Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Talking crap at Mata

August 21st

Into the office as usual, and I find good news and bad. The good news is that ETEKA (“École Technique de Kabgayi”) has managed to get me its census, which I promptly process. The bad is to discover that there’s another secondary school which I’d completely left out and which I’ll need to chase.

VSO Kigali confirms that the Shyogwe money has definitely left them. I gather that the Diocese has several bank accounts, some in dollars, some in Euros, some in Rwandan francs, and that the Dutch money could be any of them. I just wish they would make finding this money their top priority for a day, so that we can all get on with life….

Karen and Becky both arrive at the District Office to get their green cards. Since I’m the volunteer who knows where to go and who to see to get green cards done, people usually arrange things with me, and I make sure Leo is in his office to save them a wasted journey.

Then I take a moto out to Mata school, and straight away it feels nice to be out in the countryside. As I walk through the eucalyptus trees lining the road and up the concrete steps to the school I ring Teresa to wish her a happy birthday.

Mata has asked me for money to buy a water tank. I have told them I don’t have enough, but could go halves with them if they can find another sponsor. When I look round the school with Mugabo, the new headteacher, I discover they already have a tap, fed by a water tank on the hill nearby. The tank is shared with nearby houses and is insufficient; it runs dry at the end of the dry season. Things are not helped by some faulty plumbing, either, which means that a steady trickle of water is escaping from the tap the villagers use. Anyway, I refuse to pledge any money for the tank but say I’m interested in any small scale projects. (This means I can spread benefits over a larger number of schools).

I soon discover that Mata school has a much more acute problem than lack of water. Its toilet facilities are a disgrace. There are just eight toilets for a school of around 1200, with a second year of secondary students due to arrive in January. Furthermore, the toilets were intended for little primary children; they are barely big enough for the strapping great adults who attend the secondary school; some of whom are in their early twenties.

Mugabo has his PTA well organised, and they have already started to create an extra eight toilets. The foundations and pits are all there; all that’s needed is the superstructure. So I agree on the spot to pledge RwF100,000 (a little over £100) to their funds on condition that the parents and school capitation funds provide the rest. Mugabo is overjoyed; the pump priming by the muzungu adviser will help him convince his parents that the project is worthwhile and should ensure their commitment. I know the money I’ve been sent from England is intended for water tanks, but this is a very small fraction of the total, and in terms of basic hygiene the toilets are every bit as important as the water.

When the toilet facilities are inadequate in a school, children go to relieve themselves in the nearby fields. This eventually causes even greater health problems, to say nothing of the safety risks of young developing girls squatting in the long grass and bushes well away from any adult supervision….

Mugabo is recently married; his wife lives in Nyanza, presumably in the family home. He wants to save money as much as possible, and he shows me where he has converted two tiny store cupboards at one end of the school into a micro living quarters. These two rooms are about six feet by ten each, and to say they are equipped basically is to make Sparta look opulent. He has a bed, a few nails on the wall to hang clothes, a couple of shelves to store stuff, a bedside table for valuables, and that’s about it. He eats one proper meal a day at school (it’s one of the schools where they employ a woman to come in and cook for the staff at lunchtime), but it’s no way for the head of a big school to live! What’s more, the fact that he’s on site all the time means that in effect he becomes an unpaid night guard; when anyone comes on site during the night he hears them, and he’s constantly up and down chasing away predatory villagers who come in the hope that someone has left a door or window open so that they can find something to steal, and then sell for food money. There’s a public right of way through the middle of the school yard, too, and that doesn’t make for a quiet life at evenings. At least he goes home to Nyanza every weekend.

When I leave the school Mugabo comes with me to see me safely off on a taxibus. We wait for ten minutes; then the first vehicle that passes is an Onatracom bus. These goliaths normally stop for nobody. But Mugabo sticks his hand out, as I do, and miraculously the bus stops. By sheer chance there’s one empty seat. Finding an empty seat on an Onatracom bus is like finding an empty compartment on a rush hour train in England. I’m the object of intense scrutiny and interest while we’re driving back to town, so I explain what I’m doing and who I am. As usual, there’s somebody educated on the bus who wants to try out his English and we have a busy discussion so that the journey only seems to take a couple of minutes. What’s more, the slip road into the town is closed for gravel laying, so we’re diverted right past the District office, where I want to go. “Assigara kw’Akarere!” I shout – “Drop me by the District Office”. And the driver does. I can’t ever remember seeing one of these buses stop along the wayside. And even better, the driver refuses any fare. That’s twice in a couple of days I’ve enjoyed free rides. I thank the driver profusely and wish everybody on the bus a good day (“umunsi mweza”), and they all wave as they turn sharp right and head for Gitarama town centre.

It’s been a good morning!

In the afternoon I work from home; my “handover notes” are getting nearly finished, and I’m having great fun doing thumbnail descriptions of every school I’ve visited. (OK, I know it’s not much more than half the total, but the thumbnails come to around 12 sides of paper and I’ll doubtless do some more before I leave).

By late afternoon I’m getting seriously jaded, not to mention developing square eyes and a headache. So when Moira and Kerry ring to say they’re in the Plateau bar just up the road and I do I want to join them, I down tools and take off straight away. A couple of beers and the odd brochette and chips later it’s got dark, and my busy social whirl is just getting started. All the muzungus head into the town centre where Piet picks us up and we go out to his place at Gitongati for a film night. Piet has cooked sphag bol, and we’ve all brought biscuits or guacamole or similar, so we have (another) good feed. Piet’s domestique’s speciality is homemade ice cream. It’s wonderful! (Even though it has ice crystals in it which grind against the spoon and bowl, much to Kerry’s irritation. She says it’s as bad as scratching your nails down a blackboard!).

I can’t even remember the name of the film we watch; it takes us about as long to decide on the film as it does to eat the meal. But it’s good fun, and by the time we’re ready to come home the weekend is already shaping up to be a good one. Piet drives us back to the town. While we are packing up to leave he tells us how, the other day, he say a body lying in the main road between my flat and Kabgayi. A young man, probably drunk, hit so hard by a passing vehicle (maybe whose driver was also less than sober). Bits of skull and brain matter all over the road. I must say I’m amazed that it doesn’t happen a lot more often. The street lights are not working or non-existent; and as soon as the traffic police go home the drivers dash around like mad things. Vehicles are so clapped out that they floor the accelerator on the downward hill at Kabgayi to help them make it up the uphill section. If you’re in the dip at the bottom you often have near death experiences with someone doing around 60, one hand busy with his mobile phone, or with moto drivers who rarely have both their lights working, or cyclists who never have any lights at all.

Since we seem to have had proper running water for several days now, I put the immersion heater on overnight. I’ve promised any of the girls who want to come round that there’ll be hot showers in the morning. Ah, there you are – the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. The way to a girl’s heart is through a hot shower……. Yeah, right!

Best thing about today – everything, really. It’s been a good day.

Worst thing – just this bloody delay in Shyogwe’s money arriving at the right place and being noticed.

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