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

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Return to Kibungo

"Hey old man, what is your motherland?" asked the youngish chap next to me on the Kibungo bus. Well, truth be told, I didn't quite know how to respond to this delightful inquiry. "Actually it's fatherland old bean, and don't you know that 60 is the new 40," was, of course, only a belated reflection. Actually the only countries with parenthood I can think of at the moment are Russia, Germany and France. (Your job is to remember which one(s) have a mother and which one(s) a father.)
Head teacher training

Then I thought a bit more. What am I, Australian or British/Scottish? I'm working with lots of Poms, I'm geographically closer to Europe and practically on the same time zone, AND I look up the Guardian website more than the ABC one! Traitor! However, I am working and travelling here on an Aussie passport and I was really pleased that Cadel Evans won the Tour de France even though I don't much care for him. But he's an Aussie, oi, oi oi! Then, when the Scotland football team were cheated by the referee in the last minute of the game against the Czechs to drop two crucial points in the European Championship qualifiers I was almost apoplectic. That ref deserved to die. The mixed up migrant, right?
The smoking ground (see story below)

Anyway, back in bus-world, I was wearing my quizzical expression, eyes upwards and finger over mouth, and the poor bloke was probably wondering if I was ever going to answer what he thought was a straightforward question. Finally, I said Aus...tral...i...a - four clear syllables in order not to confuse it with a small European country. I think, strictly speaking, I was wrong as your mother/fatherland surely means where your mater and pater brung you up, innit?
Theo and Renata at the electricity party!

The level of English in Rwanda is pretty wretched so all power to the guy on the bus for at least trying to communicate albeit in a rather unusual way. There is no polite form of request in Kinyarwanda and no 'please' so the English equivalent usually tends to be pretty abrupt. Common utterances are 'I want, or give me... chalk, pen, paper, money' instead of the dressed up English ' I'd like, please may I, could I, can I, would you mind, could you possibly' locutions of our normal discourse. Recently, when I was watching a football match, a guy came into the bar and said 'would you mind if I sit here' referring to a neighbouring chair. I looked around to see if I was dreaming but he was real and had seemingly learned the expression from listening to tapes. Needless to say, in my educational role here, I try to emphasise expanded forms of English communication...... but not usually when the footie's on.
The source of the smoking ground
I was waiting for all the head teachers to arrive for a training session (a 'formation') out in the boondocks one day (a 9 o'clock meeting is lucky to start before 10). Weather is always an interesting subject so I thought I would broach it. "You certainly have a great climate here in Rwanda," I averred. "Yes," said the team leader, "this is proof of God's goodness. We are poor but he gives us good weather. You are rich but he gives you hurricanes and floods." I like the idea of a supernatural Fair Play Dude but think that Somalia and a few other places might be questioning the even-handedness of the Umpire's decision making.
Crowds gathering for the electrical event of the week including a classic head wearer
Rwanda, which is almost completely Christian, has undergone a fairly recent historical switch from animism. The first of the old kings to convert was only in 1943 and was part of a Belgian colonial policy that called for mass conversions. Christianity soon became a prerequisite for membership of the Tutsi elite and three days of celebration followed the decision in 1946 to dedicate Rwanda to 'Christ the King'. Nowadays, this is such a religious society that even the authorities are worried. A recent nutrition report expressed concern that too many Rwandans spend too much time in 'prayerful activity' to the detriment of work. Consequently family diet suffers. There is also a big push for increased agricultural productivity as part of the land consolidation program and excessive praying won't put extra food into the market place. But some of the charismatic and evangelical churches that are springing up say that becoming a devoted member can make you rich and the preachers themselves are often exemplars with their smart clothes, car and well-fed look. If them, then why not us?
How electric cables are wrapped together
The religiosity of the people may be one of the reasons that no one seems to know much if anything about dinosaurs. After my exchange with the Ugandan hotel receptionist (recounted in Into Uganda - Part 1) it has been tempting to probe deeper into Rwandans' knowledge of the Terrible Lizards. So far the scorecard is not promising with only one person Stella asked having the vaguest idea about them. I don't suppose it really matters in the daily scheme of things but is indicative of the constant search for explanation which lies at the heart of an enlightened educational system. Most people here still believe that God made everything in a trice so dinosaurs and their links to the evolutionary cycle get in the way of pat answers.
Electricity arriving in our yard

 'Satan' and 'hell' are widely used religious terms in Rwanda and with the history of the 1994 genocide and previous slaughters over more than 50 years it's easy to understand why. When smoke started to come out of the ground outside our house I thought, too, that Old Nick was up to no good. The first clue that something was wrong was when friend Theo came rushing into the yard with a concerned look on his face. There had been a heavy downpour and something odd was happening to the ground outside. Out I went to see three men staring at something more interesting than me. "They're cooking in hell," said one ominously. It certainly looked like it. A trail of smoke emerged from a depression in the ground. Eventually repairmen came and the crowd grew in size. The pictures show the smouldering electric cables that were the cause of the problem. A bit Heath Robinson don't you think? Our guard Justin summed it up amusingly when he said, "all this underground stuff will be the end of us." After the huge hole that appeared in our back garden and now this, I'm inclined to agree.
The back garden hole being reclaimed by vegetation

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