Monday, 23 March 2009

A seconday school with 43 pupils

March 17th
Another day up country visiting a tronc commun school, this time Cyicaro (“chicharro”) in Mushushiro secteur. So once again I decide not to go into the office first in case I get too stuck there. By half past seven I’m in the bus park in Gitarama town centre and sitting in a taxi bus. There are about ten of us; the bus is half full. The driver is adamant he isn’t going without a full load, so we wait and wait for about 40 minutes. By now people are getting mutinous andf we all get out of the bus to start looking for alternatives.

This makes the driver suddenly leap into action. We roar off out of the bus park and up the road to Biti – about a mile. Here we stop and hang around again for another twenty minutes. At this point I’ve had enough and I tell the driver that either he gets going or this muzungu is walking away. He has the cheek to demand money for the mile he’s taken me; I tell him he owes me money for wasting my time and leaving me a mile from anywhere I can get a moto. I’m a little bit worried this is going to develop into a serious argument, but the other passengers are murmuring and it seems they agree with me.

So the driver gets in again and off we go – back to the town centre of Gitarama; back the way we’ve come. I’m gathering my stuff to get out and tell this idiot just what I think of him when he sees that there are two more minibuses already starting to fill up for the Ngororero road, so finally – after an hour and ten minutes – he sets off in the direction we all want to go.

By now there’s a nice sense of camaraderie in the back of the bus – everybody’s fed up with the bus driver. The other passengers tell me exactly how much I should expect to pay to go to Mushushiro, and not to let the convoyeur demand more.

When I get off the bus at Mushushiro market I have to negotiate for a big moto to take me to Cyicaro. Fortunately again, the head teacher has already told me to pay around 1500 and certainly not more. The driver asks for 2000, of course, but I laugh in his face and tell him its 1500 or nothing. There’s nobody else looking for a lift, and three bikes lined up waiting for custom, so 1500 it is and off we go. We pass Mushushiro village down one of the rockiest, bumpiest strips of road in all Rwanda (why on earth don’t they do something about smoothing it during an umuganda day?), then past Mushushiro school which I visited last week or so. And on and on, deeper and deeper into the countryside.

I find, once again, that I’m way out of usual muzungu territory, and everything comes to a halt as I pass. The landscape consists of dramatic, sweeping, impossibly deep valleys with sides so steep you can barely stand on them, let alone cultivate them. The road twists and turns along the ridge; every hundred yards you get another fabulous view, but you find that to go half a mile across a valley from one hill to the next, you have to twist and turn for about two miles along the contours.

Cyicaro is almost the back of beyond (there’s a little primary school at Nyarutovu a kilometre or so further on, but I’m not in any hurry to go there and its results are average so I don’t need to). You finally rattle down a steep slope, bumpy and rutted (after just this short ride my backside and shoulders feel pummelled), then up a one in three little hill, and there’s the school.
Étienne, the head of the tronc commun section, is waiting for me. He’s been wondering where I’ve got to and is almost about to give up on me. So I explode at him with my wrath about taxibus drivers, and we have a laugh together.

I have intended to do visits to both secondary and primary, but in the event I can’t visit the primary. Emerthe, the primary head, is a Gacaca judge (I didn’t know this), and is trying a case today. So I spend the morning in a secondary school. But what a school! Cyicaro has just one class, with a total of 43 pupils. For this they have a (non-teaching) head and two full time teachers! Of course I want to know why – most tronc commun schools have two or three classes. Ah, says Etienne, they are all going to Mushushiro because there they have electricity and compared to Cyicaro, Mushishiro is “sophisticated”. Well, the electricity is only in the parish hall, and you could have fooled me about sophisticated!

It's just my luck that on Tuesday mornings they have double physics – two whole hours of physics without a single experiment all year. I decide to sit through one hour, and then debrief with Étienne. The physics teacher is a probationer with no formal teacher training at all. But he’s good. He is patient; his blackboard technique is sound, and he has a really good relationship with all the pupils. There are a few things I pick him up on. He asks questions equally to boys and girls, but only to those pupils sitting in the front half of the room. If you want to doze through physics you learn to sit in one of the far corners! The classroom is mudbrick, but in good shape and whitewashed inside. There’s a breeze blowing through, and the roof is high and tiled, so it’s comparatively cool. On the walls there are plenty of posters, but they are old anti-SIDA or remnants from when this was a primary year 5 classroom last year.

Because there are so few pupils, Cyicaro – alone among all my schools – has a surplus of classrooms. There’s one full sized room for the staffroom, and no fewer than 6 other rooms mothballed and waiting for students. (Meanwhile, of course, the primary children have all been put down to half days in order to vacate the rooms for secondary students who never materialised. Isn’t it daft?!)

Étienne is going to make a good head. His English is pretty fluent. He’s organised a canteen for the pupils, and has the school opened on Saturday mornings so that children can come to school and get on with their homework without being pestered by their parents to look after younger siblings, or go to the village shop, or whatever. In addition, he has rounded up the best trained English teacher (actually she teaches in the primary section), and she is doing English conversation practise for all the staff, primary and secondary, at the end of each day for half an hour. This is just the sort of independent thinking and willingness to innovate that has been so much lacking in all the primary schools last year.

When I take my leave, we ring the number the moto driver has left me so that he can come and pick me up again. But it turns out not to be his number, but somebody else who lives near the market in Mushushiro. My driver doesn’t seem to be around, so I’m either stranded, or I hoof it on foot. Easy decision! Étienne has some papers to take to the Secteur office, so in the heat of the day we leg it for mile after mile round the twisty dirt roads back to the main road. It becomes overcast but stiflingly humid, and a storm is coming in from the north. Thunder is already rumbling in the distance. I’ve got my cagoule; Étienne has absolutely nothing he can shelter under except roadside trees.

As we pass through Mushushiro primary school the children are just being let out; the morning shift is going home and already some of the afternoon shift are arriving. The road is thick with little girls in blue dresses and little boys in khaki. They all want to see who I am; they all try out their English or French or Franglais on me. We end up processing towards the main road with about forty little people in tow.

By now the thunder is very close; there’s lightning which means that any second now it’s going to pour. And it does come on a sharp shower, but not the deluge I’m fearing. The children, of course, have absolutely no protection from the rain at all and I get jeers and cat calls when I put on my cagoule. Honestly – I’ve got ten year olds calling me a wuss for not wanting to get soaked!

We reach Mushushiro village and fall into a waiting taxibus which happily leaves within ten minutes, scattering gawping children left and right all the way up to the main road. The old women on the bus want to know where this muzungu has come from. White men just don’t materialise, on foot, from the depths of rural Mushushiro. I can’t speak enough Kinya to have a proper conversation with them, but via a man who speaks good French and acts as an interpreter we have a very lively conversation all the way home. Some of the women are in one of Tom’s handicraft co-operatives and when I tell them I share a flat with Tom they decide I’m not a threat and I’m accepted.

While I’m eating a very late lunch in “Tranquillité” the storm, which has been following us from Mushushiro, finally arrives and for well over an hour we have enormously heavy rain. If this is the first storm of the long rains, then it means that the short dry season lasted about ten days. Now that’s pretty short by any definition!

By the time it’s eased off enough to venture out it’s going up for three o’clock. I decide to go to the Office and try to borrow Claude’s modem overnight so that I can get caught up with emails and so on, but I find that Céci has borrowed it before me and is doing some enormous download of stuff onto another computer. So I’m feeling tired by now after a lot of walking in the heat, and take a moto back home.

I spend a busy afternoon writing up reports on two school visits, and Tom and I manage to cook another cracking good supper, complete with garlic bread, with avocado starter and the last of Kersti’s lemon cake for pud. Three courses ain’t bad!

I’ve got any amount of blogs to write up and other computer work to do, but I write just this one entry for today and I’m already feeling dead on my feet. My birthday blogs are going to have to wait, so they should be short and sweet!

Oh, and the other funny thing today – next fortnight’s MINEDUC work has been put off until the summer term. They haven’t had enough time to prepare the stuff. (Well isn’t that a surprise…..). In some ways it’s a pity, because the next fortnight is going to be dead time – its exams in schools and I can’t do proper inspections – but at least I’ll have a chance to gather myself again. I think all the fuss and preparation for my birthday bash has been more tiring than I thought. Either that or I’m living life just a tad too large at the moment. Now I’m an old man of 61 I suppose I really ought to slow down a bit. On the other hand there’s just too much to see and do while I’m out here in Africa!

Best thing about today – being out in the deepest Rwandan countryside, visiting a school where I’m almost certainly the first muzungu other than Catholic priests ever to set foot in the place…. Now that really is something to be proud of!

Worst thing about today - *@#%*&! Taxi bus drivers who will not get on and drive!

On Wednesday morning Claude tells me I’ve had a lucky escape. During the storm yesterday Cyicaro school was hit by a big bolt of lightning and one pupil has had to be taken to hospital with burns. I think he is still alive. And I think of the long walk back to the bus, under trees, with this storm approaching and getting nearer and nearer…..

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