We hung a right out of Nairobi back around into Tanzania then across Lake Victoria before arriving in a very hazy early morning Kigali - and like Julian and George in the Famous Five - in a state of some excitement. After the months of long preparation and occasional angst we were finally reaching our home for the coming year. VSO staff were waiting to welcome us, each with a flower of indeterminate bloom (no honest guys it was a lovely gesture!), and after a few bureaucratic hiccups and some concern over a piece of missing luggage belonging to Angel, a Filipina volunteer, we were on our way zooming along very good roads over a few of the thousand hills for which the country was best known before the genocide.
The Amani (God) Guest House was to be our sanctum for the next 10 days of ICT (in-country training). In that time we would learn a little of the jobs we were about to do, shake a lot of hands and stumble a bit in the indigenous language, Kinyarwanda. In dribs and drabs all the other vols (volunteers) arrived save one poor Canadian who was held up in Europe for several days because of incorrect paperwork. There are now 22 new arrivals, to be spread out over the country, including three accompanying partners, one of whom is Stella. Most are in the teaching/education side of things but some are working in disability and one volunteer is actually helping to set up a business in essential oils a matter about which he freely admits he knows nothing. That gave us all a lot of confidence, not because of schadenfreude, but out of a sense of our own limitations in tackling new endeavours.
Over the course of the ten days, we learned to savour the delights of the Rwandan melanje, from the French melange or mixture, which, anyone who has been to France will know, is a kind of cuisine the French abhor. When I used to pile up meat and three veg on my plate at my workplace north of Paris in the 1970s 'quel melange' was the equivalent of 'quelle horreur'! But hey, the melanje is good tucker if a little samey and has turned me into a 90% vegetarian as the goat meat is usually pretty tough and the fried tilapia a tad rubbery. But Rwandan avocados are bigger and sweeter than the Aussie ones, so there.
|Stella's fish shop next to a holier one|
I know it's tough on round ball haters (not another nil-nil draw is a popular Aussie refrain) but the World Game really brings people together like no other activity, except for a good punch up perhaps. I remember black-market, currency-exchanging my way around Eastern Europe in Iron Curtain days (how much for your Levi's?) when the mere mention of Bobby Charlton and Denis Law was enough to thaw the heart of the toughest KGB agent or hard-nosed, underemployed waiter. If the latter was being a bit difficult about dishing up the stodge in the westerners' restaurant then a few 'Bobby Charltons and Ferenc Puskases' and bingo you got served!
|Soccer mad kids and paper ball|
Well Rwanda isn't quite like that but the linguistic mix in bars makes for interesting exchanges. Some of us vols went down to watch the Tottenham vs Man U game on Sky TV and a conversation with the locals went something like this:
- Very good
- Qui gagne?
- Wayne Rooney
- Ryan Giggs
Big smiles all round. Actually it was a crap game (another 0-0 draw!) and we were disappointed to have missed the exciting 2-2 between Liverpool and Everton which preceded it.
|Typical crowded mini-bus|
I'm sure you were all following the Under 17s African Cup which was played in Kigali and in which Rwanda made the final. I watched the semi with some of the local cleaners and the exuberant fist punching when Rwanda got the winning goal left me needing to be subbed. In the final Rwanda were robbed when Burkina Faso's winner clearly didn't cross the line. In a British pub people would have been hurling abuse and frothing at the mouth but here there was complete acceptance of the decision. Quite surreal actually. Prior to that Rwanda had scored a beautiful equalising goal to offset BF's soft opener. Gee, you should have seen the celebrations in the bar. My barely recovered knuckles took another pounding following a complicated series of finger interlocks and handshakes.
Our son Liam, who hitchhiked around Africa in 2009, has written very amusingly about African handshakes in his blog at: http://awoliam.blogspot.com/2009/12/guide-to-african-handshake.html It's well worth a look.
Wow, as I write this, I've just seen my first collegial head butt. Two Head Teachers shook hands, then held each other's fingers for a while before stepping forward and gently connecting foreheads. One of the dudes then repeated the gentle action with another HT. That's not the way we do it in Glasgow!
I can't leave Kigali without mention of its Genocide Memorial to the 800,000 who died in those infamous three months from April 1994. It is also the burial site for 275,000 of the slain. Opened in April 2004 to commemorate the genocide's tenth anniversary, it stands on a hillside with a wonderful view across the valley to Kigali city centre. Alongside the mass graves, a Wall of Names is gradually displaying the thousands of victims. Some sections of the memorial are not for the faint-hearted especially the moving audio-visual testimonies and the special section, with photographs, dedicated to the children who were slaughtered.
The British High Commissioner, who has just left after a three-year stint in the country, paid us a visit and gave a robust, no-holds barred account of the past and present political situation in the country. It was refreshing and unexpected to hear talk like this from a career diplomat and very different to the simpering toady who welcomed us as English teachers in Malaysia all those years ago. An insider vol, who works in the UK parliament, says that in the last 10 years there has been a new breed of outspoken civil servant sent to distant lands. If that's true elsewhere as well, then hats off to the new Sir Humphrey Applebys running Whitehall.
The bonding VSO 'family' party on the final Saturday was a grand event culminating in a performance by Rwanda's celebrated Intore dancers. Intore means 'the best' and is a traditional dance that dates back centuries when selected young men were given special choreographic training to perform at the royal court and on ceremonial occasions. Predictably the evening ended with some enthusiastic audience participation in which I felt honour bound, as the only Aussie vol in the current intake, to take part. It was also a chance to shake my rusty, now-retired, soccer legs (boo hoo).