The views expressed in this blog are the author's own and do not reflect those of VSO

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A rave affair - the Kibungo Expo

Last week Jen, a VSO methodology teacher from a nearby TTC (teacher training college), and I were asked to have an educational stand at the District of Ngoma Expo. Nearly $100 was required for the privilege - more than three months average household expenditure in these parts. Jen brought a load of English teaching goodies from her village and we turned up in the local field at the appointed time to dress our stand with as much panache and bunting as we could muster. Well, the crowds had never seen anything like it and, if there had been an award for best-attended stall, we would have won it hands down. Apparently we got big coverage on Rwandan national television.
Before the crowds, Jen and Theo prepare the displays. The pic looks into biogas space in shared tent
Most came to look on in amazement, as one might at recently discovered species from a remote valley in a far off land. Others, more worldly, wanted to glance at some of the reading materials or play the simple board games we had laid out. No one seemed to have heard of 'Snakes and Ladders' or other dice throwing games which can also be used to teach numbers or shapes. Teenagers played them endlessly with great relish never tiring of a simplicity that would have had most much younger western children bored within a few minutes. Students from a nearby secondary school asked questions about Snakes and Ladders like: 'what is the probability of winning?' or, 'what is the purpose of this game?' I had explained that it was used to give children confidence with 1 to 100 numbers in English but one particular student wanted more until I eventually said 'enjoyment'. 'That is not an objective' she said and walked off. Rwandans can be a very literal and serious people.
Crowds around the table
The District Education Officer was bitterly disappointed that Jen had not brought a dog-eared imitation cockerel and fake fish that he had seen in her resource room when touring the district with the Education Minister. He was on the blower in a trice demanding that the fish and cock be put on a bus in a special box and transported directly to the Expo! He must have been on to something because they became the star attractions of the stall. People would wander in and immediately pick them up in utter astonishment. Several wanted their pictures taken with Keza (the Beautiful) and the Fish (we had a 'Name the Cock' competition - sorry Fish).
Fish and Keza the Cock with fan
Some of our star quality rubbed off on the adjacent stall promoting biogas which their sniffy presenter had wanted sectioned off in a swirl of fabric. I urged open tent space with its symbiotic feedback loops and complementary synergies! Actually, they got all of the benefit from our crowd spillover with exhausted fish, cock, snake and ladder aficionados suddenly learning of the multiple benefits of using cow dung as a source of household cooking gas, light and fertiliser. Here I have to fess up to ignorance at the time of writing last week's post. I was wrongly informed that all cow dung for use as biogas had to be taken to Kigali and was unaware of the nascent small-scale biogas market. Gee, it's interesting. Here's how it works. In the schematic representation shown in the picture, slurry (cow dung and water) is fed through the spout on the left into the container (digester). The spout is closed off and the slurry ferments for around one month initially before producing methane through a small hole at the top of the digester which is connected to a pipe into the house. Fertiliser is automatically expelled into the tray on the right. Once functioning, the fermentation process is continuous with roughly four hours of energy time available for each digester load of slurry.
Expo representation of biogas digester with methane lamp on right
That's the good news. The bad news is the purchase and installation cost of about $1300 equivalent, which is a monumental sum for most farmers. $500 of that is a subsidy and the remainder is paid off over a three-year period in monthly instalments of roughly $20. Bear in mind that the average income/expenditure for most farmers is around $30 a month and you can see that during the pay back period they have to survive on about $10 a month. I asked one of the stand presenters about this and his argument was that the benefits of using the gas would offset the disadvantages, but collection of firewood as cooking fuel and absence of lighting are not current financial costs and the benefits of the fertiliser are a longer term gain. He admitted that promoting the biogas units to poorer farmers, with no surplus income and thus minimal opportunity to save, was a tough sell. Nonetheless, he said that the take up in Ngoma district was better than other parts of the country although he was vague on the actual figures. Here's hoping the costs come down, or the subsidy goes up, because it sounds like a top class idea.
Drawing of what the digester looks like next to a house
The Expo was a two day affair and we left the materials in the tent overnight knowing there was more than a modicum of security; the area was being patrolled by guards with rifles, others with heavy batons and yet more holding the thin, long sticks beloved of Rwandan school teachers and used for threatening recalcitrants with a good skelp across the legs! Confident that Fish, Keza the Cock, and the board games and posters were safe, we headed up to the beer tent where an alcohol-fuelled jollity was gaining steam. We were offered a muzungu, rules-exempt, separate table outside the roped off drinking area but declined. Being accorded special treatment happens occasionally and it can be tempting to accept. For example, last weekend on our way to Rusomo Falls two men, who were sitting in the front of the minibus, were asked by the conductor to move to the back and give the seats to us. We were bundled in quickly but didn't say no. Oh dear, does that sound bad? We had actually said that we preferred to wait for the next bus than be crammed in at the back. Anyway, I think I'll get over it.
Some traditional ladies in the crowd
Relaxing in the perfect late afternoon temperature, chilled Mutzig beer in hand, mellow from post-stall fatigue, bantering with the friendly crowd and shaking hands with all my new friends who came up to say hullo, there was nowhere else on earth I would rather have been. It could have been Womadelaide or Woodford minus the blazing sun or drenching rain. Music drifted up from an imaginary stage somewhere to the left and couples frolicked to my right. Their behaviour - a girl sitting on a guy's lap - and appearance - some eccentrically dressed cool dudes - did not belong in the day-to-day Kibungo that I know. Maybe the magic of the Expo had loosened Rwanda's gender rules and also brought some odd clothes items out of the back room jumble box. Our friend Theo thought that some of the girls were 'probably prostitutes' but I maintain they were just a bunch of young people at a festival letting it all hang out.
Expo dancers

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