Chance encounters…….
October 27, 2010

This week has been very slow. Being exam week, and the final week of the Rwandan academic year, heads and teachers are so tied up that school visits would be rather pointless. Although on Friday afternoon Nyabitare School have kindly invited me to their end of year ‘celebrations’ which will no doubt be an enjoyable occasion.    

As an interesting aside, Wellars, the head at Nyamateke  had told me that he would not be available as he would be at Nyarabuye Secondary School, all of this week, with his P6 students who have to sit their important external exams. He explained that for most this would entail a daily return cross-country trek, up hill and down dale, of up to 10km.  They will need to leave home at around 6.00 am to be sure of arriving by 8.00 am to register for a test which begins at 9.00 am.  

Somehow I can’t imagine Y6 pupils in the UK, or more to the point their parents, agreeing to such an exhausting schedule during SATs week!     

Most of my time this week has been spent preparing booklets and visual aids for three workshops I’ll be leading, during November: ‘Ten Steps to Creating an Effective Classroom’, ‘A Ten Step Guide to Lesson Planning’ and a ‘Classroom Observation Guide’ – maybe rudimentary stuff for teachers in the UK but essential ingredients of school improvement out here.   

Technology at the District Office is not the most reliable but this morning I took a chance and went along to print off and photocopy my workshop materials only to find paper was in very short supply. As I was going to need quite a large amount I went in search of some. I didn’t hold out much hope given that shopping in Nyakarambi is a bit of a lottery.

It is not always easy to tell what is sold in any given outlet from the often misleading signs they display but once within their dark interiors many of them turn out to be, what you might call, ‘general stores’ stocking an often random selection of goods.

As luck would have it I bumped into a Victor, a secondary school English teacher, I had been introduced to some time ago. Having gone through the whole hand shaking greetings ritual, which is so important here, I explained my quest and he immediately led me off to an unprepossessing looking shop where, sure enough, three reams of photocopying paper sat on the shelf along side a tins of sardines and packets of Nice biscuits – two very popular luxury items in these parts!   

The next hurdle, as always, was negotiating an acceptable price. 3000 RWF suddenly became 3,200 when the lady in the shop saw she was dealing with a muzungu but having, to my surprise, located such a rare commodity as photocopying paper I wasn’t about to haggle over 20 pence!

With mission accomplished I was by now feeling a bit peckish and set off up the high street to Auberge Ikirezi. The mainly French-speaking staff here are always very friendly and it has a pleasant open courtyard to the rear. More importantly I have recently discovered this is the only place in Nyakarambi where I can get a proper cup of icyayi, hence I’ve become a bit of a regular.  For the princely sum of 600 RWF (60p) they provide a china mug, two tea bags, a thermos of hot water and amandazi (a local type of doughnut).

As I headed back from town towards the District Office I enjoyed my second chance encounter of the morning. A young lad greeted me with a confident, ‘Good morning, how are you?’ and quickly fell into step introducing himself as fourteen year old Gwsenga from the local secondary school. He had finished his exams and had ‘free time’ now until he collected his results on Friday.

Gwsenga had only been speaking English for two years, having previously been taught in French, and I was surprised how fluent he was. He accompanied me for the rest of my journey, during which time he told me he liked English but wanted to improve. He was working hard at his studies and was fortunate that his parents were able to support his secondary education by growing pineapples which were sold on to markets and retail outlets in Kigali.

Gwsenga’s family live near the local medical centre and one day he hopes he can become a doctor and help cure the many ill people he sees around him in his country. He told me that he had been a little bit frightened to approach me, a white person, but he wanted to practice his English and could we exchange email addresses so that we might correspond when I return to England. I was pleased to do so.      

I was most impressed by Gwsenga. Bright young men and women like him, with a social conscience, who are motivated to improve themselves, through education, can provide a bright future for this developing nation.