Sunday, 29 April 2012

Baby Steps

Time and life pass differently in Rwanda than they do in the Western world. Right when you think things make perfect sense, everything can change on you, and right when you think things will change, they may stay just the way they are for what seems like forever. The term "African Time" is used a lot here. You might make plans to meet someone at 2:30, but they end up showing on Tuesday. However, this is not due to laziness or even lack of consideration. If someone in Rwanda says they will do something, then they will do it. Other things might come up that slow them down, but eventually they WILL do it. I think the most important lesson Dorota and I are learning here, and that the local people do so effortlessly, is to live completely in the moment. How else can a population of 20 complete strangers crammed into a minibus, literally sitting on top of each other, all remain happy and even joke with each other during an hour-and-a-half traffic jam?

At our home at Sulfo factory, we have been getting used to our surroundings. Even the factory machinery running through the night has become easy to ignore. But then one morning at dawn, a group of men showed up with a chainsaw and started cutting down the trees directly outside our bedroom window. This has been going on for almost two weeks now, sun up to sun down, Monday to Sunday. I asked one of the workers what was up, and he said that all the trees around our house were old so they wanted to plant new ones. Seems crazy, but then I watched how they work. As the trees are cut down, they cut the trunks into long planks by hand with the chainsaw. These are used for building, and the rest of the branches are cut up into small pieces to be used as cooking fuel by the employees of Sulfo. Work that would require a huge team with expensive equipment in the West is done here by a few guys with a chainsaw, machetes and some rope. One man clambers up the tree to cut off branches. Then men below pull them with a rope, hoping they will fall in the right place.

Sometimes they miss, but no one is ever phased. One branch smashed through our roof, which caused a lot of laughter amongst the workers. Later that night, we were eating dinner and a cat fell through the ceiling. It darted all over the house terrified. It was as surprised as us, and must have gotten in through the hole. We managed to scare it out the back door.

Another brach fell and busted our water main yesterday. Water started gushing into our back garden, which of course caused more laughter, and the workers were happy that they had fresh water to wash themselves with after work. Dorota and I couldn't help but worry with our Western minds, "Um, is this the end of our water supply?" (Saturday is 'bucket laundry" day). Sure enough, a smiling man showed up in the evening with a paper bag full of tools and pipe parts. After an hour, the water was back on. I chatted with his "supervisor", who was dressed in nice clothes for going out (it was Saturday night afterall). I asked him if he was sad to have to work on his day off. He smiled ear to ear and said, "Overtime."

Former volunteers Ally and Elena worked tirelessly to get the store room and library almost completely organised and ready to function before they left the center. They might have had a nervous breakdown if they were still here. The remaining contents of the donated shipping crate (below on the right, covered with "Mahala" graffiti) were emptied onto the floor of the storeroom (below left, with a crowd of boys curiously peering in) over the last 10 days.

The silver lining to this cloud is that it forced the staff and ourselves to work hard and together to organize all this mess. At least now the crate is completely empty, the kitchen is fully stocked with cookware, there are plenty of clothes to give out to the boys and the library has over 4000 books (some of which are excellent). There is much left to do, but we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. One thing that motivates us is that the sooner the library opens, the sooner we can have boys in there to learn, read and play with art supplies. We are really hoping that this room will become a place that the boys love to spend time in. It breaks our hearts to keep the books and art supplies from the boys, but we just can't grant access until it is all organised. One boy we have had particular trouble saying "no" to is Rene. He is gifted as an artist, and is always asking for paint and paper. We have been giving him supplies on the sly, but can't wait until he has full, free access. He churns out incredible illustrations in minutes. He has a beautiful, creative and totally original style.

Tomorrow, we are back at the center. We will be up to our elbows in donated clothes and books, and working on some other projects with the boys which we haven't mentioned yet ;) That is tomorrow though. Right now, it is a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and Dorota and I are enjoying every minute of it.


  1. Sounds like a great week Bret. Loving Rene's style, very talented :)

  2. You're right about the nervous breakdown! But I'm so glad you guys are there to take care of it all. And in a few weeks, it will all pay off when that library opens.

    I miss you guys and the center like crazy! Keep plugging along and continue to live in the moment! :)

  3. A cat fell through the roof?! Love it... Sounds like we could all benefit from a little African thinking.

  4. Thanks for the comments guys! It is do or die week for us, so I hope we have some successes to share on Sunday.