Thursday, 11 September 2008

Dismas' school tomatoes

September 9th

Up at 6, away by 7. Moto to the District Office because I’m lazy and because it’s a full day. At the D.O. I need to get things printed, both for use with the new volunteers just arrived at Kigali and for the school we’re inspecting this morning. But the education office printer is still not working (out of toner for 10 days now), so I tramp round and round the other offices until I find a working machine. I have to bump someone off their computer, but it’s only for 5 minutes and at least he and I know how to work the printer now, (so there’s not a repetition of last times’ fun and games).

Armed with all my paperwork I leave my laptop in on office drawer and beg Innocent to make sure the door’s locked if he’s not in the room. I walk the mile back to Gitarama town centre to meet Soraya. She’s bubbling with excitement about her new house – there are 5 bedrooms, and it sounds pretty grand and luxurious. She’s already chosen her bedroom (the one with the colour scheme almost identical to her room at Mushubi. Why on earth she wants reminding of Mushubi I can only guess….)

We negotiate far too low a price for a big motor bike each and off we go. The reason for the low price soon becomes clear – the drivers have mistaken Gisiza school for Gitongati school and I have to yell to my driver that he’s wrong. They will not have it, and we eventually enlist the help of a local to explain. After all, I know where I’m going – I went to Gisiza in April but wasn’t able to inspect it because of a phone communication breakdown. We renegotiate the price from RwF1000 to 2500 each and off we go again. I tell the bikes to drop us off at the col because the path to the school is impossible to negotiate with any vehicle – there are three log bridges which are pretty hairy on foot and there’s no way a motor cycle could cross them.

We arrange with the bikes to pick us up at 1.00; that will give us time to walk the mile uphill back to the main road.

Gisiza turns out to be a nice school, with most buildings recently rebuilt by Tom’s FHI organisation. There’s even two semi-dur rooms which aren’t being used. I ask the head why he’s not using them as a store room, but he shrugs and doesn’t answer me.

Lessons are predictably “safe” and not very exciting. The year 1 teacher is teaching parts of the head; why can’t she use “Simon Says” or some equivalent in French? I explain this to her at the end of the lesson but she doesn’t seem to be very keen. For God’s sake, you people, be prepared to push the boundaries a bit and experiment!

Dismas, the head, is a rare bird in Muhanga – a head in his 50s and close to retirement. He’s pleasant and courteous. The school is blessed with a huge plot of ground, and the vegetable patch is full of tomatoes. A nice little earner for the capitation budget! There’s also a football pitch which has grass on it, albeit on a ferocious slope. Gisiza’s football team is one of the District stars, and all credit to the school for supporting clubs. This is a very poor area; a lot of children are barefoot and parents are too preoccupied with scraping a living from the exhausted soils to be able to think much about education.

Inspecting done, we amble up the hill to the main road surrounded by a crowd of children. Soraya has remembered one of the infant songs Cathie taught us at ICT2, and starts singing it. The children join in, and we’re singing almost all the way to the road.

When we reach the road there’s a marked absence of motor bikes to take us home. We wait for a while; then we ring. There’s lots of static crackling on the phone and a garbled answer. I can’t tell whether the bikes are on their way or not. So we give then a further fifteen minutes, and still there’s no sign. Just round the corner people are putting up election banners; there might be a parade under way soon, and we don’t really want to get tangled up in political stuff. (It’s strictly forbidden by VSO). We decide to hitch home. Traffic is sparse on the road. The first little lorry slows right down, gives us a hard stare, then drives on. Curses! But the second lorry, full of stone, stops for us. The driver’s mate gets shunted into the back and we have a lovely, comfortable, grandstand ride back home to Gitarama. We give the driver some beer money in gratitude – but we’ve still saved VSO about RwF4000 in bike fares! And there has been no sign of the bikes on the road, so we’ve got a clear conscience that if they did eventually come out for us they’d be at least fifty minutes late and serve them right!

Soraya and I go our separate ways; I grab a sandwich lunch and quickly do my report. One of the things I like about Gisiza is the way the head has lifted its results from around 5% pass rate in 1999 to around 25% now. It may still only be around the average for the district, but that’s one hell of a sustained improvement during his tenure!

Finally I pack a bag and set off to Kigali to Amani guest house. All the new volunteers are there save for one who’s arriving in a couple of weeks. They’re looking less keen now, and more than a bit shell-shocked!

After supper I spend half an hour with Charlotte going over proposals for the two NAHT head teacher placements in the Southern province from January 2009, and we book a date to go and speak formally in more detail to these people.

Meanwhile, it’s Samira and Hannah’s last night in Rwanda before they fly home at the end of their placements, so all the existing vols in town flock to the Stella Bar for a farewell drink (or 2 or 3). Marion’s parents have just arrived from home, too, and it’s a very good way for them to meet a whole bunch of volunteers.

By midnight Els and I are tired; we’ve got a presentation to do in the morning, so we make our apologies and leave. The two girls who are leaving, and some others, head off to club land to get even more trashed and while away the night….. Chris is one of them; he’s sharing a room with me at Amani. Tomorrow he has to be up at 6 and off to Nyagatare on the 7.00 bus to teach or invigilate or whatever at 11. Oh, the strength of youth, to be able to dance away the night and still put in a full day’s work afterwards!

Best thing about today – yet another inspection done; preliminary NAHT placement details sorted with Charlotte, and a chance to begin to get to know the new volunteers. Plus a relaxed evening with a different crowd in Kigali.

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