Sunday, 28 June 2009

Baby naming

June 28th

I’m the first of the party goers to be up and off in the morning. By just after half past seven I’m waiting for the bus to leave. I’m in the best seat, at the front and opposite the driver, with a clear view through the windscreen and nobody sitting next to me to crowd me. It’s the best trip up from Butare ever, and also one of the fastest. I’ve texted Tom to say expect me at Momma’s at half past ten, but I’m in the flat by soon after half past nine, even before Tom has left to go to the service.

A quick breakfast and change, and I’m off on a moto to Momma’s. Today is the baby naming ceremony for four orphans, and I’m not at all sure quite what to expect. I know the celebrations will last most of the day, but exactly what happens in what order is an unknown.

As it happens, the church service is relatively normal. There is an American family visiting, friends of Momma’s from back home in Pennsylvania, and a couple of young girls who are friends of their daughters. The father presents Momma with a medal from one of the American Dioceses to celebrate her lifetime’s work with children in need, and her special efforts at the orphanage. It’s a well deserved award, and the timing today is perfect.

Right at the end of the service Momma asks me to be the speaker next week. But I’m planning to go to Nyamasheke for the whole weekend, so I put her off till July 12th. Becky will do the talk next week. So there you are – I never expected to come to Rwanda and be asked to preach a sermon in a house church full of orphans! “Expect the unexpected” is VSO’s motto, and, boy, doesn’t it just apply every day!

After the service we stay; Tom and Becky play basketball with some of the children; I talk to Louise, a helper who hails from Hull, and cuddle Amahoro. Amahoro is a tiny little baby; she came to the orphanage desperately underweight and malnourished and is still only about half the size and weight she should be. She is also blind, and we are waiting for her to grow fit enough and strong enough to Piet to operate on her.

The children are dancing for us; impromptu cow dances and other dances on the grass outside the orphanage, with one of the boys drumming an accompaniment. All the children love singing, and it is amazing how polite they are to each other and how much they support each other. During the service the choir has sung about five choruses, all in English, and the "angel choir" - the under sevens - has also sung to us in English.

Deborah, the very bright young orphan, has won a prize at national level for some schoolwork she did. She has a cheque for a very large sum of money and Momma is investing it with an eye to paying for her university education in some years’ time. At the moment she is in 5ème at Emmanuelle’s primary school, Ruli ADEPR, which is one of our stars in the District.

Then we dine with all the orphans – 40 of them – on roast chicken from Momma’s flock, and roast potatoes and savoury rice. The chicken bones are not only picked clean by everyone; some of the children are virtually eating the bones! Never mind; there will be cake and other goodies for them later in the day.

By early afternoon myself, Tom and Becky are feeling decidedly tired and dozy, and we come back home for a nap. (Meanwhile at the orphanage there are games of baseball with the Americans and various other games to keep the children active and occupied). So far we haven’t had the slightest hint of names for the babies, but the real ceremony is going to be held in the evening and Soraya and I will miss it because we shall be at Claude’s. Never mind; Becky will take lots of pictures and I’ll post some on the blog for you.

Just as I’m about to set out for Claude’s Michael comes round to find out where tonight’s muzungu meal is being held. I walk down with him to “Nectar”. The meal tonight will be sparsely attended – Soraya and I are at Claude’s; Tom and Becky are at Momma’s for the actual naming ceremony; Christi is gorilla watching.
Soraya and I take motos and stumble our way down the lane to Claude’s house. When we arrive he is giving a lesson on “excel” worksheets to his brother Eric, who is a lawyer in Kibuye, working for an NGO which specialises in women’s and children’s rights.

We meet the baby, seven months old (born on November 16th). She already has a Kinyarwanda name, Keza, which mean beautiful, and she certainly deserves it. She is so alert; big brown eyes watching our every move. She misses nothing. She is absolutely placid and content, and coos at us. She is fine with strangers, and both Soraya and I have plenty of cuddles and take lots of pictures. Burt then, she was born on a Sunday and as the saying goes, “the child that is born on the Sabbath day…..” Claude feeds her with some banana formula; it is still not common for Rwandan men to do that sort of thing with their children and it shows just how Westernised Claude is. Whenever Immacculee speaks to Keza she smiles and coos at her. They’re a delightful little family.

We eat together, and Claude talks about the possibility of his coming to England if the proposed British Council school linking project comes to fruition. It would be lovely to have all three of them over; Immacculee is very keen to see a country outside of Rwanda.

Claude also explains that in July there are going to be changes in the way Education is administered in Rwanda. The emphasis will switch to secteur level, rather than District level, but there will some sort of overall co-ordination at District level. There is no guarantee that Claude’s job will remain, and having seen how abrupt and radical they are in replacing primary headteachers he is understandably anxious. But then, we all know that he is very highly thought of by the powers that be, and I can’t for one moment imagine that they’d want to just cast him adrift. We shall see.

Right at the end of the evening Claude gives Soraya and I pieces of paper and asks us to choose some names for the baby. He isn’t going to have the traditional naming ceremony; they have decided to ask us for our choice of names, and they will choose one of the names we suggest. So, just like that, we’re put on the spot to choose names. Soraya suggests two names of very dear friends of hers – Nerissa and Charmaine. I choose traditional English names – Elizabeth because you can’t get much more traditional than that; Claire, because it’s the same in English and French, and Ruth because of its biblical connotations. Claude and Immacculee confer for a few seconds, and choose Nerissa. So there – in one evening we have had our own little baby naming ceremony, and Soraya’s suggestion has become Keza’s second name.

She will eventually have her own surname, different from that of either parent, but I think that comes much later in life.

As we come back home on motos there’s plenty of lightning flickering across the sky; we might well have a storm tonight or tomorrow. Some rain would come in very handy just at the moment!

What a tremendous day – two separate baby naming ceremonies. And welcome to Keza Nerissa; I’m posting some pictures of her for you!

Introducing Keza Nerissa

This is Keza, Claude and Immaculee's beautiful little girl. Seven months old.

Aunty Soraya!

Daddy - who are these strange muzungus who have come to see me?

Keza is just about the most contented baby I've ever met. And she watches everything and everyone, and coos at us all evening.

Daddy's girl

Tiga's farewell bash at Butare

June 27th

A lie in this morning. Its umuganda day yet again, and the morning is blissfully quiet with the hairdresser opposite silent and minimum traffic passing. Since I have the internet modem I make sure I catch up on emails, and the morning passes quickly. I’m looking at the coverage of Glastonbury back in Britain; my Rachel is working there and it makes me feel less distant from everything to follow events online. There is the inevitable rainstorm for the festival, including a sharp thunderstorm on the very first day. That should ensure there is the customary mud bath. I know Rachel will be in a caravan, probably sharing with some of her friends from school, and she is an old hand at festivals by now, so she can look out for herself.
In the afternoon I meet Soraya in the bus park and we take a matata down to Butare. The afternoon is not quite as hot as usual, but the bus is full to bursting and I’m always glad to escape when we reach Butare bus park. We pass Moira and Kerry, also waiting for a bus south, at Kavumu. Just before we reach Butare they phone us to tell us they are already here ahead of us. They have had a lift in some body’s car.
At ineza motel we find that every room in the place has been booked (and paid for) by Tiga; I get what is jokingly referred to as a double room; the bed is narrower than my one at Gitarama. Moira and Kerry are waiting for us, and we go straight to Tiga’s. She has a beautiful house with a massive garden, right next to the main road junction but set back a few hundred yards behind St Teresa’s church. It is the perfect place to throw a party. There are hedges all round the garden so we have privacy. She has thought of everything – a whole sheep is roasting on a spit in one corner, and she has rigged a long extension cable so we have music in the garden. The garden is flat and grassy and ideal for dancing on. Being Tiga, she has planted vegetables and the salad greens she has harvested and used for the party food. There seem to be endless bowls of pasta, salad, rice, guacamole etc. And limitless crates of drink, too. It’s just as well, because it feels as if virtually every VSO is coming. More and more people arrive, well after dark, and when every single available bed in Ineza has been claimed. Tina is ill again and not coming, but Épi and Jeanneau arrive and have to go down into Butare town centre to find somewhere to stay.
We eat and drink and dance and talk till well after midnight. Hassan from the “Matar” supermarket is there, and she has ordered a celebration cake from him. It is the most enormous affair, with chocolate icing and coco-pops for decoration.
I discover that Tiga is flying home on the same day that I’m returning to England for the summer – July 18th – but she is flying Brussels airlines and I will leave Kigali a few hours ahead of her. That’s a shame; having flown out to Africa together it would be appropriate to return together. Many of the other volunteers are leaving in December and everyone is talking about the jobs they have applied for, and are awaiting interviews for, or (in a few cases) how they have made dozens of applications so far without any joy.
I talk with Joe at the party and we provisionally arrange that Soraya and Moira and I will travel down with him to Nyamasheke next weekend; it is one of the places on my hit-list to visit before I finish In Rwanda, and I’m becoming aware that there are precious few free weekends left to fit these visits around.

A good day today – seeing some volunteers whom I haven’t met for a long time.

Bringing water to Gatenzi

June 26th

A complicated day today. Into the office early because I have promised Raima I’ll go and see her. She wants to discuss some confidential things with me. So we spend half an hour together. It seems as though Mineduc from Kigali are doing an audit check of schools to see if the numbers of pupils claimed by the Districts are the true figures, or whether the Districts are claiming more pupils than exist in order to get more funds than they’re entitled too. I find this all a bit threatening, because this year it is me who is directly responsible for calculating the District’s figures. The man from Mineduc is filling in his forms in pencil, which seems odd because, as Raima rightly points out, entries made in pencil can be erased and changed all too easily.
When I arrive at the Office I bump into Claude, who is just off to a meeting in Kigali. So is Valerian, and so is Solange. But, to my huge good fortune, Claude has left his modem behind in the office. Valérian says there is a problem with it and that it won’t work on Claude’s computer. But I find it works perfectly well on mine! I agree with Valérian that I will take the modem with me and keep it for the weekend, returning it to the office first thing on Monday. At last! I have so much stuff waiting to put on line; you wouldn’t believe it!
So I’m rather ashamed to say that I spend the whole morning messing about on line. I find three lots of census forms waiting for me, and one of them has been done in such a complicated way that it takes forever to transcribe onto my spreadsheet. Every single school seems to interpret the questions in a slightly different way, and the breakdowns they are required to give are so detailed and so intricate it is very painstaking to go through them. The senior pupils are divided by age, by sex, by year of study, and by the “branche” (subject combination) that they are studying. That requires an enormous spreadsheet to cover every permutation.
After these three schools are done, there aren’t any more secondary school census forms in for me to analyse, and I’m tired of ringing schools who promise to send them, only to find that days have gone by and they still haven’t arrived. I really need Claude or Valérian to do the phoning and put a bomb behind some of them.
I race back home on a moto because Delphine is supposed to be coming to me for a computer and English lesson. In the event she doesn’t come; she rings me to say she is doing a training for something. I’ll find out what’s going on when I next see her.
I have two big parcels for Charlotte and Kerry; Kerry says she’ll call in to collect hers in the evening. Working at home is getting really trying; there seem to be several competing sound systems across the road, all playing at full volume. It really is becoming too noisy here, and I think that even were I to be doing a third year in Rwanda I would need to move somewhere quieter. It is ridiculous when there is too much noise to concentrate even though you have every window closed!
First thing in the afternoon I set off on a moto to Gatenzi school with half a million francs in my rucksack. I’m going to see Imelda, the head teacher, and give her the first instalment of money to but a 10,000 litre water tank. Gatenzi has well over 1200 pupils and is a completely rebuilt school. The classrooms are lovely, but to anybody from England it seems inconceivable that people would build a modern school and NOT install water or electricity. Yet here we are, in one of the ten poorest countries in the world, and that’s how things are. We wander round the site, looking at possible places to put a tank. At Gatenzi we’re spoiled for choice – there are four big blocks of rooms, every one suitable to add a tank to. The site is almost flat so earthworks would be at a minimum.

Gatenzi is a catholic school, but I’m so tired of the Rwandan Anglicans not co-operating to help us get out to distant church schools that I’m using the funds from my English parish church to go to this needy school. It means we’ll have put tanks in two school both very close to Gitarama town, but the need is present at both Gatenzi and Cyeza. Despite each being only six or seven miles from Gitarama, they both feel very rural indeed. I’ve no doubt there are far more needy schools up-country, but it is so difficult trying to access them that I must put the money where I know it is needed and yet at the same time where I can access the work to check it is being done satisfactorily.
While I’m in the classroom that Imelda uses as her office-cum-staffroom, there are a couple of men working through sheets of paper. I discover they are our friends from Mineduc doing the audit check on school numbers; this time they are checking Gatenzi’s returns. It causes a lot of amusement when I explain that this particular muzungu is responsible for Muhanga’s statistics, and I take the opportunity to have a hit of a go at them for leaving it so late each year before they send out their census forms. It won’t be my problem next year, but I’m going to have my say!
I take a load of pictures of the school; just by chance there are several children going to fetch water from the nearest tap or spring with their yellow water cans (old cooking oil containers). They’re only too happy to let me take their picture and it shoes perfectly just how much time and effort is being wasted in going to the nearest water source. One of the children has a little cup with him, and this leads me to think they are going to get water from a spring. The spring is probably already running low so that they heed to scoop up water laboriously with a cup and pour it into the yellow pots. My only regret is that we are now well into the dry season and unless we have a few thunderstorms Gatenzi might not get any water into its tank until the autumn. But then we do get storms during the dry season, and when they come they are torrential. Gatenzi has the usual blue metal roofs, and the area of roof is so massive that one big storm should fill the tank!
I tell Imelda to contact Jeanne d’Arc and Jacqueline at Cyeza to get the name of their mason, because we think he has done a good job with their tanks. Imelda’s ahead of me. News travels fast round here. I know what’s going to happen next – I’m going to have a queue of head teachers banging on my door asking when I am going to give their particular school its water tank.
In the late afternoon I do the market and get a huge bagload of vegetables. I’m feeling a bit guilty because Tom has done a lot of the cooking for several days and I feel I should be doing more. By the time he comes home I’m well into preparing the meal. On a whim we invite Soraya and Hayley to come; we have stuff of theirs in the fridge and freezer and they will be coming round to collect it. We might as well join forces and make a better meal. They arrive, bringing Becky with them. Becky’s not feeling too good; she has a dodgy stomach and is eating the minimum. Moira and Kerry show up and we invite them to stay, so suddenly we have a dinner for seven plus our guard. The whole thing turns into a glorious free for all – Soraya’s noodle and vegetable soup, my summer salad with egg, sausage and cheese plus potato salad and loads of fresh salad vegetables. For pudding there’s not only fruit salad and avocado ice cream to finish up from yesterday, but Soraya had made a chocolate rice confection which tastes amazingly good. Chuck in several bottles of beer all shared between us, and you’ve got a fabulous eveing coming out of nothing!
Best thing about today – getting the final water tank started. The evening meal.
Worst thing – not getting all the census stuff in. I really don’t want to have that work hanging over me during the school holidays.

Tiga's farewell party at Butare

Chris, Jane, Els, Tom, George

Amalia shows a friend how to use her camera

Catherine (standing), Marion (kneeling) and Tiga

Andy, Chris, a German doctor working in Butare hospital, and Tom

Friday, 26 June 2009

Water tank for Gatenzi primary school

These pictures are especially for my friends at Holy Trinity Church, Bradpole. I have just returned from Gatenzi Primary School after giving them the first instalment - half a million francs - of money you have raised to provide them with a water tank.

Today it is so hot and the sun is so glaring that it isn't very good for photography, but I'm sending you these photos so that you can have a picture in your mind of what the school looks like.

The school is huge - 1250 children - and all the buildings are modern. To us in England it seems incredible that anyone would build a new school like this and NOT instal either electricity or water, but this is Rwanda, one of the poorest countries in the world, and that's how things are! There are four big blocks of buildings, any of which is ideal for having a water tank attached. The metal roofs shed water easily, and the iron stanchions holding up the roofs make it easy to fix guttering pipes. Most of the site is either flat or gently sloping, so there won't be a lot of earthworks needed for foundations.

This would be a good spot. The ground is flat and we can relocate the little garden.

There is a dusty courtyard without a single blade of grass, which is the playground. The little building is used as a kitchen and the staff employ a local woman to cook them dinners each day because it is too far, and the track is too steep, for anyone to get home for lunch. The classrooms are lovely, with windows on two sides. My only grumble is that the tin roofs get unbelievably hot during this dry season and it is difficult to concentrate in lessons between about 11am and 3pm.

Rwandan schools rarely have any sort of boundary fence, and the school yard just merges into surrounding farmland. Here one of the school neighbours has rather cheekily built a cow shelter on school land. This is also a possible site for the tank, too. (We are going to try to get the same mason as for the other Bridport funded tank at Cyeza school and take his advice on which is the best position for the tank). A school of this size could do with 3 or 4 tanks, and I'm hoping and suggesting that the school talks to the Italian organisation which also put in a tank at Cyeza - if they can fund a second one for Gatenzi then it will be cheaper for us all to install two tanks in one go.

This is the view from the school buildings. Typical Cyeza - steep hills with every single square metre under cultivation. We're only a month into the dry season and you see that some of the banana leaves are already yellowing.

Gatenzi is a Catholic school (there's a long story as to why the tank isn't going into an Anglican establishment and I'll explain it when I see you all). This is a little chapel on site which also doubles as extra teaching space when needed. The catholics here are very good about ensuring maximum use is made of church land and buildings. This chapel is also used as a community centre for evening meetings.

Here we are looking up at the school site from the approach road. There is a public road which goes right through the middle of the playground; it is quite common to find a big lorry trying to wobble its way through during playtime when there are 600+ children swarming all round it. Or you get someone dragging a cow or a herd of goats right past the classroom windows.

None of the next three pictures are posed - these children were passing by as I was taking pictures. You can see the old cooking oil pots they use for water. These children are about to set off some 500 metres down the valley to find water either from a borehole, or from a spring. The borehole water will be clean but the children will waste time going to and fro to collect it. As for the spring water, the less said, the better! And the springs tend to dry up at the end of the dry season....

The very little girl at the rear was desperate to be in the picture; when I showed her the photo she didn't believe it was herself on the camera screen!

This is my friend Imelda, the head teacher, in her office. She has no proper office and is using a spare classroom for the time being. (Can you imagine anyone building a school of 1200 pupils in England without putting in an office, a staffroom, a store room....?). This doubles as the staffroom, store room, room for receiving parents and other visitors.

These next pictures were taken during my inspection visit in February 2008. February is in the long rainy season and you can see that the sky is cloudy and the light much more dull than today's hot sun.

Ten toilets (five on each side; boys this side and girls the other side) for a school of 1200. That's 120 pupils per toilet. There's barely time for pupils to use them during break and lunch time. You can just imagine the stench on a sweltering hot afternoon. If they are too bad to use, the children go into the neighbouring fields and use them as toilets which only makes the problems worse. And just imagine the problems with hygiene if there is no water to wash your hands afterwards.... There's no toilet paper - you have to find your own. This usually means ripping the oldest pages out of your exercis book. Many of the oldest children here are strapping great adults of 16, 17 and 18. You can just imagine how they feel about these facilities. having said all that, gatenzi's toilets are no better and no worse than the Rwandan average. Now think about our beautiful new toilet and changing facility at HTB.....

Gatenzi isn't helpless and hopeless. The staff and Imelda do what they can with very limited resources. Here is a little macadamia nut tree. When it is mature the nuts are highly prized and will make a useful cash crop - unles the neighbours pinch them all at weekends!

Gatenzi's coffee orchard. The coffee brings in about RwF30,000 a year in a good year; this is almost equal to the basic salary of a teacher. The money is argued over for hours by the school's parents' committee and usually goes on things like games equipemnt, a reserve of stationery for the poorest children, some bristol paper and marker pens.

This is the 2008 coffee crop just before the beans turn red and are ready to harvest. 2008 was a good year for Rwandan coffee.

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(Blog readers - please ignore this post. I'm trying to protect my blog against any possible hacking or unauthorised postings). Bruce x

Training teachers at Kibungo

Three abreast up the hill to Rukira primary school near Kibungo. We're all carrying heavy packs with all our teaching materials.

The "North - South - East - West" game. Believe it or not, this is an excellent way to teach the difference between verbs and adverbs. "Walk happily to the West"; or "hop angrily to the North". The Rukira primary children thought it was totally hilarious.

Soraya, Tina and Tom toasting marshmallows.

Even when the flames had died down, the heat was too intense to get closer to the fire. Cooking marshmallows took only a few seconds apiece!

Simple, effective technology. Hygienic hand washing equipment in a part of Rwanda where water becomes very scarce during the dry season. An old cooking oil bottle, a wooden frame, a piece of string.

You tread on the lower stick and the bottle tips. There's a small hole near the top which delivers just enough water to clean your hands without wasting any. Low maintenance; lasts for ages. Well done, Rwanda!

OK Tina, what are we going to do with them next?.........

........ I know! "Brain Gym" exercises. I'm trying to get 25 teachers to pat their heads and rub their tummies at the same time, and it's causing gales of laughter. (Is this really what the muzungus have come to Rwanda to teach us?)

Look, no hands! Soraya shows she's cool on a moto....

The road to Rukira School - wide and gentle, but so, so dusty. I'm taking this as we're hurtling down the track, three abreast, taking up the entire width of the road, with a blind corner ahead. All three motos are hooting and hoping nobody is abotu to appear round the bend.....

Easy riding in Ngoma

June 24th

The second day at Rukira school. We’ve done a deal at the schoolyesterday, and we’ve all agreed to start early, and go without a lunch break, and finish at 1400. This suits all of us. Tina is tired and needs an early night. Soraya and I have to get home to Gitarama where Wednesday night is film night at Becky’s. The teachers don’t usually eat when they’re on training courses; they’d rather pocket the lunch allowance as extra cash, but they’ll want to walk to their homes in outlying villages and get back before dark.

The morning goes very well. I’m in charge of the singing, and we do “Lion Hunt” which goes down a bomb. These are a nice bunch of teachers and they appreciate having extra muzungus to talk to. We get heavily into phonics and I only wish I could remember all of the “Letterland” phonic alphabet Catherine and Rachel were taught at Primary school. Maggie McDaide would be proud to see two dozen Rwandan primary teachers learning about “kicking king” and “quiet queen” etc. We decide to fill the gaps I can’t remember, so we invent a version to suit Rwanda; we have “hungry hippo” and “pink pig” amongst others. Learning by phonics is a totally new idea in Rwanda and to begin with the teachers are highly suspicious. Until we begin to teach them new words using the phonics pronunciation and they suddenly realise it is much easier that way.

We begin to explain to them about regional variations in pronunciation, and British and American pronunciation; they find it so hard to accept that there is no single “right way” to say so many words in English. Some have trouble with “a” and “u”; the word “ant” is pronounced to rhyme with “aunt”, and “umbrella” sounds almost the same, too.

By quarter to two we are ready to finish. We have discovered that our bluetak is pulling the plaster off the classroom wall, so while Tina keeps the teachers talking and listening, Soraya and I try to stealthily ease our wall posters down with the minimum of damage, and then we get out of the school before anyone notices and starts asking for compensation for a repaint or replaster! It’s their fault for using cheap plaster!

They’ve been so pleased to have us come to train them and are negging us all to come back next term. Tiuna’s definitely returning; I say we’ll see whether I can get an “ordre de mission” (permission to be away from work). I’ll certainly return to Rukira if it won’t mess up my plans in Muhanga.

Back we go towards Kibungo, freewheeling down the dusty track to the main road. There is so much fine dust on the earth road today that cornering becomes risky, and even our young moto drivers use their brakes instead of careering round the bends and trusting to luck. On the road back up to Kibungo there’s a big Tanzanian petrol tanker and trailer struggling to make it up the hill, and we’re stuck behind him for a while on a series of reverse bends. The drivers are so close behind him that even as a pillion passenger I could reach forward and touch the lorry. Eventually we’re relieved to get past before one of our lads makes a miscalculation and we all come to grief. My crash helmet is miles too big for me; the strap is loose and won’t adjust and I can almost rotate the thing through 90 degrees around my head. A fat lot of good that would be if I came off the bike!

Soraya and I pile into the Kibungo restaurant for the fastest mélange on earth because we want to get a bus back as soon as possible. It’s vital that we get into and out of Kigali before we become stuck in the afternoon rush hour. Alas, it’s not to be. The café is on a go slow; we have to wait for more mélange to be brought out. In the end we can eat, but there is only carbohydrate: chips, boiled potatoes, rice, pasta, plantain bananas, and cassava. We need something to fill us up because we’re not sure whether we’re going to be back in time to eat this evening, so we pile in, eat too much too fast, and then say goodbye to Tina and wait for a bus.

We’re promised a comfy coaster, but what turns up is an old sardine tin matata, and we end up jammed in the back seats. Fortunately it leaves only ten minutes late, and runs as fast as it can. We shed passengers rather than picking them up, so after Kayonza we have the back seats to ourselves. But it’s still an uncomfortable run and we’re both tired, dusty, hot and jaded when we reach Kigali.

We go straight to the “Horizon” depot to buy tickets for home, but are told we have to wait three quarters of an hour for the 6.30 bus. That will make us too late for the film evening. I buy the tickets as a safeguard – 6.30 is the last bus of the day and it always fills up fast – and Soraya says to try our luck at Atraco and see if they have seats left for 6.00. Sure enough, we get seats for their 6.00 bus. That means we now have two lots of bus tickets. I would simply write off the Horizon tickets; after all, the bus fare to Gitarama isn’t exorbitant. But Soraya says she has taken back tickets before, and the bus people simply accept our tickets back and give us a refund. They know we are both regular customers of theirs, and that we don’t want to hang around any later than absolutely necessary for an evening bus. They’ll have no difficulty whatsoever in re-selling our tickets to other people.

So at 6.00 we’re on our last lap home, and get to Gitarama just as it’s properly dark. We go straight to Becky’s and find food, fun and film waiting for us. Becky is handing out invitations for her Canada Day celebrations on Sunday. Matteo is about to leave for the Sudan; goodness knows how he’s going to get by there but he seems to have luck wherever he goes. I tell him to get a letter of introduction from the Franciscans at Kivumu so if there are problems he can get refuge in a Franciscan or any other Catholic institution; I also tell him about Trevor Stubbs at Juba. Tom’s made a lovely pasta, mincemeat and cheese creation to eat, and someone has done couscous with fresh salad vegetables in it, so we eat a proper balanced meal for supper.

The film is more chick lit than serious movie: Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo are dithering about and she’s supposed to be a dead doctor but in reality she’s just in a coma. You know the sort of thing….. It fills an evening.

Back at the flat afterwards I find we’re been out of water almost continuously since I left, and the food situation is low. Never mind; there’s a mad hectic weekend coming up and tomorrow night I’m eating at Soraya’s, so we’ll be hand to mouth for a few days.

All in all it’s been quite a day again – training course, long drive right across Rwanda, and film evening with the gang in Gitarama. It’s very difficult to be lonely or downhearted with this amount of contact with fellow volunteers. As we were on the road between Rwamagana and Kigali we saw Amanda, who has just finished with VSO, walking through the village where she used to be based. Old VSOs don’t go; they just fade a bit into the background!

And it’s nice to be sleeping in my own comfy bed again.

Toasting marshmallows at Kibungo

June 23rd

Our training doesn’t start until 9.30, and we want to be there for nine, so we have a leisurely start to the day. Tina has real coffee and, luxury of luxuries, fresh croissants which she has bought in Kigali. I can’t remember ever eating croissants in Rwanda before now!
When we’re ready we walk to the bus park and hire motos. Épi is not with us today because she has to work in one particular school for three days a week. We roar up the hill towards Kibungo town and stop at the District Office. Soraya and I have never been up to the Ngoma office before, so we go in and meet the staff there. They are a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of three volunteers going to do training in one of their schools, but are glad to see us and make us feel welcome. Rwanda is such a small country that everybody working in education administration knows each other, so as soon as I mention that we work for Claude and Valérian they can all place us.

Tina collects a pile of papers and we set off again on our motos to the school. We go out on the main road towards Rusumo, towards Tanzania, and descend for miles down a long, gently sloping hillside, into a deep valley. The road twists and turns as it crosses spurs projecting out into the valley; our moto drivers are young and reckless and throw us round the bends, often driving blind round sharp corners on the wrong side of the road. The population density here is much less than in Muhanga; you really do get a sense of space, of room to breathe in this part of Rwanda. In fact, above the farmed areas there is a belt of trees lining the middle slopes of the valley, and then what appears to be a belt of unused land extending up to the hilltops. You certainly don’t get that in my part of Rwanda!

Eventually we turn off onto a dirt road, cross the valley floor where there are water pumps and people working up to their knees in irrigated vegetable patches, and start up an equally long hill winding its way up the other side of the valley. Rukira school stands on the top of the hill, spread out in an untidy straggle, along with the village, over a distance of a mile or so.

As soon as we hit the dirt road we throw up clouds of dust. Our moto drivers are very considerate, and we drive up the hill three abreast, taking up the whole road. This means we don’t choke in each other’s dust, but it’s a bit risky if someone is coming round a bend towards us, downhill. The bikers’ solution is that all three hoot their horns continuously every time we come to a bend. The noise ensures that every single farmer, every single child, every single woman walking to market with a bowl of fruit on her head – they all stop to watch the prospect of three muzungus being taken in style to Rukira village. But it’s a great feeling and beyond doubt one of the most enjoyable moto rides I’ve ever had in Rwanda.

The school is big – a primary of over a thousand children and a tronc commun section on the same site. The buildings are well made of brick, with some interesting architecture, especially in the desperately complicated timbering of their roofs. We are given one of the best rooms; all the windows have glass in them; the room has been emulsioned in a bright green, but it is cool, breezy and ideal for our purpose. We get set up while the teachers – twenty five of them – arrive. The head mistress introduces us; she’s delighted to find I speak French and for the rest of the day I get landed with translating any bits of work which people find difficult to follow.

It is fascinating to work with another professional, and Tina has both a primary specialist and experienced in teaching English as a foreign language. (In London she works at the German school in their primary department). We work through till half past three, when our motos return for us.

These lads on their bikes are also having a great time today – two muzungu women to chat up and show off to, and an easy fare on good roads. Down the dirt road into the valley bottom we freewheel the whole way, once again three abreast and with a massive plume of dust stretching behind us like a veil. One of the worst things that can happen to you on these earth roads in the dry season is to get stuck behind a lorry. If you can’t pass it you have to endure mile after mile choking in red dust which gets everywhere.

Back at Kibungo Soraya and I descend on Épi who is very happy that she only has one more day of teaching left this term. Tina goes back to the office to drop off some papers and deal with officialdom. When she arrives back with us we all four walk to Tina’s house, gathering sticks and small pieces of wood as we go. We’re going to make a fire in Tina’s backyard tonight and toast marshmallows. Now it is absolutely unheard of for muzungus to go scavenging for wood, and we end up the talking point of the neighbourhood yet again. Strictly speaking, gathering sticks for firewood is illegal in Rwanda, but nobody ever enforces the law and everybody does it. The most common reason for young children being late for school is that their parents have sent them out to get firewood, and threatened them that there will be no food for them in the evening if they come home empty handed.
At Tina’s house we meet Tom (not “my” Tom; this is Tom Lee who works in the anti-HIV project and is based with Tina in Kibungo). Tom has just been for a run, and when he’s ready we all go into town for a mélange. The restaurant in Kibungo is very good, and African tea there is amazingly cheap at only RwF100 a cup. That’s got to be the best value in Rwanda!

After we’ve eaten we go for a drink, and then drift home. Épi’s feeling tired and not at her best and decides to drop out and go home to sleep, but the other four of us get a fire going at Tina’s and spend ages toasting marshmallows. They cook very quickly (in fact we discover we’ve left the bag too close to the fire, and the uncooked marshmallows inside it have all fused together). Hot marshmallows have to be treated with care; we burn our lips and Tina blisters her finger trying to stop molten sugar dripping onto her clothes.
Then we all spend more time star gazing until eventually we decide that enough’s enough and we crash out for another good night’s sleep.
Today has been a great day –p an excellent training session, and great fun in the evening. Who’d ever have expected that I would come to Africa and end up toasting marshmallows on a campfire within spitting distance of the Akagera game park?

Mad Monday in Gitarama

June 22nd

A mad day today, but in a nice way. Into the office for seven as usual. Claude is there, and all the others. I get started on some work. Then Claude calls me into his office for a meeting. I immediately feel guilty and wonder if I’m about to get a rollicking for slacking…

But no, Claude is actually having a departmental meeting! My God! - It’s the first time we’ve met together as the education department in all the eighteen months I’ve been in Rwanda. I think the mayor must have told each department that they need to have regular Monday meetings. I wonder how long it’ll last! I have to tell the others what I’m doing this week (fighting the secondary schools to get their census results, and agreeing the presentation with Védaste); Innocent and Valérian have to do the same.

Then Claude says that we must make sure we have an open door policy and be friendly towards visitors. I try not to smirk. The others are hardly ever in their offices, and there’s never any system to tell visitors where they’ve gone or how long they’re going to be away. I type up a little sign to put on our door, in English, to say the door is always open. At that point Claude asks me if I have left my office unlocked to come to the meeting. I say yes. He tells me straight away to go and lock it so that nobody can come in and pinch my stuff…. So my “open door” policy lasts about ten minutes!

Claude also says I have to talk to everybody in English, so as to help them improve their English. I’m already doing this most of the time, but I usually find that if I want specific information from somebody it’s safer to do the greetings in English and then ask for the information in French. Otherwise they just say “yes” to everything and I’m none the wiser.

We are told to remember that we are here to serve the clients, and to be client friendly in our approaches to the visiting public. When we’re here!

He wants to talk to Soraya about her contract (like mine, it needs formally renewing for our second year and signing off by him and the Mayor). I explain that Soraya’s in Nyamata today, helping Els with a training session.

Eventually all the others go off to the committee room for the big morning meeting of the whole District staff. This is always held in Kinyarwanda so there’s no point in my being there. I carry on in my office, this time with Védaste, and we look at the draft presentations I have prepared. Védaste is happy with them. But what he really wants is for me to write for him, in English, a covering letter for a funding proposal he is making. I do him a letter, but it’s not an easy thing to write. There’s the kind of covering letter you would write in an English context, and then there’s the infinitely more flowery Rwandan version. We settle for a compromise, and I just hope it works.

Claude comes back and asks us to try to work out for him the proportion of seven year olds who are actually in school (in French this is called “le taux de scolarisation”). This, like Védaste’s letter, is a very tricky thing to have to calculate. We know exactly how many children are in school, but we have to use guesswork to decide how many seven year olds there are in the District, and the resulting figure is very much a work of fiction. But if it keeps the District happy then we’re OK with it. The question is, does it meet Claude’s targets?

Midway through the morning Jeanne arrives from Nyabisindu school. She wants to have her copy of the school census because she needs some figures from it for a report. That’s no problem. I take the opportunity to ask her if she’d like to come and join the Gitarama muzungus for a film night next week; she says “yes”, so it looks as though I’ve got myself a date…. She saw me in Kigali last weekend but didn’t get a chance to get close enough to say hello.

She’s barely out of the door when Aléxie, the Cyiciro head, comes in. Cyiciro is the isolated school out in Nyarusange secteur where I’m paying for her water tanks and pipework to be repaired. The bill comes to RwF129000 which in one sense is a lot, but if it means the school has clean water then its money well spent. I tell her I’ll go home later in the morning, collect the money, and meet her to give it to her. She blanches at the thought of having to carry all this money around, and asks me if I’ll pay it directly into her school account. That means a trip out to a rural bank branch at Mushubati, but if it gives her peace of mind then I’ll do it for her.

I carry on working all morning until twelve; then I escape back to the flat. I have rung a couple of secondary schools who are promising to get their census data to me during the afternoon, but I’m not holding my breath for them and if I’m not in the office they all know which is my door and they’ll usually just slide the stuff under the door to wait for me. (It’s one of the unexpected benefits of Rwandan doors being so badly fitted!).

At the post office there’s a newspaper for me, and various other stuff for the rest of the gang. After lunch I try to work out how I can combine going to Kibuye with getting Aléxie’s money paid in to the bank. I reckon I can just do it. I pack a rucksack for Kibungo, including taking my laptop because there should be some Uganda pictures to exchange with Épi. I take a moto to the bank out at Mushubati, but on the way I realise I’ve left my phone charging on the bed and I’ll have to go back for it. Cyiciro school banks with the “Banque Popularire de Rwanda”; this is the only local bank which puts its branches out into the countryside. All the others only have branches in towns. So the B.P. is the most popular bank for rural primary schools like Cyiciro. When I get there the bank is closed for lunch hour and there is a crowd of people waiting for it to re-open. The door is open but the caisse position is closed. As it’s very hot outside, and I’m the object of intense curiosity to all the local people waiting around, I decide to sit inside in the cool shade and wait for things to get started. One local, a French speaker, strikes up a conversation through the window, and everybody else pushes close to learn what the muzungu is doing here. It really is an event of great interest that a white man has come to this bank –it’s a well known fact to Rwandans that muzungus never bank outside the towns and rarely venture outside them, too. And this muzungu appears to have come on foot, as well (I left my moto at the roadside and dismissed him). They’re all agog to find out why I’m here, and they’re very direct with their questions about my business. Why I am I here? Did I really come all the way on foot, in the heat? Who am I? Where do I live? What is my nationality? Am I married?

I’m rescued by one of the bank staff who overhears the conversation and leads me in to an inner office where she has been eating her lunch but has now finished and is waiting for her colleagues to return. She also asks lots of questions. When I explain that I’m here to pay a large amount of money (RwF130,000) into a primary school account to pay for repairing the school’s water supply she gets very chatty, and it turns out that she lives only a few hundred yards up the road from me in Gitarama.

As soon as the cashier returns I get priority treatment. They’re all fascinated to know where the money is coming from (my local church) and why I’m giving it to this particular school (because it is stupid to have a water tank but not to be able to use it because the pipework is broken), and whether I’m handing out money to all the local schools (unfortunately, no!). Eventually we’ve done all the transactions and I can leave. I text Aléxie to tell her she can breathe easier now the money is in her account, and as there is no moto I start walking up the big hill back towards Gitarama. Various motos pass me, but they all have passengers. I have to go more than a mile, and past the Mushubati road junction, before I eventually find one. It is very hot, so I’m walking slower than usual to adjust.

Back at the flat I find Janine in the middle of cleaning, so I’ve just got time to say a quick hello and drink a cup of water. In this heat I can feel myself dehydrating. I manage to get a fast bus to Kigali, and I’m really lucky in that I get the very last seat on a big bus which is just leaving for Kibungo. This is a definite stroke of luck. Most of the buses to Kibungo are little sardine-can matatas and I am lucky have a big Coaster bus. Also, I was expecting to have to wait for up to an hour for the next bus. The penalty is that I’m jammed on to one of the tip-up seats and everyone else has dumped their bags where my feet need to go. As usual, they’re reluctant to move anything to make any space for me, but after I’ve almost trodden on someone’s luggage they eventually clear some floor space for my great feet and we can leave. One happy stroke is that I’m sitting in between two very shapely young women! I read my paper on the easy bits of road, but some parts are very twisty and the driver is in a hurry. Eventually I start feeling road sick so I have to abandon the paper.

After Kayonza one of the girls gets out and for the last ten miles I get a decent seat. It’s a long time since I was in this far south-east of Rwanda and I have forgotten how nice it is. It is lower and hotter than Gitarama, but the roads are straighter and the scenery is quite pretty. Everything is still green, except for any plants growing by the roadside which are already dusted with brown mud from passing vehicles.

By the time we reach Kibungo it is dark. I know roughly where Tina’s place is, and get out at what I think is the right stop. I soon realise I have got out too early, but I’m within walking distance. I ring Tina and discover that she has been in Kigali all day and is actually on her way homeat the moment, but on a later bus. Soraya, too, is still on her way from Kigali after doing a day’s training with Els at Nyamata. Tina tells me to go and wait at Épi’s house and we’ll all meet up when the girls arrive from Kigali. So I walk a few miles in the dark and I’m very pleased with myself because I recognise Tina and Tom’s house on the way, and I navigate myself to Épi’s little house with only one false turning. (Someone has built a mobile phone mast and cabin in the middle of what used to be the path to Épi’s, and in the dark I can’t see where they’ve rerouted the path). There’s no moon and it’s all very black. Fortunately there aren’t any puddles, but the ground is uneven and it would be dead easy to twist an ankle. I try to ring Épi to let her know I’m coming, but as usual her phone is playing up and cuts out after about ten seconds. When I knock on her door there’s quite a pause, and then Épi and Fausta, her domestique, peer out of the window to see who’s threatening them….

I have to explain to Épi why I’m here – a spur of the moment decision to help Tina with some training. But it means Épi and I can have a long chat before the other girls arrive, and we can swop pictures from the Uganda trip, and I can give Épi my flash drive and a list of Congolese music I want Jeanneau to get for me.

Eventually Tina calls to say she and Soraya are home and have food for us. Meanwhile Fausta has cooked potatoes in a lovely peanutty sauce, so we hastily eat them. In Rwanda it is criminal to let any food go to waste. Fausta has lost her voice, but is a very religious soul, so I have to say a quick grace before we eat. The night is calm, clear, and warm. The stars at Kibungo are amazing.

After we’ve all eaten I show the girls my “stellarium” program on the computer (it is a wonderful piece of software which imitates star positions and movements). We find we can set the location of the programme even to Kibungo. That’s simply staggering – Kibungo is a small town in a tiny country in the middle of Africa. It makes the whole world feel a really small place!

Eventually we go out into Tina’s front yard and lie on our backs on the gravel, with the computer, and try to match what we see in the sky above us with what we can see on the screen. Cygnus, the swan, is flying right over us. Scorpio is also almost directly overhead. Further down we can clearly see the Southern Cross. Yay! I’ve always wanted to see the cross because it’s the classic southern hemisphere constellation. And now, after coming to Kibungo, I’ve managed it! Orion has disappeared I know not where, and unfortunately the great bear is partly obscured by houses and hills around us. The Milky Way is unmissable. Every so often a shooting star streaks across above us.

By now we’re all tired. We walk Épi past the dangerous part of Kibungo. (Where the taxi buses leave there is always a crowd of men hanging around. It feels sleazy and even I feel uncomfortable there. You should see the reptilian looks these blokes give to the girls….).

Back at Tina’s we bed down for the night. Tom is home, so there’s one spare bedroom for Soraya, and I use cushions from the sofa and camp on the living room floor. It isn’t cold – there’s a two inch gap under the outside door. The cushions are from Tom and Tina’s sofa which was infested with fleas when they moved in; tonight will be the ultimate test to see whether all the little buggers have been exterminated!

It’s been a great day! This is exactly what VSO should be about, and it is precisely what I hoped my African experience would be like.

Fine dining

June 19th

Another very slack day today. I really must get my act together better for next week. I work at home for most of the morning and go up to the Office just before lunch. Unfortunately nobody that I need to see is there; nor is the modem there; nor have any of the schools returned their outstanding census forms. So I’m a bit stuck.

Védaste is there and in his office I see an abstract of statistics for the district which he has compiled. There are some interesting figures on the population of Muhanga, so I borrow the booklet to cope some of his work. 47% of the entire population of the district is under 14 years old, and only 7% is over 55. You just compare that to West Dorset! For Nyamabuye secteur, which includes most of Gitarama built up area, there are around 13000 under-14s but only 1800 over 54s!

The only exciting thing to happen in the morning is that there is some post for me. Two anniversary cards, no less, from Teresa. I discover from an enclosure she sends that our local paper back in England is following my blog and printing chunks from it, so I need to bear that in mind in what I publish….

I have lunch with Becky at Tranquillité and return home via the market. I give Hayley her post and she says Amy is coming up for the weekend from Kigeme. Tom’s probably not going to be back until very late; he’s shuttling round Nyamata today looking at houses. So I invite the girls for dinner and decide to go to town and experiment with a feast. There’s an over ripe avocado in the house so we have guacamole for starters. I’m very taken with the salad I had for lunch in Kigali the other day, and decide to recreate it with my own twist. Potato salad with a dusting of ginger (you try it – it works!); a repeat of the sort of coleslaw I made yesterday with potato, marrow and onion, and a main course like a summer salad with grated carrot, onion rings, cheese strips, hard boiled egg, French beans, pasta, green pepper and loads of tomato. It all tastes gorgeous and looks wonderful on the plate. I take some down to the guard; I’m not sure he knows what’s hit him. Rwandan food is usually boiled or stewed to extinction, and the idea of a main course which has hardly anything cooked in it will probably seem like a cop out to our guard. Never mind; as we say in Dorset, “I’ll learn him…”

Just as we’re getting started Tom arrives earlier than expected; he’s had a lift back from Kigali. Fortunately there’s enough food for him to join in as well. We spend the rest of the evening chatting and getting through more and more bottles of beer until we call it a night.

So that’s my Friday in Gitarama. Best thing – once again, the evening meal. I’m treating it as a dry run for if I need to do some more formal entertaining in the future.

Wierd people in Kigali

June 18th

A bit of a non-day today. At the St Jean centre there is an Asiatic man, either Japanese or Korean, I think, who beyond any shadow of a doubt has mental health problems. He seems to be a permanent resident in the place. He is always up and about, bare chested, outside his room, trying to engage the other residents in conversation. He is not physically aggressive but verbally confrontational. He intrudes into other people’s conversations and has no sense of when his presence isn’t wanted. This morning he got it into his head that one of our girls, in the room next to mine, wanted waking up early. So at soon after five o’clock this man is outside our rooms, banging on the doors, making cockerel noises, and shouting at everyone in general and this girl in particular to get up. We know he’s got problems, so we try to ignore him and hope he’ll take himself off. But he doesn’t.

The girl in question is sharing a room with Ken (the rooms are partitioned into two separate halves, ideal for a male and female volunteer to share). This Asian man, getting no response from the girl, next opens the door of her room and starts to come into the room. Ken leaps out of bed, absolutely furious, and chases him away, threatening to bring in the police etc. I also go to my door to give Ken support if he needs it, but the unwanted visitor is backing off fast. I don’t blame him – Ken in full fury is an impressive sight!

When we leave the centre later that morning we say to the management that, much as we like the centre, this guy’s presence means that many of us will not use it in future if he is still there. The management know only too well of his problems, but it is a Christian organisation and I think they feel that they can’t abandon him on to the streets or worse. It’s the down side of using religious hotels as cheap accommodation, and I’m surprised it’s the first time we’ve encountered this issue in Rwanda because almost all the cheap hostels we use are church run.

I go up to “Simba” supermarket for breakfast and bump into another group of English volunteers who were at the Queen’s do last night. They are three girls working with street children at Kayonza, near Gahini, and a young man teaching in the same area. I can’t remember the name of their organisation. Everyone is hung over from the party. Some of our VSO volunteers have had to be up and away very early because they have teaching or training commitments; others like me are on their slack periods at the moment and can afford to effectively take the day off to recover! Bridget in particular has had to be up and away by ten to six in the morning; she’s got a class at Gahini teacher training college at about ten o’clock.

I go up to the VSO office and sort out a lot of business there. Unfortunately I discover it will cost me a very large amount of money to change my flight date to England in July, so I’m deciding to stick with July 18th and hope that Ethiopian airlines runs to schedule.

Tina comes into the office and we have a long conversation about things in general, and go back into town for lunch. Afterwards we split up, and I come back to Gitarama on the bus. The fellow sitting next to me turns out to be the new head teacher of Nyabitare tronc commun (replacing the man who lasted the spring term and then ran away, not returning for the summer). Nyabitare is one of the black marked schools which haven’t returned their census forms, so when we reach Gitarama we both get off at the district office and we try to find him a blank form. Can we find one? – no way. No sign of Claude or Valérian; their office is locked, and I don’t have spares in my office or the main office. It is just so frustrating. Of my 4 phone calls yesterday afternoon all I have is one completed census form pushed under my door! I will do more phone calls tomorrow.

Raima buttonholed me at the Queen’s do and said she wanted to speak to me urgently. While I’m in the District Office she rings again, so I go round to see her at her house. There’s no work for me to do in the office. I’m there at Raima’s for two and a half hours; we’re trying to sort out what is happening about some training sessions which are supposed to be taking place in Nyamabuye Secteur. Training at the moment seems a hopelessly confused mess of conflicting initiatives. There is training organised at District, secteur and Government level, plus that which we’re doing as VSO volunteers. Courses of training are started, and then abandoned part way through. The “cascade” model of training, which the Government sees as its preferred model, is creaking at the seams before it has really started. Most training sessions are on Saturdays, to avoid disrupting classes, and teachers are paid per diems to reward them for giving up their free time. This Saturday there is supposed to be an all day session for the trainers – teachers who attended last December’s government course at Butare – to familiarise themselves with the printed materials in preparation for a long series of session running through the summer. But the trainers are already having big problems with the materials, and have asked one of Raima’s teachers to come and help them. Raima has gone through the materials and found many problems. For one thing, some of the exercises don’t make good grammatical English. The materials come from an American source, and the English in them is American English and not “English English”. It has also come from an evangelical Christian foundation in the states; you get sentences such as “Every morning I get up at seven. First I pray and then I…..” It’s indicative of the evangelical church’s wishful thinking that they are trying to impose their beliefs on everybody here. It’s insidious. There is another series of sessions for which there has been a budget of close to four million francs, the money coming from school capitation grants. But after three of the planned six sessions the training was abandoned (the official reason is that too many sessions were coinciding with Saturday umugandas and teachers were afraid of losing the good citizen credentials by not turning up for umuganda). The real reason is more likely to be that the trainers were so weak in English themselves that the trainees lost confidence in them and stayed away. Raima is interested to know if all the money was paid up front, and if so who is sitting on a big pile of cash….. It doesn’t bode well for the amount of English language training this little country needs as urgently as possible!

Back at the flat I’m relieved to find Tom already there and starting to cook. Hayley comes round and we invite her to stay for dinner. Soraya is not well, and Charlotte and Sarah have gone off on their travels. We cook up a storm. Fresh chicken breasts from one of momma’s birds, with rice and two side dishes. Tom makes an aubergine, marrow and tomato thing, with a packet of cuppa soup to thicken it, and I make up a juicy salad with things we have left lying around – cabbage, some marrow, onion, raisins, juiced oranges and mayonnaise. For pud we have some of Teresa’s simnel cake and instant custard. It’s a huge meal and by the time we’ve finished we’re absolutely stuffed. It feels just like the end of an enormous Sunday lunch when all you want to do is flop out in an armchair and watch telly. Or in our case (we revert to type), Tom watches a DVD on his computer and I listen to music from mine.

Best thing about today – the evening meal.

Worst thing – trying to maintain some semblance of sweet reason and Christian charity when you’re dehydrated and hung over at five in the morning and some idiot is shouting at you inches from your window…..

Apparently he is quite notorious in Kigali; we hear stories that he stripped naked on the dance floor at KBC one evening and had to be thrown out of the club. Strange guy!

The Muhanga Nursery Conundrum; Drinking to the Queen in Kigali

June 17th

Slow start today – I spend an hour trying to finish off my presentation about nursery schools in Muhanga District. I’m still missing information from about ten schools but I’m sure the missing details won’t change the overall picture. The total number of pupils in nursery schools is a lot lower than I was expecting. In primary first year we have around 17500 pupils. One in five of them is repeating, so let’s assume the annual “cohort” is around 14000. If nursery education was universal I could expect the same number at the very least in the maternelles; in fact, a lot more than 14000 because many of the nursery schools take pupils for two or even three years. But the total number registered in our nursery schools is only around 7000, and that’s making allowances for the schools that haven’t sent in their data. So I conclude that less than half of those eligible are actually attending pre-school. Why might this be? It can’t be that the children are being employed – they’re too young. It is very likely that parents can’t afford the small sums levied to pay the wages of the “guardienne” (nursery teacher). It might be that parents can’t afford the clothes or kit (biros, little notebooks) the children use at school. It might be that the parents don’t see any need to send their children to nursery school (after all, the majority of rural parents never spent a day in school themselves). Most likely is that there simply aren’t enough nursery school places. In most of my primary schools you find the equivalent of four, five or six classes in year 1, but only one classroom for pre-school. In the majority of cases the nursery schools are run and owned by an association of parents, like a kind of co-operative. Parents pay a sum that goes to pay the teacher. The rooms are usually appalling – invariably they are the smallest, tattiest, least suitable rooms that nobody in the primary school wants. Or else the parents have had to work together through umuganda and build their own classroom. In these cases the rooms are usually of mud brick and about the size of your average English living room, but with forty to fifty little people crammed inside. In order to keep costs down, furniture is kept to a minimum. There is usually one blackboard, a cast-off from the primary school, a box of chalk, and filthy piece of rag or foam rubber to use as a “chiffon” (blackboard cleaner), and that’s the sum total of the nursery equipment. There are no pictures on the walls. In a very few cases teachers have rounded up a load of old slates and drawn the letters of the alphabet on them. These are nailed up around the wall. Children in nursery schools do quite a lot of singing, and most of them can do their letters by the time they start first year in primary. They are well “socialized” as a result, but they haven’t really learnt anything despite these years (age 5-7) being the years when young children learn faster than at any other time in their lives. The differences between the private sector nurseries and those in the poorer, isolated secteurs is startling. Ahazaza, in Gitarama town, stands comparison with any English nursery provision. The worst are little more than a child-minding service with minimal educational input. Very few of the staff have any teaching qualifications; in several cases the teachers never even finished primary school themselves, never mind secondary school. Ever since I started going into nursery schools I’ve been banging on about getting some proper teaching in them so that children have a flying start in primary year 1, but there are so many issues involved – money, training, materials – that I can see why it’s rarely happening.

But this is Rwanda and things are changing so fast it leaves you breathless. Some time soon, when the government has finished sorting out secondary education, there will be a big flourish into nursery. Come back in five years and see what is happening then!

Mid morning I go up to the office to see if Claude or Valérian need more information from me. Claude’s not about; Valérian is busy; the modem has disappeared heaven knows where, so I’m scratching around for things to do. Top priority now is to get the census sheets in from a whole bunch of secondary schools that are tardy in returning them.

I go back home and in the afternoon start ringing up the tronc commun schools to chase them. It takes forever – of seven “missing” schools, four answer their phones are are co-operative and apologetic; two won’t answer their phones and one school doesn’t appear to have a head. Now a secondary school without a head tells you something about how isolated many of these schools are. Whoops! – Mineduc is experiencing a kind of reality gap. They want graduate, English speaking head teachers for these lower secondary schools – ambitious go-getters with ideas and bags of energy. The prospective heads want the chance to make their name and get promotion to the well-paid upper-secondary schools as vacancies arrive. But they also expect to be living in a decent house somewhere where there are facilities such as electricity, water, paved roads, shops, and restaurants. So who wants to be the head of a school as isolated as, say, Kibyimba. It’s on the top of a mountain, surrounded by other mountains, and a three-hour journey from any facilities worth mentioning. At night you can stand in the yard at Kibyimba and look through 360 degrees and you won’t see a single electric light anywhere. Kibyimba, and the other schools like it, represents precisely what all these graduates are trying to escape from. To get away from these “primitive” living condition is exactly what motivated them to slog their way through school and university.

So at the moment I’m not sure how I’m going to get my data from Kibyimba. I’ll probably have to chat up the head of the primary section.

In late afternoon I go into Kigali for the Queen’s Birthday Bash at the Embassy. There’s a group of staying in the St Paul centre, and we get spruced up there before sharing taxis up to Kacyiru. At the Embassy all is decorated with balloons and bunting. We’re met individually by the Ambassador and welcomed. There are no formal speeches or toasts, but there is live music and by the end of the evening some of us are dancing. There is free beer or wine; most of the VSOs make a beeline for the wine because here in Rwanda buying wine at restaurants is ruinously expensive. Most of the VSO contingent are present, and we make sure we feast on all the little bits of sushi and nibbles brought round. It’s not enough to absorb all the booze, and we’re all tiddly by the end of the event. There are people from the American school in Nyamata who we last saw at the Nile River rafting centre in Jinja; there’s a girl who works in momma’s orphanage at Gitarama. There’s Raima from Ahazaza school. Tom hasn’t come because he’s looking after a visiting party from FHI. Some VSOs haven’t come because they don’t support the idea of the monarchy, or because they don’t like parties. More than half the total guests are volunteers; more than half the total are young people in their twenties or early thirties. When it finishes there’s the usual half hour of “where are we going now?” discussions; we end up crossing the road to another bar, and stay ensconced there till around midnight. I have all sorts of conversations with lots of people. And half of them are prefaced by “don’t you dare write about this on your blog but…..” Fair enough; this is a public blog and I’m certainly not in the game of embarrassing or ridiculing my friends. The more time I spend with the other VSOs the more I like them as a group of people. They are so varied, and so interesting, and beyond question my time here in Rwanda has been made even more enjoyable by their support.

Back to the St Paul centre around midnight, having drunk far too much, and collapse into bed. What I don’t realize till the following morning is that the volunteers in the rooms around me have come back earlier, and gone up to raid the Nakumat supermarket. They have come back with armfuls of crisps, Pringles, snickers etc and are having a midnight feast behind closed doors. Good for them; we all get times when we’re craving for western junk food and every so often we all weaken and splurge on imported goodies!

Yet another major Gacaca here in Gitarama

June 16th

Today I’ve decided not to go to the office but to work at home. I’m going to get the primary school census presentation finished and ready to hand over to Claude, Valérian, Védaste and all and sundry. It’s just as well because I soon discover that today is another one of these major Gacaca events and everything in town is shut down. The baker opposite us is not open; the hairdresser is shut up and silent, and there’s very little movement of people up and down the road.

These major Gacacas are turning out to be a real pain. Unlike the Rwandans who listen to Kinyarwanda radio or have access to the bush telegraph, we never know what’s going on until it actually happens. When I first arrived here in 2008 there were Gacacas every Tuesday, but they only lasted the morning and it just meant you had to put off things like shopping or going to the bank until the afternoon. But this summer they’re something different. We understand that they are trying big fish at the moment, and I can sympathise with the idea that everyone needs to see justice being done so that psychological wounds can start to heal and all that, but to order the whole town to shut down, and expect le tout Gitarama to turn up at the stadium to watch someone being cross examined and trying to wriggle out of his or her responsibility is taking things to the extreme.

Fortunately I’ve got enough vegetables and bread in the house to see me through lunchtime (because even the restaurants in town will be closed at mid day), and we’ll take our chances for the evening. I get down to work by half past six and eventually I’m at the stage where I’m polishing off the fine details and I have a nice power point to show people.

Delphine comes round to do some practise on the computer, and for an English lesson. For the time being we’ve agreed that the best way to accommodate her is for her to arrive here en route to her new job at Becky’s. The system will work fine during the “closed season” when I’m not going out to schools, but we’ll have to think again in August when I want to be out and about.

It’s blissful to be working in complete peace and quiet and without any interruptions most of the morning. I eventually break off and make myself some soup for lunch. What’s in the larder? Plenty of potatoes and onions, most of a cabbage and that’s about it…. Definitely yet another soup day! So I pile in the spices and make a soup so potent it nearly blows my mouth off. Must go easier on the pepper next time! Still, it’s only me who’s eating it!

I carry on working through the afternoon, and eventually Soraya comes round. She’s come to claim a bit of Teresa’s simnel cake before Tom and I gobble the whole thing. We catch up on the girls’ gossip. Apparently Charlotte was sick after the poker night on Monday, but after a long, cold shower this morning and endless drinks of water she’s rehydrated and generally feeling well enough to go on her travels with Sarah. The girls are off to Kenya and Tanzania. Sarah is finishing a degree at Melbourne University specialising in fine art and photography. The University has a link with an Italian institution near Florence, which must be pretty well perfect for any Australian wanting to do fine art. During the poker evening she showed us her pictures of chimps at Nyungwe Forest and I have to admit they’re excellent, even though taken at long range.

In the evening we realise that the Gacaca closure is not only total but it lasting all day. The market will not open at all, nor the baker. So Tom and I decide to eat out. The decision’s made easier because our water keeps going off and coming back on during the day, and during the evening we have two long power cuts just at that time when you would want to be cooking with a decent light to see what you’re doing.

Hayley and Soraya come to join us; with no electricity anywhere there isn’t much to do except talk by candle light and shovel down brochettes and ibirayi. We get talking about our work experience placements when we were at school – Tom sorting shirts back onto their racks at Marks and Spencer, and Hayley working for a local radio station in North Devon. Tom says he was bored to death and got sacked for looking it; Hayley got asked to do voice overs for publicity and got paid well for it. I told them about some of our finest moment at Beaminster with pupils on work placements.

Nothing else to report today – I’ve done a good wodge of work but nothing really exciting has happened at all.

Vegemite or Marmite? - the Great Debate

June 15thth

Well, I had good intentions. I had planned to go up country today to inspect Kirwa Adventist school up in Rugendabari, but never left the District Office. Why? Because in the first place I forgot to ring the head of Kirwa yesterday to see if it was OK to come to see them. And officially we’re already into “revision week”, ahead of exam week, so there’s no guarantee that there will be proper lessons being taught at the school when I struggle to reach it. And it’s not as if there isn’t plenty to do in the office. My rucksack weighs a ton because I’m starting to ferry in all the textbooks, past “concours” exam papers, schemes of work and various other bits and pieces that I’ve been accumulating in the flat these eighteen months. I’ cleared space on a shelf in the office and all this paperwork will become the District library or reference collection. I’m writing “please do not remove from the District Office” on everything, and I’m borrowing Valérian’s official stamp to put over the text books in the hope that it will deter head teachers from pinching an extra copy of everything for their school. It probably won’t work but it’s worth a try! And it’s one of my “things to do before I go” I can tick off the list.

So I spend a lot of the morning online with the modem, which I’ve managed to prise away from Védaste. As well as all the usual stuff I make links to the DFID and British Council websites and start looking on them to see what they’ve got to offer in the line of paid jobs for people with my sort of experience. Not a lot, is the answer. One has an opportunity for teaching English to military personnel in Libya. The other has a generic post in working with countries in post-traumatic situations. On the face of it, two years in Rwanda might seem to be an interesting background for the role; but then I have visions of being sent to Afghanistan or Darfur for a year – no thanks! There’s adventure and there’s something several steps beyond it!

Eventually I get started on a proper report for Claude and others about the primary census. While I’m doing this Valérian comes in and wants to know how many schools have internet connections. That’s easy – two primaries out of 109 (and one connection is already broken) and three secondaries out of thirty who have so far sent me their census papers. I bet there’s a flap going on at mayor level this morning with Kigali demanding information and Valérian and others being sent scuttling around to find the answers. Since this is an official response to a formal request for information I have to write out my answer on the computer, print it, and sign it.

Ten minutes later Claude appears. Officially he’s still on leave, but he’s come in to find some other information. He wants the statistics on how many handicapped pupils we have in our primary schools. So I have to do the same thing as with Valérian and print out the data and sign on the dotted line for him. I think it’s really cool that I’m the official keeper of all this information, and lovely that they all trust me! But there’s definitely something afoot from Kigali and everyone is running around like headless chickens trying to dig information out from obscure files, presumably to answer Ministers’ queries in parliament.

By lunchtime I’m bored with being in the office and I’ve broken the back of my official write-up. I’ve learned a lot from last year’s experience. I’m making it much shorter, less elaborate and with a lot less of my interpretations and more plain facts. I’m pleased that my work is as accurate as it’s possible to get, and I certainly stand by my figures. That’s very important in a country where if the facts don’t show what powerful people want them to show, they tend to be kept hidden. There can be all sorts of angst about divulging unwelcome information and people tend to get evasive when asked for it.

I call in at the post office and lo and behold there’s a parcel for Tom and I. It’s from Karen and contains packets of sweeties and chocolate. Wow – somebody certainly loves us. Thank you Karen, if you’re reading this – you certainly made our day. God bless you!

Back at the flat I get stuck into making a power point of charts to illustrate the report. Again, I make it much less elaborate than last year’s. It says reams about the amount I’ve learned over the past year that things I ranted about in 2008 I now accept as givens in 2009. To a certain extent there’s a fine line to tread in commenting on the statistics: if there is something you, and they, can’t realistically change in the foreseeable future, such as crummy school buildings, do you make a big song and dance about it? In one sense yes, because if they are just accepting that it’s OK for school buildings to be in such a state then it is my job to sound the alarm and make them realise that things need to change. In the other sense no – they are generally well aware of the state of many buildings, but there is no money to replace any except a small fraction each year, and there are plenty of other calls on their finance. And officially my role is as an adviser, not a manager, so I can draw attention to things but I can’t demand on them being changed. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m not still a school manager with power and a mandate to DO things!

Late in the afternoon Charlotte comes in with Sarah. Sarah is an Australian friend who is visiting her. The girls have come to collect some tofu which we are keeping for them in our freezer. We launch into Teresa’s simnel cake which has been burning a hole in the top of our fridge since Catherine’s arrival. It tastes gorgeous and it isn’t going to last long! Charlotte has also come to invite Tom and I round for a wild evening of poker in the evening. And why not? – I’ve done some good work today.

No sooner have the girls gone when Delphine arrives. She’s just finished her first day’s work as Becky’s domestique and she’s come to tell me about it. She’s pleased that she’s managed to cook on an electric cooker (Delphine’s family, like almost all rural Rwandans, cooks on charcoal), and she’s cleaned the house from top to bottom. Becky has a big, four bedroom and two bathroom house, and Delphine is agog at the sheer size of it. During the school holidays, when the teenagers in her family are home from school, they are jammed into their own place like sardines. But today she’s pleased that she’s managed to cope; she’s cooked Becky a Rwandan-style evening meal for today; at some stage during the week Becky will cook with her and teacher her some western cooking and like that the two girls will get on well. Here is another subtle ethical dilemma. In exposing Delphine to the sort of houses we live in, we are raising her own expectations in life; she will want to spend her adult married life in this sort of comfort. But, realistically, what chance does she stand of meeting a Rwandan man who will be able to afford this level of accommodation? Are we being cruel to her in putting her face to face with a lifestyle she will never be able to emulate? My answer is that I’m in the business of trying to raise people’s expectations. Even if she is never able to live in a house as grand as Becky’s, there are aspects to it that she probably will be able to match and in striving to match them she will raise her standard of living. We can’t just educate these young Rwandans and then leave them with no expectations other than mud houses and paraffin lamps. That’s no recipe for the modern, cutting edge Rwanda the government is trying to achieve.

Matteo, the young Italian lad who has been staying with the three girls for a week or so, is moving into Becky’s place tonight and will occupy one of the spare bedrooms. And possibly the new long-term FHI girl who is arriving in July will take a third room. I’m very happy with all this – its company for Becky who otherwise is living on her own in a big, rattling house a long way from the rest of us across town, and with a rough area nearby, and it will greatly reduce the amount of rent VSO ends up paying for the place.

Tom is working hard in Kigali; there is yet another group of FHI visitors and he is on the go with his logistics hat on, making sure everything goes smoothly for them. So I cook for myself and the guard, and then drift across to the girls’ house.

The poker evening is a wild night. First of all I’m savaged by the dog as I go into the compound; he scratches my arm and draws blood. We know Pappy has had all his rabies jabs so I’m not in the slightest worried about that, but we slather the wound with alcohol rub to keep out any stray germs. There are seven of us for gambling – the three girls plus Sarah, and myself, Tom and Nathan. I go bust twice during the evening, and then on the very final “stake all” round of the evening I win. Would you believe it?

The highlight of the evening is the great blind tasting stand off between English Marmite and Australian Vegemite. I’ve taken our toaster and bread to the girls’ house, and we try once and for all to see if they taste the same and (if not), which tastes better. The only person who is not used to either Marmite or Vegemite is Soraya, so we blindfold her and give her two bits of toast slathered with the spreads. I should add that by this time in the evening we’ve had quite a lot of wine and beer between us and we’re all pretty loud.

The answer is – they taste quite different and even look different. Vegemite is much blacker than Marmite. Vegemite tastes slightly sweeter; Marmite has an acerbic aftertaste. Even tasting blind, if you have the two of them together it’s very easy to tell which is which. As to which is the best – well, that’s a question of taste. But then as an Englishman I’ve known all along that Marmite is incomparable…..

By ten o’clock we’re all pretty drunk and we’ve all got to work tomorrow, so we call it a day. Walking back to the flat, Tom and I are chinking nicely with empty bottles in our rucksacks, not to mention a toaster. The moon is very late in rising, and none of us has a torch, so we’re stumbling through all the ruts and gulleys in the lane. The stars, though, are superb.

It’s been a good day. Despite all the jollies I’ve done some good work and justified my keep!