Sunday, 27 March 2011

Come an' look at yer soffits luv.....

Climbing up the ladder to climb down the ladder into the water tank.

I went  to visit a UNICEF Child Friendly School – there are very few of these in the country and none in my district so I went with a colleague from a neighbouring district. The school was reached by climbing  an extremely steep hill , along a rutted packed-dry path. But if you could get there the school was then wheelchair friendly. There were some exciting innovations  ranging from simply lowering the blackboards so that children and wheelchair users could write on the boards to a ‘Special needs Room’ for children who needed to rest during the day. It had two beds and fresh drinking water.  

Whilst we were there we were invited to look in the water tank which was being repaired by a guy from ‘Engineers Without Borders’ It was reminiscent of being a headteacher and being told  by one of the building Inspectors to  ‘Come and look at yer soffits, luv’  (I dutifully went and looked) 
The Foreman inside the water tank
 I’ve had more interesting trips this week – but this time travelling on buses. The express bus services in Rwanda are extremely good and efficient, the main roads are tarmac and in good condition. But there is another form of bus travel  which, across Africa, is called ‘Matatus’. These amazing vehicles get crammed with people, livestock, grain,  plastic jerry cans, bowls, buckets, charcoal – you name it the matatus can carry it! They are often battered, dented  and rusty, but they transport vast numbers of people to the remotest places. There is a snag! The driver does not leave until the bus is full and sometimes you can sit on the bus for a very long time before it takes off. On Thursday I sat and waited  for one and a half hours along with three local ladies and some dried fish!! Eventually a guy got on and after sitting for a while said he was going to get the express bus did I want to join him – this was great news because I didn't know there was an express bus to my planned destination. As it was , I was correct,  it was a matatu masquerading as an express bus! I simply sat on a different bus until the driver decided it was time to go.
Visual aids made with bottle tops
Just a very quick story about a moto ride. My policy when riding on a ‘ihene’ or little goat bike is the same as when riding on a bus in Manchester  - ‘Please do not distract the driver’  But last night on the way home my moto driver was so keen to practice his English that he spent most of the journey with only one hand on the handlebars and facing backwards to talk to me! I did arrive home  safely however!

I hear that Spring has sprung in UK and that there has been lots of sunshine, people have been out gardening and new life has begun. Hooray!!!! Lots of love to everyone, enjoy the fresh air. T xxxxx

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Thank you for all your support xxxx

I had a difficult time this week. I knew it had to come but it still surprised me!

I’ve been having such a happy time and beginning to feel that maybe I will be able to do something useful  here – using the skills I’ve gained over the years. When,  WHAM! Talk about Monday morning blues – I didn’t want to get up, I didn’t want to do the ‘Mwaramutse Walk’, I didn’t want to greet the children living close by and least of all I didn’t want to struggle with the communication anymore – in short I didn’t want to be here . I just wanted to go home to my lovely familiar life.

But one of the great things about being here is the support that you get from the Volunteer Community- all those other people who are in the same situation and have the same experiences. 

In addition I have WONDERFUL friends and family at home who communicate their love in lots of ways – through Facebook , e- mail messages and jokes that make me howl with laughter and blow away the tears. And most timely of all on the very day when I needed it most – not one but two parcels from home!!!! Lovely little extras like hand cream, sherbet dabs and chocolate options! A lovely picture postcard of the huge sycamore on Hadrians Wall is now on my (less) bare bedroom wall. Jelly Babies reformed as ‘Jellyatrics’ to celebrate 90 years of jelly babies. AND some knitting needles and wool to keep my creative juices flowing... SOOO thank you to all my wonderful friends – you’ll be pleased to know I am feeling much better and looking forward to a holiday next week.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Spring Equinox

Sending off the Equinox blessings

This weekend at home, the days are the same length as the nights and if I were at home I would celebrate this time of year with two very dear friends. This year I am celebrating in Africa! So I have set aside some time to think about the Equinox and what it might mean to me here in Africa - a very strange feeling!!


It's very strange being in Rwanda at this time because there is no such thing as spring - or emerging from the cold, dark days of winter. The seasons are all the same here, and I miss the changing nature of the landscape that is home. Daylength is the same all year round. It's predictable. I wake up each morning with the sun shining through my window, I dress, have breakfast and go to work for 7am. when I leave work at 5pm, I come home, have tea and go to bed - sometimes by 7.30pm. The day is ended and it's pretty much the same for all my neighbours - but during the day - such activity! Everywhere, from dawn people (mainly women) are cultivating the land. Nearly  every patch of earth is required to feed this nation of  10 million people. Beans, cabbages, carrots, maize, casava and rice grow in all the strangest places. Goats, cows, chickens and turkeys roam the paths between the houses and on the way to work, outside the court of justice, next door to the District Office, in the grounds of the Rwanda Revenue Authority - everywhere the business of providing food for a hungry people!

 hot, humid, sticky - a storm is brewing, the warm wind blows and the rain begins – thunder rolls in from the distant heavens, lightening strikes again and again providing a magnificent light show in the darkened skies. The leaves of the banana trees are being bashed furiously by the wind, and the rain is lashing down on the roof, making it impossible to hear the conversation of friends.

The red fertile hard packed earth turns wet and muddy, making it possible to pull up the carrots, to till over the land and to plant new seeds.

The smell of charcoal stoves cooking the home grown food. Trees being chopped down to make the charcoal, smouldering heaps on the hillsides.

Vital rainfall, loosening the earth, feeding the seeds. Water for drinking, children carrying water to families. Water flooding down roads and drains and mountain tracks, taking the land with it. Taking away the medium of sustenance.


A balance.
A balance of need and want
A balance of wet and dry
A balance of heat and cold.
A balance within and without.

the time of year to re- balance our lives
to clean out the cobwebs
to refresh our souls

‘The key to who we are is our soul.’

'Praise to you who charms away my fears by never abandoning me on my path.
You hold back the branches for me and make my way clear.
You catch me when I stumble
and show me the wonders of your creation.
Praise to you.'

With lots of love and being with you in spirit and in my heart. And, as always, thanks to Tess for prompting my thoughts (Tess Ward ‘The Celtic Wheel’ O Books 2007)
Tricia xxxxxx 

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The size of my open hand.

the size of my open hand
There are sooo many different types of butterflies and moths here – and such fantastic patterns and colours. I can’t take photos because  they flutter away  whenever I get near! However, there was one on the window of the verandah the other day and I managed to capture this image. You can’t really tell from the photo but it was about the size of my open hand.  I’m sure you’ll agree that if it was sitting on the bark of a tree you would not see it. It was beautiful! 

Last Friday afternoon,  I was sitting in the sunshine outside  ‘Inshuti  Best Place’ having a cold beer when, not one , but two beautiful butterflies appeared. They seemed to be attracted by the red on the sign for Primus beer and kept landing on our table.  I use this as an introduction to the fact that I am continuing a tradition begun by my predecessor, Ken, and by Michael who is still here in Muhanga.On Friday afternoon we can finish work  early  so that we have the opportunity to go to the local sports centre and indulge in some exercise. I reckon I do enough exercise and what I really need on a Friday afternoon is a cold beer and a catch up with friends. So as soon as work is finished  I walk across the road outside my office and enter the little bar – ‘Inshuti’ means friend.  I usually meet up with Michael but soon he will be going home so Jules and I have committed ourselves to continuing this noble tradition!

This week I have been visiting schools to observe teaching so that when Judy comes I will have an idea of what sort of training we need to be providing. There is a great website called ‘Mango Tree’ which has all sorts of ideas for making resources using locally available materials, like rice sacks and bottle tops. For all you teachers out there,  I think of it a bit like Sparkle Box is in the UK, only not so print heavy, which reminds me, I had a triumph this week when I finally managed to print out some documents using the office printer – YAY! Printers and photocopiers are notoriously unreliable but this one has a mind of its own. Apparently  I have an advantage because I speak English and so does the printer!

Another first this week is a beautiful handmade outfit which I have collected from the seamstress – she is totally amazing and can make anything you describe to her. The easiest thing is to give her an item of clothing to copy and some new material bought from Fabric Wonderland and she will make it up for you in a matter of days. So, Judy,  you don’t need to pack loads of clothes , just some favourites and you can have new ones made. When I collected my first outfit I took a drawing of a dress I would like made and some material.  She took measurements and  said it would be ‘no problem!’ So I’m looking forward to seeing the result.

Don't forget the Spring Equinox at weekend, when the day is the same length as the night. The dark winter is over and it's time to spring clean our lives!! Lots of Love, Txxxx 


Thursday, 10 March 2011

Some notes about work...

I thought I’d better tell you a bit about the work I’m doing whilst I’m here because some people who are thinking of volunteering for VSO may think it’s all about moto – riding (it is , of course!) But why do I take all these crazy rides? No! Not just for the fun of it, but so that I can visit schools and see what support Judy and I can give. I’m developing a strategic plan for the next two terms. The academic year here runs from Jan to end of October, teachers take part in training in November, so really the year ends in November.

I have visited several schools which are very remote, but today I visited a school in Muhanga Town where I live and I was very excited because in the Nursery class (3-5year olds) there were pictures and objects around the room which the children had made, the desks were arranged in a little semi circle with a space in the middle where children could take part in active things. The children were so happy, relaxed and smiley, singing and clapping rhythms to learn counting. The teachers were also happy and relaxed, which is brilliant because sometimes teachers are bored and demoralised.  I can’t do anything about teachers’  pay (which is abysmal) but I was thinking I could help with job satisfaction and these teachers today proved that if they are interested and enjoying what they are doing it not only benefits the children but them as well. I was very encouraged because last week I went to a school where the nursery classroom was very dark and dismal with earth floors and the children were all sitting in rows silently!  (I can’t see that happening in the UK) I want to be able to set up a system where good practice can be shared.

Another school story – When students get to Senior  School one of the subjects they are taught  is Computer Studies, but as you will guess they often don’t have computers – more than that there is no electricity anywhere near the school or village. So the teachers have an ingenious wooden keyboard which they can use to teach students ‘If you ever get the chance to use a computer, this is what you can do.’ I’ll be fascinated to know if this teaching method works. Some schools have classes at weekend and the school I visited last week has an arrangement with a school where there is electricity – they take their students down to that school on Saturdays and Sundays – (Saturdays for the Catholic children and Sunday for the Seventh Day Adventist children)  - all this on top a full weeks work and looking after a family, often walking miles to work and home again. I am in awe at the determination to achieve a better life.

Just one last thing on teachers for the time being – there was a really good teacher of languages at a local school who wanted to continue his studies and because teacher’s pay is so bad he packed in his job and got himself a moto because he can earn more money that way.  At the moment I am waiting for him to pick me up and take me to a meeting of headteachers this afternoon. But I feel a little guilty that I should be encouraging him in this way instead of encouraging him to go back to the classroom – but he has got a lovely new bike with brilliant suspension and brand new tyres with tread!!!

Sending my love to you all on the wings of the swallows who will be leaving soon to come to you. Look out for them in May, Tricia xxxx

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Bald as a coot
OK, so this is the last moto story for a while, I promise, otherwise you’ll think nothing else happens in Rwanda!
This week has had its ups and downs – and many of them – mainly hills and valleys, twists and turns, highs and lows – whatever description you wish to use – life is never straight forward here! Following my abortive moto trip last week I decided to do a shorter distance this week – a 1 ½ hour journey instead of 4 (NEVER believe Rwandans when they give you an estimated time!) I was going to visit schools in another sector of my district which is fairly remote but not as remote as last week’s –( It wasn’t necessary to stay overnight) The driver had been booked by the headteacher who had invited me so I didn’t know him.

Fairly soon we were off the tarmac and onto the dirt track. We’d been progressing nicely when the driver began looking down at the wheels; he pulled over – flat tyre! Ok, so we get off, he makes noises, says something to me and walks off back the way we came. I’m standing there (seemingly in the middle of nowhere, although people are never far away in Rwanda) watching this young fella receding into the distance – I look down at the tyre – bald as a coot!!! I decided not to think about it.

After attempting conversation with one or two locals who came along exchanging many smiles and looks of sympathy the mobile repair man’s ‘van’ turned up with my driver on the back. (See photo) I must say, it was very efficient service and just as good as the RAC. The puncture was repaired and we were off again. The rest of the journey was spent checking the tyre every now and then and negotiating road works. I wish I could take photos so that you could see the amazing building of roads (not tarmac, but basic road construction) that is going on in the rural areas. As I have said some of the areas are very difficult to get to but there must be government scheme to improve access. In order to widen the roads the men and women are literally digging out whole hillsides by hand. The earth is moved from one side of the road (the hill side) to the other side of the road (the precipice side) by people using agricultural tools. They also dig drainage channels and line them with broken rock and cement. Very rarely, you might see a big bulldozer moving rocks and I also saw one ‘rock crushing machine’ (sorry chaps, don’t know what it’s called but it has like a big arm which crashes down onto the rock and splits it) The rest of the time everything is done by human beings using rudimentary hand tools. So many people working together to improve their situation.
The Repair Man's van
As you can guess by this time the journey time had doubled in length, but hey ho! I arrived safely.

I had a great day – probably the most satisfying day I’ve had so far in my work. I had been invited by the headteachers in the sector and they were very keen to improve their schools and work together to help each other. One of the challenges is actually knowing where the schools are and the first thing I did when I started work was to draw an outline map of my district on a rice sack (see a previous blog photo), but now I want to know where the schools are in relation to each other so that I can plan my visits – no such map exists so I’m making my own! I take the rice map off my office wall and take it with me whenever I go out. When I showed the headteachers and asked them to help they were very excited and set to work discussing the position of their schools in relation to each other and very soon began plotting them on the map. The main outcome of the day is a plan of action for this sector which will happen over the next two terms – so something concrete at last!
Now, because I had spent far more time at the school than expected we were later setting off back home and I think my young driver must’ve had a hot date that evening because we took a lot of short cuts across country!!! Up and down little goat tracks, through building sites, along back streets and alleys, we came out into a market square and he stopped to chat to some other moto drivers and took on board a jerry can which, at first, I thought was full of petrol, but thankfully, later, I realized it was empty. When we got back to the tarmac he dropped the jerry can off at the petrol station and presumably picked it up full of petrol on his way back to the village. That is how they transport petrol to the remote places.

So, that’s the last of my moto stories – for now! Because I have some really exciting news!

In April I am being joined by a new volunteer called Judy who will be a ‘Basic Methodology Trainer’ (BMT, or BLT as I keep thinking of those lovely sandwiches whenever I use the acronym BMT – I don’t know why – it’s just the way my brain works!! – creatively! – oh must be careful not to put Judy off before she even gets on the plane! Ha ha!)

It’s going to be great having someone to work with and we can be far more effective together. So, Judy, I just need to make sure you have what you need for excursions to school – not work stuff just stuff to survive! Most importantly – have you got your VSO helmet for motorbike rides – absolutely vital – VSO pay for it – if they haven’t got you one yet, get onto them as soon as possible. And practice wearing it at home or when you’re out clubbing – it’s your choice! (See previous blog posts) I say practice wearing because it is heavy. (I may end up with enormous neck muscles by the time I go home!) I managed to get mine from a friendly bike shop who gave it me for half price when I explained what I was doing – it was last year’s stock and the designs had changed. Also for riding the bikes – lightweight waterproof trousers and jacket – there is a spare set in the office but it is quite large – I don’t know what size you are. My jacket is just a cheap fold away from Rochdale market – it does the job but I may need to ask my friend to bring me another!! I have considered asking my friend to bring me some cheap leather gloves (just little ordinary ones) because my hands did get badly grazed on that 5 hour journey – but don’t go spending loads a cash. A waterproof liner for a lightweight back pack is essential - a back pack with a waist belt is also useful. My daughter gave me one of those horrible waist pouch/ bum belt thingies before I came away and at home I wouldn’t be seen dead in it, but here it is GREAT – your phone/ coin purse is secure but easily accessible (Thanks Sara, you’re an angel, so are you Nay, oh and you John!!) Another essential to take on journeys is an ‘emergency toilet kit’ – comprising a small plastic bag (difficult to get here) with hand gel, toilet paper and anything else you may need – (no I don’t mean toothbrush) Before I came I paid a visit to TJ Hughes and bought small bottles of hand gel – 3 for £1 – I bought about £5 worth and have still got plenty left. Seal the bottles with sellotape before you put them in your suitcase though.

I think that’s all for now – this blog has been rather long – please, please comment so that I know someone is reading . Enjoy the lovely springtime – my favourite season. T xxxxx