Supermarket Sweep at T2000 aka ‘The Chinese Shop’
September 13, 2010

Today was our last training day, comprising a  final Kinyarwanda lesson, followed by a session on the vagaries of performance management, Rwandan style.  

Emmanuel, our Kinywrandan teacher has been excellent; clear, helpful, friendly and amusing, particularly with some of  his catch phrases such as, “It’s there”  and “Vocabulary for free,” any time there was a derivation, no matter how tenuous, from English or French. 

After lunch we took the matatu into Kigali town centre to buy basic commodities for our accommodation. We have each been given a grant of 100,000 Rwandan francs (£100.00) to buy such essentials as : blankets, sheets, pillows, pots, pans, crockery, cutlery, cleaning materials etc.

19 VSO volunteers descended on T2000 aka the Chinese Shop (for obvious reasons) and spent an hour or cruising up and down the aisles with our baskets. It was all a bit like Supermarket Sweep  (for those who have had the misfortune to have seen that programme!).

Surprisingly, I will be sharing with another ‘Aldridge’, which no doubt will cause some confusion for our employers, and the locals in Nyakarimbi, who will obviously presume we are related!

Together we spent around 750,000 RwF and have placed the rest on hold until we arrive in Nyakarambi as we will probably get better value for money at the local market.

After our shopping exertions we took time out in the Bourbon Cafe,  an upmarket establishment (with 30 minutes free internet for customers) which is  frequented mainly by wealthier Rwandans and ex -pats. One of its attractions is a large screen TV which shows Sky News!

I watched footage on, former Liberal MP for Rochdale, Cyril Smith’s funeral in an XXXL coffin, snippets from the TUC Conference (I think I might be returning home to a winter of discontent)  and that wind and rain are forecast in the UK! 

Tomorrow we have a full day in consultation with our employers and have to be turned out in our best work clothes and most importantly shiny shoes, which the Rwandans think is very important!

On Wednesday we depart for Nyakarambi, in Kirehe District, which is three hours south-east of Kigali, and will be my new home for the next  three months.

Today Suzanne, a Canadian volunteer, has a birthday so we are all headed up the road to celebrate with a few inzoga (beers) at the local which I have just discovered goes under the name of the ‘ Kumusave Bar’.

Cheers, Salut, Ubuzi ma byinza!    

MTN Dongle!
September 9, 2010

I have arrived safely in  Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills. I’m currently based in Kicukiro, a suburb of the capital city Kigali. It is about 12km from the city centre which is  30-40 minutes by mini bus taxi or matutu as they are known.

I have managed to buy a dongle which will allow me to access the internet via the national MTN mobile network. It means I won’t be dependent on using internet cafes for checking emails or posting on the outofafrica2010 blog.  

There are 19 VSO volunteers staying at the Hostel Amani where we are receiving quite intensive but enjoyable in country training.

I have been keeping a hand written daily log and hope to make a more detailed posting before next wednesday when I set off for my placement in the Kirehe district, 2-3 hours south-east of Kigali.  

Ijore ryiza namwe !

Simbyumva, subiramo, vuga buhora buhora!
August 27, 2010

September 4th, a week on Saturday, I will be leaving the Shire again and flying out to Kigali to join the VSO fellowship in Rwanda.

There will be twelve new volunteers embarking on this adventurous mission that hopefully won’t prove as perilous as the journey across Middle Earth to the Cracks of Doom made by Frodo Baggins and his mates!

Mind you our 15 hour flight from Heathrow is with Ethiopian Airlines and via Addis Ababa so you never know.

I’m, what is called, a STV (short-term volunteer) as my placement is only for 13 weeks, whereas my colleagues are all LTVs (long-term volunteers) having committed to at least 12 months and in most cases two years. In some ways I feel quite light weight by comparison!

With the departure date becoming increasingly imminent I’ve been tackling the outstanding items on a pretty lengthy to do list.

I’ve now, at last, completed the pre-departure Kinyarwanda Language course and whilst being pretty pleased, not to say surprised, with my score of 44½/50 in the final assessment exercise, it is all still a bit of mystery!

Based on the units I’ve covered, theoretically, I should now be able to meet and greet, pass on a little bit of personal information about myself, order some food and drink, barter for a few things at the local market, and catch a motorbike taxi!

It’s highly likely that the words and phrases I will be making the most use of will be:

Simbyumva, subiramo, vuga buhoro buhoro  (I don’t understand, repeat that, speak slowly) 

Uvuga icyongereza? (Do you speak English?)  

Ndashaka hamburger, ifiriti na (inzoga) Mutzig! (I’d like a hamburger, fries and a Premium beer!)  

I’ve invested in a Kinyarwanda, French, English dictionary, purchased through Amazon which I’m sure will prove invaluable over the coming months. There will also be further language sessions as part of the week-long in country training we will all receive in Kigali before dispersing to our various placements across the country.

As my accommodation will be without mains electricity, I’ve also taken delivery of wind up torch, a solar-powered reading light and power monkey explorer which should keep my mobile and Ipod charged up in between visits to the VSO area office, which thankfully does have electricity.  

The power monkey has taken up residence on the bedroom window ledge but seems to be taking for ever to get fully charged, although it has been a very dull week weather wise.

As a charity, VSO needs to attract financial support in order to cover the cost of recruiting, training and sending volunteers abroad. It currently costs £18,000 per twelve month placement.

In this regard they are very dependent on various community groups who promote the organisation’s charitable work and also raise funds to support the placement of volunteers.  

I have been linked with the VSO Worcestershire Supporters Group who have committed to making a donation of between £1250 and £2000 a year to sponsor a local Worcestershire volunteer. This year it happens to be me and I went to meet some of this group for the first time, on Tuesday evening.

The membership is largely made up of returned volunteers who were very welcoming and at this time close to departure, when I’m feeling a little apprehensive, they were able to offer encouragement and sound practical advice which was much appreciated.

I will try to keep them up to date with how things are going in Rwanda via email and my blog and hope to meet up with them again when I return home in December.   

In the mean time if you would like to support VSO’s work by making a small donation please visit my just giving page:

Grey Days & Away Days…..
August 8, 2010

It’s been another hectic week……..

Having returned to a miserably overcast Birmingham Airport, late Monday afternoon, from blue skies and 40 degrees  in Spain, thoughts immediately turned to our next jaunt, motoring in France, next week.

We booked tonight’s ferry crossing from Portsmouth just over a week ago so rather a last-minute decision. We don’t have a fixed destination in mind but thought we would head, in leisurely style, towards the châteaux and vineyards of the Loire Valley, an area we last visited way back in 1982!

Hopefully, along the way, there will be plenty of opportunities  for me to gain much-needed practice in my spoken French – pre Rwanda.

Having checked out a few hotels on-line, all of which looked rather over priced, we have decided where possible to camp. Having recently spent four weeks under canvas in Zambia I think I can just about manage another week on the Thermarest mattress shoe-horned into my mummy style sleeping bag.  

Thinking our camping days were well and truly behind us we got rid of our old frame tent and cooking equipment during a loft clearance exercise a few years ago. We have therefore invested in a lightweight, erected in seconds, affair – we’ll see! We are taking just the single gas burner, a small kettle for an early morning cuppa and a box of cornflakes but apart from that we intend to eat out.      

Having given Tuesday over to selecting and buying a tent, Wednesday was ear marked for  getting to grips with the  beginners’ Kinyarwanda course, which to be honest is proving easier said than done.

Half an hour in and I received an emergency phone call from VSO. Apparently the Rwandan authorities require my CRB clearance to be updated before they can issue a work permit. With time of the essence and my passport, which I will be using next week, required as evidence I had no alternative but to present myself in person at Putney HQ.

Thursday, at 6.30, I joined the early morning commuters from Pershore station, bound for Paddington. By 9.30 I had negotiated the District Line down to East Putney and presented myself at the VSO office. Within thirty minutes I had completed the paperwork, the accompanying documentary evidence  had been scrutinised and I was on my way again.

Having made my way,via the Central Line, to Chancery Lane I collapsed inside Café Nero, with a much-needed black Americano and  a (low-calorie) sticky toffee muffin, for breakfast.

This was my pre-appointed place of rendezvous with Gem who has recently taken up an appointment, as features writer, in the Old Holborn office of Love It magazine. We managed to grab 40 minutes or so together and she seems very happy with her new job which seems to be going fine. You can check out what she’s up to every Tuesday, copies available from all reputable newsagents and stationers!

Friday was another day of Test cricket, this time at Edgbaston. I hadn’t realised when I booked the ticket, months ago, that Pakistan would prove such light weight opponents this year and that I would be spending the day under gloomy Birmingham skies watching the play against the grey backdrop of a building site.

A 30 million pound redevelopment of the pavilion end is mid completion. It will be great when it’s finished (right) but it remains a mystery to me how the ECB could justify scheduling a Test Match at this venue, under these circumstances, given that there are a number of other grounds perfectly willing and able to stage the game.

The ball seamed and swung and, with Pakistan all out for a paltry 72, by mid afternoon the game was, to all intents and purposes, over. Given the advantageous bowling condition and the fragile state of the Pakistani batting it’s quite difficult to judge just how good the England bowlers are but it was good to see Stuart Broad amongst the wickets again.

Yesterday, Saturday, was the first day of the 2010-11 football season for all of those teams outside the Premier League! Forest were away at Burnley, who were relegated from the top-tier last year and are favourites to bounce straight back up again.

I decided to make the journey north to Turf Moor as there won’t be too many opportunities for me to watch the Tricky Trees before Christmas. With the aid of the trusty sat nav I was there in two and a half hours, motorway all the way.

It was a bit of a nostalgic trip for me. Back in 1966-7 Forest finished runners-up in the old 1st Division and as young 13-year-old fan I tried to get to as many games as possible. Visits to away grounds were quite a rarity in those days and Burnley was one of the first that I managed to get to.

I remember  it vividly. A friend’s uncle arrived mid afternoon in his old Morris Minor and offered to take us to the Easter Tuesday evening match. Of course we jumped at the chance. The old car wasn’t much of a speedster, especially with five of us in it, but we made the kick off.

I can remember the glistening cobbled streets around the ground which was tucked in amongst rows of terraced houses. It was real flat cap and whippet territory and the accents on the terraces were as thick as Lancashire Hot Pot!

Forest won that night with two goals from the legendary Zigger Zagger , Zigger Zagger, Joe Baker!  We could have done with him up front yesterday. He would have buried at least one of the three chances Nathan Tyson managed to lash into the crowd. The 1-0 defeat, was hard to take but the performance suggested we will be there or there about again at the business end of the season.     

That’s  just about it for this week. I’ve mowed the lawns, packed the car and the sun is even shining for the first time this week. La belle France beckons!


Bonne Anniversaire Gem!  I hope you are enjoying Lille and Reims with Nicci and Rache and enjoying a celebratory bottle of fizzy (or two)!

SKWID 3 – Next steps towards Rwanda…
July 20, 2010

The last day and a half, at Harborne Hall, have focussed on: negotiation skills, conflict resolution, monitoring evaluation and review, co-operative facilitation and personal self-evaluation.     

I arrived home this p.m. exhausted, with my head buzzing and a to do list as long as my arm. The VSO delivered training is now completed and it’s down to self preparation from here on in. The main knowledge/skills development priorities for me will be to continue my French refresher course, which to be honest  has slipped off the agenda recently, and to make use of VSO’s online course in basic Kinyarwanda.

The SKWID training has served to reinforce my belief that I have the requisite knowledge and skills to make an effective education manager, within the Rwandan context, but I am still concerned that I might be hindered by my inability to communicate effectively with people who have varying degrees of English, whilst my French is limited and my Kinyarwanda currently non-existent!

The other issues I need to address are more practical things like, making sure any outstanding medical requirements are met and resolving the perennial packing problem. I’m awaiting my flight details but the weight allowance is likely to be quite restricted. I also need to ascertain whether I can get my crash helmet (which I picked up today) as well as a laptop and camera equipment in my hand luggage!      

The SKWID group bonded really well which made the training activities much more enjoyable and far less daunting than they might otherwise have been. It’s always interesting to meet and get to know new people and it never fails to surprise me how quickly complete strangers open up and relax in each other’s company.

As we socialized over a few well-earned drinks each evening  it felt strange to think that in two months time we will be scattered throughout the developing world,  getting to grips with our various VSO placements, in such varied places as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and of course Rwanda!  

I was the only short-term volunteer there this weekend. Everyone else has committed to at least twelve months with a number away on full two-year placements. I wish them all the very best and hope that their time overseas will provide provide rewarding, life changing experiences.  

All things being equal I fly out on September 4th, which all of a sudden seems so much closer now! I believe that there are ten volunteers who will be heading for placements in Rwanda on that date and I guess right now we will all be feeling similar degrees of excitement,  anticipation and apprehension!