Sunday, 18 May 2008

Mushushiro in May is freezing!

May 16th

Up early (5.30); Soraya’s off to Kigali to sort out first the bank and then VSO ; I’m off with Cathie to the depths of Mushishiro to do our fifth teacher training morning. Mushishiro is an hour out of Gitarama, so we need a proper powerful motor bike to get there. The scenery en route is spectacular as usual, with banks of white clouds lying like lakes in the deepest hollows and slowly rising as the morning sun reaches them.

We go pass yesterday’s school at Mata, and also pass Gisiza primary which I visited but failed to inspect a while ago. The road works are in full swing; lorries full of gravel and heavy machinery everywhere, and literally hundreds of men sweating with shovels. Why pay for more machinery than you really need when Rwanda’s full of underemployed men? Every vehicle leaves a dust trail and by the time we reach Mushushiro we can taste dust between our teeth and our eyes are full of grit even through our helmet visors.

The school is old, big, and unused to muzungus. We get the usual greeting – by the time we’ve taken off our helmets we’re surrounded by literally hundreds of children. They don’t speak to us at first; they just crowd in on us and stare and stare and stare. Then it’s “how are you?” and “what is your name?” about fifty times, followed by handshakes and fits of giggles. As soon as we ask them “what day is it today?” or “what year are you in?” all we get is blank stares and embarrassment.

Eventually we’re rescued by one of the staff and shown to the classroom we’ll be using. It’s made of brick, with a high ceiling. There are lots of windows and at one time it has been a pleasant room to teach in. But it hasn’t seen any maintenance in years. The door’s half off its hinges. Half of the panes of glass in the windows are broken, and in any case the window frames are rectangular but the window openings are arched, so every window has a gap above it through which a fierce wind is whistling. It’s absolutely perishing cold! It’s so windy that we can’t tape posters to the walls inside the room – the draught is blowing them straight off again.

The desks are old and carved with the names of generations of kids. On the floor, the shim of cement is chipping away to reveal bricks underneath, and you have to watch where you put your feet. On the walls are the usual water-stained cards of cartridge paper with English tenses, diagrams of the human tongue, and properties of mathematical shapes. In one corner there’s a 2008 calendar in amazingly bad taste showing the Bush – Saddam Hussein conflict like a Punch and Judy show. I think it must be Chinese.

Mushushiro is a small secteur and we only have about a dozen teachers (two who were supposed to come don’t show up. We wonder if they were ever told which school to go to. We were never told officially; Cathie had to ring round some of the Head teachers last night to get a consensus on where everyone thought the training was happening. It’s just luck that everyone’s come to the same place on the right day)!

The training goes OK; there’s not the enthusiasm that we had yesterday in Muhanga. These teachers are nervous about speaking English, so they whisper their answers and everything has to be repeated, which gets tedious. When we go outside to do teaching games (Simon Says, What’s the Time Mr Lion, Fruit Salad, I went to Market and so on), we get half way through and discover it’s break time. Nine hundred little people make a beeline for the strange sight of adults playing games. So we hastily retreat back into the classroom and do some singing games to a backdrop of windows blackened by curious faces. Cue “You are My Sunshine” and “The Wheels on the Bus….” for the umpteenth time.

Not so many unusual names in this group either, but we can manage a Bonaventure, Philbert, Delphine, Béline and Euphrasée as well as a prosaic John-Peter. Surnames seem to be getting even longer, with Mukakanyamanza, Uwambazamariya and Nyirangirimana.

All good things come to an end, and by three we’re back in town but feeling very tired. I pig out on mandazis for lunch and then fall asleep in the armchair (no mean feat as these VSO chairs are very uncomfortable after thirty minutes or so). I’ve caught a cold from the howling draughts of Mushushiro! Soraya texts to say she’s met Épi and they’re staying over in Kigali tonight, and that she’s abandoning any plan to reach Kibuye this weekend. Looks as though I’m going to have another weekend here in Gitarama; the problem for me, too, is that any of the people or places I want still to go to need a long weekend to make them worthwhile. And with Fridays all committed to teacher training for the foreseeable future it could be a while before I’m free to travel.

Oh well, things could be a lot worse. As I’m writing this blog it’s a beautiful evening outside, Muhabura volcano is standing out clear against a pink sunset and we’ve got plenty of food in the house.

Best thing about today – I’m relieved that I’m not dashing off tomorrow for a hasty and expensive trip to Kibuye.

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