Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Elena Guerra school, Cyeza

February 27th

Brilliant day today after a really inauspicious start. On my way to the office I detour via the FHI house. I want to find Janine and ask her to buy me a load of fruit at Rwandan rather than muzungu prices so that I can make a fruit salad to take to Kersti’s party tomorrow. I arrive at the FHI place just before seven. There’s no sign of Janine – she hasn’t arrived yet, and the American crowd staying there are just getting up. I see a strip of light under a door and think it must be the kitchen, so I open the door and breeze in. Turns out it’s the wash room next to the girls’ bedroom; there’s one of the young American gappers cleaning her teeth and it’s just pure good luck there isn’t anybody stripped off and washing. Cue a quick retreat by a very flustered Brucey and a very surprised young American!

I eventually leave a note and some cash for Janine, and get up to the office. Here I find we’re in the middle of yet another power cut. It’s only in our block; the main block has got power. There isn’t a fault with the meter this time; it’s a technical fault probably due to all the rain we’ve been having. This cramps my style and it’s difficult to know what I can gainfully do.

I just see Claude for long enough to give him the parcel with a new outfit for his baby daughter. If she doesn’t get the outfit soon, she’ll have grown too big to get much use out of it. Claude says thank you but he’s preoccupied and I get out of his way fast and let him get on with his business.

I just get settled into the office and it pours with rain, and does for the next three hours. This is very unusual; normally at this time of year we get rain every afternoon. Rain in the morning is a thundering nuisance because after it has gone the roads are still too dangerous to travel by moto. I’m supposed to be going out to a big meeting and what with the power cut and the rain I think I’m facing another down day, just like yesterday.

At that precise moment my phone rings and it’s the chief cashier at my bank, asking if I will translate his C V from French into English. Of course I say yes (anything to keep on good terms with the bank), and within ten minutes Didace has arrived at the District Office with his manuscript version in French. I spend the best part of an hour trying to decipher his flowery script, and have to get Valérian to help me. I also have trouble with some of the technical terms – “le gérant de la succursale” turns out to be the bank manager; “facile d’apprendre d’autres logiciels” we translate as “quick to learn new ICT applications”. I tell you, my French is coming on in leaps and bounds! I just about get it done before my computer batteries are drained. I have to nip into the other building and beg the logistics department to let me use one of their working power points for half an hour to recharge. And good job I do, too, as you’ll see later on.

Today I’m going out to Cyeza again. This time it’s to Elena Guerra secondary school, for a big meeting of all the new tronc commun heads and many of the existing primary heads. I travel with Valérian in comfort in the pickup truck; I feel a bit embarrassed because many of the new heads (especially the men in their sharp suits or best imitation leather jackets) are having difficulty finding transport. But they can speak Kinya and they can arrange deals with moto drivers much better than I can, so I suppose it’s a good job I’m in the car.

At Elena Guerra we have one of these typical heads meetings’ We don’t get started till about eleven, which sounds scandalously late to all of you reading the blog but is necessary to give people time to come down from the far reaches of Muhanga. Because of the rain many of them are even later than eleven in arriving, and I think it’s a miracle some of the Nyabinoni and Rongi people manage to get there at all.

The meeting is really good. We talk about forming a head teachers’ association (like DASH in Dorset). We talk about having a major “education day” with exhibitions and demonstrations by young people. We talk about standardising end of year assessments either across the whole District or at least secteur by secteur. At every turn people are pleading poverty, of course, but Valérian is very strict with them and tells them these jobs have got to be done and they’ve just got to budget for them. I’ve been put on the top table and I have some real input to make to the meeting. I have one of the new heads, Emmanuel from Ndago, sitting next to me to translate and he does a first class job. He’s another of these bright young Rwandans who’s going to go places, and he’s already a useful ally. I’m able to introduce myself to all the new heads; several of them already know me anyway, and from now on I know that if I ring any of them to visit their schools they’re going to be able to put a face to my name.

What’s even better is that we’re beginning to get a “team feeling” among the new heads, and I work hard all day to encourage this. Anything rather than the aloof, isolated system the French and Belgians have left us as their inheritance!

At the end of the meeting I get my slot. I ask how many of them don’t have all the schemes of work for the tronc commun subjects in their schools. Almost every hand goes up. “OK”, I say, “you’re in luck because they’re all on my laptop here and if you’ve got a flash drive I can give them to you at the end of the meeting”. When the meeting finishes I’m inundated with around 25 flash drives, all of which need checking for viruses before I download stuff onto them. But I know immediately that it’s a good job done, and hopefully nobody is now ignorant of what’s supposed to be taught in their schools.

I also tell them that we need their email addresses – they’re all bright young things who’ve been to university and are used to ICT there. Many of them own laptops at home, even if their schools don’t have power. Some schools are due to be issued with laptops in the next month or two even though there’s no power in the schools to use them…..

So within half an hour we have at least half of all the new directors with email addresses. This is going to revolutionise communications. Instead of all of them having to trek down to Gitarama for meetings which are really just conduits for information, I’m going to be able to send all the stuff to every one of them at the touch of a button. Yay, the 21st century really is arriving at Muhanga!!

At the end of the meeting we have a packed lunch – lumps of meat, roast potatoes, cake and a filled sandwich – all in a little foil tray, with a fanta. It’s very welcome; I’ve been up since half past five and by now its half past one and I’m starving.

While we’re eating I circulate and arrange an entire week’s visits to tronc commun schools, so that I don’t have to fight the phones every morning. Another good job done!

We’re milling around in Elena Guerra’s beautiful grounds in bright sunshine while we’re waiting for our transport to arrive to take us home. E G is considered a model school; it’s right next door to the Cyeza Catholic Church and Paroisse and is very, very catholic, but beautifully maintained. Despite the poor, exhausted soils of Cyeza the school has a riot of flower beds in brilliant colours. The sun’s out, it’s hot, and all the hills around us are vivid green. I’ve been here before, back in June, with Cathie to do a training and fell in love with the countryside then. Today it’s at its best; washed clean, rustic in every direction as far as the eye can see. Up here on E G’s hilly site you can’t see the grinding poverty at individual house level

Valérian’s phone rings and its Claude telling us all to hang on because the MINEDUC Inspector who has been touring the District is on his way and wants to speak to us. So we troop back inside their beautiful school-hall-cum-chapel to listen to his words of wisdom. He gives a good speech, in particular hammering the need to teach in English and the need for all students to be fluent in English. Rwanda is really, really serious about this East African community business; it’s going to be modelled on the European Union with people able to move and work and live equally across any of the member states. They won’t be able to do this unless they can speak fluent English. I also notice that most of the forward looking new tronc commun schools are offering Swahili as a foreign language since Swahili is the second lingua franca in East Africa (and is a damn sight easier to learn and with fewer fussy grammar rules than Kinyarwanda). French really has all but disappeared from schools – and yet it’s the language we tend to use at the moment to communicate with each other because my Kinya and their English are so often insufficient.

After this talk we go on a tour of the school. This is the first time I’ve been round the dorms and living accommodation in a secondary school – Elena Guerra is a boarding school as are virtually all the older secondaries in Rwanda. The dorms are a revelation. Think of the most cramped Youth Hostel dorm you’ve ever seen, and then double the number of people in it. You can only just get your body into the gap between the beds – bunk beds, all of them. There are old metal framed beds with creaky springs. The rooms must get sweltering at night with this number of bodies in them. Few beds have mosquito nets; I assume children are responsible for providing their own but are too poor to do so. There’s no mosquito netting on the windows, either. There’s absolutely no privacy and almost no storage space. I can’t see any lockers for personal possessions; everything seems to have to fit in a kitbag which lives on the bed when the bed isn’t being used for sleeping. (OK, so where do they put all their stuff at night?) The wash rooms are adequate, and very clean, as are the dining rooms and drying rooms. (Elena Guerra has about 2/3 girls and 1/3 boys, so the drying areas are festooned with multicoloured knickers. It’s a very good thing all the girls are in classes and don’t see some fifty odd adults trooping round peering at their smalls). There’s no decoration on any of the walls – not a single poster. For those of you reading this blog in Dorset – if you went on any of the church trips to Jerusalem and were taken round the orphanages in Bethlehem, well, the Palestinian children’s dorms are infinitely less Spartan and far more specious than this model Rwandan secondary school’s.

There is a library with quite a reasonable book collection, even including some fiction. The school has a TV in the main lounge area with a video player, so programmes can be recorded and played back. There are plenty of water tanks, and all the outside passage ways connecting the various buildings are covered so that pupils can keep in the dry while moving from room to room. It is generally considered the “model school” for Muhanga and one of the best in the country, and I’m really lucky to be given a tour.

The science lab is pretty basic, especially when you consider that in the upper cycle the school has a bio – chimie speciality. There are a lot of wall posters, some brand new, but they are all in French so they’ll have to go pretty soon. On the other hand the computer room is pretty good, with about 20 machines, all networked.

The only things I don’t like are the kitchens. There are three huge vats, almost the size of brewery stills. One is for hot water, one is for rice, and one is for beans. They’re kept lit continuously, and it means that even in this relatively enlightened school the diet is a monotonous beans’n’rice affair with just occasional variations.

Finally we go home – I’m with four other heads sitting in the back of a pickup truck. We have to be careful where we sit; the truck was last used to bring a delivery of charcoal to E G for their kitchens, so we daren’t sit down in the well of the truck. And if we perch on the edges we risk being thrown out as we bump and jolt our way through ten kilometres of ruts back to the main road. It’s certainly not the most comfortable rive I’ve ever had, even by Rwandan standards. But it definitely beats walking.

Back at the flat I just get through the door before it pours with rain again, this time a sharp thunderstorm. I’ve clean forgotten about giving Didace his C V, and in any case I haven’t been able to get it printed out. That means I would have to give it to him on a flash, and there’s no guarantee I’d ever see my flash again. And tomorrow is Umuganda, and the bank is shut in the afternoon, so he’s going to have to wait till Monday.

Tom comes in, cursing, with a huge bag of fruit for me from Janine. It weighs a ton and he’s not happy at having had to carry it. (I had told Janine to ring me when she’d bought it and I’d come and collect it from her house or the FHI place).

By now its well after six, dark, and we haven’t got much food in the house. I’ve decided we’re eating out tonight. Then Tom says Christi wants to use our oven, so we’re going to have to wait in for her. We’re not sure whether we’re all going to eat together, or we’re going to wait for her and then have a late meal. Christi keeps dithering as to when she’s coming or even whether she’s coming at all, so we cobble together a meal with what little stuff we’ve got in the fridge and virtually clear out our fridge.

Christi comes and joins us for our meal, and then cooks raisin cookies in our oven. It smells wonderful, and part way through the cooking process Teresa rings. I can barely concentrate on what she’s saying because all our stomachs are rumbling in anticipation of eating cookies…..

By half past nine I can’t keep my eyes open and I have to go to bed. I’m asleep within seconds and never hear Christi leave, or Tom slam our front door to shut it firmly.

Best thing about today – absolutely everything. A really good day.

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