Tuesday, 28 October 2008

catching up on the Kigali news

October 20th

Up to the bank and lo and behold my new cheque book has arrived. I must remember for future reference that it seems to take at least 10 days to get a new book through the system. I have a cheque already written out from before I left for home; it gives me enough money to pay my debts (RwF20,000 to Tom for a replacement flash drive and 15,000 for Janine’s wages) but not enough to do any shopping. I’ll have to go back to the bank again tomorrow!

Off to Kigali on the bus; in my diary I have written down a meeting with Mike at the Programme Office to do some thinking about the future of our education provision.

Rwanda has turned green during the fortnight I’ve been away. The rains have been intermittent; showers rather than torrential downpours, but it’s enough to enable farmers to plant their second crops of the year, and everywhere there are newly planted fields with the plants just starting to grow well. Everyone gets very excited at one point in the journey and they all peer out of the windows. A car has come off the road on a bend on one of the hills and is lying badly crushed in a ravine. Yet another casualty. And I bet the immediate cause of the accident was trying to overtake one of these huge lorries which crawl at snail’s pace both up and down the hills. They crawl up because they’re overloaded; they crawl down because they daren’t trust their brakes. The entire road is either hilly or twisty or both, so overtaking is like Russian roulette. You either have a bus driver like ours this morning who plays safe, tags along behind the lorries and takes ages to get to Kigali, or you have the reckless racing drivers who overtake on blind bends and trust to luck and oncoming drivers’ co-operation to avoid calamity.

Gitarama is cool and breezy when I leave it; by the time I get to Kigali it is hot and humid. So what’s new?!

At the Programme Office I discover that the meeting I’ve come to take part in has already taken place. Mike brought the date forward and it happened while I was back in England. He’s apologetic; there’s been no opportunity to contact me since I returned to Rwanda at the weekend. Mike makes me welcome and briefs me on the main points of the meeting, and everything seems reasonable. We have a conversation about the Government’s pronouncement on English as the medium of instruction. There have been noises from MINEDUC about VSO doing a lot of the training, but nothing formal or definite yet. In any case, we’re not in a position to suddenly flood the country with volunteers, and the need would be so great that to have any impact we would need one volunteer per secteur. That would mean an extra ten volunteers for Muhanga district alone – and Muhanga is one of thirty districts across this little country. So whatever we do will have to be selective and highly focussed. We could train the trainers – train Rwandans who then go out and train other Rwandans. That’s the theory, but in reality by the time the training has been passed on through two or three cycles, it gets very diluted. You should hear people in classrooms trying to use songs which they’ve obviously learnt at second or third hand!

I go to see Charlotte and thank her again for making the flight arrangements to get me home. She briefs me on the meetings she and Mike had in my district with the prospective head teacher trainees. (This was our plan to base two short-term NAHT English primary heads with Rwandan colleagues who need help with administration and planning and general encouragement). Things seem to be looking good. There are 4 identified placements nationally in Rwanda, two with me in the south and two in the east. The NAHT has approved three heads for funding for the placement, and the fourth place will be an ordinary short-term volunteer who has been a head or deputy and has plenty of school management experience. I’m not sure whether I’ll get the two heads or one head and one volunteer. Whatever happens, it means I’ll have a supporting and mentoring role for these English heads until they find their feet. That will increase the VSOs in Gitarama to six, even allowing for Karen’s leaving at the end of the year. We’ll be by far the biggest cluster of VSO outside Kigali. I’m assuming that VSO will have to sort out accommodation for these volunteers; you can’t rely on the Districts. If they’re both women, there’s a chance they could stay with Soraya. Alternatively, Christi’s just signed a contract on a new place for her (for when Karen leaves); no doubt she’d welcome some company and half her rent money for a few months!

Jane is holding a planning meeting with all the PHARE volunteers at the office, and they seem to be extremely efficient and well organised. (The PHARE volunteers are the youngsters doing HIV/AIDS education in two districts). I check all my emails; it’s funny because there are a lot that I’m expecting but haven’t arrived, and various random ones have turned up from all sort of people. There’s a nice long mail from Cathie and Elson; I’ll write them a reply this evening.

In the afternoon I head back to Gitarama. There’s nothing more to do in Kigali. It hasn’t been an entirely wasted trip because I’ve been able to catch upon some important official stuff from Mike and Charlotte, and it’s helping me get my mind focussed on what I need to be doing for the next few weeks before I go home for Christmas.

Back at Gitarama there’s no post (why not? - there must be at least two newspapers waiting for me somewhere in the postal system). I go to the District Office to show my face and see if Soraya’s there. Claude’s not in, but Innocent welcomes me back. Soraya’s not there either. It turns out her meeting was postponed, so she’s taken herself off to Kigali to plan her training sessions; I think she might be staying over with her Philippine friends in town. In the office there’s a huge stack of rice sacks ready for our training sessions. It seems that Mans got VSO office organised and they not only located the sacks but bought them on our behalf and distributed them. Soraya had to lug some 600 sacks from the VSO pick-up truck into the office. No wonder she’s telling me I owe her a fanta or two!

The road works outside the District Office are finished; we have a brand new road surface, albeit covered with loose chippings. Every time a car goes by you can hear the clink of bits of chippings bouncing off metal drain covers.

I walk the length of Gitarama past our flat to Hayley’s office at the YWCA because there’s a postcard for her from Devon that’s arrived at VSO, and discover that she’s not there either – she’s also apparently gone to Kigali for the day. So Tinks must be looking after her puppy. (Tinks is Tina, one of the new batch of September volunteers. There are two Tinas and a Christina, so it all got very confusing, and this particular Tina is called by her family pet name. She’s living with Soraya and Hayley and working with Michael in the Shyogwe Diocese schools as a primary trainer. So she and Michael are working in the same roles as Soraya and I). When Cerys, the short-term church placement girl leaves at the end of the year, we plan for Tinks to move into her cottage next door to Michael. That’ll just happen to free up another room chez Soraya for one of the two NAHT people. I don’t know where we’ll put the second one – perhaps with Christi.

Back at the flat I wonder what to do – I’ve assumed I’d spend the afternoon planning training sessions with Soraya. Instead I start transcribing my Dad’s expedition diary from his Tibet trip.

(In April and May 1945 my dad was stationed in north east India. He had some leave due, but was not able to spend it back in England because the war against Japan was still in full swing. So he and three friends organised an expedition on foot across the Himalaya Mountains to Tibet. He didn’t have a camera, but kept a detailed diary which has miraculously survived and which I have found among his papers after his funeral. I’m going to transcribe it and put it on line. I just think it’s amazing that he was able to do this trip. He had a childhood in extreme poverty and was not able to do any travelling until he joined the army. He left school at 12 with minimal education. Yet the diary is detailed; the writing is lively, vivid and well informed, and even now, more than 60 years on, it comes across as an audacious project. I’m absolutely in awe of his achievement. I haven’t seen or read any of this material for more than fifty years but I can remember my mother reading it to my sister and I, day by day, as we curled up in bed with her on winter mornings. We must have been about seven or eight years old at the time. I wonder if it was hearing these exploits that’s given me my sense of adventure and the urge to go to distant places.)

Tom rings to say he thinks he’s got a dose of giardia, so I dig out my remaining course of tablets for him. We cobble together an evening meal of rice with a sauce made of sardines, peppers, tomatoes, onions and garlic. It’s filling and very welcome – I’ve only had a slab of pizza from Ndoli’s supermarket since breakfast time! We’re already starting to make serious inroads in the stash of chocolate I brought back from England…

One extra thing I’ve been able to do today is sort out some more music on my ipod. Most of the Congolese music I got from Cathie has needed a bit more organising to make it easier to find on my ipod, and the result is really excellent. I just love this music; I’ve been plugged in to it on both journeys to and from Kigali. But through the good headphones in the quiet of late evening it sounds just tops!

Last thing I do is make a list of all the stuff that needs doing in the next couple of days. If I don’t do this I know that I’ll just drift for a week and waste time. Here’s my list:
See Claude and find out what he wants me to do
Write up my summary report after all my school inspection visits
Go to a tailors and get my new shirt made up – wider and slightly looser than the last one and preferably with some decoration on it
Go to the bank and get financially comfortable again
Do a big shop up because we’re running out of just about everything
Touch base with Michael from Shyogwe over our shared schools
Plan my resource-making training and arrange to collect my stuff which at the moment is still with Mans in Gasarenda
Take some more photos – I seem to have stopped doing any photography at the moment
Go back out to Shyogwe and see what is happening to the buildings since I was last there
Talk work with Soraya and see how much she needs me to help with her English language trainings

So not much to do, then!

Best thing about today – catching up on things, getting a feeling for priorities

Worst thing about today – despite all the above, it doesn’t feel “right” if I haven’t been out and about and visited a school or done something concrete like that!

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