Thursday, 30 April 2009

Piggies and free lifts

April 28th

Up early, boiling beans for fifteen minutes while I’m trying to eat breakfast! The intention is to cook up a kilo of beans tonight and freeze most of them (but, in true Rwandan fashion, things don’t work out that way). Into the office well before seven to give the internet modem to Claude. He’s standing outside the office looking helpless; turns out he’s left his keys at home and we’re all waiting for either Innocent or Valérian to turn up and let us in. Valérian is late, but Innocent not only turns up on time but gives me a spare key to the big office. (I’ve been moved out of my little office so that it can be used for the “inscriptions candidats libres” – for external candidates to fill in forms, pay their fees and register themselves for the state exams at secondary school level later in the year). Eventually I’ll get the “bureau bazungu” back for myself and Soraya! In the meantime there’s a steady queue of people waiting to register themselves; they congregate outside my window and peer over my shoulder to see what the muzungu is doing in the office.

I hurriedly print off my prompt sheets for inspections, then charge back down to the town centre to go to the bank. I’m waiting for twenty minutes for the bank to open and dodging the cleaner who is swilling buckets of water over the concrete apron outside the building, but at least I’m the first customer and by the time people realise the bank is open I’m served and out of the door. What a contrast to the usual hour long wait….!

In the bus park I meet up with Kerry and we hire motos to take us out to Gikomero. I’m back in Inspector mode, and this time I’m doing a proper Inspection of a primary school. I’m fed up with spending all day in front of a computer: I want to get out into the hills and visit a school. Gikomero is your typical average Rwandan primary. Its results, its buildings, its staff age and experience profile – everything is average.

Kerry is the Australian VSO working at the teacher training college near Kabgayi. The college works a two semester year, and at the moment they are between semesters which means she’s at a loose end for a couple of weeks. While she might be training teachers, she doesn’t get to visit many schools, so she’s jumping at the opportunity to come with me and see a real live primary out in the sticks.

It’s a lovely drive through the Mushubati mountains and down a long lane; by the time we reach the lane the morning mist has risen out of the valleys to meet us and its damn chilly on the pillion of the bike. We pass Gikomero Protestant school and head on another half mile downhill to the catholic primary. There are workmen digging a trench all along the main road to lay fibre optic cables. Rwanda is getting connected to the East African section of the global information highway and when everything is finished the new high speed data link will revolutionise communications here. We will have broadband even in the land of a thousand hills. In the meantime, the land along the Kibuye road is far too steep to use any machinery so the high tech cable to bring Rwanda into the satellite age is being laid by literally hundreds of men sweating away with picks and shovels!

When we reach Gikomero Catholic school the head comes out to welcome us, and we get on with the inspection. Gikomero has a huge site, and grows cassava, maize and peas. They also have five pigs (last year fourteen), so we get taken to see the piggies in their sty. All Celestin’s paperwork is in order, and we have time to chat before going to see some lessons. I’m tickled by the fact that this Catholic primary school runs a family planning club. It turns out that the secteur is demanding that all schools get heavily into family planning, and is a sign that the government is at last getting seriously worried about the burgeoning birth rate. But a family planning club doesn’t sit easily with the Catholic ethos of the school and Celestin is visibly uneasy about talking about it. I wonder how effective the club really is.

The school sits on a hilltop with astounding views in all directions. For 360 degrees you see a panorama of ranges and ranges of hills; near ones rearing up in front of you, with distant greyer ones filling the gaps in the horizon. It’s simply heartbreakingly beautiful, but poor, too – some local children who are too poor to go to school come to stare at us; their clothes are filthy and hanging off them.

I watch an excellent year one English lesson. The woman is teaching “stand up, sit down, open the door, shut the window” etc, and it’s made into an intensely practical experience. All the children are standing up and sitting down like jack-in-the-boxes, and the woman makes a game of the learning. They start by singing a little song in English, and their accents and pronunciation are spot on. She makes children come out and pretend to be the teacher and give instructions, all in English. In this rural backwater it’s heartening to see such a good lesson.

The year five English lesson is a disappointment. The young girl taking the class starts by saying “today we are going to do “indefinite pronouns”. My heart sinks. What in God’s name are indefinite pronouns? I hope she doesn’t ask me to start things off. The woman is nervous and unsure of her material; she keeps consulting her file of notes, but conspicuously doesn’t use the pile of English textbooks on the table in front of her.

We end up covering vocabulary such as “someone/anyone/no one, something/anything/nothing” etc. Most of the children get the idea, but we end up with sentences from children like “What is in my bag? – Nobody is in my bag”. Oops, we need to review this lesson next time!

I’m intending to watch a third lesson before lunchtime, but while I’m walking back to the head’s office for instructions, the heavens open and it pours steadily for half an hour. The lovely landscape disappears in a veil of grey rain, and the earth turns liquid in front of our eyes. Even the fifty yards from Celestin’s office to the nearest classroom block is out of the question in this rain. We stand on the porch of the head’s office, dodging the drips coming down from holes in the roof. The earth road in front of the school becomes a river. You can see stones being rolled over and over in the force of water coming down hill and wearing deep ruts in the road surface. A man and woman pushing a bike heavily laden with potatoes come in from the road and shelter with us. They’re both soaked to the skin, with cheap sandals from which mud and rainwater are oozing with every step. But they’re cheerful and content. Rainwater cascades from the gutters of the head’s office, all over the sacks of spuds on the back of the bike.

Eventually the rain stops and the neighbouring hills reappear through the murk. Kerry and I take our leave and walk up through the long lane to the main road, with the usual tail of children following us. As we pass the Protestant schools we see two muzungus on motor bikes – it turns out that Michael and Tina have decided to visit the Prot school today, so unbeknown to us there have been two other VSOs working within half a mile of us. Michael and Tina have ordered motos to take them home. Cheapskates me and Kerry are going to walk to the main road and wait for a matata. All along the road people speak to us – adults, children, singly or in groups. Interestingly, nobody asks us for money. One muzungu on foot is a rarity; two are going to be a talking point for the rest of the day!

And when we reach the main road, wait for a matata is exactly what we do – we stand by the roadside for nearly forty minutes. The only vehicle that passes going in our direction is a lorry, and lorries never pick up passengers. Two small children stand and gawp for a good twenty minutes. They are both carrying the prickly tops of pineapples, but we can’t work out why. Eventually a pickup truck appears. I flag it down, and the two men give us a lift to the middle of Gitarama. The two men are going to Kigali with what looks like a truckful of charcoal. They are intrigued as to what two muzungus are doing in the middle of the countryside, so we explain (or at least I do; Kerry doesn’t speak much French). I offer the men money to buy a fanta in payment for our ride, but they refuse all money – the first time that’s ever happened to me in Rwanda!

We eat in “Tranquillité” and I go back to the Office. Emmanuelle has phoned me about the missing census sheets for Shyogwe, and I think she’s saying she’ll bring them in during the afternoon. Needless to say this doesn’t happen. I’m also missing data for Musambagiro school. I know the school must exist, but I have no phone number and no contact information for it. I even have its maternelle statistics, but the primary school figures seem to have disappeared into a black hole. I know there must be information to come, because the secteur rep’s “synthese” for Kibangu secteur doesn’t match my figures, and it appears I’m about 200 children short. I’ll have to get their phone number from Claude tomorrow.

I get all the secteur summary sheets of census information to check back at home. The secteur reps have done summaries for their patches, and I need to see if my figures agree with theirs. As I’m leaving the office a “Horizon” bus is just leaving outside the building. It stops, and I’m invited in. Inside is Nadine, the booking clerk from Gitarama, and the local manager. They recognise me as a regular customer and give me a lift back to the middle of town. I think that’s really lovely – two free lifts in one day. I’m clearly becoming something of a fixture in this town!

Back at the flat, as the second thunderstorm of the day bangs and crashes around us, I try matching up my census figures with those of the secteur reps. Most of them tally, but two are miles out and I’ll need to spend a lot of time combing back through the information to see who is right and who has made mistakes.

All afternoon the phone has been ringing. Kersti wants information about a VSO working at the holocaust information centre in Kigali. Becky, the new Canadian volunteer, rings to say she isn’t allowed out of Kigali for the time being, so can’t come and stay with us. Jenny, the VSO on leave from Eritrea, rings to say she’s in Kigali with a friend and can she come to stay for a couple of days. Hayley rings to say the girls now have a second “couch surfer” guest and do Tom and I want to join them for evening meal tonight at Nectar.

I try ringing the head at Gasave school which I want to inspect tomorrow. I get through to him but there’s so much background noise I can’t understand what he’s saying to me. Either he’s in the middle of a noisy party, or he’s on a bus with everyone having to shout their conversations over each other. That’s twice in one afternoon I’ve had conversations in French with headteachers without really being able to understand what they’re saying to me. It’s getting a bit worrying. Is my hearing going, or my French? My ability to understand Kinyarwanda French doesn’t seem to be improving much with time, which is a bit disheartening.

Needless to say, I never get round to writing up my Gikomero inspection report. We eat at “Nectar” and it’s late when we get home. Tom and the two couch surfer boys – Steve and another Tom – are going to the Orion club for more drinks. I’m a tired little soul and more than ready for bed. Inspection report, cooking beans, ringing schools – they’ll all have to wait for tomorrow. After all, this is Africa not England. There’s always another day.

I’m trying to plan what I’m going to do at the weekend. We have Friday off (Labour Day), so it’s a three day break, and I ought to do some travelling. Tina is already committed to going to Nyungwe, and Joe from Nyamasheke is going to Butare, so most of my planned excursions are not on. Épi isn’t sure what she’s doing; it would be a good time to do a painting party at her house if she’s serious. Or perhaps the two Eritrean girls would like to come to Kibuye for some R and R by the lakeside? Oh well, that’s also going to be tomorrow’s problem.

Best thing about today – going out into the countryside to do a school.

Worst thing – not being able to get all the follow up work done. I’m creating a lot of loose ends.

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