Monday, 12 January 2009

Party time

January 10th

Hooray – its Saturday and I can be self indulgent without feeling guilty! Today is Hayley’s birthday party, and I’m helping with the catering. Fired by my culinary successes over the past couple of days, I have offered to provide avocadoes and a salsa to accompany them. I also want to make a batch of soup and restock the freezer in the flat, which Tom has completely cleaned out and is lying empty and bare in the kitchen.

So I traipse round the market; this year I’m quite enjoying the process. I get a spectacularly good deal on avocadoes – 10 for 300 Francs (30p), and beautiful tomatoes, onions and greens. The Saturday morning market is absolutely jam packed; you can hardly move through the unofficial section and to get from one end to the other you find yourself treading on a carpet of discarded carrot tops, outer leaves of cabbages, and squished bananas.

Back at the flat I slice and chop for over an hour and finally have a Tupperware box full of salsa. The party is a lunch time affair extending on through the afternoon until everyone drops. It’s lovely to meet all the gang – virtually everyone who either has stayed in Rwanda over the Christmas holiday, or who has already arrived back. Cue a massive gossip fest punctuated with warm fanta and cold beer. Pappy, the dog, is overwhelmed by all the visitors and is a nightmare to keep away from “sampling” the food.

But the mast amazing topic of conversation is about the primary education system here. The whole primary system is being changed with effect from Monday Jan 12th. Every single primary class will be in “double vacation” – in other words, children will only have a half-day at school, attending mornings one week and afternoons the subsequent week. All teaching will be done by subject specialists, with every primary teacher required to offer two specialisms. (Bear in mind that this is to be done by some teachers who didn’t even manage to finish secondary school themselves, so “specialist” is a very relative concept). French disappears as a medium of teaching – it will all be done in Kinyarwanda and English. The humanities – history, geography, social studies, civics, religion – are hugely downgraded. The emphasis is on maths, science, Kinyarwanda and English (and, of course, ICT in an education system largely without computers of electricity).

And why? – to free up teachers and classrooms to accommodate the “nine years’ basic education”. What it amounts to is that Rwanda has decided to extend primary schooling from six to nine years, and reduce secondary schooling to the three upper years. The expectation is that everybody will do nine year’s schooling (a huge improvement over present performance), and only a small minority will need to go on to secondary and from secondary to higher education.

All very laudable, but the whole process is being rushed. The headteachers have got to cope with writing timetables – something they’ve never done before. There is going to be wholesale redeployment of teachers between schools. Nobody has thought through the day to day problems involved. The classroom teachers must only be barely aware of any of these changes, yet they’ll be pitched straight into them on Monday morning.

As for me, I will be in Kigali all week. I’m already very late to make a contribution to the VSO district officers teaching manual, due for completion by next Friday, and Mans has told me he wants to see me at Kigali on Monday. This will be very convenient because I’ve other business to do in the town.

So, as you can see, it may well be Hayley’s birthday party but there’s a lot of business being done as well.

In the middle of proceedings I go up to the market again with Soraya, to a stall keeper who cuts keys. Soraya has used him successfully, and I want to get my front door key copied so I can give the original back to Janine. In Rwanda the system is that they don’t seem to use key blanks; they take an existing redundant key and recut it. And the re-cutting is done with saws, chisels and files. The cutting is done by women balancing the “blank” in their laps; it’s about as crude a system as you can imagine. I hold no great hopes for the resulting key working, and sure enough, when I try to use it, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t even come close to matching the original. In fact, it opens the latch of the door and leaves the lock untouched.

I could go back and complain, but now that I definitely have to go to Kigali on Monday I decide I’ll try to find a “proper” key cutter there; someone who has a machine and uses a virgin blank of metal. Such places must exist in the capital, surely to goodness!

It’s nice to catch up with Han and Mans at the party; they have formally finished working and are getting ready to leave for Holland. After a few beers we play “twister” in the front yard, and eventually there is the customary crowd of Rwandans peering over the wall to see how muzungus enjoy themselves. Théogène, the house guard, is nearly wetting himself. Jean, Jane’s boyfriend, is the undisputed champion of Twister; he’s so flexible I reckon he must be almost double jointed. And Épi finally arrives with Janneau who also proves expert at twister.

Hayley has had a guitar made for her in Gitarama prison and has just collected it. It needs tuning, but proves almost impossible to tune and keep in tune. So when I go home to try out that wretched door key, I pick up a spectacles repair kit (one of the lenses has fallen out of somebody’s glasses), a tuning fork and my pliers, and we spend a few minutes trying to get this guitar usable. Eventually we have to give up.

At some point in the evening we go to the “Petit Jardin” for beers, and about twelve of us are sitting talking. We end up the only people in the place, so we can be as loud as we like and it doesn’t matter. Hayley is regaling us with tales of her somewhat less than successful stint as an officer cadet while at Cheltenham Ladies’ College and has us in stitches.

There’s also the hilarious story of the girls at Kibuye over the New Year holiday. They go for a swim across the lake. In the middle of the lake somebody paddles up to them in a canoe. They think he’s come to check up on them and see if they want assistance, so they acknowledge him. But the idiot makes the usual reflex action on seeing a muzungu and asks them for money. They’re wearing their swimming costumes in the middle of a lake….. This is a public blog so I can’t repeat what the girls said to him, but I think you can imagine….

We leave the bar at midnight; a few less hardy souls have opted out and gone home to sleep, but ten of us swagger through a deserted Gitarama main street in search of night life. We go to “Delta”, Gitarama’s only nightspot. And it’s closed. Even the supposed brothel at the back seems to have shut for the night. Not to be deterred, some of the gang ask any locals still on the streets whether there is anywhere to dance at this time of night. We get some very funny looks and even stranger offers, but the short answer is that all is shut except for a few backstreet bars which at this time of night would be pretty dodgy places to visit for Europeans. The entire town centre is deserted – I’ve never seen the town so quiet. The girls are singing away as we echo through the deserted market, but this is Rwanda and everybody is busy watching everybody else, so I’m sure it will be all round town tomorrow that the place was taken over by a bunch of drunken muzungus!

So it’s back to Soraya’s and Hayley’s house. The hardened party-goers have an hour or so of board games before succumbing; but this old fogy, plus Épi and Janneau, who are staying with me, call it a night and head home.

Bedst thing about today – pretty well everything. A really nice way to spend a Saturday.

Worst thing – I still haven’t got my bloody key cut!

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