Friday, 2 October 2009

A very unusual day today.

September 25th

On this day every single teacher in the District is doing the “REAP” test, a test to determine their level of English competence as a fore-runner to training courses organised by the Government. The tests have been compiled by the British Council in Rwanda with the help of a group of VSO volunteers (including Soraya, Tiga and others). The tests last 30 minutes and everybody – teacher, head teacher, state or private school, primary or secondary – has to do them. So for the second time this week all schools are closed.

I assume I’ll have nothing to do today. I wonder whether I’ll be able to visit a little private school like St André at Shyogwe and at least give me a fourth visit under my belt this week, but things turn out differently.

More or less as soon as I arrive at the office Claude picks me up and tells me he needs me to help administer the tests. We have a meeting in the committee room at the Akarere, and the testing operation is planned like a military operation. Most secteurs have been divided into two or even three parts, depending on how easy access is within them, and a total of 1691 teachers are to be tested. Each of us in the meeting is allocated a testing centre and a group of schools, and we’re given a sheaf of the test papers. I’m to accompany Claude to Kibyimba, which I think is really funny since it’s the school I inspected yesterday and the chance of going to a school two days running is infinitesimally small. We don’t have enough people at the office to cover every single area, so we have a couple of police officers to cover the extra. (Can you imagine using the police to invigilate exams in England?). Poor Valérian is off to Ngaru in the far north of Nyabinoni to sort out the most distant schools of all. I would quite like to have been sent out to Kiyumba or Kibangu; these are the two areas where I’ve done very few visits and I need to try to get my head round the location of each school there. Never mind.

The tests are supposed to start at ten o’clock everywhere so that teachers can’t text colleagues in other secteurs and tell them what the questions are. There’s a whole fleet of pickup trucks hired to take us out and back.

By a quarter to nine we’re starting to run late; there’s confusion over which groups of invigilators are going in which truck. Claude is constantly on the phone and getting visibly more stressed as the morning progresses. With reason, too; a lot rides on how well this exercise goes .

I’m told to go in one car with Alexis from the Akarere and our driver Emmanuel. Claude’s supposed to be coming with us. Between us we’re covering all the difficult-to-access part of Kabacuzi secteur and two schools from other secteurs where it’s easier for the teachers to walk over the mountains to us rather than go to other schools in their proper secteur. But this is Rwanda and all the vehicles are out of diesel. Nobody’s going to commit money to buying fuel in advance, just in case they’re not needed and they find they’ve effectively spent their own money on fuel which somebody else will eventually use.

We roar off to a garage just down the road from my flat, where the District seems to have an account. But when we get there we find the garage has no diesel. “It’s due any minute” they tell us, so we wait. And wait. And wait. Claude is getting very stressed by now. There’s no way Alexis and I are going to make Kabacuzi by ten, and poor Valérian won’t reach Nyabinoni till the afternoon at this rate! Cels, the Chief Executive is called in, but he can’t magic diesel where there isn’t any.

After half an hour we decamp to another petrol station where we know they have diesel. But they don’t have an account with the District, and nobody’s carrying enough money to buy fuel for cash and claim back later (me included – I thought I was going to have a slow day in the office crunching numbers for Claude). There’s another stand off for ten minutes until we can get Cels to persuade the garage to give us fuel. So by the time se do eventually set off its five to ten. Claude’s not with us; he’s going to have to stay in Gitarama and resolve any further logistical problems, so I’m on my own and suddenly I’ve been made the invigilator for the Kibyimba group of schools.

Going by car to Kabacuzi is much easier on you physically than travelling by moto, and funnily enough you see more. I think it’s because you’re not preoccupied with keeping the moto balanced on the very rough road. (There’s only one way to describe the dirt road from Gisiza to Kibyimba and that’s hard. Hard on your spine, hard on your backside, and amazingly tiring after an hour).

We get to Buramba first, where Alexis is invigilating. There are some forty bored and restless teachers waiting outside, also my friend Apollinaire, the head, and the social secretary for the secteur. We apologise profusely and explain why we’re so late, and I get Apollinaire to phone ahead to Kibyimba to say we’re on our way and that we’ll be there in fifteen minutes. The social secretary comes with me to Kibyimba; he’s a lovely guy, new in post, and speaks fluent English.

We pass Kabacuzi school getting envious looks from everyone working in the fields; I’m sitting in the back because I wanted to keep the front seat free for Claude, but to the people in the countryside I suppose it looks as though I’m the rich muzungu who has hired the two Rwandans in the front to drive me around.

At Kibyimba we get straight down to business. Everyone’s remarkably good natured despite the fact that I’m an hour and a half late. But then, they have a day without lessons and as soon as we finish the test they’re free to go home and start a long weekend. Kibyimba’s boarders are milling around, bemused by seeing so many teachers from other schools in their place, and then even more confused by seeing the muzungu arrive for a second day. (Doesn’t he realise there are no lessons to watch today?)

I’m supposed to have 46 teachers, but there are only 44. The social secretary reminds me that we have to account for everybody, so we ask which school the missing people are from. They are both from Sabusaro, over the mountain. One has gone to Ruhengeri on a training weekend as part of her university course; she’ll have to do the test when she comes back but it counts as an honourable absence. The other, so I’m told, has just been arrested and is in police custody or in prison. So it’ll probably be a long time before he’s able to do the test.

The test itself goes off smoothly and quickly. The teachers are really funny – they behave just like our English sixteen year olds. There’s lots of giggling and nervous jokes at first, and the idea of having the muzungu as invigilator is a hoot for those of them who know me (I haven’t made it to Sabusaro yet, so I’m an unknown quantity to them).

As soon as the test is over I get the social secretary to speak with Marie Chantal about the issue of her tronc commun pupils whose parents won’t give them either food to eat at lunchtime or money to buy food at the school. (We have a group of pupils who don’t eat all day and are too tired to concentrate in the afternoons). M-C is calling a meeting with the parents in a few days, and the social secretary agrees to come to it and give her some official backing.

Back we go, over the temporary bridge, to Buramba. The temporary bridge was really scary on a moto yesterday, but the pickup truck has wide tyres and it’s a piece of cake today. As we come back I have Marie-Chantal next to me cradling a plastic pot of eggs on her lap, but having to hold them up over every jolt to safeguard them. Eggs are only half the price in Kibyimba that they are in Gitarama. M-C lives in Gitarama with her husband, but boards Mondays to Fridays at the school. We also have two Kabacuzi teachers who hitch a ride to their village, including one in the back goods part of the truck. At Buramba we drop the social sec, but pick up both Alexis and Apollinaire, who also lives in Gitarama, and yet another teacher who comes with us as far as Gisiza. The good thing about all this is that we are too tightly wedged in the back seats to be bounced around a lot. But I’m constantly worried about M-C’s pot of eggs: one moment of lost concentration and we’ll have a raw omelette all over our knees!

Back at Gitarama I go for lunch and then fiddle around with the internet. Claude drops a further bombshell by telling me that we have to mark all the tests ourselves by the end of next week. That’s 1691 teachers x 40 questions = a lot of marking, even though they’re multiple choice questions. And there’s all the recording of names and marks to do as well). I offer to take a big batch home and get them done over the weekend. I’m not going anywhere this weekend and the last thing I want to do next week is be stuck in the office marking exams when I could be out visiting schools. But Claude says we have to wait for the official mark scheme and instructions to arrive from Kigali. He agrees I can do the four visits I’ve cued up for next week, but asks me to keep the other three days free. What a good job I’ve done such a splurge of visits over the past month!

Just when I’m almost ready to go home we have a tremendous thunderstorm and real, proper, deluge-type tropical rain. Blocking the entrance door to the Akarere is an army truck unloading bags of cement for the new tronc commun classrooms in our district. (One of the lovely things about Rwanda is the way in which the army is used as a public service in times of emergency. At the moment there are army lorries everywhere ferrying cement, roof tiles and iron reinforcing rods to just about every tronc commun school in the country). This lorry has a corporal as driver, and a military policeman as escort. Four local porters are unloading bags of cement (on their heads, of course), and slamming them down in the foyer and small committee room in the office in a cloud of cement dust. And, of course, they’re working barefoot. Claude and I set to with felt pens numbering every single sack just in case any of them are “borrowed” between now and next week when they’ll go out to the schools.

By the time we’ve finished the foyer is virtually filled on one side with cement, and on the other with sacks of improved maize seed waiting to go out to farmers in the distant secteurs. The porters have to squeeze their way past a dozen or so people who, like me, are marooned in the office until the rain stops.

I’m held up for nearly an hour before I can get out and catch a moto home. The sky is still very dark, there’s rain in the air and thunder rumbling round the mountains where I’ve been all morning. Last year I would have been stubborn and walked; now I’m older and wiser so I get a little moto home and stay dry.

The evening is an anticlimax. I cook up a curry using a recipe from the VSO cookbook: not bad, but I think I can improve on it. Soraya comes round to say hello and tell me about her day in Kigali and deliver some papers for me.

Most of the others are out at “Orion” listening to a live band, but I decide to stay in and watch a video

Like I said at the start, it’s been an unusual day; unpredictable but I’ve enjoyed myself. Actually it’s nice to go into a weekend without it being overshadowed by having to write a bunch of formal school visit reports!

1 comment:

cath said...

Hi Bruce!
It's great to read your blog! That was certainly an eventful day, but it sounds like it was a success. I'm fascinated reading about how the English only move is actually working out in schools and the district. Wish I was there!