Friday, 28 August 2009

Sit up and listen, you guys - the muzungu's talking to you!

August 26th

0600a.m. Another beautiful morning. As I draw the curtains the sun is just rising above the horizon, blood red as it shines through all the dust. The sky is grey but within an hour it perfectly blue and cloudless. There’s a cool breeze blowing at this altitude and it’s a joy to walk through the town. As happens most days, my little “girlfriend” comes running up to me for a hug as we pass on the way to Ahazaza maternelle for her, and the office for me.

0815 a.m. I manage to catch Claude before the big head teacher’s meeting and get him to brief me on the local government re-shuffle. It is less dramatic than I originally feared. Claude has been promoted (I think); he’s been given a new post which gives him responsibility for Health and Good Governance (ombudsman) as well as retaining overall responsibility for education. Valérian takes over the day-to-day role as education supervisor. The position of chargé disappears. Innocent stays as youth and sports co-ordinator, and Béatrice retains her secretarial role. In other words they all retain their jobs; nobody is sacked, and nobody new is taken on. Claude’s role widens; the others stay the same. Very surprisingly, there doesn’t seem to be any dramatic expansion in either the number of posts at secteur level, or the transference of day to day running of education to secteur level (which we all thought was the whole purpose of the re-shuffle). The key issue for Muhanga is whether Claude will be able to put the same amount of drive and energy into education in his new, expanded role, and whether Valérian will come across as a dynamic leader rather than a capable administrator. He seems efficient and respected in his 1:1 dealings with people in the office, but I want to see him cracking the whip in front of a hundred and fifty bolshie heads and telling them to get on and do things they’d rather not! Well, I might find out very soon at this morning’s meeting!

There is no provision in the new order of things for a Rwandan to do the job I’m doing when I leave, or when my replacement leaves. This is worrying, because the whole premise of VSO is not that we’re an extra pair of hands to help the Districts, but that we build capacity so that when we leave they can do the jobs we’re doing themselves. From this particular point of view my placement has been a failure. Neither Claude in his new role, nor Valérian, will have the time to do my job of day-to-day visits out to schools, inspecting, advising, and acting as their advocate when they express their case and plead for things they need. Neither Claude nor Valérian could ever be called lazy; it’s simply a case that you need a Rwandan doing my job as adviser, just as you have always had in the English schools’ system. I’m going to have to brief my VSO successor on all this before he/she starts working here.

1500 Well, the big meeting has finished after four hours, and I’m just back after a bite at “Tranquillité”. We talked about laptop computers (one for each school) and we had a guy from Kigali talking to us about the specifications. They can’t make up their mind whether to choose ACER of H-P, but the machines they are ordering are excellent – every bit as good my new one and loads better than Claude’s! But in Rwandan style they are buying the computers first; then they’ll start negotiating for solar panels. meanwhile there are 116 computers which almost nobody can use because they don’t have any electricity to power them….

Then we come on to the primary census results. Claude presents the powerpoint I made for him, and I have to stand in front of the assembled hordes (150 heads) and summarise the key issues and get them thinking. What a difference to last time when we were doing this in the middle of a thunderstorm, so that the power went off and we had to do it all from memory! I get a round of applause when I finish speaking.

Next we go on to the secondary school results. Those for the first year of secondary include the new tronc commun schools. Jeanne, my friend the head teacher at Nyabisindu, has the unfortunate joy of coming bottom of the list in most subjects. I’m not prepared to have her made a scapegoat, and I’ve always promised to support her, so while I’m writing this I’m waiting for her to come back from her lunch and we’ll put our thinking caps on as to how we’re going to raise the performance of her staff and pupils. The results at all levels of secondary schools are fascinating. Some of the little isolated rural secondaries in the far north of Muhanga have done well, even beating some of the established giants of Gitarama. Some of the new tronc commun sections have also beaten long established secondary schools. Not sure yet why this should be; is it luck? Leadership? Group Scolaire St Joseph finds itself congratulated for having a whole bunch of among the brightest pupils in the district, and immediately after vilified for filling many of the bottom twenty places, too. But that’s because its twice the size of most other secondary school, so of course it will have more than its share of the very able and the “why are these kids in school?” types.

1530 Still no sign of Jeanne. And I took a moto from town so that I would be punctual. Meanwhile, outside the office window there’s another party atmosphere as all the heads congregate to take with them the latest batch of text books to arrive here (Social Studies for years 1-3, all in Kinyarwanda).

2200 Time for bed. Jeanne never did show upo; I don’t know whether she feels ashamed about her school’s performance, or whether something more urgent came up. I’ll go and see her at the school tomorrow. She needs an action plan; something to show she’s aware of the situation and that she’s not just going to shrug her shoulders and pretend things haven’t happened.

Tonight I cooked an experimental meal; I bought a load of imboga, cooked it, and tried to pulp it with the liquidiser to make a sauce. Unfortunately I left too much water in with it, and the sauce was so runny that even after adding peanut flour it still didn’t work properly. Oh well, you can’t win them all and at least I did eat it!

My watch has stopped working; that’s a nuisance but at least my phone keeps reasonable time so I can live without the watch for a while

I spend the evening going through Védaste’s thesis for one final time. I have to change a lot of his tenses; he wanders about from present to past tense in the same sentence. I think I’ve given him enough of my time now and he can do any last minute alterations himself.

Just when I think I’ve finished I get a call from another man who I think is a bit mentally unstable; he has a missive he wants to send to Tony Blair and wants me to translate it for him. I say I’ll do it; he’s one of these people who are obsessed with one particular issue and I know I’ll get no peace from him unless I’ve done it for him. He says he’s going to bring it to the office early tomorrow.

Tonight I’m really seriously tired; I try to read before bed but the pages keep swimming in front of my eyes…. The water’s gone off again and the electricity has been flickering all evening.

In my “Guardian Weekly” they’re celebrating the paper’s 90th birthday with reprints of selected articles. Amongst them is this advert. I guess it comes from around the 1920’s and just reading it shows how much the world has changed in less than a century:

“Opportunities in Kenya: Active young men with keen outdoor interests and moderate capital find that settlement in Kenya opens up wider opportunities than are to be found in England. Live for a year or two with a local farmer and learn how to farm. Land is fertile, climate equable, labour and other costs low. Inquire about Kenya now!” Contact Colonel Knaggs, Kenya Government Agent, Dept. 22, Grand Buildings, Trafalgar Square, London WC2.

I wonder what the good Colonel would make of Kenya in 2009?

Best thing about today: doing the presentation in front of all the heads. I’m no longer just the muzungu volunteer; I’m someone who works at the District and who is giving them information they don’t know and which they need to take on board.

Worst thing: I’m bored with proof reading and correcting endless dry paragraphs about soil mulch and soil chemistry.

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