Thumbs up beneath the starlit African sky
September 30, 2010

Yesterday was given over to further classroom visits at Nyamateke School. However on this occasion I had timetabled gaps between observations in order to record my findings as I went along.

I’d previously been reluctant to take my laptop into school, given the bumpy moto ride, but it has been  very time-consuming typing up my notes during the evening so I wrapped it in my waterproof, stuck it in my rucksack and risked it.  

When I unpacked it in the head’s office it caused quite a stir. Andrew, the admin officer, in particular got very excited and kept leaving his desk to peer over my shoulder, desperate to have a go.

He brought out the school’s single, rather forlorn looking, HP with a missing key, to compare notes and rather poignantly reminded me that they were hoping to buy a small generator soon, finances allowing.    

Wellars, the head, had been called to yet another meeting at the District Office in Nyakarambi. Heads seem to spend more time out of school than in it but before he left we had confirmed which lessons I would be watching.

I duly arrived for a P3 English lesson after morning break to find 40 odd children sitting in the classroom without a teacher. There is no such thing as supply cover out here and if a teacher is absent they are either watched over  (baby sitting not teaching) by a teacher who has non-contact time or, more often than not, they are left to their own devices.

It amazing how well-behaved the children are in these circumstances. They all remain at their desks and wait patiently until someone turns up to take them. As I entered the classroom they greeted me in the usual way by standing up and chanting, “Good morning visitor!”  I thanked them and asked them to sit down, following which they gazed up at me with expectant eyes.

I could have left them but my conscience wouldn’t allow it, so I embarked upon an off the cuff 40 minutes of trying to communicate with them in English. Pleasingly some of them had remembered my name, Phillipi, from last week.

Things started off with a tendency for them to parrot, in unison, everything I said which was a bit unnerving but  not at all surprising as this is the predominant method of curriculum delivery they are used to.

I muddled through, supplementing my English with the odd bit of French, Kinyarwanda  and plenty of mime (much to their amusement). I taught them how to use thumbs up and thumbs down in answer to simple questions about things they liked or disliked and by the end of the lesson there were quite a few smiles and I think we had all enjoyed the experience.     

After a year in Nyakarambi, Dorothy leaves on Saturday. It has become clear, in the short time that I have been here, that she has integrated really well and become a well liked and respected member of the community.

Last night Awunic, a headmistress, and Eric, a secondary school teacher, who both live close by, hosted a farewell meal for Dorothy to which the new volunteers were invited. It was quite an atmospheric occasion as we sat around illuminated by a single kerosene lamp and flickering candlelight.

No sooner had we arrived than soft drinks were served. There seems to be a never-ending thirst for Fanta this, that or the other.  Daniel, the moto driver, is obviously wise to this and turned up with his own Mutzig!

Awunic had gone to a lot of trouble and served a typical home-made melanje of meat in sauce, rice, vegetables and chips. The customary prayer of thanks was said before we ate.

The climax of the evening was a presentation to Dorothy of a traditional Rwandan costume and head-dress all of which had been made to measure. There was great excitement a she tried it on.

As is considered polite in Rwanda we, the departing guests, were escorted some distance along the route towards our homes where we finally exchanged protracted farewells, lots of  hand shakes, thumb pressing and hugging  beneath a stunningly beautiful starlit African sky.

It was thumbs up all round for another interesting day and a very pleasant evening!