Sunday, 31 August 2008

Teaching geology in French

August 27th

Into the office all businesslike because I need to dig out some census forms and print out some stuff before we hit the road. Today’s real luxury. We’re inspecting Mushubati school and I already know exactly where it is and how much I should be paying the motos. So when mutley the moto driver comes up with all his “thousand francs” crap I draw myself up to a full two metres and give him a broadside about how I’m not a bloody tourist and he’ll take me for two hundred or else….. Soraya’s killing herself with laughter while all this is going on. Mutley caves in and we chug at jogging speed along the level and through the bumpy bit where the Chinese have put in a new culvert.

Upton family – Mushubati is where the road to Ngororero (think Chinese engineers) splits from the surfaced road to Kibuye (think endless bends and matatas with overheated engines).

The school just a few yards up the hill from the main road. Its grounds end in an unfenced cliff some twenty feet high, dropping sheer onto the carriageway. On top of this cliff are a score of excited little boys who are nearly wetting themselves because two muzungus are about to come up the path to their school….. Right on the corner itself there’s a little patch of grass which has been taken over by cycle vélo drivers, who lounge around repairing endless punctures and making comments at any woman who passes.

Mushubashi is an interesting school. Firstly it has an unbeatable view across the hills towards Mushishiro; at this time of the morning the sunlight is still quite low and everything just looks soooo beautiful. We’re both stopped in our tracks on the dusty road and gape at the vista in front of us.

The school buildings are a motley collection, and none is really fit for purpose. One’s too low, one’s too small, one’s too old, one has a low tin roof which must be unbearable on a hot day. The “playground” is on a steep slope with outcrops of quartzite rock running across it. There’s not the slightest attempt at landscaping, and to reach the lower classrooms means a dangerous slide down the loose grit and dust and old leaves covering the surface. The Head, Édith, has an office like a little cell, painted vivid green. But she’s on the ball, and we have a really good time inspecting. As at Remera, it’s lovely to see lots of our rice-sack posters on display in rooms. (It’s very good for to ego to walk into an African classroom and see a map on the wall and think: “I made the original of that”!)

Highlight of my morning is to observe a geography lesson in French. They’re talking about the volcanoes national park, and in particular Karisimbi, and Nyiragongo volcano in the Congo. He’s a good teacher, very professional, and he manages to teach them some technical geology vocab which pleases me no end. So at the end of the lesson I take a couple of minutes and give them some more about the geology of Nyiragongo and why it’s such an acutely dangerous volcano. Yay folks, I’m teaching geology in French! If the niveau de magma in the cratère gets too high à cause de the pression ge gaz volcanique, then you get an eruption imprévu très violent. You get the picture. The kids did, that’s for sure. Some of them have relatives living in Gisenyi under the very mountain.

At breaktime Soraya and I are mobbed by most of the 800+ children. The little ones are daring each other to stroke my arms when they think I’m not looking (they think we white men are as hairy as gorillas). They don’t know what to make of Soraya. Half the year six children are taller than her. They love it when she smiles at them.

Last lesson of the morning is yr 6 English grammar. Forty five minutes of grammar – who, whom, which, that, whose. I hope the teacher doesn’t pick on me to answer a couple of questions ‘cos I haven’t a clue what the correct answer is. In England we use “that” and “which” almost interchangeably. And if we English almost never use “whom”, why on earth are these poor children having to learn it?

In this primary school there are some nineteen year olds among the year 6 boys (good job they’re still in the uniform of khaki shirts and shorts, or I’d mistake them for the teaching staff).

Édith is planning to teach all subjects in French from year 2 next January. I’m not sure how well that’s going to work. There’s also issues to confront her with. A redoublement rate of more than 26% - that’s a quarter of the entire school being made to repeat years. And her year 6 is less than 5% of the school population – what’s happened to everyone else? There’s an enormous drop off in the proportion of boys relative to girls as you go up through the school. Something’s wrong here, but it might be the parents rather than the school. And in a school of 814 there is only one handicapped child. There should be around 80 (10%) with some form of special needs. So where are they? Working in the fields? Hidden away at home from shame of mental weakness?

I spend the afternoon writing up my report.

In the evening Karen and I join the FHI gang to say goodbye to Jerry and Christine, the American/Canadian couple who have been staying in the FHI guest house for a month. We have real home made pizza (ecstasy…) and home made punch, and home made chocolate brownie cake. Then we play parlour games for an hour while the lights flicker on and off. The rainy season isn’t just coming early, it seems to be arriving right now. It’s been cold and windy all day. I should know, because I’m actually so busy at the moment that I’m using motos to go everywhere and save time. Tonight there’s thunder and a long shower of rain, just what we need to knock out the power and get sticky mud all over our sandals.

Best thing about today – pizza and brownies. And the school inspection wasn’t bad, either.

Worst thing – What, you mean that’s the last of the pizza. What about these slices. Oh, they’re for each of our night guards…..

Footnote: seen on a second hand tee shirt in Gitarama:
“If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you”………

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