Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Miles and miles on foot

August 18th

Frantic activity today, the first proper day at work in over a month. Tomorrow is my resource-making INSET in Nyamabuye Secteur, and Mans is coming to help me run it. He’ll need to spend the night here, so first thing in the morning I’m off to Karen’s house to reclaim our spare mattress. I get all sorts of funny looks from Rwandans who clearly think that white men shouldn’t be strong enough to carry mattresses on their shoulders. But it’s not heavy and I can’t be bothered to negotiate for a porter.

Then it’s off to the bank to check my balance – remarkably healthy thanks to financial support from the family overt the past fortnight! At the Post Office there’s a Guardian Weekly waiting for me, and thence it’s into the office and down to work.

Claude has gone to some do in Gisenyi, so I’ve carried his wedding present with me in vain for a second time. Oh well, it’s waited six months already so a few extra days won’t hurt.

I spend an hour phoning all the schools due to come to the INSET tomorrow. It’s a good job I do – of the ten schools only four at most claim to have received my letter sent to them at the end of term last July. I even go to the mail room in the office to check the letters have been taken for distribution, and they certainly have. I really despair about how I can contact some of these schools. They claim they don’t receive letters; they don’t acknowledge texts, and they don’t always have their mobile hones switched on. It costs me RwF2000 – nearly half a day’s pay – to ring them all and check that they’re coming. Gitarama primary knows the INSET is happening but assumes it will be at their school, so clearly somebody hasn’t read their letter properly even when they’ve received it!

St├ęphanie texts me to say that building work on the foundations is well under way at Shyogwe, and that it would be a good time to come and take photos. OK, I text back to say I’ll come in the afternoon, but it will complicate my day!

Next thing is to take a pile of rice sacks (umufuca) to be cut up and sewn in the town. I decide I’m going to try a different shop this time; the previous (male) tailors charged a lot and didn’t do a particularly good job. The trouble is, the place I choose has five women (I need the things done by the end of today), but they don’t speak any French between them, let alone English. So I have to mime what I want doing, to much giggling. Sewing up rice sacks is a new experience for these women, and they think I’m totally crazy until I explain what I’m going to be using them for (wall posters in primary schools). Even after I’ve walked away from the shop, two of the women come after me because they want to confirm exactly what I want doing. So it’s back to the shop, grab a pair of scissors from one woman and actually start cutting up a sack. Ah, at least things become clear to them. More gales of laughter, so that women come from the surrounding seamstress shops to see why the muzungu is causing so much fun. They’re charging me a reasonable rate, slightly lower than the men’s tailors, and I think it’s a good policy to spread the load a little.

Back to the flat for lunch (today is going to be one of those days when I walk about eight miles before I’m finished). I go to the bakers opposite and order a box of mandazis for lunch tomorrow at the INSET. Then down to the town again to order sambozas (our bakery has decided for some reason to stop doing them – grrrrr), and buy food for tonight’s meal. Not only are we feeding Mans, but Soraya as well, so I can brief her on what we will do tomorrow.

Back at the flat I find Tom has been with our two new dining chairs. Hooray; we now have six chairs and it means that when we have guests we don’t have to rush into our bedrooms and throw piles of clothes onto the bed to release the chairs there.

There’s a short siesta while I read my paper; next I’m off by moto to Shyogwe School. To say work has started is an understatement. The rear yard is submerged under mountains of bricks, stone, cement and hard core. Work is well advanced; in one corner the foundations have just been completed. The entire ground plan of the new block is visible, all dug out and marked with string. We are employing about twenty people; the men are the artisans while around eight women are fetching and carrying. Huge blocks of hard, sharp, quartzite stone are being lugged about on their heads to be split by the men for use as facings for the foundations. Other women are bringing heavy jerry cans of water from a spring somewhere down in the valley to make cement. St├ęphanie has had to go to a meeting, but Juliet welcomes me and I get her to explain to the master mason and all the workmen that I’m going to be taking photos for our paymasters in Holland (and that I won’t be having any nonsense about being charged money if I include their faces in my pictures). I soften things a bit by promising to bring my laptop next time so they can see images of themselves at work. While I’m there, the last lorry load of bricks arrives and is tipped onto the site. The bricks slide off the wagon in a huge cloud of dust, which flies straight in through the windows of a year six classroom. Poor children – the rooms are already hot enough as it is, and they can’t close the shutters because if they did, they wouldn’t have enough light to work by.

The master mason has managed to create enough land for the new block without having to sacrifice the school’s volleyball court. That’s quite an achievement, and good news – though the court is perilously close to the rear wall of the building and I think it may be too close to be usable. We’ll have to wait and see.

I take lots of pictures. The classrooms always look ridiculously small when you see the floor plan at this stage, but I pace one out and it really is about 8x6 metres as we intended.

We agree to another site meeting next Thursday afternoon; by that time the foundations will have been completed and we will be ready to start work on the walls. This is the stage when we have to make difficult quality decisions so that we keep within our budget.

I can’t tell you how pleased I am to see work actually under way. I know Geert and the Randstad people will be happy too, and I must try to see if I can send emails to them all this evening. This block will be my own little built legacy in education. John Pugsley has his science block at Beaminster; Sue Collard her resource centre; Mike Best has his leisure centre. My built legacy will be four classrooms in a remote African village. But I feel really proud the thing is finally becoming bricks and mortar!

Just as I’m leaving the site I’m intercepted by the Head of Shyogwe secondary school; he’s been impressed by my data analysis for the tronc commun results last year and wants my flash dive with all the data so he can work further on it. But Claude’s got one of my flash drives and he’s in Gisenyi; Marisa has the other and she’s in Nyamata. He’ll have to wait until next week!

The water has been off all day at the flat; we’ll have to use jerry cans tonight unless it comes on soon. And even if it does, we’ll probably have foul discoloured undrinkable water for 24 hours, and spluttery taps too. The dry season is really biting; all over the country there are water cuts and shortages far worse than anything we face at Gitarama. It feels more burning hot at mid day even high up here on the plateau. We really need a lot of rain now; everything is turning dusty brown and when the sun is low in the sky you can see the veil of dust at low altitude covering everything. (Even when I was swimming in Lake Kivu you could detect the dust clouds around its shores).

We get the night guard to come and have a look at our water situation, because the tap down in the yard seems to be working perfectly. He hums and haws and eventually decides that the problem is lack of water pressure – the mains pressure is so low the water can’t make it up to our first floor flat. We assume the SORAS flat next door is in the same situation; whichever of us sees the manager first will ask him if he’s waterless (and what he’s going to do about it. After all, he’s our landlord).

We end up cooking for six people. Mans and Soraya are preparing for tomorrow’s INSET, and Katrina too because she’s sharing accommodation with Soraya and the two have been out to Rugendabari getting to know Muhanga District. (And the night guard makes six). Just as well we have two nice new matching dining chairs!

By ten we’re all tired; Tom’s wilting fast and Katrina’s feeling the heat. Tom walks Katrina and Soraya back home, while Mans and I spend over an hour looking at our different presentations to our Districts on the school census data. By the time we finally get to bed it’s going up for midnight. My computer clock is still in English time, and Mans finds he’s suddenly an hour older than he thought he was!

Best thing about today – seeing the Shyogwe Project actually come to bricks and mortar.

Worst thing about today – being without water. It sucks

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