Thursday, 4 September 2008

Defending Beata

September 2nd

Another inspection day, this time at Kabgayi, just up the road. I walk to the school with Soraya. Kabgayi is confusing because there are so many buildings around the cathedral. We take a wrong turning and end up outside the hospital, narrowly missing the maternity unit. Now that would get local tongues wagging; there’s still plenty trying to work out whether Soraya is my daughter or an exotic Asian partner…)! It sums up Kabgayi that the place where we ask for directions turns out to be a little shop selling nothing but religious relics. The shelves are covered top to bottom with rosaries, garish pictures of popes past and present, postcards and badges and votive offerings.

The cathedral itself is having the roof taken off for repairs – the entire nave roof is being stripped. Karen tells me there are wall paintings inside, done after the church was completed, which have never before been visible in daylight. The building is fairly dark inside, and apparently in the full glare of equatorial sunlight these paintings are wonderful. They’ll need to get something done with the roof pretty soon, because yesterday we had such a tremendous rain and hailstorm that anything inside the building will be quickly ruined. I bet they’re cursing the rainy season has come early this year!

The school we’ve come to inspect is a typical 1950s catholic institution. It is soundly built of brick; there’s water on tap and even electricity in some rooms (a relic from a period when one block was used as an adjunct to a technical school. Primary children were deemed not to ever need electricity until recently, and now the need is acknowledged there’s no money to provide it). The buildings look tired, but inside they’re light and airy with windows on both sides and ceilings in some rooms (see yesterday’s Kibanda blog for the significance of ceilings).

There’s a rather half hearted flower garden at one end of an enclosed courtyard, with the entrance to the school through an impressive archway. At one and the same time it is grand, it is defensive, and it reminds me of the ground plans of convents, shutting the world out and maintaining a distance from the sordid reality of everyday life.

It’s not a bad school, about a third down the league tables, and the quality of teaching is pretty good overall. However, I take serious issue with a teacher who is doing adjectives of superiority (e.g. X is bigger/better/quicker than Y) and decides to pick two girls, make them stand at the front, and tell everyone that Cecilia is more intelligent than Beata. He does this because Cecilia thrashes the rest of the class in tests, and Beata, well, let’s say she isn’t going to set the world ablaze. At least, not intellectually. Cecilia’s quite happy to be used as an example of intelligence, and there’s none of the “keener” insults you’d hear in an English school, but I tell the teacher in his debrief that it’s not acceptable to broadcast and reinforce a child’s learning difficulties to make a point of grammar, even if the learning difficulties are real and well known. He takes quite a while to accept this as fair criticism, and so does the Head mistress. So there’s a nice little cultural difference between England and Rwanda for you!

What’s alarming is the lack of any sort of development plan at the school, and in fact the lack of about half of all the administrative documents I’m required to check. I end up really confused; there are two schools at Kabgayi and for the life of me I can’t work out whether they’re two completely separate units, or whether the “A” school is run as a sort of annexe of the “B” school. Christine, the head of the “B” school, is a formidable woman, very powerful and influential. In some ways it’s almost as if the “A” school is an annexe on a split site campus and Marie at “A” is the head on one site but not having overall responsibility. I need to straighten this out with Claude, but of course Claude’s off to Kigali all week so things will have to wait.

As an example of the confusion, Christine breezes into Marie’s office midway during my inspection to sort out some money from training courses with her. As she does, she tells me it’s just been decided that Friday is going to be a “women’s day” in Muhanga District (nowhere else in Rwanda), and therefore schools will be closed and I need to reschedule my inspection of her school. Feeling facetious, and miffed that my careful plans are being torn up yet again at a couple of days’ notice, I ask her when “men’s day” is going to be. Quick as a flash she replies “The other 364 days of the year”. There’s no flies on Christine! She’s a really lovely person. Large in all respects, physical and in terms of her presence!

One of the joys of my job is observing reception classes. The little people in 1ère are a bit nervous of the muzungu giant who comes to watch their French lesson. We’re doing parts of the head (“je touche les oreilles; je touche le menton etc”). The problem is that these children are already mixing up their French with their English ; a sweet little lad chants at the top of his voice « je touche mon chin » and is close to tears when the teacher corrects him.

Considering that Kabgayi was one of the schools attending our resource making training the other day, it’s surprising how few rice sack posters are up on classroom walls. It’s an unfavourable contrast with Remera and Mushubati schools who have plastered their walls with them, to good effect.

Overall, Kabgayi feels second best compared to Kibanda yesterday. Its location is not photogenic; the buildings are older and worn; there isn’t the “zing” that I felt out in the country. But I can’t find any words or facts to justify actually saying that in my report!

I decide to walk Soraya back to town the scenic way. We’ve just got a hundred yards down the path when there’s a clap of thunder. Today’s’ storm is obviously coming early. There’s nowhere to shelter on the path by the brickworks, and Soraya doesn’t have any sort of coat. (It was hot and sunny when we set off). So we hurriedly double back along another path to the main road and look for motos to take us to “Tranquilité” in town. Why is there never a moto in sight when you want one? The rain just about holds off until we’ve both got ourselves to the town centre, but only just. It’s spitting hard and my shirt already feels damp. Then, as soon as we sit down to eat, the storm passes and the sun comes out again! Even the weather’s being cussed today.

In the afternoon we split up, me to write my report and Soraya to find out whether VSO is moving her into her proper house tomorrow. What excitement! Neither of us knows where the house is, what it’s like, whether it’s suitable, and most of all we have no idea whether someone from Kigali will turn up with a pick up truck tomorrow morning or at what time she can expect them. I already have another school to do, so I can’t be much help.

One other little gem – I’m proud to announce that between Cathie, Me and Soraya we’ve got through an entire book of lesson observation forms. Now that’ll impress Claude! The trouble is, there’s no spare books of forms in the office. We even ransack Claude’s drawers (no grubby jokes please, this is serious). I don’t mind having to write out my own observation forms; what bothers both of us is that the official ones are in quadruplicate and it’ll cost the District a fortune to get everything duplicated, and that’s if someone’s managed to replace the toner in our office printer….. Someone will have to order more forms from the Government printers in Kigali, and they could take ages to arrive.

Oh the joys of working in Africa!

Best thing about today – I’ve now done more schools in a couple of weeks than in the whole of last term. That feels good.

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