Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Teaching about Ryangombe without resources

September 14th

Into the office early with a massive hit list of things to do. By five past seven I’ve printed off eight inspection reports and plonked them down on Claude’s table for him to read and be impressed.

What a pity he isn’t in today. And it means most of the things on my shopping list of jobs to do can’t be done because I need to get information or decisions from him. What’s the disposition of all the schools in Kiyumba? What’s he going to do to tell the Nyabinoni schools they mustn’t beat primary children? What’s he going to say to the local head teacher to stop her school preventing pupils attending until they’ve made a voluntary donation towards a building project? When can he get me an official government pad of lesson observation sheets….?

The Kibingo census form has arrived under my door, so I’m only missing one more now.

I spend no less than two hours blogging and dealing with emails (Claude has been thoughtful enough to leave the modem in his drawer), and then I ring Cyeza and arrange to go and watch History and Geography lessons there. Getting to Cyeza is so easy now – I know the price and route and everything else. I remember how distant it seemed last year, and how much I had to screw up courage to get on a bike on my own (without Cathie) and go there, and I laugh at myself. Why am I such a timid bunny at times?

Soraya comes into the office and between us we start planning for a Kiyumba week next week. We can’t get very far with this because we don’t yet know where all the schools are, and everything is going to depend on the rains, but at least we’ve pencilled in the dates and some possible schools. I’ll ring the priests at Kanyanza on Friday evening.

At Cyeza I dismiss the moto because I don’t know how long I’m going to be there. As it happens I watch two lessons with an hour’s break in the middle when I find a tree and sit under it to relax in the middle of the countryside and fend off all the curious people who want to come and stare at a muzungu who is hanging around doing nothing. I wonder if they will come and ask me for money; the kids are just brazen but the adults try to be more subtle. Nothing doing, guys, I’m afraid, and you can’t charge a muzungu for sitting under a roadside tree!

An extraordinary thing happens. A wave of pupils is dismissed from lessons and charges off down the dirt road towards the river and the surrounding houses. This seems odd; morning school finishes at 1215 and this is only about 11 o’clock. Then, around twenty minutes later and just as I’m going to watch my second lesson, these pupils all come back to the school. And every single one of them is carrying stones on their heads. Great big slabs for the older children; smaller stones for the weenies. In the meantime they’ve all made little carrying rings of banana leaf to protect their heads from the weight of the rocks. They silently process past the classroom window and you can hear the thumps as they add their rocks to the pile at the building site where new classrooms are going up. Nothing quite sums up the “do it yourself or do without” situation of the schools here. The pupils are literally going out to find stones to help build their new classrooms, and their parents are giving their time free each morning to make mud bricks, dig foundations, make cement and lay the stones and bricks to construct classrooms.

It’s the same teacher doing history and geography. She knows her stuff but has no resources and therefore it is difficult for her to make her lesson come to life. The class is sullen and unhelpful and there’s a constant buzz of talking in the back of the room even with me sitting there. In history she is teaching about the cult of Ryangombe. Ryangombe is a central figure in Rwandan mythology; the popular and successful hunter and leader who was eventually killed by a wild buffalo and now resides on the top of Karisimbi mountain. The pupils find it all a bit boring and irrelevant. In the debrief I suggest that next time she starts with the relevance of Ryangombe today. There are still men who like to model themselves on the warrior hero, and various rituals and observances remain. That would hook the pupils, especially some of the boys, and would make it easier for her to trace back to the roots of the legend.

After I’ve debriefed I start walking back towards Gitarama. There’s a fair amount of traffic on the earth road and I trust that sooner or later I’ll find a lift. It’s the heat of the day (I seem to make a habit of doing long walks at the wrong time of day), but after walking about half the entire distance I’m very relieved to find a moto without a passenger and negotiate a fair price back to the office.

Last time I came to Cyeza I got charged a lot for “waiting time”. Doing things this way has cost me 2500 instead of 4000, and a lot of exercise to reduce the flab I’ve put on up in Nyabinoni last week.

In the afternoon I’m working really hard on writing reports, trying to phone schools to arrange visits, and trying to do last week’s blog postings. I find that when I’ve been away on one of these trips up country every day turns out to be an adventure and trying to remember all of it for posterity means I’m writing long essays! But even reading what I’ve put about the Rongi trip ten days ago reminds me of incidents I’d already forgotten, and I find all this writing very therapeutic. I must be taking out all my frustrations on you people who are my readers! Sorry, folks! Rwanda is beautiful and I wouldn’t change my placement for anything. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. But, yes, it does get tedious and annoying at times.

Some schools for the rest of the week are easy to contact; others don’t answer their phones. I have to keep reminding myself that we’re in hill country and it’s quite possible that the teachers are never able to use their phones while they’re at work. Only three out of six schools make positive contact. Never mind, they’ll all be at a big meeting in Gitarama tomorrow so I’ll be able to nobble them and finalise my travel plans.

I cook up a huge vegetable stew so that there’s enough left for tomorrow, and by then I’m pooped and totally ready for bed.

Best thing about today – going out to Cyeza; it’s my 90th formal visit to a school. Ten more to go to my self-imposed target!

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