Wednesday, 28 January 2009

spending time with Esperance and Imelda

January 26th

Last night I slept very soundly, as you might imagine, after my clubbing excesses on Saturday. Happily I am visiting two local schools today so I don’t have to be up at the crack of dawn. Off in the morning to Gahogo school; it’s my nearest primary and within easy walking distance (just a few hundred yards down from where Cathie and Elson used to live). I still manage to take a wrong turn and arrive late, but then it’s one of those beautiful fresh, cool, Gitarama mornings so I’m not bothered.

Espérance, the head teacher, is a friend and another one of these competent, dedicated female primary heads who glue the whole education system here together. I last visited her in February/March, and at that time she was based in an office belonging to the maternelle next door, and her office proper was under construction. Well, the office is still under construction, but the school and its parents have done some refurbishment of older classrooms in the intervening year.

I go to watch several classes, some very competent, others a bit more hesitant. All are in English. Espérance’s exam results this year are very good indeed; she has come about 11th out of the 108 primary schools, and she’s delighted because I have just got as far as her secteur in my analysis and therefore she’s one of the very first people to get a detailed breakdown of how well the school has done, (Even Claude hasn’t seen any of my stuff on performance this year yet!). What comes across is a sense of pace, a sense of professionalism that is very much lacking in those schools with poorer results. And the sense of pace is down to good leadership which doesn’t brook slacking, is organised, and has the expectation of success. One telling point illustrates just how competent this woman is – during the entire time that I’m at the school, she has a string of parents bringing their children (almost all older girls) to her and begging for a place at Gahogo during the children’s 6th and crucial year. And yet Espérance is so quiet and modest; she undersells herself all the time. She can speak English, but eventually we revert to French because she’s more comfortable with it.

As we discuss the various problems associated with the changes to schools this year, the maternelle next door to us has its mid morning break. A muzungu close at hand is simply irresistible. Within seconds there are little faces at the window, and then at the open door. As we talk, the knot of little children gets bigger, and the bolder ones start edging inside the room. Within a few minutes they are gathered all round me, almost sitting on my lap. A few brazen boys and girl’s stroke my hairy arms to check whether I’m a human or a gorilla who can talk. One girl then looks at her hand as if to check that my “whiteness” hasn’t rubbed off on her and spoilt her “blackness”. They’re impeccably polite, well turned out, and generally delightful little people.

From Gahogo I return home and I have time to write up my report. Soraya rings to touch base, and we eat at Tranquillité. She’s having problems getting a decent internet connection this morning. Claude has somehow managed to lose his office key (now what sort of silly person loses or forgets their keys – answer: me, Soraya and Claude have all of us done it within the last month!), and he needs stuff from his office for a meeting with the mayor. Soraya says that, when she left, Claude was sitting on the stairs in our office block working on his laptop and looking generally stressed and frazzled, while workmen tried to force his door open. As usual in Rwanda, that means a hell of a lot of banging with hammers or screwdrivers; Soraya was getting a headache from the noise reverberating in the echoing hallways so she left the office and came into town to find a cybercafé.

Ruli Catholique school, which I was due to have seen this morning, has asked if I can come tomorrow, and I manage to persuade Imelda at Gatenzi to let me come over this afternoon. There’s quite a logistical exercise involved in the rest of the day.

I go up to the office to return the results papers I worked on last night, and pick up another bunch. Fortunately Evalde and Étienne have returned the papers for Rugendabari and Rongi so I should have the full set to finish for Claude tonight.

I can only find a little moto to take me to Gatenzi, so there’s one hill where I have to get off and walk. At least this driver seems to know where the school is. Once again, it’s striking how the poverty gradient sharpens as soon as you leave the main road and descend down into Cyeza. Children are dressed in rags; one little boy definitely has kwashiorkor. All of them seem stunted. The soil seems little else but gravel, with precious little humus left in it. Children are everywhere; every woman either has a baby on her back or is suckling one. Its afternoon, and men and women seem to be lounging around everywhere; very few are actually working the fields (that would have been done this morning from the crack of dawn to mid-day heat). I can smell urwagwa long before I pass the bar selling it; a group of men are in various stages of drunkenness from happy and friendly to pretty well catatonic in the full sun. They must have constitutions like horses to survive the combination of fierce sun and too much crude banana beer.

Imelda welcomes me to the school. We do the usual stuff; hers is just about the only school I’ve found which has a canteen to feed the teachers at lunchtime. (They all pay a weekly sum for food and firewood). Imelda is another competent head, but her exam results are nowhere near as good as at Gahogo. There’s also a distinct lack of urgency among her teachers, and she’s going to need to crack the whip with them. After last Thursday’s big meeting in Gitarama, the school is re-writing its timetable for years 4-6. The children have been sent home, and all the teachers are in a room with a draft version of the new timetable chalked on the blackboard. They’re not exactly frantic to get it finished. One teacher is resting her head on her hands and dozing in a corner. By and large they want to use me as a punchbag to vent their frustrations at lack of English textbooks and such like. (That’s fine by me; it’s the reason Claude has sent me out to the schools). I try to make some sensible suggestions to help them, but they’re too far committed to one particular model to want to make wholesale changes, and to create any English-style timetable you would have to make drastic changes like having all lessons the same length!

I offer to translate some of the Social Studies textbook material to give them something to work on in English before new text books arrive. In Rwandan style, I agree to have a go at translating part of one book; within two minutes I’ve been given three different books to work on. There’s no way I can do all of it, but I’ll at least have a good try over the next week or so.

I can’t visit any classes, and I just want to get back and get started on translating or analysing all these statistics. I’m beginning to feel stressed with so much work to do!

I had intended to walk from Gatenzi to the main road; it’s about two miles and hilly, but it’s do-able. I’ve only gone half a mile when a big moto pulls up – Imelda has rung the motos and the main road and asked one to come and take me home. Gratefully I climb on it and off we go. Back at the flat I assume he’s going to ask for more than the 1000 I’m going to offer him, but he waves my money away – the school at Gatenzi has paid for him. How generous is that! I ring up Imelda and protest – the last thing they can afford to do is pay their money on motos for muzungus, but she just says that they wanted to do it and they’re so pleased that somebody has come to visit them and listen sympathetically and promise to tell their woes to Claude.

I’ve made an appointment with Claude for tomorrow afternoon; I hope he’s not called out on urgent business because there’s a load of stuff I need to run past him!

In the evening we are both very, very tired, and there’s not a huge amount of food in the place, so we make one of our best meals from scraps and eat well. I’m fighting statistics until well after ten in the evening, but I manage to get everything done that I can. Unfortunately one page of exam results has gone adrift in the office so I can’t give Claude the definitive preliminary results analysis unless I can find it quickly tomorrow.

Emmanuelle’s school at Ruli has done very well indeed and I text her to tell her she’s fourth in the District by my method of calculation, and has even beaten the mighty Gitarama primary. That makes her day and she rings back bubbling to thank me. I must also text some praise to Melchior at Kibanda and Jeanne at Gitongati; their results are superb. I reckon Melchior’s top ten maths pupils are so good that they could sit GCSE tomorrow and get an A* without really waking up! And Melchior’s is a primary school!

Off to bed so tired I can barely stand. I’ve managed to get some domestic chores done, but I’ll have to get up early tomorrow and finish some of the others.

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