistance to Africa.”

Group Discussion

Talking of Wine

What shall we choose this time?
Mary’s sister, Ann, had been given a present to go to Vinopolis by the banks of the Thames. It’s a wine tasting extravaganza. She kindly shared the evening with us and we sipped, slurped, sniffed and salivated through wines of all varieties from all over the world. Starting with yet more food on the South Bank with Paella and meatballs (strange combination but delicious) and people watching, we developed somewhat a taste for the fine wines after a few hours and returned home by train with contented smiles on our faces after a wonderful evening. I think the pictures speak for themselves. Thanks Ann!
Red or white?
Enjoying the experience
Sisters and good friends

Still Celebrating Four Months later

When you have a big, BIG “0” birthday, we feel it’s really important to celebrate it for at least a year. We came up with presents that we were going to exchange between the two of us but decided when we get back at the end of the placement would be soon enough for that. Dan and Matt, saved their presents for when we got home in July and treated us to a Michelin restaurant meal with amazing food and the longed-for chilled white wine that we had been dreaming about for many months. Actually, wine definitely tastes better when it’s appreciated and not an every day occurrence. We kicked off with a bottle of Moet Chandon in Matt and Lucy’s new home and then the evening just got better and better. Thanks to both of you!!!!!
The next day was the Birthday BBQ. It rained for the first time in weeks but had all cleared up for it not to spoil the day. Family and friends turned up to help us to continue our extended celebrations. Just like the wine, real sausages and burgers and Chris’s Amazing Chilli also taste better and are much more appreciated when you don’t have them every day.

Birthday BBQ
Food in Rwanda is great with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, home grown by local people. What more could you want? But it’s different and sometimes you long for what is normal for you. We had three weeks of a great cuisine but now we’re glad to get back to a little Rwandan normality!

Friends and family
Cutting the cake

Holiday at Home

Addis to Kigali
It would have been great to have written some entries whilst we were at home but seriously, we didn’t have the time. It’s almost a month to the day since I wrote the last one whilst waiting to be picked up and now we’ve been back in Rwanda for almost a week. It seemed strange going on holiday to our own home. Wallington is Wallington and Rwamagana is Rwamagana. They are both different but they are both home. Both seem totally normal.

Mary had made a plan and it was a case of it’s Tuesday, so it’s Swindon followed by Dorset, it’s Friday so it’s Vinopolis and it’s Wednesday so it’s Lancashire followed by Southport and so on. Our friends and family did us proud and we were constantly on the move, being entertained, taken out and generally being treated regally with meals out of all varieties and home made meals where all the stops were pulled out. We went home considerably lighter than when we left in January and came back a little heavier than when we left Rwanda. But, all that walking will soon sort that all out! Thanks to everyone, too many to mention personally for giving us such a brilliant time!

View from Tockholes

The weather was kind to us and, at times, almost hotter than Rwanda but since we came back we have certainly felt a raise in temperatures with the rainy season well behind us and the dry season pounding its sun down especially in the early afternoon. Mary’s planning worked a treat and we managed to fit everything in that we had hoped for including a visit on the way back from Southport to my home town of Darwen where we met up for a delicious meal of Tockholes Bangers (at least that’s what I had) with my Uncle Wilf, who despite being a generation older than me, never seems to change.

We came back positive and ready for the next term, albeit a little exhausted. We’ve kept this weekend free to recover and take it easy after the hectic life in England.
Wilf and Stephen
We travelled by Ethiopian Airlines and the flights both ways were very good and conveniently timed. The only hiccup was arriving back in Kigali after 20 hours, collecting our cases from the baggage reclaim and finding that two of them where nowhere to be seen. We were not alone and a queue soon formed to find out what had happened. Terminal One in Addis Ababa had been somewhat chaotic and we think they simply forgot to put them on the plane or there was no room. It was sorted out two days later and we collected them much to our great relief. The loss of the cases would have been one thing but replacing their contents in Rwanda would have been somewhat of a challenge.
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