Friday, 28 November 2008

busy, busy, busy

November 25th-26th

Well, these are training days with a vengeance. It’s my grand finale in Muhanga District before I set off home for Christmas. I’m up at 5.30 and out of the flat at 6.30. Tom’s sleeping on a mattress on the lounge floor, and won’t be awake until 7.00 at the earliest, so I’m trying to creep round the place and not disturb him.

I’m in the Office by just before seven, and from 7.00 to 8.00 I’m teaching the Office staff again. It’s suddenly a lovely atmosphere in the place. Everyone is shouting “hello teacher” as I enter, and people from every office and every department are pleased to see me. On Tuesday morning my numbers have gone up from 13 to 21, and on Wednesday they are 27 including the Vice-Mayor who drops in to give someone a message and then stays to check on what the muzungu is up to. He’s a very dour person, but makes a point of coming up and saying something nice as he leaves. That’s good news – if we are getting the stamp of approval from the very top then we know we’re doing something really worthwhile.

I’m trying to make things as relevant as I can in my teaching; for listening exercises I’m giving them mock phone messages; everything from requests that the mayor rings someone back, to reports of landslides on the main road, to requests for serial numbers for spare parts for the photocopier! I put in a plug for them to tell the English speakers when there are changes to the usual routine (like bloody tree planting days). We look at newspaper extracts for reading comprehension; I get them to speak for a minute about themselves and their families, or about where they would go for a holiday if they won a million francs. (Got to be careful on that one – holidays are just not affordable for virtually any Rwandan. They interpret the question in all sorts of odd ways – opportunities to go to London and do a language course, for example. That’s not what I meant by a holiday!).

Some things fall flat. The idea of using your imagination to create a story is such hard work that I cut it short. I start by saying “Last night, as I was walking home from Shyogwe late at night, I turned a corner in the road and saw…….”

But the person I ask is flummoxed. She wasn’t in Shyogwe last night so how can she know what I saw? These people go all the way through school without ever having to think creatively for fun; without having to imagine and fantasize. So I plough on by myself; the exercise is now for them to listen. I make up loads of crap about a frightening figure who looms out of the dark, with an eye missing, a scar all down his face, dressed in dirty rags, using a stick, and carrying a sack inside which something is wriggling….. You get the idea. Some of them begin to see that it’s a made up story, but I’m sure some of the older ones are convinced I really did have a close shave with some sort of highwayman last night! I work in a chase sequence; the writhing thing in the bag turns out to be a deadly green mamba snake….. They’re getting into the swing of it now. Finally I work round to it all being a dream. When I finish I get a round of applause – I’ve made a hit as a storyteller….

On both mornings I end up at 8.00 on a real high. Their pronunciation is improving; their confidence is growing, and every now and then somebody says something really clever and we all fall about laughing. It’s so much better than the deadly atmosphere in so many school classrooms. I only wonder how long I can keep the pace up.

On both days I catapult out of the Office just after 8.00 with a carrier bag and rucksack stuffed to capacity with goodies for my resource making trainings out in the secteurs. Tuesday is Cyeza; Wednesday is Nyarusange. Neither is very far out; but Nyarusange is on a hilly road and needs a big motard to get around Mont Mushubati. On Tuesday we are in Bwirika school, which I inspected back in March. Then, it was in a sorry state. This is the school where children were being made ill by polluted drinking water from the nearest spring.

What a change has happened since. Some other NGO has given them money. There is now a concrete water tank, roof gutters, and part of the tiled roof has been replaced with tin to give an efficient catchment for the water supply. Sorry Bradpole Church – we’ve been beaten to it. This is the school we thought we were going to supply with an Afritank. Never mind; there are probably around 70 other schools which still don’t have clean water, so we’ll simply find another one and get on with the job elsewhere!

The resource making goes OK; better at Nyarusange. It’s one of those things just like the English training with Cathie back in the spring, where you get better and better for the first few sessions, then reach a plateau after about three or four. For Nyarusange I have two enormous dice made out of Soraya’s old mattress (yes, the one with bed bugs in it). But we’re counting on the bed bugs not living on the extreme edges of the foam rubber, and I’m not keeping them in my flat. They’re spending the nights in the District Office. So if Claude and Innocent start scratching all next week I shall keep VERY, VERY quiet on the subject…..

At both schools I’m fed at lunchtime; this is part of the deal with the secteurs. If they organise the food it saves me a huge hassle and I know they can do it far more cheaply than me. At Bwirika a chap rolls up on a moto with two huge plastic tubs. One is filled with bottles of Fanta; the other has those foil dishes like we use at Chinese take-aways; inside is quite a good mélange with excellent cow-meat, and still warm, too.

At Nyarusange I go with Gaston (the head) and one of his staff to a nearby bar. The rest of the teachers have asked not to be fed at all, but to have the cash in lieu. In the bar we have warm fanta and rabbit and chips, in an incredibly hot sauce. The rabbit is roughly jointed for us and reasonably tender; I’m not sure about leaving the head as the centrepiece of the presentation, though! None of us feels up to crushing the skull and sucking the brains through, but no doubt the head will get eaten by someone when we’ve left. (The rabbit head, that is, not Gaston himself). Too many heads in one paragraph!

Nyarusange is my second biggest primary school, with 1844 pupils. It has a row of 20 classrooms which seem to stretch for ever along the hillside, and there’s an annexe or “école satellite” at Nyamabuye which will eventually become a totally separate school. Gaston’s therefore the head for at the very least 2500 pupils and staff. Yet he’s ridiculously young, dynamic and funny. He rides a beat up old moto, leaking oil like a sieve, but with a home-made foam rubber passenger seat which is by a long way the most comfortable in Rwanda. Go Gaston! He’s one of my secteur reps and, like most of them, quite a character. I’m beginning to really enjoy being out in the countryside again – but then I always do!

The teachers at the Nyarusange training are an exceptionally nice bunch of people and we have a real laugh. We start with logic exercises – towers of Hanoi and tangrams and there’s all sorts of laughing and ribbing as people try and try to solve them. And when we get on to snakes and ladders it brings the house down. We’re using fanta bottle tops as counters, as you do here, and the blue team are far in the lead and absolutely cock a hoop when they land on the longest snake on the grid and slide almost back to the start. There’s uproar!

The only down point of the day is that they’re too slap happy when they’re copying my rice sacks. Neither Bwirika nor Nyarusange schools have glass in their windows, so we can’t trace anything. This means the quality of reproduction is very limited. And where they’ve cut the rice sacks with scissors they’ve done it in a way which frays the edges terribly. I tell them they absolutely must get the edges sewn when they get home. I think some of the women will do it, but as for the blokes, well – who can say. As usual we have at least two babies yelling and being fed during proceedings; one of the little cherubs loudly fills his nappy in a quiet spot and everyone gets the giggles one more…..

The only problem with this training is that I’m having to do it all on my own. Normally there would be two of us, or even more, but Soraya’s in Butare, Michael and Tinks have their own trainings at Shyogwe primary, and everybody else who’s left in Rwanda is similarly occupied. To do a whole day’s training, in French, and to be responsible for every part of it is hard work. By the end of Wednesday I feel really weary, and I’ve got two more days to do this week and three next week.

Never mind. I’ve got the flat to myself; Tom and Luke have gone off to Ruhengeri to watch gorillas. I’ve got soup in the freezer so I don’t have to spend a long time cooking. I prepare Thursday’s English lesson and write up the blog. That brings me to this minute, and I’m off to bed at twenty to ten!

Best thing about today – everything. It’s been a damn good day.

Worst thing – nothing at all. Just give me enough energy to keep up the pace!

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