Thursday, 26 February 2009

Demenagement, Gitarama style!

February 25th

It’s one of those days with a flat, matt grey sky and you know it’s going to rain. The only question is when….

At the office I manage to get through to the Tronc Commun head mistress at Cyeza and tell her and the primary head that I’m coming and that’s OK, isn’t it…. At the last minute, just as I’m starting to pack up my things, Claude breezes in and says he’s off to Nyakabanda all day and wants my data on secondary unplaced students. I remind him that it’s not complete, but he says give it to him anyway. I think the mayor’s breathing down his neck.

I take a big moto to go to Cyeza; I know from previous experience that if I take a little one, and the machine isn’t in really good form, I’ll end up doing a lot of walking! Cyeza is one of the two schools Sally is working with, and I’ve arranged things with her that this week she’ll be at Bilingaga which will give me a clear run at Cyeza. I’m going to Cyeza for two reasons, one is to see how well the new TC section if settling down, and the other is to go to the primary because it’s exam results are still among the bottom ten in the District. But, unlike at Remera school, I’m not going to wave a big stick at Cyeza because I know that Jeanne is doing all the right things, and in any case she’s got Sally giving her more help than I ever could.

Jacqueline, the head of the TC section is rather on the defensive when the muzungu walks in, but Jeanne welcomes me like a long lost friend and we get on fine. I listen to Jacqueline’s tales of woe about the tronc commun situation – no copies of the syllabus, no textbooks, no teaching materials at all. Just three classrooms, 140 children, and four teachers with whatever folders of notes they’ve saved from their own school days. It really is pathetic. (In other words, the situation I saw at Mata yesterday looks as though it’s going to be repeated in every single TC section).

I watch a pretty hopeless Geography lesson. To begin with it’s conducted entirely in French (even though some of the children ask questions in English), because the teacher doesn’t have an English translation of the course material. That sets the scene for her entire attitude. First we revise last fortnight’s work about the solar system (well, I suppose you could call that Geography), and then we start on the commercial geography of Rwanda. Crops, minerals etc. It’s enough to make you weep! And certainly enough to put you off geography for life. I come out fuming. This wretched woman doesn’t seem to mark any books, doesn’t seem to be setting homework; doesn’t seem to be setting the children any exercises to do. She just plonks herself in front of them and talks at them.

I’m glad to finally escape and go to a Maths lesson with a different class. This teacher is much better. There’s a sense that the man wants to teach and enjoys what he’s teaching (Venn diagrams). He speaks entirely in English, and the children do too. There’s a few tricky moments before the kids grasp the concept, but all in all it’s a very successful lesson bearing in mind the whole thing is being done in everybody’s third language.

Half way through the lesson the rain arrives. It pours and pours in a steady downpour. The room goes so dark you can barely see the writing on the blackboard (but at least the windows have glass, so we don’t have to pull shutters in), and after a few minutes water starts pouring in through a hole in the roof so there’s a frantic repositioning of desks. Nobody makes a big fuss – this happens every time it rains in a country where it rains every day, and if we’re honest, the classrooms these kids had in their primary schools were probably far worse. At least the rain isn’t running in the door and flowing out through gaping holes in the walls, as happened in Gihembe refugee camp!

I give the teacher a pat on the back at the end of this lesson, and then go to talk to Jeanne d’Arc and see a primary lesson. This turns out to be yr 5 science, in English, dealing with mechanic’s tools. Some of his pronunciation is hair raising – a hand drill is pronounced “han-dry”, pliers are “pleeyers” and I learned about a tool called a “scrawdeever” (screwdriver). His copy of the textbook is in English, a photocopy of one of these rare Eastern province Anglophone editions. Someone in Kigali is making a fortune this month selling photocopied versions of all the Anglophone maths, science and social studies books. It’s typical Rwanda that the primary schools, with next to no budget, are having to waste money buying expensively photocopied books (and invariably copied single-sided) rather than more durable proper printed books.

I talk to both heads together. Jacqueline grumbles that the toilets are appallingly unsuitable for her older girls (and she’s quite right), and both heads grumble at the lack of water on site. To get into the yr 5 classroom I had to walk a gauntlet of around fifty little jerrycans brought in from home by the children. So that was my cue to offer them an Afritank, courtesy of the New Elizabethan Singers and Bridport community. (Not the HTB money, I’m trying to find an Anglican school for their tank). We’ve agreed that I price up the conversion rate this weekend (there are two parties this weekend, one in Kigali and the other in Gitarama), and then I’ll use Sally as my intermediary until she leaves at the end of March. I want to get the Cyeza tank installed a.s.a.p., preferably before the rainy season comes to an end. As well as the obvious reason, it’s much harder to steal a tank when it’s got several dozen tons of water inside it!

By now the rain is easing off, and I start walking home in case my moto driver has forgotten me. But he hasn’t, and he drives with consummate skill through some really treacherous patches of mud. It’s the trickiest road journey by far since Soraya and I went on our marathon up to Nyabinoni. This lad is an expert biker and I’ll try to use him again. He also speaks fluent French, which always helps.

In the afternoon I discover that while I’ve been out, we are moving offices. The vice-mayor based in our building is moving into the other block so all three mayors are close enough to talk to each other (!), and it has freed up office space quite nicely. So Claude and Valerian are moving into the former vice-mayor’s big office, and Claude has ordered that his old office be given to the muzungus. We are going to call it the Bazungu Bureau (bazungu is plural of muzungu). Well, there are ten of us VSOs in Gitarama area so the chances are it’ll seldom be empty. Unfortunately all the stuff has been moved while I’ve been at Cyeza; my laptop and leads are safe but as I write this blog the big sheet of bubble wrap which I’ve been using to protect my laptop in transit has gone missing. It might not be stolen; there are years and years worth of files cluttering the corridors; about 400 of my rice sacks needing to be moved by a sweaty porter, and all Claude’s stuff is still in his (our) office where he left it this morning en route to Nyakabanda.

I’m not able to get much sorting out done in the afternoon because I’ve invited Sally and Nicole round to plan our training sessions for head teachers. This needs planning pronto because the girls are only here for another five weeks. Honestly, these three month placements are so short as to be ridiculous. Mind you, when I talk to Sally about Cyeza, and she shows me what she has been able to achieve, I think the policy of putting VSOs in at individual school management level is an excellent one. Both women are starting to make a difference.

I felt tired even when I got up today; by the end of the afternoon I feel really exhausted. Fortunately it’s Tinks’ birthday and we’re eating out in town, all of us, so I don’t have to cook. Innocent catches up with me as I’m striding home out of the office and gives me a lift on the District moto. No helmets again, of course…. Innocent’s even worse on a moto than I am; we stall a couple of times and weave our way very sedately round the town centre traffic. He’s on his way to a do at the big stadium, so I get off there and nip through the back streets and past Soraya’s house and home.

For Tinks’ birthday do we are in a brand new restaurant, “l’Orion”, in a building so new they’re still putting the finishing touches to it. It symbolises the brash new Gitarama. The place is deliberately pitching up-market; prices are considerably higher than either Tranquillité or Nectar, but then the ambiance is more western and less of the garden shed variety. The food isn’t quite right yet; Tinks has warned then that 15 muzungus are eating there tonight, but they haven’t made any extra mélange and they seem taken by surprise. It’s a very successful evening, and we agree that we’ll give the place another try on Sunday night, but we also make it clear that if the food is insufficient or cold on Sunday we’ll take our custom elsewhere. That’s pretty plain speaking by African standards; I just hope they get their act together.

There are days here when you don’t seem to get anything done at all, and then there are days like today when things are just non-stop. I like it when things are busy, though. It’s like I said to somebody in an email, last year I felt like a tourist or visitor most of the time; this year I feel as though I’m doing a proper job. I just happen to be doing it in Africa. (and for peanuts…)

But it shows just how much Claude is backing us VSOs if he’s argued the case for an office for us, and it suggests the mayor has decided we’re a positive asset to the District, too. That makes today a good day by any standard.

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