Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Cat's baptism of fire!

May 28th

During the night it rains hard and carries on pouring for most of the dark hours. I’m convinced we won’t be able to get up country to Mushishiro, and lie awake thinking of alternate plans for what we can do. But by five o’clock it has finally stopped raining and though the dawn is grey and watery at least it’s dry and the mountain outline is sharp, with banks of low cloud and mist rolling past them.

As we’re having breakfast it rains again, but only a light shower. I had visions of going in to the office for an hour first thing, but it seems to take Catherine and I ages to get ourselves organised, so the office can wait till Friday.

By eight o’clock the weather is definitely improving, and we decide we’re going to Nyarutovu after all. Negotiating for motos is quick and easy because they know I’m offering them a good rate. I have to explain that it’s Catherine’s first long moto ride, and tell her driver not to do anything heroic.

The journey is neither the fastest nor the views the best of my time here. We go through thick banks of cloud, and there’s not enough sunlight to do the scenery justice, but it’s impressive all the same, and we chug up the mountain and part way down again until we come to the turnoff for Mushishiro secteur. The clouds are lifting all the time and it’s nice to feel sure that we won’t have more rain later in the morning. (If we did have heavy rain it would mean either abandoning our visit, or risking having a very long, very muddy walk out of the secteur to the main road).

Now the fun begins. The first few hundred yards into Mushishiro secteur are over very bumpy rock outcrops through the village. I hope Cat’s holding on for dear life – it’s a real baptism of fire to be going over this sort of ground on her first outing! Then there’s a long section over gravelly tracks, but with the occasional very muddy patch. The slightest bit of mud and you can feel the bike’s back wheels breaking away! Even more hairy are some steep muddy and uphill stretches; all credit to our moto drivers that neither of us has to get off and walk at any time.

The distance to Nyarutovu is more than I thought; it’s even further out than Cyicaro. When we get there I tell our drivers I’ll pay them an extra 500 each and they beam from ear to ear.

In front of us is the little school – only 400 pupils and only 6 classrooms. The mountains plunge down to the Nyaborongo river which snakes its way far below. All around you in every direction are green mountains speckled with homesteads. Patches of trees litter the steepest slopes, and lines of trees show where paths and roads slant diagonally up and down. Everything is in shades of darker green than usual because of the lack of direct sunlight.

Adalbert, the head, comes out to meet us. He‘s a simply lovely man. He speaks good English and wants to use it on us. We go on a tour round the school. He has beautifully tended flower borders outside every room, and a vegetable patch with peas and potatoes underneath young banana trees. There’s one long block of five classrooms at the top of the slope, and a second smaller block at the bottom which Adalbert has built with the help of his parents’ association. This contains the new year 6 classroom, his office, and the maternelle with about 20 tinies in it.

We pop in to say hello to the maternelle children; they goggle at two muzungus in front of them and are almost too tongue tied to answer our questions! The year 6 at Nyarutovu is a recent addition; formerly pupils transferred to the next school over (Cyicaro) for their final year. But it’s only right and proper that the school should have six years like almost every other one here.

I get on with the “inspection administrative”. Adalbert’s paperwork is in good order, and he even has the beginnings of a five year strategic plan to show me. There are some people you take an instinctive liking to, and this guy is one of them. He’s only been at the school three years or so, but I will mark him up with Claude for promotion at a later date.

After morning break we go into classrooms. We sit through a long double lesson of English where children are learning how to convert sentences from direct to indirect speech. This is a preoccupation with the year 6 examiners and it comes up every year. The children find it hard; you have to change the word order, and personal and possessive pronouns too. Few get it right without help. But then they have another year to work on it.

Nyarutovu is a good school academically; it came 16th out of 94 in last October’s “concours”, and is particularly strong in maths. One of the most important things I can do during my inspection is to reassure the head and teachers that someone at the District Office values them and knows they are doing a good job. Just as well, too, because it seems that none of the eight teachers has been paid since the end of March, and needless to say, the school hasn’t received its capitation grant for the current year.

Catherine is in the classes with me; it’s her first experience of an African school. She takes pictures, and when the pupils start doing a few exercises she helps the teacher and I by going round the room and marking their work. As we walk up the slope between classes the lingering mist and clouds lift enough for Catherine to get a glimpse of Muhabura volcano in the distance. That’s a real bonus – we’re into the dry season and the volcano will hide behind the haze for months at a time! Down in the valley the Nyaborongo river is visible here and there; the valley sides here are much narrower and steeper than up in Nyabinoni; it’s like a gorge with green sides. The topography is amazingly convoluted; it’s a completely random scattering of hills and mountains, all looking more or less the same, and within ten seconds you’ve lost your bearings. I ask Adalbert whether a school visible on a near hilltop is Musange (which I visited a fortnight ago) and he tells me that actually it’s in the Western province, in a different District altogether. What I haven’t noticed is that the river is between us and this school, but so deeply tucked into the valley that it’s all but invisible at this point.

We only have time to visit one more class, and that’s a year 3 maths lesson. The children are good at doing long additions where they don’t have to “carry over” numbers from one column to another; the teacher quickly revises this and then gets on with the much harder subject of additions using “carry overs”. There’s a single system that all Rwandan schools use for this; children laboriously draw columns for thousands, hundreds, tens and units and line up all the numbers. It’s a slow process but invariably they get the answers right. Just about every single pupils says “siggis” instead of six, and a few are still saying “three teen” instead of thirteen. The teacher says “isi” instead of “is” – that’s a real Kinyarwandan mistake. (So we tend to hear “seven plus siggis isi threeteen”).

The rooms are pretty good – brick built, and with concrete floors, high tin roofs. There is no glass in the windows, just the ubiquitous wooden shutters, but there are windows on both sides of the room and also a clear Perspex panel in the roof. This makes the room light and airy, and they’ve been built a good size so they feel spacious, too. The walls are decorated with a mixture of home made and commercial wall posters, but most of the home made ones are in French and need replacing with English language ones. Not a major fault, obviously, but I point it out to the staff for a future project when somebody remembers to give them their money!

I like Nyarutovu – the staff are committed and care for their children; the children are keen and responsive, and the head has a vision for the place and is a good manager as well as thoroughly likeable person. Some of these Rwandan schools leave me feeling cold; others feel as though you would be quite at home rolling up your sleeves and teaching in them. Nyarutovu is very much the latter.

Well, I debrief with the head and the two teachers we’ve seen, and Adalbert insists on giving us a fanta before we go – old fashioned Rwandan courtesy and hospitality. This makes us later than I had intended, and our moto drivers try their luck at asking for an extra thousand for “waiting time”. I tell them they can stuff their waiting time – it’s been my working time and I’m already paying them more than we agreed when we left Gitarama.

The journey back home is uneventful; the views are much better but the sun is still not completely through and everything is still muted in dark greens and browns. Back in town we fall into “Tranquillité” and I introduce Catherine to the joys of mélange and jus de fraise. Then she fancies a walk because her legs are stiff with bracing herself on the moto, and her hands are stiff where she’s been holding on to the grab rail for dear life on the bumpier bits.

We walk up to the District Office so that I can show her where we hang out. Nobody else is there. Today and tomorrow the Rwandan Prime Minister is on tour in Muhanga District, so everyone has gone off to minister to his needs and be photographed with him. Curses – I had visions of borrowing the internet modem overnight!

We call in at the post office and Charlotte has a parcel from a friend in Australia. The parcel is addressed to “Miss Charlotte the Adventurer Shaw”, and the postmistress had dutifully written this whole rigmarole onto the official receipt book which we sign when we pay for and collect parcels. Even better, the friend is a warden on “Kangaroo Island”, off the south of Australia, and this sounds such an Australian stereotype that we burst out laughing, much to the consternation of the postmistress.

We walk back home via the market and so that I can show Catherine where the girls live, and we’re no sooner in the house when Charlotte calls round to collect her parcel.

Tom’s back early with Nathan to have a look at his bicycle with a view to borrowing it and getting it back into working order, and then we set to to cook a feast for the evening. Catherine’s tired and stiff from her moto experience. And my back is pulling and I’m also tired.

Best thing about today – a good visit to a good school, and Catherine has had a bumper first day in Rwanda: school visit, motos on main roads, dirt roads and deep mud. Life’s pretty good and tomorrow we’re on holiday for a long weekend!

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