Wednesday, 18 February 2009

a lovely visit to Kivomo

February 17th

Tom’s off to Kigali very early; I set my alarm for 5.30 and discover that its pitch dark at that time. Dawn comes up very fast here; by 5.40 you can see what you’re doing and by 6.00 you don’t need any lights on at all. What a difference ten minutes makes at this time of the morning!

At the office I want to catch up on emails and post blogs, but Claude’s left the modem at home, so I can’t. Perhaps they had a sleepless night with the baby. Then he collars me and asks me to do a gender analysis of the exam results because he needs to know how many boys and how many girls there will be for local places in tronc commun and upper secondary sections. (I honestly thought all that had been sorted out). In theory it’s an easy exercise which will take me all of five minutes. Except that nobody has listed on the results sheets what gender each pupil belongs to, and the Rwandan names are so convoluted and impenetrable it’s too hit and miss for me to make a guess. So I arrange with Emmanuelle, who just happens to be in the office, that I’ll come to her school this afternoon and she can help me out! (How’s that for cheek!). Meanwhile there’s no electricity in our office (but there is power in the main block). Eventually we discover that our block is on a pre-payment meter, just like our flat in Gahogo, and that nobody’s bothered to put any money on the meter for ages. So nobody can work until somebody – whoever is the person responsible – trots off to Electrogaz and parts with the dosh. Isn’t it nice to have a system so ad-hoc that all Muhanga’s finest are hanging about gossiping until somebody can put more money in the meter!

Soraya’s furious because she’s been charged a fine of RwF20,000 for leaving it so long to get her green card. That reminds me to text the VSO office and ask what’s happening about my visa and passport. Flavia texts back (eventually) to say it’s not done yet and I’ve also incurred a fine of RwF20,000 for going beyond my visa date even though I had started the application process in time. I have to say that I can’t work up a sweat about this. I have been back for over a month and won’t be charging VSO a penny in transport claims. And I would be entitled to up to RwF40,000 a month. So by visiting nothing but local schools and going everywhere on foot or on the cheapest motos for a month I’ve saved VSO twice the fine….

Eventually I get a moto and haggle him down from 1500 to 800 and I’m off to visit Kivomo school. This is a new one for me, but Ernestine, the head, is the Muhanga sector rep and one of my friends among the headteachers. Hers is the only school in the secteur I’ve still not been to. It’s tucked away in a fold in the mountains with wonderful views in every direction. And it’s a brand new building, just finished this year. The old buildings – cramped, low and unattractive – are still there. Nobody can bring themselves to demolish them. I sure hope nobody has the brainwave of trying to use them for tronc commun (or even worse, putting the TC children in the new buildings and condemning the youngest primary children to an indefinite future in condemned buildings. You never know, it could happen).

The school sits on a hilltop on a very narrow site (not more than about forty yards across), with steep drops on two sides. There’s not a blade of grass in the yard, which doesn’t even have soil. It’s just gravelly, sandy, rock pulverised by 500 pairs of little feet every day.

The new buildings are lovely, with plastered and emulsioned walls. They’re light and airy and real pleasure to teach in. I’d love to work in this place. They’ve planted some shrubs around the place and eventually (little feet permitting), the rawness of the new buildings will be softened.

Ernestine takes me on a tour of every class (there only seven; this school has less than 550 children which makes it a tiddler by Muhanga standards). In every class I am welcomed, and greeted in English; even the yr 1 children who have only just started full time school can greet me. I even go into the maternelle and they speak to me in English. They’re learning the words for mother, father, children, so I’m able to do some good pronunciation practise for a few minutes.

Muzungus don’t come to Kivomo, it’s too far off the beaten track. It’s about a mile on a gravel track off the Ngororero road, and all along the track approaching the school I’ve been getting gobsmacked stares from women tilling their little plots of sweet potatoes and manioc. The maternelle children look at me as if I’m an alien as well as a giant, and then turn to their guardienne for reassurance that I’m not about to eat them….

Ernestine is very organised and I decide that Kivomo really is a super little school. They’ve got the luxury of a staffroom, and every day they run a short self-help session to improve their English. What a lovely idea. They’ve organised someone to cook lunches for them, and they all eat together. There is a real team atmosphere and genuine mutual support. Last year, even with all the disruption of building work and those grotty old classrooms, they still managed to come 15th out of 94 schools in the District. With their lovely new rooms, and no class even approaching the new maximum of 50 pupils, they should be able to do better.

Kivomo’s in a deprived, poor part of Muhanga. Soils are exhausted, slopes are steep; it’s a real struggle to make a living from the land. So isn’t it nice that at least these children have a realistic escape route through a decent education. If only we could replicate this place about forty times over to remove all the rubbish buildings in the area!

I join the yr 6 class, much to their amusement, for maths and English. In maths we’re doing the properties of triangles, and the teacher is competent and his English pronunciation is acceptable. Some children are having trouble adding up the three sides to find the perimeter, but as soon as I show a couple of them how to write the measurements as a simple sum, they race through the questions. Then, as usual, they all descent on the muzungu to get their books marked. Obviously 5/5 from a muzungu is a better mark than 5/5 from their regular teacher. Ernestine’s in the room with me and laughing as I get swamped with hot little people and their scrappy exercise books. But these children are so polite and pleasant. They chant and yell all the key phrases: THE – PERIMETER – OF – A – TRIANGLE – EES – THE – SUM – OF – THE – THREE – SIDIES echoes under the tin roof and must be clearly audible to the old man in the next field who’s inspecting his potatoes.

I walk back to the main road just as it’s thinking about raining, and get a cycle taxi back to the office. The lad on the bike is lathered in sweat by the time we get there; he’s more than earned his 800 francs.

In the afternoon Emmanuelle helps me decode the genders of last year tronc commun students. The range of names is awe inspiringly quirky, and if I get time I’m going to compile a list. There are medieval names, Old Testament names galore, and a sprinkling – just a few – of the old Kinyarwanda names. Not everybody succumbs to the Catholic church’s Europeanization of names. What’s conspicuously lacking is any Rwandan equivalent of the Shanes, Waynes, Darrens etc: American culture has simply not penetrated here. Yet.

Tom’s probably staying in Kigali over night so I cook for myself and the guard. Easy stuff; we’re still finishing up leftovers from the weekend.

It’s been a nice day and once again I feel I’ve done a good day’s work.

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