Tuesday, 20 January 2009

stewing in Kigali

January 19th

Into the office by seven with a long list of things I need to do, preferably on-line! Claude is there and makes a fuss of me to welcome me back. He’s had a good Christmas and the new baby is doing fine. He doesn’t say anything about naming ceremonies. But then there’s already a queue of people waiting to see him, and we’re both busy. There’s Ernestine from Muhanga secteur and a load of the District Office staff coming and going from the office, all of whom come up and greet me like a long lost friend. It’s lovely. I manage to pin Claude down for ten minutes before he’s off to meetings and lost for the rest of the day. I show him my motor bike CBT and he’s happy with it, but he wants us both to go and talk to the local traffic police. So even with a CBT I’m not assured of a permit to drive, but if we can make me known to the local bobbies I’m sure they’ll agree, and I’m such an easily identifiable person out here that once we’ve got through that stage of approval there’ll be no problem of me being pulled over on the road. That’s my theory, at least, and it’ll be interesting to see how things work out on practice.

On the education front I discover that my written version of the changes to primary schools is not the latest one, and Claude tells me to download the latest from the MINEDUC website. That’s just the cue I need to ask him if I can borrow his computer modem for the morning. He gives me a list of things he wants me to check on when I visit schools, and I say I’ll start by doing a quick re-visit of all the local schools to see how things are settling down. Twenty three schools in Muhanga have started their tronc commun sections already, and some of those are my friends such as Kabgayi B and Kivomo. I’ll get out to see them as soon as I reasonably can. The key things he wants me to check are that all the schools are using double shifting for all of years 1 – 6; that class sizes are no more than 50; that the subjects being taught match those in the new curriculum documents. (The question at issue here is whether French is being taught – my older version of the curriculum changes says yes, it should be; the latest version apparently has deleted it). French is to be used as a medium of instruction at least for the current year, so one of the biggest hurdles to improving learning has been removed, especially for the infant sections, and at least for one year.

It will be interesting to see how the schools have cooped with timetabling, and with handling teacher redeployments and redundancies. It’s certainly a challenging time to be a primary head teacher here in Rwanda!

After I’ve finished with Claude I go to see the ICT girl in the Office and she helps me install the Government modem software on my new laptop. It doesn’t load without some difficulty but eventually I’m connected to the internet. Yippee! I can spend the rest of the morning catching up with emails, downloading the latest itunes system to update my new iPod, and changing my antivirus programme to the one the district uses. I’ve decided that since no antivirus programme seems to catch everything, I’ll get rid of the Macafeee stuff which came with my new computer and use Antivir which seems to be the district preferred system. It’s very easy to update and every time I borrow Claude’s modem I should be able to keep my system protected. We’ll see, won’t we! All these downloads involve huge amounts of information and even with the high speed modem it takes ages to safely receive them. I’m not going to be able to get anything else done this morning, but I’m very happy with what I have managed to do! At the last minute I have a setback; I’ve downloaded an antivirus programme and I’m talking to Soraya, who’s just arrived, and I manage to click something which loses the antivirus. Curses – I’ll have to do it all again tomorrow – if I can get at the modem. Right now my computer’s totally unprotected….

Just as we’re leaving Claude says for me to tell him when it would be convenient for me – yes, ME, to have the baby naming ceremony! Immediately he’s distracted with another phone call, and over lunch I say to Soraya that I’m going to suggest Sunday so that it doesn’t mess up the other weekend social arrangements. Am I selfish or what!!

I nip over to the post office to collect any mail. My keys haven’t arrived yet, and it would have been something of a miracle if they had got here so early. There’s just the usual business stuff for Tom. I have to pay another RwF8500 to keep our post box going for a second year, but this time Tom and Soraya and Hayley will chip in so it won’t really cost me very much at all.

I’ve arranged with Michael to meet him for lunch at Tranquillité before I go in to Kigali; I need to brief Michael on what Claude wants from us and I think we can work together to cover a lot of the local schools. Soraya comes too and we have a business lunch before I go charging off once again on a stuffy bus to the capital. Michael and I agree to do “dipstick” inspections for a couple of weeks, some days together and some days separately, just to see how far schools are complying with the new requirements. I think that now I know where schools are, and if I plan carefully, we can quite easily do two a day.

We have carte blanche to design how we’re going to evaluate them, and as well as feeding results back to Claude I’m going to forward them to DFID in Kigali because they need grass-roots information on what is going on in schools.

If the bus is stuffy, Kigali is like a sauna. The old town and market area are simply awful. I get my business done there as fast as possible and take a matata up to Kacyiru and the parquet. It’s a “new” matata – i.e. second hand from Dubai, with Arabic lettering all over it – but new to Rwanda, and the seats and suspension are very good.

My heart sinks when I reach the parquet; the office I need to go to is surrounded by dozens and dozens of people, all getting police checks done before starting university or perhaps even secondary school. There’s never a queue – come on, everybody, this is Rwanda – and if I’m not assertive I’ll never get served by the end of the afternoon. So I play the muzungu card and force my way up to the door, and inside. Fortune deals into my hands; because I’ve already handed in my application I have one woman to serve me; for all the dozens of first time visitors there’s just one other woman. Of course, she hasn’t yet got round to actually filling in my form on her computer, but in fairness it’s almost at the top of the pile. We have a laugh about my photograph (one of the original VSO ones from 2007 with me bearded) and she straight away processes my paperwork. Even then, I have to wait around ten minutes while she wanders the corridors to find the only person in the building who’s authorised to stamp it.

Finally I get out of the place. There you are, folks, I’m certified clean and an A1 upstanding citizen by the Rwandan police, a safe risk to leave with your children and not a threat to the state or to public safety.

Up to the VSO office by moto to hand the thing in, and get yet another ticking off for leaving things until I am actually an illegal alien. These government offices apparently have a system – if you are handing in most forms you do it in the morning; if you are collecting them you can only do it in the afternoon. Quite how that squares with the dozens of people handing in their clearances earlier this afternoon, I’m not sure. Perhaps nobody told them of the rule, or (more likely) they’ve had long journeys in from the countryside. But VSO won’t be able to actually hand in my papers for the visa till tomorrow morning. (And even after all this Flavia from the VSO office rings me in the evening to ask where my passport and visa application form are because they’re not with the police clearance papers. No Flavia, I gave them to Jean Claude on Friday)! You begin to see why I hate all this Kafka-esque bureaucracy. Why on earth can’t they have a “one stop shop”, in one building, where you can hand everything in one morning and pick it all up the following afternoon?

During the afternoon Épi rings me to ask where she has to go to pay for her police clearance; she’s got another month to get it done but very wisely she’s going to get things sorted well in advance. Once she’s back out in the sticks at Kibungo it’ll be a lot more trouble to do anything official than now while she’s languishing in Kigali. Smart girl!

Charlotte asks me to come down to Amani and meet my new NAHT head teacher VSOs who will be based with me in Gitarama, but I can’t because it’ll make me too late for the bus home. I’ll see the head teachers on Saturday, anyway. We still have some problems with fuel here in Rwanda, and some garages seem to be holding out for higher profits by refusing to serve customers and pretending they’re out of fuel (unless you have managed to get hold of some tokens being circulated around Kigali). Down at Nyabogogo there are massive queue for fuel as we’re on the journey home. The fools are backing up into the main road; in England that would be a bit dangerous and considered antisocial; in Kigali traffic its damn near suicidal but everybody shrugs and says “what’s the alternative?”

I get another matata back to the town centre; I’m on one of those grotty seats by the door and have to keep getting out to let other people off. At one stop a muzungu gets in next to me; we look at each other in surprise. It’s Tom, also on his way home. Honestly, the chances of not only being on the same bus but sitting next to each other are millions to one, and yet it’s just happened! Tom’s had a fraught day; he still hasn’t completely resolved his problem with a container full of wares to America and some missing customs paperwork, but he’s on the way to getting it done.

Back home we cook up a massive omelette, and have comfort food for pud – instant custard and Tesco mars bars!

Best thing about today – seeing Claude, getting some computer jobs done, getting my police clearance.

Worst thing – losing the antivirus programme; sweaty, smelly, crowded Kigali.

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