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The Tin Man Project
Wednesday, 20 April 2011 Written by Beverley Candy

From here to there

Over the last fourteen years, since my sister, Valerie, has been going to Uganda and now Rwanda, I had lived vicariously through her recounts of her experiences in Africa – a continent I have long dreamed of visiting. Thanks to both Valerie and Fra Ivica Peric, that dream came true this year.

A sea container filled with items collected by Valerie and many volunteers from Olds and Calgary, Alberta, arrived last spring at CFJ Padri Vjeko School in Rwanda. After it was unloaded, and partitioned off into three rooms complete with doors and windows, the “building” was placed as a fourth side to the school compound. My part came into play with the idea to paint an Albertan scene on the container to honour the volunteers from Canada and I was privileged to be asked to go to Rwanda to work on this mural.


So, there I was, on November 2, 2010, descending into Rwanda! Looking out the window, I was surprised to note that the terrain was quite sparse – I guess I had expected heavy jungle but that was not the case at all.

As you enter the immigration area of the Kigali international airport, there is a big sign stating “No non-biodegradable plastics allowed in Rwanda”. At this point, I should mention that when I was in the Calgary airport I had noticed that the stitching on one of my suitcases was coming undone, so I had carefully wrapped my bag in multi layers of plastic from a machine. This definitely made them notice me when I collected my cellophane wrapped case and attempted to pass through customs! However, a young man thoughtfully provided me with a razor blade and I promptly removed the wrapping while all around me people were taking their duty free goods out of plastic bags which they disposed of in the garbage can provided.

This rule is so strictly enforced that you see only paper bags and cardboard boxes and personal cloth shopping bags being used. Next, when I lined up for immigration, I was asked if I was Canadian and was promptly charged 60 USD for a visa! It seems rules changed on November 1st while I was enroute, and Canadians no longer enter for free... and as Fra Ivica remarked - “Sixty USD is more than Rwandan teachers make in a month”!! Welcome to Africa!


Tuesday, November 2nd was a bit of a blur as my internal clock and calendar were totally confused. We arrived at the friary and I was shown to my room where I took a bit of a nap till 5:00 in the evening. My room was lovely – Valerie and Fra Ivica assured me they had scoured the place looking for spiders ( I am not particularly fond of them, to put it mildly). The room contained a single bed with mosquito netting draped above, a desk, bedside table and a shelving unit. I had an attached bathroom complete with toilet, shower, sink and wardrobe unit. So all in all, I was more than comfortable.

On the evening of my arrival, Valerie and Fra Ivica headed back to Kigali once again, to pick up a German fellow who had volunteered to work at the school. As I had had more than enough traveling, I opted to stay at the compound, and to have an early night.

The next day, Wednesday, Fra Ivica and I headed into Kigali to pick up paint for the mural I was going to create and to do some shopping that Fra Ivica needed. After picking up a few things, we went to a Rwandan restaurant where I had brochette (grilled goat meat on a skewer) and fried matoke (deep fried banana), ... when in Rome... and it was delicious!

The goat meat was tasty but very chewy – you pretty much just chew to get the juices flowing and then swallow the piece whole! We finished lunch, picked up the paint we had ordered and headed back for Kivumu. I should mention the armed military personnel that are at every intersection and also along the highway – they stand in twos - each with rifles at the ready and never, ever smile.

Driving is a completely different experience – dividing lines on the road mean absolutely nothing and people pass whenever they think there might be an opening. People exchange hand signs to alert other drivers to the presence of military or police around the next bend. And nobody has lights on during the day - it is mandatory that only ‘important’ people (i.e. politicians) can have daytime lights on. Even though there are many vehicles and buses on the road, the majority of the people walk or ride bicycles – it is quite common to see a woman carrying an enormous load balanced on the top of her head or someone riding a bicycle with bags of maize (or plastic jerry cans of beer) piled behind him.

driving in Rwanda

Life in Kivumu

As I mentioned before, my room was very comfortable and even came with my very own geckos. At first, I faithfully draped the mosquito net over the bed and would wake in the night worried that it had come loose and would rearrange it accordingly. After realizing that I not only had not seen a mosquito in my room but had not even heard any annoying little high-pitched whine, I elected to leave the net tied up and had a much better sleep.

The diesel generator at the school that supplies the electricity is run primarily when the students are going to be welding or using the industrial sewing machines – although I was able to have it turned on whenever I wished to use the compressor for airbrushing. Otherwise the electricity is supplied by solar panels at the friary. Water is collected in the large cylindrical bricked tank and piped to the rooms and kitchen. I understand that Fra Ivica has a person coming in January to set up a biogas system to turn human and animal waste into fuel. Interesting that the hype in our country about “greening” is actually in ‘full swing’ at this friary in Rwanda!

Oswaldi and Beverly

The Franciscans in Kivumu have a cook, Oswaldi, and he is terrific. First night I was there, as a special treat, we had roasted leg (and I do mean leg) of pork, potatoes, chard, rice and salad from their garden along with fresh mangoes, passion fruit and oranges from their orchard. We were very lucky to have the meat as dried beans are the favoured protein due to cost and availability. One night we had pizza along with the usual rice and beans. Besides home made pizza – delicious ! - we were also treated to Oswaldi’s home made buns and bread as well as sometimes eggs in the morning for breakfast (they have chickens at this friary). Coffee is freshly brewed and boiled whole milk from their cow is added to it. Interesting thing about the milk is that it is not refrigerated, just reboiled when necessary and seems to keep well. They also have a raft of rabbits that the students care for in return for which they get to have the meat. I did not spend much time with the rabbits as I was worried that they might show up on my plate and I didn’t want to become attached to them...

Oswaldi's famous pizza

The washing up of breakfast and lunch dishes is taken care of by Oswaldi but supper dishes are done by eveyone who has eaten (Oswaldi leaves a boiling container of water on the wood stove).

The Franciscans are very gracious hosts; however, one must realize that this is their home and one is expected to abide by some rules. Meals are served at 7:15 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. sharp. The Franciscans have their set times for private prayer in the chapel and at this time, it is not open for anyone to attend. On the other hand, one is most welcome at the church whenever there are services. Other than taking the bedding to the laundry room to be cleaned by a young lady who works at the friary, cleaning the room and doing personal laundry is one’s own responsibility. Volunteers are welcome but the expectation is that they will help out as well as work at the project - not simply treat the time as a holiday. Oh! and the kitchen is Oswaldi’s domain. It is only polite to knock before entering and sampling or taking any food outside of mealtimes is not really appreciated, I am sure.

A typical day in Kivumu friary begins at 6 a.m. I would rise and generally take a sponge bath or quickly stand under the shower... there is hot water but it runs first along one side of the rooms and then the other and I just felt it was wasteful to run the tap for ten minutes to get hot water, so I settled for cold – also helped to wake me up! Next, was to rinse out in a basin any clothes I needed to wash and hang them on the line outside- but keeping the “unmentionables” in my room on a small line to dry. Valerie wisely advised me to turn my clothes inside out when hanging them on the lines – otherwise you get fade marks from the sun very quickly.

Then it was ‘sweeping out my room’ time– the African dust tends to stick to one’s shoes and thus a quick sweep takes care of that. Breakfast is at 7:15 am – whoever is there ahead sets the table; we would stand to have the prayer said, and then dig in. In addition to the fresh baked bread and/or buns, fresh tomatoes and fruit we often had chapati (a kind of flat bread grilled in oil) with honey from their own hives. School at CFJ Padri Vjeko starts with assembly at 7: 45 so I would generally head down between 8 and 8:30. We worked through till 12:30. then headed back up the lane for lunch and then resumed work from 1:30 till 4:30 p.m. Darkness comes at 6 p.m. in Kivumu and supper is at 7:15 p.m. I am told that to eat so well is due to Oswaldi’s culinary expertise for being able to make a terrific meal out of anything. In most other places, one would be eating the standard rice and beans daily.

Painting the Mural

November 4 - Thursday - we started the mural. I walked to the school at 8:30 a.m. and once there, I was assigned a young man named Jean Paul or ‘Paulo’, as he is called and he in turn chose another young man named Jean Marie. I would have pegged their ages at about eighteen to nineteen years, but it turned out that Paulo was twenty-seven and Jean Marie was twenty-five. Paulo is a carpentry teacher at the school but was assigned to help me for the painting project.

Jean Marie was a second year carpentry student. Jean Marie speaks only Kinyarwanda while Paulo speaks the local dialect along with French and a bit of English so we had a lot of pantomime as well as Paulo interpreting for me. I did try to speak some Kinyarwanda but all of us ended up laughing at my pronunciation.

Friday – we continued with the mural – the guys were so willing, never complained and did a lot of the ‘blocking in of the colours’. I set them to working on painting the sky – Paulo was very enthusiastic and Jean Marie had quite an eye for what he was doing. They did not stop for breaks (which for the most part meant neither did I) and we would go to lunch from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. and then back to work till school ended at 4:30. The instant that the classes were finished, the students from the school would flood into the area where we were painting and that was the end of doing any more work on the mural!!! They were so curious and interested in everything – as well, many expressed a desire to learn how to draw and paint.

beginning the Mural

So we would clean up and pack our paints, etc. away in the middle room of the container which was locked and at the same time, about a dozen drums were brought out and the students would begin to practice drumming. The drums are made from tree trunks and covered with cow hide with the hair still on. I would head back to the friary – a fairly short but uphill walk - where we would relax - sitting and listening to the students drumming as darkness would descend upon us. (at about 6pm the sun drops beneath the horizon and it immediately becomes dark).

Saturday - I spent some of the morning attempting to get the air compressor going for my airbrushes (Fra Ivica had thoughtfully purchased it for my use)– unfortunately, we did not realize there was no oil in the compressor so thought we had burned out the motor. I phoned my husband, Garry, back in Canada and he calmly suggested we just leave it to cool till the next day, put oil in it and work the shaft back and forth. With fingers crossed we did exactly that and it started up, thanks to his brilliant advice. That night Ivica, Valerie and myself went into the nearby village where we went to a restaurant which has individual outdoor pagoda-like eating areas. There we ordered chips and the skewered goat meat and while waiting, proceeded to play rummy. Good thing we had entertainment, as apparently they had to go out to find the goat for our meal (just kidding but it did take a considerable time for the meal)! However it was very pleasant playing cards and drinking the local beer – Primus, which is very good...

Sunday – up at 6am for breakfast at 7:15 then went to the school to work on the mural. I needed some time by myself in order to collect my thoughts and try to get a handle on it and plan what I would set Paolo and Jean Marie to doing for the week.

Oswaldi has Sunday afternoons off, so Valerie and I helped Ivica to make supper – spaghetti with a sauce that Valerie concocted from canned tomato paste, eggplant, peppers, onions and garlic – fantastic! Then the three of us went into the living room for what was quickly becoming a favourite pastime - another game of rummy.

Week of Nov 8 - continued working on the mural – it was slowly starting to come together as I was constantly ‘adjusting’ in order that I could have the guys doing a lot of the blocking out work. Paulo was more comfortable having an exact line to follow so I set him to tracing and painting the flags (which I had pre-drawn) and he did a great job on them. Jean Marie was a little more adventurous so I set him to painting the tree trunks and branches – I had to curb his enthusiasm occasionally but things turned out very well. They were very anxious to see ‘the moose’ being painted in the mural, but that would be not for a while – sometimes I thought that it was all going well and then moments later I despaired, thinking that there would not be enough time to finish. I was definitely “running out of steam” during this week when I returned to my room.

Initially Fra Ivica had the students set up metal poles and tin roofing as a bit of a ‘lean-to’ in order to give me shade from sun and protection from the rain, but one day I had some of it removed in order to get a better view of perspective and boy, did I notice the difference! - not so much in the painting, but in working in the sun – even Paulo and Jean Marie were heading for water to drink – something they had not done before. I quickly decided to have the students put some of the roofing back up the very next day – they were probably wondering what the crazy lady from Canada was thinking!

putting up iron sheets

On Friday, November 12th, sadly, Fra Ivica had to return to Bosnia for the funeral of his father. I spent the weekend working on the mural - had three large areas remaining – the moose and calf, finishing the mountains and the waterfall – and suddenly I found myself really ‘running up against time’. Before he left, Fra Ivica had very thoughtfully arranged with Joseph (a Franciscan Brother) to drive Valerie and myself to Kigali one day to see the genocide memorial and also to take us to the national park, so that would mean two days away – I was getting anxious because we were departing for Canada following Friday evening.

Anecdotes from Rwanda

Oh, I must tell you about the people as I saw them – they are for the most part slender and of average height. The women dress very colourfully, although some of the young people wear fairly western style clothing. The men generally wear trousers, a shirt and suit jacket. Travel is by bus, bicycle or foot. The women balance huge bundles on their heads and walk so gracefully – their posture is something we can only aspire to. They have motorcycle taxis – where the rider is given a helmet and then hangs on to the driver for dear life. Once, when I was walking back to the friary from the school, I saw two men pushing a bicycle – there was a weird grunting sound and at first I thought it was that the bicycle had a flat tire. Then, I looked closer and realized that they had a huge, live pig strapped to the bicycle seat! It was upside down and not enjoying the ride one bit and was starting to slip this way and that – so another man ran up to them and grabbed the pig’s tail - thus balancing it - and they continued on their way – wish I’d had my camera with me!

Another amusing anecdote: One day, I was trying to tighten the hose clamp on the air compressor for my air brush when the clamp gave way and the hose flew off the regulator, writhing like a snake on the ground, with me trying to catch it and getting air blown back into my face when I finally did! When I finally tamed it, I looked up to see the welding students lined up across from me (they work in a covered open area to the west of the container). Everyone was quite silent until I started to laugh at thinking how ridiculous I must have looked and then they all joined in having a great time at my expense.

This was actually supposed to be the rainy season but, according to Fra Ivica, the rains were not as frequent as they should have been. Normally there would have been a downpour everyday but those that we did have were quite sporadic and not as heavy as they should have been. The people rely heavily on the rains coming after they have planted their second season of crops and gardens and if the rains do not come then they have no produce. Gardens are planted in raised beds that they work with hoes and are terraced on the hillsides.

While I was there, I observed two people who were hired to plant grass in the centre area and I have never witnessed more back breaking work! They had a sack filled with individual tufts of grass that they proceeded to insert carefully and precisely one-by-one into holes made with a stick.

planting grass

Everything is done with manpower here – not machines. I was looking at the welded trusses for the primary school and asked Fra Ivica what they would be using to raise the trusses onto the walls and he simply gestured to the students and said they would all lift them and put them in place... And I am talking about welded steel trusses at least twenty feet long!!! It is amazing to me to see what they have accomplished. The courtyard in the schoolyard has a gigantic cistern under it – the eaves-trough edging the corrugated metal roofs of the buildings catch the rains and through a drainage system dump the water into the cistern. This cistern was dug by hand by the students –the work done was incredible – then lined with bricks and the interior wall cemented and the roof (the schoolyard compound) is a slab of concrete on top of it.

One day near the end of my visit, I was curious to see more of the school, and I took a walk over to where they have an open covered area that houses the electrical carpentry machine– it is a huge bed that has a planer, table saw, router, etc. Walking back, I got a peek into the nearby Catholic church of Kivumu – it is huge – built in the round and absolutely beautiful. It is made of bricks (as are all the buildings here – with polished cement floors).

On the Wednesday before we left, we took the day off (first since we arrived here) and hired a four-wheel drive vehicle and a driver to take us to the national park (we - being Valerie, Joseph - the Franciscan brother, and myself). The distance of 233 km took us five hours to get there! We were up at 4:00 a.m. and the driver arrived at 5:00 a.m. He was driving at a snail’s pace all the way to Kigali, about 100 km away, and we found out why when we got to Kigali as he immediately turned into a tire shop - the left front tire was flat! They took out the tube and proceeded to repair it (with its many bulges and previous patches). The whole operation took about an hour and we headed on our way only to have it go flat again about a half hour later. While the driver put on the spare, we headed to a small resort complex on the side of the road, overlooking a beautiful lake. There we ordered coffee (for which I can only assume they were waiting for the beans to ripen) and eventually got it. We hurried back to the vehicle only to find the driver gone – he had apparently headed up the hill for a bathroom break.

We got underway again and finally, after some wrong turns, eventually arrived at Akagara National Park. It is quite something – it was first opened in 1934 but is now reduced to about one-third the original size, as after the genocide the land was made available to the Tutsi people who returned to Rwanda from wherever they had sought sanctuary. The problem was, as Valerie remarked, “the animals did not realize that the boundaries had changed” and as a result, the lions had been killed as well as some of the leopards and the elephants and rhinos were being poached. Since then, the Park has made an agreement with the farmers that if their goats or cows are killed, they receive reparation rather than killing the predators. Plans are in the works to fence the park but that will not start until next year. That being said, we had a full day of seeing topis, reebok deer, waterbuck deer, elands, etc. as well as baboons, monkeys and wart hogs.

Beverly and giraffe

Then we went on to see cape water-buffalo, zebras and one lone giraffe – probably driven out from the herd, as he was a young male. He was very curious and stood watching us while we took photos – our guide, Emanual, then told Valerie to walk towards the giraffe as she was taking a movie on her camera – she got quite close before Mr. Giraffe slowly turned and started to move away – when she stopped so did he – quite the experience!

Buffalo in Akagera

We then drove on to arrive at a lake where there were hippos and crocodiles – unfortunately, just minutes before our arrival, they had been on land grazing when a group of very noisy tourists from Spain made such a commotion that the animals retreated to the water – our guide was quite annoyed, and we were disappointed. We stayed for a time, waiting, but they did not come back out. By then it was time to head back and we were not able to see the elephants or the small rhino herd that is known to be in the park (to see the entire area would have taken about ten hours). The elephants had been in that very location two days ago but had since moved south. We did, however, see the evidence of their being there – whole trees uprooted and huge branches broken off. And then - just our luck - a rain storm occurred in the hills above, which caused the water to run down into the park and turn the red murram roads into slime – a bit of a hair-raising experience driving back to the entrance. At times, we were sliding completely sideways as the driver fought to keep the vehicle on the road – more than once I was convinced that I was headed for a close encounter with a tree!

wild animals in Akagera

We were on our way back only to have another flat tire about 60 km outside Kigali. The driver was persuaded to purchase a new tube and repair both others – the repair shop was busy with a number of customers so we left the driver there and went to a local restaurant for supper (we had not eaten all day – only some coconut biscuits we were able to buy at the park). So we had brochette and French fries, washed down with wonderfully cold beer. The fries came with cole slaw which I left untouched – you never know what water the cabbage has been washed in or the sanitary habits of the cooks in the restaurants... We got back to the friary about 10:00 p.m. and were more than ready for bed.

Saying goodbye

So Thursday dawned and the mural was as done as it was going to be – this time – there is still a lot of work to do (primarily detail) but time simply ran out – I could believe how quickly the weeks had passed. Both Paulo and Jean Marie were quite pleased with their work, so that made it all worthwhile. Paolo asked for all the small bits of leftover paint - I had brought small yogurt containers which we used to mix and hold the paint – as well as film canisters which I used when airbrushing. He poured all the colours into a large can and will use the paint to protect the door of his house from weather and insects – the final result was a rather putrid shade of grey but he was more than happy. The name of the game is “make do” with whatever you have on hand – like a piece of cardboard covered with some plastic wrap from one of the boxes sent in the container made a great palette.

Jean Marie painting

Showing the guys ways of mixing paint to get the colours we wanted, taking a kitchen sponge and picking at it with a pair of tweezers for the right texture so they could sponge-paint leaves on the trees was really rewarding. We had paint leftover, as I had wanted to purchase more rather than less (which would have necessitated another trip to Kigali). But it will certainly not go to waste – it will be used, either to continue the mural at another time, or for painting on the primary school buildings that are being erected. All the paint was provided thanks to the generosity of my husband, Garry who personally donated the cost. I also left all the flat and round paint brushes, chalk lines, pencils, rulers. etc. that we used.

Paulo painting the flag

A feast was planned for our last night – a whole pig was to be roasted on a spit. To do this, they put the pig on a wooden stake and secured it by driving nails through bottle caps, then through the pig and into the stick. They then spent hours constantly turning the pig by hand, basting it with beer.

turning the pig

The evening feast started at 7:00 p.m. Thursday evening. The pig had been roasting all day and smelled heavenly. Oswaldi had prepared salads, rice, potatoes and... of course... the inevitable beans. A butcher knife made short work of carving the pig and then it was “dig in” – one does not stand on ceremony as the food disappears in record time.! When everyone had eaten, Immaculee, the secretary at CFJ Padri Vjeko, Joseph, a tailoring teacher, and Paulo came up and gave wonderful speeches thanking us for coming to Rwanda and presented both Valerie and myself with Rwandan covered baskets as well Thank-you cards. It was very moving – Valerie spoke in return and even I got up and said a few words.

Then drums were brought out, the fire was replenished and the dancing began! Paulo did a dance in which he illustrated hunting down a pig, the women sang and danced a traditional dance with different men coming up and attempting to break into their circle but being sent back to their seats... I was not entirely sure of all the significance, but it was very graceful to watch. After that the dancing consisted mainly of moving in a circle around the fire, accompanied by the drums and singing and at that point, we (Valerie and I) were grabbed by the hands and brought into the dancing. One or two rounds and I would be back to sit (and catch my breath) only to be brought back into it again. Festivities continued till about 11 pm and then it was off to bed. Some of the people who lived a considerable distance from the friary were given beds in the dormitory. Next day was, after all, a school day and these teachers had to be there - front and centre.


November 19, Friday morning arrived and we attended the Mass that the students had organized in respect for Fra Ivica’s family. Valerie and I walked to the church – all the teachers and students were there – the music was drums and a cappella singing – very beautiful with everyone clapping in rhythm. The priest that officiated had come from a neighbouring village and when the mass was done, he jumped onto his motorcycle and headed for the next town.

Inside the church, there is a flat marble rectangular slab covering Padre Vejko’s tomb with a photo of him above it. There are no pews such as we know them but rather low benches on which you sit; and, when it is time to kneel, one bends one’s legs slightly and rests one’s kneecaps on the edge of the bench ahead. I survived just one kneeling and then elected to stand during the rest of them – these old knees just couldn’t take it.

After Mass, the rest of the morning was devoted to packing (which Valerie did, as she is very good at gauging weight and stuffing as much in as possible), cleaning out our rooms and saying our goodbyes. We had purchased many baskets and carvings from the roadside vendors that we were able to fit into our empty suitcases as the majority of the items I had brought from Canada were left at the friary – mosquito nets, gifts and generally whatever was not irreplaceable.

A 2:00 p.m. we headed to Kigali – Brother Joseph drove us. We went to the Genocide Memorial where Valerie and I spent a couple of hours. It was very moving – there were explanations with the photos in Kinyarwanda, French and English. Most disturbing and what made it all too real was when we turned a corner and entered a room containing a glass cabinet containing the skulls of little children with obvious trauma inflicted either by a machete or being smashed against something.

After our visit to the memorial, we went for a late afternoon meal and then headed for the airport. Luck was certainly with us, as each of our bags was a little overweight, but the attendant chose to ignore this and we were on our way. We flew from Kigali to Entebbe and on to Amsterdam where we had stopover of five hours and then it was straight to Calgary, Alberta where we arrived to MINUS 40 DEGREE weather... talk about culture shock!

In reflection, my experience in Kivumu, Africa seems almost surreal – things are still a bit of a blur but I do know that given the opportunity, I would go back in a heartbeat and try to help in whatever capacity I could!

the final product

Father Vjeko Center

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