Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Kabacuzi blues, or the best laid plans.....

December 2nd

Now today should be an easy day – I know where I’m going; I have transport booked; I don’t need to go to the bank or buy more marker pens etc. It should be a doddle, a nice relaxing end to my first year in Africa.

But that’s not how it turns out, needless to say.

And things start to unravel right from the start. The only thing that goes without a hitch is my early morning walk up through the town. On the way I bump into Évode, the chargé d’éducation for Kamonyi District. He’s on his way to a meeting at Kabgayi and has spotted me on the street. He’s wearing a moto driver’s helmet, and is on his bike, and at first I think it’s my driver for today. He wants to get in touch with Christine, who was the NAHT volunteer who worked there last spring, and wants to know if I have her email address. I don’t, but I say I can find it and tell him to ring me in a coupe, of days. That gives me time to text Charlotte at the VSO office in Kigali and discover whether Christine has given permission for her email to be released.

At the office I get Innocent to try ringing Kiyumba secteur to confirm whether they’re expecting me tomorrow. If they are, then I’ll happily go. If they’re not, well, then I’ve got an extra day to do tidying up and write a short report for Claude. But as usual, even at 6.55 in the morning, Innocent can’t get through to Kiyumba because the system’s down. I despair of MTN in the mornings. It’s just hopeless.

So I shoot off towards Kabacuzi on the moto to do today’s training. I’ve left things with Innocent that he’ll try phoning Kiyumba again during the day and either write me a note or send me a text accordingly.

We go at breakneck speed; I can feel the rear wheel slipping away from me on some of the bends, and we have a near miss with a lorry on one particularly sharp bend. Never mind, the driver seems competent and if I have to die before my time then on a fresh December morning on this particular stretch of road is no bad way to do it! We’re right at the top of the mountain section, between Mata and Gisiza, and at least a couple of miles from anything remotely resembling a village, when the rear tyre blows. We have a puncture. We are supremely lucky – if it had been the front tyre we’d probably both have gone head over heels over the handlebars and into the rock face or smack onto the road. As it is, we fishtail to a sudden halt.

What’s to do? We’re nearly 7000 feet up in the middle of nowhere. Motor bikes don’t carry spare tyres. And just to add to the situation we’re in a pocket on the mountainside where there’s no phone reception at all. We’d have to walk up the mountain for a while before we got a signal. And, of course, even then – would MTN be up and running? The moto driver and I look at each other and both are thinking “this isn’t what’s supposed to happen today”.

As if on cue a pedestrian emerges from the bushes at the side of the road and has a conversation with my moto driver. This guy says he is a mechanic and that he can repair the puncture at his workshop a mile or so down to road. There’s nothing I can do to improve my situation – I can’t hitch a lift on any other vehicle or take a matata because Kabacuzi is so out in the wilds that no other vehicle goes there. (Kabacuzi isn’t the furthest out of my secteurs, but I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s about the most difficult to get to. I doubt whether even the main dirt road into the secteur sees more than half a dozen vehicles a day).

So I wait at the side of the road. And I wait, and I wait, for over an hour. I text Cyrille at Kabacuzi to explain why I’m going to be late. This is not good – late for trainings two days in a row, but I can truthfully say that neither is my fault. Countless matatas and other vehicles go past, all hooting at me to see if I want to be picked up. I don’t. Several pedestrians pass by, thunderstruck at a muzungu apparently just sitting biding his time by the roadside. They stare and stare, not just at me but at what’s around me in case there’s something important here that they’ve missed or never seen before. And especially to check whether there’s anything here that looks as if it might be remotely valuable and can be converted into cash.

Unfortunately they’re disappointed. There are plenty of rocks, and very interesting ones too. What with rocks left over from the road works and the local bedrock there’s just about every kind of igneous and metamorphic rock you can imagine, all within a hundred yards of where I’m waiting. I know this because I’m pacing up and down, picking them up and wishing I had a car boot to put them in, while listening out for the sound of a motorbike engine in the distance, and trying to tell my gabbro from my trachyte and my mica schist from my mica pegmatite.

One young man stops by and we talk for a good quarter of an hour. He’s finished school, specialising in biochemistry, but can’t afford to go to university. Without a degree there absolutely no chance of his getting a job in science. (Rwanda is already producing more science university graduates than it can find work for). We exchange emails, as you do here, and I’m quite surprised that he doesn’t ask me for money. He’s just walking around, hoping to find paid employment somewhere in the country. He’s an orphan, and knows that the chances of finding paid employment in the rural parts are next to zero, so he’s making his way on foot to one of the bigger towns in Rwanda – Gitarama or Butare – to try his luck there.

Eventually my moto returns (I’ve made sure I’ve kept one of the crash helmets to ensure the driver does return) and off we go. Soon we’re off the tarmac road and bumping along dirt tracks. The track to Kabacuzi is desperately gruelling. It winds through the hills for two or three kilometres, then plunges down in a series of hairpin bends across jagged ridges of rock. I’ve got a full rucksack hanging off my shoulders, and I can feel my back being twisted and strained by the forces as we lurch from one bump to the next. I bet I’ve got a bad back by the time I get the plane on Friday. At the bottom of the mountain we ford a little river, and its up and down and round and round, through little glades of trees, leafy and cool and very European looking; through banana and elephant grass plantations; through little clusters of houses with people looking suspiciously at us. Motos are very rare here, and as for a moto carrying a muzungu…… The little children shout ahead up and down the road to call their mates to come and see. Little faces appear as if by magic from every bush and corner. One thing Kabacuzi is good at producing is children, even if it has real trouble feeding them all.

The moto driver has no idea where he’s taking me, and I’ve only been along here once before; I know instinctively when we’re on the right road because every now and then I’ll remember a particular landmark from last June, but I don’t know it well enough to give my driver instructions. We have to keep stopping and asking people. And all the time we’re getting later and later arriving. In my text to Cyrille I’ve emphasized that I am coming, and to wait for me, but we keep passing people on the roadside carrying neat yellow document cases and I feel as if they’re my clients giving up on me and going home. (They’re not; I have no idea what’s in the folders but there is obviously some sort of meeting, whether to do with church or health or local politics, also happening in Kabacuzi today).

When we reach the school the teachers are all hanging around morosely, waiting for something to happen. I am really not sure whether Cyrille has phoned any of them to explain my lateness. I get, well, not exactly a hostile response, but not a desperately warm one either. I get the distinct impression that these people are here because they’ve been told to be; that they’re here because they will lose money if they don’t turn up; that they’ve decided they just want to hope I never arrive and they can claim their per diems for doing nothing else but gossiping all day.

Tough titty, folks, Bruce’s here and he’s trying to make up for lost time.

The educational games – towers of Hanoi, tangrams, snakes and ladders go well, but I have a real problem when it comes to the rice sacks. Kabacuzi is a desperately poor school. There is not a pane of glass in any window. The wind whistles through the holes in the wall. There is absolutely no equipment of any sort to use – big rulers, etc. The only seats are silly little benches which are really for kneeling in prayer- this building served as the church before the present church was built. For making good, accurate, presentable wall chart copies from my originals, it’s a lost cause. But it’s not just that. These teachers are terminally slapdash and have no idea of how to present work, or any pride in their presentation. Even in those wallcharts which are easier to draw freehand than to trace, the labelling is scruffy, with mis-spelling everywhere.

I decide these guys are just going through the motions and I find it really depressing. Yesterday, at Nsanga, the atmosphere was so positive and co-operative; we could have done anything with the Nsanga teachers and it would have been a success. Here it’s just not worth even trying. For example, I try to explain that on the number grid they ought to do all even numbers in one colour, all odd numbers in a second, and square numbers in a third. I emphasize that most carefully. But when I look at what they’re doing, I see that they’re only using one colour, and even when I point this out to them they just shrug their shoulders and continue. Most of what they’re producing is rubbish; I’d be ashamed to have it on any classroom wall of mine and I’d criticise them bitterly if I came to inspect and found materials as poor as this in their classrooms. But then, I will be coming to inspect them in the spring, and I will find these rubbish things on their walls. I can make allowances for highly inaccurate maps because they weren’t able to trace, but, for goodness sake, how cavalier do you have to be to make such a poor fist of copying simple diagrams? What angers me most of all is that the whole day is turning into a waste of money – my travel costs, the rice sacks and marker pens (they can barely be bothered to put the lids back on them). Then one woman demands that she wants a lot more sacks. Not on your Nellie, my friend, you’ve ruined enough already. I tell them I have to keep the remainder for the secteurs I haven’t been to yet. And I also tell them that if they are able to get to Gitarama they can come into the Office and make good copies of any of the posters I keep there. But I rather doubt if they ever will.

To add insult to injury, Cyrille hasn’t organised any food for any of us; nor has he come to sort out payments for transport or per diems. They look at me expectantly, but I’m not getting into that game. “I’ve given you my time; I’ve given you the rice sacks and marker pens and other materials. That’s my contribution. All other expenses come from your secteurs, and don’t forget that 15% of your school budgets are for training. Take it up with Cyrille” is what I say. That’ll show him – he should have come and seen us at some point in the day, even if it was only to check that I did actually arrive!

I manage to finish a bit early, and I’m so pleased when my moto returns to rescue me from this place. Kabacuzi is beautiful, but it’s a hard place to reach and right now I just want out of it. We crunch and bump our way back through the hills; it’s trying to rain and at speed on the bike the cold raindrops feel like sleet on my face.

Back at the District Office I realise there’s no note from Innocent about tomorrow; neither has he texted me. Fortunately Valerian, the new chargé d’education, is working late, and he tells me that Innocent has had to go to Kigali in a hurry because someone in his family has died.

I decide that tomorrow I will roll up to the office, but I won’t go to Kiyumba unless they specifically ring and ask for me, and do so before 8.00. I can find other things to do tomorrow to justify my existence!

Back to the flat. (Oh, and just to make the day complete I discover that once again there is no post for any of us. That’s just ridiculous. Hayley and I must have at least two if not three newspapers somewhere in the pipeline, and either Hayley or Tinks is expecting a big Christmas parcel from home. I’m beginning to give up on the Rwanda postal system. Either that or it’s time I went home for a bit.

At the flat Tom has come up trumps. On a difficult and busy day for him, he’s managed to replace the gas cylinder. We cook up our beans and have a great chilli con carne; there’s easily enough for another meal tomorrow so we’ll probably invite Christi to share it with us.

Best thing about today – erm……. I’ll get back to you. The evening meal, I supose

Worst thing – just about everything, really. Talk about “the best laid plans…..” !

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