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


  1. thanks for all the tips Trish, by the time John and I arrive we'll have travel in Africa down to a tea (oh, what a quintessentiallt English thing to say!)

    I love the fact you draw on a rice sack, it seems so alien compared to our computers that will just do these things for us. and obviously, the highlight of the blog had to be the repair van, I hope you weren't mocking it?! nowt wrong with a push bike!


  2. As ever, Tricia, a wonderfully descriptive blog!!
    Don't be concerned about moto stories. That way of travel seems to both operationally and culturally central to all rural Rwandan life... And after all, U are rapidly becoming an honorary Rwandan ;0)
    Keep 'em flowing from your 'pen'.

  3. wow mum that was really interesting...i think i may have to come and visit just to ride on a moto...but i won't be bound by you're insurance thingy and can drive one myself!! hahahaaa...i'm loving the way the headteachers are helping u plot your map...invaluable...u could always send me a list of village names and i can try and plot u one from google earth? or don't some even have names??
    loving the blog...can't wait to hear about your next adventure...please show us the kids playing football next door..x..

  4. by the way...sometimes i'm 'treasure' sometimes i'm SLA and sometimes i just log in as anon and put sara!! incase u wondered...can i just say this is the best technical blog...well done for putting the photos in yourself...and adding captions...i'm impressed...did it take u long? it looks great!!

  5. I write all the stuff in word off line and also compress all the photos off line, the when I go on line it's all ready to post i still can't get the photos exactly where I want them though!! x

  6. hi there....hopefully my husband and I are coming to Rwanda with VSO in September 2011 - so am an avid reader of your blog and one or two others, as we are keen to pick up as many tips as poss! Love the moto stories. Lesley Hooper, Frome, Somerset.

  7. Sounds amazing. You're turning into a renaissance cartographer or something! Perhaps some trig point building next? The road building is so similar to what I've heard friends describe in India. They must all have hands like leather. Good to read you sounding satisfied with work and planned and supported. x Helen G

  8. Yep, very interesting stories, do keep them coming. As the anonymous 'friend' would you like me to get a new light weight waterproof jacket? They had them on sale in Milletts a couple of weeks ago for £5, I got one myself for my trip, but they're not as fun as the one you've got, you don't seem to be able to get those in Macc. Also, I've got a pair of small leather gloves left over from by brief fraternisation with biking so I'll bring those with me.
    Looking forward to seeing you, not long now!

  9. so your becoming an expert at reading rice sacs!! they won't want you to leave when your time comes, as you'll of sorted all their routes out to all the schools and sorted the mud tracks out, or set up a spares shop out for car and bicycle parts lol....your trips out seem very long, but i surpose your never really in any hurry, good job!!! Hows your bungalow, no more creepy crawleys lurking i hope!!!

  10. Hi Tricia, just been reading your blog. Your experiences sound really interesting but scary - great admiration for you. Take care.