Sunday, 22 June 2008

Through the little byways of Gitarama

June 17th

Now today was supposed to be an inspection day, with two primary schools at Ruli getting the visit. However, this being Rwanda, the Head of the Pentecostalist School hadn’t bothered to text me back as I had asked, to confirm. Even more annoyingly the miscreant was Emmanuelle, who is the secteur rep and one of my buddies. True to form, when I rang her she was off at some meeting, so I couldn’t go. Her school is always known locally as “Ruli ADEPR”. It took me some time to discover that ADEPR stands for “Assemblée de Dieu de l’Église de Pentecôte de Rwanda”. So you see why we all stick with the initials!

No matter, I had plenty of other work to do and went to see the other school (Ruli Catholique) in the afternoon. Well, I arrived by moto to find a modern school (built 2000 by a Japanese charity) and nobody expecting me. Ten confusing minutes later and I’d worked out why. I had come to the wrong school! Curse this system where all schoolchildren have the same colour uniform! The mistress in charge saw the funny side of things and hoiked out a yr 6 lad to take me to the Catholic school. This was just visible on the next hill across the valley, and involved a twenty minute slog through tiny little footpaths that wound their way round people’s houses and through the fields. It was a lovely walk. I met all sorts of people who I’d never have encountered, and began to see how the houses in the countryside all fit together into an endless pattern of smallholdings, banana plantations and huts.

Mathilde, the Headmistress at the Catholic school made we welcome. During the tour of their site I discovered that the school grounds include a small hilltop with strategic views for miles and miles in all directions. To the south you can see our flat in the distance and the silly little spire of Fatima chapel. To the east you look out over gradually reducing hills to the flatter lands of Bugasera and almost to Burundi. To the West the hills of Cyeza tumble on and on forever to the horizon. Jeanne says that when the air is clear you can see all the volcanoes from her hill, and I’ve no reason to doubt her. Today, though, the air is full of dust and so hazy you can barely see ten miles. However, I can see all the other schools of Shyogwe – Munyinya looming on yet another hilltop; Mbara almost hidden in a valley; Cité Nazareth and Shyogwe over against the long ridge of Shyogwe village.

On this hilltop the school has planted lots of trees; some are old, eucalypts some fifty feet high and almost ready for harvesting. Others are tiny saplings planted only a few weeks ago. It is most unusual to find a school where forestry, rather than crop growing, is the main expression of agriculture. A welcome change.

The school itself is less impressive. A stone built building looks like a single decently sized classroom but actually houses three classes in indescribably cramped accommodation. This is the original building, put up by catholic priests in the 1950s (and an early school in these parts by Rwandan standards). The other buildings are more recent but all are scruffy. There is a water cistern, but it’s been empty for two months and unless we have a lot of heavy rain during the dry season it won’t fill again until the autumn. The nearest source of drinking water is a spring about a mile away in the valley.

The lessons I see are OK, but the school is struggling and losing children to other places with more successful track records in years 5 and 6. There is no development plan, and I get the sense that the school has given up the struggle against its better equipped neighbour.

At the end of the afternoon the children go to their clubs, and the dance club put on a display for me. The school has only a tiny area of flat land, and the girls are kicking up a regular dust storm as they go through their paces. The dance club is very popular, and it feels that around half the school is clustered round watching me watching the girls. There’s no music as such; the girls dance to chanting from their mates- a bunch of some twenty or so girls who belt out the verses with huge gusto. Meanwhile on the other side of the buildings the boys are trying to play football on a steeply sloping part of the hillside. To get to a proper pitch they have to be taken over a kilometre away from their school, and only then if the other users of the pitch are willing to let them in. It’s not an ideal situation.

I give my report and sign their official record of inspection, then Mathilde walks me all the way back to the main road. She’s lived in this area all her life except during 1994, and she becomes the first person to open up to me about her genocide experience. Her family had to be continually on the move, leaving areas as they became too risky and seeking refuge in other districts. She doesn’t say whether she lost any relatives, but in this country we just assume everybody has lost family. Now, in 2008, she’s well established with five children of her own, and she knows everybody. She points out that this house belongs to a high official in the old regime, and that one to the head teacher of a neighbouring school. There is electricity brought in tantalisingly close to her school – another kilometre and it would be worth considering. But electrogaz charge a ransom for connection, so even though she can see other people’s lights all around her in Gitarama and along the main road, her school stays dark.

At the flat I meet Tom’s parents and we decide to eat out. Tom and co are fresh back from Akagera; meanwhile the accommodation they used at Jambo Beach seems reasonable and clean and I decide to book it for Teresa and co in place of one of the nights at Beau Séjour. Eating out is not without its dramas – at Delta they decide they’ve got no food to offer except brochettes. Tom’s parents aren’t keen on brochettes. So after a drink we decamp to Nectar and all go for omelettes. Nectar seems short of food today, too, because half the filling in our omelettes turns out to be peas. Oh well, can’t win them all.

I work till very late at night and get the main part of my report on my inspection done before turning in.

Best thing about today - all in all a good, productive day’s work.

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