Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Who is Harry?

"Who is Harry?" - Feedback Form

Held a team meeting at CityBlue the other day. I used to work from Novotel on a Monday whilst Damascene cleans, but the buffet is cheaper and better at CB - it includes pudding. Nice garden, too. The only thing is they have a sign overt the door saying Harry's Place.

That got my colleague Rose wondering. 

"Who is Harry?" she asked. "I'd like to meet him."

We quizzed the waiters, but no one knew. "He's not real," one said. "He's living abroad," said another. So it's become a team mission to find Harry.

In other news, after it took three months for one papaya to ripen, they're suddenly bursting out all over the place. This led to an epiphany...

Something else that's been popping out all over the place... Whenever I shop at Sharmas, I pass a shelf with these on.

Fryms Pappad Cois

I always read it as Pappa's Coins. Never knew what they were, but intrigued. So I finally bought a pack. Threw 'em in a frying pan, and this is what happened...

I was so busy filming that I burnt the first lot, but I reckon they'd be good as a sweet with some icing sugar. Just glad I know what they are now, it was keeping me awake at night.

I have been such a couch potato the past few days. A two-week hiatus between delegations. Been trying to recover my sanity and rent my house out. Unless I can rent my house, I can't go home to the UK, and I haven't been home in almost a year and a half.

Was looking desperate. Had two nibbles. One never turned up, and the other two were looking for long-term lets, even though it says on the website, in big, bold letters 'short term let, Sep-Jan'. 

I was getting very disheartened. I'm absolutely knackered and have a serious craving for flat beer and a bath. Or even a bath in flat beer. 

Then I get a whatsapp from the first person who didn't turn up. Some miscommunication about dates. I wasn't holding out any hope. Cleaned up the house, prepared myself for disappointment...

... She was absolutely perfect.  We got on like a house on fire (not my house, thankfully). She's totally fine with the short-term let, my landlord's totally fine with her dog. It couldn't have gone better! So, tomorrow I book my plane ticket. Sadly, prices seem to have soared recently, at least £70 more than usual, but right now I don't give a flick. Cannot wait to be trundling my suitcase through check-in. 

Lady Luck recently moved to Kampala to be closer to the action. She sent me a random message:

Hey darling.
How is work?
I dreamt about you last night....
Hope you are okay

This came the morning after a fairly testing day, I'd been feeling a little down:

So sorry to disturb your dreams.
Was I happy?

Her reply made me smile:

Yes you were so happy, we were having fun as usual.

Isn't it delightful to think that each night you get released from the daily drudge and can go skipping the light fantastic with your friends, even when they're hundreds of miles away?

Right, well. Round two begins on Thursday. 48 hours and counting. Five weeks before blastoff. 

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Everything Else

Continuing the catch-up.

The day after returning from Karongi and depositing internationals with their homestay families, we were off to visit the ministries. Got a great group photo with the Minister of Health, and another with Rwanda Development Board, both of whom were extremely welcoming and generous with their time. Both of whom have extremely long tables.

Ministry of Health


The next day we were off on a four hour round trip to the Eastern Province to visit the Prison Fellowship's reconciliation village. You can read an article here. It's a faith-based village where both victims and perpetrators of the genocide live side by side, work together, eat together, and so forth. They fed us with corn and bananas from their fields and we heard testimonies from members of the village, explaining how their lives had changed and become better through living side by side. It was one of the few areas of the country where no 'favours' were granted - meaning no one attempted to save any of the Tutsi. The death toll was very high. Which, I think, is what made it a prime focus for reconciliation. 

On the way home, we stopped off at Kayonza, a town I hadn't been through in about seven years. It had changed little. Though there were now a row of public toilets round the back of the petrol station. They provided quite a bit of amusement. You pay 100 to use them, but they are falling apart and the doors only have one handle. When you close the door, it locks! Then you have to shout for a woman to come with the only handle and let you out! I hope she never takes a lunch break.

There was a Liberation Day school parade going past the place we stopped for lunch.

The next few days were wonderfully peaceful for staff. Two days off, then they started volunteer placements for four days. This gave me a chance to catch up on the one sporting event of the year that I am utterly mad about - Wimbledon!

Reclaimed my projector, stocked up on Pringles and Skittles, and vegged out on the sofa.

Andy Murray


I have a huge back wall. Combined with a free VPN, which allows me to access BBC Online, and a little somethin' somethin', my life was bliss. That little somethin' somethin' is the latest technology in Rwanda - 4G broadband. We rented it for the participants at their hostel. I was so impressed that I reached into my pocket and doled out a small fortune for a connection of my own. The website loaded so fast it smacked me in the face! 

I've decided to make a vow, though. I will never, ever again spend this time of year overseas. Wimbledon is best observed on Dad's couch with Doritoes, dip, strawberries and cream. However good 4G is, it does only work when there's electricity. A power out in the last set of a Federer match is not funny.

Small Treat
£5 Worth of Chocolate!

Participants weren't completely abandoned.  We popped round to see them, to make sure they were getting on okay in their placements. On my list, I had the two participants volunteering with the National Paralympic Committee, my old friends from the Disability Coalition/PEPFAR days. Was really great to visit them again at their office in Amahoro Stadium. Looks like they're building a new running track outside.

Amahoro Stadium from a Distance

Also took them on a tour of the US State Department (Embassy to you and me) to find out about what they do in Rwanda. Really interesting to have our refugee participants with us to ask questions.

US Embassy, Kigali
I remember their old Embassy, it was a box. When this happened, it was like a spaceship landed. Their flag was bigger than my office. Still, very interesting to find out more. 

Then it was time for the final day presentation, where we book out a conference room at a local hotel and present to local NGOs and alumni. Followed by a posh dinner in town, combined with impromptu birthday celebrations for our lovely Kiziba refugee participant, and the handing out of completion certificates. Lovely evening, and I took home four days' worth of Chinese take-out.

The next day I met with the team in town for scrummy cakes and coffee whilst we went over feedback and reporting material. Managed to finish just in time to high-tail it across town to lovely Joanna's for home cooked pizza and Wimbledon final on the lawn. A Federer/Djokovic final. Phenomenal tennis all round. Beautiful sunset.

Anyone for Tennis?

Half the kids were off to Musanze and Uganda after the program, a couple went to the airport, including Dechen (teacher) and Meghan. I went there to pay the taxi and ended up hanging with them for a couple of hours, chatting and saying our goodbyes. 

The next day I met my team at Shokola above the library to have a conference call debrief with New York. Halfway through the call, it became apparent that we were in an internet black spot, so we raced motos back to my place and sat on the porch for the meeting. It was a good couple of hours and by the end we were all a bit knackered, so we decided to have a celebratory drink at the shop opposite my house. One turned into three and we were swapping swear words and toasts in our (combined) eleven languages, giggling like lunatics!

"We're going out tonight," my program assistant said. "You should come."

But I'm old and tired and no fun, I was thinking, eyeing my bed longingly.

"You must come!"

"I'll come for a couple of drinks..." I said, reluctantly.

My assistant and I had to sober up for a second 9PM conference call. We pulled it off. Met up after at a bar in town. A couple of drinks.... hmmm. Cue beer, wine, gin and tequila. (Gin shots are what they give you when they don't have any tequila and assume you're drunk enough not to notice - assumed correct). I think we went to four different bars that night, three of them night clubs. I have a photograph of my colleague twerking with a bottle of water on her head! Crawled home at 5AM.

It took me two days to recover. 

Oh, how innocent...


Thursday, 2 July 2015

Karongi: Potters and Ecolodge

I've borrowed these pictures from the interweb as I didn't take any of my own. Our third day in Karongi involved a trip to the Batwa village of Kabuga. The Batwa are the third - depending on how you class the other two - tribe of Rwanda. Unlike Hutu and Tutsi, which are arguably economic labels rather than ethnic, the Batwa are an actual ethnic group, formerly referred to as pygmies. A forest-dwelling group who have remained since the forests have all gone.

They're referred to as the Potters because they largely make their living casting clay into round pots which they fire on open bonfires. Apparently each pot fetches around FRW 300 (30p). The Batwa are considered one of the most deprived and vulnerable groups in Rwanda. They largely live in extreme poverty.

(Found one photo taken by our participants!)

Participants again got quite frustrated by this visit (especially the internationals). They felt we should be doing more to help than simply observing. Previous delegations have worked in cooperation with local NGOs to provide pigs, a pig hut and deliver soap. The problem has been that the pigs (all except two) were sold and the money reportedly spent on beer, as was the soap. Even the pig hut has vanished.

It was a particularly interesting dilemma. Fresh-faced undergrads who have studied the theory of development were somewhat flummoxed in the face of a community who seemed to have thwarted all efforts to improve life at the village. It goes against everything you expect of an aid intervention. Earlier in the program I'd given a talk along David Damberger lines on aid failure, and learning from it. This, to me, made a prime case study.

It reminded me hugely of an Aborigine encampment I once visited in Australia. The Aborigines were nomadic people, as were the Batwa. But the government built them houses (as has the government of Rwanda for the Batwa), and suggested they stay put. Everything at the aboriginal encampment, from the desks in the school to the rubbish bins, was chained to the floor, and the whole place surrounded by chicken wire. The reason given was that the Aborigines had no concept of ownership. If something is there, you pick it up and walk off with it until you don't need it anymore.

With settlement life came soaring alcoholism and teenage pregnancies - as with the Batwa.

Those pesky Aborigines just didn't adhere to the pattern of living that the Australian government expected of them.

Neither have the Batwa.

Honestly, I don't know what the solution is. Once alcoholism takes root, it's very hard to reason or undertake projects. And if aid agency reasoning is out of step with Batwa reasoning, or their entire worldview (for instance, the aboriginal concept of time is fascinating, and non-linear), then perhaps there simply is no way of reconciling.

It was interesting to hear different views. One of the main arguments for putting Batwa in houses is that it is their human right to access all standards of care in Rwanda, and to do so they need an address. The view of some internationals is that it's a human right to go live in the forest if you want to. I was of this opinion, but flummoxed again. Firstly, that they hadn't moved with the forest, but stayed put. Secondly, that they professed to be grateful for the permanent housing, yet seemed to take few other steps towards integration into modern Rwandan life. Not of the forest anymore, but not of standard society either.

Very, very interesting and complex situation. However, my colleagues spent some time talking to the Batwa youth, many of whom were attending a school just down the hill. Rose in particular told me that the youth were very different in their outlook to their parents' generation, and that with education came a different way of looking at the world, and greater integration. Perhaps in a generation or two, even this generation, the Batwa will be indistinguishable as a separate community. Perhaps only the older generation will continue to make pots.

I don't know. Not even sure how to feel about that. 


The next morning we left Karongi via my friend Christiane's place. She's building an ecolodge over the lake from Bethany called Macheo. Hopefully opening in August, but we had a few participants interested in ecological design so I thought it was worth taking them round so that Christiane could explain what she's doing. It's still a bit of a building site at the moment. She's using bamboo for most of it and there will be luxury tents with big beds and locally sourced home-cooked food.

Beds in the Making

On the journey back to Kigali, we stopped at a place called Chutes Ndaba. A dozen local kids race out of the trees and start telling the story in broken English, expecting payment at the end. It's a bit intimidating as the moment you give a coin to one, they all crowd around shouting for money. Could be a really nice tourist attraction, and I really admire the kids for taking the initiative, but Rwanda Tourism could make more of it.

From what I understand, it's a morality tale. It's the rocks next to the waterfall that are Chutes Ndaba. I think Ndaba was a beekeeper or honey merchant. He saw beehives halfway down the rocks and asked friends to tie a rope around him so that he could climb down and get the honey. Only the rope slipped, and he fell into the waterfall and was washed away. The moral being: Don't be greedy. Don't try to collect every last bit of honey. 

Brave Participant

Stunning View

After that it was back to Kigali. All the internationals and refugee participants went off to homestay for three nights, some with local participants and some with alumni. 

Breakfast taken whilst printing in Kibuye town: amandazi, two chapatis
and African Tea (sweet milk and spice) for FRW 500 (50p)!