Monday, 14 September 2009

"My stomach is paining" - on the road in Kabacuzi

September 7th

Into the office even earlier today; I’m in and ready to go for quarter to seven. Delphine arrives because she’s asked me to print off her revised CV and a job application. When I give them to her she spots a spelling mistake in her surname (despite supposedly checking the letter last Friday at the flat), so I have to run rounds the building, find paper, and print it again. Them, in true Rwandan fashion, she produces some certificates and asks me to make copies of them for her. The only working copier is in the other building, so that’s another ten minute job. Never mind, she’s a satisfied customer when she leaves.

I print off a batch of four Rongi inspection reports for Claude, which makes him very happy, too. Now I have a few minutes with the modem to check emails and so on, and to phone the head teachers of Buramba and Kabacuziu schools to tell them I’m coming to look at them. Lo and behold, at the early hour the phone system is working and I get through easily to both schools; even better is that both heads are in their schools today and will be pleased to see me.

It’s only eight o’clock and things are looking good already. Soraya arrives and we book our regular drivers, Natete and Joseph, to take us up to Kabacuzi. This is quite a long journey – RwF10,000 each return. Soraya’s going to Kibyimba school which is even further on in Kabacuzi than my two.

The weather is grey, cloudy, cold and windy, and there’s no doubt that we’re existing on borrowed time before the rains start. We drive off along the Ngororero road, past Mushubati, Mata and Gisiza schools and then turn off the tarmac onto the rough earth track up the valley. Kabacuzi is right in the centre of Muhanga district, and the roads within it are a hard ride. It is hilly and rocky, and more than any other secteur you get jolted to pieces as you constantly slog up and down huge hills. There’s one massive hill down, then a lot of twisting round spurs before we reach Buramba,

The school at Buramba has a primary and a tronc commun section, on split sites about ten minutes’ walk apart. I go to the tronc commun section, because that’s where the head is based, and intend to visit both parts. As things turn out there’s not enough time to do that, and I decide to concentrate on the tronc commun part. Soraya isn’t doing any work with secondary schools, so I’m their first official visitor.

There’s one block of beautiful new classrooms, with glazed windows on two sides, emulsioned walls, and ceilings for heat and sound insulation. Isn’t it funny how random these new buildings are! Here, in an isolated secteur and against all the odds, are some of the best rooms in the district. Buramba TC section also has five more rooms waiting for future classes. These are the old mud brick type and need a lot of renovation, but they are structurally sound and nowhere near as worn out as those at Murehe last week.

The head’s documentation is excellent; one of the strengths of Buramba is the degree of consultation with pupils. The youngsters – there are only about 80 of them in two classes – run a student council which has already, through formal minuted meetings, addressed issues of lateness, or rudeness and aggression between pupils, or indiscipline and interruption to lessons. Buramba is a model in educating pupils in the democratic process; all Rwandan schools make their pupils write notes about the desirability of such things; Buramba just gets on and does it.

Like most of the new TC sections there’s an air of “get up and go” here; the school plans to buy a patch of land at the rear of one block from the local umudugudu. The land will take another block of two or so rooms, and the cost is RwF50,000. This is very cheap for lane; whether it’s a subsidised price for the school or whether it really does reflect land prices out in the countryside, I don’t know. In English terms that’s like being able to buy a plot for a decent sized four or five bedroomed house for about £60.

I like Buramba; the lessons are reasonable and its results in the recent tests very good (8th out of 40 and well above some ling established secondary schools).

The primary school doesn’t fare quite so well, and Apollinaire, the head, is struggling with staffing problems there. One of the teachers died last April an due to administrative sloth still hasn’t been replaced. Rather than see this person’s class suffer, the other teachers have all been chipping in some of the marking and preparation time to keep the deceased teacher’s class taught. I’m outraged at this delay – how dare they mess about for five months! I prtomise that I’ll chew Claude’s ears about it in the morning, but I fear it may be the local secteur administration rather than the District which is to blame. Certainly Kabacuzi is not a popular posting for teachers because of its isolation. It’s not so much the sheer mileage to get anywhere but rather the state of the roads – bumpy and hilly and twisting. If, like Apollinaire, you haven’t yet saved up enough to buy yourself a trials bike, you’re really stuck here. When the sun goes down there absolutely nothing. Buramba has a modern health centre and about two or three bars and one shop, and that’s just about it. The children not in school, and most of the adults, seem to spend all their free time sitting on the edge of the road watching whoever is going by – that’s your entertainment in this village!

On I go to Kabacuzi itself. I know this school well because it’s where Cathie and I did a training session last year, and I had a disastrous time in the autumn when I was very late because my moto blew a tyre on the journey to the school. This is no place to break down on a bike, and certainly not somewhere you’d want to risk being stuck overnight!

Cyrille, the primary head, is a long established director and the Kabacuzi secteur rep, so we know each other well. He has supportive parents who have just built him three lovely new rooms; these are not glazed but are big and have windows with wooden shutters on two sides so they can still, be used even when rain is beating on one side!

He does have a lot of problems to contend with. There is no sports pitch other than a tine volleyball court. The courtyard of the school is a rock outcrop; bands of tough quartzite pocking out of the thin soil and a death trap for anyone trying to run across it. The school has no electricity, of course, and no water. There’s a big stream down in the valley below, but it’s a long haul for a little pupils with a jerrycan. On the other hand every classroom has a tub of water outside it, and soap and a towel Kabacuzi can teach most of my schools a thing or two about hygiene.

I watch three lessons. In one (yr 5) the dreaded Rwandan “L” and “R” confusion comes into play. Pupils are doing direct into indirect speech and one little girl says in all innocence “The boy goes out to pray football”. Well, they say sport is a religion in some countries. The teacher isn’t immune, either: “My stomach is paining”, says the woman. And somebody writes on the board “I am doing a work”. You begin to realise just how tough it is to learn English. And, cynicism and cheap laughs apart, these people are all doing wonders, learning a foreign language from scratch in their first year at school. I reckon they’d knock spots off our English kids if we tried to do the same thing in, say, Spanish or German.

Pupils are very sluggish this afternoon. It isn’t hot and stuffy; quite the opposite 0 the doors and shutters are flapping in a strong wind, and so many leaves are blowing off the eucalyptus trees outside that it really does feel like Autumn in an English September.

All the usual problems surface – lack of anything on the wall, teachers not using pupils’ names; textbooks not in use etc. I do a “pearls of wisdom” session for the staff at breaktime and a quick inspection administrative with Cyrille in a curious mixture of English and French. I’m tired and I can’t remember all my vocab in French, but between us we manage to communicate.

Kabacuzi isn’t a bad school; it’s just tired and needs a bit of inspiration.

It’s a long ride back to Gitarama, and I’m starving hungry. Soraya and I meet at “Nectar” and I shovel down mélange with relish tonight. Becky comes to join us and unload on some of the problems she’s had to deal with today (she’s been in Kigali helping the new arrivals do their shopping for utensils, bed linen and so on.

Then it’s back to the flat and two hours’ more work trying to get today’s reports written up. I can’t get through to Jean Damascene, the priest at Nyabinoni, to book ourselves in for tomorrow, so as usual our domestic arrangements will be a cliffhanger.

Right now, as I write this, it’s nearly eleven o’clock at night. I’ve got to be up soon after five tomorrow and will be on motos for over three hours in all. So I think it’s time for bed!

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