Saturday, 24 May 2008

A lift with the Ambassador

May 22nd

Up at the crack of dawn; another training day. As time goes on and we get further and further away from Gitarama we’ll have to be up earlier and earlier to get to our venues on time; eventually we’ll be rising well before dawn. Yesterday’s late night after the football hasn’t helped me to get cracking, either. I meet up with Cathie in the bus park before 7.00; we think we can get a matata to Nyarusange because the training is at the big primary school on the main road to Kibuye.

As it turns out, our luck’s in; there’s a bus almost ready to leave. We cram inside; everybody on board’s fascinated that two muzungus are going to a big village in the middle of nowhere. The road is twisty and hilly; we’re jolted all round the bus and although it’s only about 15km away from Gitarama, we’re mightily relieved to get there in one piece.

The school stands on a narrow hilltop, and the views are lovely even by Rwandan standards. The hillsides are too steep for much farming, so they’re forested with eucalypts for firewood. The valleys are full of mist which is rising and burning off as we wait for our trainees to arrive. If I could wade through the hordes of kids I could take some lovely pictures, but by the time I get a chance the sun has risen too high and the light’s all wrong. Another time, perhaps!

Nyarusange primary school is another giant like Shyogwe and Kivumu – 1800+ children. It stands right next to the main road and the buildings tremble when lorries pass through. On the other side of the road is the big secondary school. This is a very common arrangement in Rwanda; the ensemble of maternelle, primary and secondary always referred to as “Groupe Scolaire (+ name of the place). The main teaching block is a spectacularly long building which seems to go on for ever. As usual we’re mobbed by over a thousand children on arrival; as usual there are ones who seem terrified of us and hover in the background; other ones who are brash and confident and want us to acknowledge them, shake their hand, speak to them. But the majority just want to crowd round and stare and stare at these apparitions which have descended on their school.

At 8.00 a drum beats loudly and the children slowly disperse. They’re all being summoned to a level piece of ground to sing the national anthem. It’s an impressive sight to see 1800 children all in symmetrical rows (like our children during a fire drill), and all singing. It’s quite melodic and tuneful, too. The anthem is long; the words and melody are tricky to remember, but they do it well. I’m surprised they don’t do the whole American thing with saluting the flag. Finally there’s a couple of short prayers (it’s a catholic school), and notices, and nearly 2000 children disappear inside their rooms within three minutes – pursued by their teachers with switches to encourage any dawdlers!

The training session goes very well; the teachers are a mixture of ages. Some have quite good English, but one man in particular can barely string two words together. We discover that he’s teaching in 6ème – i.e. the final year of primary and the year in which there’s frantic cramming for the end of primary exam. It’s the equivalent of someone who can barely speak English being employed to prepare kids for KS2 SATS in Dorset. His children just don’t stand an earthly chance.

When we finish and finally manage to get away, we have to get ourselves home. We haven’t arranged transport back because we think if we wait around for a while there’ll be a matata passing. But our luck’s even better this time. I stick my hand out to hitch a lift, and the very first vehicle that passes stops for us.

Inside is the former Rwandan ambassador to half of Western Europe, and his driver. The Ambassador’s a charming man, speaking perfect French. He’s a product of the very first secondary school for Rwandans at Butare. He’s met the Queen (plus the royalty of Belgium, Holland and Sweden), plus one or two popes, and we chatter away happily as we drive home. He’s pleased we are in his country, and despite being elderly he’s remarkably aware of the grass-roots issues we’re dealing with in the schools. A lovely man, gracious and generous. He insists on dropping us outside my flat. Unlike half of Rwanda, he doesn’t just assume that we’re either married to each other or a father-daughter combination, and he’s fascinated to discover how we come to be working with each other.

It’s seriously hot now each mid-day, and we’re both wilting. Cathie goes home and I doze off on the bed for a couple of hours. I just have time to raid the market, and then cook up supper. I can’t remember whether Tom’s coming home tonight or not (he’s gone to Butare to meet suppliers), so I cook for three and keep some back for him. He texts to say he’s staying over in Butare, and possibly Friday night too, so I’ve got my supper for tomorrow ready in the fridge! Rice, spicy tomato sauce, and mixed veg with a cheesy topping. By my standards it’s quite edible!

I’m still feeling tired, so the evening’s spent blogging and listening to music. Tomorrow is an even earlier start.

Best thing about today – everything, really: another good day; we feel we’ve achieved something and our training has been appreciated. When that happens to you, it really does make you feel ten feet tall!

Worst thing about today – nothing. Bring ‘em on!

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