Sarah & Brian

Retired and travelling together from the North of England

It is always the people..

 Posted by Sarah & Brian at 9:54 pm  Rwanda  Comments Off on It is always the people..
Nov 052012

Despite the difficulties of everyday life here, Ugandans are good humoured, friendly and generous with their time. We were lucky to meet William through our Rwandan contacts, a young social activist. He gave us help and advice, took us out to see a slum project he is involved with and talked to us about the renewable energy company he is starting. He made a real difference to our Kampala days. In Fort Portal, a Western town famous for its crater lakes and views of the huge Rwenzori mountain, another young man,Paul, took us under his wing. He is the proprietor of the guest house we were staying at. Knowing we were keen to walk out of the town into the hills, he gave up a day to take us on paths we would never have found,through villages and farms, up to a volcanic crater full of trees and then around a crater lake. It was beautiful and peaceful.

On the way up, we had to cross a stream that had flooded the path because of the terrific storm the night before. We waded over, shoes and socks in hand. Paul actually offered to carry us, but we showed we were not that pathetic! As we came back by a different route, we discovered that the main river had flooded over the road, so that there was a wide swathe of water, in places looking quite deep. Crowds were there to look, discuss the possibilities, wait for those coming in the other direction, or prepare to wade. We proceeded calmly to remove our footwear, roll up our trousers and led by Paul, we began the crossing. It caused amusement, consternation and wonder in equal measures that the muzungus could get wet and show their white legs. All the way we were accompanied by laughter and worried helpers, including a little boy who adopted me as his personal charge and took the opportunity to practise his excellent English. He was ragged and grubby so who knows what his life chances are.

So we have enjoyed Uganda after an uncertain start. And we have been chased by an elephant too. But we were in a jeep and the driver put his foot down . The elephant gave up the chase and we all thought it was thrilling. The driver, the African, thought it was frightening because he, unlike us, understood the dangers.

Hippos and Potholes

 Posted by Sarah & Brian at 9:14 pm  Rwanda  Comments Off on Hippos and Potholes
Nov 052012

One interesting thing about this experience is that you meet people of all ages (though we are always the oldest),with different backgrounds and from other countries. As volunteers, you live together, eat together, share bedrooms and bathrooms, work together or swap tales of the day each evening. There is a great deal of volunteer loyalty, making sure new arrivals know where to go for a beer and how to manage the local transport and planning joint weekend trips. On our last weekend in Kigali, we went on a game drive in Akegira National Park with Molly the American physio who worked with disabled children in the orphanage in Gisenyi and Larissa, a young Australian who has come to Rwanda really against her parents’ wishes, for her first experience of the wode world. We exclaimed together at the sight of baboons, antelopes, crocodiles, giraffes, buffalo and lots of birds. The bird life here is wonderful- there are so many species, of all sizes and in brilliant colours.

And we were chased by a hippo. Well that’s the story. The guide advised us that we could stand on the bank to watch a family of hippos, black and pink faces just showing above the water, some large and some small. The ‘Daddy’, the bull hippo, rose out of the water to display his massive back. Then he turned and headed straight for where we were standing. The guide said run. We ran. I went through a thorn bush in my haste and Molly tried to shove Larissa into the car head first. In fact, if he had come for us being in the car would have been no protection at all. He could easily have pushed it over. But he was just threatening us to stay further away from his family and all was peaceful again.

After a farewell meal with the volunteers in Kigali and a goodbye swapping of email addresses, Brian and I were ready to set off for Uganda the next day. We arrived in Kampala after a long and very bumpy bus ride. Kampala is a chaotic and noisy city, a shock after peaceful and orderly Rwanda. Our first and continuing impressions of Uganda, after some days in the city and trips out to other places and to Western Uganda, is that this is a country suffering neglect. Kampala has crowded roads but almost no traffic management-there are only two sets of traffic lights in the whole place. It has shiny shopping centres for the well off (and the Mmuzungus, the white people)but the pavements are broken and full of potholes and open drains, even in smarter areas. The banks advertise on huge bill boards with slogans like ‘Wealth is waiting for you’ while people scratch a living selling a few lemons or second hand shoes at the roadside. There are hospitals all over the country with no medicines and the only intensive care unit in Uganda closed last week for lack of saline solution and equipment failure. The directly related death toll is five in the first week. There is no confidence in the state school system and teachers are often not paid on time. The newspapers are full of stories of corruption and fraud. As more than one Ugandan has said to us, ‘the Government has the money but it spends it on fighter jets’. And
also ‘the government here does not care for its people’.

Leaving Gisenyi

 Posted by Sarah & Brian at 5:09 am  Rwanda  Comments Off on Leaving Gisenyi
Oct 172012

We were sorry to be leaving our placement for a last weekend in Kigali and then on to Uganda. The guide book describes Gisenyi as a ‘faded resort town’ but that is not how we will remember it. It does have a beautiful shore line on Lake Kivu with a beach, shady walks and an area where it is safe for locals to swim and play. It has several large hotels although there is only one, with a pool, its own stretch of beach and prices to match, that ever seemed full. It was a volunteer treat to pay for a Saturday there using the pool and the waiter service. But as one new volunteer said on his first visit there, the contrast with the rest of the district is like ‘day and night’. A guest in that hotel, who only travelled outside in a jeep as many do, would no doubt have a different perspective on Gisenyi from ours.

Walk away from the shore and you are in a poor town but one with greenery everywhere, lots of public planting, shrubs, trees, banks of lilies and other flowers, a town where friendly open people are keen to meet and help you. The characteristic greeting here is an open hand raised and enthusiastically given to you in a warm grasp.

If you could wave a magic wand or had huge amounts of money to invest,so that you could smooth out the rocky roads and pathways of the town, then you could lift your eyes from the constant hazards and see a pleasant place with hills surrounding it and wide streets.

Many young women wear jeans and everyone has a tee shirt from the jumble of European second hand clothes in the central market, but the women mostly wear brightly coloured wraps which serve many useful purposes, apron, head gear, baby blanket and more. On Sundays everyone dresses up in their very best for church. It is a relaxed outgoing event very unlike a Protestant Sunday. Some of the volunteers gatecrashed a service, were given the best seats, personal translators and invited to join the choirs in singing and dancing.

Gisenyi is also remarkably clean and free of rubbish and litter. We discovered why on our drive back from the chimp excursion.The driver explained he would have to stop to buy petrol in plastic bottles as the petrol station was likely to be closed on this the last Saturday of the month. This Is when all citizens have a day off, there is no public transport, only vital services are maintained and everyone joins in cleaning public places and helping with projects for the poor.

On our last morning, as we were starting the strenuous walk to the bus station, Janet co- ordinator for the Gender Based Violence co- op, arrived in haste to say goodbye. She walked with me up the road, hand and arm clasped in a gesture of friendship.Once we started the inevitable muddle about tickets, she tok my bag, got onto the bus and guarded good seats for us until we were ready. Then we were ready to hug, and wave and promise that if we ever can manage it, we will be back.

And then there was the day..

 Posted by Sarah & Brian at 5:55 pm  Rwanda  Comments Off on And then there was the day..
Oct 132012

The day a male chimpanzee, reclining at his ease high up on a cushion of leaves, thoughtfully turned his head and stared straight back at us gawpers on the ground. We had trekked a little way into the Nyungwe Forest early in the morning to see them. We had originally planned to see the gorillas but it has become much too expensive for us. Anyway,chimps are much more intelligent and in fact are very close genetically to humans. We had an hour watching them feed on wild figs and all the time they were perfectly aware of our presence. As the troop climbed down from the tree and set off,their whooping cries sounded like a goodbye.

We had to endure a cramped 7 hour drive both ways on twisting mountain roads to get to this national park but we all agreed it was worth it.

On the way back we nearly had an horrific accident. Drivers have to keep their eyes out for pedestrians rather than cars on these roads. Our driver was careful and alert but as we came down a hill, there in the middle of the road was a toddler on her own. He hooted loudly rather than his usual warning beep and braked, of course. But the brakes failed and we skidded past her by the merest yards, coming to a halt only with the handbrake. The child was fine.

We were in a rural village, stuck on the verge while everyone gathered to stare ( which isn’t rude in Rwanda)and we all assumed we would be there for a long time. Within minutes a mechanic on a moto arrived, tools in hand, and with an interested audience of advisers, fixed the brakes.

The day the Peace co-operative decided to show me how Rwandans cook. This involved building a fire pit from rocks, a long discussion about the menu, shopping down the lane from the woman who sells carrots, but nothing else, and then from the store in a front room, much joking and talk about what is the best way and finally a huge feast of vegetables, nut sauce, rice, and maize bread in the pan. Quite a crowd had gathered to watch and there was a plateful for them all.

The day we watched soap being made from scratch by a mixed group working as a team, sharing the heavy work in turn. Huge pans of boiled oil and acid dissolved in water had to be stirred with massive wooden paddles for what seemed like hours before being combined, dyed blue and poured into a mould to dry. We bought some of course.

The day the combined membership of the women’s co- operatives decided to come to do our gardening. The volunteer house is a bungalow with garden on four sides. Thirty of them arrived, most of them on foot having walked long distances because we are in the centre of Gisenyi town and they live in the hills,carrying hoes and spades plus several babies. They inspected the ground, made a collective decision and proceeded to dig and plant three plots, for onions, carrots and spinach. Before they would consent to come indoors for Fantas, bananas and African bread rollS, they did our washing, scrubbing even the shoes in bowl after bowl of cold water and suds till the line and the bushes were hung with colour.

Not only did they dance for us after eating, with an intense energy despite all the work they had done, speeches followed. Christine spoke of their gratitude to us, but most importantly she also talked about how their lives have been improved since the volunteering programme started only three years ago.

In his response speech Brian said how he and I have been impressed by these courageous and inspiring women. And we have.

Both of us feel that the generosity we have been shown is far greater than we have earned.

The Most Extraordinary Day

 Posted by Sarah & Brian at 12:42 am  Rwanda  Comments Off on The Most Extraordinary Day
Oct 072012

It started with a tagisi ride, another form of transport here. They are taxi buses, ramshackle minivans, which ply up and down the road into the hills from Gisenyi town, charging only 30p and cramming in more people than seems possible. Then we walked up a mile or so up the bumpy track to the Mubaru Clinic where Christine, the social worker and HIV nurse who co-ordinates activities for the women’s co-operatives, is based. Here we met 10 or so members of the Peace Co-operative. After an interval for warm greetings, news exchange and chat, we set off as a column this time through fields of maize and plantain trees. Once we had crossed a main track, it was up again, up and up, now walking on the usual volcanic rock and rubble.

It was green and peaceful with a view of the hills and the volcano visible in the distance. All along the way we were met with stares, followed by hand shakes and smiles once we had offered a Kinyarwandan phrase. The children ran to keep up with us or waved from doorsteps and bushes, all delighted to see Muzungus.This happens every day everywhere we go.

It had just began to seem we would never arrive when we did. We had come to support Jassera with her new home project. She lives with 2 children of her own plus an orphan she looks after, in a shack constructed out of patches of rusty corrugated iron with a torn sheet as doorway. Slowly, stage by stage as she can manage it, she is having a house built directly in front of the shack, a four roomed building with the steep shelved roof of new tin propped on tree branches above the walls that is common here as the cheapest available. With help from the Co- operative and gathering whatever income she can scrape from selling crops, she has just managed to get the roof put on. Today she had paid for 2 bricklayers to complete the gable walls.

The bricks were stacked inside the house. They are handmade from rock dust and mud, shaped with a mould and left to dry in the sun. We often walk past the ‘brick factory’ where an outcrop of soft red rock is the base for mass construction and where you can see a young man smashing the rock with a hammer. These bricks have been made by the women themselves;when more are needed they will have a collective session to make some more. Now they began passing them out of the house to the base of the tree branch scaffolding. Then they began the trip to the mud pool over the other side of the track, returning in convoy with large double handfuls of mud. This was the mortar.

Christine, social worker and now known as wonder woman, just hoisted herself up onto the first level of the tree scaffolding. Barefoot and bent under the structure she passed bricks and mortar up to the men at the top. Without a hard hat or glove in sight, they worked as a team, everyone doing whatever was needed at that minute to help each other and the project. Once the first side was finished, and quickly now because thunder was threatening, the tree branches were dismantled and put up again on the other wall. The spirit of the women was and is always extraordinary. Despite the difficulty of their circumstances and the labour involved,just as when gardening, they continually joked and shared news and ideas as if they had been sitting around a cafe table. Which none of them ever will do.

This work was too much for me. Brian was able to help although he took a break after a piece of brick fell from the top of the scaffolding to where he had been standing a moment before. I buckled from the first attempt to lift a brick. My role was children’s entertainer. The customary gaggle of ragamuffins had collected to assess how strange I was. After the solemn ritual of greeting and English practice, I ran through my repertoire of children’s action songs. ‘Head, shoulders, knees and toes’ was a great success and soon I had a crowd hanging on my every move. When the rain finally arrived in a downpour, we all scrambled into the building, perched on bricks and felt the temperature drop. But Jaseera produced plates of hot food, boiled potatoes mixed with kidney beans, though where from is a mystery as all cooking must be done outdoors and we had seen no sign of it. Brian and I were given guest of honour status with large platefuls each and forks while everyone else ate off a communal plate. Our offering more than half back was much appreciated. After food, sorghum beer for all and especially purchased Fantas for us, Christine and Angel, our amazingly glamorous volunteer coordinator who goes everywhere with us and acts as translator.

Rain did not dampen the children. They threw me such inviting gazes that I decamped to another space and ran through all the songs again. Once my steam had definitely run out, they began to entertain me. They sang and danced for the next hour while we waited for the rain to slow down. Dressed in rags as so many are, without a toy between them,they exuded fun and joy in life.

The next time we saw Jassera, we asked about progress on the house but she shook her head- no more work had been done. This week we had a tremendous storm that shook the volunteers in our safe dry house. Up in the villages that night the bricks in a wall, partly dissolved by the driving rain, collapsed onto one of the women breaking her leg. She died later from complications caused by HIV, leaving 2 children, one a baby in arms, now being cared for by a neighbour.

After the rain stopped that day, we walked back the way we had come.

Women’s Work

 Posted by Sarah & Brian at 3:04 am  Rwanda  Comments Off on Women’s Work
Sep 272012

The soil is so fertile here and the climate so benign that growing food is easy. Except that is for the necessity to remove all the volcanic rocks first, massive slabs and tons of smaller ones. These have to be hacked with hoes or levered and heaved. There is black magma everywhere: forming the foundations for new houses, piled up outside the doors of existing ones, just left as rubble on the roadside. There is one village where there is so little topsoil that it seems built on a slag heap or industrial site with black pathways and whole front entrances of rock.

Removing them is hard work for us, especially as we have walked a couple of miles before we start. But the women of the co- operatives help each other with this as with everything else. They attack the task with energy and cheerfulness. As well as the walk we have all done, they have their daily work: collecting water in plastic containers, washing everything in cold water and in bowls outside, carrying supplies a considerable distance on their heads, caring for their children. Brian got blisters on his hand on the first day so bought himself some gloves. Everyone else works with their bare hands, hoeing, lifting rocks, raking and weeding with their fingers, sometimes up to their shins in the earth. There is a continual flow of joking, chatting, laughter to and fro. At least one of them will have a baby on her back to be fed as well .

When I expressed my admiration for this one day, I was told, we have no education and there are no jobs. We have to work to live.

One other main activity for the groups is that they each meet to make beaded necklaces, mats, baskets and dolls. We were amazed to see how they make the beads from tapered strips of old calendar paper, tightly rolled before varnishing. Brian’s attempts to make some were successful; mine sadly not-at all.

It is a great shame that they have no outlets for selling all these goods apart from volunteers and a few local purchases. One previous volunteer is trying to sort out a website for them to sell through but the packing and finance would be very difficult for people with no resources. Oxfam shops in England would be another obvious route to try but the same obstacles apply. I am going to ask at the posh hotels on the lake front if they would take a sample for their gift shops. They have been refused before but is worth a try as a local outlet could really help.

Even so they persist with optimism and any money they do make is shared on a greatest need basis with all the members.

Union, Peace and Reconciliation

 Posted by Sarah & Brian at 2:29 pm  Rwanda  Comments Off on Union, Peace and Reconciliation
Sep 262012

The one thing most people know about Rwanda is that in 1994 there was a terrible outburst of genocidal violence. We had done a little reading about it before we came and knew that the colonial system introduced the classification of two groups in this tiny country which led directly to the slaughter. Our orientation focused on what happened and why. We learnt that the targeting of Tutsis was a political strategy implemented over many years by extremists within a government supported by the outgoing colonisers. A militia was trained in secret for the purpose and there were many earlier attacks. In preparation for the final horror of those days in April, 5 thousand machetes were imported. Eight hundred thousand people were murdered in a hundred days.

To learn of the reality of what happened from someone who had lived through it was a moving experience. In one sense everyone here over 18 is a victim of what happened. Many people will tell you quietly who they lost:grandparents, fathers, mothers, siblings, children. You can see machete wounds on some;some have lost limbs. But so many are ‘walking with trauma ‘ which you can’t see. The women we are meeting in the co- operatives experienced all forms of sexual violence and many were infected with HIV. At the orphanage there are adults who were abandoned as babies by fleeing genociders or who had lost their parents when the army of exiles arrived to stop the killing. Some of these had been living wild in the forest when they were found. At the Genocide Memorial in Kigali there are 250 thousand bodies buried in mass graves, some of them unidentified, some only recently found. There is a Children’s Room with portraits of just ten of those killed. You see the name, a description of their known likes and dislikes, personalities and then how they killed. As the sign on the wall says these might have been Rwanda’s heroes, stars of the future; these few symbolise all.

So it is all the more remarkable that Rwanda has established a unified country with one language as before colonisation, refused to let revenge take hold, implemented not only justice through the legal system but also set up local courts where the perpetrators face their neighbours and the truth, used reconciliation processes to heal, protected the children of the militia and emphasised the need to go forward. This is a peaceful, safe place where the two groups mix and live together. The original ‘ social culture’ of Rwanda is a key factor. Here people naturally support the community and there is a continual greeting, exchanging of news, stopping to enquire that we have seen in a short time.

As our co- ordinator says, ‘You can’ t let pain imprison you. So you have to forgive.

The Land of a Thousand Hills

 Posted by Sarah & Brian at 2:26 am  Rwanda  Comments Off on The Land of a Thousand Hills
Sep 232012

We landed in Kigali through towering banks of cloud, a herald of the almost daily downpour for an hour or so which stops traffic and all activity. But the climate here is actually wonderful if you can shelter from rain. It is warm but not too hot and the light is soft, reflected from the forests and hills all around. Kigali sits on several of these hills, so it was hard to find the centre as really there are lots. It is also undergoing rapid redevelopment with new building going up everywhere. I thought I had won my intrepid traveller in the traffic badge by getting on the back of a Moto taxi (a 125 cc motorbike) and holding on for dear life as five of them raced each other down bumpy roads into the city. The helmets don’t fit by the way.

But in fact these trips were just a trial run for motos in Giesenyi where we are doing our placement. Everything here has to be hacked out of volcanic rock,usually by hand, so apart from the main road serving the big hotels on the lake and a few other routes, the roads are rocky. Really very rocky thoroughfares for pedestrians and traffic alike. As so few people have personal transport, most walk. They walk long distances from the villages into town, often with heavy loads, on their heads if women, as well as a baby on their back, an enormous bundle on their head. If men they also use buckling bicycles. Brian has more than once offered to stop a bike careering down hill because the weight is so heavy.

We are both involved in a garden project for the poorest women.There are several women’s co-operatives in the villages set up to support genocide survivors and other victims of gender violence. This means hacking up the rocks out of the black and very fertile soil to create new plots for vegetables. I have been given the special job of planting the carrot and cabbage seeds under the watchful eyes of all the neighbours and large groups of children who regard us with awe and suspicion until you chase them for tickling when they decide the Mzungus, the white people, are strange but not frightening.

Our reward for labour has actually been the displays of traditional dancing. They sing, sound the beat by clapping or banging an empty water carrier, and dance with a joy and sense of fun that lifts the whole day. And this dancing may happen inside a house of mud walls, a mud floor, a patchy tin roof that definitely does not hold off the rain. And a house with no decoration except old posters, no electricity, no facilities of any kind. Maybe only one chair. It puts into perspective our return to cold showers in the volunteer house.


 Posted by Sarah & Brian at 5:24 am  Ecuador  Comments Off on Lococolumbia
Nov 102011

In the Zone Cafetera of beautiful Colombia, the hills are fertile and support fine quality coffee, bamboo for building, eucalyptus for paper and plantains for food. But in the main town of the region, Armenia, lots of people earn a living from selling mobile phone minutes  to those with no access to a phone and middle aged men in smart trousers sit by typewriters in the street waiting for someone who needs a form filling or help with a letter. This is the only place we have experienced aggressive beggars, thin dark men who shout at you but can be pacified if you buy them a bread roll from the bakery. The wealth of the natural resources here including oil and coal (which Britain buys) benefits  the so called developed countries.  The coffee profits do not flow back into this town, or the small villages on the hills around where the residents decorate their houses in a riot of colour. The real money goes to Germany where there are no coffee plants but the beans are processed.

We have been very lucky here because we met Nestor, a leading Colombian environmentalist, who is an old friend of Jim from Wakefield. He generously took us around his lovely district including taking us on hike into a cloud forest, where we saw hummingbirds and I had to cross not one but 5 shaky wooden bridges over a mountain river. By coincidence he was going for a week nearby to the next city on our list, Medellin. He and his partner Xalli, a journalist and artist,  invited us to their country house, an idyll in the hills, and drove us to see the  lakes and sights of this relatively rich area where hydro electricity, car and clothing manufacture support  a higher standard of living for some. But in Colombia 60% of the population are classified as poor and 42% as very poor.

A 170 years ago the area around Armenia was rain forest and is still an area of remarkable beauty and biodiversity. But Nestor is part of the fight to prevent a broad swathe being turned over to gold production, a disaster for the environment not only in the short term. The concessions to mine for gold have been sold by the government already to a multinational based in London and the USA . Can you imagine the Lake Distict mountains being sold to a gold mining company. The water and soil will be contaminated for decades if not longer once the mining stops. Moreover, only 12% of the gold can be called ‘essential’ required for the building of modern appliances and machines eg the I phone ; the rest is for jewellery.

Nestor and Xalli are both passionately concerned with the future of those mountains and of  their country as a whole. Nestor  has also been a witness to an international tribunal investigating the forced removal of forrest peoples by para militaries working for multinationals who then grab the land and clear it for bio fuels and other cash crops.Food for cars and not for people, as Xalli says. Nestor saw this happen himself and says when he told others about it, for a long time afterwards, he could not prevent his own tears.

We are now finishing our trip in a very different place, the Caribbean coast of Colombia,where it is hot, the rainy season has started and we have found a hostale with a pool. Oh dear.

Believe it or not we are looking forward to coming back to cold, dark and damp England.

So this is the last post! Thank you again to GVN who have enabled this blog. Reflecting back, we both say the volunteer experience was the most memorable and interesting part of it all.

We promise to print just a very few of all the photos…


Quito Days

 Posted by Sarah & Brian at 3:24 am  Ecuador  Comments Off on Quito Days
Oct 262011

The capital of Ecuador lies north to south at the foot of a volcano, one of the 17 which there are in the country, 7 of which are active in some way. One has just shown signs of eruption quite nearby at Banos. On the bus journey to get here we tried to see as many of them as we could but the mountain road mostly defeated us, although there is one snowy peak, Cotopaxi, once thought the highest mountain in the world before Everest was ‘discovered’, that you can see from many viewpoints. We stood at the side of a volcanic lake on a day tour around the district which included  a magic waterfall where people bathe in the early morning to cleanse themselves of the evil spirits of life and before that went to the markets of Otavalo. This town in the hills around Quito has a famous textile market where local families sell their knitted goods and many other forms of folk art as well as everything else you can imagine and some you can’t.  There is also a livestock market where we watched the locals sell all kinds of animals, guinea pigs, ducklings, pigs on strings. People haggled over the value of the chicken they held by the feet. It looked like a chaotic scene but serious business was being done on all sides. No-one was the least bit interested in us.

People often wear a distinctive  local costume in Otavalo, and men as well as women have long plaits down their backs. One positive thing about Ecuador is that it is evident that there is a policy drive to encourage the country to embrace the diversity of all its indigenous cultures and races, which, after the brutal history of colonisation in all of South America, is still needed.

Quito has a modern city and an historic centre, which has been recently cleaned up. It is a City of Culture this year and there are many signs of a government effort to improve the city and to foster pride in its many attractions. There are lots of green spaces and a huge city park which includes a forest area where families can build fires and put up tents. On Sunday mornings the old city is closed to all wheeled traffic so people can stroll and a main arterial road is open only to cyclists. Just as we saw in Lima, on Sunday outdoor family fun and sport is the priority. When the dry season ends in the new year, the flowering trees and hedges here, as in other cities we have visited, must burst into colour as they put out brave flags now. In Cusco we were told the rains keep people indoors and flood the streets. But after 2 months of misery the brown hills have turned green.

Our efforts to see some of the cultural sights have been laughably unsuccessful. We have used local buses which are cheap and plentiful but also have walked lots so we have arrived three times, quite tired, at a museum to find it half closed, closed, oh and the third time we didn’t even find it. The city map is not the clearest, plus we have proved that people will just tell you something to be helpful even if they haven’t actually a clue how to direct you.

We shall be leaving today to go to Colombia and will be in England anyway when they celebrate their fiesta here in early December. It must be quite an event – the ‘chiva’ open air  buses which are hired for parties at night fill the streets apparently and all of the city stops for fun. We saw a little bit of a fiesta in the Sacred Valley in Peru but have missed them in other towns sometimes by a day or two. But there is plenty of outdoor life to see. Especially in Peru, it is common to see processions and protests in the plazas: we have seen protests about the slow progress of a school building project, about bus drivers not taking care to look for pedestrians, about special education facilities, a trade union march. On any day you might see a church procession with an icon or a plaster saint being carried and fancy dress for all; stalls are thrown up overnight to celebrate an organisation or an anniversary; a band appears and marches up the side streets playing with much drum beating and laughter. One Sunday in Lima we saw yet another church procession coming towards the Cathedral; the increasing crowd and the solemmnity surrounding it made us think it was a funeral and of someone important. When we asked who this might be, we discovered that we were seeing the progress of Mother Theresa’s remains on their way around the world to receive the veneration of, and to bestow blessings on, the faithful.

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