Sunday, 13 June 2010

Gone roaming tropical

Bite se!

Nyungwe National Park in the mountainous southwest of Rwanda is going to be the focus of my work for the next 3 or 4 years. While Ellie is wrestling with seabirds for the RSPB, I’ll be looking at how different people use the forest, and how management may benefit some of the people who live on the edge of it. This will all happen through the medium of Norwich, or University of East Anglia to be precise.

So this summer is a two month reccy to meet people, figure out where to focus the work and learn a bit of Kinyarwandan (which is at least easier than Russian). And as it turns out I’ll be helping someone doing some household interviews in the villages to see how some of the community forest conservation schemes there have been working.

Kigali is one of the friendliest capital cities you could arrive in, unless you don’t like people. There's little formality and it’s very easy to get chatting to people.

Rwanda is a densely populated wee place (though I've been a bit shy on people pics so far). There’s people selling fruit, trying to cram you into a little taxi-bus, hurrying to one of the many diverse churches or (and this seems to beat both fruit and religion) selling ‘air-time’ for your mobile phone. Every second shop is a mobile phone shop and little representatives of MTN wearing high-vis vests are dotted every 50 yards. I was not once offered anything more illicit than air-time! And the unbelievable thing is that it costs a packet! Twice as much as in the UK. For a country with over half the population on extremely low incomes, this is quite confusing. I guess there’s a bit of a contrast with rural areas.

View from one hill to another with national football stadium in the background

People use every last bit of green space around towns to grow stuff – sweet potatoes, maize, bananas, cabbage, spuds. People are digging, planting, weeding, grass-cutting everywhere you go. It’s very hard to take a picture in Rwanda without there being maize, bananas, buses or hills in them (there are a lot of hills), but it looks pretty good. Kigali is a city on the move though. Investment has been pouring in and there is a lot of construction. This includes a lot of big houses where there used to be none (or where there used to be people’s food). And a lot of these big, fancy houses end up being offices for aid agencies, homes for mormon missionaries……

After meeting some people in Kigali to get permission to work in the National Park and get some local opinions, I headed to Butare which will be my base for the next two months. The buses are a dream and there’s two types – only leave when it’s full to bursting (which never takes long) or the slightly more pricey leave on time version…. I couldn’t help notice a stark contrast to Aberdeen buses which just have a few drunks aboard but are still 20 minutes late.

Butare is very peaceful compared to Kigali but still a bustling town and is home to the National University with around 10,000 students, and an unfeasibly large number of nuns.

English was introduced as an official language in 2008 and has superseded French in education, so you have to try both and pepper in some words of kinyrwandan to figure out the best one to use. In kinyarwanda, the day doesn’t begin until 7. 8am is called 2 in the morning etc. That makes much more sense!

I saw the English homework one poor lad had to do – a list of about 300 english verbs including to abide, to doth, to shod and to will. I suggested he may want to visit Stratford upon Avon.

Butare bus station

View of Butare with one of the many taxi-bikes in the way

Gangs of children roam the streets in broad daylight demanding a team photo or else

This is the house I’m staying in. You have to get used to the noise metal rooves make in the heat but it's a nice home

Bricks for building are cut straight from clays in the marshes below town

A view of the street

And the views from the house down the valley, with fields and banana plantations as far as you can see

Here’s one of the birds that turns up in the garden – red cheeked cordon bleu no less. I know it doesn’t have a red cheek, but what do I know about birds?

Sousa the fearsome guard dog protecting my honey stocks

The best looking primary school in the world?

Butare catholic cathedral

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