I can hardly count the number of times I’ve been asked this question. As we head into our “wedding season” it seems to be a question on many people’s lips. However, not one of these people has been Rwandan. The only people asking this question have been muzungu. Similarly a number of my more feminist oriented friends have asked me questions about how I will keep the feministic flag raised during Manasseh’s “purchase” of me as his bride. Therefore, I thought I’d use this opportunity, one month before our Gusaba no Gukwa (Introduction and Dowry-giving ceremony) to explain what it’s all about (as best as I understand it) and why it is an important ceremony for us here in Rwanda. Manasseh and I could have chosen a different ceremony or a different route to marriage; but this is what we chose and here’s why. Marriage in Rwanda is a complicated process that goes through many stages. There are 3 main ceremonies most people undertake, but there are about 9 or 10 steps in the whole process!! Everyone must get married legally in a civil wedding at the Sector (local council) office, many people have a religious ceremony in a church (or other place of worship) and most people also celebrate a gusaba no gukwa (Introduction and dowry ceremony). During the civil wedding the officiant will ask you if you have paid/received the dowry (inkwano); showing its importance in the culture. Many of the 9/10 steps of marriage are now out-dated and not used so much. But there remains three important steps a groom and his family must go through before being able to marry his bride. This is what happens at a gusaba no gukwa.
1. Gufata Irembo
Tradition: Literally translated this means to gain entrance i.e. to ask permission. Sometimes this is a whole separate ceremony on its own. Traditionally the bride and groom would not even be present, but a speaker of the groom’s family would go to the bride’s family to ask for the bride’s hand in marriage. Some of this now often takes place during the main gusaba no gukwa ceremony.
Us: Manasseh did this the traditional English way. He asked my Dad for permission before he got down on one knee at the top of Hartshead Pike last August. When we came back from the UK and I was wearing a ring we explained to people that while we were in the UK Manasseh performed Gufata irembo. However, bits of the process may be referred to during our gusaba no gukwa ceremony.
Tradition: Literally translated this means “to ask” (Aside: Ndayisaba (Manasseh’s Rwandan name and my future surname) comes from the same verb and means “I ask God”). This is the part of the ceremony that is very much about the families coming together. Both the bride and groom have a speaker (again traditionally the couple wouldn’t be there) representing them, and the speakers play out a whole drama in front of the guests. This can be very funny; as they banter between each other, making jokes back and forth and telling funny stories. The bride is not present as the groom’s family are still asking for permission for him to be able to marry the one he wants. The groom’s family bring presents to the bride’s family (not the inkwano (dowry) yet) These are practical things needed to start a home. A hoe, a jerican etc. They will share drinks, representing the families coming together. They will also discuss the size of the inkwano (dowry).
Us: We have two speakers lined up to represent both Manasseh and I in this drama. They will do exactly what is said above. Making jokes, bantering with each other, continuing to ask permission for Manasseh to be able to marry me. I am sure Pascal (my speaker) will come up with many funny stories about Manasseh and why he can’t marry me. I am sad I will not be there to hear it all! Nowadays the inkwano (dowry) is decided beforehand between the father of the bride and the groom. So, the discussions about dowry price are just for fun! Manasseh’s family will present my family with the traditional gifts; this shows that they are willing to help to equip the new family (i.e. Manasseh and I) with what we need for their future. The whole thing is a display of the two families coming together to who that they both support and respect the marriage.
Tradition: This literally means the paying or handing over of the inkwano (dowry). The inkwano is not seen as a price for the bride; she is not being bought by the groom. It is seen as a token to prove the seal of their commitment to each other. I have heard this being likened to signatures in a Western wedding. It strengthens family ties as it is a public declaration of their dedication to each other. It is binding, much like a signature, and is asked about at the civil ceremony and also asked about in case of divorce. Someone will come and call the cow in old Kinyarwanda; a very poetic language. Then once the cow has been given to the family of the bride then the bride is ready to come out of the house and into the ceremony to meet her groom.
Us: Manasseh has talked to my Dad privately about the inkwano and what that will be. I believe it will be one cow! But the point for us is not about giving my Dad a cow (how exactly would that fit into his suitcase?) or naming a bride-price; the point for us is it’s a visible symbol of Manasseh’s family accepting me into theirs and my family giving permission for that to be the case. In Rwandan culture even today it is very much seen that the bride is the one who moves families (and to be fair that’s really our tradition too!) and the inkwano is the symbol of that. However, for us it is more a token of recognising that Manasseh and I will start a new family, and we are both welcomed into each others’ families. For me it’s similar to taking on Manasseh’s surname (which is not a common Rwandan custom). Becoming an Ndayisaba identifies me with Manasseh’s family; but I will never stop being a Maundrell in my heart!
After those 3 stages then the bride enters the ceremony, is given away by her brothers and is presented with a ring from the groom (we’re going to stick with the one from our UK engagement!) and then the bride and groom share food and drink to present themselves as a new family. There is a bit more banter and a lot more celebrating! I hope that clears up some of the mystery surrounding this dowry ceremony. A month after the ceremony we will have our church wedding in the UK. We look forward to sharing photos and stories with you all about the celebration we had here in Rwanda; complete with pictures of our inkwano cow!
April is not an easy time for the people of Rwanda; as it is a time to remember the more than 800,0000 people who died in the genocide in 100 days between April and July 1994.
This year marks 20 years since this dark period in this country’s history; but it is not completely a time of sadness, there are also remarkable stories of hope, reconciliation and growth.
The 7th to 14th April every year marks a memorial week; the whole country has 2 bank holidays (the 7th and 14th usually, although this year it’s the 13th) and every town has its own time of coming together to remember those affected in their own areas. On the days in between people work half days, and in the afternoons most people attend Ibiganiro byo Kwibuka (meetings of remembrance); these are local village meetings where people come together to discuss what happened before and ways they can come together to change their futures and stand against genocide.
It is a quiet week. Gone are the days when there is no music, clapping or laughter for the whole week, but it is still a sombre time and there are less people around on the streets. People have a chance to reflect and remember. Every year there is a theme for people to think and talk about. This year this theme revolves around 3 key areas:
- To remember: Honouring the memory of those who died. Offering support to those who survived.
- To unite: Rwanda shows that reconciliation through shared human values is possible. We ask the world to do the same.
Personally, I have not attended any public events or meetings in all the 3 years I have been here during this time. I have, however, spent the time thinking about the issues; praying, reflecting and reading. This year I have read Meg Guillebaud’s book “After the Locusts”; which is very much a book of hope, full of examples of people who have been lifted out of despair and used their testimonies to help and bless those around them. It is challenging and also humbling to me to read such stories of God working miracles to bring about change; one person at a time.
I have also been reflecting a bit on my own journey as I commit later this year to making Rwanda my long-term home, and my life directly entwined with this country forever. How can I remember, unite and renew in the situations I find myself? One thing Kagame (the President) highlighted in his speech on Monday was that 50% of the population is under 20 and nearly 75% is under 30. This means we can see a new Rwanda emerging, out of the shadow of its history into a bright future. And I am excited to be a (small) part of that!!
Time’s a funny thing. I’ve had a lot of it recently; free time that is. Time to watch Dvds, work my way through a few puzzle books, read a lot of books. I probably should have spent more time revising Kinyarwanda grammar, tidying my house and doing all those little jobs that don’t get done when life is busy.
I have spent some of my time reflecting, praying and thinking about the future. Yesterday I looked at my 20 “highlights” of the year on facebook- what a year it has been!!!
So many things I have been waiting for for a long time finally happened in 2013: Showing my best friend from Oldham round my new home in Rwanda, meeting my lovely little nephew for the first time, seeing Fitton Hill 10 years on from when our church first arrived there and celebrating the changes we have seen, getting engaged to a lovely man in a way I could never have anticipated, showing the man I’ve grown to love where I grew up and introducing him to my friends and family, and , of course, Andy Murray finally winning Wimbledon (I never doubted!)!
It’s also been a steep learning curve for me. I have struggled with many things this year (and especially these last few months): loneliness, boredom, confusion, lack of cultural understanding, lack of vision and drive. However, the main problem I’ve faced was trying to be in a round hole when I am in fact a square peg!
Let me say this from the off; I have no problem with Private schools. I want to see the middle class in Byumba prosper and have somewhere they feel comfortable sending their children. I would love to see a school in Byumba (Private or not) upholding Christian values and providing a quality education. I have loved being involved helping these small children (they’re so tiny!) and trying in some way to begin to provide that quality education.
I am not really a visionary, or a pioneer. I am definitely not an administrator or an accountant. I can be a leader if duty calls, but in this venture I didn’t have the necessary wings to fly. I felt stifled, floundering; stuck on the ground when I wanted to be able to see from the air. And all the time I was looking over my shoulder at the other 30 schools we own in the Diocese wondering why I wasn’t there. Why was I putting my energy into trying to do something that I could never do well, when in reality I wanted to be somewhere else anyway?
God has given me such a clear heart for these other schools; especially the one that sits next door to where I’ve been working all year. My heart feels like it’s bursting when I walk across the field or step into a classroom there. And amazingly, a whole group of other people feel God has given them a heart for the same thing and they want to help; with time, resources, money and prayer!
So, while I don’t know what it’s going to look like yet; I know where I’m going to be and who will be supporting me! I know God has brought me here for a reason way beyond what I can yet understand. And I believe He will bring the good work he started in these other 30 schools to completion.
Today I started a puzzle (a real, old-school puzzle, with 1000 pieces). To complete the puzzle I’m going to need time, patience and perseverance (Although, I’ll probably give up half way through). So far I have the edge and a few land-marks beginning to take shape; if I give it the time, patience and perseverance it needs then in the end the picture will become clear.
Ok, it’s a clichéd metaphor! But it’s just true of where I am right now; I have the outline, some land-marks have taken shape; some of them need to be moved around to make them fit better. Some of the pieces are probably stuck to the wrong bits, and will need re-jigging. I was talking to a good friend this morning who can also only see some bits of her puzzle, and I said“God knows”. afterwards, I thought, do we really believe this? If we did all our worries would go out the window. “Don’t worry about tomorrow for today has enough troubles of its own”. And the amazing thing about tomorrow- is that God does know; in fact He’s been there, and we are created to do “good works that He planned in advance for us to do”. This doesn’t mean it won’t be hard, that we won’t suffer, that we won’t have times when things don’t work out how we thought they would. It just means God already knows.
Time will tell. Give it time. Time heals… We say.
I have just arrived in school to run some training with my staff. There was beautiful sunshine as I left my house; then suddenly, as if from nowhere the heavens opened and an almighty downpour has begun. Rwandans don’t generally venture out in the rain. In this instance I don’t blame them- if I run the 50 metres from my office to my house I will be drenched from head to toe. So, I am waiting. Waiting for the teachers that will never come. Waiting until next week to be able to do the training I had planned. Waiting for the rain to stop, so I can go home. I am sitting here, watching the rain.
It feels a bit like a metaphor for where my life is right now.
I am waiting to hear about my job for January and what that will entail. I am waiting to know what is happening with the school am supposed to be in charge of. I am waiting on other people’s decisions and meetings about me and my job that I am not part of. I am waiting for Manasseh and I to find a decent piece of land to buy at a price we can afford so we can build a house. I am waiting for the shop Manasseh was promised in September to really become available and for him to start his business afresh. I am waiting for a very important dress to travel thousands of miles so I can try it on! I am waiting to become a wife. I am waiting to know what it will be like to live with a boy. I am waiting to know exactly how easy it will be to get a fiance visa and a marriage licence in the UK. I am waiting to see how life will change in the next 12 months. I am waiting to see what the future holds.
I am waiting on God for answers. I am waiting to hear his voice. Watching and waiting. And, waiting some more.
Life is in limbo. I hope that as I wait I will learn patience, I hope to learn to worry less about the future, and as I do that maybe I will learn to lean more on God, trust him for our future and wait on him. Let’s wait and see!
Sunday 9th October 2011 was probably the hardest day of my life. It feels like yesterday.
Church in the morning, playing games with my Eden Fitton Hill family, Tim Royales’ Cheese and Onion pie, my Dad, brothers and sister-in-law arriving having driven all the way to be with us (my Mum having flown up the previous day!), chaos at Stef and Paul’s where I’d been living the past few months while we all got ready to leave, last-minute packing, leaving the cheddar cheese I’d bought to give to Meg behind in the fridge, saying goodbye to some people on the phone who didn’t make it at the last minute, crying a lot, the relief when my bags checked in fine even though they were over-weight, awkward coffee at the airport when no one knew what to do or say, fruit polos as a last minute treat from my family, surviving saying goodbye to most people, losing it when I said goodbye to Jamie, then my Mum, then having to walk through the gates at the airport in floods of tears, coming back down to earth when they took my “dangerous” umbrella off me, then crying for what seemed like forever in a toilet cubicle by myself.
I actually cried during the entire flight. Silent tears mostly. Those who know me well know I rarely used to cry. But I felt like I was leaving my safety net, my community, my family, those that understood me, those who knew me and those who I had transitioned from teenager to adult around.
And I remember that first evening in Kigali as I was sat on my bed I realised I hadn’t begun to think yet about what was next? Why did I get on a plane and go thousands of miles to somewhere I didn’t know the culture, didn’t speak the language, didn’t know anybody at all? And I felt like I had no answers and I was totally under prepared. However, I decided that the only way to find out was to leave the past where it was, and press on towards something new with what little I had to offer.
How I did that looked very different to how it did in Fitton Hill. Who I am now is totally different to who I was then. Who God is to me is very different to who He was then. How I view the world is totally different to then. My future looks very different to how I imagined then.
I didn’t have many expectations before coming to Rwanda, because I was so focused on creating memories where I was. This means at first I wasn’t disappointed. But, as time has gone on I think that’s maybe changed.
Have I done what I set out to do here? No. Have I experienced community here in the same way as Fitton Hill? No. Have I enjoyed church life and felt supported in my faith? No. Have I been lonely, frustrated, angry, confused? Yes. Do I need a break? Yes.
But, have I learnt more and more about myself, my relationship with others and my relationship with God? Have I discovered I can spend time alone, I can be reflective, I can re-charge my batteries in different ways? Have I discovered you can love and place with all your heart yet want to be somewhere else at the same time? Have I learnt more and more that when I am frustrated or angry, with a person, a situation or a culture, that it’s myself that needs to change first? Do I still need a break? Absolutely.
So, as I prepare to come to the UK I do have expectations. And I know there will be disappointments. Things have changed, people have changed, lives have changed. I have changed.
I look forward to seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling some different things, some old things, some new things. I look forward especially to sharing those things with the person who is the best thing that has happened to me, in life as well as in Byumba. And I look forward to coming home to Byumba at the end of it all; knowing above all, that for now, this is where I belong.
So, first and foremost, the rule when travelling in Africa is this: allow at least double the time you actually think it will take. Even in Rwanda where the main roads are pretty good- few pot-holes, smooth, new (when compared with the rest of East Africa); it’s still advisable to give yourself some leeway for the unexpected.
A few small stories to illustrate:
We were planning to leave at 9.00 from Byumba to take a friend to the airport. We book a taxi two days in advance, and double and triple check its availability for Saturday morning. At 9.15 on the Saturday I get a phone call to say the taxi in question is broken and we will have someone else. At 9.30 we actually turn up at my friend’s house to pick up all her stuff (she has a lot- she’s returning to England after 5 months). They open the boot to put her suitcase inside- forgetting there is a tyre taking up almost the entire boot. After a lot of squishing (and praying there’s nothing breakable in her suitcase!) the big case fits on top of the tyre. The rest of her stuff has to go on the front seat while 3 of us, a few more bags and a motorbike helmet squeeze in the back.
Off we go to Kigali!!
Less than 2 minutes later, we’ve not quite made it to the top of the hill from her house and the car stops, rolls back and parks up (by park, I mean stops in the middle of the road). We’ve run out of petrol! The driver calls a moto to come and bring a couple of litres to top up. Then we really were on our way. Thank goodness Lizzie’s flight wasn’t til the evening!
That same day, we stopped at the bank in Byumba town, then the taxi driver started to reverse, and not seeing the moto right behind his bumper, went straight into him; causing him to fall over, right into a whole load of other waiting moto drivers, right in the centre of town, with a huge crowd watching! Luckily the moto driver was fine; his bumper was not. (And cheekily tried to charge us more for the taxi because of it- ummmm… not exactly our fault now is it?!)
The same driver, on the same day, also lost the keys for the car when we stopped for lunch! Turns out his pocket had a hole in- and they fell out in the middle of the restaurant! For a while there it looked like we were stranded!
Another time, I went on a long drive to Musanze (North West Rwanda, I live North East) with some friends, on the way we got stopped by the Police. This is a regular occurrence in Rwanda; they’re hot on their traffic policing. Trouble was we had 4 people in the back (I was safely in the front seat)- whoops- so one had to get out where we were and just got left to catch a bus!
Later that same day I was in Kigali going to a wedding, again I was in the front seat and we had 4 people in the back. Again we were stopped by the police- this driver (different one from before) tried to sweet talk the policeman into letting all 4 stay there, using the excuse of “this guy’s getting married today and we’re late”; completely fell on deaf ears. So he tried again “look, we have a muzungu in the car, pleeeeeease let us off”. It worked like a charm- we were allowed to continue; no fine, no one got out and no papers even checked!
The first time we went to the British High Commission to submit Manasseh’s visa we were running a bit behind schedule. I had 10 minutes to get from the centre of Kigali to the High Commission (usually a 15 minute ride) so I said to my moto driver, “I need to be really,
really quick, I have to be there at 11.00, I cannot be late!” in my best Kinyarwanda. As we were driving I was repeating “saa tanu, saa tanu”, eleven o clock, eleven o clock… At 10.57 we were so close I really thought we were going to make it- and he stops. To buy petrol. I was practically screaming at him; but there was nothing I could do except to watch the minutes tick by… I arrived at 11.03 to be told to come back the next day!
Safe to say, when submitting the visa tomorrow we will be on the earliest bus possible, leaving plenty of time for mishaps, police checks and petrol breaks!
I haven’t written that much about “normal” life in Rwanda. And a couple of Saturdays ago I experienced a “normal” day in Rwanda which was so “abnormal” by English standards I felt the need to share it.
A boy that used to work for Meg and then myself, called Emmanuel, was getting married. I was particularly excited about this wedding because I actually know him pretty well, he’s really quite poor and he’s also been really sick and there was a time when it didn’t look like it was possible for him to be married at all.
I had organised the use of one of the Diocesan cars to get some of us there and back, and I was all set to leave at 7.00am as agreed by the rest of the party. I had been told someone else was using the car before us that morning (BEFORE 7.00am!??!) and so we would meet them in a small town called Rukomo about 20 minutes away at around 8.00am and go from there. Anyway, Pascal arrives at about 8.00am and amazingly the car has already made it back to Byumba, and we can just go straight there! The Dowry service is due to start at 9.00am and it’s about an hour’s drive away, I am thinking that incredibly we may actually make it on time!
We stop at the petrol station on the way and fill up, and pick up a few extra passengers, people the Diocese has asked to film and take photos of the wedding, as a special favour to this boy who used to work for Meg. Them and their video cameras pile into the back of the pick-up.
We drive along the main road, turn off on to a dirt road and continue quite happily for maybe 20 minutes until the car starts making a funny chugging sound, and keeps slowing down. Perplexed, a few people get out of the car, muttering things in Kinyarwanda about “cars” and “how many kilometres to go”… They all seem happy enough, pile back in and we continue. A bit more chugging and slowing and it dawns on the driver that it might be a problem with petrol (this car is diesel, maybe they filled up with petrol). I have the receipt and have to dig in my bag to find out that, yes, the car had indeed been filled up with 10,000RWF (£10) worth of PETROL. Whoops! So, we all pile out- this time with the muzungu (that’s me!) much to the delight of the local children. We are told it’s only about 2-3 kilometres to go and begin walking, leaving the driver to await a mechanic who will arrive on a moto, carrying diesel and some special tools to clean out the car.
As we’re walking to the wedding I have a crazy conversation with the cameraman who’s known me for nearly 18 months and asks me if this is my first Rwandan wedding, and when I say no I’ve been to many instead shows me the hills and says well maybe this is your first time to see hills like these. To be fair to him, I had never seen those particular hills before (this being off the beaten track and all) But I live in Byumba, one of the hilliest parts of the land of a thousand hills. So, yes, as awesome as they are, I had seen hills like that before.
As we’re walking, we spy a car and taxi-bus coming behind us in the distance. The car carries the groom and his best men. There was space for one person to ride with them. I am picked, and they all assure me not because I am muzungu, so I can only think it must be because I’m slow (pretty certain it’s because I’m a muzungu!)and we continue on our way.
But not for long… Because the further we travel the muddier it gets. I should have explained, we are riding on pretty poor, very hilly, dirt roads that in places have turned into a mud slide with small lakes as puddles, and we are in a saloon car. Not really a car that’s designed for such roads. So, we bump and scrape and slide our way up and down, til eventually we stop. There is not a wedding or a house in sight. Turns out not everyone is really sure where we’re going or whether we’re in the right place but we’re assured the Dowry celebration is “hafi”, nearby… So, everyone pours out of the small minibus taxi which miraculously made it up the hill behind us.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t really plan on doing that much walking, forgetting that only one part of the wedding was in the Cathedral that’s 2 minutes away from my house. So, I wasn’t exactly wearing the shoes you would normally choose for such an occasion. Luckily, they didn’t have heels, but they were sandals with a very annoying habit of slipping off my feet at inopportune moments and also rubbing my toes. So, we walk and walk and we’re slowly inclining up and up, and then I spot the wedding tent (for tent, read sticks with tarpaulin over them). The wedding is down in the valley and we are walking up the hill. The only way to get down was down a pretty steep path, luckily dry- a definite lesser of 2 evils (mud being the other option). So, I wander down “paths”, narrowly avoiding certain death at every wrong footing; and amazingly make it down to the tent in one piece.
The ceremony itself was pretty uneventful (now I’m so used to people staring at me being the only muzungu I hardly notice!) Then, back we go for the steep climb up and back to the car. But- what’s this? There’s another path? One that doesn’t have the possible side-effect of falling into an abyss? Brilliant- we’ll take that, thanks. Potentially if you could introduce it to us on the way as well next time that’d be fab.
Amazingly, we get back to where we left the cars and after only about a 15 minute wait our original car turns up, complete with the right gas to keep it going and a mechanic in tow. So we all pile back in and head to the Cathedral for ceremony number 2. The legal limit for the number of people in the back of the pick-up is apparently 6. Well, while we were on the dirt road we definitely exceeded that by a fair way. I, being a muzungu, am safely inside the back seats, where there’s only 4 of us squeezed in to 3 seats- I’ve been in a lot worse.
I’m late to ceremony number two after I pop to the bank to use the ATM for all of 1 minute, while the driver goes to the petrol station to fill up again (this time with the genuine article), and it takes him about half an hour to come back. While I’m waiting for him I’m stood next to about 20 motos, any of which would take me to the Cathedral in less than five minutes- but I stick it out and still manage to get there in time to see the groom unveil the bride. This is something that’s been lost in UK ceremonies that is a huge, pivotal moment here. After the vows the groom, sometimes excruciatingly slowly, peels back the veil to reveal his bride and then they embrace- usually a Rwandan style 3 cheek-to-cheeks. But, these guys actually kissed- full on the lips. That’s the first time I’ve seen that in Rwanda.
Something else I’ve noticed about brides in Rwanda is that they never smile. Never. It’s like the day’s too serious or something. And this one she took the prize for the least likely to smile ever. Everyone was joking with her, trying to make her smile- and nothing. Not once; not even a little one. It was a shame, cos she looked really pretty and Emmanuel was beaming!
Then we travelled to Emmanuel’s home for the final ceremony, a reception and then they enter their new house together. When we arrived at the small village where we had to leave the cars a whole group of children came to greet us, singing. It was amazing. They sang us the whole way to the place where the reception was (again “hafi” turning out not to be so “hafi” after all!). We followed them, me still in my stupid shoes (which by now Roza has noticed and has started laughing at me- cos I keep stopping every five minutes to re-adjust).
When we arrive at the reception we are met by a wealth of bright colours- and even adults staring and exclaiming “muzungu”. Often children do, but you know you’re really in the middle of nowhere when the adults are excited to see you. At both the Dowry and reception ceremonies people were drinking a local sorghum beer, carried in jerry cans from miles away. It’s then distributed in smaller jerry cans to the people, who drink out of straws. I tried it once and never again- but the locals seem to like it! Luckily I was sat in the area reserved for people who get to drink fanta! My favourite bit though was the fact they had hiked a keyboard up the hill, where there’s no electricity, and instead they used a petrol battery to keep it going- it’s not a wedding without an electronic keyboard making ridiculous noises- at one point they were playing Nursery rhymes!
We traipsed back to the car afterwards and headed home- only to be stopped for a few minutes where someone had felled a tree into the middle of the road. Pascal, in a hurry as always, decided he couldn’t wait around for them to finish chopping it to move it out of the way, so he got out of the car, in his wedding finery and helped them move it out of the road! Absolutely hilarious.
On the way back we got to listen to the local radio- there was a program, must have been at least 45 minutes of it, where children phoned in and had to try and sing the alphabet song in English- and every single one of them got it wrong! It was funny the first and second time- but after we heard the jingle (the abc song…) for the 20th time it kind of lost its amusement value.
And then finally, just to make the day as complete as possible- as we were driving on the main road that leads from Kampala to Kigali, we were driving behind a lorry that had 4 or 5 children clinging on to the back of it for dear life. Who knows where they started their journey and where they’d end up?
So, while all these events happening in one day may not be typical- the events themselves typify the sorts of things I have seen and done a lot over the last 18 months. And I love every minute of it!
I have had an amazing, if not very different Christmas this year! I am known amongst my friends in the UK as Scrooge, because I hate all the added extras that come with Christmas time- so I was really looking forward to a Christmas without the trappings; spending time with friends and family and celebrating Jesus’ birth!
My Mum and Dad arrived for their long-awaited visit on 15th December. It was so great to see them after nearly a year! And there were a number of small miracles on the way… They had less than an hour change-over at Amsterdam and were nervous about making the flight. The system to get them to the right place was easier than expected, but they were still the last to go through the gate for the flight to Kigali; and were handed a card telling them they could not board. The staff on the gate told them they needed a visa before they could board and wouldn’t let them on the plane! British nationals don’t need a visa to enter Rwanda, and I had told Mum and Dad this- but I think they were extremely concerned they’d be stranded in Amsterdam. Anyway, after asking around the girl on the desk, having held the gate open for them, eventually let them board and everything was fine; not after a few stressful minutes and some quick prayers!
Kigali airport is set up that you can see people collecting their baggage before they come through the gate to greet you. After months of waiting to see them, it was more than frustrating to be able to see them for nearly an hour before they actually came through- one of their bags went missing, and as they were reporting it as lost property one stray case came round the corner- it was theirs! So, the long wait was over and they came through to greet me. Felt a bit like that scene in Love Actually at the arrivals gate!!
Lastly, back in September I had my bag stolen. It was literally taken off my lap through the window of a bus in the main bus park in Kigali. Inside was not very much cash, but my bank cards, 2 mobile phones (I was in between phones and still using both), my driving licence and my keys. Frustrated is not the word to describe how I felt! Slowly things got sorted, keys were cut, new phones were bought, but the bank card and driving licence were a pain to replace from here. First, my bank card was registered at my friends’ address in Oldham and Santander would not let me change the address, so I asked Paul to post it to a friend’s parents who were coming to visit in November. The card didn’t make it in time. I had no ability to withdraw cash and had to rely on people’s kindness to lend me money until the situation got sorted. Anyway, my friend’s parents sent it to my parents so they could bring it and my Mum waited and waited and nothing came. The day before she left she urged me to cancel the card and start the ordering process again, worried that it had been intercepted somewhere; but I continued waiting.
Meanwhile back in November I got a phone call from a friend of mine saying that a girl (who I only know quite loosely) had been handed ALL my cards in Gisenyi, a town 3 hours away from where my cards were stolen! So she had my driving licence and bank cards (although I couldn’t use them as I’d cancelled them). I hadn’t even begun the process of getting a new driving licence so this was absolutely incredible!!
So, Mum and Dad arrived and on the Sunday evening Mum handed me a pile of Christmas cards people had sent them to bring for me. I can nearly always work out who has sent me the cards by the hand-writing and the postmark, until I came across one that was unfamiliar, post-marked Dorset. I began to open it and it suddenly dawned on me what might be inside… I ripped it open and sure enough, inside was my bank card and pin- safely disguised as a Christmas card! Amazingly it worked first time in the local ATM too!!
So, Mum and Dad spent the majority of their time in Byumba, meeting people, being invited out for dinner and just enjoying the surroundings. The volcanoes did well for them, a number of evenings they could see all 6 that are visible from my house, and the weather was generally pretty good too! Christmas was spent with Pascal’s family, my adopted Rwandan Dad. We cooked a roast chicken, roast spuds and some Yorkshire puddings and gravy as our “English” contribution and they cooked rice, bananas, and other Rwandan dishes.
Towards the end we did a few days travel which included spending the day as Rwandans in a village, hoeing, cooking, fetching water and weaving. Then the last 3 days we spent by Lake Kivu, and although the weather didn’t behave so well on our last day there, we still managed to see some amazing things including seeing 1000s of bats flying above us on an island in the lake. I spent a few days here with Claire LR and Charlotte on their way back to England at the beginning of December, which was another wonderfully relaxing time. I have been spoilt this holiday!
In other news, back in October/November I put together a huge funding bid to get money to run a school-wide training project in the Diocese, expanding to more schools and more teachers and employing some full-time trainers. We were supposed to hear about this at the end of November, but the money is coming from the UK, who have currently withdrawn aid from Rwanda, so we are still waiting to know what will happen. Schools go back on Monday (7th January) and I will continue with the 4 teachers I have and invest in them and help them to train, observe and encourage their colleagues in their schools. We can still have impact without money, but obviously a lot less than if we do- so keep praying for that to be resolved quickly!
So, last week I celebrated 1 year of being in Byumba. Time certainly flies!!
Here’s some top tips I have for anyone wanting to branch out on a similar venture:
- Embrace the moto: When I came in 2007 I was petrified of going on the back of these moto-taxis (although I still did it a few times). Now, I don’t even bat an eyelid as I jump on the back, do up my helmet and tell the driver where to go. In fact I have a whole plan to introduce them in Britain; they’re extremely useful!
- Get a “dual sim” phone. This, above all else, makes you a true Rwandan. Whereas in the UK we choose a phone company and stick with them, here EVERYONE has both MTN and Tigo (in the same phone). Tigo’s cheaper, MTN’s better… Makes sense to just have both!
- Learn patience… quickly! Meetings do not start on time (unless you’re late), people don’t tell you when plans have changed (on indeed been made), you will spend lots of time waiting when you want to be doing. My advice? Take a book with you wherever you go!
- Don’t be scared to speak the local language. I didn’t speak for ages, and now I just have a go… I make more mistakes, but I learn a lot more that way. And when you tell ALL the pastors and head-teachers in the whole Diocese that your Kinyarwanda is a bad person and they all laugh you soon learn not to do it again.
- Don’t be offended if you don’t get any invites to people’s houses. This seems to be different in Rwanda as other places in East Africa- but basically, you have to just turn up or invite yourself over to people’s houses. Stop being so British about things and just do it!
- Come up with a decent answer for the question “What’s the climate like in Byumba? How does it compare to England?” And a quick answer, so you can move on and have more interesting conversations.
- Also, have a quick comparison of the differences between Rwanda and England in your head you can pull out of the bag at any moment; apparently when people ask what’s different “everything” is not a sufficient answer!
- Have a clear reason why you can’t take random people you meet on buses to England with you (I’m sure you can think of lots!)
- People get Ls and Rs muddled- you need to get over it pretty quickly. What’s wrong with singing “I’ve got peace like a liver” anyway?
- “I’m coming” is a synonym for, I might think about leaving soon; even when people use the Kinyarwanda “I’m coming right now this second” tense.
- You will get more done in an hour that your colleagues manage in a day. If this doesn’t bother you, don’t worry, it certainly doesn’t bother them.
- Expect church services to be longer than average, I mean over double the average… I find myself commenting after a 3 hour service that that was short (and this after 8 years in Fitton Hill!)
- Fanta= fanta orange, fanta lemon (citron), fanta fiesta (grape?!), coke or sprite. You do not get other choices; rotation is necessary.
- When someone asks “How are you?” the answer is ALWAYS “I am fine thank you”. Anything else just confuses people.
- Noun classes are an invention of the Devil and as such should generally be ignored. Do I really care if it’s byiza, cyiza, nziza or mwiza (and 12 other variations for “good”!) anyway?
- Having a visitor is an excuse for anything. So, if you don’t want to do something, invite someone to stay.
I LOVE Rwanda- these things just make life that bit more interesting!
So these last 6 weeks have been a real period of change for me.
First, I moved house! Just to remind those of you who’ve forgotten, or didn’t know, I was living in Meg Guillebaud (long-standing missionary)’s house while she was having medical treatment in the UK. After a long decision-making process she decided she will now live in England and only come back to Rwanda to visit. I then decided I would move into a smaller house down the road that the Diocese had previously prepared for me. In the meantime I have also been organising all of Meg’s belongings, either into storage for her to sort out, or selling and giving away things to people here. I could not have done it without the amazing support of local people who were an incredible help- carrying things, packing things, cleaning things, finding people to buy things and giving up their free time to help. So, a big shout out to Roza, Pascal, Ildephonse, Theoneste, Emmanuel, Eric, Jasper and Edmund; as well as my friend Chrissie who came up to stay with me the weekend I moved and was a big help!
I really like my new little house- on a clear day I have a beautiful view of the hills and volcanoes behind. The sun sets behind them and it’s amazing! It’s nice to have made it my own, choosing fabric for curtains and having my own pictures on the walls! It’s also smaller and a much more manageable size for one person- and I don’t have all the animals and staff to deal with; just myself , Roza and the cat! Please continue to remember Meg, as she is still sick and under-going tests. It is not an easy time for her.
Another change is that schools have been on holiday for 6 weeks, and so I have not been in schools doing training. We have not been able to run training in the holidays because the teachers have been involved with Rwanda’s National census. This has given me a lot of time to devote to sorting Meg’s house and a bit more time to spend with the young people at the Cathedral, especially as the students have all been back from school. We have been involved in sports, social action projects (including painting a local nursery), prayers, concerts and youth services. It’s been great fun hanging out with them- I haven’t been involved massively as a leader, more as a supporter, and so it’s been a good opportunity just to get to spend time with them.
We were supposed to spend a bit more time visiting other Parishes and beginning to connect with the youth there, but this is Africa, and plans didn’t exactly work out. I would like to try and connect with some more places over the next couple of months and see what’s going on.
I feel there’s also been a real change in my Kinyarwanda. Suddenly I understand a lot of what’s going on around me and can have conversations a lot easier- it’s like it’s beginning to click! I still have days where I struggle, and it’s slower; but I feel confident with groups of people who have no English that we can have a conversation and I can get my point across. I don’t need to rely on translators. The other morning I realised that I’d been out and about for an hour or so and chatted to a bunch of people about different things and hadn’t spoken a word of English once- that was a real encouragement!
The census was an interesting experience, and because I’d changed my address during it and was kind of living in 2 places it was a bit confusing for them! Here, as lots of people are illiterate, someone comes to your house and fills in the form for you. The people doing this were all teachers. The lady who had me was panicking because she didn’t speak much English, but she had an English copy of the questions and luckily I can read and write, so I managed to fill it in by myself without much help from her! The questions were very different to the UK census; my favourite example:
What kind of toilet do you have:
a. Fl ushing toilet b. Private latrine c. Public latrine d. Bush
Sadly the truth is although I picked a. that’s not the reality for most of the population!
I had a great time at the beginning of the holiday at the Kumbya conference. This is a missionary retreat by Lake Kivu. It’s in a beautiful spot. I really enjoyed meeting new people, especially a lovely group of single girls my sort of age in different parts of the country; having opportunity to worship in English (the English service here is so formal it’s not the same, and I’m usually leading so it was nice to receive!); swimming in the lake, having camp fires and just chilling out!
It is also wedding season- so, I have been to many weddings and have more to attend soon too. The couple from the wedding I went to in June, Roza’s daughter, had a baby girl a few weeks ago- she is very cute! And I have spent a lot of time with Pascal’s family- Pascal is always joking that I am his daughter; but I really feel like part of their family. The kids helped with the move, visited my house a few times and I went there, and I even took them to Rugezi to go on the boat. It’s been lovely having the time available!
I am really looking forward to this month of September. On Monday my cousin Aline will arrive for 2 weeks and we will travel round the country a bit- I haven’t had much opportunity to be a “tourist” since I came in 2007, so I’m making the most of the opportunity! I will also be part of a bridal party for a good (muzungu) friend in Kigali in a couple of weeks. And my brother and sister-in-law’s baby is due on the 20th (despite being so far away I’m still very excited!) So, lots to look forward to! I will also be back to usual in schools next week; and some exciting opportunities coming up to be involved in with education in Rwanda over the next few months- will keep you posted!