Thursday, 12 March 2009

Delphine's predicament - adios Eduardo!

March 10th

Final trip in to Kigali to the dentist. On the bus I’m sitting next to a delightful young girl, Delphine, who tells me her story. She is one of tens of thousands of young Rwandans in the same predicament, but she makes a useful case study of the predicament of those young Rwandans who just aren’t quite intelligent enough to “make it” to the top.

Delphine is 23, a local Muhanga girl, and went to Rutarabana primary school. Rutarabana is an extremely rural school with absolutely no new investment. It’s the school which, when Cathy and I visited it last year, has a classroom unusable because the roof was in danger of collapse, and consequently where class 1 was being taught outside, under a tree, in scorching heat. So to battle her way through that school and success in passing the Concours exam at the end of yr 6 means that our Delphine is both reasonably bright and also very dedicated. She only had to repeat one year.

After that she was sent to a tronc commun secondary in Ruhango district, some miles down the road from Gitarama, which means she would have to be a boarder in the grotty boarding accommodation these schools have, and endure nearly seven hours a day of boring lessons. She did it and passed at the end of year 3.

Then she was sent to another local upper secondary to specialise in accountancy. This means she’s not in the top 20% of the ability range, but is pretty bright nonetheless. After two years in this school her parents were finding it increasingly difficult to find the school fees, and a younger brother was about to start fee paying secondary school. So Delphine managed to get a transfer to Karama school, one of our top performing secondaries, but which is just about within walking distance from her home. She stuck it at Karama for a year but didn’t quite manage to finish her final year – I think it was a question of unpaid school fees rather than lack of ability or truancy.

So she finds herself at the age of 23 without a formal school leaving certificate, good enough at accountancy to be able to cope, but not qualified to start at a Rwandan university. In England she would get a lowly job in an accountant’s office as a junior and work her way up through evening classes etc. Here in Rwanda the system doesn’t work like that. To begin with, there country is training more accountants than it can possible find work for. Secondly, nobody will look at her for an accountancy position with a degree, yet alone a final school leaving certificate. So she’s stuck.

She’s going into to Kigali to attend a meeting which turns out to be some Indian University in Bangalore doing an outreach course in Africa. (Never underestimate the extent to which India and China are building up their influence in Africa). The course will be expensive. So Delphine’s looking for sponsors. Of course she asks me if I can help, but the answer is no. It’s a lot of money, and I’ve made a policy decision to put all my efforts into water tanks for primary schools.

What really galls me is that the system here is so wasteful. She seems a lovely girl – clean, decent, energetic, outgoing, ambitious, and healthy – all the things we all want our children to be. She speaks a very basic English, as well as Kinya and French, and she insists on trying to converse in English throughout the journey into Kigali. Yet she’s spending her days either helping her mum do housework and look after the younger children, or else desperately trying to chase any charity money or church bursaries that might be around – along with tens of thousands of other young people in the same situation. It’s a criminal waste of talent and energy in one of the least developed countries in the world.

I can just see her agreeing to marry the first boy who asks for her, simply in order to escape from home and from the hopelessness of her situation. Then within a few years she’ll be saddled with four or five children and all hope of making something of herself will vanish. But no doubt the grannies and grand-dads will all be pleased with her because she’ll have carried on the Rwandan traditions of life and be maintaining the family line…..

And all this because she happened to sit in the seat next to me on the bus instead of trying to find a seat as far from the muzungu as possible.

At Kigali I have a long wait at the dentist, but she takes out my stitches and tells me the wound is clean; it isn’t infected. The aching I’m still getting will continue for another week or so, she says, and I’m to go and buy some codeine or whatever if it gets unbearable. The swelling has almost gone; I no longer look like a hamster, but there is still a little solid lump of inflammation, the size of a small marble, where the tooth was pulled.

The dentist tells me to come back in 6 months for a check up, but by then I’ll be thinking about returning home to England and unless I’m having more tooth trouble I’ll wait until I’m home before risking another bout of treatment!

After the dentist I go up to the VSO office and get a lot more business done; Josiane is going to use the VSO travel agent to see if they can get me a good deal on flights home in July, and I talk to Charlotte about all sorts of issues relating to the job.

It’s stonking hot again in Kigali; well over 80 degrees, and there’s almost no breeze to stir the air. Massive troop convoys are moving through Remera towards their barracks, they must be the Rwandan army coming home from Congo because there’s lorry loads of mattresses, water cans and general cooking and camping gear. I should think that by now virtually the entire force has been pulled out of Congo, but no doubt they’ll have left some spies or special forces in situ to keep an eye on what’s happening there.

I’ve asked Delphine to text me when her meeting is finished; I’m interested to see exactly what this Indian university is saying to Rwandans and how aggressively it’s marketing itself. Is it giving these African youngsters false expectations, and how do its fees compare with Rwandan universities? When she texts me we go home together on the same bus and she shows me the blurb they have given her. So far as I can see the courses are recognised by the Indian government, but not necessarily by the Rwandan; the fees are definitely lower than she would have to pay in Rwanda, but still way beyond her reach with an external sponsor. How do I tell this girl that she’s chasing a pipe dream? Rwandan offices don’t have “juniors” in the way English offices do; there are usually too many fully qualified personnel for the amount of work available, and there are always dozens of other people willing to work for servants’ wages to do the reception work etc that Delphine would be excellent at.

And with a glut of qualified accounts in Rwanda I warn her about borrowing money to do the course so that she ends up with huge debts and no job to be able to pay them off. One thing I can do for her is to give her a presentable CV in English; at very least that will make sure she’s looked at when she’s applying for jobs.

Back home I’m tired; we have a lot of “left-overs” in the fridge and I’m wondering whether to mix these up ready for when Tom comes in. Then Tom arrives and says we’ve been invited to Eduardo’s leaving party. Eduardo is one of the Cuban doctors at Kabgayi hospital, and is Ulrika’s boyfriend. He returns to Cuba with the rest of the Cuban contingent at the end of the month, but will be replaced by another batch of Cubans who apparently have just arrived and are getting their in-country induction at the moment. We don’t know where he lives, and hence where the party will be, and all attempts to phone him are in vain because the MTN phone system is down again. Christi arrives and we try and try for ages to ring. Eventually we decide to walk in the general direction of where we think he might live, and ask people if they know where the muzungu doctors live.

Within ten minutes this technique has found us the house. It’s very grand, with Eduardo, and two other doctors sharing it. We know we’re in the right place because we can hear salsa music (that means Marin must be there). Sure enough, I have to gear up my tired feet and dance salsa for the rest of the evening. It’s over a year since I went to Marin’s salsa class, ditto Christi, but we find after a few minutes that we can remember how the steps go, and then begin to enjoy ourselves. The food is great, too – the Cubans do beans and rice together in some sort of spicy sauce which takes them into a dimension well beyond that of Rwandan mélange….

So at half past nine, under a full moon, we trudge back to the flat. It’s a sultry, airless night; one of those nights when you go to bed with just a sheet and spend the rest of the night trying to find where you left the blankets and hastily cover yourself up before you catch a cold.

Best thing about today – Eduardo’s bash. Finishing with the dentist. Talking to Delphine.
Worst thing – I’ve done absolutely no District work today, Still, who’s looking?.....

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