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

Friday, September 23, 2011


A remark from a friend shortly before leaving Australia sticks in the mind. I asked how her elderly father fills in his time and she said that he washes the dishes. I said, "that can't take too long surely" to which she replied, "he washes the dishes VERY slowly." I think of that sometimes when I walk up and down the road to my office. Most people walk at a snail's pace compared with the high octane 'muzungu walk'. I'm sure Rwandans think it's hilarious but I tell you what, it's a great way to shake off a squad of demanding kids from Les Hirondelles school. Watch them try to keep up with Usain Walls!
Misses Inatek 2009 and 2010 (see story below)
Once in the office the first person to come and shake my hand is Guido who was brought up and educated in Uganda and who returned to Rwanda in the mid 1990s, like thousands of others, after the genocide. He is often referred to, at 63, as the old man as there appear to be no other people of his age working for the district. He is two years from retirement and as a good English speaker is responsible for that modern day essential, the district website. (http://www.ngoma.gov.rw/) Having left Rwanda as a school boy in the early 1960s, shortly after the first major post second world war conflict in the country, his outgoing manner reflects his many years away from the much more subdued culture of Rwanda.
Strange group performing tribal singing at Kigali-Up music festival
Rwandans are not the chattiest of people but Guido likes to know what I get up to at the weekend although he now avoids asking about church after the praying saga recounted in a Question of Faith. (http://deniswalls.blogspot.com/2011_05_01_archive.html). I told him that I had played a full 90 minutes for the Kigali Kougars (my scorched face and scalp were evidence), been to a music festival (mostly rained out) and taken part in a VSO celebration party to welcome new volunteers to the country (I got down and funky with the Intore dancers). "What about you?" I ventured in return. Turns out his five adult sons had come all the way down from Kigali so he could treat them to a fanta. (I know there must have been other benefits but that's what he said.) I am in awe of the powers of the coca cola company in this country. Imagine enticing western offspring homewards with the promise of a sticky drink at the end of it! But you've got to love that simplicity.
Office taboos

I couldn't continue my sugary chat with Guido as I had an appointment upstairs with the Executive Secretary of the district to discuss details of an upcoming meeting on VSO's annual performance review to which 20 people had been invited - important stuff like where we would be having lunch and whether drinks would be provided. As I waited I studied the five taboos and values for Vision 2020 pinned to his door. (See adjacent photos) That is the year by which Rwanda aspires to be a middle-income country, or the Singapore of Africa, whichever you prefer. I'm not quite sure how invulnerability relates to lack of trust but it is interesting to observe how often the meetings I attend use the jargon of western bureaucracies. 'Effective and efficient', 'continuous improvement', 'transparency', 'quality outcomes' and even (heaven forbid) 'moving forward' are present in documents in all their obfuscatory glory. When I am listening to a speech in Kinyarwanda I will suddenly hear one of these beauties casually dropped into the spiel. I sometimes trot them out myself when I am doing a presentation and forget the extent to which I have been drugged by clichés.
National values to aspire to

One of the most popular verbs in English language documents is 'to sensitise', roughly meaning to inform people or make them aware. "We must sensitise society/schools to the education of girls" is typical. It's a direct translation from the French 'sensibiliser' and I never know whether to change the word to something more globally familiar, in documents that have been badly translated from the French, or just accept it as new Rwandan English. Ah, decisions! Interestingly, Taboo 4 (fear of conflict: artificial harmony) invites Rwandans to be less sensitive and more frank with each other.
Warthog and topi on skewers with poacher
I was 'sensitised' to a very important problem recently when coming back from Akagera NP. We got a lift with some rangers who were taking three poachers to the police station to be locked up (they would get six months we were told) for killing a warthog and a topi. They had been smoking the meat on long skewers over an open fire in the national park when the fire spread and alerted the rangers that folks were up to no good. It is a measure of the increasing confidence of poachers in the NP and, also, their desperation such is the problem of exploding population, land encroachment and lack of alternative employment opportunities. Bush meat is cheap too compared with beef or even goat. The above photo does not, of course, convey the stench and the flies engulfing these less than tasty looking kebabs.
Miss Inatek 2011 and the two runners up
Sensitised to equality for girls in schools we may be but some things remain the same the world over when it comes to beauty pageants. There is clearly a sensitisation imperative to male inclusion! Miss Inatek (Institute of Agriculture, Technology, Education of Kibungo) was the event and the main hall of the district was packed with an expectant crowd. It started fashionably late, featured top musical performers from Kigali, who accepted the numerous power outages with stoical good grace, and eight female students from Inatek who slinked on stage wearing four different sets of clothing. The handicraft ones were the best. The finale was when they had to answer two questions in either Kinyarwanda, French or English. None choose their native tongue one can assume because there were extra points for talking in a foreign language. Most chose to struggle in French over their even weaker English. The first question was what they would do for Inatek if they won (everyone wanted to be une ambassadrice for the college) but the second was a little unequal. One girl was asked how long the Miss Inatek competition had been running (since 2009) whereas two others were asked to comment on relations with France in light of Paul Kagame's first official visit there since the genocide and, bizarrely, on the role of football in Rwandan society. I'd like to see some man hunk being asked seamstress questions to decide who was best qualified to be Mr Inatek. The audience seemed to have decided who the winner would be well ahead of time and sure enough she was. I reckon Miss Photogenic deserved it. She is the one in the bad photo below, catwalking the handicraft part of the contest, who looks like she enjoys a square meal.
Ms Photogenic

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