Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Gagaca, big time and down days

October 21st

Up early and at the Office by 7.20. I’m trying to be businesslike, and I know that early in the morning is my only chance of catching Claude.

He’s not around at first, so I get on with making a summary report from all the inspections I’ve done. The Rwandans love “SWOT” charts, so I decide that’s what I’ll compile for the schools. (In French they become “AFOM” charts – atouts, faiblesses, opportunités, ménaces). But I’m doing this one in English because I’m lazy, so there!

I’m about half way through when Claude breezes in and welcomes me back. “By the way”, he says, “we need to compile a summary from all your inspections. Not more than a couple of pages”. “Claude”, I reply, “it’s almost done and you can have it on your desk in a couple of hours”. He nearly falls through the floor.

He’s off to visit and inspect a secondary school; I would have liked to come with him but now isn’t the best time to ask; I need to finish this report. In the event it doesn’t take long. You either have to go into lots and lots of detail, which makes it too long, or you keep it as short as possible, which is what I’m doing. It’ll certainly act as a useful conversation starter with all sorts of people. And what I’m pleased about is that I’ve been able to find a lot of strengths as well as plenty of weaknesses.

At this point I decide to think a bit more widely and compile a list of simple suggestions for things which wouldn’t be expensive but which could make a dramatic impact on the education process here. For example, if the District budget could include a “minor works” allowance which schools could bid for in order to complete small improvements, it would give them a feeling that there is money worth bidding for and they could be less fatalistic and raise their sights. Even better if we are able to say we’ll do 50-50 match funding with any sums the school has raised through parents. There doesn’t seem to be any funding of this kind that I can see in the existing budget and I think it would make a big difference.

Another idea is to pair off heads within secteurs, especially heads of “successful schools” with heads of “struggling schools”, or new heads with very experienced ones. The costs would be practically zero (maybe a tiny travel allowance). And we need to have some sorts of “school awards” scheme like there used to be in England to recognise schools which have been successful in various categories. And then publicise the successful schools so that they feel valued. What about a “roll of honour” in various categories in the District Office foyer so that good schools get a blast of recognition? And nicely printed certificates for them to hang in the schools themselves.

I really don’t know how much the District is going to be receptive to new ideas like these, but they’re worth trying out. I also need to talk to some of my VSO colleagues and do a bit of brainstorming with them to get more ideas. Friday will be a good opportunity because there’s an English skills workshop at Butare which I’m going to.

While I’m in the office Stéphanie appears from Shyogwe, to I’m saved a trip out there. The building hasn’t yet come to a halt, but they’re down to a handful of workers. The roof timbers are either done or in the course of being done, but there isn’t enough money for tiles. Either she hasn’t yet talked to the Bishop about a loan from Diocesan funds, or she has and he’s prevaricating. She wants to set up a meeting with herself, me and Rev Gasana who manages things in the Bishop’s absence. That should happen later this week or early next, and will give me another chance to take some photos of the work.

I decide to work at home in the afternoon. As I leave the Office I realise that it’s another Gacaca today, but this one seems to be being taken extremely seriously. The Post Office and Bank are shut, so is the bus park. Just about every single shop is closed. Even the market is completely shut up. So most of the other things on my “to do” list are relegated for a while.

Back at the flat I heat up some soup and invite Hayley round for lunch. She’s also at a loose end because her YWCA office closes on Gacaca days (the District Office never closes, and with my key I can go in and work at any time I choose). Hayley confirms that Isadora has stopped working for the YWCA and is now acting as a P A for a UNICEF bigwig in Kigali. There’s a replacement already working; the funny thing is that both Isadora and her replacement are Serbians. The odds on that happening even her in Rwanda are remote in the extreme! I also catch up on more gossip – Tina from Kibungo has been taken into the King Faisal hospital with a stomach problem. That’s pretty tough after only a month and a half here. Apparently she’s better now and back home, but it’s given her a real fright.

Now usually on Gacaca days everything swings back into action by 2pm at the latest, but today all businesses are still closed even at 4pm. I decide to go for a walk and see if anything in the market is open on the way home. I go down the hill past Cathie and Elson’s house, and loop back to the town centre. All the shops, without exception, are still closed. Even the eating places are closed. But there’s a small section of the market trading, so I’m able to buy lots of veg.

I’m bored and under-employed, so I decide to do a cook-up. I make my usual massive lentil and veg soup with just about everything chucked in – onions, peppers, imboga, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, spuds. It all stews down nicely in about 2 hours on a very low heat. Tom’s acquired a bag of “bacon bits” from somewhere and I’ve grated cheese because we’ve got masses of cheese this week. It ends up a really thick potage and is unbelievably filling. Before I go to bed I make up two boxes of soup - so that’s two more good meals for 2 people – and there’s a bit left over for tomorrow’s lunch for me.

In the evening we both watch videos; I’m working my way through “West Wing” series 4 and enjoying every minute of it. I’m rationing myself to 2 episodes a night!

The hairdresser opposite us is playing his radio at even louder volume, especially early morning and late in the evening. He’s starting at about 5.50 in the morning which is a bit much.

Best thing about today – getting my report done for Claude; transcribing another three days of dad’s diary; listening to Congolese music on my iPod all afternoon and being able to hear it perfectly because Gacaca means the hairdresser’s sound system has been switched off!

Worst thing – it’s going to be a fair period of “down time” until either Soraya tells me when she wants me to help with her trainings, or until I’m able to do my own resource making ones. Hey ho; not how I want things to be but you just have to be philosophical about it and not feel guilty. More time to read, to transcribe the diary…

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