Mützig and jambo with the lads!
November 17, 2010

Today was my final visit to Nyamateke School, to lead a training session on Classroom Observation, although I will be seeing the teachers again when they join with the staff at Nyabitare next week to start a four-week MINEDUC national English training programme for teachers. 

Sadly Wellars, the Headteacher, was not present today. One of his five children, a son, has gone down with malaria and he needed to take him to hospital for treatment. Fortunately, I understand it is not too serious.

Malaria is still rife and a big killer out here and we have recently received an email alert from VSO warning us that an unusually warm wet season has led to an increase in mosquitoes and reminding us to keep taking the tablets and bed down under our nets.

In Wellars’ absence Anaclet, a young teacher with good English, had been briefed to look after me and he was insistent that the headmaster had said he must take me for ‘refreshment’ after the session to thank me for my work.

Before we set off down the hill to the local ‘bar’ I lined all the teachers up for a group photograph outside the school and promised I would send them a copy on my return to England.

Six of us squeezed into the small, dim room with its rustic furniture and coloured poster of a smiling Shakira, adorning the wall. Things had gone full circle as this is where I had been treated to ‘Fanta Coca’ on my very first visit to the school.

This time around we were on the beer – well it is the school holidays! Once the bottle tops had been removed Xavier, ‘a good Christian’ according to Anaclet, said ‘grace’ in Kinyarwanda. Xavier later told me he had given thanks for the work I had done with them and asked God to be with me when I return to England – very touching!

Next I was told I had to partake of ‘jambo’ for lunch. Jambo turned out to be a tin of sardines with the brand name ‘Hello’. The barman cut open the small cylindrical can with a large machete and we all sat scooping the fish out with a fork before slurping down the remains of the tomato sauce!

As is often the case the best conversations are those over a shared beer and we touched on a whole number of varied but interesting topics. We somehow got on to university fees. All of my drinking companions were still in their twenties and keen to continue in part-time higher education.

Apparently a part-time university course costs around 450,000 RWF (£450) a year plus travelling expenses every weekend. It may not seem excessive to us but is prohibitive for many of them.

I tried to explain the English student loan system. Their faces displayed instant recognition and I was told the same set up had recently been adopted by Rwanda. All was made clear as they informed me that Paul Kagame is very close friends with an English adviser, Tony Blair!

Cows are never far away from the thoughts or conversation of Rwandans. They still can’t comprehend that we don’t keep cows as domestic animals in the UK!

It was explained to me that each year one teacher from each sector is nominated by his colleagues to receive a cow for his services to education. Last year in Nyarabuye sector it was, Seraphin, one of the Nyamateke teachers who received a Friesian cow from Paul Kagame (not Ankole!).

Ankole cattle with their enormous horns, whilst well adapted to East Africa and able to survive on limited water and poor grazing, are short on milk. Friesians which produce far more milk are gradually being introduced. Unfortunately Seraphin’s cow had not lasted long but he had been promised a replacement.

Anaclet had phoned my moto driver and rescheduled him to pick me up from the ‘bar’ not the school (a good advert for VSO volunteers!) and it was with some regret that I had to depart the scene so soon. I’m sure it is enjoyable interludes such as this that will remain with me for a long time when I return to the UK.

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Teachers – more precious than gold!
October 5, 2010

Today October 5th, in observance of World Teachers’ Day, Rwandan schools were closed and teachers countrywide engaged in a celebration of their profession.

I was invited to attend the Nyarabuye Sector celebrations which covered four schools including those to which I’m attached, Nyabitare and Nyamateke.

Rwandan timings are not the most reliable so when Wellars, the head at Nyamateke, informed me the day would run from 09.00-16.00 I decided to arrive around 10.00!

It was a 40 minute trek, cross-country by moto, to Nyarabuye Secondary School where the day’s events were being held and when I arrived Daniel had to dust me off with an old towel he carries on the back of his bike.

As I suspected the main part of the day, speeches and the like, wasn’t due to start until lunchtime. The morning was given over to a football match between primary and secondary teachers from the sector.

Nyarabuye is high up and the match was played on a bumpy cabbage patch of a pitch which, whilst not conducive to the beautiful game, provided disinterested spectators with extensive views across rolling hills, with grazing Ankole cattle, towards distant lakes.  

The match was high on endeavour if a little low on quality and finished goalless. Once the final hand shakes were exchanged, and the players changed, we assembled in the main school hall to await the invited sector and district dignitaries.

These included the local mayor who I was told has many cows. Cows are a huge status symbol and a sign of wealth in these parts. 

Needless to say it was quite a wait and a couple of teachers started up some traditional songs with clapped accompaniment to keep the crowd occupied. As is so often the case in Africa the people seem to have natural harmony and rhythm and a love of singing. It was a very pleasant diversion.    

Once the main event got underway, about an hour later than scheduled, I was invited to sit with the local heads at the top table. A whole string of speeches followed, all in Kinyarwanda, but thankfully interspersed with song, dance and martial arts exhibitions performed by the secondary school pupils.

The Rwandans are generally a reserved people but when the get a public platform, as today, they can talk and talk………

I sat and listened to over two hours worth of Kinyarwanda which meant precious little to me, apart from the odd word with an anglophone derivation. At one point a shopping bag with the logo ‘Teachers are more precious than gold’ was held aloft to a great round of applause.

I was just thinking of making my excuses and slipping away when I was asked if I would like to make a brief address. Luckily I had been warned by Dorothy that this might happen and had prepared a short introduction about myself in Kinyarwanda. Admittedly I read from a piece of paper but my efforts seemed to be appreciated.

I padded it out, in English; by saying how impressed I had been by the local teachers’ attitude and commitment to learning and improving, that no nation could progress or develop without education and that they and their students were the future of Rwanda. All good stuff, I think!         

I also told them, to their utter surprise, that there would be no holiday for teachers and very little public acknowledgement of their worth back in the UK.   

Following my ‘speech’ there was a drinks break and I was rewarded with a bottle of Mützig which was warm but none the less welcome. As the only muzungu present, it had been an honour and a privilege to be part of the teachers’ special day.