What do you do when your gate padlock breaks and you can get neither in or out?
No, not a John McGee riddle, but the question I recently faced. So I asked Agnes to help me out. Where in Gikongoro does one go to break open a padlock?
“There is just one person in Gikongoro who can open padlocks. And he is in prison”. Great. So now what?
“I’ll go and send for him”. Huh?
And lo and behold, an hour or two later a prisoner dressed in the ubiquitous pink uniform donned by every member of the unavoidable Rwandan prison population turns up to my gate, with his very own specially commissioned armed guard. He then sets to work – I was expecting a great big saw and some brute force, but oh no. This was an intelligent job – click, click, tuck, ping! A few seconds work – and he took it away for a day to fix it too so that the key would work again.
We paid him a bit of money – the guard of all people said it wasn’t enough, so we raised it a little. It was only a few days later that I heard the guard stole it.
The prisoners are put to great use out here. Free labour for the government! They are everywhere, hoeing and carrying and digging and building. The track up to my house was de-weeded (and de-flowered) by a band of prisoners for last month’s Umuganda – which was a welcome surprise for the one single benficiary. Me. They are usually out in the fields cultivating the land lazily watched over by a single armed guard – unless the guard nips into one of the small mud houses to treat some poor girl to an unwelcome “visit”. But then you see the prisoners doing the same from time to time too - doing up their unfortunately comical pink pajama-type trousers as they emerge into the light, the girl trailing a few seconds later re-tying her pang. Who are the losers here? The women living in the houses near me are incessantly pregnant and have broods of children – but there are rarely any men around for longer than it takes to empty the fresh batch of sorghum beer.