Mugged by a monkey at Kibuye
on Bruce's Rwanderings (Rwanda), 01/Dec/2009 06:36, 34 days ago
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November 27th-29thInto the office to tidy up a few odds and ends. It’s a glorious morning; bright and sunny. The mist is rising as usual from the valleys. The sky is clear blue, and all the buildings in Gitarama are glowing in the low angle sun (this is half past six in the morning, folks). Just when I think it’ll be a quiet morning I find that Claude is notin; his malaria is getting him down. So Valérian is in charge. I tell Valérian that I want to be able to say a few words to all the heads at the big meeting, and he agrees. Claude also wants me to summarise what I’ve found over the past two years and do a report to all the heads. This is notas easy as it sounds. There’s so much variation between schools that whatever I say, either in praise or criticism, won’t apply universally. And, of course, I’ve only been dealing with the primary and new tronc commun schools.I quickly note down some things on a power point, but there will be no digital projector at the meeting so it’ll be all wind and bluster when I speak. As it happens, Valérian puts me on almost the first item on the agenda, so I’m able to do all my bits. It seems to go down OK; they all agree with me about the things I praise; there’s some toe-shuffling moments when I tell them what I think shouldbe the priorities for the next year or two, but that’s understandable. If three quarters of them haven’t finished their strategic plans after a year in office they’ve got every reason to feel uncomfortable. After all, none of these heads teach; they don’t have anything like the workload ofan English primary or secondary head, and there’s really no excuse for not getting some of these key parts of their jobs done. I know that this probably sounds presumptuous on my part, but then it’s exactly what Claude has been asking me to do, and what some of these heads have been asking foris an outsider’s take on how well they’re doing. No doubt most will ignore what I say, but if even a few take it all on board their schools will be improved and eventually their jobs as managers will be made more effective.I say my formal thanks to all the heads, and get a very fulsome response from both Valérian on Claude’s behalf, and from Emmanuel on behalf of the heads. They’re seem really serious when they’re asking me to come back at some time in the future.I nip back home quickly for some lunch, then pack up ready for the weekend. I’m taking Delphine with me to the Kibuye weekend, and we end up sharing a small matata all the way. She’s never been to Kibuye and in going as part of a big group it will all be very proper; it’s not as if we’re running off to spend a weekend together. The big coaster bus is already fullybooked, and until the last minute I haven’t been sure whether Delphine’s parents were going to give her permission to go. As things turn out she has one of the best weekends of her life. This girl has never been across the Nyaborongo river before, and that’s only 20km from Gitarama. In thecourse of twenty four hours she discovers the western province of her country, discovers Kibuye town, sees Lake Kivu for the first time, has the first boat trip of her life, visits an island in the lake, gets her first experience of swimming in deep water, eats western food like pizza for the firsttime ever, and generally gets accepted by a bunch of sixteen muzungus. That’s all heady stuff for a young Rwandan girl, and she’ll be telling the tale to her family and friends for weeks to come! Rwanda is a small country, and it turns out that one of the staff at Home St Jean, where we stay,is a former classmate from the secondary school in Karama. So she’s even got someone to talk to in Kinyarwanda while she’s there.The weekend is lovely and gets better as time goes on, except for Friday’s weather. Friday turns cold and grey by the afternoon, and even down on the lakeside it is decidedly chilly in the evenings. The wait for food at Home St Jean is interminable, but the rooms are cheap and the view and general ambiance make up for the delays (and we can eat elsewhere tomorrow).On Saturday we decide to hire a boat and all go across to Peace Island. We are decidedly“out of season” here at Kibuye at the moment, which means we can hire a boat very cheaply. Joe and Nathan are a bit late getting down to the boat, and by the time they get to the jetty our boatman has already left without them. This is because he’s trying to earn more money by piggybacking us onto a group of local government official who are visiting one of the tiny inhabited islands to do a census. (I suspect they work for Rwanda Revenue, the income tax service of the government). We drop them off on a tiny shore, like castaways, with the islanders cautiously coming down to the water’s edge to see who is visiting their little patch. The islands in the lake are the tops of submerged hills. There’s virtually no flat land at all, just steeply sloping mounds of rock which rise straight out of deep water. They’re only fit for goats, and it’s surprising to see a few cowsin places. There seems precious little cultivation of crops and I really can’t work out how they scrape together enough to eat. The vegetation looks very dry and scrubby, surprisingly so because it is within feet of a huge lake and in one of the wettest parts of the country. Houses are on little ledges hacked out of the hillsides. I don’t think any of the islands have the slightest trace of running water from streams; they’re far too small. You just use the lake for your water supply; let’s hope they don’t use the same area as their toilets!Having dropped off the officials we persuade the boat crew to go back to the jetty and pick up our two colleagues. So we get an extra long boat ride for the same money. The boat rocks in swell from a passing launch and Delphine grips the sides with white knuckles; she’s never realised that boats aren’t as stable as buses. The water is crystal clear and calm; in the lee of the dozens of little headlands there are patches of water like glass, which mirror the encircling islands perfectly. It’s turning out an idyllic day. We reach Amahoro (Peace) Island and disembark. Our boat is going to do other runs, but one of the crew is staying with us; when we’re ready to return he’ll phone his mate to come and collect us. I don’t want to be cast away like Robinson Crusoe just a few days before I’m due to fly home. It is getting very hot, so we strip off and swim. There’s a tiny ramshackle jetty on the island which sticks out just far enough to use as a diving platform. The water is clean but cold, and we only stay in for ten minutes. It doesn’t compare with Zanzibar, but then we’ve been spoiled by our fortnight in paradise there….We do have little fish swimming around our feet, and cormorants are diving after them just a few score feet away from us. The views in every direction are breathtakingly beautiful; from time to time Karisimbi and Mikeno volcanoes shed their cloud cover and peep out at us in the distance. The farshore of Congo, and the edge of the rift valley, is just visible as a blue line against the sky. Every so often a dugout canoe paddles away in the distance. There’s no sound of engines, no planes, and above all no crowds of people. Peace indeed. By this time it is seriously hot in the sun, sowe come out of the water and toast ourselves to get dry and work on our tans, but the wise ones among us are covering up after fifteen minutes or less. We’ve ordered food, but everything on the island is exorbitantly expensive and many of us opt not to eat until the evening.While the food is arriving I go to explore the little island. It consists of two little hills, each about a quarter of a mile across, with a rocky beach joining them. It’s shaped like a figure “8”, and the swimming place is in the middle. On the far end there are ledges cut into the hillside for camping, and a path goes all round the shore line. From the furthest point the views out across the lake are breathtaking and it’s the only place I know where youcan begin to visualise just how vast this lake really is.But Amahoro Island is also home to a monkey. The beast is usually kept chained up, but unknown to any of us it has managed to untie the rope from the tree and is roaming the island. I encounter the monkey at almost the furthest point on the island, and for some reason it really goes for me. I haven’t done anything to provoke it; it just decides to launch a full-on attack at me. I’ve got nothing to protect myself and get a whole series of deep scratches on my back and arms trying to throw the thing off. It is amazingly agile; leaping into the little trees at this end of the island and launching itself down onto my neck. Fortunately I manage to stop it biting me. All I have to defend myself with are stones from the path. I’m trying to run backwards while defending myself; the ground is uneven and I fall backwards once which gives the monkey another chance to attack. Three times I have to fight it off. Where there is a clear space on the path there is a stalemate between us; I’m picking up rocks from the edges of the path and hurling them at the monkey to keep it at bay, but whenever we pass under a tree it leaps up and comes within striking distance. Eventually I getout of the tree cover and onto the rocky beach in the middle of the island; The monkey doesn’t dare attack me anymore because it has no trees for cover; I have tons of rocks all round me, and the rest of our group have seen something’s wrong and are beginning to gather. It’s been quite anexperience. I’ve been prepared to find snakes, or scorpions or things like that in Rwanda but never to be attacked by a monkey.I later discover that the animal also attacked Marion a few weeks ago, bit her, and that she needed extra anti-rabies jabs to make sure she was OK. The monkey never bit me (we examined all my wounds very carefully). I have several deep scratches but no bites. So far as I know it is only saliva which carries rabies, so even if the animal is infected it won’t have been able to pass rabies on to me. My tetanus jabs are up to date, and we swab the wounds thoroughly with antiseptic wipes, but I’ll see a doctor when I get home.I have no idea why the monkey attacked, nor why it should choose me. I was not taunting it, or threatening it. I don’t think the monkey has a territory into which I was intruding – it usually lives next to the island owner’s house at the other end of the island. Either it has been mistreated in the past, possibly by a muzungu, and is taking its revenge on any other muzungu it can reach, or, more frighteningly, there is something seriously wrong with it which is making it attack people.We come back from the island to the mainland. The weather is changing fast– the skies are cloudy, there’s a lot of wind, the lake is no longer glassy but full of little waves which strop and splash over the sides of the boat. We ask the driver to drop us at Béthanie and walk back to Home St Jean to warm up. In the evening the intention is to do salsa dancing to Marin’s music, but by the time we’ve eaten we all feel overdone with sun, swimming, fresh air and general excitement, so we settle for an early night.Kibuye is a magic place and remains my favourite spot for a relaxing weekend. To anyone reading this who is a volunteer about to come to Rwanda– don’t let the episode with the monkey put you off. The beast is usually tied up and harmless if you stay out of range. But if you do go to the island and it is loose, then stay with the rest of your crown and beware!