Monday, September 19, 2005

Land of smiles!

A typical week: no internet access at the office, and sporadic access at home. I had a pleasant weekend in Kigali (10th & 11th September), staying with friends Jean Pierre and Beata (see photo!), enjoying the rare luxury of a massage and pedicure, a superb Sunday barbeque lunch with a Japanese friend, and a visit to Jean Pierre’s uncle Stany. Somewhere along the way I picked up some nasty microbes which woke me at 4 am on Tuesday, propelling me into the bathroom and leading to a couple of days off work. I’ve now lost count how many times I’ve come down with food poisoning! I do seem to be somewhat more susceptible than others, but lest you think this only happens to lily-livered foreigners, I assure you that both Rwandan and other African friends suffer their fair share of stomach problems. In a society where few homes have running water, washing ones hands is not an automatic practice. The power cuts add to the problem, with poor refrigeration in restaurants leading to contaminated food.

But let me tell you about some of the good things in Rwanda! Just for a start, we have the most perfect climate in the world! If you don’t believe me, then take a look at the website world weather. You’ll see that the temperature here is generally a pleasant 24 degrees centigrade, occasionally a few degrees higher or lower, dropping to a comfortable 15 degrees at night. Most days are sunny, cool in the shade, warm in the sun. Kigali is hotter than Butare, although it’s still possible to walk around in the middle of the day without becoming totally exhausted. The country is blessed with a rainy season that extends more or less from September to late May, allowing for two growing seasons, and even a third one on the flat valley floors, or the ‘marais’. Although there is malnutrition due to poverty and lack of nutritional knowledge, the type of famine threatening other countries in Africa is rare here (check for further details). Green is the predominant colour across the country, with the intensively cultivated hillsides only turning brown in patches during the short dry season. Avocados, a luxury for many of you, drip off the trees and people even feed them to their cats!

Maybe it’s all the sunshine and greenery that helps many keep a smile on their face. As I gaze out the car window on my way to work or during the drive from Butare up to Kigali, I often notice the smiles and laughter of people chatting together as they walk along the side of the road. Young children can often be seen dancing to some tune inside their heads, or running and shouting at each other while chasing a home-made football on their way home from school in the late afternoons. Other children, too many of them, are tending the family cow, fetching water, carrying firewood…

The rainy season is getting off to a late start, and we’ve had only three good rain showers since late August. But that’s been enough to jolt my garden into action and it’s now springing back to life. During the dry season the flowers disappear and the grass stops growing, but now flowers are appearing again, and I’ve planted the vegetable beds with tomatoes, spinach, aubergine, beetroot, green peppers, leeks, spring onions, and much more!

A delightful story from last week: the local Gacaca court takes place in Butare every Wednesday afternoon, but last week it began in the morning and lasted all day. When a Dutch friend called his usual taxi driver to get a ride to work (his wife had gone off to Kigali in the family car), the driver told him he couldn’t drive because of Gacaca (all business closes down during the time when the court is in session), however my friend could take the taxi for the day and drive himself!! So he did! And when I visited in the evening, the taxi was sitting in the driveway, waiting for the taxi driver to come and reclaim it.

And now I’d better get back to answering a few e-mails. It’s been wonderful hearing from you, and I always enjoy news from afar!

House for rent!

My house on the Big Island is finally ready for occupation again. If you know of anyone interested, please ask them to contact Debbie Laga at Day-Lum in Hilo. Mahalo!

(The photo below is my Hawaii house – as I said, I’m still learning how to post things properly on the blog!!)

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