Thursday, 19 June 2008

Changing the image

June 16th

OK, so this is the day I decide to have a major change of image. My hair needs cutting and I’m not going to be a wuss and wait until I can persuade VSO George to cut it; I’ll go to the barbershop across the road and let them do their worst. So by half past six in the morning I’m their first customer. The massive stereo is cranked up and blasting to the nation, but it actually sounds louder in our flat than in the shop. This is because the shop is on the first floor, and the speakers are mounted on the balcony decking outside. I can’t see whether they’ve got a CD player hooked into it, so I’m still none the wiser as to whether I can make them a CD of stuff I like and have them play it occasionally….

There are two men who run the shop; one is older and is the reggae fan; the other is a young lad. It’s the young lad who cuts my hair. He’s just as nervous as I am about cutting muzungu hair, but he works very slowly and carefully and does a really good job. He disinfects the clippers (Rwandan barbers don’t use scissors – ever) with a small bottle of gin. OK, but its industrial alcohol, not gin, that’s in the bottle. He dusts my face all over with talc at the finish, and I decide on a whim to go the whole hog and get rid of my beard for a while. All the girls are getting hair extensions and braids and changing their image, so why not me? And so many people I’ve met here say they don’t like beards anyway. And it seems to forever need dying to keep it brown. So off it comes.

Yes, after forty two years of hairy face, with only one small period of shaving, I’m wandering around Rwanda beardless!

Of course, to match the occasion the weather’s taken a turn for the worse. It’s cloudy and so, so cold – and on my newly bare cheeks it feels about 10 degrees colder than last week. It really does feel weird without a beard.

The funny thing is that almost nobody is commenting on it. All my colleagues at work studiously avoid saying anything. Tom’s still away at Akagera with his parents, and I haven’t seen either Cathie or Karen since the weekend. But just wait until Thursday when I meet all the VSO crowd at Kigeme for the English training course….

Cathie’s hurt her back and is resting at home.

At the office I finish the P6 mock exam in English, and take it to Florent at Nyabisindu school – it’s just up the road from the District Office. He gets his English teacher to have a look at it with me. There’s a melee of little faces pressed against the windows as we go through bit by bit. This young girl teacher has also had a bash at setting an exam, and we knock out some bits of mine that she says are too hard for her kids and substitute some of her stuff. In twenty minutes we’ve agreed on the format, and I go back to the office and retype and print it off. The exam these children will do in English will be exactly the same in format and appearance as the real thing this autumn. This is one of my aims: these children get flummoxed when they meet a printed exam paper – because it’s so fresh and clean they’re almost afraid to write their answers on the sheets!

I’m so pleased to have done something today that will make a real difference both to the local children throughout the District, and to the hard pressed English teachers in Muhanga.

I also manage to get all the secondary census data entered up. However, when I start trying to collate it all and put it on charts and diagrams I’m back to the old problems – each school seems to have decided to leave out some sections where they think the data is hard to collect (or where they just can’t be bothered to do the work), so I still can’t get a complete comparison. Never mind, I’ve got plenty to go on. The revelation to me is that the secondary schools – with their more educated teachers and far better facilities – are even more hopeless than the primaries at making their figures add up consistently. Damn it; most of the bigger secondaries have got electricity, and have computers! What are they all up to!

The moral to all this is that I need to get into some of them and start doing some inspections.

Sholi primary has put me off yet again from inspecting them tomorrow – this time the head says he’s on an R E training course at Kabgayi. But he’s invited me in next week, so I’ll hold him to that.

It means I have to change my plans for this week. Tuesday will be an office day, preparing stuff for inspections and for the English training course. And on Wednesday I’ll try and visit two schools in Shyogwe. Ruli ADEPR (Pentecostal) school is very good; Ruli Catholic next door is almost as weak as Cyeza in its results. So I text the head teachers and wait to see what excuses they’ll come up with….

In the evening I decide to make my Dad a CD compilation of photos from Rwanda. He’s just bought a modern flat-screen TV and it must be compatible with his CD player, so he should be able to see my photos on a 32 inch screen. Yay!

Over the weekend I’ve both caught a cold from this sudden change in the weather, and I’ve also managed to get a strep infection in my throat which is making me miserable.

Cue hot cocoa for supper and a relatively early night!

Best thing about today – everything. It’s been another good day.

Worst thing – if my throat doesn’t clear up by this time tomorrow I’ll have to get some penicillin from the pharmacy. This Rwandan self-diagnosis and self-prescription game is a laugh!

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