Week 1 in Rwanda
There is a beeping sound in the CHAI office this morning, which means the power is off, and hence there is no wifi. So I am writing this blog offline… A lot has happened in this first week, so this blog is fairly long. I will try to keep following blogs short, and hopefully will have mobile internet and will be able to post more frequently…
Wednesday was my first day at the CHAI office. It’s in a great location, and has a perfect view! I met various colleagues, including PULSE volunteer Jennifer from Philly in the USA, with whom I will be working with closely, at CHAI and the MPPD. I met many of my CHAI colleagues, started the process of the visa, and viewed the first lot of houses.
A photograph was needed for the visa, so we visited a photographer in town. I was beckoned by a stranger, and followed him as he led me through a maze of corridors to the ‘photo booth’. After having my photo taken, the photographer proceeded to Photoshop the background to the required white, cleaning the evidence of the un-kept walls. As quick as a photo booth back in the UK, and half the price. The parking was a different story; initially charged RWF 1,000 which quickly dropped to RWF 100 with little haggling!
Driving around Kigali requires 360 degree vision, and a back seat driver is a help rather than a hindrance (I hope Jennifer agrees J). It is a free for all at roundabouts and crossroads, with a friendly fight for position between motorbikes, buses, and cars. There are also a few cyclists brave enough to join in…not sure I will be having a go though….
I also met the other PULSE colleagues based in Kigali; Jim from the USA and Blondin from Senegal. We had a local dinner in the hotel (I had meat with bananas), where they also serve a great mojito! You know me and my cocktails….
During this first week, I had my first visit to the Medical Procurement and Production Division (MPPD) of the Rwandan Biomedical Center (RBC). This is the main warehouse from where distribution occurs. The warehouse is currently in a stock take status, but I managed to have a walking Gemba of the pick operation. There are some opportunity areas to look at. I will meet my PULSE manager this week for the first time, and can discuss the way forward.
For lunch, we went to the library next door, and ate in the rooftop cafe, which doubles up as a small cinema/art studio. The food was good, and it seems to be where many expats go. Some inspirational posters on the wall, and again it has great views.
We looked at many houses in Kigali. There is a huge range available, with wide ranging styles. There is a lot of construction happening in the city, with new developments in progress, both residential and commercial. Jennifer and I were originally looking to share a two bedroom, and saw a few properties, but mainly with 3 and 4 beds available. During lunch with Jim and Blondin, we discussed the 4 of us sharing, and widened our search for bigger properties. We saw a new 4 bed with amazing views, but needed a 4 wheel drive to get to it (in the dry season…would be a challenge in the rainy season). The construction/surfacing of the roads are not keeping pace with the building expanse… We also saw a 4 bed mansion, in a cheaper area, but with no immediate availability. After a consensus, we chose a nice house in a good area, but this fell through as the availability date changed. We went for plan B which is a house close to the office, in a quiet part of town.
This past Saturday was the last one of the month, which meant it was time for umuganda, which is where the community comes together to take part in social activity, such as cleaning the local area. Workers are exempt, as are visitors to the country. As my hotel was on Embassy row, with no housing around, it was eerily quiet outside. Even though I was exempt, I wanted to take part, so I picked up a broom and started to sweep the area outside of the hotel. It was me and the grounds-man! I also had a go at clipping the hedge, but the tool fell apart in my hands, so the grounds-man took over. For the next 3 hours, we clipped the bush, swept, picked up plastic bottles and chatted about anything and everything from Chelsea FC to the need to buy a cow to trade in for a wife!
Moving in day for Jennifer and I was Sunday. After some last minute plumbing work, we paid our deposit and headed for the store to get some soft furnishings. We picked up the majority we needed and took our 3 trolleys to the check-out. I then ran up and down the aisles with a store assistant to show him where we had taken our goods from, as many items had no price/barcode on them… Does anyone remember the TV game show Supermarket Sweep???
All houses in Kigali seem to come with a housekeeper/security man. Ours is called Elie. He is practicing his English with us, and we are trying out our French… I took a step back to take in this new environment I found myself in. It was quite emotional thinking about Elie’s life in contrast with my own. He has a small room outside the main house, with a mattress on the floor. He spends the majority of his time in the house compound, cleaning and maintaining. He has very little else, no friends to speak to, and his family a long bus ride away that he will not see until after Christmas. I cooked a simple meal of pasta with a vegetable sauce in the evening, borrowing his petrol cooker as we don’t yet have gas. When Elie saw the vegetables and quantities I had cut, he was surprised at the amount, and said he only used ½ a small onion when he cooks (I had cut a whole bunch plus other things). He also only eats lunch normally. We invited him to join us, and insisted that he sit with us, as he had planned to eat outside alone. I hope we can make him happy whilst he is with us, if at least only for the next 6 months…