Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Meeting and greeting, plotting and scheming, a conversation with the Bishop

September 15th

Today is Gacaca. It’s also one of the big head teachers’ meetings in Gitarama, so there’s not much point in arranging to go out and visit schools. I decide to stay in Gitarama and try to rest up a bit.

Instead, I’m flat out in the office printing copies of inspection reports to give to all the schools I’ve visited recently. That’s not as easy as it sounds because the only printer is at Claudine’s desk, and since she’s the payroll person just about every single head thinks he or she can have Claudine’s attention for ten minutes to solve financial problems relating to their particular school. There’s a constant scrum of people round her desk, in front of her, beside her, even behind her. I’m frightened that somebody will move clumsily and trip over the printer cable and smash my laptop on the floor. That would be a tragedy….

Jeanne from Nyabisindu school comes in to say hello and remind me that her dowry ceremony is fast approaching. Good job she reminds me because I was very close to agreeing to do a training with Soraya right up in Rongi on the same day. I might have fun and games getting back to Gitarama in time for the do if it rains hard next week, but we’ll have to play things by ear. As always here, where personal relations are concerned, there’s another agenda. What she’s really asking is whether I’m prepared to make a contribution towards her dowry. It’s the way they do things here. So I pull her leg and ask her how many cows she thinks she’s worth. Quick as a flash she says “ten”. That’s a huge amount, I say – even Cathie, so far as I remember, was married for seven cows! That’s what I like about Jeanne, she thinks big and she’s got the cheek and charm to carry it off. So I pledge some money towards her dowry, and hope that her (lawyer) fiancé knows he’s taking on a high maintenance partner in a month’s time!

Next I have something approaching a contretemps with the Bishop of Shyogwe. He wants to take over the four new rooms we’re building with money from Holland and use them to start a tronc commun section. But this is not what we agreed when we gave them the money, and I tell him that the funding providers won’t accept anything which leaves the year one classes in their dangerous rooms. The debate gets quite heated; the bishop is anxious to trace another 5000 euros that once again seems to have got lost somewhere in all the financial progressions between Amsterdam and Shyogwe.

The meeting is supposed to start at ten; by eleven there’s a throng around Claudine and Claude finally loses patience and tells them to shift themselves down to the meeting right now! The meeting is being held on one of the local schools, St Marie Reine. It has a lovely big hall, with an amazing mural on the wall. St Marie Reine’s speciality in the sixth form is pre-nursing training (actually it’s the only training most nurses around here seem to get), and the mural shows, from left to right, an idyllic rural scene with mountains, lakes and farms. Then there’s an earth road with a group of adults carrying an ill person in a litter. Finally, the right hand side of the mural represents Gitarama town with big buildings, and the hospital complete with land rover ambulance and stethoscope-toting doctors. It’s the best mural I’ve seen in the whole country. And, as usual, I didn’t have my camera with me to take a picture. (Well, would you take your camera to an official meeting of headteachers?)

The meeting is fairly chaotic, but just as happened up at Bubaji I get asked if I want to say something. I take the chance to tell 25 heads that I’ve got inspection reports for them to read, and I ask some heads of schools I want to visit if they’ll come and introduce themselves to me. The rest of the meeting is giving out the official entry forms, duly stamped, signed, and with pupils’ photos on, which are the entry ticket for this year’s primary 6 concours exam in October.

While they’re being issued, the headteachers come to collect their reports and most spend the rest of the meeting poring over my English, occasionally working in groups to try to translate my prose….

I’ve arranged solid visits for the next week or so, some ten schools, and various others going on until the end of the first week in October. I know the rains will probably screw everything up, but at least I’ve got to try.

On Thursday I’m taking Léonie as part of her induction to two schools in Nyarusange secteur. My plan is to go to Nyarusange itself, which is huge and right next to the main road, and then on to Nyabisindu B, which is new to me and out in the wilds. The head of Nyabisindu laughs and says not to come until early October. There’s a bridge down, and the workmen are trying to rebuild it before the rains come. The school is only accessible on foot, and only then with difficulty. If there is heavy rain in the next 24 hours the school will have to close because even its own pupils won’t be able to get there. Never mind; I’m infinitely flexible and I’ll just find another school. Kaduha, perhaps, which could only manage very mediocre results this year and could do with a follow-up visit. It’s another one which is conveniently right next to the main road!

As I leave the meeting I meet up with Stéphanie from Shyogwe and tell her about the Bishop’s brainwave to take her new rooms. Fortunately she’s absolutely at one with me on the issue.

After the meeting I go for lunch in “Tranquillité”, (and to try to put on a more charitable frame of mind), but there’s a funny feel to the place, and while I sit there for a good ten minutes, nobody comes to serve me. Now I know its Gacaca today, but they usually serve everybody. Eventually I get fed up and go down the road to “Nectar” where I’m served straight away. Black mark, “Tranquillité”; could do better!

Talking of Gacaca, as Soraya and I were walking down to St Marie Reine for the meeting we passed a Gacaca court in session. Four or five judges with their sashes of office, and about thirty or so people, all sitting under a couple of big avocado trees on a patch of grass just down from our office. At the same time very informal, but also very formal in their powers. There’s no way we could have taken a photo even if we wanted to.

Back up to the office in the afternoon. Étienne from Cyicaro is supposed to be calling in for me to download a virus killer on his stricken laptop, but he never appears. What I do find, though, is the absolute final secondary census form, from St Jean de Nyarusange. It’s not complete, but I’m beyond caring. I play around for an hour entering up the data and starting to do Claude a power point, but by then it’s more or less the end of the afternoon and the office is emptying.

All afternoon it’s been stiflingly hot and unbearably humid. The sky has gone that gunmetal blue colour and it looks as if there’s a massive storm approaching. And yet within an hour or so the heat and humidity have dissipated, and it’s raining a gentle shower for ten minutes. For the rest of the afternoon it is grey, overcast, quite chilly and neither raining properly nor ever quite not raining. I find it fascinating trying to judge when the actual main rains are coming. Every time I think “this is it – the big electrical storm is arriving which will mark the change” – things fizzle out.

There are still a lot of the headteachers either besieging Claudine in the other office, or trying to bend Claude’s ear. What is so lovely is that a lot of them come in to my office to say hello and generally pass the time of day. They’re treating today as a day out; there’s lots of laughter and endless gossip, all eventually probably more important than the formal meeting they were supposed to be here for.

Back to the flat via the market. I cave in tonight and pay 150 for a kilo of spuds. Everybody seems to be asking the same price; I suppose it must be something to do with the seasons and the prices rising before the rains come and bring on the next crop.

At the flat it’s an easy meal to prepare because it’s basically last night’s left overs plus spuds and peas and excessively spicy salami. Moira comes round to talk about likely schools to place her teacher training students and we spend half an hour going over the options in Muhanga district. I invite her to stay over for tea and it makes a nice relaxing evening, especially as between us we finish off some of the English chocolate I brought back in August, not to mention the odd nip of Mbanza to wash everything down!

Then, I’m afraid, it’s a quick attempt at today’s blog and preparing notes on tomorrow’s two schools. No peace for the wicked!

Best thing about today – feeling quite at ease with all the head teachers. They scared me to death when I first met them all in January last year; now they all know me and most of them will stop to talk. It’s a good feeling.

Worst thing – not getting out to any schools. Not my fault, but I’ve missed a precious day of dry weather when there won’t be many left….

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