Saturday, 5 September 2009

Excuses at Cyeza.... Grrrrrh!

September 3rd

During the night I keep waking up, see how light it is outside, and think I’ve overslept wildly. What’s happened is that I’ve got used to the inky darkness of Rongi where, as soon as the solar panels are out, there isn’t a single glimmer of light anywhere until dawn the next morning. But here in Gitarama the dozy night guard has left the outside lights on all night; he’s probably fallen asleep round the side of the building (where there aren’t any lights at all) and forgotten to switch them off. I’m too tired to unlock the front door and switch them off either, so I curse roundly and go back to sleep. The full moon and clear sky at the moment don’t help, either.

In the morning I’m feeling rather the worse for wear; all the excitement this week is catching up on me, and there are two more busy days left before Saturday’s mindless hedonism. Into the office for seven o’clock to find Raima waiting for me on the seats outside. Nobody else has arrived yet, and she isn’t impressed. She wants me to read through a letter she is sending to the Ombudsman, and help her smooth the English and give my reaction to the contents. The grammar bit is easy. The contents are sensational. This is a public blog and I suspect somebody in the Rwandan security services has picked it up by now, so I can’t say directly what’s in the letter. Except that it involves very serious financial irregularities involving a senior clergyman and will be political dynamite when it goes public. It is inconceivable that Raima would do something like this without being sure of her facts, but the allegations and implications are simply shocking – there’s no other way of describing them. The Omudsman is a colleague of Raima’s from way back, and he will make sure the details are eventually published. Watch this space!

Claude is in and I borrow the modem to try to catch up on my electronica. It’s been over a week since I last got on line and there’s so many emails. One comes from a potential replacement for when I leave in December – I only have time to give him a cursory acknowledgement because there’s so much to do today. I’ll write in detail later. I go to Claude and find the names of the three Scottish schools that Muhanga schools are going to be twinned with through the global links partnership. One is in Nairn, near Inverness; one is in North Muirton which I think is near Perth, but the third………….. !!

Now remember that most Rwandans have never seen the sea; have never been outside their own country; have never experienced seriously windy, cold weather, and are used to equatorial conditions, vegetation etc. Now follow this link and see where some of them might, just possibly, exchange visits one day:

Just imagine the total culture shock each way on any such link! It is precisely for this sort of thing that the “Global Links” partnerships were set up. And if any Rwandans from Muhanga do go to Scoraig, bags I’m going with them!

Claude has great news for Soraya and I. He’s so pleased that we are getting far up country that he has persuaded the powers that be in the District to help us with transport. If we indent early enough we may be able to book the District pick-up truck and Alphonse, its driver, to take us out to some schools. And if we arrange well in advance they might hire a taxi for us, especially to the far north of the district. This is a complete reversal of the poverty pleading of the last 21 months, and we’re determined to make the most of it. We spend an hour planning where we’re going to visit.

We have a big problem: the autumn rains are imminent. At most we have two weeks, and possibly only one more week, in which to go up north. When the rains arrive the roads to Nyabinoni will be all but impassable. So we are planning to do a couple of schools in Kabacuzi on Monday; go up to Kibangu and do another couple on Tuesday, but then drive on to Nyabinoni and stay with our friend the priest Jean-Damascène at Nyabinoni presbytery. We’ll visit four schools on Wednesday and Thursday, and possibly do a training session in Nyabinoni primary on Friday morning. When Claude hears about this he is overjoyed and says he himself will come out on Friday morning to pick us up.

Things just get better and better. By pure chance Fulgence, the head of Nyabinoni, drifts into the office to deliver some papers. We pounce on the poor guy and within a couple of minutes we’ve arranged the training and got him to spread the word among the other secteur heads that we’re coming their way, and not to be away from their schools next week. Now there you have a classic example of how you can work as a VSO when you’ve been here a long time and know the people and know how the system works. There’s no way I could have arranged anything like that last year! It means I’ll get my chance to go as far as Kibingo which is (I think) the extreme northerly point in Muhanga and is nearly half way to Goma in the Congo. It also means that potentially I will be inspecting eight schools next week, which will make it a real killer!

With a workload like we’re planning, I’m afraid the blog will go to pot. Unfortunately the busier I am with legitimate work, the less time I have to tell you about what I’m up to. Be patient and I’ll get there eventually!

I ring Jacqueline, the Head at Cyeza school, because I want to go out to her place and discuss Cyeza’s appalling performance in the senior yr 1 exams last term. Unfortunately she’s not answering her phone, but I’m not taking no for an answer so I ring Jeanne D’Arc, the head of the primary section. She says Jacqueline is ill but that I can come anyway. So off I go, by moto, back up the “Great North Road” to Cyeza. (Actually, I now discover the “Great North Road” heads in a westerly direction from Gitarama, and I’m supposed to be the geographer round this place….Embarrassing or what?).

When I get to Cyeza I explain the Jeanne what I’ve come to do – observe lessons and see what the hell’s happening between the teachers and the classes. Cyeza manages to come 2nd out of 40 secondary schools in Maths, but last in History and Geography, next to last in ICT and Chemistry, and in the bottom four in everything else except English. If I was the head I’d be having cold sweats all night just thinking about it.

Because of the way the timetable goes I can’t see the lessons I really want to, so I see maths (really good); English (tolerable) and Chemistry (appalling). The chemistry teacher is in her first year of teaching, with next to no training. She has no “presence” and can’t control the class. She speaks too softly, and in fact she rarely speaks to them at all. She writes reams of notes from her own notebook onto the board, which the pupils copy. There’s constant chattering (very rare in Rwandan schools) because the pupils are trying to explain to each other the intricacies of atomic structure which she’s putting on the board. The only resource the pupils have is a smudgy A4 sheet of the periodic table, taken from a coloured original so that some of the paler colours on the original are all but hidden on the photocopy. She never actually explains anything to the class.

Now the stupid thing is that all the secondary schools, this one included, have just received lovely new Science textbooks, with colour photos and illustrations and diagrams, and there are teacher guides too. They have, so I’m told, been issued to the pupils. But they are in French – they were ordered just before this wretched sudden switch to English. It seems this teacher is either too frightened to use them in case she gets told off for using books in French, or she just can’t be bothered because it’s easier for her simply re-write the notes from the exercise book she used when she herself was at school. Its nuts!

By the time I’ve finished observing her, Jacqueline has got up from her sickbed and come to school. She doesn’t look particularly sick to me. We talk for some time about the results. She’s defensive and I get excuse after excuse. It’s difficult teaching in English. The children have walked a long way to get to school. The teachers haven’t had much training. This teacher is in her first year. Yes, OK, but these situations apply to ALL the new tronc commun sections, some of which have thrashed the long established secondaries in their results. There’s only one thing I do acknowledge and that is that Cyeza secteur is so poor that many of these children will have come to school without having eaten, and will only have one meagre meal per day. They are almost all malnourished to a greater or lesser degree. But malnutrition doesn’t account for Cyeza’s wonderful maths results, does it?

I nod sagely and say appropriate things, but inside I’m fuming. Most tronc commun heads are ambitious go-getters; this one just gives me excuses. We agree that I’ll come back soon to watch the humanities being taught. That this Chemistry teacher will be persuaded to spend a morning at Elena Guerra secondary, just up the road, to see how a successful school teaches science. And that the bloody science textbooks, in French or not, will on the tables and damned well used in future!

I’m glad of the moto ride home to simmer down…… At least the water tank in Cyeza is in use. To prevent villagers pinching all the water at night for their animals, the tap handle is kept in the school office and anyone wanting water has to go and collect it. When I go back to the school I hope the atmosphere will be slightly less fraught and that I’ll be able to hang around and get some pictures for you of children drawing water!

Lunch at “Tranquillité”; I toy with the idea of skipping lunch and cooking a big tea, but I give in and shovel down the usual mélange. God, I’m going to be so glad to see the back of mélange when I come home.

In the afternoon, back at the flat, I start writing up school visit notes and preparing school background papers for next week, but I’m getting very tired. I can’t be bothered to cook sensibly so I use up stuff from the fridge and defrost a soup. I try cooking cheesy quesadillas but use too much oil and the things end up so greasy they’re revolting. Oh well, that just proves I’m prepared to admit to my culinary disasters as well as triumphs.

And it’s been a great day. My fifth school visit of the week, and another one to come tomorrow. And Claude’s coughing up for transport. And next week could well be the crowning point of the entire two years if Soraya and I really do go large in Nyabinoni. As long as the rains don’t come too early!

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