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!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Global School Partnership - Alloa Primary and EP Karambi

This last fortnight has been interesting because one of my head teacher friends, Jean Pierre of GS Karambi, has had his Scottish partner school teacher here to stay.  I knew he would need help to manage her visit and that she would perhaps need a lot of support with what to expect in Rwanda.  When Jean Pierre was in Scotland he visited castles, seaside, ice skating rink, bowling alley, a Celtic football match, supermarkets and shopping centres - none of which are available here for entertaining visitors! I took him to Kigali airport to meet his guest, Karin, from Alloa in Scotland,  and I had booked rooms for the night as she arrived in the evening, too late for buses to Nyakarambi.

Once we got back to Nyakarambi on Friday (having ignored Kigali until later) Karin was settled into the new guest house and given a guided tour of the town.  We went to J P's house for a meal in the evening and met some of his family and friends.  J P and I had planned a school outing to the Akagera National Park on Saturday.  Karin and I had agreed that rather than share the cost of $350 dollars to get a safari vehicle for the three of us, we'd prefer to hire a taxi-bus and take a few pupils, teachers and parents on an outing - 18 of us, instead of three, all for a little less money!  Unfortunately the first bus, which arrived at the school at 04.00 on Saturday morning, had a mechanical problem which was irreparable away from a garage, so another  bus had to be sent for.  Karin and I were waiting at her guest house from 06.00 until the second bus finally arrived at 11.20!!!

Taking on refreshments just outside the park.

We felt we just wanted to call it all off and try again the next weekend, but no, J P's optimism over-ruled that suggestion.  So off we went amidst loud singing and banging the bus sides like a drum, to arrive at the Park entrance at 13.30 - the worst time of day for finding animals.  The school people had been up since about 03.30 and had missed breakfast and lunch, though we did get a few biscuits and nuts to pass around with some bottles of water.  One good thing was that a guide was available, having returned from a proper morning safari.  She looked pointedly at our clapped out old bus and said we would have a limited route in the park because of our "vehicle" (you could hear the inverted commas in her voice!).  Undaunted we set off and much to my amazement we saw giraffes, zebra, hippos, gazelle and baboons - in spite of the bus engine stalling at every halt and taking ages to grind noisily back to life!
Beautiful girafes were the first sighting!

These gazelles knew how to pose for the camera!

He seems to know how great he looks framed by the tree!

The baby is more interested in the visitors.

The hippos kept their distance.

The pupils, parents and teachers were thrilled with their first visit to the park and Karin was happy with what we saw too.

Teachers and pupils enjoying the wildlife.

 After a couple of hours and many group photos we set off for home, stopping at a pretty lake for more photos ..... then disaster struck again - a flat tyre!!!  It was at that point I first noticed that all four tyres were virtually bald and the spare was smooth!  By a miracle the wheel was changed by the driver, a teacher and a passer-by under the gaze of a growing group of children (admittedly mainly examining Karin and me).  We were glad to get going again.  Oh I forgot to mention that 75% of the route was on dusty dirt tracks with the windows wide open!  When we got back to the tarmac the driver had to stop to get his tyre repaired - clearly he too realised that he would be in trouble with that tyre if we were stopped by the frequent police checks along the main roads.

Rwandans refer to a good plateful of "melange" as Karisimbi, their tallest volcano!

Eventually - still starving we got to Kibungo (about 45 minutes from home) where we stopped to feed everyone with the usual mountain of rice, bananas, chips, beans and green vegetable mush with a bit of goat meat for those who can chew it.  It's amazing what a hungry Rwandan child can tuck away and the mountains soon disappeared.  During the meal J P was discussing whether we should go straight home to drop Karin and me off or whether to go straight to the village where the school is and then drop us off afterwards.  Karin and I said "Oh no, don't worry about us we must take the children home first, they must be exhausted."  Bad decision!  After a couple of miles the bus turned off the tarmac road onto a dark , bumpy dirt track and trundled along up and down the hills and valleys - sometimes grinding to a halt on a steep rise, wheels slipping in the sandy dust or gravel.  The driver just got out, tore a branch off a tree and put it under the wheels for grip and off we went weaving between the boulders, over the rocks through the sand and dust, only seeing what was in the beam of the head lights, only guessing at the steep drops at either side.  Karin's first exposure to the dirt tracks she would use everyday was not ideal in the dark and in a rickety old bus.  I think she must have been feeling dreadful except that the rhythmical drumming and loud singing kept our minds off the dangers of the roads. I was recognising some of the tracks I had struggled along on the back of a moto r bike taxi and wondered if the driver was completely mad!  We dropped off the Rwandans one by one near the school and the village and J P Karin and I headed off to Nyakarambi - dirt tracks all the way.  We had added at least two hours to our journey by putting the kids first!  I don't know how J P survived - he had been up since about 02.00 that morning dealing with all the stress of the breakdown and surrounded by pupils teachers and parents.  All in all it was a really good day out and the singing and great atmosphere made all the problems and risks seem less important.  It was good to have given an exciting experience to a cross section of the whole school community, rather than simply taking our selves off in a luxury safari 4x4.  The Akagera is more visit-worthy than I expected and is constantly being improved. They are building a new fence to keep the lions and elephants in away from the surrounding farm land and the risks of being killed by farmers, so they expect the wild life to begin developing more quickly.  They also do water safaris in motor boats to see hippos and crocodiles, which sounds and looks really good for a future visit.  Mind you, next time I'll take the posh 4x4 if any of you come to see me!

On Sunday we had a quieter day, initiating Karin into moto riding with a trip on the tarmac road down to see the River Akagera waterfalls on the border with Tanzania at Rusumo.
Daniel driving Karin on her first moto taxi ride to school.

The tracks are really rough and we rely on our drivers to get us safely through.

On Monday her school visit started properly and we set off for the school together on two motos, keeping to a sedate speed for a novice, adding 10 minutes to our usual journey time.  It was a sunny morning so the views were great all the way.

 At the school Jean Pierre had organised a warm welcome with pupils dancing and singing their welcome songs for Karin.  We got some lovely photos and some video clips of the ceremony.
Welcome dances for Karin.

Many children stay off in the last week but Karin's presence brought many to school.

 Even though it was the last week of term just after the exams, the teachers had arranged lessons to give Karin a flavour of what teachers do in Rwanda - a bit of an eye-opener I think.  It was interesting to hear what fresh eyes made of it all.  A large lunch had  been arranged of course, followed by more lesson observations and many questions for Karin about Scotland and the UK. It was a very enjoyable day, though not really typical of everyday school.

Parents came with gift for their visitor, which they had made themselves.
Boys especially like to make vehicles out of sorghum stems which are a bit like balsa wood.

Monday was my house mate's 50th birthday so I organised a "surprise party" for him enlisting the help of a local Pakistani, Nassim, who agreed to cook Mark's favourite foods from Pakistan.  It was a great party, mainly with local friends, but also with a volunteer from Kibungo and Karin.

Our District Education Officer, Telesphore, Assistant DEO, Jean Marie, Mark and me after a beer or two!

Every Rwandan event has to have speeches all round, here Karin takes the floor!
 All I had to do was get Mark out of the way, by dropping strong hints, then get Nassim and Dignite to cook, Musafiri to send crates of drinks across the road and send out the invitations by text message! I think Mark really enjoyed the evening, especially the food.  Mind you, our stomachs, unused to such spicy dishes were acting surprised in the following days, in my case especially the morning of the partnership training I was helping with in Kigali!!

As I had to go to Kigali on Tuesday to help train more teachers keen on this partnership scheme, I left Karin to it for three days, meeting up on Thursday evening to catch up on her news. All the moto journeys had been enjoyed and the guest house staff had been really friendly and helpful.  The days at school were more difficult as it was so near the holidays and teachers and pupils were not doing the usual lessons, so Karin saw less of normal teaching than was hoped.  However she saw and liked enough to want to come back next year, making sure she comes in normal school time for a more realistic experience.

The last school day, Friday was almost entirely taken up by the ceremonies of farewell - more dancing and singing from the pupils, lots of photos and excited children and parents, who came especially to give Karin gifts and have their photo taken.
The girls seem to just love doing the traditional dances!

Ooops!  I guess that is what is known as "Dad dancing"!

Yet more presents for Karin!

 In the afternoon it was the adults' ceremony starting with a huge plate of food, which had been prepared by lighting a wood fire in the corner of an old classroom and using it as a kitchen! The food was really good and certainly fresh!

If you are a veggie watch out for eggs!  Three hard boiled ones at once!!

There was of course beer or soft drinks for everyone so the atmosphere got pretty lively.  In the usual Rwandan way almost everyone had to make a speech about the week's events and then they started to sing and dance with enormous enthusiasm.  The Rwandan teachers and parents really went for the singing and dancing with gusto having a great time.

The second weekend was quieter, but as we walked around Nyakarambi's side roads many people came to talk to Jean Pierre and Karin and wanted to show off their cows and goats and have photos taken with us.
Just look at those horns!

We called at Daniel's house (our moto driver) and found that his second house had become a bar since our last visit two days earlier, when he had invited us in for food and drinks. There seems to be an entrepreneur inside every Rwandan just waiting to come out. That day was rounded off by a meal at Awunick's, another head teacher friend involved in a partnership with the UK.  On Sunday we called to collect the dress and trousers Karin had ordered after buying cloth in the market on Tuesday, helped by our friend, the volunteer from Kibungo. The new clothes were great success too - £11 for the cloth and £4 to have a tunic and trousers made to measure!

After that Karin went off on her own to visit lake Kivu, meeting some other VSO volunteers at the guest house, Home St Jean, and then met yet others and VSO partnership staff on Thursday back in Kigali.  I'm so pleased that the visit went off well, helped by a network of local friends and volunteers in Rwanda and I'm sure that Karin will be a welcome return visitor next year.

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