No longer a moto-taxi novice!

No longer a moto-taxi novice!
No longer a moto-taxi novice! It can be exhausting but it's great fun!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

So that's how the time passes so quickly!!

The last part of February saw me back in Kigali for a week to finish off the curriculum development meetings.  We were called to begin on Monday 21 February but that turned out to be public holiday, as we were informed the evening before.  That left us with a free day unexpectedly, but also meant that we would be expected to work the following Saturday, which was the last in the month and therefore "umuganda day".  So far I had managed to be busy doing something else on the last Saturday in the month, usually visiting somewhere, so had not taken part in the public service activities which happen each last Saturday in the month between 08.00 and 11.00.  We were concerned about how we could get to the meeting, as all transport stops between those times, but in fact there were moto taxis a-plenty to get us there before 08.00. There was no doubt in our Curriculum leader's voice that we would all work the extra day as our "umuganda"!  Some of the volunteers, we were four this time, were keen to get away early Saturday afternoon so we really upped the pace of work during Friday and Saturday morning so we would finish in time.  The pressure was quite strong towards the end and this second week was less enjoyable than the first in January, but we did finish and our names will appear in the final published curriculum document.  I'm rather hoping that I will be able to get out of the next phase, which is the Advanced level English, either by being replaced by another volunteer keen to add this to his or her CV, or by being away on my Easter break!

The first weekend in March was also Kigali-based, as I had a VSO meeting on the Friday and then a doctor's check-up on Monday.  I spent a relaxing weekend in Kigali, taking advantage of the guest house's free wi-fi and fairly good speeds to use Skype.  I was able to see Alex and Daisy and have a long chat with them, Carole and Ben, which was great.  I'm looking forward to my next stay there and another Skypeing session.  The people at the guest house now know me quite well, so it's quite nice to go there, even though it's in a suburb of Kigali and requires a bus or moto-taxi to get back in the evening.  On the other hand it is at the first Kigali stop for the bus coming from Nyakarambi and very near the airport. That part of town is quite a bustling and lively suburb with lots of tiny shops selling everything between them.  I bought a shirt when I was last there - medium size as usual, but when I tried it on it was tiny - not because I've grown enormous, but a medium Rwandan must be quite small!  I eventually worked my way up to XL by the time one fitted me - I am now an expert at re-packaging shirts with all the pins and plastic bits! 

As I'm getting to know the eateries in Kigali I am able to swing from a local-style buffet in a small restaurant, costing about £1.50 to a really good pizza in an Italian restaurant for about four times as much.  From a mug of spiced tea for 50 pence to a posh tea pot full for £1.50 in a swish café.  It's fun to eat and drink what the locals do and often make contacts that way, but of course it's nice when in Kigali to seek out the more luxurious places, where many ex-pats also hang out, along with the wealthier Rwandans. 

During that last weekend some of us decided to go to a new luxury hotel, where we had heard you can have lunch and use the swimming pool.  It was quite a way out from the town centre in a very expensive part of Kigali - really quite a shock to see large, well-built houses, in large gardens, with a sprinkling of embassies and NGO head quarters.  The hotel was very quiet and the service was excellent as a result, but the weather was not on our side, it became grey and showery as we arrived.  Moreover we were told, "Sorry the swimming pool is sick.  We have given it some medicine so you cannot swim."  At least the food was good and quite reasonably priced too. "The Manor Hotel" is certainly worth a visit for lunch and a swim, but at $150 per night for a single room it works out about at least ten times what I usually pay in a guest house. A birthday lunch is planned there later in the month, so let's hope the sun shines!

It is now the long rainy season in Rwanda, which last from March through to May and we are having cooler weather generally with some rain every day, be it a few showers or a torrential downpour for an hour or so.  Strangely the rain is really localised on account of the many hills and valleys.  Yesterday I set off from a muddy Nyakarambi, expecting to have a treacherous trip on wet roads, only to find after a couple of miles that the roads were bone dry and I got home later absolutely covered in dust from head to foot.  At lunch-time the sun was really hot, but most of the afternoon was cloudy and cool.  So, it means I need to carry a fleece and an umbrella, as well as a sun hat and water every day as the weather is completely unpredictable until the dry season comes back in June.

Downpour at GS Nyabegega

When there is a downpour you just have to stop whatever you are doing because no-one goes out in the rain and if you are inside you can't hear a thing because of the din from the rain on the iron roof.  In a school last week we just had to stop everything and were stuck in the class room until the rain finished!  The kids love it of course, rather like the snow disruption at home in the UK.

These students pose for a photo just like their UK counterparts!

Daniel's wife practising slow manoevres.

Daniel, the master shows the new drivers how to do it!
Last weekend I stayed in Nyakarambi, which is really quiet during the day both on Saturday and Sunday.  Many locals are Seventh Day Adventists, so they go to church on saturday, closing their businesses until late afternoon.  On Sunday the other Christians do the same.  In contrast the evenings are pretty loud, with music blasting from shops and bars until quite late and a lot of people coming and going, especially up to about eight o clock, when the shops are busy.  Both days I went for a morning bike ride, exploring some of the dirt roads round the town, but getting back before it gets too hot. On the way home I came across a group of moto drivers who were practising slow speed manoeuvres by the road side - there was Daniel, my regular driver helping the newbies to learn.  Also, to my surprise, his wife was among the learners and is due to take the test to become moto driver too. Daniel says they will take turns with the motor bike once she has passed the test.

On Sunday I made the classic mistake of going down-hill too often and when I turned round at the valley bottom I found three quarters of the road too steep for me to ride.  having pushed my bike up the hills back into town I have a new respect for the young men who spend their days pushing their heavily-laden bikes up similar hills.  Pushing my empty bike was hard enough to need a rest every fifteen minutes or so!!  In future I'll be taking more notice of the gradient when heading downhill.
That hill is a lot steeper than it looks!

That's my bike.

 In the valley just behind the town there are rice paddy fields, which are already growing a second crop since I came here.  Even the steepest hills are cultivated by hand to grow bananas or plantain, maize, beans, cassava and sorghum (apparently used to make a kind of local beer). In other areas you see fields of coffee bushes or pineapple plants.  We planted some seeds in our little vegetable plot and got a good crop of lettuces, coriander and a load of self-seeded tomatoes, which are now covered in green tomatoes.  There is plenty of rain here and the sun also shines at times, so we hope to get a good crop of home-grown tomatoes soon.

Work is mainly visiting schools to talk about Global School Partnerships, to plan training on basic things like how to learn your pupils' names, activities for English clubs and English lessons and gently easing the teachers towards child-centred learning instead of the  "talk and chalk",  happily written into the method section of lesson plans day in day out!  The teachers who have got the grant to go to the UK also need a lot of help getting the documentation organised.  The application for a visa to the UK runs to 10 pages, which is supposed to be filled in on-line and then presented with all the relevant documents to prove that the visit is official, properly supported and funded and that the applicant is intending to return to Rwanda afterwards.  With the dodgy internet we have here so far, much of that has to be done in KIgali by the VSO staff who are responsible for GSP, but as the nearest helping hand in the District, I get regular calls for help with e mails and communications.  Things are improving now that some teachers have a modem through the efforts of my friends in college at Harrogate, who sold their work to raise funds for Rwanda.  It is much appreciated by the teachers who benefitted!  Many, many thanks to all of you who helped out with that fund-raising!

This week I spent quite a lot of time in schools, which is always enjoyable.  The moto-taxi rides are hard and tiring but the scenery and the glimpses of rural life make up for bumpy ride. 

Yes, that is a house!

Once again I was sorting out registration on the Global Schools Gateway for the nearest school to home (I can actually walk there as I pass it every day on the way to the office!).  I went back the next morning to take photos of primary story reading by a teacher.  Unlike in the UK where you see children sitting on the floor around the teacher's legs, this was neat rows of desks and teacher standing formally at the front.  Nonetheless, they clearly enjoyed the story and were able to remember lots of detail and took part in the questioning with great enthusiasm.  This teacher actually knew all the pupils' names and used them and he had them sitting boy, girl, boy, girl, which is one way they are trying to address gender balance in schools. 

Historically many girls dropped out of school at puberty, either because they were needed at home or often because of embarrassment at puberty and the lack of suitable toilet or bathroom facilities when their periods start.  Schools are trying to provide separate toilets and wash rooms for girls and educate boys and girls better about sexual development and health.
These are some of the better school toilets I've seen - notice the gender separation fence.

The whole of Rwandan society is permeated with the concept of gender balance, at least in theory - everyone knows how it should be for women.  There are plenty of role models with more than 50% of members of Parliament being women and you always see a male and a female police officer together, but in rural areas the old ways continue.  Remember Daniel's wife planning to be a moto-taxi driver - I've seen no other women doing that job yet! Even well-educated male  teachers admit that they never go in the kitchen and you will rarely see a man carrying a baby around, they are always tied to the back of a woman or older sister with a shawl.
Elisabeth works in their shop while Barnabé is teaching.  Little Godson has to go to work too!
In the evenings after about seven thirty you will hardly ever see a woman out in Nyakarambi, even with her husband or partner.  When I go to a bar for a beer with friends there are only men about, with very rare exceptions.  I keep asking my friends how young men ever manage to find a girl friend or wife and the answers are not very clear.  Most of the people I know are studying at weekends and I suggested to one that he might meet a girl there.  He agreed that he did have good friends but that he could not consider having a girl friend until he was earning more money to keep her well if it led to marriage.  One friend said that the fact that you never see boys and girls together is a social problem because they hide away from view and so are not restrained in their behaviour together.  Of course it is different in Kigali - there the women mainly dress in a western way and you see young women in groups going out for the evening together and mixed groups in restaurants and bars. 

School science club
Another day I was visiting a school to find out about their English Club in order to pass on good practice to another school.  I was given the full show - English Club and Reading Club, with pupils showing off what they do at their clubs.  It feels a bit like being royalty at times, as pupils flock around to see the "muzungu" and teachers put on their best show so the pupils can be congratulated by the visitor.  I always have to make a speech - I've mentioned before what great store the Rwandans put by public speaking, so I have to make an effort!!

This afternoon (Friday) I went back to my local school at their invitation to see the English Club in action.  They were having a formal debate - proposers, opposers, audience, president, secretary etc etc and the motion was "Water is more important than fire."  I was really impressed by how confidently the students spoke in English and argued with each other's points, all over-seen by the student president who chose the speakers evenly from each side and the audience and did his best to maintain gender balance at the same time.  Needless to say I had to make a speech at the end, but luckily it had been so enjoyable there was plenty to talk about.  The whole school was buzzing today - many pupils were at clubs, for example I could hear singing echoing round the site, but most were involved in the first day of inter-school competitions for volleyball, football, basketball etc and those who weren't playing were cheering loudly at every point scored.

On Thursday I did two half day training sessions in one school for half of the teachers each time. They had asked for help with their English Club so I spent a hectic three hours twice showing them activities and games for language learning in the club or in lessons.  It was great fun and they all seemed to enjoy it and appreciate my input. Of course the school was nearly an hour away from home on the bumpiest roads in the district, so by the time I got home after five o'clock I was worn out!  One of the weirdest things was finishing each session absolutely covered in chalk dust - something I haven't experienced for about twenty years!! 

Workshop for teachers about English clubs.
The last two weeks of term are busy with end of term exams for all pupils, so schools are not really open for visitors.  Time is spent catching up with reports on activities for VSO and my Director of Education and planning training sessions and visits for next term. It's probably just as well visits are less frequent as the heavy rain has now created a great deal of mud on all tracks and roads and moto-taxi journeys may have to be cancelled. 

I find it hard to believe how cold the weather has become when it is cloudy and raining.  Extra blankets at night, fleeces and sweaters even inside the house in the evening, warmer clothes for going to work.  We often comment that this is not the Africa we expected!  Then the sun breaks through and it gets hot again for a while.

My colleague learned this week that our number two moto driver, Alex, is back home on a weeks leave from his army reservist job.  He has told us that he will go to the north of Lake Kivu for a few weeks training and then he will be off to the Sudan to take part in the Rwandan army's UN peace-keeping force for nine months.  He is really excited as the army is his life and I guess it is really unusual for a Rwandan to be able to travel and spend time in a foreign country.  We really hope he has a peaceful time and doesn't  get caught up in any conflict situations as he is such a nice man and a caring father to his children.

Alex, moto-driver and army reservist with his wife and children.  I had just enjoyed a lovely lunch with them.

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