Tuesday, 10 February 2009

A key day in Gitarama....

February 6th

Another lovely, cool, fresh morning and a delight to be going to work at half past six. Up by the little stadium a little girl breaks free from her mum and comes charging into my arms for a lift and swing round. How often do you get a chance to make somebody’s day before seven o’clock in the morning?!

Christi and Jean-Claude come to see Valérian again, and J-Cs offered a place at Gitarama primary school Tronc Commun section. That’s as good as he can hope for, and I salute Christi for her perseverance. It’s more than I would have done. I try phoning both Shyogwe and Gitarama primary schools to arrange visits for today, but both Shyogwe and Nyamabuye secteurs seem to have arranged follow-up meetings after the big district meeting on Wednesday. I assume the other secteurs will be doing the same thing, too. This means all my plans for today are in ruins, and I can’t visit any more schools. Never mind, I’m getting them lined up for next week.

I borrow Claude’s modem and catch up with virus checkers, email, blog etc. While I’m doing that I print off the translated Social Studies stuff I’ve so far done (a quarter of one book, and there are three books in all. I doubt if I’ll do more than half of each of them, at least for the time being). While I’m printing Ernestine comes in from Kivomo and asks me to print something off for her, using my laptop. She’s only got two viruses on her flash, which is something of a record low number these days! When she sees the Social Studies stuff she begs me to put it on her flash drive, but I tell her to hang on till I’ve got some more done, and that I’ll come and inspect her school next week. (Hers is the only school in Muhanga secteur at which I haven’t got round to doing a proper inspection).

I go through some power point slides for Joe in Nyamasheke; we quite often email stuff to colleagues and ask them to proof it or look through it for pitfalls. Joe has done a super job and my reward for going through it is that I now have it on my laptop to use as and when I want to!

Claude is absolutely besieged in his office; I’m not sure whether its students looking for places in secondary schools, or parents complaining about why their children weren’t selected for secondary schools, or new teachers looking for jobs, or new assistant heads waiting to be taken out to their schools, or a combination of all these. It’s like Piccadilly Circus in our office, too. I grab Béatrice and show her the lists of contact details on the wall and explain to her that “t.b.c.” next to a school means that I haven’t been able to check whether the head teacher is still in place or whether he/she has changed phone number, and can she do the spadework for me because it will be so much easier for her as a Kinyarwanda speaker? In return, I tell her she won’t need to do her own list of details because this one will do for everybody. Oh, and that I also need her to find out the names and contact details for these new assistant heads who are popping up like mushrooms all over the place.

At that point I decide the best thing for today is to escape back to the flat and get cracking on some more textbook translation for Gatenzi and other local schools.

On the way I call in at the post office and, hey presto, my packet of keys has arrived. The post mistress stands back as I punch the air and blow her a kiss. (The security guard’s not sure whether this muzungu has finally lost it or is just showing off. And he’s got a baton about four feet long; every time he stands up he all but trips over it).
There’s also a paper for Hayley, but none for me.

I zip back to the office, shoulder my way through the even bigger throng of callers who are by now filling the entire corridor and collecting in the entrance hall, and try the spare office key in the lock. It actually works – that key cutter in Bridport has done a good job. It means that Soraya will have her own key, and then when we eventually leave Claude will have to spare keys to either give to our successors or to do with as he pleases. Innocent, too, heaves a sigh of relief that he’s not the only keyholder any longer. We’ve all been dreading him being ill or forgetting his key, because in that case the entire education department would be unable to get into work and be stuck in the corridors like a load of plonkers.

So its back to the flat and a hard graft morning translating stuff into English. It’s a fascinating exercise; it is by far the longest piece of translation work I’ve ever done, and even though the subject matter is familiar there are all sorts of shades of meaning to contend with. Do I do an exact translation (which won’t flow well in English) or do I do a loose translation into the kinds of phrases English people would actually use (and risk bringing in vocabulary which is too advanced for the teachers, never mind the pupils)? The answer is a combination of both these things. My dictionary gets more use today than in all the rest of the time I’ve been here, but even so there are many words not in it and other words which are ambiguous. (“beau-père” can mean father in law or step father; “égouts” can mean stinky sewage or just waste washing up water. Translating, as I soon learn, is not as precise as you think it should be).

What comes across loud and clear is just how much the government is using these new primary textbooks to indoctrinate children into its view of orthodoxy. The thing reads very strongly about their duties and responsibilities but is much less prolific about their rights.

The spare key for the flat doesn’t fit, which is a pity, but not crucial. A 50-50 success rate on a foreign pattern key isn’t bad going, and the key which we really needed a spare copy of is the one which works. I’m really lucky!

I’m joined by Hayley and Charlotte for lunch. At Tranquillité there are two other separate groups of muzungus who we’ve never seen before; one pair turns out to be visiting from Kigali. Not tourists, surely – there’s nothing for tourists to do in Gitarama; it’s the least touristy place in Rwanda!

In the afternoon I go to the bank and have to wait an hour and a half before I’m served. The place is packed; I’ve caught it at the wrong time but I need money for my weekend travels. Everybody else is waiting the same length of time, too. They are either paying electricity and water bills, or paying in school fees. Part way through the afternoon there’s a sharp thunderstorm and power cut and the lights are off, then on, then back off, and finally back on. Everybody groans when the lights go off, because we’re fully expecting the bank to close for the day as it doesn’t seem to have back up batteries or a generator. Fortunately business continues at its usual snail like pace. I tell you, can you imagine having to queue for ninety minutes in HSBC or Lloyds? According to the “New Times” there’s been huge complaints in Gisenyi (it always seems to be Gisenyi these days) where the entire place has been without power for two days and the banks have been shut, and local businesses are up in arms.

By the way, the water shortage last week seems to have been cause by Strabag contractors building the new road from Ruhengeri to Gisenyi. Apparently they cut through a water main. But hang on, if you cut through a water main supplying an entire town, wouldn’t you notice? Wouldn’t there be water flooding all over your construction machinery? And wouldn’t you phone Electrogaz to tell them, so they could turn the water off and come and fix the problem straight away? Well no, this is Rwanda and nothing happens quickly. There’s too many forms to fill in and get stamped first, and if the official holding the stamp is away on leave then you’re screwed!

And guess who’s responsible for Gisenyi’s electricity – our beloved Electrogaz again. There’s a hydro station in Gisenyi, dammit – they can’t blame lightning strikes on miles of pylons, can they…….? You only need about two miles of wires to reach the furthest parts of the place!

Back at the flat I finish to the half way point of one of the Social Studies text books. My eyes are hurting and my neck’s aching from being hunched over the computer, so I’m not doing any more today. There’s easily a whole term’s work translated and I’ll find a way of getting it to Imelda at Gatenzi next week.

Tom comes home tired out and we decide to eat out. There’s a new rooftop cafe Gitarama (oh, the sophistication of this place), and we dine on good brochettes and crunchy ibirayi. Unfortunately the afternoon thunderstorm decides to pay us an evening visit as well, and we’ve just about finished eating when we have to quickly decamp under shelter. Never mind, it’s been a good day and despite everything I feel I’ve got some good work done.

Best thing about today – getting my keys back. It’s the weekend – hooray!
Worst thing – feeling I’m slipping behind on school visits.

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