Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Rugendabari - an Anglican primary up-country

Classrooms at Rugendabari Anglican primary school. Thirty five kilometres from Gitarama across the mountains, and light years from the policy makers in KIgali!

Lessons in progress.

Some of Rugendabari's children outside the years 1 and 2 classrooms. If you blow this up to full size you can see the cross and the word "azimuka" - condemned building.

This is the priest's house which joins on to the school; the church is just behidn the school buildings.

The school stands on a bleak and exposed site in the mountains. There are few trees and when it rains the children must get soaked to the skin going to and from school. It's a good job they're such a hardy crowd!

The Anglican church at Rugendabari - listed for demolition before it has even been finished!

Rugendabari scenery

More Rugendabari scenery.

Signpost to the school. My life is being made much easier because the District has decreed that all schools should have a "panneau" to indicate where they are.

Rural roads - fortunately in dry weather!

The river Nyaborongo from the road to Rugendabari

The river Nyaborongo from the road to Rugendabari

All roads in Rwanda are twisty; you follow this road as it loops roudn the mountainside.

Rural road in the dry season. This is almost exactly the spot where Becky and I had to abandon our visit to another Rugendabari school a week or so ago due to torrential rain and slippery mud.

Looney Tuesday

May 26th

OK, I’ve decided not to go out to a school today despite the weather being reasonable. There’s too much else to do. I’m going to work at home all morning, and go into town in the afternoon.

That plan lasts for all of 30 minutes. At half past seven Delphine is at the door. She’s been rejected from the job interview she had yesterday because her computer keyboard skills aren’t good enough. She’s too slow. She’s spent the night at an aunt’s place in Gitarama and has come to talk to me before going home to Rutarabana, because I’m the muzungu who knows all the answers and can do anything…... And she’s full of cold, too. I give her an hour on my laptop and it’s clear that all she needs is plenty of time to get used to where the keys are. (It’s not quite as simple as that; there are differences in the keyboard layout between English and continental computers, and differences again with American and Arabic ones. Also, she’s typing in English with many unfamiliar words, and it would be like you or I trying to word process up to speed but in Kinyarwanda or some other obscure African language). After forty minutes or so she’s had enough, and so have I – I’ve got things I need to do. Then I discover she’s running a temperature so I dose her up with paracetamol and give her a couple of strepsils and send her on her way back home to get some rest.

Up to work via the post office (no mail for anyone, which is rare these days). While I’m walking I get a phone call from Michael asking me if I know whether Jan, Geert’s friend, is coming on today’s flight from Brussels. The answer is no – I haven’t got a clue. All I got was the message that he’d missed his flight on Saturday and would come as and when he could.

Claude’s in the office despite being officially on leave, and I decide to stay there and work till lunchtime. Claude seems to be working from home and only coming in to the office for unavoidable emergencies. He won’t be able to afford to go away for a holiday in the same way that you and I would, and it isn’t in Rwandan culture to do that. (It would be tantamount to signalling to all his extended family that he had plenty of cash to spare and was ripe to tap for a massive loan). By lunchtime I’ve got the analysis done for all the nursery schools that have sent their census sheets in – there are around twelve who are remiss. I prise the internet modem from Védaste and along the way I get asked to help solve a problem on his laptop. The machine won’t recognise his flash drive, and the whole computer is running so slowly you could make a cup of tea between each key stroke. The answer is obvious – the thing needs defragging and he needs to get rid of a lot of the junk he’s put on the hard drive. Unfortunately there’s a fault on the screen which means that only about two thirds of the screen is visible, and neither he nor I can get the defragging icon in the right place on the screen to set it going. I know exactly what he needs to do, but it’ll take someone more patient or savvy than me to actually do it. I get some of my own internetting done, but then the network goes down and everything comes to a halt. Next there’s a power cut at the District Office, so they all go off for lunch early. I’m using my laptop, and I have a couple of hours’ battery life in it so I carry on till I’ve finished the census work I set myself.

Soraya’s been waiting a day and a half for the executive secretary to sign and stamp her “order de mission” – the permission slip from our District which gives her permission to be away for a fortnight to do this Mineduc training. Trying to pin down the Exec Sec is like nailing jelly to the wall. While we’re thinking what to do next Charlotte comes in from Kigali; she’s come to see Becky and get her installed in her house, and then go on to see other volunteers. Solange tells us her baby is due in October, and that Claudine has had a little boy and all’s well with mother and baby. Solange has been to see her. I haven’t the heart to tell her today that I’m on the warpath because I discovered yesterday at Rugendabari that most of the teachers haven’t been paid for April. That little muddle will wait until Thursday.

Back to the flat for lunch. On the way there’s almost a tragedy. A little girl who goes to the Ahazaza nursery has adopted me as her “muzungu uncle” and whenever we pass in the street she runs to me for a hug and a cuddle. I don’t normally see her other than early in the mornings, but today, just by chance, she’s on her way home with the domestique at the same time as I’m walking into town. If I see her in the distance I always cross to her side of the road for safety’s sake. Today I’m not expecting her and so I don’t notice her until the last minute. But she’s certainly seen me. She breaks free from the domestique and launches herself across the road, straight into the path of a moto. The moto is haring along, doing the usual Rwandan thing of squirting his horn at anyone and everyone and assuming they’ll all hear him and get out of the way. Unfortunately using your horn isn’t effective here. Everyone is hooting all the time, so it’s a continuous noise and everyone ignores it. Happily she is hit by the footrest of the moto rather than being smacked full on. The latter would certainly have killed her. As it is she’s flipped up into the air and lands straight onto the tarmac with a horrible crack on her head. She has a cut on her forehead, scrapes all down her leg, and within seconds she has an enormous swelling above her eye. The moto driver flees. He probably doesn’t have a licence. His passenger comes across and shouts at the domestique for letting the child free. Within ten seconds we have about fifteen people around us. Nobody is actually helping; they’re all standing around watching. In my rucksack I keep an antiseptic wipe, so I clean up the little girl. So far as I can see she’s been amazingly lucky; she’s got a scraped leg, a small cut on her forehead, and she’ll have the granddaddy of all black eyes tomorrow. But it would have been absolutely horrible if she’d been killed while running across the road to see me.

As I get close to the flat I’m overtaken by Hayley on her moto. I invite her and Charlotte for lunch and we warm up a batch of homemade soup. Charlotte rummages through our VSO cookbook and finds recipes using tofu, which she quickly scribbles down to use tonight.

In the afternoon I get my two inspection reports done, for Nyabisindu and Rugendabari. Then it’s down to the bank to get money for Catherine’s visit, and all round the market. Carrots are very feeble at the moment; I think it’s the beginning of the new season and they’re small and expensive (but tasty). Tomatoes are good value at the moment, and I get three ridiculously big avocadoes for RwF100 (12p). Also a kilo of dried beans for 24p.

While I’m doing my rounds a moto comes to a halt besides me. On it is Emmanuel, the new education chargé from Shyogwe Diocese. I don’t know how he knows me, but clearly he does. And it’s very confusing because the man he’s replaced is another Emmanuel…. This Emmanuel-the-Chargé also wants to know whether Jan is flying in from Brussels today; the Diocese will pick him up from the airport if he’s on today’s plane. I’ve left my phone at home charging, so I say I’ll have to ring Geert to see if he knows, and then ring Emmanuel at the Diocese office.

As luck would happen I manage to get through to Geert easily, and yes, Jan is on today’s plane. So I quickly phone Shyogwe and tell them to get up to the airport before Jan decides nobody’s meeting him and hires a taxi. Honestly; everybody seems to expect me to know everything these days!

Just as I’m thinking about peeling veg (Tom’s working late again) there’s another knock on the door, and it’s Becky, who has come to use our shower. She’s been moving her things into her new house all day and its hot work. There’s still no water at Soraya’s place, and after three days without rain there are big puddles a hundred yards up the road from the girls’ house, so it looks like a pipe has broken under the weight of overladen lorries. The roof work on Becky’s house isn’t finished, but the place is just about habitable. The roof isn’t today’s problem. The previous tenant hasn’t moved out yet. His stuff is all in one room, and he works in Kigali so won’t be back until after dark. Becky’s not prepared to stay overnight in a house with a strange bloke, so she’s spending tonight with Soraya and co. She’s locked all her stuff away and we just have to hope it’ll stay secure until this bloke can be removed. (It’s very Rwandan to stay until you’re absolutely forced out; that way you save a few night’s accommodation fees and there’s always the chance you can persuade or force the new tenant to accept you as a lodger). But wouldn’t you think that the owner’s agent would have made sure this man had removed himself?

We learn some more interesting things. The front door has a lock on it, but there’s a side door which doesn’t have any means of securing it. It needs a good bolt. The hole in one room’s ceiling is not water damage, but the result of a break in where somebody actually smashed their way through the roof tiles and then down through the plasterboard ceiling to try to steal stuff from inside the house. Just in case it happens again we decide that that particular room will only be used as a last resort, and the door locked when it’s not in use. I like that – if someone breaks in they’ll be trapped in the room and unable to escape. Becky will certainly need a guard to look after the house because it’s right in the middle of town, and a muzungu woman living on her own will make a tempting target for our local thieves. I don’t think for one minute she’ll be in any physical danger, but the frequency of theft and muggings is very much on the increase.

I walk Becky back to the girls’ house and collect a flash drive from Hayley. Michael’s still got my big drive, and Védaste, god bless him, borrowed my other one this morning for ten minutes but still hasn’t returned it.

Our evening meal is another really huge and tasty treat. I’ve bought sausage to add to the remains of last night’s chicken dinner; we pile in more veg and heat the thing thoroughly. We eat so much we can barely move afterwards!

Best thing about today – well, like I said, I haven’t been out to a school but I’ve certainly got a lot of stuff done.

Worst thing – everyone seems to be in the wars – not getting jobs, full of cold and temperature, not knowing whether someone’s arriving; seeing someone getting run over right in front of your eyes; problems with Becky’s house and its security. Oh and, to cap the lot, Hayley’s covered in flea bites and she thinks we might have fleas in our chairs. Tom and I aren’t getting bitten, and the seat covers are PVC so I can’t think any self respecting flea would find anywhere to live on plastic, but you never know here. It’s a case of sort of look to see if the chairs are jumping at you before you yourself jump on the chair….

Oh God, it’s time for bed!

Rugebdabari - the school due for demolition

May 25th

Today dawns bright and sunny and clear, and I’m off up-country. I ring up Rugendabari primary, which is an Anglican school about 33km up towards the wilds of Nyabinoni. It’s almost next door to the school where Becky and I were rained off last week, but today’s weather couldn’t be more different. Despite the sun, there’s a chilly wind blowing, and I’m still full of cold. I’m mighty glad of my fleece on the bike.

We climb up through the mountains and descend again on the other side. There’s valley mist, occasionally rising to meet us on the road, and good views but not so clear that I can see the volcanoes in the distance. The Rwandan volcanoes really are shy beasts!

The earth road towards Kirwa which defeated us last time is no problem today; it is simply a jarring, spine crunching ride over ruts and ridges. You can see where vehicles trying to struggle through last week’s mud have completely ploughed up the smooth earth surface the District so painstakingly laid last year, and reduced the road to its usual rubbish state. It begins to look as though the dry season may have finally arrived this weekend, and none too soon, either!

Neither the moto driver nor I have any definite idea where the school is; fortunately it is well signposted. We leave the “main” dirt road along the Nyaborongo valley and take off steeply uphill. The road surface deteriorates even more, with bands of rock outcropping which shake us all about.

I start noting that every house seems to have a cross painted on it and the word “azimuka”. House after house after house – every house alongside the road. The only time I’ve seen this sort of thing before is on the road from Ruhengeri to Gisenyi where it was to indicate that the houses were due for demolition as part of the road widening and improvement process. Well, up here in the back of beyond there’s no risk that they might be on the point of installing a tarmac road, so it’s all a bit of a mystery.

But the mystery turns rather sinister when we finally get to the school and we find that every single building in the school also has the cross and “azimuka” painted on it. Now surely they can’t be proposing to demolish the school? Then I see that the church – not yet completed and built rather shoddily of mud blocks, and with scaffolding still surrounding it - also has the cross and “azimuka” legend. And finally, what I take to be a small classroom adjoining the school has the sign, too. It turns out that this building is the priest’s house.

As I write this blog entry – on Monday night – I haven’t managed to confirm what “azimuka” means with a Kinyarwanda speaker, but it looks almost certain that it indicates the places are due for demolition. I can understand the church being condemned: in the 2008 earthquakes the highest death toll was where churches collapsed on their congregations in the middle of Sunday service (the big quake came at about ten o’clock on a Sunday morning). The government introduced new building regulations for churches. This church at Rugendabari looks a very flimsy structure, built on the cheap by the impoverished parishioners. But the school? The buildings at Rugendabari are no worse than in many other schools I’ve visited, and actually better than, say, Muhazi and Rutarabana. And why so many houses? – for an entire kilometre up the mountainside there’s barely a house which has escaped. Some of the houses seem strongly built and certainly no more suspect than the average dwelling here. (Remember that very many houses in Rwanda are built by their owners with help from relatives and friends, especially in the countryside. It’s really rare for someone in a place as remote as Rugendabari to pay a professional builder to put up a house for them unless the slope is so severe that the foundations need expert handling).

Oh dear – this “azimuka” business has given me a big, big problem. The reason for coming out to Rugendabari was precisely because it is the nearest Anglican primary that I haven’t yet visited, and hence a prime candidate for a water tank. Even better; when I arrive I find that there is no existing water tank, no tap, and no source of water anywhere close. The school sits on a very bleak and exposed spur of mountain with lovely views, but to get water means a long trek down into the valley up and down a 40 degree angle slope. Children have to bring their own water to school in little jerry cans or washed out cooking oil pots. It would make the ideal place to install our Bradpole tank.

What makes taking a decision even more difficult is that we know that in the cases of condemned buildings it is usually impossible to get any definite answer as to when the place will be demolished. It may be imminent; it may not happen for years until the place is so run down that it effectively dismantles itself. The Anglican church can’t afford anything at all, and certainly it can’t afford to rebuild an entire school. (Remember that at Shyogwe it let one block get into such a state that the roof collapsed, fortunately not during a period when pupils were in the rooms below). The District won’t want to demolish and rebuild the school; all its money will be needed to make more classrooms for the tronc commun sections over the next two years. Similarly I can’t see funds coming from Central Government in Kigali. So that means one of two things. Either a foreign charity will suddenly arrive with bucketfuls of cash and do the job properly, or the school will limp along for years until somebody finally gets round to organising a rebuild. I can quite see the District moving in with minimum warning and demolishing the church and all the houses (including the priest’s), we’ve seen that happen in Gitarama town ahead of the President’s visit. There’s no compensation, either. People have to seek their own salvation. Sometimes life in rural Rwanda is unbelievably harsh for these people. Rugendabari is a really poverty stricken area; you can see it in the clothes people wear.

I just don’t know what to do about this blessed water tank. I will try to speak to Emmanuel, the chargé d’éducation for the Shyogwe Diocese, as soon as I can. What I don’t want to happen is to pay a lot of money to get the tank installed, and then for the school to be knocked down within a matter of months and the tank stolen or destroyed in the process. But surely the thing to do is to get the tank installed, because they really do need it, and tell them to use their loaf when the school is rebuilt and make sure they salvage all the pipe work etc and re-install it in the new building. But can I really take that risk; is it fair to those people in Bridport who have worked hard to raise money to pay for the thing? Why is such a simple and obvious thing like putting water tanks into Rwandan schools giving me so many complications?

The head is called Assoumpta, so with a name like that she’s almost certainly a Catholic. The school’s not bad; it’s about a third of the way down the District “league table” in terms of results, and for a school that’s so far out in the wilds that’s not bad at all. Also it’s quite strong on languages, which is very unusual for such a rural set up. I go into four lessons; year 6 Kinyarwanda doesn’t really do much for me; it would help if I knew what was going on in the lesson but I don’t! At least the walls are covered with some very familiar rice sack posters – this teacher came to Cathie’s and my training session last year and there must be half a dozen maps, diagrams and other bits of my creative efforts plastered on the mud brick walls, gathering dust gently and completely irrelevant to the lesson taking place in front of me.

Year 4 science is better, the teacher says everything in English but he’s so keen to make sure the children understand and so that I can report that they really have learnt stuff that he then repeats everything word for word in Kinyarwanda. It all means that he’s talking nineteen to the dozen all lesson and the children’s responses are pretty well just monosyllabic grunts to say “yes, we understand”, whereas in fact they’re just saying it to humour him and there’s no guarantee they’ve learned it at all. They don’t make any notes at all in their books, but I notice that there’s a second science lesson later in the morning and I assume they’ll sort things out during that time. The teacher is trying to teach the human digestive system without any resource material at all except for a wall poster. It’s almost the only time I’ve seen a wall poster being used properly as a teaching aid during my school visits. His vocabulary is surprisingly good, even if his pronunciation is very “Franglish” at times. The only words he really screws up are “to chew”, which he makes sound like “teachar”, and the liver which he pronounces and writes as “silver”. I put him right in my debrief to all the staff at the end of the morning. But he’s a young man, energetic, confident, and just the sort of male role model the young boys need in front of them.

In a year 2 maths class we get excellent English spoken; children are doing division by two. It’s a real rigmarole the way they make the children set things out, and it seems a very long winded way of doing things. We start by reciting our two times table; my God, that takes me back to a primary in Winchester more than fifty years ago! At the end of the lesson she even sets homework and makes it clear that there’ll be hell to pay if it isn’t done by tomorrow!

Finally the young English teacher, a tiny woman, comes in to the same year two class and we do telling the time. I hadn’t realised until I came to Rwandan just how ridiculous the English word “o’clock” is to any foreigner. There’s no logic to it, and it always gives them problems both in speaking it and writing it. (I’ve seen everything from “o’cock” to “locock” “o’cook”). Despite the teacher’s best efforts – and the fact that she is at last using the new English textbooks supplied to all our schools – I question just how much English these pupils understand. The teacher draws three clock faces on the board. We start with the heading “What time is it please?”, which is fair enough. We do the first example on the board. “It is two o’clock”. Then she sets the children to do two more on their own. Chaos ensues. Some of the children think “What time is it please?” is the answer and write it beside each clock face. Others write “It is two o’clock ten” and “It is two o’clock seven”. Or “It is two seven o’clock”. They’re just copying formulae from the board without really understanding what they’re doing. And yet their accents are really good for year 2 boys and girls. Of course, at least one of the kids at the back of the room hasn’t been listening to a word she’s said; this kid is trying to surreptitiously do his maths homework during the English lesson. He gets caught fair and square and disciplined with a smartish clout to his ear, to everyone’s huge amusement. The children here have a habit of trying to write in their little exercise books while holding them up in the air, so they can squint over the top of the book to read what’s on the blackboard more easily. I can see their point, but the result is shocking handwriting which wobbles and spiders all across the page.

At the end of the morning I do a debrief to everyone. It’s not a bad school at all. It doesn’t have a strategic plan, but then if the bloody place is threatened with demolition and no prospect of rebuilding it’s a bit rich to say you must have set targets for the next five years….. Will we still exist in five years’ time?

Back on the moto and I try to do a quick sweep of pictures before I leave so that I’ve got something to show you all back in Dorset (see separate picture essay on the blog).

It’s a lovely run back to the Office. I collect Soraya and we go for lunch at “One Love” to see what their lunchtime menu is like. Answer – a lot more expensive than “Tranquillité” and the meat is still half gristle. I can’t see what Tinks thinks is so good about this place, and nor can Soraya. Perhaps we’ve just caught it on a bad day, or chosen the wrong thing on the menu.

Back at the flat I get some work done, then Hayley and Charlotte come to collect tofu and bread which we’re keeping for them in our freezer. When Tom gets back we cook up a massive evening meal. It’s our “Bank Holiday” feast. Garlic bread with tomato salsa as a starter. Fresh chicken stew with our bird from Momma’s – meaty, tender and with far more flavour than your Tesco flabby white offerings – in a coq au vin sauce; then strawberry coulis with yoghourt added. (We’ve decided that we need to boil Delphine’s strawberries or we’ll get sick; and freezing strawberries seems to reduce them virtually to pulp anyway). We only use half of the tub of berries; we might try an improved trifle version tomorrow.

It’s SO NICE to have our water back on at last.

Best thing about today – everything. A thoroughly good day and a classic example of all the best things about my work out here as a VSO.

Worst thing – while I’ve been out at Rugendabari Delphine’s been doing a test in the District Office to see if she’s suitable for a job there. She rings late evening to say she was OK (just) on her English but failed on her computer skills. So will I help her with her computing? Yes, of course I will if I can fit it in around everything else I need to do. Once again, the situation she’s in shows you just how difficult it is for a reasonably bright youngster from the deepest countryside to better themselves here in Rwanda. All through lower secondary school she was taught computing as a theoretical lesson, in a school without electricity and without computers, and with the whole subject being taught from drawings on a smudgy blackboard. She had a couple of years in a school with a handful of computers, shared one machine between about fifteen kids. Now she’s had a two year period without really touching a keyboard at all. Is there any wonder that kids like her fail the tests, and get frustrated and negative about their chances of every improving themselves?

The "Church of Momma"

See Blog for May 24th. "Momma" is Arlene, a formidable American who runs the Urukundu 0orphanage in Gitarama. Tom and I go to their Sunday service, run by and for the children in the orphanage. Here we're all standing and singing a chorus.

Here the choir - and that means just about every child from six years and older - is singing for us.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Rained off in Rugandabari

Well, the view isn't bad, but this is the point at which we admitted defeat. We're both soaked through and it's a good job you can't see how muddy our feet are!

This is Becky looking surprisingly chipper considering her first visit to a Rwandan school has ended in disaster....

Tinks' Gitarama Pub Crawl

May 24th

Off to Momma’s house church on motos on a beautiful morning; what a pity it isn’t a working day because I’d be off to visit a school like a shot! Becky comes with us; her first encounter with Momma and the orphanage. When we get there we find that Momma’s been left yet another infant; this time a two week old little girl. It’s just like Victorian England; babies are left on their doorstep, left with the Police; left at the District Office. Momma’s had a policy in the past of not accepting children under about seven years old, but the demand is so great that she’s having to redraw her boundaries and accept these tiny tots. That in turn means alterations to rooms in the orphanage and building a new block. I really don’t know where all the money comes from , but it does, and there never seems to be any shortage of people willing to work for her.

The service isn’t as good as previous ones for me; we have an outside speaker who doesn’t make any concessions to the fact that he’s got an audience of children, and he harangues them just like the preachers in the evangelical churches around. It’s just not necessary. If he’d only look and think he’d be amazed by these children. They prepare mini sermons without any adult help; they fight each other to be able to preach and to lead the worship; they extemporise prayers at the drop of a hat; they sing and dance and make up their own hymns as a bunch. They fight to be in the choir. In terms of public speaking and confidence in addressing groups of people I’ve never seen anything like it from children so young, and it certainly knocks spots off almost anything we do in England with this age group.

After the service we buy a chicken from Momma, and back at the flat we joint it and cook up the carcase for stock. Becky stays with us for lunch which is a finishing up affair of all the old things in the fridge and food cupboard.

I suddenly remember that today is our wedding anniversary and after a couple of abortive tries I manage to get through to Teresa who’s in the middle of a shopping mall in Kent. Not the most romantic of communications but at least I can genuinely say I didn’t forget. Whew!!!

By now it’s gone one o’clock and the pub crawl is starting. The whole event has been meticulously planned and timed by Kerry. We start in the “Green Garden” and immediately fall behind schedule because we’re waiting for food to arrive. No matter; it’s nice to have both Berthe with us from Gatagara, and Ruairi from Gisagara (I’m glad I’m not having to write these names after a lot of drinks!), and we catch up on their gossip.

After the “Green Garden” we go to the “Plateau Bar” and Hayley comes to join us; she’s just back from Kigali after watching our people do the marathon. All our three runners finished, and no doubt they’re either drunk or exhausted so there’s not much point in contacting them to ask them how it went. We can’t go on to “La Planète” because it has shut at short notice, so we breeze down to “Nectar” just as it gets dark. Michael comes to join us, and we say goodbye to Berthe and Ruairi who are both travelling back down south this evening to their own homes.

While we’re in Nectar we text or phone all the non-VSO friends who often come to join us, and tell them to meet us in “One Love”. That’s after we’ve been to “Tranquillité” and caused mayhem in the rondavel. A Rwandan couple are trying to have a quiet Sunday evening meal, but we’re all in full swing and there are around twelve of us left. We launch into our own version of a Pub Quiz where somebody asks a question and the person who gets it right then asks the next. It gets very, very noisy and it’s absolutely not in the Rwandan cultural tradition…..

At “One Love” we order food; one good thing about the Pub Crawl idea is that everybody moves around at each venue so we’re sitting with different people each time and talking to them. I’m next to Christi and it seems ages since we last spoke to each other – we’ve both been busy during the weeks and the weekends too. I’m not over impressed by “One Love’s food”; my brochettes are half gristle. We’ll give it a try one lunchtime and see how things go.

By the time we finish at “One Love” it’s getting late and some people drop out to go to bed. The rest of us traipse down to “Orion” for the final stand of the night; we’ve already decided to miss out “Hotel Splendide”, and the rooftop café never even got considered…

It’s eleven before we tumble out of “Orion” and head home. The stars are fuyll out, and so many street lamps are off that you can see a good display of stars even in Gitarama town centre. Back at the flat we still don’t have any water; word on the street is that some important pump has broken at the reservoir and Electrogaz, of course, doesn’t have a spare in stock so everything must wait until business hours tomorrow (Monday).

It’s been a really good evening; good socially and without anyone going over the top. We’ve decided to eat at “Hotel Spendide” on Wednesday so that Catherine can meet as many of the group as we can rustle up; Tinks is also doing a pizza evening in Kigali on Friday but some of us will be swanning around Lake Kivu by then…..

Cafe culture in Kigali

May 23rd

Into Kigali today for a Volcom meeting. I’m chairing it, so I need to read through all the paperwork and be prepared. I get into town early and go to the “Simba” café to get something to drink and familiarise myself with the draft new Volunteer Handbook, which is what we’re going to be putting together this morning. Christiane and Sabine are already there, and eventually we drift up separately to the “Karibu” café for our meeting. We all order more drinks and get started on the meeting. We have a review of the emergency evacuation test last week (some vols are saying that they weren’t told at the start of the phone call that “this is a test message” and some of them thought for a while that it was the real thing and we were all being evacuated out of the country.

We’re getting things stolen from the library pigeonholes in our VSO office in Kigali, and we want to ask for a safe room where we can store stuff, including suitcase and rucksacks. Charlotte stuns us by saying they’re planning some large scale alterations in our programme office. The kitchen will move upstairs, and not only will we get a secure store room but also a couple of rooms where we can have mattresses or even beds and put people up cheaply, if not for free. (It costs VSO a bomb to bring some of us up to Kigali for meetings).

I raise the issue of vols coming “out of synch” with the main groups; Becky’s had a wretched start to her time in Rwanda and I want to make sure nobody else has to endure the endless confusions and passings from one person to the next which have dogged her start.

When it comes to the Volunteer Handbook we discover that we don’t have copies of the revised version to look at. There’s no point in our talking without them. Several of us have tried to proof read the handbook and sort out all the typos; it doesn’t make sense to do it all again. So we agree that Amina will email us all copies of the revised version; we’ll all look through it during the week and do circular emails to comment.

All this means we finish our meeting very early, and we can sit and make conversation with each other until its time for dinner. The “Karibu” mélanges are not to be missed; they have things like roast cauliflower with cheese cubes, and aubergine stew which we never get in Gitarama.

Suitably bloated after all that lot, we go our separate ways. I’m at a loose end; I’ve got nothing planned but at the same time it seems a shame to rush straight back to Gitarama where there’s also nothing much to do. I ring Kersti and we meet at the “Blues Café” for yet another drink and a good gossip. Here comes the best news of the day – Kersti has definitely got the science teacher post in the new Kigali international school. At last things seem to be going on a roll for her. She’s off home to Europe for a holiday in two weeks, with a wedding to go to as well. We agree to meet up during the time Catherine’s out here with me. Jacob is definitely going to be staying on and teaching in the new school as well; he’s become Kersti’s best ally in the local teaching fraternity, so they’ll be able to support each other. I really want to try to get a copy of the “Contract of Moral Integrity” that all the retained KICS teachers have had to sign. When I put it on this blog you readers simply won’t believe how intrusive and irrelevant it is, and how it wouldn’t stand up for five minutes against a typical European country’s anti discrimination legislation.

Last night was the KICS school prom; Kersti went and enjoyed herself; a lot of the children there are beginning to realise just how many of their better teachers won’t be there next year and they’re getting fearful for their exam chances.

Kersti’s out on the town tonight with Irene, Leah and Nidhi. That’s one hell of a combination of girl power; Kigali men are going to be reduced to mincemeat. She goes off to meet them, and I drift around until I end up in the “Bourbon” café. Here I’m meeting up with Tina and Sarah. Tina’s almost completely recovered from her illness, but Épi’s gone down with it. We agree that Tina and I would definitely prefer to put off our “Zanzi-Tan” trip until the end of the year. It will be cheaper then, and we won’t be pressed for time in the same way as we will be in July. Soraya is equally happy with July or November. The unknown quantity is Épi, especially if she gives up VSO and gets a teaching job in either KICS or the new International School. She’s so difficult to get hold of; I must persist, though, because it wouldn’t be fair to make decisions without her and which would possibly exclude her.

By now its late afternoon and all I’ve done today is hung around in cafes. No matter, I’ve met lots of people and caught up on a lot of gossip (most of which can’t be posted on a public blog!!)

Back to Gitarama on a bus; all these late afternoon ones now go on from the town centre to Kabgayi, and I get dropped outside my front door. Can’t be bad!

Tom’s trying to make an enormous tomato salsa; it calls for five pints of tomatoes and we haven’t got anything like that amount. He adds some vinegar to stretch things a bit, and the result looks for all the world like my mum’s red tomato chutney. It’s also got a kick like a horse! We make a lovely guacamole from an avocado which is so fresh and ripe it’s like a pound of butter wrapped in a fruit skin, and watch films or try to concentrate on writing blogs until bed time.

I’m still spluttering and sneezing and feeling vaguely sorry for myself, but at least the electricity’s holding out. The water pressure, though, is so low that using the tap is a real pain.

Best thing about today – café culture. Simba, Karibu, Blues Café and Bourbon. Café latte, thê africain; water and coffee – today I’ve had the lot.

May 21st – 22nd

Very little to report for these two days. Into the office early, and working on the census. I’ve got all the data entered into the computer and I’m producing summaries of everything from the age structure of the staff to details of which children are having to repeat years. As usual the raw data is in chaos – if schools find a question difficult to answer they just leave it out. There are at least five different versions of the census form, all slightly different in the questions they ask; schools invariably lose the form they’ve been sent by the District and make a shabby photocopy of an old one. Some schools have sent in the same information twice, but with slightly different figures on each. Some tell me exactly how many latrines they’ve got; others just say “yes” to the questions about toilets. So while everyone wants me to be absolutely 100% accurate, it ain’t gonna happen like that. The only figure which is very close to accurate is the total number of children, because their capitation grants are based on these numbers.

The weather is uniformly cold and grey, always with the threat of heavy rain. I can’t go up country at the moment, and I’ve made a decision to concentrate on statistics until Catherine comes.

One break arrives on Thursday morning. Moira is very interested in the “Centre de Rattrappage” (catch-up centre) at Nyabisindu school, and I arrange with Jeanne for us to visit. When we roll up they’ve forgotten about us, and it transpires that there’s only one of the three rattrappage classes there today, and they’re doing a test. Moira rearranges for next Monday, but I want to do a dipstick inspection of the tronc commun section, so I go into two classes. There’s a biology session which is going into great detail of the reproductive systems of plants. It’s all in English, but dull without illustrations. Needless to say there’s no electricity and no computers, even though the school has electric wiring and light fitting installed by the parents in the hope that one day current will arrive. After all, this school is barely half a mile from the District office; in fact it’s the closest secondary school to the Office.

Back at the office there are boxes and boxes of tronc commun science textbooks lying around awaiting delivery to the schools. I put a bomb behind Valérian, saying it’s completely unacceptable that here we are, five months into the new tronc commun schools’ existence, and not a single one has a textbook. When we open the boxes of books we discover they’re all in French……. They must have been ordered from the printers just a few weeks before Kigali made the decision that all teaching was to be in English.

This puts us in something of a quandary. I want to distribute the books and tell the school to get on and use them – surely textbooks in French are better than no textbooks at all. But on the other hand the teachers and pupils are making enormous strides in coping with learning in English; it might send all the wrong messages and cause confusion if we send them books with all the technical words in French.

We ponder for a while, but in the event the decision is taken out of our hands. Word has reached the tronc commun heads via the bush telegraph that there are science books in the Office, and heads start arriving from all quarters of the District to claim their share.

By two o’clock in the afternoon on both days I’ve got square eyes from the computer screen, and I walk back home and take an hour off to go to the market and such like. I plan to do all sorts of cooking in the evening, but we have a series of power cuts first thing in the morning and all evening. Tom’s working very late indeed on Thursday, so it’s just me and the guard to cook for. I manage to get the meal done before its dark; then I have a fit of inspiration and decide to make a big bath of soup to freeze ready for next week. I’ve just got half the veg chopped up ready to cook, and the saucepan boiling and with a few things in it, when the power goes off and we’re in pitch dark. Now then, fine chopping with a sharp knife isn’t something you relish doing in torchlight, so I turn off the gas, stuff all the half prepared veg in the fridge, and retire to bed with a candle and my iPod. I hate evenings without power; there’s nothing much to do. You can do some reading with a wind up torch, but it gets boring after a bit.

I’ve got a nasty head cold which I can’t shake off; it turns out that half of Rwanda has the same thing. It’s been so cold and wet these last few weeks that everyone’s been caught out; temperatures have been below those in England, and when we’re sitting still working at a computer screen in our office we get really chilled.

So by half past eight, or nine o’clock at the latest, I’m tucked up in bed and going to sleep in disgust at a world without electricity, without water in the taps; a world which is cold and wet, and with a runny nose and a headache. Life could be better.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Number crunching once more

May 20th

Funny day today – successful and productive but not in the way I had planned. Into the office early and I ring up Mushishiro school to try to visit it. Once again, the head puts me off, saying she’s away again today. The weather is fine; it’s a good day to be out of the office. But when I try to find an alternative I’m a bit stuck – I’m trying to keep a reserve of schools which aren’t too far away so that I can use them while Catherine’s here. I don’t want to inflict on her a long run up country, especially if there’s still going to be a risk of heavy rain while she’s around.

So in the end I decide to spend the day in the office, getting down to the statistical analysis. Claude comes in briefly; but – guess – he’s forgotten the computer modem and left it at home. Oh yeah !

I spend a busy morning and get heavily into my work. Some more census sheets have appeared during the past few days but nobody has thought to tell me. The highlight of the day is when the final primary one; the one I’ve been waiting for all the last fortnight, finally turns up. The head brings it in and apologises profusely. I’m still missing lots of maternelles and secondaries; I give Valérian my list of missing maternelles and ask him to get on to them.

I meet the new head teacher of Nyabitare school (when I visited it last week the head had run away at Easter and there was nobody to take control) and he seems pleasant enough. It’s coming to something when the muzungu in the District Office is the person who knows who everyone is and where everything is kept and how to go about getting things….. What a difference a year makes!

Soraya and a lot of the gang are gearing up for the big MINEDUC training scheme on Thursday and Friday of next week. I’ve formally dropped out because I can’t combine doing it with looking after Catherine. They’ve postponed this course twice and I’ve altered my arrangements both times to accommodate them, but as usual the latest announcement comes at such short notice that a lot of people have arrangements which they can’t change.

During the day VSO tests its emergency evacuation routine; we get a phone call to check that they really do have our contact numbers and can get messages through quickly in case of emergency. The drill is that you make sure you have your passport and any other essential paperwork on you; you pack up your immediate possessions and wait for a call to say you go to the nearest safe house. For us in Gitarama that means Soraya’s place, a couple of hundred yards away. We are supposed to wait there until we can be evacuated to Kigali. Seeing as there’s eight of us in Gitarama (nine when Becky moves into her house) they’ll need something the size of a taxibus to get us all out in one go. Then we’d be put up in a hotel in Kigali until we can be flown out.

Thankfully this is all just a drill; there’s no problem and no real threat to our safety. Swine flu may be raging around the world, but few people here have pigs because they are too poor; likewise they are way too poor to travel around and catch the disease on holiday in places like Mexico. The real risk to Rwandans is from expatriates like us who are just arriving in the country after travelling round the globe.

I have lunch with Soraya at “Tranquillité”; there’s a big bunch of young Americans there. I think they’re another of these groups coming over for a very short period to work in orphanages or something similar. They look very lost and speak virtually no Kinyarwanda whereas we can order our food and ask for things like salt and extra this and that quite fluently between us!

Soraya and a group of girls are doing a big training weekend up in Kiyumba secteur this weekend; I was supposed to be going there as well but it always happens that when there’s a training arranged it clashes with other things. I’m committed to the VSO volunteer committee this Saturday, and people like Moira and Kerry are at a bit of a loose end while they wait for the next training college semester to start, so they’re only too pleased to get a chance to go up country. I forget just how much “out and about” work I do, and how many of my colleagues are stuck in the same place day in, day out.

By the end of the day I’ve calculated the key “big figure” – the total number of primary pupils in the District. This comes to over 72,000. When you add the maternelles, the tronc commun secondaries and the older all-through secondaries you’re looking at 100,000 pupils aged from five to their late twenties. That’s quite a responsibility! The attrition rate in primary schools is still as bad as ever. We have over 17000 in year one; but year six is down to 6500. Thousands and thousands of children are still dropping out of school to go to work, especially the boys.

It’s nice to be back in my own office; I get very few interruptions now. I’m even getting mail coming addressed to the “bureau bazungu”, which I think is really cool.

Playing postman, and crossed wires at Kamonyi

May 19th

Into the office for seven; I leave Becky at the flat. She’ll go up to Kamonyi this morning and try to get on with some work there. It will take her mind off the housing issue for a day and give VSO time to make decisions. We tell her that when she gets to Kamonyi she’ll get down to some immediate practical things – get lists of all the schools and the names and numbers of their Directeurs; try to get a map of where the schools are; ring Syriac, the one Directeur she’s already met and who knows me, and arrange with him to go out and visit some of the schools she’ll be directly working with.

In the office I’m met by Jacqueline, the tronc commun Directeur from Cyeza school. She wants to talk to me about the water tank. Suddenly everyone’s trying to put water tanks into schools. An Italian organisation has come to the priest at Cyeza and offered him three million francs to put in a tank (my maximum is two million). She wants to know whether I’m happy to put both sums of money together and install two tanks; she has detailed costings from a builder which come to 5.5 million. I tell her I’ve got absolutely no problems at all. There will be two tanks, one on each of the two brick buildings. As far as we’re concerned one will be the “English” tank and the other will be the “Italian” tank. Let’s hope the water from the English tank tastes better! Jacqueline wants the rest of her money as soon as possible, of course. What a pity we couldn’t have had this conversation before yesterday, when I had plenty of time to change big sums in Kigali. I tell her I may have to wait until I go in to the capital to collect Catherine next week, and she’s happy with that solution. At least the catholic church is wealthy enough here to be able to lend her the million and a half she needs until I can get my money changed and repay them.

I’m glad about this because it means that the first water tank is now well under way. And I’ve got an accurate idea about costs for a second tank. I’m beginning to think it might be best to try to put two tanks in one school rather than one tank in two more schools – there are cost savings by putting in two at a time. The engineer and builder in charge of the Cyeza scheme lives in Gitarama and I’m pretty sure the cost of putting a system into another school would be more or less the same. Not any cheaper, because the Cyeza site is flat and there will be minimum earth moving required. But I really have to get down to finding a suitable second school for the “Holy Trinity” funded water tank.

Védaste comes in and tells me that Claude is off for a month on holiday. That’s OK; if he is taking a whole month now, then I won’t feel guilty about asking him for five weeks in the summer. Unfortunately, though, it looks as if he’s taken the computer modem with him. I think I’ll ring him and ask if I can collect it and be responsible for it while he is away….

Védaste tells me to get cracking on the statistics. I tell him I’m still missing one primary school and a lot of nurseries and secondaries. By chance, the executive secretary for Kibangu overheads our conversation and comes in to introduce himself; Musambagiro (the missing school) is in his secteur and he promises to get the data to me immediately. Well, I’ve heard this before – Claude said he was going to get the stuff for me straight away!

I collect a whole load of post and head off home for lunch. Its clouding up outside and it looks as if it will rain this afternoon. I’ve rung up Kabgayi “A” to inspect the tronc commun section; the Head has asked me to come in the afternoon which is unusual.

I take a moto out to Kinini and start walking up the hill to Mbare school. I have a packet of photos from Nicolle to give to Iphigénie, the Head. (I’ve already delivered mail to Tom and the girls at YWCA. I get more like a postman every day). Nicolle was one of the VSO headteachers on three month placements here, and she worked intensively with two schools – Mbare and Kabgayi “A”. As I go up the hill I meet the start of the afternoon shift of pupils on their way to the school; two lovely little year one girls want to hold my hand, and their mates hold their hands, so we walk in a line of about six little tots plus me all the way up to the school. The little ones think it’s really cool to be holding hands and walking with a muzungu; from these tinies I get none of the constant “amafaranga” that I’m still getting from everyone else I pass, whether adults or children. The dependency culture is getting really bad at the moment (or else it’s just that I’m a lot more sensitive to it at the moment).

AT Mbare I deliver photos to Iphigénie who is in the middle of eating her dinner. She’s delighted, and the pictures are big prints which she can put up in her office – all the staff are there, and pupils in sports uniforms etc.

I walk all the way back to Kavumu in the heat, and meet Kerry at the bottom of her hill to deliver a parcel from Australia to her. Then it’s uphill to Kabgayi on the main road. As I approach Kabgayi I meet Goretti, for whom I have my final item of post – more pictures from Nicole. Goretti’s pleased as punch with the photos, but worried that I’m here at Kabgayi in person – apparently Alice, the head of the tronc commun section, has got it into her head shat she’s supposed to meet me at the district office and is on her way there via her house for dinner. I really don’t know why she thinks I want to see her at the District; I specifically said I wanted to visit classes.

We ring her and stop her heading to the office. I go to the school and talk with Goretti for an hour or so; by then I’ve got most of the information I need and I can write up a token report and feel that the visit has not been wasted. I visit classes to say hello to the pupils, but the school works a long morning (0715 to 1320) and classes are at the point of ending for the day. The children all look wonderful in their new uniforms – powder blue shirts for both boys and girls, with blue neckerchiefs with yellow piping. It looks like a mass rally of scouts and guides….

All lessons are being taught in English, which is not bad because even after five months this school still has not got a single textbook for the secondary section. The teachers are using photocopies of Ugandan books; one copy for each subject. With only four teachers and lots of subjects to teach, you get some weird and wonderful permutations. One guy is teaching Chemistry, Biology, Political Science, Creative Arts, Sport and Religion. Just imagine asking an English secondary teacher to cope with that lot!

As usual there is no electricity and no computers, so ICT is a joke. What’s doubly annoying is that parts of the school have electric wiring and lights, but no power. At some time in the past the place was run as a nursing training school attached to Kabgayi Hospital next door. The hospital electricity supply was extended to the school. Now, however, the pre-nursing is taught at St Marie Reine in separate buildings in Gitarama town, and the hospital cut the power supply to these classrooms so that it didn’t have to pay for the school’s use of current. It just shows the lack of foresight, planning, and joined up thinking which exists here at the moment. The whole country is trying to run before it can walk and the result is chaos. Of course, if ever a minister or anyone important comes down to visit, he is only shown places where everything is working properly. So the politicians go back to Kigali blissfully unaware of all the day to day difficulties they have created in their brave new Rwandan vision.

One of the nice things about visiting tronc commun schools is that each has done its own little piece of innovation. At Kabgayi they have set up an “études” session every day from 3 to 5 p.m. This is supervised but not taught; they have done a deal with Cité Nazareth primary school in Shyogwe (one of their feeder schools) so that Shyogwe-based children do not have to walk the two miles back and forth twice a day to Kabgayi. “Études” is quiet time for doing homework, or for going through your day’s work, and revising it. The surveillant in charge can explain things or give help, but he/she isn’t there to teach a lesson. The system is even better because it’s the parents who have requested it, and they are all paying a levy of RwF3000 each to fund the surveillants’ salaries. That’s pretty impressive, and it shows you that we’re dealing with an urban school here with a slightly more affluent clientele than those really out in the sticks. There are two daily “etudes” sessions, one at Kabgayi and one at Cité Nazareth. But what does it take to try to get this level of innovation into some of my primary schools?.....

Becky texts to say that she’s having a brilliant day at Kamonyi, knee deep in statistics and getting the feel of the job. Also, that VSO are about to sign the lease on a house for her at last. She’s going back to Kigali tonight because I’m sure VSO wants her out of “Beau Séjour” as fast as decently possible. She won’t be sharing with Nathan; I think Nathan still has big visions of buying a huge place and making money by renting out rooms to Kabgayi University students.

Back home in the rain, but I manage not to get too soaked. Why can you never find a moto when it’s raining and you want one?! I’ve barely got the kettle on when Soraya comes round; she’s really worried that with Claude on leave and her share of the house rent not paid, she’ll get put out on the street. By the end of the afternoon she’s talked to Charlotte in Programme Office back in Kigali and between them they’ve done a deal whereby VSO will pay her missing rent and claim it back from Claude and the District slackers as soon as he comes back from his leave!

Then Delphine arrives for a lesson. She’s got her identity card back from the woman who had it in her possession. It has cost her a mere RwF3000, whereas I think to get a complete replacement card would have cost ten times that much. So she’s a happi(er) bunny than she was last week.

While she’s here Janine arrives to do the cleaning, so we’re moving around from room to room to accommodate Janine’s cleaning routine. And once again I can see the younger guard trying to peer in from the rear garden window; he’s obviously thinking I’m running some sort of vice ring with all these young women in the flat. Dream on, sonny!

I go down to the town and get stuff in the market (white ibijumba this time; see if they have more flavour than the red ones). While I’m out Tom arrives back at the house and on my return he’s well into preparing veg for supper. Today he’s been to a cow give-away sponsored by FHI. This is where deserving poor families are given a cow; they breed the animal and then when the calf reaches a certain age it is sold and the money is repaid to FHI and deemed to have paid off the original debt from the cow. In the meantime the family has a constant supply of milk and any further calves are all profit until the cow is too old for more and finally the family eats it. It’s a nice way of giving a cash injection to strapped families without actually handing over money. (There’s a very real risk that cash would find its way into Primus and banana beer within a day of being given).

For months we have been carefully keeping a precious tin of steak which Tom had brought out from England. Well, tonight it’s in the pot with boeuf bourguignon sauce and every veg we can find from imboga to tungurusumu. Yummee….

It’s been a good day today despite the screw up with the Kabgayi visit.

Becky's traumas over housing

May 18th

Into Kigali o the seven o’clock bus. And wouldn’t you believe it – just when I don’t need a good day to go into the VSO office we get an absolute stunner. It’s warm, dry, sunny; I can see Karisimbi volcano for most of the way in to the capital. And for the whole of the rest of the day there’s never a remote threat of rain.

Grrrr! Just you watch – as soon as I arrange to go out to a school it’ll pour again!

On the outskirts of Kigali they’ve cut down a lot of the banana groves. Not sure what’s happening but it smacks of one of the draconian planning decisions they so love to do here; I expect the land will be left fallow for a year or so until the next stage of whatever redevelopment they’ve got in mind gets going. In the meantime the ibitoke they’ve lost would feed hundreds….

In Kigali I do a quick whip round some shops – we need drinking glasses to replace those we’ve smashed in the past few weeks, and things like wine vinegar which I can’t get in Gitarama. I also nip into the travel agents to find out prices for a flight home from Dar es Salaam to Kigali in July. It turns out to be expensive; it is peak season and Kenyan Airways is the only operator so they’ve got a monopoly and can charge what they like. I’ll need to draw some dollars out from England to confirm and pay for the ticket; in the meantime I might see if the VSO travel agents can get it cheaper for me.

We have a small meeting – just me, Els, Tiga and Joe, with Joe O’Toole stuck somewhere on the road up from Rusumo. This is the Education Steering group; and its role is much more nebulous than the others I serve on. We rack our brains for issues and Tiga takes notes and holds us together until we think we’re done. Meanwhile the VSO office staff are having their weekly meeting downstairs. Just as we’re about to pack up and leave early, Ruth and Charlotte waylay us with other things they want us to talk about. We go back into session until lunchtime, so my plans to rush back home and visit a tronc commun school this afternoon are dashed. But at least we get a decent meal in the VSO office!

After some internetting in the afternoon (at last the VSO office computer connection seems to be back up and running) I catch a mid afternoon bus home.

Becky has been down with some of the VSO office staff to look at some more houses in Gitarama, including the ex-FHI guest house, with Nathan. I really hope they all decide on that place; it has at the very least six good bedrooms and can take almost an infinite number of guests in the event of a party. It’s a question of the rent and how much they can negotiate their way down to a reasonable level.

By the end of the afternoon she’s in our flat and almost in tears of frustration and anger. They’ve seen five houses. There’s one she likes, and Nathan likes also, but VSO won’t budge on the rent which they say is too high. Meanwhile they’re paying a fortune for her to stay in “Beau Séjour” in Kigali, and the cost of one night at B S would make up the different in a whole month’s rent between the actual cost and what VSO will pay. We tell Becky to stay with us overnight and feed her, and she goes out for a drink with Moira and Kerry to escape from all the frustration.

I’m supposed to be finishing writing up the “How To….” Guide tonight but after all the traumas and constant phone calls involving Tom, Nathan, Becky, Charlotte and Mike over the housing issue we all feel pretty washed out.

Quiet weekend. Nothing much is happening in Gitarama...

May 16th-17th

A very quiet weekend. There have been all sorts of plans for dancing, parties etc this weekend but for one reason or another I end up opting out and going for the less exciting option. Tom has a nasty cold and doesn’t feel like doing very much either.

I spend a lot of Saturday trying to write up an emended version of the ”How To” guide from Friday’s meeting, but don’t manage to get everything done.

On Sunday we both go to Momma’s for the church service there. It’s a nice, short, child-centred affair and we meet Meredith who is the new American Peace Corps volunteer based in Gitarama. I’m still not sure exactly what her role is but at least I know it isn’t in education! But she’s certainly the first Peace Corps I’ve met in Rwanda and the first in Gitarama. The Americans have a really different attitude to their Peace Corps people from our VSO one. They insist on a much higher level of Kinyarwanda fluency before allowing them to go into placements than we do. (But then, how many Americans are fluent enough in French to use it as their everyday working language?). They give them much more basic living conditions than we would accept, and their placements are frequently extremely isolated. Most of them seem to be here on two year tours of duty, the same as us. The key difference is that they tend to be a lot younger than us; it’s more like an extended gap year affair than our system, and few, if any of the Peace Corps people are graduates with at least two or three years’ experience. Everyone thinks that “VSO is the English version of Peace Corps”, but they’re very different creatures. Never mind; the more friends we can make out here the better, and I don’t care what nationality they are or what organisation is sponsoring them!

On Sunday after church we decide to get food ready for our “bring and eat” supper at Christi’s. I make a massive coleslaw and finish off the last of our mayonnaise; Tom does something fancy and vaguely Mexican with potatoes and a sachet of sauce.

That done, we both watch DVD’s for the rest of the day. I decide to have a Hitchcock Fest, with “the Man who knew too much” and “Close Encounter”. I seem to watch videos in fits and starts; nothing for weeks and now I’ve seen six in just a few days. Oh well, at least by the time I come home I will have seen all my stash of films.

Ulrike has finally left Rwanda to return to Germany, so yet another experienced fixture of the Gitarama scene has gone. Tom and Christi are easily the longest serving volunteers in the town now, followed by me and Soraya.

Everybody – even the Rwandans – are grumbling about how miserable the weather has been this last week. Cold, wet – everything smells damp and we can’t get clothes dry. I’m not worried; a couple of days of hot sun will change everything and cheer us all up, but we are overdue some good weather!

Monday, 18 May 2009

Moonlighting - it'll soon be official...

The is the word for word text of a news article in today's "New Times". Teachers are notoriously badly paid, and as a result the profession has low public esteem in Rwanda. Basic salaries are about RwF26000 per month (30 pounds), but there is a "prime" of bonus which augments it by about a third. It's still not enough to live on with a family. As VSO volunteers we receive RwF170,000 per month.

Teachers have been challenged to be innovative and venture into other income generating activities to supplement their earnings.

The challenge was made Thursday by Joseph Murekeraho, the Director of the Umwalimu Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO) during the teachers’ workshop in Kigali.

“Teachers should not just be content with their basic salaries. You should engage in other income generating activities in order to raise more money to support your families,” he said, asking teachers to invest their earnings into profitable projects.

O.K., so if all the teachers start moonlighting, howe are they going to have time to prepare work or mark books?

The Education Management Steering Group day

May 15th

Into Kigali on the seven o’clock bus. Today I have an Education Managers’ Working Party meeting; we don’t know what time it’s due to begin so I’m planning to be there for eight thirty. Needless to say, by eight thirty I’m the only one there. So I try to do some internetting but the system won’t load properly.

Gradually people start to arrive, but we’re not all there are ready to go until nearly ten o’clock, which is frustrating.

Charlotte gives us our working brief, and I volunteer for this meeting to chair and take notes. The main item on the agenda is to revise the “How To” guides we compiled in January. They need revision because two key people – especially Ken, who has the most experience of any of us in Rwanda as an education manager – were not able to be present at the January meetings. Also, when we were writing the thing in January we were all wrestling with the implications of the new primary curriculum, and now that it’s May we are a lot more confident we know what’s happening. Finally, VSO intends to submit these “How To” guides to MINEDUC for formal Rwandan government approval, so it’s important we get things right.

We manage to get through all our business amicably and we’re done by twelve – what has galvanised us is that VSO is paying for a free lunch at “La Planète”, so that’s a powerful incentive to get done and out to the restaurant before other people eat most of the good stuff.

I end up with not only minutes to write up, but to do all the changes to the guide. That will take some time, but will be an ideal thing to do on a “down day” in the near future.

The afternoon gradually fizzles out or winds up, depending on your viewpoint. Heloise’s bash at Gahini seems very nebulous; few people have received a direct invitation and we are beginning to think we’d be gate crashing an event which was never intended to be so big if we all roll up. Tina has been in hospital and certainly won’t be going; Épi has been looking after her, and in fact late in the afternoon Tina texts me to say she’s back home and feeling a lot better.

A bunch of us chat in “Stella” for an hour or so; then I go back to the town centre. I’ve promised to meet Nidhi in “Bourbon”, and just as I’m arriving Tiga, Amy and co are leaving – I still haven’t had much of an opportunity to talk to Tiga since well before Easter. Nidhi is in “Bourbon” and gradually we’re joined by more VSOs until there’s about six of us. Tonight there’s a free concert at the little stadium, and the girls are planning to go to the concert followed by clubbing. Els is in two minds about going; she’s running the Kigali marathon next weekend and wants to get some proper running training done this weekend. After forty minutes of dithering Els has opted in and I’ve opted out and I return late tm Gitarama.

Tom’s going down with a bad cold; we eat left overs and nip round to the Plateau café for a couple of beers before bed.

It’s been a funny old day. A lot of people have had unproductive weeks with all the bad weather (me included); Becky’s Gitarama house has fallen through (someone else came to see the property and paid his deposit in cash, so the agent signed him up on the spot). Becky’s feeling particularly low this evening.

What it's like to travel in the rainys eason....

May 14th

Today I’m taking Becky with me on her first visit to a school. We’re off into the mountains, to Kirwa Adventist school. Or, at least, that’s the plan.

Just as we’re about to leave the flat it comes on to rain. We’re literally ready to go out of the door when it pours. So we wait in the flat for half an hour. At that point the rain starts to ease up, and the sky lightens. Tom sets off for work, via the bank, so we take off too, and end up in the town centre.

I haggle for a moto – the driver wants 12000 to go to Kirwa, I won’t budge from 6000 (each) so it takes a few minutes and then we’re off. By this time it has stopped raining altogether in Gitarama and I’m feeling hopeful. But by the time we’ve stopped for fuel at a garage, it’s raining again. By the time we reach Mushubati its coming down so hard we have to stop to shelter for another half hour. We’re jammed up under an awning with a bunch of cyclo-vélo drivers and passersby, all discussing us and trying to rack their brains to think of ways to shake more amafaranga out of these two muzungus. Can they charge us from taking shelter? They certainly would if they thought they could get away with it!

At this point I should have called the day off, but I don’t want to disappoint Becky and we decide to carry on. The rain has eased off, but certainly not stopped, and the mountains in front of us are still invisible in a wall of greyish-white cloud. As we climb up and through the mountains the rain gets harder and harder; we are well into the clouds, visibility is down to a few yards and we’re freezing cold and getting wet through. There’s no view and its turning into a most unpleasant journey – a complete contrast to last Friday’s run.

We pass Mushishiro and descend down towards the Nyaborongo valley, coming out of the cloud but not out of the rain. The bikes are having to drive slowly on the bends because the road is awash with water; mud is hosing down the cuttings into the gulleys and sometimes out onto the tarmac. The slightest patch of unswept gravel would send us skidding into injury. Eventually we reach the junction with the “road to the end of the earth”. This is the infamous earth road which eventually leads up to Nyabinoni; it’s the road where Soraya and I struggled for seven hours to reach Nyabinoni itself. Now, with all the rain this morning, the road is in far worse condition than when we were trying to get to Nyabinoni. The first couple of hundred yards is uphill from the junction, and our bikes are sliding all over the place within a few feet of quitting the tarmac. It’s obvious they can’t cope with the muddy road, and the drivers refuse to go on. (Even if they had wanted to try, it is so obvious that we’re going to be thrown off the bikes that neither of us would want to continue on the pillion). So we pay our drivers and tell them to stay at the junction. We’ll try to go ahead on foot, and we tell them we’ll be back at half past twelve. I’m still hopeful the weather is going to lift. We are determined that having come this far, we aren’t going to be put off.

What I haven’t taken into account is the condition of this earth road. This section of the road has been graded and smoothed to improve it within the last few weeks. What this “improvement” means is that all the ruts have been filled in, and earth laid over the top of the entire carriageway to give a smooth surface. This makes a seriously good run, almost conformable, in dry weather, but after all the rain the top surface of the road is coated in a thick layer of sticky mud. Within three or four paces our shoes are caked. We are both sliding about in the mud, and have to place our feet very carefully to stay upright. The road is carved into a ledge into the hillside; on one side there’s a wall of earth some ten feet high; on the other side there’s a steep drop down to the river. Neither side of the road is an attractive prospect for walking.

We slip and slide, determined to show that muzungus aren’t put off by impossible roads. A few women are also out, almost invariably barefoot, and sinking up to their ankle bones with every step. Only mad dogs, desperate women and Englishmen (and Canadian girls) are even thinking of travelling at the moment. Also, as we plod round the first couple of bends, the rain starts to come on heavier. We have at least three or four kilometres to go like this before we reach Kirwa, and at Kirwa we have to take another earth road which winds uphill, back into the clouds, to get to the school. This is the point at which I admit defeat. Becky doesn’t know what conditions are like further along, but I know they certainly won’t improve. It is clear that the weather isn’t going to dry up any time soon. The roads will stay impassable for the rest of the day. If we walk all the way in to the school, we’ll have to walk all the way back. Worst of all, it is already half past nine; by the time we reach the school it will be at least half past ten, and we won’t have enough time to do a sensible visit. Whatever happens the school will stop at quarter past twelve for lunchtime, and we’ll barely have enough time to do one lesson plus the admin inspection.

No, we have to conclude that today has been a disastrous mistake, and a very expensive one, too. (RwF12000 in all for the two bikes for return journeys). And what really hurts is that if we had decided to come out in a taxi bus and walk from the corner where the tarmac road meets the earth road, we’d only have paid RwF800 each way.

So we squelch through the mud back to the main road, round up our bikes, and get a lot of “told you so” looks from bystanders. Whatever the weather, there are always so many people just hanging around with nothing to do, bored to tears, and spending their day watching other people. It’s the national occupation in Rwanda.

Back up through the mountains and down the other side to home; at least I make the bikers drop us off at the flat. I go in to get changed. I’m shaking with cold (on the Equator); my cagoule drips puddles over the floor behind the kitchen door; my trousers make another puddle from Tom’s door; my shirt and undies make a third puddle under my bedroom door.

To add insult to injury the power has gone off, and I have to boil water in a saucepan to make tea to try to get warm again. Becky is also wet to the skin, but there are two houses she wants to have a look at in Gitarama with a view to letting. (She still has no accommodation in Kamonyi and it is becoming clear that the only way she’ll get sorted is if she finds a place by herself).

She comes back in an hour or so very pleased because either of the two houses is better than anything she’s been offered in Kamonyi. If she lives in Gitarama she can commute to work easily; for that matter she can car share with another of the District Office staff. She can stay part of the Gitarama gang which will give her a better social life. VSO will frown at the very least, because we’re supposed to live within the communities in which we work, but neither VSO nor the District seem to be able to find acceptable accommodation. (Ironically, the option which Becky would have preferred – staying in the convent with the nuns – VSO won’t accept because there are too many restrictions. But that’s daft – have you ever found a convent where there aren’t lashings of hot water, good food, electricity and even television?)

So we agree that Becky will return to Kigali this afternoon and propose renting the bigger house. She can share it with Nathan (Tom’s FHI intern), who will pay half the rent. Even better, Tom has another FHI volunteer coming out to spend a few months, a girl, and if we can put her in the house with Nathan and Becky we have the ideal solution. What could possibly go wrong?.....

I warm up soup from the freezer and at least we have a hot meal and get thoroughly warm again. While she’s been out looking at houses I’ve put the immersion on so she can have a hot shower. But because the electricity is off nothing has happened (and I only discover later in the evening that I forgot to unplug the immersion).

I can’t do anything in the afternoon except lie in bed and read a book – I’m mugging up on Zanzibar; the more I read about the place the more attractive it seems. I can’t wait to go there!

I rush to the market in between showers, but even so I get caught in a shower and have to shelter in the marketplace. Once again all the locals crowd in on me; some are brazen enough to just stand there and demand money, others are making jokes at my expense. I know enough Kinyarwanda to know that they’re talking about me and that it isn’t polite, but not enough to understand exactly what they’re saying or make any reply.

Tom comes home early, and about that time our joy is complete – the water goes off. It always seems to go off after heavy rain. I really don’t know what’s happening with the weather at the moment - last year in the rainy season things were quite predictable, with heavy thunderstorms in the afternoons but the mornings bright, hot, and ideal for getting out and about. This year we have had two washout days this week alone, when it hasn’t really stopped raining all day. I hope to goodness things are brighter when Catherine comes at the end of the month!

We rush to get supper prepared before we have to resort to torches and candles. And just when we’ve got all our candles in place the electricity comes back on. It’s turning into one of those days when everything is perverse and you just want to write the whole day off.

We make a giant curry which turns out to be extremely tasty, and find that my fresh pineapple from yesterday not only lifts the curry but that there’s plenty for pud, too.

Despite having a wasted day I’m tired, so the evening consists of flopping out in front of a DVD and then bed. I’m watching “The Last King of Scotland”, about life in Idi Amin’s Uganda, and I’m so glad I’ve waited until I’ve been to Kampala before seeing it. I can recognise some of the backgrounds shot in Kampala itself.

Lesson learnt from today – if it rains for more than thirty minutes in the morning, or if the cloud is down on the mountains, there’s no point in trying to get up the dirt roads. Cancel your visits and resign yourself to a down day….. (But then I probably knew all this anyway – I’m just stubborn and a slow learner…).

Scaling the academic heights with St Augustine

May 13th

Into the office on a glorious day – fresh, clear, blue skies and warm sun. I can’t go out to Mushishiro school today as I had planned because there’s a secteur meeting for the heads. So I’m determined not to waste the day and arrange to go and look at St Augustin instead. St Aug is our top performing school. It’s a private school, very small with only 230 pupils (most of my primaries have more than that in each year), and sits only a kilometre away from the flat.

I spend the first hour in the office. Claude’s forgotten the internet modem, so I find the census sheets for today’s school and tomorrow’s, and get the statistical section of the reports for both written before I even go out to visit.

There’s newspapers for me and for Hayley, so I walk back to the town centre. I haven’t gone more than a hundred yards when my moto driver stops for me to see if I’m going anywhere up country and want a life. “No, not today” I say. Whereupon he tells me to get on board and gives me a free ride back to the town centre. My God, I must be spending a fortune on motos to get this treatment for free!

Back at the flat I drop off some stuff and go to see Hayley and Charlotte in the YWCA office, giving Hayley her “Guardian”. The two girls are surrounded by piles of fruit (Charlotte’s on a special diet to try to settle some of her allergies), and both are typing furiously at their computers. They’ve had a really busy time lately and are writing up minutes or reports for funding providers.

Then its time to head up past where Cathie and Elson used to live and drop down to St Augustin. The school shares a campus with Gahogo primary and a little private maternelle – a real education corner. There are no fences to separate the three sites, and no signs of any kind to tell you where you are – in typical Rwandan fashion you just have to get to know these things by trial and error.

St Augstin’s buildings are OK – brick, glazed windows on both sides, but I have plenty of state schools with much better provision. The school works a funny sort of day – they start at 7.30 along with every other school, but they only work mornings. Everyone goes home at 12.45. Classes are small – their biggest is their yr 6 with 34, but that’s because they’re getting a lot of savvy Gitarama parents transferring their children in at yrs 5 and 6 in the hope that their children will do well enough in the concours to get a place in one of the best secondary schools.

I go to a yr 1 Maths lesson where children are at least a year ahead of their state school counterparts (they’re adding 9+5-3=) and doing greater than/lesser known work in number boxes. It’s a pity the teacher isn’t doing any games with them – the “atom” game doesn’t need any kit and would go down a riot. I promise to collect the “snakes and ladders” game from Raina at Ahazaza and let them have a go with it.

Then I visit a yr 6 English lesson. You would have to go a long way to find this many differences from a state school. The children have relatively long hair; the girls’ hair is elaborately braided. None of them are wearing a uniform. They chatter incessantly as they work, sometimes so much so that they’re not listening to the teacher and I bring this up with him at the end of the lesson. In most Rwandan schools the kids are so cowed that there’s not a sound in class; you wish you could gee them up and get them less passive.

This teacher is doing dialogue practise with his pupils, and soon we’re deep into mock telephone conversations. I switch my phone off and give it to the kids to use as a prop; this spurs the teacher to do the same thing. Suddenly the dialogue and role play has become much more real – the children are using real phones as props, and we all have a good time. The range of vocabulary and idiomatic constructions these children are using are streets ahead of any other yr 6 in the District, and the work is that much more imaginative. You see – you pays your money for private education here in Rwanda and this is what you get. Small classes, great teaching, and a 100% pass rate in the exams.

In truth I don’t need to visit this school at all but I’m glad I have because it gives me a marker to judge others by. It’s not all perfect – the rooms have virtually nothing on the walls at all.

The head has very little of his documentation with him – no budget, no annual plan, no strategic plan, no records of lesson observations. The school is run by its committee of parents; doubtless they have all the paperwork secreted away somewhere.

I tell the head he’s got to make sure the parents are planning strategically – if this little school is going to extend up to nine years basic education then it will need new buildings putting up as soon as possible. And with his middle class intake with their pushy, high expectation parents, he ought to be thinking of doing more extension work and possibly even of starting up a gifted/talented unit at St Augustin. (Do we still call these children the “G & T” crowd in England?)

First and foremost he needs electricity, computers and modems – it’s ridiculous that even this top rate private school doesn’t have any electronic experience at all.

Back to the flat and by mid afternoon my report is written and ready to print. I can’t believe I’m so ahead of myself. I’m feeling really smug. Becky arrives mid afternoon as well; she’s staying tonight and coming out to Kirwa with me in the morning. We catch up on all the news about her job and her accommodation (not sorted yet at all); then I need to do the market. I leave Becky on my bed to catch up on some rest and go to town. When I come back I have almost all the evening meal sorted – a three course feast. The whole flat is full of the aroma of fresh pineapple where I’ve carved it up ready for pudding, and there’s a fresh vegetable salsa marinating in the fridge. I’ve even got time to write this blog entry in the afternoon (unheard of)!

After tea we all three of us go round to the girls’ house and chat and drink and gossip for a couple of hours. It’s the first time Becky has met Hayley and Charlotte. The girls are planning “Gitfest”. They are very conscious that this year they will be missing the summer festivals such as Glastonbury, so their plan is to have our own festival at Gitarama with attractions like welly wanging, twister and so on. Visitors to bring their own music and each get a time slot on the sound system. We’ll see. We’re shown Hayley’s pride and joy from the clothes market- a huge wall hanging, life size, of the Spice Girls. It’s so tasteless it’s really impressive, and demands a huge wall to be displayed in all its tackiness…..

Back home under the stars just after ten, and straight to bed.

Best thing about today – going to a school where the academic standard is really high.

Newsflash - Shyogwe's missing thousands turn up!

May 12th

Wow – so much to write up today. There’s no work because of a Genocide memorial event at Kabgayi or Nyabisindu or everywhere – nobody tells me the details and I don’t really feel interested. I didn’t sleep well during the night; tossing and turning until all the bedclothes are wrapped round me like a sleeping bag. Then just after three there’s a fair old earthquake; it only lasts about ten seconds but it’s enough to rattle all the metalwork in the house and jerk me wide awake. I’m up at the crack of dawn as usual and on the bus to Kigali by seven o’clock.

By eight o’clock I’m at Nyabugogo and talking to the agent for the bus service from Kigali to Dar es Salaam. Yes folks, the great Zanzi-Tan expedition is really going to happen in July and I’m starting to get to grips with the logistics. The bus leaves Kigali on Saturdays only, at 0600 (so somehow we’ll all have to stay somewhere in Kigali overnight), and takes around 26-28 hours to reach Dar. The point of my talking to the agent is to make sure we can book seats in advance; I’ll never survive without adequate leg room.

Nidhi went on this bus with a friend over the Easter holiday; the friend is nearly as tall as me and the agent at first thinks we are the same person – he can’t understand why I’m asking him about leg room when he thinks I’ve only just done the trip. The fact that I’m about 40 years older than the friend doesn’t seem to register; nor that I have different colour hair, don’t have a beard and dress totally differently…. But then all muzungus look the same, don’t they?

Up to VSO and check emails. Now for the next bit of news – the missing 2200 Euros for the Shyogwe building projects have at last been unearthed. The money never left Holland because it’s not actually 2200 euros but 2137, and someone in VSO Netherlands understandably didn’t make the connection. Hooray – the money is on its way to Kigali, then the Diocese, and finally Shyogwe school. The classrooms will probably be submerged under vegetation by now; it’ll be a case of cutting swathes through the undergrowth to locate them….

Becky comes into the office and we decide she’s going to come with me to an inspection on Thursday. I’ll try to find a good school to visit – either Mushushiro or Rugendabari areas will do nicely.

I get my travel expenses and am grateful for the money – after being robbed on Saturday I’m feeling short of cash. I also manage to find a couple of library books to read and an old guide to Tanzania and Zanzibar. The prices will be out of date but the places to visit don’t change that much.

I have a chat to Charlotte about this and that and confirm some of the arrangements for a meeting this Friday. There’s still a lot of confusion at VSO over my email address; someone absent mindedly put me down as “hotmail” rather than “yahoo” and sent it out to everyone. I’m sure there are loads of messages which aren’t getting through to me.

Jenny has come into Kigali on the next bus after mine, and texts suggesting coffee, so I meet her in “Blues Café” and catch up her successful trip top Nyamasheke and Cyangugu. Joe has done the girls proud, everything including a boat trip on Lake Kivu. They’ve been right down to the Congolese border at Cyangugu and retraced the same places that I visited with Tu Chi a while ago. I have to admire Jenny’s adventurousness – she’s seen nearly as much of Rwanda in a couple of weeks than I have in sixteen months.

I finally get through to Nidhi on the phone and she comes to join us at the cafe. I haven’t seen her for ages, and I want to pick her brains on things to see and do and where to stay in Zanzibar. Within an hour I’ve got reams of information, and we’ve discussed work, a certain school situation, and generally put the world to rights. Jenny remembers Nidhi from the Kibuye weekend; it’s amazing how quickly people get integrated into our little community here in Rwanda. Then we’re swapping notes on where to go in Kigali (Nidhi’s the expert!), and planning weekends on the town.

Jenny leaves us to carry on her Rwandan exploration (she’s off to Nyagatare this afternoon and she’ll have done both Nyamasheke and Nyagatare before I manage to get to either), and Nidhi and I have lunch together. It’s been raining all day and freezing cold – we try to change our seats in Simba to get out of the wind, but we’re only partially successful. It’s really rare to have continuous gentle rain for long periods, and we’ve had a huge amount of rain in the last couple of days. The Nyaborongo river is right up to its banks on the edge of Kigali, and the Nyabugogo river is over its banks in one place. All good things come to an end, and Nidhi has a creative writing class to go to. (I suppose my creative writing exercise consists of compiling this ‘ere blog). I decide it’s time to return to Gitarama.

So back to Gitarama, but because of the genocide memorial events the Kigali to Gitarama buses aren’t running and I have to take a Butare bus. The entire bus park in Gitarama has been closed off; buses can go past the town on the main road but aren’t being allowed to stop in the town centre. The people in the ticket office are kind to me and only charge me the Gitarama fare – another benefit of being a regular customer and known to everyone at both the Git and Kig offices. All I have to do is make sure the driver drops me off outside the flat. Mind you, if the bus had had wings we would have been airborne. It’s a long time since I’ve had such a white knuckle ride on a “Horizon” bus. Today we see two lorries which have lost their brakes and gone over the edge of the road. The bus passengers are like little kids: wherever there’s been an “incident” you can tell in advance because there will be a crowd of local just spending the day standing and gawping. As the bus passes everybody stands up, leans over their neighbours and cranes out of the window to look at the damage. Then there’s lots of animated chatter about what might have happened, and how reckless the lorry drivers are. Meanwhile, our bus driver is behaving as if he’s doing a Grand Prix and as often as not we’re overtaking on ridiculously short stretches of straight road. Now I understand why so many of the drivers have crucifixes or rosary beads wound round their interior mirrors.

A quick flick round the market, much reduced because of the day’s events, and I decide to celebrate a productive day by buying a couple of mouth burning salami sausages to go with the usual mix of veg. We dine in style.

Best thing about today – a huge amount of business got through. No work done at all for the District, but then nobody else would have been working at the office, so there!