‘Heaven’ as Forest record first win of the season!
September 14, 2010

Today was a full day Seminaire – Atelier pour Employeurs. The workshop largely covered issues surrounding the development of effective working partnerships between employers, volunteers and VSO.

A couple of colleagues have already moved on to their placements, this evening, but the majority of us ship out tomorrow morning. The Kirehe contingent, including myself, are scheduled to depart at 10.00am  for our 2-3 hour journey.

On this, our last, evening together a few of us decided to sample the delights of down town Kigali. Given it is Tuesday it was hardly buzzing and after 9.oopm everything started to shut down. However we were lucky enough to visit ‘Heaven’, a relatively up market terrace restaurant created from local materials by Rwandan craftsman but run by Americans.

We shared a tortilla and guacamole starter and then I had home-made, mushroom stuffed ravioli in tomato sauce accompanied by two large glasses of Mutzïg, ‘the taste of success’, available on draft!  My share of the bill came to 11,700 RWF (£11.70), expensive by Rwandan standards and in relation to VSO earnings, but great as a change from melanje or brochettes na ifiriti

On my return to the Hostel Amani logged on and found to my delight that Billy Davies was also in heaven tonight as the Tricky Trees chalked up their first win of the season, 2-1 at Preston, and their first away win since January. Lewis McGugan, making a rare start, scored both Forest goals and they are now unbeaten in five matches so hopefully this will be the beginning of a good run!

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Hostel Rwanda!
September 11, 2010

Torrential rain welcomed us as we touched down at Kigali Airport, around 14.00 hrs on Sunday 5th.  It was one  of the first downpours of the wet season and something that we have now become accustomed to each day, usually during the late afternoon or early evening.

The Ethiopian Airways flight from LHR had included a scheduled transfer in Addis Ababa but our onward passage to Kigali had taken us, unexpectedly, via Entebbe in Uganda, where we sat on the tarmac for an hour being refueled! On the up side, Entebbe airport is set next to Lake Victoria and there were terrific views as we came into land.

The total journey time from home was about 23 hours, which included the stop over in Entebbe and 3 hours sitting on the floor in the Addis Ababa departure lounge. This, at least, provided a bonding opportunity for the VSO recruits from the UK.

By the time we had cleared immigration and picked up our luggage, all of which thankfully arrived, the rain had stopped and the air felt fresh.  

We were welcomed by VSO Rwanda staff, including the country director, and transported to our current accommodation, the Hostel Amani. During the drive we were able to take in our first views of the Kigali skyline.

The Rwandan capital city straggles over several hills and valleys, spanning altitudes of between 1300m to 1600m. Our accommodation is close to the VSO office but about 12km from the main commercial city centre.      

Most people are sharing rooms but I somehow managed to get one to myself, which is a bonus. There are mosquitoes around so I’m taking daily malaria tablets, smothering myself in tropical strength Deet and sleeping cocooned within a net, which is something I’ll have to get used to over the next three months.

We are being rather spoilt at the moment with meals three times a day. The typical Rwandan meal is a melanje which is served buffet style and consists of a selection of salad, green vegetables (imboga), rice, fried potatoes, and fish or meat, usually in a tomato sauce.

There are a number of local bars and our nearest is just a couple of hundred metres up the road. It is in effect a converted metal container with a lean-to corrugated roof. There is a small courtyard, fenced off from the road, which houses colourful plastic patio furniture.  

The beers of choice are Primus and Mutzig , the taste of success as the slogan goes. A large bottle of inzoga ikonje, chilled beer, costs between 600-700 Rwandan francs (60-70p) and provides welcome relief from the somewhat oppressive heat.

The in country training is mainly taking place at the hostel although there have been outings to the VSO office, which is nearby, and a brief familiarisation visit to Kigali city centre which included a tour of the polyclinic.

The schedule includes a daily two-hour session of Kinyarwanda and has also covered more practical aspects of life such as how to light a kerosene stove and lamp. We have also had an informative and candid talk, from the British High Commissioner, Nick Cannon, who provided useful cultural and historical background information about Rwanda as well as a summary of the current political situation.

On our first full day here Paul Kagame was inaugurated as president, for a second time, following the recent election in which he gained 93% of the vote! A national holiday was called at extremely short notice, which apparently is a not uncommon occurrence. A couple of us managed to visit a bar to watch the final stages of the ceremony, which was attended by many visiting heads of African state.  

On one of our outings we were driven through that part of the city which houses the presidential palace and most of the foreign embassies. We were suddenly confronted by the headlights of motor cycle outriders flanking an official limousine which had  tinted windows and was sporting the national flag. It is highly likely it was the president who, apparently, chooses to drive himself around.

On Thursday we ate out and were treated to the omnipresent local favourite, ihene brochettes na ifiriti, (goat kebabs and chips) at the very originally named ‘The Bar’. The VSO staff put on a pub quiz and my team, the Mutzig Muzungus, won!

Your starter for 10!

In November 2009 Rwanda became the latest country to join the Commonwealth. It is one of only two member states that do not have a British colonial background. What is the other country?

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