Posted by: DHE Rwanda | August 6, 2011

The Banda Chronicles, Vol. 2: Would You Like Some Tea With Your Nido?

The walk back from Murambi was eventful. Emily wasn’t feeling well, so Emmanuel volunteered to give her a ride back to town on his motorcycle. Ted, Mike and I assured Emmanuel and Pascal (who was still in meetings) that we could find our way back on our own; even so, Emmanuel gave us a sheet of paper with the words “Mwibanda ni hehe?” written on, which roughly means “where is Banda?” So Emily and Emmanuel motoed off, and Los Tres Amigos set off on foot, jesting about the ominous black cloud off in the north that was moving in our direction with alarming speed. About half an hour into the walk, as the sky grew darker, hordes of kids started tearing by us on the way down the hill, and not long after we followed their lead and quickened our pace, holding banana leaves over our heads as the rain began to pour. And pour it did, until we were completely sodden tramping through veritable rivers running down the roads as little kids pointed and laughed and ran alongside; at one point, the road took us through a school full of at least two hundred kids gathered to see the spectacle. Eventually, we ran into Emily and Emmanuel, who were taking shelter in someone’s house. We kept walking, expecting them to catch up to us, later, after the rain let up.

Thing about these tropical rainstorms is they’re very reluctant to let up. In America and elsewhere I’ve been in rainstorms as intense and I’ve been in rainstorms as long, but never experienced one with quite the same fury and tenacity as the African variety. Shortly after we left Emily and Emmanuel, the storm began to break in earnest, replete with rolling thunder than echoed off the mountains and lightning bolts striking unsettlingly and deafeningly close: on several occasions there would be a flash of light arcing towards the nearest hilltop (often no more than forty or fifty feet away), followed closely by the most awful ripping sound I’ve ever heard. After about half an hour later, our predicament was compounded when we hit an unfamiliar fork in the road. The few villagers we met were not particularly helpful; “Mwibanda ni hehe” might as well have meant “where can we buy pig snot” for all the help we got. Luckily for us, we only wandered for about fifteen minutes before meeting Emily and Pierre, the agronomist from Kageno picking their way down the road, she on foot and he on the moto, trying to guide it down the slippery road. Pierre directed us down the right path (which was not obvious at all), and we continued in the right direction without further incident all the way back to Banda. And still the rain refused to let up, though we remained in inexplicably high spirits for the entirety of the walk. It was a blessed relief to get back to the house, though, I’ll tell you that; everything we had was soaked; clothes, backpacks, cameras, notebooks, wallets, phones, you name it. But none of that mattered when there was a hot pot of water for a shower and steaming cups of Nido1 to drink.

It continued to rain intermittently during the week, to the confusion of the locals and our consternation. We’re still a good month away from the rainy season, and, as people constantly emphasized, it never rains like this in the dry season. During the breaks in the rain, we would visit the sites, the village leaders, or Sarah and Jarod. We toured the active Kigogo site during one such lull, where the state of the electronics horrified Mike and the state of the civil works horrified everyone else.

Horrified

Eh

Still works, though between overcharging and deep discharge the batteries are undergoing some rough treatment, and their lifetimes have been suffering as a result (this was a frequent complaint among battery users). But at least people are still getting some use out of it, even if batteries aren’t the ideal solution. The next day Mike and Ted went back to inspect Kigogo more closely, while Emily, Sarah and I met some of the big names in the village. They are, as follows:

–          Pascal: village leader, pretty much self-explanatory.

–          Thomas: one of the hydro site technicians

–          Elise: our translator and local director of Kageno.

–          Daniel: the night guard at the guesthouse

–          Tanas (sp?): representative of the local businessmen

–          Augustin: the richest man in town

–          Samson: pastor of the local Pentecostal church

–          Emmanuel (different from the former hydro site manager): headmaster of the primary school

–          Solomon: director of studies at the primary/secondary school

Absent from the meeting was Jeremiah, the head of Kageno’s clinic and an all-around good guy. He was either busy or out of town at the time. The leaders all pitched their opinions about electrification and batteries (there were more than a few requests for better batteries so their TVs could run for longer) and also a number of more pressing concerns, illumination being first and foremost, with other electronics close behind, especially for administrative and educational purposes (“you can’t teach kids how to use computers if you don’t have computers” – I couldn’t have said it better myself). Apparently, the Rwandan government, in one of its frequent bids to improve the lot of its citizens, has been trying to put a “One Laptop Per Child” program into effect, but Banda being Banda, this has been slow in coming and in any case it’s pointless to have power-intensive electronics without a reliable source of power.

We met Jeremiah and the other clinic staff in the afternoon the day after that, and they had ideas of their own about power; Kageno is opening a maternity ward soon, as well as a lab, and this requires a fair bit of power as well. He showed us around the clinic, where they already have several consultation rooms and even an operating room for minor surgery. Afterward, we had a look at some of Kageno’s other facilities; the nursery school is right next door to the clinic, as well as some small-scale dairy farming and recycled paper briquette making. The nursery school also has a large world map that Sarah and Jarod recently painted; apparently most students’ grasp of geography is remarkably poor, to the point of being ignorant of the number of continents and locating Rwanda in South America when asked to point it out on a world map.

In the meantime, it had started to rain in a torrential downpour again, with the concomitant thunder and lightning we’ve come to expect. It’s only a ten minute walk from Kageno to the guesthouse, but we nevertheless got completely soaked again. This was especially distressing for me, as by then I had run out of dry pants – my other pairs were hanging on the clothesline, getting wetter than they had been, if anything – and nobody had any other pairs to spare, so I spent the rest of that evening robed in a towel for lack of anything better to wear.

Yet another episode of Mzungu TV

Yup.

To make matters worse, we were out of Nido.

Wiley

1 Nido is Nestle-brand dehydrated cream, which sounds disgusting but did wonders when added to tea or coffee, or when you added tea or coffee to it – it wasn’t always clear which taste dominated – and we developed this weird fascination with it over the course of the week in the village, as well as a number of in-jokes which I won’t try to explain. It’s funny what you appreciate when your options are limited. We lived like kings in Banda – relatively speaking – but even so things like meat, eggs, and Nido were luxuries during the week we stayed there, and I think the most dismayed any of us got that entire week was when we ran out of Nido. I still blame Mike and his midnight raids.

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Responses

  1. Running out of Nido is quite a tragedy. Try it with Milo or other hot cocoa powder. We went through a large tin in approximately 3 days…


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