Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Murabeho! (Goodbye!)

It is time to end this blog : I have now been back in Scotland and have reflected on my time on Rwanda. There are some still unpublished stories and more than 1000 photos, but they will have to wait. If I continue to blog, it will be somewhere else and about something else. This title has served its purpose and the reflections on re-entry are mostly too personal for me to put on the internet.
Having set out to Rwanda expecting “new eyes”, I will be finding these in Scotland, too. I am returning to a new role as grandfather in November, a new job (soon, I hope!), probably a new home in a new location and a spiritual home in a new Christian community. My experience in Rwanda will, it seems prove to be a watershed in my life in many ways.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Rwanda reflection : last words, first words

As we waited for take off from Entebbe airport the pilot made an announcement apologising for a further delay. “The gas bottle which was brought to inflate the tyre was empty, so we are waiting for another one. This will arrive shortly.” We couldn’t help laughing at this, which epitomised so much of our travelling in Africa.
In the morning I watched CNN while we waited at our hotel. The first news item was reported that Apple has just launched a new iPhone and in several countries round the world people had queued for more than 24 hours in order to make sure of getting one. This perhaps epitomises the society we are returning to, where the madness of materialism can sometimes be rampant.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Rwanda reflection : "Anna Karenina"

I read “Anna Karenina” while in Tanzania : it is likely to be a while before I again get such a chunk of time for reading. I expected a sharp contrast between the snows of Russia and the heat of East Africa, but I was surprised by some of the parallels between Russia in the 1870s and modern-day Rwanda.
There is considerable discussion in the book about how conservative the Russian peasants are and how hard it is to get them to adopt modern (foreign) farming methods and technology. This conservatism certainly also exists in Rwanda. Modern technology (especially computers and mobile phones) are accepted and coveted, but what might be described as “intermediate” or appropriate” farming technology and techniques is quite hard to implement.
The building of schools and hospitals is another topic of some importance. On one occasion a visitor to a hospital construction site asks about an adjacent building. “That is accommodation for the staff”, he is told. “It was built as an afterthought, without plans and is not quite in the right location”. I know of several Rwandan examples….
There are parallels, too, in the social pressures which are changing long-standing traditions. In the Russian situation, there is discussion about young women wanting to choose their own marriage partners and one of the central themes of the book is what happens when marriages fail and how that is different for men and women. In Rwanda, much of traditional life is already under threat and will continue to be under increasing pressure from western influences. This goes from the relatively trivial (carrying things on the head is almost universal in rural areas but rare in Kigali) to the much more important, where western time-driven values are being strongly promoted by the government.

This is not to say that Rwanda is more than 100 years “behind”. It is to say, however, that the required and indeed actual speed of development is not just rapid but supersonic.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Rwanda reflection : wrestling with Africa

In the Old Testament there is the story of Jacob wrestling all night with a “man”. Neither is able to overcome the other and they continue till dawn. This will be my lasting picture of our time in Africa – it has often felt like intimate hand-to-hand, body-to-body wrestling. We could never hope to “overcome”, but equally, have been determined not to be overcome. We feel that we, like Jacob, have managed to leave with a blessing, but with some of the marks of the wrestling still on us.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Rwanda reflection : “a man at the end of his strength, exhausted by his work in Africa”

In his speech at our farewell dinner, the bishop said many kind words, but also used this phrase to describe me. The reason is simple : I lost about 20kg in the 2 years and in particular I am thinner about the face. I was neither overweight to start with, nor underweight at the end – I simply moved from near the top recommended end of the Body Mass Index to the bottom end. I am leaving Rwanda feeling fit (in training for a half marathon in September), energetic and in good shape mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally.
It’s an interesting demonstration of how culture affects perceptions. The African concept of a “big man” is not just about power or influence : one is expected to be physically big in order to qualify fully for the title! Putting on weight is almost invariably perceived as a good thing, losing it as bad. More money means less walking, less physical work and better food, hence more weight. It is an idea which still has a lot of power. The corollary is that as I have lost some weight (due, I believe to some loss of appetite, less rich food and an end to “snacking”), I must be wearing myself out with work.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Rwanda reflection : a rare privilege

I need to record as part of this blog that it has been a remarkable privilege for us to work and live for 2 years in Rwanda. We are deeply grateful to God for it; we are grateful to CMS and the staff who trained and supported us; we are grateful to everyone in the Diocese of Cyangugu for allowing us to work with them; we are grateful to our fellow-missionaries and ex-pats for their fellowship and support and we are grateful to the many remarkable people we met in Rwanda for sharing their lives and their struggles with us.
The longer we have been in Rwanda, the more we realised how much cross-cultural development work is well-intentioned, but clumsily and poorly executed. Ours was no exception and we appreciate how tolerant people have been.
Before we left the UK several people said we were brave to got to Rwanda : as we return, we feel that “privileged” is a much better adjective.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Rwanda reflection : deliver us from cynicism

The struggle with negativity has my most intense spiritual battle, one shared by many ex-pats in development work. “Do not lead us into testing, but deliver us from cynicism” is a frequently-used version of the Lord’s prayer.

A little story will illustrate how temptation can come. A school pupil, Eugene, came into my office. He is an orphan and his older brother got out of prison a few months ago, but unfortunately died just before Christmas. We have helped him before, but on the last occasion as he was leaving the office I saw him give money to 2 people. When he came back I challenged him about this, suspecting some scam. He claimed that both had asked him for money and as he had some from me he could not keep it all to himself.
I still don’t know if he is genuine or not. People here often are extremely generous and are also often unable to manage money well, so it is entirely possible that he did not think about how the money would last but immediately gave some of it away. Equally, our experience is that many people in need of money will hold the truth very lightly and some will quickly concoct and hold to a very plausible story. Such is sometimes the fruit of desperation, or of a life which completely depends on others for finance.
It sometimes appears to be a rule of thumb that when you think the worst of someone they will surprise and shame you, but the people you think are the most trustworthy can let you down the most badly. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that you just cannot avoid.
This not just at a personal level, of course : organisations always provide plenty of scope for cynicism and this is particularly true of those whose supposed aim is to help others. The lofty aims and high ideals are often worked out through incompetence, petty politics, prejudice and inflexible bureaucracy.
It is incredibly easy to slip into thinking the worst of people and groups, but in trying to avoid cynicism, other temptations arise : drifting into hardening of heart or its opposite, naivete. Neither really fits well with our work here nor being disciples of Jesus. It is indeed a battle fought in the heart, mind and spirit; a battle which every day provides more opportunities to yield to temptation. “Lord, save us”.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Rwanda reflection : from one small country to another

In all the same ways as Scotland, Rwanda is a small country, but living in a different one has taught me a lot about how outsiders must see Scotland.
Everywhere we went in Rwanda we met people who knew people from our diocese. We climbed Bisoke, a volcano in the north and our guide knew the sons of our bishop in Cyangugu. We visited a diocese in the north and the administrator had studied in Uganda with his opposite number in Cyangugu. The examples were endless. There is a sense of community here, of the interconnectedness of relationships. There is also a sense of claustrophobia, of how difficult it must be to make a new start, to be different from what others expect or to break out of assigned roles.
It’s easy to see, too, how the Rwandan government can have such tight control over the country : from Kigali you can get to the border in any direction in 3 hours, with the exception of our corner in the south-west. The network of roads and the “cellular” system of local government mean that little can go unnoticed. This, of course, was also a contributory factor in the “success” of the genocidaires – in a small country like Rwanda there are few places to hide.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Rwanda reflection : sustainable cross-cultural mission

We came to Rwanda with CMS, as employees and under the responsibility of the Anglican church here. Our role was to serve the mission of the church in Africa. That is the basis on which CMS works and it seems on reflection to be a good one, especially for short-term missionaries like us. It never seemed to us to be fair or reasonable to do things which we would not have to see through nor to live with the consequences.
However, we also reflect that our first experience of Anglicanism, although we have appreciated many aspects, has left us feeling that in the longer term we could not give ourselves whole-heartedly to its mission. The shape and nature of the Anglican church in Rwanda is such that it clashes with several things which we hold to very deeply, things which we believe that God has put into our hearts and built into our lives. It has been a privilege and a wonderful opportunity for us to be part of the Eglise Anglicane au Rwanda, but we know that what we believe about leadership, authority and accountability; about community and about diversity could never be expressed as part of it. In that respect our time as cross-cultural missionaries has come to a natural end and we understand that the next Christian community we belong to needs to be one which better expresses these core values.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Rwanda reflection : new eyes?

I am absolutely convinced that my time in Rwanda has changed my perspective. I am equally convinced that I can never analyse for myself what that means. I chose the quotation from Proust as the title for this blog because I both expected and hoped for new eyes on the world. The process has been unexpectedly physical. My perspective has been changed not so much through observation, listening, reflection, contemplation and analysis (these seem to me now very European processes), but much more through physical means. I have been changed by -

living under the intensity of the equatorial sun and equatorial rain;
waiting in queues or for meetings which start hours late;
driving for hours along seemingly endless dirt roads;
struggling by car or on foot through the clinging orange mud of the 9-month rainy season;
standing in the homes of those living on the edge of starvation in desperate housing conditions;
listening to long hours of incomprehensible Kinyarwanda with only limited translation;
coping 3 times with skin infections which required minor surgery;
hearing other ex-pats recount their inner and outer struggles;

None of this is by way of complaint and I don’t at all regard this as a list of suffering. It’s simply that if I have been changed at all is by experiencing these things directly and also that it is in the struggles rather than the many good times that the changing has happened. Having said that, I still need to wait to be completely at home in Scotland before I will know whether there has been any permanent change and perhaps in any case that is only for others to judge.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Zanzibar : calm before the storm

Our time in Rwanda is now over and we are spending our last few days in Africa in Zanzibar, relaxing on the beautiful white beaches before the flight to Scotland. It’s a time for reflection. We know that when we arrive home there will be a lot of things to do, all demanding simultaneous attention – seeing our family, seeing friends, gathering our belongings and setting up house again, looking for a job, buying clothes (I’m a size smaller now in waist and collar size) and sorting out our financial affairs. It’s an eagerly-awaited tornado of activity and relationship : we have missed our family and friends very much, but we know that these first few weeks back in Scotland will not be easy, either.

A tropical wind-storm has just passed us on the east coast of the island. For a while it stirred up the sand and drove everyone off the beach, but an hour later everything is back to normal. We are expecting that this short settling-in period will be similar : unlike our time in Rwanda it will not leave any permanent impression.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Baby does headstand

I didn't expect grandfatherly instincts to kick in quite so quickly, but I was really excited when my daughter told me on the phone that she had seen the baby move during the 16-week scan. The end of November (the due date) is becoming as important a landmark as the middle of july (our arrival back in Scotland).