Saturday, 20 September 2008

Mooching round Nyarusange with Innocent

September 18th

Soraya comes in to meet me in the office, but Claude wants to sit down with her and talk about how he’s going to use her, so that means I’m inspecting without her again.

I’m inspecting two schools today and I know it’s going to be really tiring. I need to know how to get to Cukiro; I’ve only got a vague idea where it is. I know it’s a long way out in Nyarusange secteur, close to the Nyaborongo river. Claude scratches his head and then tells Innocent to come with me. I had no idea that Innocent was able to go into schools and do inspections, but he turns out to be very useful. He knows all sorts of things I haven’t discovered yet, and he asks for things which I wasn’t aware were required. Once again, I think I’ve been letting schools off lightly.

But the journey turns out to be yet another epic. We agree we’ll go to Nyarusange school, right next to the main road, and ask for directions there. First we have to double back into town to get petrol. Off we go into the freshness and bright sunshine of the morning. It’s going to be a hot day, perhaps with thunder later on. The District moto is a hard riding bike; the padded seat isn’t quite big enough for two people. There’s a large metal frame at the back for luggage, and it cuts into your buttocks every tine you go over a bump. Even on the tarmac road there are bumps of one sort or another every few yards! On the dirt roads I’m sure I’ll end up singing soprano!

We reach Nyarusange and I jump off to find the Head before we’re mobbed by children and cause total disruption. (This is a school of 1800+ children, remember – two people on a moto will be the highlight of their day).

When I breeze into his office I get a shock. It’s absolutely full of ballot boxes from Monday’s election. They’re big tubs of clear plastic, with metal lids with padlocks. What is amazing is the votes are still in them – you can see the voting slips. Nobody seems to be guarding them – in England there would be police and officials of all sorts standing over them. Here at Nyarusange the Head is having a conversation with another teacher; the door is wide open. The votes were supposed to have been sent to Kigali for counting by midnight on Monday, so I really don’t know what’s going on here. The implications are so serious I don’t even feel like asking the guys why they’re still lumbered with all this clutter. After all, most of his office has been taken over!

The Head says to Innocent that it’s too tricky to describe the route to Cukiro, he’ll come part way with us. We chug off uphill. Fifty yards later Innocent suddenly stops. A warning light has come on the instrument panel. The moto is only a few months old – what can be wrong? It turns out we’ve virtually run out of oil, and the engine is within minutes of seizing. We can’t go any further. The Head rings a mate who goes and knocks up one of the semi-employed men living by the roadside, and sure enough somebody unlocks a little shop which just happens to have a stock of engine oil. We refill the sump and go off again. Time’s passing; I’m not going to be able to watch three full lessons (or so I think).

On and on along the Kibuye road; we’re passing through Mount Mushubi. The hills are steep and the road exceptionally twisty. People are patiently walking up and down these hills carrying loads on their head to some distant market. Every so often there a glen in the middle of the mountains, a beautiful little bowl-shaped valley with a stream in the bottom and lush pasture. The sides are terraced for cultivation up o the point where the slopes are so steep that even Rwandan’s daren’t risk breaking the soil. These parts are forested. Every so often there’s a scree of rock trickling down the mountainside. I suspect a lot of these are old mine workings, usually for tin in this part of the country (but for gold in Nyungwe).

We reach Kaduha primary school and here the head at Nyarusange says farewell, after pointing out the track leading to Cukiro in the distance. We’ve already gone about twelve miles on the tarmac road. I assume the school will be just over the hill.

I’m wrong. We wind up and over a hill, then corkscrew down into yet another beautiful valley. This is completely lost to the outside world; it could be a Shangri la which only comes into existence at particular times. Cows are grazing, so somebody here has money. Now we zigzag back up the mountainside, round and round until we’ve done nearly a 270 degree turn. We flatten out onto the top iof a ridge and there’s a village in front of us. Innocent makes a grand gesture with his hand to the right. There’s a brick Catholic Church in the semi-circular style they like here. Behind it there’s a hedge of euphorbia shrubs, and behind it a long building which is Cukiro School.

Cukiro is new and well built (by the church). The shutters are painted bright yellow, but there’s not much up on the walls and the classroom interiors are bare brick. Because we’ve taken ages to get here we agree to go straight into lesson observations. (We can do the admin stuff with the Head during her lunchtime). Innocent comes in with me, and we spend half and hour in each of six classes – we really go to town. The teaching varies – some very strong women teachers, but one or two rather woolly men… I’m already exhausted with trying to think and write my comments in French on the fiches d’appréciation (the formal lesson observation sheets).

During lunchtime we debrief with the Head and have a tour of the school. Despite it being only about seven or eight years old, she’s been given no office and uses the parish church vestry if she wants privacy. The maternelle – all 80 little tots with one teacher – meets in the church hall behind the church proper. Most of the time the Head sits in the back of somebody’s classroom to do her admin. But then, as she tells us, she’s got a lot of young women on the staff and their absence rate is very high. Either they’re on maternity leave, or their children are sick, or they’re having to look after relatives. In these cases the Head is the only “supply” teacher around. It plays havoc with any attempt to manage the school properly. I’m amazed this woman has managed to observe as many lessons. She’s one of the few Headteachers to have been in post before the genocide – and to have lived to tell the tale. Not that she’s going to tell me anything about it….

She’s bitter about the lack of support from many parents, who either choose not to send their children to school at all, or pull them at any opportunity if there’s the chance of work in the local stone quarries or to help carry bowls of vegetables to market.

Her exam results are poor, but then if the children are frequently not at school, what can we expect. This school is poles apart from the middle class pushyness of Gitarama primary.

Innocent and I hurry back to the Office – as an example of how remote this place is, it takes us a good fifty minutes on moto. And Nyarusange is supposed to be one of the nearest secteurs to where I live!

Back at the office I meet up with Soraya. She’s grinning like a Cheshire Cat and has had a brilliant morning. Not only has she sat down with Claude and they’ve agreed exactly what he wants her to do, but during the morning he’s had a meeting with all the secteur reps and introduced her to them. They’ve all taken a shine to her and they’re queuing up to book her to come and do trainings for them. She’s suddenly the most popular person in the Office!

By now it’s two o’clock and there’s no time for lunch. We’re due at Ahazaza primary. This is an exclusive private primary school, one of two serving Gitarama. Raima, the Head and owner, is an old friend by now (Cathie used to work three days a week for her), and Raima bumped into Soraya by chance yesterday in Kigali. The little school is delightful; talk about a culture shock after the privations of the state schools! Only 65 or so children; resources coming out of their ears; high quality teaching; an emphasis on English which means these little tots in maternelle are already as fluent as most mainstream children in 4ème. Inspecting these classes means shifting up into altogether another gear.

By the end of the inspection its half past five and I’m starving. I’ve got to buy food for tonight in the market, so we get away from Ahazaza as fast as we politely can, and go our separate ways.

In the evning I try to write up both inspection reports, but only get Ahazaza done and part of Cukiro. I’m getting old. I just can’t concentrate long into the evenings these days.

Best thing about today – everything. The moto ride (despite having a sore bum); the ballot boxes at Nyarusange; the lost valley before Cukiro. The contrast between Cukiro and Ahazaza. Meeting really intelligent 6 year olds who can talk to me in English. They are the future movers and shakers of this country (for good or ill). It’s fascinating to watch them at six – the pretty little girl only too aware of her looks already; the big boy who likes to throw his weight around with the others; the little plump girl from a wealthy family who isn’t quite up to the same standard as everyone else and knows it….. Give me a child until he is six and I will show you the man….

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