Friday, 12 June 2009

The country lane to Mushishiro

June 11th

Into the office at seven as usual. No sign of Claude; Valérian and Innocent both there and Solange rolls in late. By half past seven I’ve done what I need to in the office and collected our post. At the moment we’re getting post every day, but virtually none of it for me!

At the bus park I find a matata almost ready to leave for Mushishiro, so I jump in. The convoyeur says the fare is 800; I know very well it’s less than that but he won’t budge. (The average fare seems to be 700 for the outbound trip and 500 for the return). Just as we’re about to go a furious row breaks out between all the passengers and the convoyeur. He wants to charge everybody more than the going rate, and we’re not having it. The convoyeur sticks to his guns and tells us that we pay or we don’t go. After all, the matata buses are run for their crews’ benefit rather than for that of the clients….

So after ten minutes or so of argument we all get off the bus. The convoyeur still won’t give in. So a neighbouring bus crew, not believing their luck, scoop us all into their bus and get ready to leave. This leads to an even fiercer row between the two convoyeurs, which nearly comes to blows, and between our new driver and the regulators at the bus park. He has jumped the queue of matatas waiting for passengers and upset the delicate queuing system that the matata crews observe. My fellow passengers get their oar in and berate the regulators, telling then that they’re certainly not going to pay above the going rate and if one particular convoyeur wants to price himself out of the market that’s his fault and to hell with the waiting list of bus crews.

By the time all this is resolved we’ve been waiting a good fifteen minutes. Fortunately it’s a warm, cloudless day and the bus isn’t yet too hot at about eight o’clock. So eventually we pull away in our new transport. Or we try to. The engine is misfiring wildly, and the bus kangaroos out of the bus park and stalls a couple of times. I find myself wondering if things are as bad as this on the level ground in Gitarama centre, is this bus every going to be able to manage the mountain road to Mushishiro?

But we eventually pick up speed, and as the engine warms up the spluttering gets less and less. There is mist rising out of the Nyaborongo valley, not a cloud in the sky, the air is fresh and all’s well with the world. I’m off to inspect Mushishiro primary; I know exactly where it is and I’m going to walk the couple of miles from Buringa market.

At Buringa I’m pounced on my half a dozen moto drivers who sense a killing. When I tell them I’m walking to Mushushiro, first they don’t believe me, and then they get all sulky. It’s a long walk but a lovely one. I’m walking down lanes in rural Africa; people are saying hello to me, and then asking for amafaranga, but I feel completely at ease. It takes about thirty minutes to reach the primary school. Dorothée, the head, isn’t there, and I’m met by Alphonse who’s the head of the tronc commun section. Dorothée’s gone to Kabgayi hospital to be with someone who has a serious stomach problem.

We tour the site. Mushishiro is one of the typical Catholic primaries, built in 1952 very solidly but desperately in need of a facelift. It is brick built, with a few glass panes left in the windows. It could be a really nice school if only there was some proper money to spend on it. There is water, but it doesn’t last the whole of the dry season so they have to share water with the local health centre. This building is adjacent to the school, and people going to the clinic, and cars and motor bikes going to it, race through the playground. It’s not an ideal arrangement but it certainly brings the local community past the school’s front door! A string of nosey villagers peer in to see what the muzungu wants in their little school. (Well, not quite so little; there are 850 pupils). They have at last got an electrical connection into a couple of the rooms, and these have working electric light and power points, and therefore potential for using computers at some time in the future.

Most of the documentation I need to see is there, but Alphonse has a problem with his laptop and can’t show me the budget or the annual development plan which only exist in electronic form. He has saved them onto a flash disk but can’t get the flash to play on his machine. I have a fiddle with the laptop but I can’t get it to work either. We agree that he will bring it into the District Office sometime the week after next and I will get Cécille, our ICT specialist, to have a look at it for him.

By now its break time and as usual we’re besieged in his office by dozens of staring children. As soon as possible I start visiting classes. A good yr 6 maths lesson doing expansions of algebra involving brackets; most of the class get more or less all, the questions right but a few boys are hopelessly lost. As usual we have the wretched number “siggis” rearing its head. Then on to yr 2 English; she’s doing simple plurals (car becomes cars; potato becomes potatoes etc). Her vocabulary and pronunciation are good; the children’s handwriting is very good. The only criticism I have is that she stumbles on a few words; potatoes is pronounced patar-toes. All the classrooms are plastered with rice sack posters – a sure sign that Soraya has been here recently and done a training session! And, even better, all the posters are in English. There are almost none of the usual old, dog-eared French relics from many years ago.

The final lesson I watch is a yr 4 social studies. This is very hard work for the teacher. The subject – how people co-operate for mutual benefit in the local community – is very abstract for children as young as ten. The teacher works very hard, entirely in English, but the children are passive. I’m seriously impressed at the teacher’s vocabulary; there’s no way I could rattle on like she is doing in, say, French.

I debrief with the teachers and the head. Mushishiro is a good school and it doesn’t have any serious problems apart from underinvestment in its capital structure and in teaching materials.

I take my leave and start walking back to the main road. Alphonse comes with me as far as his house, about half way up the lane. By now it is very, very hot. We’re surrounded by the usual horde of children; every school in the area is on its lunch break and the entire lane is a seething mass of blue and khaki uniforms. There’s pupils from ACODES and Buringa secondary schools; Mushishiro tronc commun section, and four hundred primary children all careering up and down the road and getting in the way of motos, cycle taxis and women returning from market with heavy loads on their heads. It’s colourful, noisy, and such fun.

On the way to the main road I meet the head of Cyicaro tronc commun section, who asks me when I’m coming to see his primary section, and also by Edouard from Kirwa Catholic school. He specifically asks me if Catherine is OK. I think, how the hell does he know she turned her ankle at Gisenyi? But then I remember that Catherine came off the back of her moto just as we were leaving his school last week. It’s really nice of him to remember and ask after her. So, Catherine, if you’re reading this – you obviously made an impression on Edouard!

At the main road I have to wait fifteen minutes for a matata, and I’m assailed by local women who want to sell me something and local youths with nothing to do who all think they can wheedle cash out of the muzungu. They’re all talking about me in an unflattering way and it gets a bit uncomfortable. These people are not very sophisticated.

It seems to take forever to get back home, and as soon as I reach the flat I have Becky and Delphine arrive. They are going to discuss using Delphine as Becky’s domestique; as I’m the common link between them they are using our flat as a neutral meeting place. We have to do all the discussions and negotiations in French, which is a novel experience for both Becky and I, and it’s not as easy as you might think because none of us has even been in this position of negotiation for a job before. We decide that Delphine will work four days a week for Becky on a fortnight’s trial period, doing laundry, cleaning and cooking. She won’t stay overnight in Becky’s house unless there’s some problem. Becky has to give her a key because Del will arrive after Becky’s gone to work and finish before Becky returns. Eventually they leave the flat and go to show Del the house and where everything is kept. Del is terrified that Becky won’t like her cooking; Del is a country girl and cooks traditional Rwandan food; Becky is a Canadian and likes western food. I tell them it’ll be a learning experience for both of them, and each must teach the other. It’ll be good for both of them.

It’s a win-win situation – Becky gets an honest and reliable domestique; Del gets a regular income to save up to eventually pay her way through University. We agree on RwF20,000 a month which is very good for a domestique. If, as is quite possible, Becky has someone else sharing the house with her at a later date, they’ll renegotiate the domestique’s wages.

As soon as they have gone I take a moto up to Nyabisindu school to meet Jeanne, the head. I am carrying RwF125000 to pay for repairs to the school’s water supply. What has happened is that the pipe from the water tank has broken and needs replacing, and at the same time they have decided to install an outside tap to fill jerry cans. This is now finished and working perfectly. My only worry is that the tap handle is not detachable; this means that all the local houses can (and will) come to the school at night time and use the school’s water. There is a water meter installed; I think they use the cistern as long as it lasts and then revert to mains supply. If the locals are pinching the school’s water then the school will get a massive bill. But I can’t stipulate everything and the school will have to seek its own solution if that happens. Just so long as it doesn’t involve cutting off the water supply to the schoolchildren…. So it’s a good day’s work when you’ve done a successful inspection and secured water to a school of 1000 children!

Jeanne wants to pay the money into the bank straight away, and asks me if I’ll walk with her to the bank. I say yes, of course, but we need to go to the District Office first so that I can pick up my laptop. Walking with Jeanne is not exactly a trial. She’s absolutely gorgeous to look at, for starters. She’s only 25, just out of university, and in charge of 1000 children and around twenty staff. How’s that for early promotion. And she’s lively and interesting, and she likes me and I like her and we get on well and today she’s feeling on top of the world because I’ve turned up like her knight in shining armour and solved her water problem; and I’m on top of the world because I’ve done a good turn for all these people. So there!

So the thirty minute wait at the bank to be served doesn’t seem too bad…. We’re seen together by a lot of people and no doubt tongues will be wagging; I ask Jeanne if she minds and she just shrugs. After all, surely nobody’s going to seriously suggest she’d be interested in someone old and wrinkly like me?

Finally I get home again, then go straight back out to race round the market just before it closes at six. I haggle fiercely with the carrot ladies – they want to give me just four carrots for 100 francs and I tell them I’m not having any of that; we get up to six carrots but they won’t budge beyond six. At the flat we cook up one of my massive vegetable and lentil stews, and eat the whole lot – a truly massive meal. We follow it with a bowl of fruit salad from the latest batch, and freeze three more boxes for future use. After all this food we can hardly move. (Is it possible to overdose on fresh vegetables and fruit?).

Charlotte comes round to see us. A lot of the girls are going down to Nyungwe Forest this weekend to go Chimp watching. I don’t think I can – I have my “leavers’ forum” tomorrow, and I need a weekend to catch up on myself. Tomorrow is a public holiday in Muhanga, so at least I won’t be missing anything at work.

Best thing about today – absolutely everything. A productive and enjoyable day, and I’m so happy to be working here in Africa.

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