As some of you may know, Charlotte was a very active member of St. John Ambulance. She was a first aider for many years – I remember her practicing how to tie a sling on me as a child. Charles Ralli sent me this wonderful email talking about time he spent with Charlotte in the late 90s. I’m sure that it will resonate with all of us who knew her as being a very recognizable description!

Charles wrote:

“I remember Charlotte well from her time in my division (Hammersmith) of St. John Ambulance. I recall she worked in research on cardiac viruses, and in November of 1997, after what must have been at least a year of membership for her, I taught on the second half of her Ambulance Aid 1 course, and recall particularly that whilst most of the class was in formal uniform, as it was not a public event charlotte was in a pair of faded black combat trousers and a white shirt that hadn’t seen an iron in a while with hair in a comparable state. I made a comment that I had not realised there was the female equivalent of the “scatty scientist” look to which she replied robustly, questioning my interest in mannequins strapped down to a trolleybed! I recognised someone who could reply with wit and humour, and was most entertained for the rest of the course.

I also recall subsequently doing some ambulance transport work with her in the winter pressure period where we were driving through Hampstead when for some reason we started singing carols. She was surprised at the descants I was able to produce, saying “you’re not supposed to know those” but the two of us, and a rather non-musical third member of the crew managed to produce some harmonious tunes. What anyone would have made of the noises coming from the “singing ambulance” I don’t know, but I recall it rather fondly, especially as I can no longer hit those notes. I recall she had a very good musical talent, but don’t remember what, if anything, she had played.

I also remember a very awkward patient we had to transfer from a hospital to home, in what became the “job from hell” and which I think convinced Charlotte that ambulance transport work was not her foremost interest. We never managed to organise an Ambulance Aid 2 course before she left us. I think she would have been good at the emergency side of things, but she heard a louder call and had to follow…..”


This first email mentions a Guardian journalist who interviewed Charlotte in Kigali about her work on the National curriculum. His name is Will Woodward and he actually wrote a wonderful piece about Charlotte shortly after her death.

28th October 2000
“Hiya all,

Last weekend I went down to Kibuye with lots of the new volunteers. I am considering extending for another
year and so it was good to spend time with the people that will be here for the next 2 years too. I really
felt that we bonded, especially with the 2 nearest new volunteers and the journey down there was as beautiful
as ever.

The latest big news is that I’ve come to Kigali because the Ministry wants me involved in curriculum
development for the secondary school health science vocational training options. I am translating the
syllabus from French into English with no experience of curriculum development, no training in translation
and only a year’s experience of teaching. Hey ho!
A journalist from the Guardian came to Rwanda to do an article on the VSO programme (he’s the education
correspondent) and interviewed me about the programme development thing. That was quite exciting, and then I saw
myself live on national television licking my lips as they came and filmed the opening ceremony and focused
in on me when I wasn’t looking. Embarrassing!”

This is a great email. It mentions one of my all time favourite Rwanda stories – the paper hat story!

15th June 2000

Thanks for all the birthday greetings and parcels, I was very touched. Did the “Charlotte in Absentia”
party come off?
Well , what have I been up to this term? In the holidays I went travelling round Uganda with Mine,
which was really good. It was great to see Mine again (I don’t think that either of us got much sleep over
the next few nights from nattering!) and it was interesting to see how different Uganda was to Rwanda,
even though they are so close to each other. Obviously the countryside was different, and hotter, as it is
lower. However, what struck me most was that, although the roads were bad, the whole country seemed much more
Mine stayed for about two weeks, then I went straight into the term. I have been working fairly flat out to
try and finish the syllabus for all classes, but especially the VI form as they start their national exams in a
few weeks. I will miss them, as they are a really nice class, small, bright and motivated – what more could a
teacher want?! Not that I think of myself as a teacher, even after nearly a whole school year. I
discovered that I’m allergic to chalk, so I can’t be a teacher! Last weekend there was a VI form leaving
party, with food, entertainment and (this being Rwanda) speeches.

The entertainment was singing and dancing and poetry. One of the most memorable bits was
when 3 lads, two well over 6 ft and the other shorter than me did a traditional dance and song that was
absolutely hilarious, even if you didn’t understand kinyaRwanda. The biggest lad was clad in a white
shirt, white shoes and socks, bare legs and a skirt and a drape made out of what looked like a net
curtain. To finish it off he wore a green baseball cap – he was absolutely stunning!

I had taught the VI form“Swing Low, Sweet Chriot” (WITHOUT the gestures) after
one Friday afternoon lesson and we sang it as another part of the entertainment. I think that my descant
shocked the school a bit – they’re not used to people singing the way I do!

I have been out of Shyogwe a couple of times this term – we went to THE club in Kigali on Leonie’s birthday.
It’s called “Cdillacs and it’s more-or-less what you’d expect – lots of Congolese music and a pool table in
the corner. We’re planning to go there again this weekend as a joint celebration of my and Ed’s b’days
and also of Ed leaving.

On the Sat before my actual birthday Leonora and I went out for a drink with some
of the Congolese teachers. They insisted on escorting us back home, saying “We are men”, despite at least
two of them are significantly shorter than I am! It was quite nice to get out of Shyogwe and go somewhere
at night (we went 20 mins down the road to the village, Kinini, which is named after some quinine
plantations, apparently!).

On my actual birthday Ed came round and brought a bottle of wine (a very rare thing
in Rwanda!) and some crackers. We decided to walk down to the village in the paper hats from the crackers to
see what reaction we got. To our surprise, apart from one person saying we looked like Muslims, we didn’t
get any more attention than usual. EVERYTHING we do is so strange and unusual and bizarre to them that doing
things that we think are silly doesn’t seem any more silly to them.

In the evening I had a nice meal with the wine and candles. It was quite a quiet birthday,
but that was good as I was so busy. Now is the lull before the storm – I just have a bit to finish off
before my exam marking starts on Monday, so I can relax.”

I think that possibly the only comforting thing about Charlotte’s death is that I truly believe that she had met the man of her dreams.

Here are excerpts from an email that Charlotte’s wonderful friend Mine forwarded to me. I think that they are a lovely reminder of how happy Charlotte and Richard were together.

11th December 2000
So, seven years after the last time I was engaged I’m getting engaged again, this time for real.
We’re hoping to get married in July in Bujumbura and in August in London. Who is he? He’s 31, works as a
translator for an NGO in Kigali (hence why I am trying to get myself a job in Kigali) He has taken the best
of everyone I have ever loved and improved on it. I know this is really sudden and you must be thinking
that I have flipped or got a sudden case of sunstroke, but I am sure I am doing the right thing. He’s called Richard
Ndeyerimana and is from Burundi originally. He spent a couple of years as a Dominican brother, which I find
really weird, but hey. He doesn’t seem too likely to go back to that stage of his life. We met in June and
he was after me for about 5 months before I overcame my prejudices (maybe prejudices is the wrong word,
barriers or fears might be better), so he has patience and perseverance. We are planning to come back to
Europe to live after I have extended a year but I will be back in the UK for several weeks in the summer
trying to organise the wedding.

Have a great Christmas and New Year and don’t worry about me,
you’ll understand why I’m doing this when you meet

Lots and lots of love