Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Education meeting in Kigali

July 2nd

Today is busy; I have a VSO Education Meeting all day, and various things to get done before I leave. Fortunately the VSO meeting starts in the late morning. I have Raima’s query about her school census to sort out, so I try to be at the office for seven. Claude is there and immediately asks me for the names of all he schools whose census papers haven’t reached me. I do him a list but explain that I’ve already contacted each school on the list, and that many have promised me the stuff straight away, but somehow it doesn’t seem to arrive. Let’s hope that I’ve soon got all the material and can do the analysis before the end of term next Friday. At all costs I don’t want this work hanging over me when I go home in a fortnight’s time.
Raima’s school census paper just happens to be missing. The only one I can’t put my hands on. Fancy that. I go through every single census return from every secteur, but Ahazaza school’s has mysteriously disappeared. I have all the actual data on my laptop, so the physical presence of the paper form is no longer important, but what Raima really wants to know is the date the form was sent in, whether anyone signed it acting on her behalf (she was on leave in Europe at the time), and whether the papers have the official school stamp. All I can give her is the approximate date the papers were sent to the District. When I ring Raima to tell her, she informs me that she is definitely going to dismiss her deputy as a result of a whole series of incidents, and look for a replacement. There’s all sorts of issues associated with this situation that I can’t write about on a public blog. Just let me say that to someone like me coming from an English background, the machinations and goings on this saga reveals are like something out of a soap opera. There are plots, anonymous tip offs, clashes of ambition plus the more predictable financial misadventures. “East Enders” eat your heart out….
Mugabo, the head of Mata tronc commun section, comes into the office and gives me a flash drive full of photos of his wedding, a couple of years ago. Ninety of them, to be exact. He wants me to send them to him as emails so that he can load the things on his computer. I try to tell him that 90 pictures is far too many to send in emails, but he insists. “Why not let me burn them onto a disk for you?” I say to him. No, that won’t do – his computer is too old and decrepit to read a CD. (This is a common problem in Rwanda where every computer is second hand and rarely in proper working order). I really can’t fathom out why he doesn’t just load the flash onto his computer, but he’s adamant he wants me to send him the pictures as emails. I think he probably wants to forward some or all of them to other friends or relatives. I tell him I’m going to Kigali and won’t be able to do anything till I get the District modem next week, and he’s content. I suppose I’ll have to send these pictures in an unending stream of emails, four or five pictures at a time. It’s not a productive use of my time, but if I’ve got a lot of down time next week it’ll keep me occupied. I won’t be too distraught if I can’t get all his material sent.
By the time I get away from the office it’s much later than I intend. There’s almost no post for anyone, which is a relief because the last thing I want is to be carrying parcels around all weekend for various volunteers. I’m desperate to get to the bank, and when I arrive there my luck’s in because there’s almost no queue. I can’t believe this, especially because it’s the day after a Gacaca followed by a public holiday! Within five minutes I’m done and sorted and on my way to the “Horizon” bus depot. Soraya is also taking the nine o’clock bus, and we can talk as we travel.
At Kigali she wants to do some shopping while I get a local bus to Remera and then walk down to AEE Kabeza where we are meeting and staying. It’s going to be a hot day; already in mid morning you can feel the Kigali heat building up. In Gitarama it was definitely fleece weather; here you need to put on sun cream.
The meeting at VSO is all about fitting volunteers into placements, and how we negotiate placements with the Rwandan partners. It’s interesting enough, I suppose, but during the afternoon I’m half listening to what we’re doing but at the same time starting to make a list of the things I ought to be covering in my hand-over notes to whoever succeeds me at Gitarama next year.
Succession notes are tricky. If you know for certain there’s an end-on replacement, then you can make the notes really detailed and specific. But there’s absolutely no guarantee of an end-on replacement. Mans left Nyamagabe last January and won’t be replaced this September because there’s a dispute between VSO and the District about exactly what sort of person they want. It will be at very least a whole year before a new volunteer can start there. So In my notes I have to try to envisage somebody carrying on a year after I’ve gone. You wouldn’t believe how much can change in a year, and trying to think about what is really going to be relevant in a year’s time is not easy. The second thing is that we know there is going to be a dramatic restructuring of local administration imminently, with details announced during this July. The emphasis will move away from admin at District level to admin at secteur level. So all I know about the structure of the District; who is who, where information is kept, and so on, may well be completely changed. In fact, it is likely to change before I even go home. I think the best course is to write my succession notes as things stand at the present, especially if I feel in the mood to do the writing this next week or so, and I’ll have to adjust and review again before I finally go home.
Succession notes are interesting, though, because when I consider that I had almost nothing to go on at all when I arrived here in 2008, it shows just how much information you absorb about the place and the job. If I include everything that I ‘m thinking of doing, my successor will almost have too much information. You can sometimes have so much to read about a new job that you can’t take it all in – you need to be in the job for a month or so, and then read through the stuff when you’ve learnt more of a context in which to fit it.
The food at AEE is very good; fish especially so. It’s the third or fourth time I’ve stayed here but only the first time I’ve eaten. Usually I’m stumbling back here in the small hours after a heavy night somewhere else….
In the evening Becky, Tina and I go out to get some fresh air and buy phone credit, and then go on to the Hilltop bar, right next to the airport, for a drink and chat. Some of the others are going salsa dancing. I’d like to go, but the salsa is at Gikondo which is right across the far side of town and I’m not at all sure how to get there. A Rwandan acquaintance of one of us is flying out of Kigali tonight; there’s a hilarious few minutes when he texts us from the plane to say he’s about to take off, and then again to say they’ve found a technical fault with the plane and his flight is being delayed. We text him back to say the fault is probably because he’s using his mobile phone…. Eventually the plane is off safely, and we watch it climbing away over Kibungo and Akagera and across the border into Tanzania. Both Tina and I are flying home soon, and in a few days that’ll be us away home for the summer.
Today’s best bit of gossip comes from Nyamata. The executive secretary, director of education, and the director of infrastructure are all under arrest or in prison, and there’s virtually nobody to run the education service in the District. What has happened is that there has been a building programme, and for whatever reason the buildings have been but up so shoddily that they are deemed physically dangerous. Kigali ordered that the builder should not be paid, but the District went ahead and paid him. Why they should pay him in direct defiance of Kigali, I have no knowledge. (I’ve got no idea whether there the builder is related to any of the officers or whether there are backhanders involved, or whether somebody is getting a rake off from using substandard materials). Anyway, retribution from Kigali is swift and dramatic. They seem to have arrested everyone whose signature and stamp is on any of the documents concerned with the building programme, and the buildings in question have already been bulldozed to the ground. Just imagine that – completely new buildings being smashed, while the poor pupils continue in their mud brick apologies for classrooms, and the tronc commun kids scratch their heads and wonder if anyone is going to provide them with facilities for next year! Poor Els has nobody to answer to at the moment. Funnily enough, as she says, it’s amazing that the local system seems to be working just as well as usual even with all the top brass locked up! Makes you wonder!
Tina and I don’t feel like going to bed when we return from the bar, so we sit outside in the warm moonlight and put the world to rights for an hour or so. AEE is awkwardly situated; it’s right on the edge of town, but it makes it really quiet and pleasant late at night. Kigali’s lights stretch out for miles in front of us, and for once we are away from continuous pop music blaring from tinny speakers, from constant car horns beeping, and from the permanent din of men shouting and women chattering. African towns are noisy places, probably because the countryside is so quiet that you can hear your own heart beating. At times the noise is exciting; it folds you into it and you welcome it. At other times you just long for quiet. Well, here on the edge of Kigali we find out quiet under a massive avocado tree and talk about what we’re going to do after we finish our VSO placements.

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