Sunday, 22 June 2008

Speechless in Kigeme - part 2

June 20th-21st

This is the day I discover that the Kigeme guesthouse has a luxury and economy tariff. When I stayed in the guesthouse last weekend I must have been on the luxury tariff (£4 per night including breakfast of omelette). Today we’re on the economy tariff. That’s £2 per night, folks. But the Ritz it ain’t! Breakfast is sweet tea and just bread with marge. Not even jam! And not much bread, come to think of it. Clearly its going to be a long morning!

Tiga arrives in a gorgeous dress she’s had made for her by the women tailors in the refugee camp. This means its miles cheaper than I’ve paid for my shirts in Gitarama, and she’s got a matching tote bag, too. But then, I don’t have a refugee camp on my doorstep, do I?

Anyway, there’s no time to dwell on fashion; Friday is my day and I’ve got a 90 minute slot to fill with “Brain Gym” and VAK learning and all sorts of other educational jargon. Beaminster School – be proud of me! All the stuff I’ve half remembered from countless INSET days comes tumbling out, pared down and packaged for a Rwandan context and delivered in slow and deliberate English.

By lunchtime I’ve just about finished. As soon as I stop, and relax, I find my voice has gone completely. I can barely whisper. All my VSO colleagues are concerned and worried for me; the Rwandans just laugh. It’s another one of these situations where because they face such privations in everyday life, and have been through such traumas in the past, that they come across as insensitive and uncaring. They’re not really; it’s just not done to show too much concern because death and disaster visit them so often.

One little example of this – I talk to Anne-Miek about the number of head teachers who put me off visits by saying relatives are seriously ill or that there has been a death in the immediate family. To me this excuse seems to come up far too often to be believable. But Anne-Miek warns me that it’s probably true. Life expectancy is short, people are plentiful, and deaths are all to frequent.

Funny thing, too – in sixth months I’ve never seen a funeral in Rwanda. Anne-Miek explains that out in the rural parts the dead are quietly buried in a corner of the family plots of land. So if this crop of manioc is particularly tasty, you can probably thank grandma!

Now anyone reading this blog doesn’t want to hear a load of detail about training teachers except to say that it can be great fun as well as tiring. We do lots of singing, plenty of scenarios involving getting the children more physically active in their lessons and trying to get away from lists of notes on blackboards. For God’s sake let’s get children more participative in their learning. To give you just two little examples of what we’re up against: the Rwandan accepted view is that if there is noise in a classroom, then the children can’t be learning. So they frown severely when we tell them to divide a class into pairs and let the children practise speaking English or French phrases to each other. Tiga even got criticised by her Préfet d’études for having noise in her English class – and that’s in a secondary school! Another example – I keep telling people to use the coloured chalks they have to make headings and key words stand out. And to encourage those children who can afford both red and blue pens to use the red for headings and key words. So I find that Tiga also does this (in the most prestigious secondary school in Nyamagabe District, remember), and the Headteacher comes in and asks her why she’s using coloured chalk and why doesn’t she just go to the magasin and get some more white chalk like everybody else. I tell you, changing the culture here is like fighting the tides. All the teachers – even our little bunch of “superteachers” from Muhanga and Nyamagabe schools – are terribly afraid of being criticised by someone in authority. There’s a profoundly conservative, academically elite, 1950s view of what is acceptable in the classroom here, and it’s as if the whole of the 1960s and 1970s teaching revolution in Britain never happened. Where is Baroness Warnock when you need her?

On a lighter note we say prayers before each meal; sometimes these are rambling monologues even if we ask the volunteer prayer-leaders to be concise. So on Saturday the volunteers all perform the “Superman Grace” before lunch, complete with actions. Cue twenty four Rwandan teachers who’re not sure whether we’re being serious or taking the mickey out of their belief.

Cathryn knows a kiosk at the Kigeme road junction which sells mandazis, and as we’re all rattling hungry by elevenses time she nips out and comes back with bagsful. We’re all stuffing our faces with fatty dough balls and giggling like guilty children.

One of the teachers has brought her little baby with her because she’s still feeding her. She is a wonderfully contented little girl, a real little charmer, who gets cuddled and mothered by just about every single volunteer – me included – during the course of the two days. Soraya’s got the photo to prove it!

On Friday evening nobody’s much bothered about watching a video, but Anne-Miek goes to try to get the Diocesan projector. (Our course is being held at the Diocesan Education centre and the Anglicans are heading up this particular training. Not bad, considering we have mostly Catholic teachers, at least one Moslem and the odd Adventist and Pentecostalist, too). There’s a brand new video projector in the Diocesan store, but nobody has ever dared use it. This is typical Rwandan thinking – “if we never use something then it can’t break down and we can’t possibly get blame for any damage to it”. So the damned thing stays locked in a cupboard in its original packaging!

Not even Anne-Miek is prepared to risk the wrath of the church authorities if a bulb blows on the projector. So it is decided that anyone who wants can sit and watch my power-point on “My School in Rwanda”.

Cue around twenty teachers all peering at my laptop and clucking and chortling (the Muhanga people) as they see their school on screen. Or laughing when they see that somebody else’s school looks in tattier condition than their own! I’m relieved when they tell me they like the pictures, and that they think I have been fair and accurate ion what I’ve said.

Early on Saturday there’s a flurry of text messages about next Monday’s resource-making INSET – Ken’s on holiday, Mans has been double booked by his boss; Anne-Miek needs a rest and I’m speechless. There’s only one thing to do – postpone the blasted thing. Hooray – that gives me more time to rest my voice and prepare my presentation to the Muhanga heads on Wednesday.

However, by Saturday lunchtime it is clear that my voice isn’t going to recover quickly. I can help Anne-Miek with some of the work (she is also feeling run down and has had to go to her house and lie down for a few hours), but I decide that I’m really being just a passenger on this training course and what I need to do is go home and get some rest and just stop talking to anyone.

So that’s what I do! I bail out a day early and go home to get better.

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