Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Mad Monday

October 26th

In to work this morning not quite knowing what to expect. On the way to work I stop off at Ahazaza school; Raina had been left out of Friday’s District meeting (yet again), and she wants to see her school’s test results. So I’ve arranged to be at the school before seven. Unfortunately Raina’s not there; I expect she’s been called away by some other emergency. Her deputy is in the building (the one I helped appoint), so I talk to him and put the results onto her computer before moving on to the office.

Claude’s there in the District Office, so I’m able to spend the first hour finalising the English test summaries and give him the final power point. Unfortunately we seem to have lost the marked papers for one entire school. I know I’ve marked them; they’re lost somewhere between the various people who have been tabulating the results. I go right through every single one of the remaining papers, but the missing school’s aren’t present. Oh well, let’s wait and see what happens. They’ll be somewhere in the building, either in someone’s briefcase or more likely buried under other papers.

I spend another half hour on the internet, but the power keeps cutting off, and the internet connection is very slow. Somebody in the building must be downloading music or videos. In fact, the internet only becomes fast enough to be useful when the power goes off and it’s just my laptop on its battery power using the web, so I assume that whoever else is on line must be using one of the big desktop machines. Ha!; there are advantages to using a laptop!

Meanwhile both the Dean of the College of Education at Kavumu, and also Moira, have called to ask me whether I can get going on finding placements for their students. The answer is yes, because at long last the mayor has signed the authorisation papers. So I moto over to the College just as it comes on a long and heavy thunderstorm. The Dean has done most of the schools already, and there are only seven left for me. Unfortunately we’re stranded in the college for an hour while we wait for the rain to ease off. Even by mid-day it’s still raining, as opposed to pouring, and there’s no way I can sally out into the mountains. So I have an early lunch at “Tranquillité”, and get the best mélange I’ve ever had there. Beautiful fresh salads and half an avocado. They must be missing me….

Next I have to return to the flat and get some money for motos to visit these schools. Suddenly its panic stations because the College wants to have all the places confirmed by Wednesday. That means they need my information by Tuesday mid-day. It’s a tall order.

I go across town to Nyabisindu school, and immediately run out of luck. Neither Jeanne, the head, nor Florent, the adjoint, are in the building. It’s the day before the big concours exams and all headteachers are running round like headless chickens making final arrangements. Jeanne is supposed to be in a meeting at my office, so I rush back only to find the meeting has finished a few minutes ago and everyone has dispersed.

Now I try ringing everyone. Prudence from Nyarusange is the only one still in town; he comes to the office and we sort out his school. At the same time he gives me his estimates for Nyarusange’s water cistern. I tell him he’ll have to hold on for the money until I get back from Zanzibar.

Three of the schools put me off until tomorrow; they don’t really want to see me tomorrow either because of the exams, but two of them I can do early in the morning before the tests get started. Two schools have their phones switched off and I simply can’t raise them at all.

I spend some time writing some thoughts for Claude on the matter of job descriptions for heads and deputy heads arising from the problems aired at Friday’s big meeting; Claude has long since gone to meetings elsewhere. Also, I print out my year’s report for Claude and leave it on his desk. It’s not perfect but it’ll do.

Back to trying to contact schools again. Alphonse at Mushishiro answers; he’s in a meeting at Nsanga but the meeting is just finishing so we agree to meet at Mushishiro. I go back into town, get a moto, and after a false start to a garage without petrol we eventually get cracking into the mountains. There’s still some drizzle falling, and grey clouds all around, and I hope I’m not going to get soaked. As we turn off into Mushishiro market, with dozens of people gawping at me, we’re stopped by Alphonse himself who is on his way back to his school. With him is Edouard, the head at Kirwa. Within seconds we’re surrounded by children and some adults; squashing in so close to see what we’re doing and to look at what’s on my sheets of paper that at one point I actually get jostled and the two head teachers have to shout at people to give us some room. There’s nothing I need from Alphonse that I can’t ask him out on the street, and because the entire conversation is in English there’s little problem about our onlookers being able to understand anything we say.

Even better, Alphone takes a sheet to give to Étienne at Cyicaro; if I can get through to him on the phone this evening or tomorrow it’s save me a second long ride out to the mountains to his school.

I’ve feeling very much more “lifted” when we drive home. The sun has come out, and I really enjoy an unexpected final fling through the mountain passes and down to Mata and the outskirts of Gitarama.

Back at the flat all is busy; I’m booking Joseph to drive me around tomorrow, and try once more to contact Jeanne at Nyabisindu. I wish these people wouldn’t switch their phones off when it’s me who’s trying to contact them. Eventually I get through to Étiernne at Cyicaro and we do all his business over the phone. Hooray; that’s three schools down, three for tomorrow and just Jeanne who won’t answer her phone.

At the flat I discover we have a problem. There’s a wet patch on the outside wall where water is coming through the brickwork, and the bath tap won’t turn off. We can reduce it to a fraction of its full flow, but at one point it threatens to run faster than the bath outlet will let the water escape. And, when Tom arrives, we discover we don’t know where the main water stop cock is if we need to shut off the water completely. Tom knows the plumber they use at FHI so we ring him. He can come on Wednesday, so I think I’ll have to work at home on Wednesday to make sure someone’s in when the tradesman arrives.

I watch “Casino Royale” with Daniel Craig starring as Bond; some African sequences at the start including one scene supposed to be in Mbale, Uganda. Well, I’ve been to Mbale and the place in the film looked more like West Africa – Sierra Leone or Ghana!

A cool evening; fleece weather even indoors.

Best thing about today – getting started on the Teacher placement visits. Finishing my annual report for Claude.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Urukundo discovers Diwali

October 25th

Off to Momma’s for what’s almost certainly my last time. Louise is doing the talk this morning and has decided to talk to the children about Diwali. This turns out to be fascinating. The children know their Bibles better than most English adults, but it soon becomes clear that they have been taught Christianity to the exclusion of any other religion. They have absolutely no concept of Hinduism at all; they have barely the faintest idea where India is, even what continent it’s in. She has brought lots of little lamps which she lights and places round the room; to the orphans this is what happens during a power cut, and nothing at all to do with the spiritual aspects of light. The pictures of Lakshmi and Ganesh and Rama and Sita that Louise shows them are just fantasy illustrations such as you might find in a science fiction comic. I find it somewhat worrying that the children – the children of toimorrow – are being brought up in such a claustrophobic monotheistic way. It doesn’t bode well for a world where everyone will have to live in harmony with each other. No matter; three cheers to Louise for trying and daring to be different. Her parents are over visiting her and it’s nice to welcome them to Momma’s

I get asked to say something and they all formally say farewell to me. It’s the first of what will probably be many farewells over the coming month, and it’s a strange feeling.

For the rest of the day I write up my blog, watch a video (“No country for old men” – the Cohen brothers at their gory best), and read Milan Kundera. There’s thunder all around us during the afternoon but somehow we escape any deluge.

Tom’s stomach is rebelling, so he doesn’t come to Momma’s and lies low right up until the evening meal. At the evening meal we have more than a dozen people. Kerry, Moira and Charlotte have been to Bujumbura for the weekend and enjoyed life in a luxury hotel (drinks by the swimming pool – a far cry from Gitarama!). The setting of Bujumbura is wonderful; Lake Tanganyika is enormous, many times bigger than Kivu, and surrounded by mountains. Unfortunately the water is full of bilharzias snails, and there are crocodiles which come up onto the beaches at night. So it’s not exactly the best place to go for a midnight dip.

Becky and Karen are just back from Akagera having seen mating giraffes and come almost within touching distance of the hippos in Lake Ihema. They also stumbled on a group of tiny crocodiles, but didn’t linger for fear that mummy croc was lurking somewhere just round the corner…..

I take my travelli8ng dominoes and we manage a short game before there are too many people at the meal to be able to concentrate!

Tom’s done a big cook-up with some beef mince he bought yesterday in Kigali, and I have at least three lunches’ worth of soup in the freezer, so we’re well sorted for next week.
And that’s it. The very young students on an FHI placement leave for Kampala on Tuesday, so it’s their last Sunday with us. People are planning where they’re going to be for Christmas (Gisenyi?, Jinja?, Bujumbura?). The restaurant manages to omit at least three items from their bill, but we realise and put the money in anyway. This is one establishment we value in town and we don’t want them to lose faith in us.

It’s been another quiet weekend, but after Friday’s hectic schedule I need time to relax.

A week in the doldrums

October 17th – 24th

A quiet week and not enough to justify writing a blog each day. Besides, there’s relatively little to describe that I haven’t already said. So just one long entry to cover the whole week!

In some ways it has been a frustrating week. My intention was to go out to schools and arrange the placements for the teacher training college, so that by now (Sunday 25th) I’d have everything done. But, as usual, things don’t work out as I plan them.

On Sunday night one of our Vice Mayors, the more experienced one and the one who is the absolute lynch pin of the whole District administration, was killed in a car crash. The accident was right on the outskirts of Gitarama, at Munyinya, and when I went to Kigali on Monday morning the wrecked car was still lying at the roadside where it had come to rest. The car had been struck by a lorry with such force that one entire side of the car had been ripped away. I think the lorry must have been trying to overtake something and just not been able to see the Vice Mayor’s car coming; either that or the driver was asleep at the wheel, or perhaps fiddling with his mobile phone.

Also along the roadside on the way to Kigali are a burnt out lorry, and yet another car collision near Rugabagoba. The road is so twisty, and so hilly, and the lorries are so overloaded that it becomes a death trap. The wonder is that there aren’t many more fatal accidents.

The result of the Vice Mayor’s death at the Office on Monday morning was one of complete shock. Meetings were cancelled, and almost all business stopped. Crucially for me, the mayor had not signed the letter requesting schools to co-operate with me in arranging teacher placements ,and without the letter I didn’t want to risk going out to schools and being refused by them – that would mean that if the schools were forced to take students at a later date they would feel they had lost face, and Rwanda doesn’t work in that way. There’ll be a few more days left, so I’m going to have to play a waiting game.

So I’m faced on Monday morning with nothing to do. Well, as VSOs we’re nothing if not flexible, so I put plan “B” into operation. So I’m into Kigali on the bus with my Tanzanian visa application in my hand. Once at the Embassy I discover that you can’t pay for the visa with Rwandan francs, not even at the Kigali embassy. So it’s another trip to a forex to change francs into dollars, and finally the embassy accepts my application and tells me to come back tomorrow afternoon to collect the document. By now the guards at the embassy gate all recognise me; I don’t have to sign in and they just give me a badge and send me through. While Soraya and I are both at the VSO office in Kigali, who should breeze in but Épi, so we’re able to touch base with each other.

Épi tells me that Jeannot is coming up trumps with finding me a huge amount of Congolese music I asked him to dig out from various sources. Some of it is very rare and copies are like gold dust. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to getting a flash with all this music on; it’ll be a fabulous advance Christmas present when it materialises!

Two more jobs get done today; one is to write my termly summary report for VSO on what I’ve done since I returned from England in August. The reporting period is officially to the end of October, but there’s no chance of any more school visits so I might as well get it done sooner rather than later. By the same token I also manage to complete my termly summary of visits for Claude.

Also this week I manage to write my VSO personal reference. This is a curious document; it’s a reference which we can use when applying for jobs back in the UK or wherever we come from. VSO ask us to write the reference ourselves, to a prescribed formula. Then we have to get our local managers (Claude) to read it and approve it. Next we take it to our programme manager (Charlotte) for her to approve and countersign, and finally we have our reference. By the end of Tuesday I have my reference written and printed off and its waiting for Claude to read.

Claude is hard to find this week; it’s the JERS (Joint Education Review and Strategy) meeting in Kigali, and all the district directors are there. It is the crucial planning meeting for the whole country in which any changes to the education service for the coming year hammered out. As I write (Sunday) I have managed to get some of the documents from Claude and I’m poring over them to see if there are any more major surprises coming to us next year. Hopefully there will be a couple of years of consolidation.

One thing Claude does ask me to do is an annual report for the District on all my visits. The format he wants is going to make it so long that I don’t think anyone will bother to read it. So as of Sunday I have done the boring lists that he’s asked for, and when I finish this blog entry I will make my usual summary of “things that we’re doing well”; “things that are causing problems”, and my generalised comments on the quality of teaching. I think it’s so important to stress the positives and all the progress that is being made here; it would be all too easy to write a report which was simply a long litany of failures, an even longer list of resources the schools are lacking, and conclusion implying that without astronomical levels of investment nothing would change. That wouldn’t help anybody. The report takes me, on and off, the whole of the rest of the week. But not because I’m working on it all the time; there’s something about the report which bores me and I can’t get any enthusiasm to work on it. I find I’m constantly distracted by whatever else is around me.

By the end of Tuesday I have my Tanzanian visa and I’m all on course to go to Dar next weekend. I can’t wait! I’m rapidly getting caught up on all the end-of-placement reports I have to write; the only one missing is the VSO final placement report. I think there’s a template we have to use for that; but when I try to find out at the programme office neither Charlotte nor Ruth are there, so I come away empty handed. What I’m doing this week, in effect, is switching the things I had planned to do on the first week after returning from Zanzibar with the things I had originally planned to do for this week. There are some things like getting police clearance (The Rwandan form of our English CRB document), and getting my Rwandan working visa terminated on the day after I leave the country, I which I can’t do until after I return from Tanzania because they might involved having to hand in my passport.

There is one amusing interlude in the VSO office. Jean-Claude is planning leaders for sessions for the second round of in-country training for Septembers’ new arrival volunteers. Last year I did it with Steve. Jean-Claude is rather taken aback when I explain that Steve has finished his service and gone, and that three of the most experienced volunteers of all – me, Épi and Soraya – are not available because we’ll be in Zanzibar. We spend a few minutes thinking of who else could do the job (but who haven’t already been commandeered to do other sessions).

We’ve also had a request from VSO to offer to help with the big Rwandan teacher training programme in English in December. The powers that be have decided that December will be a training month. It means that none of the teachers will have much of a holiday this year (unless at the last minute they delay the start of next year’s spring term). I assume that if we take part as VSOs we’ll get paid for our input, too. But it’s a very bad time to be asking volunteers to give up four or five weeks to work on Mineduc-led projects. There is a big group of volunteers, myself included, who will be ending our service and returning home. Then there’s another big group who have already booked flights home for Christmas, or booked holidays in neighbouring countries. There will probably be very few volunteers left in the country for the whole of December who could take part. It’s the curse of Rwandan last-minute planning once again. If they had given us a heads-up on this, say, in September, then many of us could have changed our plans to accommodate the system.

During this week the ongoing saga of trying to get the District to pay my rent to Tom comes to a head. For months (literally) we’re been pushed from person to person with every excuse imaginable for not getting paid. This person needs to sign the document but he’s not here. He’s on holiday; she’s away at a conference etc. Or this person can’t sign until it has been cleared by somebody else. Then they want a copy of my contract attached to the invoice, to prove that I really do exist. (They’ve already got at least two copies of my contract somewhere in the files). Then the copy of the contract needs countersigning, and stamping, by all and sundry. Soraya is having the same problem in getting her rent paid (the district has to pay YWCA because her house is owned by YWCA), and her rent hasn’t been paid for the whole year. It’s a crazy system. The death of the vice mayor brings everything to a halt once again. In fact on Tuesday the entire District Office is closed so that everyone can go to the funeral. As I go into Kigali on the bus, we get caught up in an enormous slow column of cars on the edge of Gitarama; it is dozens and dozens of vehicles taking half the town to the funeral service at St André’s church.
So from Monday to Thursday I’m either in Kigali or finding things to do to keep me occupied. But on Friday everything changes. Claude has returned from JERS and is in the office. He gives me some of the JERS briefing documents. I give him my VSO reference to read through. We establish that my rent cheque is ready and signed, but that Tom has to collect it in person. Tom is away down in Butare for two days with Janine on FHI business, so he’ll have to wait until Monday. Soraya’s cheque is also being written. Things are looking up.

From Claude I manage to get the complete “saisie” of the English tests all teachers did last month. The he drops a real bombshell – there’s a big meeting of every head teacher in the District in three hours’ time, and he wants me to do a presentation on what the tests show! Talk about panic stations. I set to and in three hours have done about half the full analysis, but I can talk about results by gender, age, qualification and type of school. It’s the most extreme time pressure I’ve ever had since starting to work in Rwanda.

I already know enough about the system to realise that a ten o’clock meeting means a ten-thirty start, so I drift down to the meeting at about twenty-five past. The meeting has already started – for once things are punctual here. Head teachers are drifting in and out all the time, so my late arrival doesn’t ruffle any feathers. We’re being courted by Fina Bank, one of the five or so new banks which have opened offices in Gitarama. They are talking about either free banking or certainly reduced rate bank charges for schools and NGOs, and even mention the possibility of subsidised computers to schools. It’s a pretty good spiel and everyone’s listening carefully.

At the end of the meeting another bank, KCB, comes in to make a similar bid for our business. But I don’t think they have thought things through; they tend to be the bank which loans big sums to businesses. They talk about loans of up to 2 billion francs; for some of my schools that’s as much money as they’ll see in a decade or more, and it leaves them cold.

The issue with banking is that most schools bank with “Banque Populaire” because it’s the only bank which has branches out in the villages. If you’re stuck up in Rongi or Kiyumba it doesn’t matter how much enticement Finabank or KCB offer; if you can’t get access to the bank easily you can’t use it. So almost all the rural schools are stuck with “Banque Populaire”, notorious for long queues and for levying charges on every form of transaction.

The meeting runs on and on until nearly four in the afternoon, by which time we’ve all gone past hunger and our backsides are almost welded to the uncomfortable wooden benches. I have Gervais from Kirwa translating for me; Charles from Nsanga is translating for Soraya. (Gervais and I can chat in French faster than the other two’s English if I want to follow up on some of the points being discussed).

We have a long session about ructions between the new Groupe Scolaire heads and their “adjoints”. This has been a crisis in waiting ever since last January. The Groupes Scolaires are the primary schools – some thirty in all – which have been allowed to open secondary sections to give “nine years’ basic education”. In every case a young, English speaking graduate has been installed, often with no previous teaching or managerial experience whatsoever, over very experienced primary headteachers. The former primary heads have been relegated to deputy heads, but were never given any specific job description. It’s a classic recipe for insecurity and conflict. The hew heads are insecure because they don’t know the area and don’t know enough about how the system works. The old heads suddenly feel discarded and without any role. The new heads try to take on all the administration and this leaves the old heads even more marginalised. Apparently things have come to a head in several schools, one of which is my friend J’s school at N.

We have a long discussion about the role of the “adjoint”; as Claude sees things there are three possibilities. One is to relegate the adjoints to ordinary classroom teachers. Just imagine it – you’ve run a school for ten or fifteen years, in some cases taking it to within the top ten performing schools in the district, and then suddenly you’re dismissed and relegated to ordinary teacher. A second possibility is to transfer these teachers to be heads of other primary schools to fill vacancies as people retire. We already know that there are some six or seven headteachers leaving at the end of the year, whether for retirement, promotion or dismissal for poor results. Claude’s third alternative is to create a more clearly defined role within the schools for the adjoints. That, to me, is the obvious solution. If I can find the energy I’ll write him some ideas comparing how our English system of heads and deputies works. But here the system is further complicated because all schools have a “responsable” who is an ordinary class teacher, usually with some seniority, who is the delegated person to deal with problems whenever the head is not around. Part of the whole problem at the moment is about the sharing of responsibilities between the “adjoint” and the “responsable”.

It shows how far I’ve come in two years in Rwanda that I’m able to follow all the issues that are being raised in the meeting, and I’ve got enough background knowledge of the schools this term to be able to envisage the actual characters that are causing friction with each other!

Another big issue at the meeting is over “placements”. This is the allocation of teachers to schools, and is renegotiated every year in September/October. Some teachers want to move to another school closer to their home. Many teachers want to get out of the profession and move on to something better paid. There’s always a steady trickle of teachers being arrested for various offences, or who die in office. (Death here of people in their thirties and forties is not unusual, and it is an accepted hazard of daily life). In addition there are satellite schools which are growing an extra class every year and who need teachers to cover these new classes. I find I’m ahead of the game on the new classes – Gervais gapes at me as I list all the schools in this situation before the rest of the heads can put their bids to Claude. Nyanza will start a year 4. Jandari “B” will start a second year. Mpinga will reach year 5. (Interestingly, there are fewer satellite schools this year than in any of the previous two years. Perhaps the rate of population growth really is beginning to slow down).

So there’s twenty minutes of bartering (with about 150 people in the room) while schools jockey and vie with each other to say how stressed their staff is and why they should be given an extra teacher. I’m really impressed with Claude; he seems to know everybody’s name and always either refers to them by name or by their school. And his chairmanship skills are extremely good. It’s a real treat just to sit back and watch him in action.

This year the government has decreed that no teacher will work more than 30 hours’ contact time (leaving 10 hours for preparation, marking and admin). The 30 – 10 split has always been the case officially, but when we had all the ructions at the start of the year with schools adjusting to new systems, some teachers found themselves on 34, 36 or even in a few cases 38 hours of contact a week. That’s ridiculously excessive (“pénible” is the French word that describes it beautifully). For those readers who are not teachers, an English school will normally expect around 25 hours contact time a week as maximum. Rwandan teachers are genuinely overworked and underpaid.

We then have to use a formula which is the number of classes x40/30 to work out how many teachers each school needs. There’s no concept of part time teaching here, especially in the primary schools, and it’s almost unheard of for a teacher to spend part of the week in one school and the rest of the week in another. So when everyone has done their calculation it has to be rounded up to the next whole number. A lot of schools discover that they are entitled to extra teachers, and Claude and Valérian have a shaky moment when they realise there’s going to be a big impact on the budget. There’s a lot of very rapid talk in Kinyarwanda which neither Gervais nor Charles translate for us because they’re so preoccupied in listening and assessing the implications for their schools.

Finally I get my slot, as thunder rumbles all around us and the power could go off at any second. I’ve done a quick powerpoint and take them through it. The men have scored much higher than the women in the English test. The very young and very old (55+) teachers have scored higher marks than the others. Teachers with degrees have done a lot better than those who have only finished secondary school. Those who are actually teaching English have done much better than those who aren’t (though in the lower primary sections there are many teachers with appallingly low scores). Two teachers manage to score 0/40 and it must take a particular brand of cussedness to score nothing on forty multiple choice questions – you have a 1 in 4 chance of being right every time!

At the end of the meeting we adjourn back to the office. Alphonse from Mushishiro needs me to write a reference in support of his attempts to join the “world gateway” school networking site. That done there’s just time for a quick check of email and then home. I’m being lazy this week and taking a moto home. At RwF200 (24p) I’ve decided that I can afford it and my old bones justify it…..

Tom comes back from Butare with a French stick and we decide to make sausage and cheese pizzas. That done, it’s Friday night and we’re both jaded and tired from work. We’ve both had enormously long days today. Tom in particular is wrung out – Christi’s ill with malaria and possibly typhoid at the same time, and has been in a local clinic on a drip to keep her fluid levels up. So Tom has been chasing around like a mad thing trying to do his work and hers. Fortunately he has Janine who is so competent now that she’s becoming indispensible to the FHI effort. Anyway, back to Friday evening. We decide to go out for a drink at “Orion”; eventually April and Helen come to join us and we chat till late.

Every night this week I’ve been catching up on videos from Piet’s external hard drive. A varied menu, from Dr Strangelove in black and white, to “V for vendetta” partly in English and partly in German, to “Die Falscher” entirely in German and “Flandres” entirely in French, and finally “Enigma” in good old English. After I’ve seen each film I’m erasing it to make space for more music or photos before I come home.

So, as you can see, not an idle week, but certainly not the week I had envisaged last Sunday! Never mind; in seven days’ time I shall be in Dar es Salaam and on my way to Zanzibar. Oh yes……… !

Sociable Saturday; Zanzibar’s suddenly a lot closer!

October 16th

Into Kigali early; me on the 7.00 bus, Michael on the 7.30 and Soraya on the 8.00. I get some money changed (best exchange rate I can get today is 890 to the pound; what’s happening to our currency again?). I do a bit of shopping and we all meet up at Simba for a coffee and hot croissant.

Then Michael and I go up to the Programme Office; we both have things to sort out there. I think I have managed to get my flights home finalised (the information I received would have left me stranded in Brussels). Judging by the exchanges with the travel agency I think they had simply forgotten to type the extra line of print that gave me my flight details for the Brussels to London leg, but I still won’t rest until I’ve got something in print with all the info I need, and that might take a day or two to arrive because it’s the weekend. Anyway, it looks as if I’m going home on Brussels Air, and to Gatwick, which is exactly what I wanted, arriving home at 0700 on December 4th.

Next there’s a lot of sorting out to do with travel expenses. All my dashing up country in the last month has given me a massive bill to reclaim, but eventually after a few false starts we get it all organised. One of the P.O. staff even knows the village of Kanyanza where I stayed with the priests, so it feels nice to realise that even when I’m up-country there’s somebody at the office who can visualise where I’m working.

Having sorted out travel and finance, I need to start the visa process for Tanzania and Zanzibar. The Tanz. Embassy is within walking distance of the VSO office, at Nyarutarama, but there’s a storm coming in and thunder rumbling all around. I wonder if I’ve made a sensible decision to walk it… I manage to get to the right place in the dry, but discover that I need two passport photos for my visa, not just one, and while I can collect all the forms and get them filled in at home, I can’t get the visa application lodged today. So it’s back to the VSO office in the teeth of the storm and rummage through my personal file to find a couple of photos.

By now the storm has arrived and it’s clear we’re going to have a real downpour. I’m very lucky and just manage to get onto a matata down to Nyabugogo as the heavens open, and because it’s a stopping bus by the time I reach Nyabugogo the first lot of rain has been and gone and there’s sufficient lull to let me get out of the bus and to dash across the ruts and puddles to the long distance coach booking office.

Here my luck holds and I’m able to book three seats in the prime position at the front of the bus for Dar es Salaam. Fortunately I have enough money on me to pay for them, so within ten minutes I have the tickets booked, written out, paid for, and in my hand. And our names – me, Soraya and Épi –are duly written onto the seating plan for the bus. Twenty eight hours from Kigali to Dar is a major undertaking and I wouldn’t be happy unless I had seats with extra leg room. Fortunately the booking clerk, who must be almost as tall as I am, takes one look at me, laughs, and immediately tells me to sit in seat A which has the most space of all.

By now I’ve done all the business I can in Kigali and I’m anxious to get home. I’ve looked for porridge oats (unsuccessfully at a reasonable price) and lentils (no trouble at all), and dealt with a few emails.

Right now I’m dodging quite heavy rain at Nyabugogo and looking for a slow matata to take me home. I’ve got Delphine coming round for an English lesson around about two o’clock and on a slow bus I’ll be cutting things fine. To say nothing of the fact that I haven’t eaten and my stomach’s growling. So there’s a lot more leaping around puddles, dodging minibuses which are so steamed up that the driver seems to be navigating by sixth sense, and avoiding the touts who are desperate to sell up and get out of the rain. We find a bus which is going to Gitarama and I pile into the dry. To my huge surprise it sets off with only about six passengers inside. This is most unusual – normally the driver won’t think of leaving until the bus if packed full. But the rain has driven everybody under cover, and he judges that the only thing to do is to make it clear that he’s moving off and see who emerges out from under the eaves of surrounding buildings.

It means our progress is very slow, but by the time we’ve reached the edge of Kigali we’re nearly two thirds full. It continues to be a slow run; we stop every 500 metres or so, but at least the driver doesn’t hang around at the stops waiting for passengers. We just stop long enough to let people on or off. But long before we get into the middle of Gitarama Del’s ringing to see where I am and whether I’ve forgotten her. The rain seems to be following us as we drive; there’s a dry patch near Rugobagoba, but Gitarama is wet and I’m glad of my heavy cagoule on the walk from the town centre to home. Unfortunately some of the papers in my rucksack have got wet, but the essential things like photos and visa application form are untouched.

I let Del in and we make some soup quickly to fill us up and warm us, and then we do some English. Del’s very happy – a couple of months ago I lent her some money and she bought a big job-lot of beans. She’s been storing these until prices rose. Now she’s clinched a deal to sell them to a boarding school in Ruhango at a price which will enable her to repay me the loan and give her a clear profit of around 30,000 francs. That’s three months’ wages as domestique to Moira and Kerry and a very good rate of return. I just want to feel my money back in my hand (and her profit in hers) before I relax, though. But I like the idea of having been able to give someone with a bit of initiative and enterprise the wherewithal to better themselves.

Del goes and Tom comes in; meanwhile April has rung to ask us what we’re doing about eating tonight. We look at each other and shrug and say “well, why not eat out?”. So we all three go to the same restaurant as last Sunday. Becky comes along too, and we find the food is just as good again (though my goat stew, kunundera, is a bit over the top peppery tonight. I’ve almost got tears in my eyes after a few mouthfuls! The only problem with this restaurant is that it won’t allow alcohol in the place. I notice that, for this reason, it’s a favourite place for girl students from the university to come and drink and socialise. Thé africain is the drink of choice; I have some and it’s lovely. The girl students are mightily attractive, too….. Down, boy!

By the time we’ve eaten it’s too early to go home to bed, so we drift down to “Orion” for a drink. There’s football on the big screen telly (Ghana versus Brasil; 0-0 draw), and a single guitarist playing right next to us. The amplification is bearable and his style and repertoire are agreeable, too. Eventually we start back home. April has to work tomorrow near Kibuye and needs a (relatively) early night. Just outside our flat we meet Helen, who has been eating with Léonie; the girls come in and we spend a while chatting and eating Haribo jelly sweets. I’ve recently finished the first of the four “Twilight” books which are all the rage with the women volunteers at the moment. Profound literature it isn’t, but they’re quick reads and at the moment unless you can talk knowledgeably about Edward the vampire here, you’re just not into the conversation circuit at all….. Soraya texts me to say that this morning, at the VSO office, she virtually read the entirety of volume four on line. That’s how addicted everyone seems to be (not to mention sad…) Finally we call it a day and it’s off to bed and read something different.

Best thing about today – lots: sorting out money at VSO, and flights too; getting tickets booked to Dar.

Worst thing: - I’ll have to go back to Kigali on both Monday and Tuesday next week; on Monday to hand in my visa application and on Tuesday to collect it. Never mind; at least it’s only a hour or so on the bus!

Frustrating Friday

October 14th

Frustrating day today.

Into the office early to try to nobble Claude about a whole series of things, but he isn’t there. I do manage to get the modem and spend an hour catching up on the world. I also manage to finally put into the post a CD of data for Ken, my successor. (So, Ken, if you’re reading this, it should be with you by mid November at the latest). There are a couple of interesting news stories to put on the blog, including the hot topic of the moment here in Gitarama, our local council’s campaign against urban bananas. The gossip is all about one old man who tied himself to his banana tree and told the council workmen that they would have kill him if they wanted to cut down the tree. It’s changing the way I look at bananas!

Today all the secondary heads, from both established and new tronc commun schools, are converging on the office, and there will be one of the late starting and long-running meetings in the “Centre Culturel”. I think I’m due to present my upper secondary census statistics, and also we need to grab all these heads to talk about teacher training placements.

While they’re waiting for the meeting to start the heads all come to me to ask for their English test results. I only have the results on my computer for three secteurs. Béatrice and Claudine between them are doing the official transcribing, and they don’t want to get involved with giving individual results until they’ve finished the “saisie” for the entire District. Cue a lot of frustrated heads from nine of the twelve secteurs!

Jeanne from Gitongati comes to ask me if I have found money to finish her admin block (no). Mugabo from Mata comes to say his new toilets are up to eaves level and he needs RwF 60,000 to finish them, and can I help him (possibly). Odette from Butare comes to ask me if I have found anyone with five million francs to get water into her new secondary section (no). Would that I were Bill Gates…..

On the bright side, I have managed to get Michael and Kersti in touch with each other because K has some contacts coming out to Rwanda next week and they want to bring scientific equipment for Shyogwe school. (They had a link with Shyogwe a long time ago). As a result of all this to-ing and fro-ing on the telephone Shyogwe is definitely going to get a decent supply of scientific equipment. You win some as well as losing some….

Well, the meeting occurs but Claude isn’t there, and neither the census nor the teacher training placements get a mention. Now that Claude is in his new role as director of everything he’s much less in the office, and when he’s there he seems very distracted. Personally, I think the job spec is far too wide and I worry for his own health in trying to cover everything.

Étienne comes in from Cyicaro so I can get from him the details of his school bank account to pass on to Moira, and the money for his water cistern repair project (RwF504,000) can be sorted out. Prudence is also in from Nyarusange and his face lights up like a beacon when I tell him that Beaminster St Mary’s has money for a water tank for him. I try to impress on him the necessity of moving fast on this one; I only have six weeks left in the country and for two of those I’ll be in Zanzibar (I hope).

Soraya’s gone to Kigali today; with any luck she’ll have been able to book us places on the bus. (You book in advance but pay 24 hours ahead of actually travelling).

The head teachers’ meeting is tedious and I needn’t be there. V. is very thorough but he doesn’t have (yet) the same flair for public speaking as Claude. He’s the ideal “back room” man and I’m beginning to see how Claude and he together, if they were both to stay within the education system, would be such an efficient combination. C., the chief executive, is there for part of the meeting. He always looks so smooth and immaculate; I try to envisage him having to leave his office and defuse confrontations over banana trees……

We have people from UNESCO talking to us about money coupons so that people can buy books or ICT equipment or pay for training courses in any country in the world. It’s all very well, but what these schools need is cash to spend here, not fancy systems to enable them to spend money they don’t have. They’re very polite but I can catch the undercurrents now, and I’m sure they feel their poverty is just being rubbed in their faces by this kind of scheme, however well intentioned. (Sorry, UNICEF, if you’re reading this, but if you’d been able to accompany your presentation with, say, enough cash to enable each school to buy a solar panel, you’d have had the entire contingent worshipping you for the next year)!

Next we have a long talk about exam centres and numbers; it’s very confusing this year because for the primary concours exams schools have been able to opt to do them either in French or in English, so there’s twice the usual amount of administration to sort out. Pupils have to travel to neighbouring schools which become exam centres; in Gitarama town me might have groups of children passing each other on the way to each other’s schools depending on which language they’ve chosen. (This is the last year when they’ll have a choice of taking exams in French; at the moment it’s also the last year of the P6 “concours” unless the government announces a last minute prolongation for 2010).

We have a head teacher from Ruhango come to talk to us about forming a national association for secondary headteachers. This seems a great idea; one of the problems at the moment is that individual heads are powerless to influence national policy. A powerful professional association, speaking as one voice, would be a potent antidote against the sort of last minute, poorly thought through curriculum change which was imposed on schools last Christmas. Such an association shouldn’t be seen as a threat to the political authority of Rwanda’s rulers; if we value education in this country then we need to be able to listen to those whom we charge with its delivery. You can’t create a world class education system if you only allow top-down, autocratic decision making.

Jeanne is at the meeting; it’s the first time I’ve seen her since her wedding. No longer in a power suit, she’s wearing married women’s robes. Anyway, we chat and I tease her as usual; it’s nice to see that married life seems to be suiting her!

At the end of the meeting we have a mélange lunch provided for us, and a good one, too. I’ve been sitting next to Emmanuel, the head of Ndago school, because he’s such a good translator for me. He looks at what I think is my full plate and laughs at me. His plate, and those of many of the other men, is cantilevered and pyramided to the max with food. He must easily have half as much again as me to get through. He explains that In Rwanda people who try to fit the maximum on their plate are called “engineers”, and it has become something of an art form. I explain that when I was a student there were pizza bars in England where you could the same thing with salads, and it was a favourite way of filling up cheaply at weekends.

In the afternoon I go back to the flat. I feel deflated – There’s very little proper work I can be going on with, at least not before I’ve cleared some protocol issues with Claude. Tom still hasn’t got his rent cheque through the Kafka-esque bureaucracy of the District Office. I can’t go out on a final day’s worth of visits to schools tomorrow because both Buramba and Kibyimba are doing revision rather than teaching. So I relax and read.

My stomach’s still not 100%; I start looking through my travellers’ health guidebook and that’s a big mistake. I manage to convince myself that I could have bilharzia, malaria, typhoid or all three judging by how I’ve been feeling these last few days. On the other hand it could just be a dodgy tummy cause by drinking too much beer and some undercooked sausages in Kigali on Saturday…. Not to worry; wait and see.

Best thing about today – getting the CD of information off to Ken

Worst thing – having all the secondary heads in one room but not being able to get them to fill in the information about teacher trainee placements.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Trouble among the bananas

From today's "New Times" newspaper. There are many small patches of banana trees within the built up area of Gitarama and other settlements locally. These are popular with their owners, many of whom have moved into the town from the countryside and for whom the presence of banana trees is an emotional link with their roots. But the District wants to increase the amount of food produced from these urban parcels of land and argues that other crops are more productive than bananas. The result has been a stand off in Gitarama; everyone has been talking about it over the past few days. Here's how the news reports it:

Various residents in Muhanga District have complained about the district’s decision to cut down all banana plantations which are deemed unproductive.

The residents in Muhanga sector particularly accused Mark Munyemana, the sector agronomist, of enforcing the decision selectively.

“We support the land consolidation programme, however the agronomists have indiscriminately destroyed the plantations without prior consultations,” said Ceasaria Mukangoga, 65-year old genocide survivor and widow.

Following the complaints, district officials visited the site on October 13, and ordered the local leaders and residents who destroyed Mukangoga’s plantation to compensate her immediately.

However, Munyemana, denied ever enforcing the directive selectively, arguing that the banana plantations were cut down after informing residents, and only the unproductive plants were destroyed.

It however, took the intervention of Celse Gasana, the sector executive secretary to calm down angry residents.

Calling on residents to start cutting down their own plantations, Gasana noted that it was evident that the process had been poorly implemented.

Similar complaints have been raised in Shogwe, Cyeza, and Nyamabuye sectors.

The district started enforcing the cutting down of banana plantations at the beginning of the month, to pave way for implementation of the land consolidation programme.

The cleared areas are supposed to be used for planting what was deemed as more productive crops chosen by the community.

The governor Fidele Ndayisaba, has previously blamed local leaders for not clearly sensitising residents about the new land consolidation programme, which has caused a major misunderstanding between local leaders and citizens.

Ill again

October 12th

A lousy night – I have full blown Giardia again and it makes sleeping very difficult. Not to worry; I have a day’s worth of medication and it’s easy to pick up more in the town. But I decide I won’t go into work, at least for the morning, until my stomach has settled down a bit.

So seven o’clock in the morning finds me watching videos on my computer and generally feeling sorry for myself. Tom reminds me that we could have anybody coming to do the cleaning this morning – Janine can’t because she’s working full time for FHI and Louise won’t start till next week, so I take the hint and get showered and dressed pronto!

By mid morning I’m feeling a lot better. The good thing about Tinidazole is that it kicks in straight away, and while the course of tablets takes three days you are generally feeling better after just a couple of hours.

So I go into town to the RAMA pharmacy and get my tablets. Proprietary Tinidazole costs about RwF6000 for a course of treatment; the generic version made in Nairobi costs about 250 francs. I can’t believe how inflated the proprietary drugs prices have become.

Up to the Office to drop off some papers, but Claude isn’t there and I can’t print off my inspection reports, so there’s no point in hanging around. They’ve asked Béatrice to do the transcriptions of the English tests for Mineduc, so at least the work is under way. I decide to do a quick analysis of the schools in Kiyumba; people have asked me to send them their results. I’ve barely finished when Marthe rings from Kanyanza “B” and asks for hers; fortunately I’m able to dictate them down the phone to her. We have fun deciphering my versions of some of her staff’s surnames, but that is the whole problem with me trying to transcribe long and unfamiliar people’s names all done in curly script!

I call in at the internet café and manage to get a few emails sent, then it’s back to the flat and cook up rice for lunch. Plain boiled rice with a liberal dash of soya sauce is filling, quite surprisingly tasty, and just the thing to bung you up if you’ve got a dodgy tummy.

In the afternoon I manage to get some stuff prepared for my meeting at the College of Education, which I’ve postponed till three, and set off to see Moira and the vice principal. The latter wants to see me on my own, and I wonder if I’ve done something to offend. Quite the reverse, the man wants to chat about the English secondary and university system. He’s aware that the Rwandan system is still very formal and out of step with the rest of East Africa. My problem is that the English system has become so complicated, with “on the job” teacher training and modular degree courses as well as the “AS” and A2” exams, that it’s very difficult to describe succinctly.

Then I spend an hour or so with Moira fine tuning the “responsibilities” sheet for the placements, and the data capture sheet. That’s at least two of my four jobs for the college done. There will be a day’s training for the mentors, but we can leave this until after I come back from Zanzibar. We go to the registrar to get him to agree a date, but he says he needs to consult his calendar first. So we give him my “window” of available days and wait for him to come back to us.

We think there might be one of the big set-piece meetings of headteachers from right across the District on Wednesday; if that is the case, and provided I can nobble Claude in advance, we can do all the consultations with schools on the same day. That will save an enormous amount of travelling round from school to school and be a cheap way of getting things done. So we make sure we have all the data capture sheets printed and ready and in my sweaty hand before I leave!

By now it’s getting past five o’clock in the afternoon. Soraya has rung and wants to come round to the flat, but I put her off because it’ll take me a while to get back home from Kavumu. When I get home Tom is back already and cooking for the guard. We’re off to Becky’s for a pizza night (its Christi’s actual birthday today and there’s a small group going to celebrate it with her).

I call in at Soraya’s on the way, thinking that there’s some problem she needs to run through with me, but all it turns out to be is that she was going to collect three eggs of hers I’ve left in our fridge! Charlotte’s deep into her French coaching on the sofa; Léonie’s out of sight or not home yet.

The pizzafest at Becky’s is wonderful – different pizzas, salads – thank goodness my insides are recovering enough to be able to do them justice! We play party games again – “Taboo” and others, and it’s a generally very pleasant evening. All during the late afternoon the sky has been looking more and more threatening, but somehow the storms all pass us by and when we walk Christi home and then mooch back to the flat at Gahogo the air is sultry and sticky.

Teresa rings me as we’re walking down through Ruvumeru and we talk later. Ruvumeru is surprisingly busy at nine o’clock at night; every little bar and shop is still open, there are throngs of people hanging around and loads of others walking up and down. It’s not the most secure part of town, however, and there are no lights except for dim bulbs in shops, so I never feel completely easy there.

Considering how bad I felt last night it’s been a good and productive day, with all sorts of little jobs I’ve managed to get finished. I’m more or less resigned to my school visits being a thing of the past now, unless I can have one final day out on Thursday, but I’ve met myself imposed target for visits so I’m not that bothered. And I have all this wok to get done for the College now.

Beer Fest, and Jonah in Lake Kivu

October 10th – 11th

A lazy morning getting my stuff sorted out, then into Kigali at lunchtime. There’s some shopping to do first, and then a session on the internet to catch up on emails I’ve missed while I’ve been up country. Once again, the “news” as reported in the English media seems increasingly distant and irrelevant when compared to the day to day realities of living in this developing country. The squabbles between Britain’s political parties seem so petty, and most of the rest of the news is unremitting gloom with earthquakes, floods and tidal waves thrashing around the Pacific. And I discover that Obama’s been given the Nobel Prize before he’s even really got anything done. In my cynical mind I wonder if that’s a reflection of the scarcity of peace in the world at the moment, or a reflection of the world’s relief at the change of government in Washington!

In Kigali I meet up with April, Léonie and Helen and we go to the VSO office. They’ve finally finished converting a couple of rooms into a dormitory, and the girls are among the first volunteers to try it out. The room is divided off for privacy with curtains; it looks for all the world like a hospital ward. But there are clean toilets and the rooms have been redecorated, and while the key arrangements could potentially be a hassle for people travelling in from up-country, it’s lovely to have somewhere like this we can book and use for free!

During the afternoon there’s a ladies’ football match between a group of volunteers from various NGOs, and a Rwandan team which includes Jeanette Kagame, the President’s wife. Becky has volunteered to play in this, and the match is a great success. Becky manages to score a goal, and has an opportunity to chat to Mrs K after the game. Not only that, but the match is being covered by Rwandan television and when the footage is shown on Sunday, Becky’s goal scoring is there for all the world to see. It’s not every volunteer who has her goal shown on national TV, and certainly not when she’s playing against the First lady!

The beer festival is way out of town on top of a hill at a country club. There’s a spectacular view of the night lights of Kigali spread around us. There’s the usual traffic chaos to get there, but once inside there really is unlimited free beer and some very decent food to eat as well. The music is OK; there’s salsa to get us started, then a live band. The band is a muzungu affair; I’m told they all play poker together and decided to make a band about a fortnight ago….. The lead singer is (I think) the programme manager of the Rwandan Red Cross, and the lead guitarist is our friend “Mr D”, Kersti’s boss and the headteacher of the new International School in Kigali. Truly a man of many parts….

We eat, we drink (a lot) and we dance. Absolutely everybody from the muzungu community is there. Leah and her friends from Red Cross. Jacob and other teachers from the International School. And, of course, we’re knee deep in VSOs current and past, including many of the staff from the office. It’s a great evening.

Just before it finished Kersti and Nick sweep me up (I’ve vanished into the throng socialising and generally indulging myself) and we head back home before the drunken chaos of the traffic trying to leave the "do" gets under way. Considering there is free beer, you simply wouldn’t believe the number of people who have driven themselves here and will be driving back drunk through unlit earth roads jammed with other cars all trying to out manoeuvre each other. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Sure enough, as you leave the festival there’s a long hill down to the tarmac road (the Nyamata main road), but a sharp dog leg right at the junction. And here’s a saloon car which has totally failed to make the dog leg and is now almost vertical with its bonnet stuck into a deep storm water ditch. Fortunately it looks as if the body of the car isn’t affected and provided they were wearing their belts the occupants should be OK.

There are various after-the-festival parties and there are always the night clubs, but my stomach has been grumbling during the afternoon, and in any case I’m supposed to be preaching a sermon tomorrow morning. Two in the morning is quite late enough to crash onto a comfortable mattress chez Kersti and sleep like a log until daylight!

On Sunday I’m up early, and considering how much I had to drink last night (like everyone else I was determined to get my RwF5000 worth of beer…) I don’t feel too bad. A quick wash in cold water is a good tonic as well.

By nine o’clock I’m back home in Gitarama and getting my props for the sermon, and I’m the first of the muzungus to arrive at Momma’s. The sermon goes down well – Jonah is an easy story to dramatise, and the children always react well to anything participative. We slap our legs for the rain, stamp our feet for thunder, and the rocking of the boat in a storm is done with great gusto. (Though it would be more realistic if everyone were to rock in the same direction at the same time!). The children roar with laughter when Jonah gets swallowed into my sheet sleeping bag, and the little girls playing the part of the fish get the rhythm right straight away. When you read the book of Jonah in the Bible, you find there’s a final chapter about trees and worms which is both hard to understand and certainly too difficult to try to incorporate into the drama I’m doing, but the general message is clear and applicable to them. At least I feel that my final chance to work with these children has gone down well and if nothing else, they’ll remember me for this story!

In the afternoon I catch up on some sleep, then it’s off for the muzungu meal. Tonight, at Christi’s request, we’re in a different restaurant. This one is right under the main white building in the town centre. The cooking is really excellent – western style, with rich sauces and an attempt at western standards of presentation. It’s just that with a big crown of a dozen or so, the service is so slow. We’re waiting about two hours before the final dishes arrive. Fortunately we’ve anticipated all this and come prepared with card games and such like, so we entertain ourselves and the rest of the restaurant while we’re there.

On television there’s the final of the East African talent show (a sort of “Fame Academy” for the Swahili world), and lo and behold while we’re in the restaurant the Rwandan entrant wins. Cheers erupt all round the place. Well, it’s better than the football – Rwanda gets beaten and is out of the world cup qualifiers.

By the time Tom and I get home we’re both absolutely tired out, and my stomach is grumbling with a vengeance so that I’m sure I’m about to go down with something nasty….

Heavy rains destroy school

Here is an article from today's "New Times" newspaper. In England we can't imagine rains so heavy that they could cause a school to collapse. Yet here in Rwanda it is one of the risks schools, their pupils and teachers, all have to face. The problem is mainly with mud brick ("semi-dur") construction, and is one of the reasons that when I write about schools in my blog I am so pleased when I find a school with most or all of its buildings in fired bricks.

NGOMA - Scores of students at Kabilizi Secondary School, in Ngoma District, were left traumatised and some admitted at Zaza Health Centre, after heavy rains destroyed their school.

According to school authorities, the Thursday down pour coupled with thunderstorm that lasted for about three hours, destroyed a school dormitory, dinning hall, classrooms and an administration block.

The hospitalised students were however, discharged after two days.

The area Sector Executive Secretary, Robert Bagenyi, told The New Times that the rains also destroyed banana plantations- while another source said a primary school in Karembo sector was partly destroyed.

“Not only are we talking about the buildings that were destroyed, there is this issue of spoilt students’ examination papers. Teachers have to prepare new forms of exams for the end of the year term. This exercise is expensive, and may affect the general school time table,” Bagenyi said.

District leaders said all was being done to help the school rebuild destroyed premises.

“We are now organising a rescue committee plus finance to sort out this mess. It is not easy, but the district will use the resources at its disposal to help, while seeking aid elsewhere,” the district director of planning Boniface Nirenganya said.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

To the rice paddies of Budende

October 8th

Today I wake up feeling considerably better and decide to carry on with my time in Kiyumba secteur and not cut and run back to Gitarama. But I’m going to change my schedule and do the school at K this afternoon which I had originally planned for yesterday. It’s right next door to the Presbytery, and if I’m feeling below par it means I don’t have to call motos and involve other people if I want to opt out.

In the morning I’m going to Budende school which is easily the furthest out in Kiyumba secteur. We leave the church and local schools and climb up the main road to the brow of a hill where there is a mini roundabout (it must be one of the most improbably sited roundabouts in the world – on earth roads where you barely see more than a dozen cars a day). We run along the ridge almost all the way to the “poste de santé” I visited yesterday, and then dive down and down for ever towards the Nyaborongo. Eventually you see the river in the distance; far away and far below, but you continue falling and falling, weaving in and out of countless little gulleys until you reach river level. Everywhere there are the same small rectangular houses; the same permutations of banana plantations, sugar cane, cow grass, beans and tomato plots. But right down by the river there’s a big rice growing co-operative, and suddenly it feels as if we’re in the heart of Asia, perhaps next to one of the bigger rivers of China.

And still we’re not there. We run through a couple of ramshackle villages, past the turning to Mugeyo school, and along a sandy track and eventually I see the school on a low hill. Compared to most Rwandan schools (or at least compared to those in Muhanga), Budende is at a low level. It has a wide green and earthy central courtyard, where the is plenty of room for its pupils to play. There is a patch of banana trees and they have planted pineapples on a sloping patch of ground behind the toilets. At one end of the site there’s the cellule office and another little “poste de santé” which join seamlessly onto he school site. I like the feel that the school is part of the community; there are young mothers with babies queuing up at the health centre and men waiting to get forms filled in and stamped at the cell office.

The school itself is a mixture of brick and mud brick buildings, neither better nor worse than the majority in the District. I already know that the head, Éline, won’t be there – there’s a secteur meeting this morning to sort out the “placements” for next year – the allocation of teachers to each school. But the “responsable” is expecting me and we quickly organize some visits to lessons.

Now Budende is in the bottom performing handful of schools according to last year’s concours exam, and just as at school B yesterday I’m expecting to find poor teaching and to have to stamp my feet. Instead, I find that Budende has taken our VSO raining completely to heart. Every room I go into is decorated with rice sack stimulus material – Budende has the best displays of any school I’ve been to in the whole District. Every lesson begins with a song, and some of the songs are the ones which Cathie and I taught them last year. It feels funny to have “Old Macdonald” at the start of a maths lesson, or “Jesus loves me” to kick off social studies, but I can tell that the performance isn’t just being put on for me because the pupils know the words and sing enthusiastically each time. They’ve listened to what we’ve suggested about getting pupils physically active to break up all the sitting and writing, and they’re doing it intelligently.

I see three good lessons, and I’ve got no complaints about their commitment and teaching ability. Pupils are well behaved and want to learn, but the youngsters are terminally fazed by the first muzungu to come to their school in living memory and it is difficult to get them back into lessons after the morning break. They all want to hang around outside the windows and peer in and check whether I have two heads or three eyes.

I ask the staff about their poor exam results last year. “Ah”, they say, “we had a really poor year 6 last year, and there was ‘trouble with some of the parents’”. I’m never quite able to probe further into this ‘trouble’, but I suspect it was a case of pupils being kept away from school to plant or harvest rice too frequently to enable them to finish their education.

Certainly, from what I see this morning there’s absolutely nothing to suggest that this school is so demoralized or incompetent that some form of special measures are necessary. Far from it – in things like decorations in classrooms, Budende can teach the rest of the District a thing or two!

With the head away I can’t do an admin inspection, so I finish promptly at around twelve and summon Louis and we chug slowly up the mountainside and back to the Presbytery. I manage to arrive just in time for lunch – what luck!

In the afternoon I visit Marthe’s school at K, and have a really enjoyable afternoon. This is one of the schools where Cathie and I did some training last year; then the rooms were dark, run down and depressing. Since then somebody has sent the school some money and they have used it to do a repainting and fix all the broken windows. It has transformed the place. The walls are painted blue to dado height and then white; the ceilings are white as well. They are old, 1930s rooms, high and sturdy, and now they are as good as new. There’s even a ceiling of roseaux which deaden the sound of rain and absorb the worst of the sun’s heat at mid day. They are delightful rooms to teach in and (dare I say it), probably better than the modern ones with the blue metal roofs.

One unusual thing about this school is that at the rear of the site

Is a deep, narrow man-made gulley with a big wooden cross above it. Marthe explains that the cross marks an excavated mass grave. In 1994 many people were murdered and thrown into a gulley in the soil and rocks at the back of the school. The bodies have long since been removed and reburied, but the site is still considered desecrated ground, and it’s a grim reminder for the school’s pupils of their country’s recent past.

Marthe is looking forward to starting a Tronc Commun section at K, and has even got parents involved in bringing huge boulders to the site to start building up and leveling up a depression in the ground so that one of the existing parallel lines of buildings can be extended.

At the end of the afternoon I’m tired, but feeling very happy that despite illness and teachers’ days and a District wide testing day tomorrow, I’ve still managed five school visits this week and every one of them to a school I’ve not inspected before. There’s time to get the K report written up before our evening meal; its raining again during the evening and try as we might we can none of us make the journey from the rooms where we’re sleeping to the dining room without getting our feet muddy from the puddles.

I eat well, and Marcellin celebrates by getting us all beers. Father Edmond has gone off at nightfall to Ntarabana presbytery in Rongi because one of the motos there hs broken down, and we happen to have a spare part for them. Riding a moto on these rough, earth roads at night and in heavy rain takes a special kind of skill, not to mention daring, and I salute Edmond because we are all assuming he’s going to sleep at Rongi and come back at dawn, but he arrives back in the late evening, drenched, covered in mud, but completely matter-of-fact about the journey he’s just made. These guys may be priests but wishy washy types won’t do in these rural parishes. You have to be a Jack of all trades, and prepared to venture out at all hours and in all weathers. We’re pleased Edmond is back because it means that Marcellin and I can get off to Gitarama promptly tomorrow.

A good ay – two visits and no mishaps.

Posts coming randomly

Just a note to say you may find some of these blogs posted in the wrong date-order - things are busy at the moment. Bear with me! (And it's got nothign to do with the fact that as soon as I've finished this post I'm heading off to the Kigali beer festival)

Bruce xx

Next assignment (in Gitarama)

October 9th

Father Marcellin is coming in to Kigali today on church business, and in a moment of reckless generosity offers me a lift on the back of his moto as far as Gitarama. I accept with alacrity – it is cheaper than the taxi bus, less cramped, and will be a lot quicker. I don’t think he’s fully realised how heavy I am and how much my bag weighs; I must feel like a ton of spuds loading down the back of his moto!

So it’s up at five, and off into the rising sun without any breakfast. While I’m in the paroisse compound waiting for him I’m treated to early morning African countryside. The birdsong is loud and varied. On nearby hills people are singing as they lead goats out to pasture, or as they make their way to the fields – bright patches of moving colour against the unending green of cow grass and banana trees. After last night’s heavy rain the air is clear and fresh and cool. It’s a glorious day to be riding through the countryside of my favourite part of Rwanda.

Marcellin’s moto is almost out of petrol. There’s no filling station in Remera (Nyabikenke). What’s to do? Answer – it all comes down to local knowledge. We stop outside a house, to all intents and purposes the same as any other. There’s no sign or anything else to indicate that it’s anything but a normal dwelling house. A woman is sitting on the step, dangling her feet in the mud and chatting to two young men who are also lounging round. Two very young boys, barefoot, are clinging to the woman or half hiding behind a pillar and peeping out at the muzungu. Marcellin jumps off and rattles a torrent of fast Kinyarwanda, and they start haggling over prices. Then the woman goes inside and returns with a handful of litre water bottles filled with petrol. We fill up with these. More haggling and she returns with a can of oil for the reservoir. Then we have to wait while she goes to a neighbour to fetch our change. I don’t want to start thinking about where she keeps her stock of inflammable petrol – in her house where the children can play with it? Out the back next to her charcoal fire? But forget the western niceties; this is what rural life in Rwanda comes down to. If it had been me with my own moto I would never have known in a month of Sundays where I could buy petrol in the town, and it’s quite likely that nobody would have been prepared to tell me, either.

The road is quite an adventure. Every few yards there’s a deep puddle or muddy patch; every single one of these is a potential skid pan and could dump the pair of us ankle deep in liquid mud. Then there are the log bridges, now coated like butter with slippery mud from previous traffic. Our average speed all the way to the borders of Cyeza is not much above jogging. Everywhere the road is alive with people. Near Cyeza we pass about fifteen water sellers. They have just filled up their jerry cans at a (relatively) clean stream and are peddling two, sometimes three heavy containers of water miles up into the hills to surrounding houses. They have a hard life. The enormous weight of water always has to be carried uphill. Even at seven o’clock in the morning they’re bathed in sweat; stringy and thin but so, so fit.

We run the gauntlet of pupils going to school all down the valley – at Kanyanza they’re in uniform but running errands for their families before they go to school. At Ngoma and Butare we get the distant ones emerging from tiny little footpaths down from the hills onto the main road to school; older brothers and sisters leading the tinies. At Rutongo they’re hanging round the market as the early morning matata fills up, looking to see who is going to town and catching up on gossip (just like their parents) before reluctantly turning away and crossing the river to their school.

Mist is lifting above us; we are under the mist for a long way but the sun is low and is shining under the mist full into our faces, and lighting the mist so that it is pink on its underside. Everywhere smells of damp earth and vegetation; periodically you get a whiff of woodsmoke as you pass a tiny group of huts.

Near Butare there’s a notoriously bad piece of road. It’s steep, rocky, and there’s no section in the entire width of the carriageway where you can get a good line with a moto. Marcellin decides to take it slowly, stalls, and we both fall off the bike. No damage done except to our pride, but from this point on at every similar stretch and every dodgy log bridge we stop and I walk across to make life easier for him. He only has a provisional driving licence and he’s not used to carrying heavy passengers.

When we come to Cyeza the road surface is better and we pick up speed. In fact Marcellin revs up as fast as he can go and we sail, rattle and bounce our way through to the main road.

At the main road Marcellin has to drop me. I’ve not been wearing a helmet (what would he do with the second helmet for the rest of the day?), and with a provisional licence he’s not supposed to be carrying passengers even up country. Up-country has its own rules, and we abide by them, but the main tarmac road is something else and there are always traffic police checkpoints looking out for just such a couple as ourselves. I find a local moto and get myself back to the flat. Marcellin is a good priest and an all round great guy; generous to a fault and always cheerful. He in particular has made this week successful for me.

There’s very little food in the flat so I have a late breakfast of some porridge and decide on an early lunch before doing some shopping. It’s a funny feeling – it’s barely nine o’clock in the morning and yet it feels as though I’ve already done a day’s journey! OK, so I can get unpacked and sorted out; I only have one school report to write and that doesn’t take long, and then the rest of the day is for relaxation. Or so I like to think.

Moira texts me and asks me if I can come and talk to the College of Education at Kavumu about teacher training placements next term. I’ve agreed to help them because I know Muhanga’s schools and can advise on how many teachers they could reasonably place, and in which schools. When I get there I’m whisked into a meeting with the Vice Principal and the Academic Registrar and within seconds we’re deep into the logistics of the placements. On the way I pop into the YWCA to say hi to Charlotte and Helen and try to co-ordinate food for tonight (see below).

Within an hour I have my next big assignment which will take me through the second half of October and almost to the end of my time in Rwanda. I have to revise and flesh out a letter to go to all participating schools collecting necessary information for the college; I have to go round the participating schools and negotiate the placements with them; I have to draft a memorandum of expectations for the college, the students and the schools, and I have to organise and run a training workshop for those teachers in each school who will be mentors to the trainees. And the letter needs doing by Monday next. So not too busy, then!

By now it’s about one o’clock so I go for lunch with Moira and Jane; Kerry is waiting for us at “Green Garden”. The “Horizon” buses operate what amounts to a free service between the College and the town, so we wait for a bus and hop on. We bump into Michael who is on his way to Cyakabiri to talk to the Bishop; with the Bishop effectively moving out of Shyogwe and into town it means that his placement in Shyogwe village is no longer convenient in terms of dealing with his employers.

The bus heads off from Shyogwe crossroads – in the wrong direction (towards Butare). It takes a few seconds and some worried glances before we realise the driver is having a laugh and mucking about. He turns the bus in the main road and comes back to the crossroads. There the real driver gets in and off we go again, this time heading the right way.

After lunch I relax a while at home, then head off to the market and buy vegetables. Today is Soraya’s birthday and we’re having a “pot luck” party at Becky’s for her. I spend a while making a bean salad; the quantities are about right but in the end it needs at least six hours to marinate properly and I’m only able to give it about half that. So the onion is too crunchy and the taste a bit too sharp to be ideal, but, hey, I’ve done my bit. We won’t starve!

Tom comes home, and the next job is to prepare my sermon for Sunday at Momma’s. If I thought I was going to have a quiet weekend, things change dramatically very fast. I’m well into preparing “Jonah and the Whale” which we’re going to act out. My sheet sleeping bag will make a perfect whale, and the benches at Momma’s a perfect boat. Nineveh becomes Kigali and Joppa becomes Kibuye, and Jonah will be chucked overboard somewhere in the middle of Lake Kivu.

Tom drops the news that Janine is no longer going to be our domestique; she is doing such a good job for FHI that they are taking her on full time as a permanent employee. (That means she’s get holiday and leave allowances; it’s a much better situation for her). Our new domestique will be Louise, who is a Rwandan single mum living with her little boy, Bruno, at Christi’s house. Louise knows us well; she seems trustworthy and reliable, so it’s a good arrangement all round.

Then Kersti rings to say why have I not been seen in Kigali lately and why am I cutting myself off from everyone? I say that I’m not and it’s just busy, busy, busy with work. She reminds me that this weekend is the Kigali beer festival and why don’t I come in for it? Why not indeed? So at a stroke I have Saturday night organised, and accommodation, too. The only problem is that I must be sober enough, and awake early enough, to do my sermon the following morning.

Soraya’s party is a hoot. There are about nineteen of us, including Louise and Bruno. Bruno keeps us all entertained chasing balloons round the room, playing football around all our drinking cups and plates of food, and climbing onto everyone’s knees for a cuddle. There’s plenty to eat, and while the rain is hammering down outside we play party games. There’s a long lasting one from Christi where we all write the names of five people on pieces of paper, and then in turns we have to describe them in a sentence, then mime them, then describe them in one word. With three Australian volunteers we have some very specifically Aussie names which are closed books to the rest of us (how many names of Australian Prime Ministers do you readers know?) Any my Boadicea and Long John Silver don’t mean much to many of the non-English volunteers.

Back home through the mud and grit of Gitarama’s sidestreets, watch a couple of episodes of an American sitcom from somebody’s CDs, and fall into bed. Nice to be in my own bed again!

Best thing about today – everything. Today is another classic example of the mix of predictable and unforeseen, the mix of hard work and hard playing, that makes volunteer life so memorable. For any of you who are reading this and thinking about coming out as a volunteer, you can take today as almost the definitive example of what your life can be like out here!

Conked out up the mountain

September 7th

Up early, a cold shower, and ready for action by just after six. Just as at the other Presbyteries, the Catholics at Kanyanza have reliable water and their solar panels are so efficient that the power lasts all night. By morning my phone and computer are fully charged up and ready to go. I can’t guarantee that even in Gitarama town these days! The water at Kanyanza tastes and smells so full of iron that I’m sure if you held a magnet to it, the water would be attracted. It is almost certainly coming down through ancient iron pipes from a spring somewhere up in the hills behind us, and is probably being stored in an ageing iron tank. The Kanyanza schools were built in 1939; the enormous church in 1945 and the Presbytery and all its outbuildings must date from the same period. All the priests, and myself as guest, are living in a modern building but the plumbing probably all connects to the original source. The old part of the Presbytery is built in a shallow “U” shape round an enclosed garden, but its accommodation needs a complete makeover. That is all planned but at the present time there is no money available to repair and renovate. So all the old rooms – and there must be well over a dozen – except the dining room are being used as offices or stores or are empty.

I decide to go to early morning Mass and have a look inside the church. It is like a small cathedral – high, solidly built of brick, but colourful with murals and flags, and blue and white decoration round the arches and lintels everywhere. The proportions are about right, and the acoustics fair. There are air holes for ventilation high up on the walls, and at this early hour the raucous shrieks of passing birds occasionally drown out the service.

What nobody has warned me is that today is a “red letter day”; it’s one of the festivals to do with Mary, and so their service lasts nearly an hour. By the time we eventually get away I’m starving! In fact I’m beginning to feel faint and wobbly and I’m wondering if I’m going down with something. I haven’t slept well; one of those nights where I sleep deeply till around 2 or 3 in the morning and then never get completely back off.

My chauffeur, Louis, arrives early and I have the usual fun and games trying to ring today’s schools to confirm that it’s OK to visit them. I’m having a slightly less strenuous day today; school B is going to be a challenge but school K is right next to where I’m staying so my jolting around on motos will be minimised.

B is going to be a gruelling school to visit. Last year it came bottom in the District “league table” of results, and its performance was appalling. I’m expecting to find poor teaching, demotivated teachers and an atmosphere of lassitude, and If this turns out to be the case then it’s my job to bang the table and warn them to get things happening or else…..

The road to B is one of the most difficult to any of my schools. It’s definitely not a road to venture in poor weather. It needs a local driver who knows the way and knows how to tackle the very steep, bumpy bits and the narrow log bridges. Fortunately for me Louis is just the man, but the price we negotiated for his services includes a hefty allowance in case his bike gets damaged during the journey. B sits on the top of a ridiculously steep hill, towards the top of the main Ndiza mountain range. We leave Nyabikenke and climb and climb until we’re winding up the side of truly alpine valleys, all gurgling streams and grassy, wooded slopes. It’s absolutely ravishingly beautiful if you can ignore the desperate poverty and grinding hardship of actually trying to eke out a living from farming here. Every available patch of land is being cultivated, and despite the steepness of the slopes there still seem to be hordes of people hacking away with hoes at every corner. As we climb we pass a steady stream of villagers coming off the mountain, barefoot, with enormous bowls and sacks of goods on their heads. Today is Nyabikenke market, and in the afternoon they will face a climb of well over a thousand feet back home over these muddy, stony, slippery and at times ridiculously steep tracks. You have to be fit and hardy to live here.

Just when I think we must have reached the school, Louis points upwards and I see it looming above us, for all the world like one of those Cathar fortresses in the south of France. It takes a long time, even on the steep road, to corkscrew our way round and round until we reach the level of the buildings.

Ha! The buildings are new – all brick walls and blue metal roofs. No excuse for poor results on account of the buildings, then……..

M, the head teacher, comes out to meet me. And what I find in the next hour genuinely shakes me. There are six classes at B, but someone has started to rebuild the school to give it nine classrooms and a head’s office. When I say “started”, I mean just that. In 2006 they tore down a couple of the worst old rooms (and judging by what remains, the worst must have been amazingly bad), and started to build a modern, model school just like Kibingo or Kibyimba. But then something happened and the building just stopped. Tom suggests there must have been a dispute between the builder and the District, or the funding provider simply ran out of money. Because not a single one of the new classrooms is finished, or even usable in our eyes. Yes, they have the blue metal roofs, but in every case the inverted “V” shaped piece of metal which forms the apex of the roof hasn’t been attached. So every room has a long slot, a foot or so wide, open to the sky, and through which rain pours in torrents during heavy downpours. Straight onto the pupils and their desks and equipment below. So in rainy weather all lessons have to be abandoned and pupils have to take shelter in the corners of the rooms.

But there is not a single door or window in all the new rooms. The windows are just voids, without even sills. And because the school is on a prominent hilltop it is always windy, and when it rains the wind swirls the rain in and out of the rooms through the window holes. There’s absolutely nowhere for the children to take shelter in these rooms; it must be like washing them with a hosepipe during tropical downpours. So when the headteacher tells me that many pupils don’t come to school on days when it looks like raining, I can absolutely sympathise with them.

The older rooms are appalling – potholed earth floors, and so many holes in the tiled roofs that if you look upwards from the centre of the room the pattern of black roof and blue sky beyond it looks like a chessboard. In these rooms the window sills have been removed, nut the remnants of the windows are still there, hanging precariously down from rotting lintels. In a few cases there are panes of glass hanging from their top putty and acutely dangerous if any rampaging children should crash into them.

There’s almost no playground and certainly no garden, because pretty well the entire site is either covered in unfinished new buildings, or is still under undemolished old ones.

At one end of the site the mountainside has been chopped out to give a level plinth for the new rooms; this has left a solid cliff face of earth about three metres high. Despite the best efforts of the staff this is an irresistible magnet for the little ones to try to climb, and there have been injuries where pupils have fallen down from near the top of it. It needs a retaining wall.

The toilets at B are exemplary – 10 “plastic “portaloo” types for the girls and similar for the boys. But there is no water on site, and so hygiene is problematic.

Two of the new classrooms are jammed floor to ceiling with furniture – dozens of desks. These are to furnish some of the other new rooms which do not even have roofs yet, and whose walls are only about six feet high before being abandoned. The rooms of furniture are also open to the rain, windowless and door less, and so the new furniture is gradually getting ruined even before it can be used.

The problem for B is that in order to start building the new rooms they had to demolish some of the older ones. And despite the rooms being unfinished the school is having to use them. In one room one entire section of blue roof has disappeared, and where the floor is not level there is a puddle of water, several inches deep, which has to be negotiated to enter or leave the class.
In my entire teaching career I have never seen such a disgraceful built environment. In England the health and safety executive would close the place immediately and prosecute the District and the government. To say I’m shocked is an understatement. To start banging the table about bad results is just unreasonable. I marvel that anybody stays to teach here for more than a couple of days. There’s no accommodation for staff near the school; most of them live in Nyabikenke and have to walk up the mountain every morning and down it every night.

I notice that the children are very noisy and that there’s a conspicuous absence of teachers. M, the head, explains – three teachers have taken the day off to go to Gitarama to sort out their salaries with Claudine at the Office. They haven’t been paid for August or September. Now can you imagine living and working in these conditions for more than two months without pay, and sticking at the job? And two more have gone to Ndago school where Soraya is doing a training today. All very well, but that has left the school with five classes (yr 5 is a small year and is being operated as a half class; today it is coming in the afternoon only) and only one teacher. This person is a yr 1 and 2 teacher, so year 6, with the formal concours exam about to descend on them, are left to their own devices.

There is no store room for books and papers; in M’s office there are cupboard at crazy angles resting on stones to give a semblance of level-ness. I think her office is a former classroom from the very oldest part of the school; if that is the case then the room would have been about half the size necessary for fifty children to sit and be able to write.

As you can imagine, at this point in the day I realise that any thought of chasing school B about its exam results is pointless. I promise the head I will do my best to get both Claude and the Mayor out to see the state of the place, and ask my VSO successor to come next year and watch the teaching here. I’m sure there’s some sort of dispute over the contract rather than lack of funds to finish the buildings, and everybody has forgotten the school. But the children, the staff, and the results are suffering and things must not be allowed to go on like this indefinitely.

Just at this point I come over so wobbly that I feel faint and have to sit down. I’m sweating, and my joints are aching. I have a headache and feel faintly nauseous and have to make a dash straight from the head’s office to the nearest loo (the first time I have ever had to use the loo in a Rwandan primary school). Every time I stand up I feel as though I’m going to keel over.

I manage to finish the admin inspection, and we ring my driver to tell him to come back straight away. While we’re waiting I manage to observe the one teacher left at the school take a yr 1 English class, and she does a reasonable lesson.

I leave school B feeling like death warmed up and hoping I’ll stay conscious enough to hang on to the moto and not get thrown off during the mountain descent back to Kanyanza. Despite feeling wretched I’m cursing myself because for some stupid reason I forgot to bring my camera with me on the one day when I really needed it to get evidence for the District of the appalling state of affairs at B.

I arrived at school B thinking I would find appalling teaching despite an acceptable environment. I’ve left after finding at least one reasonable lesson despite an appalling environment.

Back at the Presbytery I crawl onto the bed and crash out. I drink water with rehydration salts. I ring my afternoon school and cancel; I think I’m going down with malaria and I’ll need to get back to Gitarama and get myself tested. For three hours I’m barely conscious; there are choirs singing and drumming in the church just next to my room and the noise is soothing.

Father Marcellin comes in to see me and find out what’s wrong. When I tell him he insists that I go up to the local “poste de santé” at Kiyumba where they can do malaria tests on the spot. We jolt off on his moto up to the administrative centre on the top of the ridge. All around us there’s a thunderstorm coming; the sky is black and at any moment there will be a deluge. The storm has already reached the Nyaborongo river so it’s only about ten or so miles away. The arrival of a sick muzungu among all the women bringing their babies for jabs and older men and women coughing and retching causes quite a stir. The young woman doctor is thorough and efficient; we speak in French. The young man who does the test and analyses it speaks good English. Both are intrigued by what I’m doing way up here in the wilds and the half hour it takes to analyse my blood sample passes very quickly.

The test comes out negative. I don’t have malaria but I certainly have some sort of infection. I definitely have a fever. The consensus seems to be that I’m not eating enough, especially at mid-day, and I’m trying to do too much in a hot climate and at altitude. If I rest, things will settle down. I’m given strong paracetamol to deal with headaches.

Back at the Presbytery we’re just home before the rain arrives. Marthe, the head at Kanyanza “B”, has heard that I’m ill and comes to see me at the end of the school afternoon. We get marooned under the awning of the Presbytery for well over an hour, so we talk. She’s a lovely, intelligent, friendly person and I like her a lot.

Eventually the storm subsides, Mathe can leave to go home, and I start to feel better as the sultry afternoon heat cools from the rain. By the time we eat in the evening my wobbliness has gone, though I still have a temperature. I manage to eat plenty at the Presbytery.

On the ride up to the poste de santé I manage to lose my water bottle as we jolt over bumps in the road. I ask the priests if they have a spare. They don’t have a plastic bottle, but I spend the rest of my time at Kanyanza drinking water from an empty Mass wine bottle – I’m swigging away at regular intervals from a bottle with a picture of the Virgin Mary and “Sancta” something or other on the label! Honestly, I kid you not. If I invented something like that for a story, you would say I was getting too far fetched. But it’s exactly what happened!

The evening is enlivened by a mouse that keeps running under the door into my room, gets half way across the floor before it realises that the room is occupied and the light is on, and then turns tail and dashes back out again.

I’m in bed well before nine and intend to sleep right through to about seven tomorrow. Let’s see if some rest will settle me down enough to carry on working up here.

Best thing about today – talking to Marthe
Worst thing – just about everything else. Why do I choose to get sick at just about the most inaccessible place in the entire district?