Sunday, 28 September 2008

Snow joke at Buringa

September 24th

Tom’s been up since about half past five and leaves at six to go to Kigali. Soraya comes round at a quarter past seven to get some data to help with training courses she’s planning. Then she goes to work at home; she wants to come to Rutaka with me tomorrow but she’s so diligent and is determined to get all her planning done today so she can hand it in to Claude first thing Thursday. I get off to the office at the usual time and to my huge relief find that Innocent didn’t manage to ring Nyarutovu School yesterday, asking if I could come and inspect them today. I’ve done a typical Brucey screw-up and potentially treble-booked myself today. I must have been in a dither after my trip to Mata with Hayley yesterday. Firstly I misread a text from Buringa; I thought they were saying it was inconvenient for me to come whereas in reality they were saying it was OK. (Please note that abbreviated French in text messages is a whole new ball game, believe me!). Then I had texted Cyicaro to ask if I could substitute them for Buringa. Finally, I had asked Innocent to ring Cyicaro but given him Nyarutovu’s phone number by mistake….. Not the best way to make friends and influence people. I know it seems pathetic but it’s partly because I’m working a week ahead of myself – planning today the visits for next Wednesday etc, and there are so many schools who put me off that it’s easy to muddle who you’ve called and has refused you with who is left to do in that particular secteur.

Anyway, by a quarter past eight I’m on the road. The Chinese engineers are going great guns with ripping up the main road between Gitarama and Mushubati; they’ve dug it all up right the way to the District Office. When the bulldozer clanks past with its tarmac destruction device operating, the noise is unbelievable. Unfortunately they’re not so quick at relaying the tarmac, and it’s absolute chaos as everybody – construction lorries, graders, steamrollers, buses, pedestrians and motos of all shapes and sizes - jostles for space on the piles of gravel or broken up tarmac. Nobody wants to walk or drive on the smashed tarmac- it’s almost impossible to keep your balance. The newly laid earth and gravel is muddy and too deep, and vehicle tyres here are so bald that you can’t get any traction and you skid about and dig great holes in the dirt. It’s just like trying to drive on a beach. So everyone wants to use the tiny strip where previous lorries have flattened the earth down into a smooth line. It’s only about four inches wide, and its jammed with people. Wednesday is market day; every woman within sight is carrying huge loads on her head. We have two near misses in a couple of hundred yards at one point. There is only one golden rule on these roads – whoever is biggest has priority. That means the diggers, graders and bulldozers are king of the road. How some of the little children don’t get squashed is a mystery – they’re so frantic to see what the builders are doing they’re almost getting themselves under the steamrollers.

After Mushubati we’re on the new main road. At long last they’ve swept up most of the loose gravel that’s made it so dangerous for bikes; the gravel is lying in little heaps every ten yards or so. The heavy storm last night has cleaned the air; everything looks greener and fresher. The views are among the best I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying a lot because this is one of the most scenic roads of all. As we drive up through the mountains you can see for miles. Row upon row of serrated hilltops, with fluffy white cloud slowly rising out of the valleys. I wish I had a movie camera and could simply pan round through 180 degrees and somehow show you on this blog – you just wouldn’t believe how wonderful it is. For the millionth time I bless my good fortune at being posted to Rwanda, and to this particular part of Rwanda!

Unfortunately all this reverie doesn’t last long. Neither I nor the moto driver are exactly sure where Buringa primary school is, but we know it’s in Mushushiro Secteur, so we turn off at the archway to Mushushiro and drive on hopefully. The road here has no surface at all, not even mud or gravel. Through the actual village of Mushushiro it is simply an expanse of bare rock which outcrops like serrated ribs for a distance of a couple of hundred metres. Its absolutely bone jarring to cross.
Eventually we get back onto gravel or earth and whiz down through trees. After a long while we see a sign for Buringa Secondary school. Just down the road there’s the usual combination of church, clinic, meeting rooms – and a biggish primary. Good, we think, we’re there and not too late.

I dismount. I pay my driver, and ask him to come back for me at one o’clock. By now one of the teachers has come out to greet me. I assume its Mr Ndajimana, the head. But it isn’t. We’re at the wrong school. This is Mushushiro Primary. There’s no signboard to say which school it is (a bit naughty, because they’re all supposed to have put up signs by now as a District directive). Fortunately my driver hasn’t quite driven off, but it’s been a near thing. The teacher explains to my driver that Buringa primary is quite a long way away, in fact it’s on the opposite mountain. So off we go again for ten minutes. By now my moto driver’s grumpy and demanding more money. I make a quick calculation. If I refuse, he almost certainly won’t want to come and pick me up. It’s far too far to walk back to the main road and hitch a ride (that was my original intention). So I have a brainwave. I don’t have the actual RwF1000 extra he wants in ready cash, so I tell him I’ll give it to him with the same amount for the return journey when we get back to Gitarama. Yay, nice one! That’s make sure he comes back for me (and it works like a charm at one o’clock. He’s there early to collect me!).

Buringa is a big school – 1144 children – and a successful one. Its ranked 12th in the District. But I don’t enjoy my visit. I’m not as well prepared as I usually am, and I’ve done silly things like leaving my prompt sheet behind at Mata yesterday and forgetting to print off another one in the office. The Head’s not as welcoming as most directors are, and he doesn’t make it easy for me to visit classes. I intend to visit three, but we only manage two, and one of them is only a 20 minute lesson. Considering how successful the school is, the lessons are not up to much. One woman is trying to explain household budgeting to 5ème (believe it or not that comes within the science curriculum). In true Rwandan style it’s all done terribly theoretically, and I grit my teeth thinking “for God’s sake, woman, give them some concrete examples first and draw your principles out from the examples”. But she doesn’t. Mind you, I do approve of having household budgeting in the primary curriculum, especially as 87% of these little kids won’t make it to secondary school and several of them are quite possibly already running their families on a day to day basis. The rate of illiteracy among the adults out here in the countryside is simply staggering.

At one point we simply run out of things to say to each other and I go for a stroll to give me some space and to enjoy the views. The Head is efficient, but I think he resents a muzungu coming in to inspect him and making formal judgements after only a couple of hours in the place. Good for him – if I were in his position I’d probably feel the same. But why the hell didn’t he have his staff better primed for me – I’ve given them several days’ warning? Why on earth didn’t he organise more than two classes for me to see? Why on earth did he give me a nervous man in his probationary year as one of my teachers to observe? I’m not stupid but I can only make judgements on what I actually see during the time I’m there!

The Head doesn’t have an office or store room within the school buildings, but the office of the local “cellule” (parish) is adjacent to the school, and he’s taken over a spare room in the building. So while we’re chatting there’s a whole string of middle aged Rwandans coming and going, often with letters or official forms which they’re bringing to be read to them. Without exception the elderly people are courteous and deferential to this muzungu, and when I try to speak to them in Kinyarwanda they roar with laughter and clap their hands together as if it’s the funniest thing they’ve heard all day.

From the cellule office I can see way down into the valley bottom. The river has risen hugely overnight and is chocolate brown – that’s a year’s worth of soil washed away in one night. Here they bore the brunt of the storm yesterday. The Head tells me that for a few minutes it was snowing on the mountain top above the school. Just fancy that – snow, in September, on the Equator! Right now it’s very hot in the mid-day sun outside the school; with my hair cut very short I feel it straight away. Inside the classrooms it’s positively chilly; these rooms have windows on both sides and I’m invariably sitting in a through draught. The window shutters open inwards and as usual they’ve stuffed desks right up against the windows so children are constantly banging their heads against the sharp wooden corners.

Ah, now that summarises the difference between Mata (yesterday) and Buringa (today). At Mata when I commented about the shutters the head said straight away “OK, we’ll move the desks”. Here at Buringa the head doesn’t even reply; he gives me a look which says “you’re here to look at pedagogy; don’t tread on my domestic arrangements”. But that’s not true; I’m charged with commenting on anything and everything. Don’t get me wrong, Jean de Dieu is a thumping good head and a nice guy, but we’re not quite connecting properly this morning. You can’t win ‘em all.

We end up with a fanta and pleasantries with one of the other teachers; I debrief the two I’ve observed. Jean tells my moto driver about a short cut home to Gitarama. It turns out the short cut is a footpath straight over the top of the mountain. It’s unbelievably rough; I continually have to get off and walk because we can’t get even this big moto up the hill with two people on it. At one point I just about fall off; I manage to save myself by grabbing a boulder.

In the afternoon I sit in the armchair and doze off to sleep. When I wake up I’ve been snoring so hard that my throat is sore! All this fresh air and travel is catching up on me.

Best thing about today – the scenery. And the scenery. And the scenery.

Worst thing – trying to be diplomatic and look for positive things in a lesson which is really boring (despite the teacher really trying her best). Once again, it’s not her fault; it’s the way the teacher training system works here. It’s the way she’s been taught to teach. You should see the look on both teachers’ faces when I tell them to take risks, to experiment, not to worry if things don’t go to plan, to try something new, to make children work in groups. That’s heresy here! But I’m going to keep on saying it until I fly home!

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