A severe dose of ‘man flu’…………..
November 15, 2010

Apologies to my ‘regulars’ for the lack of postings over the last week or so, principally the result of a severe bout of ‘man flu’ which I’ve managed to recover from with the help of an emergency cache of paracetamol, Strepsils and Lemsip which Dorothy had stashed away before her departure and for which I was very grateful.  

A moto-ride to O Sole Luna

Following my whistle-stop tour of the Volcanoes National Park and Lake Kivu I returned to Kigali and met up with my VSO colleagues who had been toiling through another week of in-country training.

I was running a bit late when I left the Hotel Isimbi and immediately realised that I had not allowed for the Friday night rush hour in the capital city. I decided to forget the matutu (mini-bus taxi) and take a moto. It was quite an exhilarating experience (one I wouldn’t even have considered when I first arrived here)  as we bobbed and weaved through queues of traffic, surging between the static rows, with a hair’s breadth to spare, in order to take pole position at the traffic lights.    

I made the rendezvous with time to spare and we enjoyed a really pleasant evening at a highly recommended Italian restaurant on the edge of Remera, called O Sole Luna, which provided stunning views from its terrace across the twinkling lights of Kigali (no power-cut that night) and more importantly a genuine wood fired pizza oven!

Service was a bit on the slow side, which is pretty standard anywhere – time is not considered important here, but well worth waiting for. My four cheese pizza even had genuine chunks of brie and gorgonzola!

At the end of the evening it was time for hugs and fond farewells with a number of very nice people who I have come to know over the last ten weeks and who I will not see again before I return home. I wish them all the very best for the remainder of their long-term placements.     

A rising temperature but the show goes on!

By Sunday afternoon, and a three-hour bus journey courtesy of International, I arrived back at Nyakarambi with a rising temperature, sore throat and streaming nose. A throbbing head soon joined in and basically I felt pretty grim for the next three days.

Unfortunately it coincided with my first two scheduled workshops which I didn’t want to cancel so I dosed myself up and ploughed on regardless. I wouldn’t recommend facilitating a four-hour session on creating an effective classroom environment as the best remedy but I got through and lived to tell the tale.

It was rather disappointing, given the work I’d put into the preparation, that only 50% of the staff showed up at one school and about 75% at the other. It is the school holidays (for pupils) but I had been led to believe teachers were expected to attend any in-service training that was made available to them. I’m still not clear whether their contracts oblige them to put in an appearance. Clearly some of them think it’s optional or don’t fancy the idea of a muzungu droning on about raising standards for four hours!    

Going Postal in Kibungo & Caribbean curry

On Saturday I visited Kibungo in search of our nearest Iposita (post office). These are a rare commodity in Rwanda. This one, quite a walk from the centre of town, is the only place that sells stamps ‘locally’ and is the sole repository for incoming mail.

None of the properties in Nyakarambi and the surrounding villages has a postal address and there is no postal delivery service so if residents or schools wish to receive mail they need to set up a ‘post box’ in Kibungo.

Periodically they then have to make a bus journey clutching the key to their numbered box with its little yellow door situated outside the main post office building, which incidentally doesn’t strike me as being overly secure.

It’s been a ten week odyssey to find and purchase post cards, and then locate the post office in Kibungo, which of course was closed by the time I arrived.

Fortunately there are two young lady volunteers living in Kibungo who will post the cards for me later this week. Cathy and Louise also kindly offered to cook me a meal and put me up for the night in their ‘guest room’. So it wasn’t a wasted journey.

We had a pleasant time shopping in the local market where they both showed how their Kinyarwanda lessons are paying off as they enquired about prices and exchanged pleasantries with the stall holders who now recognise them as local regulars.

A very healthy, vegetable laden, Caribbean curry (due to the presence of fresh pineapple) and rice went down very well later on Saturday night, followed by a rare treat of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk (made under license in Kenya). On Sunday morning they also kindly rustled up pancakes for breakfast I left for home. I must have looked in need of a good feed. Thanks for looking after an old-timer girls!                   

This week I’ve got four consecutive days of workshops, two on lesson planning and two on classroom observation. I’m pleased to say things have started quite well with an improved turn out today.        

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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: www.justgiving.com/Phil-Aldridge