Sunday, 22 June 2008

Speechless in Kigeme - part 1

June 19-21st

It’s Thursday. I’ve got so much to do I barely know where to start. There’s Elson’s flash drive to return to him before he goes off to school – he’s got all his physics lesson plans on it and I miss him at my peril! So that’s a half past six in the morning walk to Cathie’s house and back.

I finish my report on the Ruli school inspection from yesterday – I find that if I don’t do the write ups straight away, I forget too much detail. However much I try to write things down, I find that so much information is visual and impressionistic, and at my advanced years my memory seems to wipe itself after about 24 hours!

Then there’s the SORAS office manage to see in his office underneath our flat; we want to be reimbursed for the cost of replacing our bath tap. But the manager’s not there, and the office staff can’t tell me whether he’ll be in today, so I’ve wasted ten minutes.

Next it’s down to the internet café in the middle of Gitarama to download some more stuff on “Brain Gym”. Success – no problems. Flush with enthusiasm and a reasonable internet connection I try to send Sarah’s wedding gorilla-point, but discover its way too big for the grotty internet connection to handle. I do, though, manage to catch up on a whole load of emails and then find that a lot of them need replies.

Up to the papeterie to buy heavy paper for certificates for all the training course members. Cathie was going to do this but her back is really bad and she’s going to miss the course altogether. The only stuff the stationer has is very heavy and way, way too expensive, but faute de mieux I have to buy it. At least I’ll get reimbursed eventually.

At the post office there’s my Guardian Weekly and a letter for Tom, who is already off with his parents to Butare.

In the Office I’m desperately scrabbling around for duplicating paper to print my inspection reports and my teaching notes for the training course. There’s never any paper in the machine itself, and everybody squirrels away little handfuls of paper in their (locked) drawers. But Claude’s in his office and on the phone, so I go in bold as brass and take a pinch of paper to see me through. Phew; it’s a relief to get them printed at last. I plonk the inspection reports onto Claude’s desk to make it look as though I’ve been inspecting loads of schools this term…. Then I spend half an hour waiting for the resource technician to make copies of the course certificates.

So far, so good, but at this point the day begins to go pear shaped. The Muhanga office photocopier – the only one for all the reprographics in a district of several hundred thousand people – can’t cope with thick paper. All my expensive certificate paper is a waste of money. I can’t go to Kigeme without certificates ready to hand out, so we just whip them onto ordinary paper. I doubt whether anyone will look at them after the day itself!

At this point I’m back on schedule and ready to go back to the flat and pack leisurely and efficiently. But also at this point Védaste the statistician breezes in and wants me to show him how far I’ve got with my secondary census data. Not far enough, actually – it’s not at the top o my list right at this moment. But I can’t really refuse him, and we spend something like two hours – two hours – going through the powerpoints frame by frame. I need Védaste to help smooth my bad French, but as well as discovering that he’s quite seriously dyspraxic with a keyboard, I’m also sure some of his French is not quite right. Both of us, of course, are working in our second languages so it’s hardly surprising!

I also discover that there are no fewer than five new viruses on my flash dive that he’s been using, plus any amount of his material from other jobs. He’s just using my flash as if it was his own!

I tell him I need the flash to do last minute alterations, so at least I get it back. At some time next week I’m going to have to spend time updating the virus checker on my laptop – it can isolate these viruses but not destroy them. They keep reappearing and have to be knocked out every time I start my computer. They don’t affect how it works – yet - but I must see them off a.s.a.p.

By now it’s clear that I’m going to be seriously late for Kigeme unless all my bus connections run smoothly (unless you’re very lucky, Kigeme is three separate matata rides from Gitarama). Fortunately the first two do go smoothly, and by the time I get to Gikongoro I’m only half an hour late. At least two of the Muhanga teachers who are doing the course are on the bus with me, so I realise that “five o’clock sharp” is going to be a Rwandan 5.00.

As the bus driver puts me into the privileged front seat on the matata to Kigeme there’s a chorus of jibes from the back. I turn round to find three other VSOs – Antonia, Berthe and Cathryn – all sitting at the rear. Then Mans runs down from the Nyamagabe district office. He’s just finished work for the day and is taking our bus home to Gasarenda. He and I have both got very long legs so we end up squashed together in the front. His stepson Peter, who is here on a visit, has gone down with malaria since the science expo last weekend. That means he must have been bitten and infected on his very first night in Kigali. Now that’s what I call bad luck! And he’s been taking malarone, too!

It’s amazing – the Rwandans on the bus are nearly outnumbered by muzungus and quite clearly feel cowed! We don’t get all the usual comments.

At Kigeme we stash our things in the guest house. Boo hiss – my room’s nowhere near as nice as the one I had last weekend, and doesn’t even have a power point in it.

We start the training course and I have to do a presentation on CAPACE – our home-made Rwandan teaching methodology – because Cathie’s not here to do it. By the time I’ve finished I realise that the cold I’ve been brewing since last weekend has got worse, and that my voice is deteriorating fast.

The food on this course is going to be “traditional Rwandan” too. This saves money, but means we get huge amounts of rice, potatoes and beans and very little else. The nice thing is that we get the sweet, milky, spiced “African tea” (the African version of chai), and I quite like it.

Nearly everyone’s there from the VSO crowd; Soraya is there and while nothing is absolutely definite it does look as though she will be coming to work with me in Muhanga. I don’t get any comments for or against my new shaven appearance and I can’t decide whether it’s because they haven’t noticed or because they aren’t interested. But everybody’s tired and we’re off to bed by just after nine o’clock.

I’m sleeping in a bottom bunk bed, just like in an old fashioned English Youth Hostel. Only the top bunk has a mosquito net, but we’re so high up here that I decide to risk it and sleep net-less on the under bunk and not risk falling out if I have to get up in the night. Oh the joys of middle age! There’s a full moon, and the only sounds in the night are distant voices coming from the boarding blocks of Kigeme secondary school on one side of me, and the refugee camp on the hillside half a mile away to my right. As we’re walking back from the teaching room to the guesthouse the refugee camp is a little sinister. You know there are several thousand people there, and you can hear them, but because there’s no electricity there are absolutely no lights at all. Not even from cooking fires. Just disembodied voices – men, women and children – coming towards you across the depths of a deep valley from the hillside opposite.

Best thing about today – somehow managing to get everything done and get to Kigeme not too late.

Worst thing – discovering that a load of printed stuff I need – I’ve left it behind in Gitarama. I must have put my towel on top of it on the bed when I was packing in such a mad rush. Curses. Never mind, I can get round things by making up a load of flip charts.

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