Friday, 6 June 2008

Tring to be business-like

June 3rd

OK, so yesterday was a bit of a non-day. I’m determined today will be business like. Off early to the internet café and get a lot of stuff done there, including a “gorilla-point” birthday card for Ruth. For once there’s a good connection and for most of the time I’m the only person using it.

Then I do the bank, which means hanging around for 20 minutes while the cashier leisurely sorts herself out and a scrum of customers is sighing and sneezing on the other side of the glass.

Next it’s up to Electrogaz. We woke up this morning with no electricity, and then discovered the reason – our pre-payment credit has run out. That’s RwF40,000 (£40) in 3 months. Electricity’s not cheap here, but considering that we’re running a fridge/freezer and an electric immersion heater at night, it’s bearable. So I have to join the queue and wait 30 minutes for the cashier to open up (she arrives ten minutes late, then spend nearly another ten chatting to her colleagues and arranging her stapler before she deigns to serve any customers). Now we should be sorted for electricity until the end of August.

Finally I go to the Post Office and collect a very old “Guardian Weekly”; there’s no other post for either of us. And so to work at nine o’clock. At the office it’s another one of these days when most of the staff aren’t there, or are coming and going all the time. But there’s no let up in the number of people calling for documents, to get things stamped, or to ask for information. Some of them have seen me before; the difficult ones are those who have come in a long way from up-country, and are desperate for information, and try me in French or Kinyarwanda for things I don’t know or can’t give them. It’s very frustrating. We really need a system where there’s always somebody here who can serve the public, and who has the authority to deputise for those who aren’t in the room. But that would be a true revolution in thinking and working practises here!

Now what I want to do is find Védaste and make the finishing touches to our presentation on the primary school census data. But Védaste, and with him my flash drive with all the data on it, isn’t there.

This morning I have Charlotte and Mike (the new boss of VSO for the whole of Rwanda) coming to see me. They’re due at 11, but it’s nearly 12 before they arrive. Claude’s office is locked, our office is too noisy, and there’s some big meeting on in the conference room. So I’m not sure where to put them to talk to them. But the problem’s solved for me, because when they arrive its lunchtime and I take them to “Tranquillité”. And since it’s an official visit, I get a free lunch, too! Nice work, Brucey… And I’m the very first volunteer they’ve come to visit out in the field!

Cathie joins us midway through lunch, and Isidora rolls up just as we’re about to leave, so Mike meets 2 VSOs and one ex-VSO in one go. We talk a lot about “things”; I’ve rehearsed with Tiga what I’m going to say and I make sure I put across the positives as well as all the frustrations. Mike’s a good listener, makes all the right responses, and tells me to start quantifying what we need in terms of more support for training. He already has been in touch with Tiga so none of what I’m saying is totally new to him, and already has some good ideas on how to share knowledge and experience across all the volunteers in the country. I think it’s reasonable to say that I’m getting a lot of expertise on the logistics and problems of primary schools at District level. And I forget that those people who are only working in secondary schools as teachers, or working for the disability project in Kigali, don’t have much idea about these at all.

After lunch it’s back to reality. The second thing I want to do today is find all the secondary school census forms and correct the errors that Béatrice has created in her data. But I search and search, and get Innocent to help me, and we can’t find them anywhere. So both the main “work” things I want to do today I’m frustrated on.

However, in poking around in cupboards I discover that by combining stuff from several old folders I can recreate past primary exam results for the majority of our schools for 2003 and 2004. This is really useful, because it means that for at least half of the schools I have four years worth of results. They’re not all consecutive years, but it’s enough to see trends and identify consistently good or weak performers. It’s slow and painstaking work, though, because I discover that some primary schools in other Districts have the same names as those in Muhanga.

(All local government in Rwanda was completely reorganised in 2005, with new secteurs, new districts and a wholesale change in patterns of local government. So finding information going back before 2005 is like setting off on a treasure hunt).

At four o’clock I leave and go to Shyogwe to meet Stéphanie. I have allocated sums to each of her educational materials requests off the top of my head. Neither she nor I have been able to find out prices, so we need something which is credible for the Dutch organisation but gives us sufficient wiggle room to adjust money as we go along. Stéphanie shows me the site for the new classroom block. It’s at the back of the school, on the site of a volleyball court. It’s a shame to lose the court, but we’ll be able to create another on the site of the original classrooms once they’ve been demolished. The new block will make the layout of the school slightly awkward (they really do like the idea of a horseshoe shape of buildings arranged round a courtyard), and Stéphanie is now thinking very long term about replacing one or two other blocks to give a “final” layout for the place. That’s good, and I’m glad she’s thinking big, but it’s far beyond any financial resources we have for the foreseeable future. Now I can send the materials estimated to Holland and that should be the final piece in the jigsaw for them to release the first 10,000 Euros.

The admin block has come on some more since my last visit, and I take a few photos to send to Holland.

Back at the flat it’s just got dark, and Tom and I are messing around with torches trying to read the (very faint) numbers which make up the code to recharge our meter. It takes us about 6 goes, but eventually we have light and power back on. Meanwhile Cathie’s called; she has a block of tofu stored in our freezer and wants it for tonight. It says something for the efficiency of the freezer that even after twenty hours without power the tofu’s still frozen solid. I nip round to her house with it; she’s awaiting a phone call from Canada about her job application; they could ring any minute and she’s hopping from foot to foot.

In the evening Cathie rings to say she’s got the job. Yay – thank goodness for that!

But the bad news from Mike and Charlotte at lunchtime is that poor Soraya is in the King Faisal hospital in Kigali – the best hospital in Rwanda - and on a drip. She definitely hasn’t got malaria, and it’s not meningitis, but it could be typhoid. I ask you, whatever next! And why is it Soraya who seems to be catching everything around? I send her a cheeky text message and she responds later in the evening. She’s not in any danger and has been signed off work for a week. (Typhoid itself is not such a dangerous disease; what kills people is that they get excessively dehydrated as a result of losing so much fluid. Hence the drip, and a very careful check on her fluid intake).

If I go to Kigali for the Capacity Building meeting on Friday I must go to the King Faisal and see her.

Best thing about today – despite some frustrations at work it’s been a very good day and I feel I’ve achieved a lot.

Worst thing – still no forward progress on my two urgent tasks, or with Claude about transport. And as for Soraya…….

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