Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Another Friday up-country

May 30th

Up before dawn and out of the house by 6.30. A chilly morning, but thankfully fine and clear with no mist today. We’re off to Kiyumba, to Kanyanza “B” primary school, which means we’re going up the “Great North Road” for the first time in a couple of months. All the landmarks now seem very familiar – the rattly bridge; the short cut through some trees; the market centre at Nyabikenke. I’d forgotten just how lush and green it is up this valley, too. But oh boy, the road doesn’t get any easier. My back’s complaining by the time we get there, and there’s all the journey back to look forward too. An hour and a half on dry, rutted soil is like tobogganing over a quarry tip heap!

It takes us two attempts to find the right school – there’s a huge parish church, built on a hill to dominate the town, and at least twp secondary and two primary schools clustered round it. Also there’s a health centre and a “maison paroissale” just like at Cyeza; this ensures there’s general public walking through the school grounds, people coming and going on mopeds just outside the window, and crows of squalling babies to give us a bit of competition.

Never mind, the room is plastered and whitewashed, and most of the windows have glass in them, so compared with some places it’s bright and airy and comfortable.

Our training session goes well, but not quite as planned. Just after we get started it starts to rain smartly, so we can’t do our games session till almost at the end. This means our teachers have a lot of sitting down and listening work, which is not the message we’re trying to get across! Also, in the room next door someone starts a music lesson which involves raucous singing and a heavy drum so loud that it makes paper rattle even in our own room. We’ve already pushed one class out of the room we’re using; we don’t want to disturb another even if they’re disturbing us, so we grin and bear it.

The noise soon stops and we’re invaded by almost the whole staff of Kanyanza “B” school. We don’t have enough rice sacks to give them all one each, but there’s no problem with them coming along to the training. So what’s happening with the rest of the school, you all ask? Well, there’s a token few teachers supervising the 500 pupils, but it so happens there’s a big football match between schools and it’s decided to forego normal lessons and let the whole school watch. The kids are nothing if not enthusiastic; one team is in proper kit (a most fetching powder blue); the other team (probably Kanyanza) is in a motley collection of charity shop cast-offs. And they’re losing, too. Never mind, there’s wildly enthusiastic cheer leading by groups of girls, and huge roars of support. At lunchtime half the secondary school pupils come down the hill to watch, and now the support’s equal in numbers and volume to the Muhanga professional match Tom and I watched a while ago. When the ball is kicked out of play it rolls down a steep slope and into the river, and it seems to take five minutes for someone to jump in and fish it out. There are crowds of silly people who could stop the ball, but none of them seem to bother. Beats me!

So in our training session we end up with the biggest group of teachers to date. The roll call of names continues to impress; we have a Jean-de-Dieu, Vélène, Théodore, Godelive, Médiatrice, Marie Anualite; a Concessa, Séraphine, Berthilde, Domitille, Athalie and a Liberata who’s actually very up-tight and non-liberal! So the charming year 6 teacher called Andrew seems to have a very prosaic Christian name among all these flowery offerings!

When we eventually get outside to play our teaching games we prove a big, but not fatal, distraction to the football. We seem to get about half the school coming to watch us. The school yard is grassy, but wet from the rain and skiddy, so we have to be careful. Also it’s very long and narrow, so my “North, South, East, West” game ends up being just North and South. And “What’s the Time, Mr Lion?” is a huge hit once again with both teachers and spectators.

By half past twelve we’re both starving, sop we take it in turns to go and hide in the empty classroom next door and eat mandazis we’ve brought with us. (In Rwanda it’s absolutely not done to eat food in front of people who don’t have any). This room, where the music was coming from earlier, turns out to be empty of everything except the massive drum, and piles of agricultural implements. It’s used as a store room for all the school’s faming kit. Included among the tools are two sharp machetes; any English Health and Safety official would throw a fit if he saw these things left within easy reach of every child in the school, however young!

As at Nsanga, there are some ridiculously young children with babies on their backs. Surely these kids can’t be the mothers. I wonder if the babies are their younger sisters, and brothers. But why would they be lugging the babies around when they’re at school. Watch this space – I’ll find out from Laurence, the Secteur Rep!

We carefully ration out our sweeties this time, and I even manage not to forget my fleece. The children don’t want to let us go; we end up in the middle of a tight circle and have to virtually charge through to escape to the motos. Then it’s bumpety-bump home. The morning rain has done nothing to soften the road; in fact it’s made things worse because there’s a layer of greasy, slippery mud all over the place, and we have to slow down to walking pace every time there’s a sharp bend.

Back at the flat there’s a flurry of texting to finalise arrangements for the weekend. Ten texts within an hour and a half! Tiga’s writing a letter to the new Rwanda country VSO Director and we agree to meet on Sunday to discuss it. Marisa’s going to be late getting here tonight to sleep over. Christi’s going out for a meal with her family and do Tom and I want to come? Cathryn’s confirming that I’m sleeping over at Nyanza on Saturday, but the Mwami’s Palace will be closed, so I’ll have to go there Sunday morning. And so on. I tell you, my social life at Bridport was never this intricate! (Mind you, I support it’s because there wasn’t much of a social life in this sense. I don’t know how students manage to do all their socialising. How do they find any time to work or sleep?)

I trudge the two miles up to the Post Office, sure that my “Guardian Weekly” will have arrived; there’s going to be no chance to get it tomorrow or Sunday. But, of course, it’s not there. So all I manage is a bit of urgent shopping. Once again I’m low on cash for the weekend, and I’ve missed the bank. Damn! Its high time Rwanda got cash machines in all its banks!

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