Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Internet conferences with no internet

I’ve just had the most fantastic couple of days staying with Lindsey and the other TTC volunteers at TTC Save in the south of Rwanda. OMG TTC Save was totally amazing, my jaw hit the floor when I saw it. They had group work going on in the classrooms as you walked on past, a big computer lab, the buildings were beautifully built and maintained with murals painted on the walls in the dining hall, everyone spoke good English and they even finished the day with keep fit aerobics in their courtyard to the usual uplifting African pop.

 The conference was supposed to be about using this internet portal thing as all the TTCs are in the process of being connected up to the internet. Apparently my TTC was done on Friday in my absence. Can’t wait to go in tomorrow and see if it actually works. However, the internet played up at Save so we got the morning off. All of us vsos in team TTC went to the nearby national museum in Butare to pass some time. I have to say that the museum was really really good and surpassed all of my expectations. There was a whole room dedicated to traditional thatch housing with a life size one you could go in. There were also the biggest woven baskets I’d ever seen. I couldn’t believe how much the culture and landscape had changed when I looked at photos of Rwanda from 50 and sometimes only 30 years ago. Its well worth a visit if you want to see Rwanda in a new light.

The afternoon was spent trying to understand the new internet portal (still with no internet). Its a great website but I have my reservations about the drive for ICT here. Its all very well trying to get these things up and running in the TTCs but once the students leave there many of them will never touch a computer ever again as many schools do not even have electricity. It will be great for the ones who manage to go to uni or into teaching secondary level though. My main concern is about maintenance.  When I think how often computers go wrong....I just am not at all sure what we are supposed to do when these things break down as there is no Jan or Denise out here to fix things! There are lots of tutors who know how to use computers but I don’t think any of us have ever had any training on how to fix the damn things. Knowing me I’ll probably break them even more!

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Conferences, conferences and yet more conferences!

This past week I have been at the annual vso education sector conference in Kigali. It has been a busy time of days from 8.30 until 5.30 and many debates and discussions about education in Rwanda have been had. We have put questions to people from UNICEF, the Rwandese inspectorate and USAID. We talked about the future of education in Rwanda with primary school kids, head teachers, teachers and TTC students and they had many interesting things to say about how they would like things to change.

When a little girl stood in front of us and said that she wanted clean toilets, food and water in school it really made me stop and think about all the things we take for granted in school in the UK. When I asked my kids in UK to draw their ideal school they drew swimming pools and fancy playground equipment. But here, all they want is toilets that don’t make them ill and not to feel hungry in class. Sometimes I think ‘its not that much to ask is it?’ and its quite upsetting that they don’t have these things that they so clearly deserve.

Most excitingly of all though for us TTC volunteers was the arrival of the new mango tree resources. We had great fun sorting them all into piles for us and the new TTC volunteers who will start in September. Mango tree are a company based in Kampala, Uganda who make educational materials out of junk such as old flip flops, rice sacks, bits of wood, jerry cans etc. We have a huge amount of stuff, I have no idea how I’m going to get it to my TTC as it would be totally impossible to get it all on the back of a motorbike! Here are some pictures of what we will have in our resource centres.

Further to this in true lastminute.com fashion I’ve been summoned to another conference about ICT at TTC Save where Lindsey works. It will be interesting to see another TTC. Just wish I’d had enough warning to go home to change my clothes!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Late nights and long runs

I’m feeling sorry for myself and its all self inflicted.  My legs ache, my stomach aches, my head did ache although its now ok and my back aches. Any why all this aching? I did the marathon relay in the Kigali peace marathon yesterday, after staying out til 1am seeing a live band. Yes a live band! I didn’t really think they existed in Kigali and they were quite good so one thing led to another and we danced the night away. They had a very cool name ‘black muzungu’ and they played all sorts of things from Shania Twain, jazz, and guns and roses, quite an eclectic mix!

Now the marathon was an interesting experience. The day began with us trying to get away from a brawl which happened between two young men in a crowd (at a PEACE marathon, I mean, I ask you!) and one of our number being too ill to run so we bullied one of the fun runners into doing it. So in the marathon relay there were 4 of us vsos . You have to wait for the first person to run one of the four laps of the full marathon course. That person then hands over the timing chip and the next person runs until all four people have run. I ended up going last. Poor Isy who went before me was directed the wrong way round part of the course so had to run really far so it was the blazing midday sun by the time my turn came. Not to mention the good people of Kigali decided they wanted their city back and so the roads were opened up again and the stewards had obviously all gone home for lunch.

So I was all alone on my run. I had to dodge buses and motorbikes and children and run on the treacherous Kigali pavements. I had to keep stopping to ask policemen, passers by and other runners (not that there were hardly any by this point!) for directions as it really was confusing in some places. And there was no one to cheer me on around the course L. But we made it! I must admit I often had to walk or risk being run over/falling down a hole so it wasn’t my best time but still its all about getting to the end. After all ‘sport is life’ as the commentator kept telling us...I can’t help but wonder what on earth that really means. I can understand ‘food is life’ or water is life’ but running marathons is not necessary for life. Many people live without doing it! Today I’m feeling life would have been easier if it wasn’t for sport. The moto ride back to the village totally did me in with my aching bones...but you can’t beat the feeling of passing that finishing line J. I know I’ll do it again, mad fool that I am!

Cheering on the other relay runners in the grandstand of stadium amahoro where the race starts and finishes

Hmm...the starting gate looks a bit wobbly!

Another vso snapped me coming back to the stadium

The last vso (and quite possibly the last runner of all!) crosses the finishing line.

Posing with the medal in sole e luna afterwards. Big pizzas all round.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Characters of Nzige town

Ok so calling it a town is a bit of a stretch but it sounds more poetic. There are a number of people I’m starting to encounter on a regular basis on my walks to school and as I go about daily life. Some of them adorable, some of them a little scary and some of them very worldly wise. My first memorable character is the ‘woman carrying a big pot on her head who always stares at me but never says hello back’. She is memorable for that precise reason as pretty much everyone will greet me back. But one day she will, I’m sure of it. I see it as my personal mission to get her to slip up and accidentally greet me. We shall see...

Another memorable character is the ’little boy in the stripy t-shirt’. By far my favourite child in Nzige, he is always playing in the mud on my dirt track whenever I walk home from the TTC. Whenever he sees me he stops whatever he is doing, runs towards me arms outstretched and gives my legs a big bear hug. Every time I see him he banishes my frustrations. He never follows me or shouts muzungu, all he wants is a hug!

The sisters are a memorable bunch because of their mustard attire and crosses. They are always very smiley and probably the friendliest greeters on the dirt track. A couple of them came to my resource centre yesterday for a look around. They were very impressed by my Kinyarwanda rice sacks and one of them tried to run off with my P1 English textbook but I caught her just in time.

The wheelbarrow boys on market day. Every Tuesday morning I’ll see them on their way to the market, their wheelbarrows piled high with tomatoes. They are memorable because they are normally in a hurry, a rare thing in Nzige as usually I am the only person who ever walks at speed. For a place dubbed ‘the country in a hurry’ I very rarely see anyone in a hurry in Nzige. It is so rare it makes me stop and stare!

The moto drivers. Most of them know me by name by now. The moto drivers at Kabuga (where I have to change from a bus to a moto to get to my village) will spot me before I’ve even got off the bus, grab my hand and literally plonk me on their moto. They all know where I live and take me exactly to my door, regardless of whether that is where I want to go or not.

Deary me, all these characters and no names, not that I would put them on here. However I do think its about time I tried to learn some more, especially my little friend in the stripy t-shirt. Its just that they say their names so fast and they say there first name after they have said their incredibly long and unpronounceable Kinyarwanda name. Excuses, excuses....

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The candlelight disco bucket shower

The light went out yet again in my outside ‘shower’ room just as I was about to pour the first cup of water over my head. This unfortunate event was followed by a stamped foot and a few swear words. I weighed up the option of just not bothering for another night...but then a stand of hair escaped from my ponytail and stuck to my face...yep the grease content was that high. So seeing as vso requires me to be flexible, adaptable, patient, blah, blah, I got out the candles and torch and persevered with the inconvenient task of washing myself in the almost dark.

Now all was well and good until I somehow managed to accidentally jam my wind up torch onto the continual flashing light setting. So there I was stood in the dark, pouring buckets of water over my head, yet feeling like I was in some kind of seedy underground disco club. Very weird. All I needed was some Lionel Richie or Jackson 5 to complete the experience. Sadly I’d left my laptop which contained the offending tunes inside, so I just had to imagine them in my head. And that was that. A bucket shower with a difference.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

4 months in Rwanda

Today marks the end of four months in Rwanda. As I am about to start my fifth month I realise that before I know it I will have done six months here. This academic term is a massive fourteen weeks (three down, eleven to go!) but the last academic term of the Rwandan school year is very short and mostly focused on exams so once this term is up I will have done most of my work for the year. Its quite scary really. Another volunteer said that the days go by slowly but the weeks go by fast, I couldn’t agree more.

Its been a time of mostly highs and a few lows, many frustrations and small (but significant!) successes and many many new experiences. I can honestly say I’ve never had to learn more, I’ve adapted to many things which a year ago I would never have thought possible and I’ve already learned more about myself than I could ever have imagined. So who knows what the next four months will hold!

Getting my resource centre into some kind of shape is my main priority at the moment. While I still have no furniture I feel that I’ve at last got underway with making some of the resources. My lack of furniture is causing me great frustration and I fear that I will be lucky if I am able to teach in there before the end of the academic year...but I keep reminding myself that the greatest resource you have is yourself.  If I have to carry around all my resources in a cardboard box then so be it. I will carry on doing what I’m trying to do regardless. It will come together eventually, I just have to keep some faith and keep chasing it.

The four month anniversary required some sort of celebration so I went to Steven and Mary’s house in Rwamagana for the weekend and we went to the ‘Dereva Hotel’ for steak and chips which was a lovely treat! We had a nice relaxing time and I helped Mary to make some resources for some methodology work she was planning to do with some local schools in Rwamagana. I have become quite expert at making bottle top counting strings already! I use a rock as a hammer to bash a nail through them and put them on pieces of plastic twine. Well heres to another month in Rwanda!

Making bottle top counting strings and clocks out of plastic lids on Mary and Steven's patio

More resource making

Thursday, 12 May 2011

The four carb combo at the restaurant of the sisters

Ok in all honesty I don’t think this post will be nearly as exciting to anyone else but I made an amazing discovery today. There is actually a restaurant of sorts in Nzige. Ok so you can only really order one meal and it probably contains the average person’s weekly carb intake but still, it was cheap and tasty, what more could a cash strapped too lazy to cook vso vol. want? Its run by the catholic sisters, an enigmatic bunch who I am still trying to find out about. Apparently two of them are in one of my senior 4 classes at the TTC and I hadn’t even noticed, something which the Ugandan tutors found quite unbelievable. What can I say, my ‘sister radar’ is just not well developed. I’m not good at looking at people and telling whether they are nuns or not. I mean come on, its not as if they were wearing the whole ‘sister act’ uniform!

My plate was a carbohydrate volcano of ibitoke (plantain), ibishyimbo (beans), spaghetti, (ifiriti) chips, (umuceri) rice and (ishu) cabbage, I just couldn’t eat it all so I may try to avoid the beans next time as I feel awful wasting food here. The four carb combo of plantain, spaghetti, rice and chips, common in Rwanda, is still strange to me despite living here for nearly four months. I still see no need for them all on one plate! Having said that I think its beginning to rub off on me as thinking about it I had two carbs in one meal yesterday, something I would seldom do at home. Who knows, will the four carb combo eventually stay with me?! I kind of hope not though...it made me ever so sluggish in class this afternoon!

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

A fun day in class

Today I had my teaching practice class, the lovely senior five science and mathematics for their weekly methodology lesson. I know you shouldn’t have favourites, but what can I say, I’m only human...  They were ahead of all the other classes so I spent the day making counting strings out of bottle tops and arrow cards and shapes out of plantain tree leaves so we could have a lesson on using resources in mathematics. We certainly had a lot of fun as these pictures show! It has inspired me to plan a similar session for the languages students on literacy resources. It was great to have such a fun lesson and reminded me that above all else that should be my aim. If I could just convince some of them that having fun in class is possible I will go home a very happy lady.

This job challenges me so much on a personal and professional level. Trying to be understood is such an uphill battle every single day when you are required to teach classes of up to 60 through most people’s third language and you are trying to introduce strange and unfamiliar ways of working. Some days you only see the challenges and they feel so serious and so huge you wonder if you can make even the smallest of differences out here. So its nice to take stock, look around the class and think ‘they are all engaged!’ That was what I liked to see in my class at home and here is no different. Learning here is so formal, it is a challenge for me to adapt my way of working because these students have mostly never experienced active, child centred learning. They have never had the chance to touch and handle resources and they are not used to being asked to work creatively or come up with their own ideas. And as people who know the ‘teacher Camilla’ will agree, I am nothing if not creative. So I do meet with a lot of blank and confused looks!

What I’m trying to do takes them right out of their comfort zone and sometimes I think I forget that and start to lose empathy when I’m trying to explain what I perceive to be a simple task for the fifth or sixth time, and they still don’t understand even when I painstakingly translate into French! But trying to listen all day in a language which is not your mother tongue is so exhausting, as I was reminded the other day when I had to listen to an hour and a half long staff meeting in French. Mind you I felt well chuffed because I sort of understood, but still, for the last half hour my poor brain was exhausted by the intense listening required to make sense of a foreign language. Its amazing that they actually ever do follow my lessons, they are very clever, the whole lot of them and they inspire me to keep on trying.

I remember reading a quote from a vso volunteer when they had finished who compared doing vso to a garden. You may prepare the soil and plant the seeds but the flowers will grow long after you have left...

Learning about thousands, hundreds, tens and ones using bottle tops.

Making numbers using arrow cards. Can't believe that plantain leaves worked so well for making them. I'll think plantain leaves are the most useful thing ever.

Counting using bottle top beadstrings

Measuring the length of plantain leaves

Bottle tops everywhere!
 Senior 4's work on 'why do teachers ask questions?' Why indeed.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Revenge of the birds

I did a bad thing a couple weeks ago. I got fed up of the birds which have called my resource centre home since before I arrived. They made mess all over my ‘what makes a good teacher’ display and my lovely rice sacks. So I stood on top of a chair on top of a table and I bashed the bird’s nest down with a metre stick (there were no birds inside at the time I hasten to add!). The birds just appeared to vanish and all was well for a while, that was until today. Today the birds came back. Further to this they appeared to be very angry. They kept flying into the corner where the birds nest was. Then they would repeatedly peck at the wall and fly with fury around the resource centre. They repeated this sequence continually. Then they would perch on the string I have put up to hang my rice sacks on and glare down at me.

If I chased them away shouting ‘bugenda!’ or ‘go’ they would leave for about 2 minutes and then come back and repeat the ritual. And this lasted all day. Its a wonder they didn’t die from exhaustion. I hope they get the hint and leave, I really do. Otherwise I fear I will end up looking for a water pistol next time I’m in Kigali and then they will be sorry. The birds are not going to win this one. No they are not. They are not even the pretty florescent green ones or cute little blue ones, they are boring ugly brown birds like the ones in England and there is no place for them in my resource centre. The other option is to make some kind of scarecrow, but seeing as they are not put off by real people shrieking at them I don’t think they would be scared by a calm still fake person. Ah the revenge of the birds, I hope I don’t have a weird larium dream about them tonight.  

Sunday, 8 May 2011

10 signs you’ve been in Rwanda a while...

1) You speak 3 languages on your walk to work and think nothing of it. You offer up your hand to anyone and everyone who wants to shake it in a variety of African handshakes. You say ‘Mwaramutse’ or ‘you’ve made it through the night’ and you no longer regard it as strange.

2) Even where there is a tap it doesn’t even occur to you anymore to try to switch it on. You’ve been disappointed just too many times...

3) You begin to write a recipe book ‘101 things to do with potatoes’ in an effort to be ever more creative with the humble spud.

4) You never leave the house without loo roll, a wind up torch and an umbrella. The essentials of life.

5) You have learned that just because you are going brown it doesn’t necessarily mean you are getting a tan. It just means you need to brave the bucket shower or wipe your face.

6) Your mouth waters every time you see a goat brochette (kebab) however charred and tough it may appear because you know its going to be your only fix of protein for the foreseeable future.

7) You become obsessed by cloud spotting in the rainy season. When the temperature drops and the tornado like wind begins you know it is time to stop what you are doing and run for cover.

8) You end up owning several cheap plasticy mobile phones because a) You can have an ‘ignore’ phone for those people you meet on the bus who you just can’t say no to when they ask for your phone number; b) you can constantly switch between the two mobile phone providers in an attempt to eek out your meagre volunteer allowance and c) because everyone else who is anyone over here has lots of mobile phones for some reason.

9) You actually feel relieved when the bus or moto driver stops for petrol before the journey has even begun. That way the odds of actually reaching your destination have tipped slightly in your favour.

10) You have become used to having to hold your motorbike helmet on with your hand, sometimes even both hands....

Friday, 6 May 2011

The day the muzungu ran again

Today I ran in the stadium for a second time. It was so much better! While there was still a group of young men staring at me singing ‘I like the way she moves’ there weren’t so many of them and none of the staring school kids. It was so good to be able to actually run and do some real exercise for once. However it had just rained so the ground was incredibly treacherous underfoot. I am quite sure that one of these days I will break a leg. I have already come close on two occasions. Once was in Kigali and I wasn’t looking at the pavement. Huge mistake. The pavement kind of disappears in some places and has huge holes that go down many feet. I started to lose one leg down a hole and just pulled it back from the brink. And today, running around the stadium I very nearly twisted my ankle on mud.

Well its the weekend. Its not going to be such a big one as the weekend before. I’ll go to Kigali tomorrow to talk about chimps (some non vso educational project, watch this space!) and on Sunday I’ll be back in the village. A couple of tutors have offered to accompany me to the church which so far I have failed to visit so that should be an experience! Little by little I’m starting to feel a bit more culturally integrated in Nzige. Its not easy and takes time, but slowly slowly I’m feeling a bit more confident around the village and people are regarding me with a bit more warmth. I actually went into one of the little claustrophobic shops today (which I seem to have a totally stupid and irrational fear of, don’t ask me why!) and it really wasn’t so bad after all. And I think I spoke my best Kinyarwanda ever at the market this week. So the week ends on a high J.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The day the muzungu ran...

Ok I can’t lie. My first run round the stadium was even worse than I expected. Literally the whole village stared at me! It was partly my fault. There was a big football match on when I first turned up (which I didn’t know about) between the local primary school and the neighbouring school so the place was packed out with kids. Now if it wasn’t for my running partner, a tutor from the TTC who took pity on me, insisting on doing at least a bit of running I would have bailed right then. But he had turned up to help me face it all so I didn’t feel it would be fair to just give up straight away.

However none of the kids were up for giving the running a go were they?! Its obviously the thing to do to prevent myself from being followed, they don’t seem so game when they have to run to keep up. I’m going to try again tomorrow. If its no better after a few days I think I might have to give up and do it in the mornings (when allegedly the place is completely deserted) at least until after the marathon is over. The place was literally so full it was very difficult to run. And although I’m getting quite used to being stared at there is a limit! There does come a point where it becomes so intrusive that its just not possible to concentrate on what I had gone there to do. However someone did shout ‘the muzungu is a good runner’ which made me feel slightly better!  Then being followed home by loads of giggling kids didn’t help my dark mood...kind of lost the ability to take part in the ‘Child: good morning (at 5pm), Camilla: après midi good afternoon, Child: how are you?, Camilla: I’m fine, how are you?’ exchange as I was hot and red and out of breath and just not up for it. Cranky old muzungu...

Monday, 2 May 2011

My first bilingual lesson

Well I never thought I would ever end up teaching through another language in just three months of being overseas but today I finally got brave and gave it ago. The legacy of French speaking here means that in reality most of the TTC students understand French better than English. By the time they have got to senior 5 (the second year of the TTC) most of them understand English fairly well, but the new students in senior 4 seem to have absolutely no idea what I am talking about! So I thought seeing as I am here to teach methodology and not English (although I inevitably do end up doing a bit of that!) I will do whatever it takes to be understood. I hate not being understood and I know they must find it frustrating not to be able to understand.

The only way I can do it is to translate the key headings and instructions beforehand in French. I’m still not at the stage of being able to respond well ‘live’ to anything thrown at me in French, although I have got to the stage that when I hear a French conversation I can often understand about half of what is said, well sometimes a little less, it depends on the context! The students thought my French was hilarious but they did at least seem to find it helpful. Especially as I was preaching on at them about the importance of learning English, I thought that perhaps it was time to explain that I have a lot to learn as well!

It wasn’t as awful as I imagined, trying to teach in French, but it felt much scarier than teaching in the mother tongue. I think its the fact that you worry about making too many mistakes and getting all tongue tied. It doesn’t help that they laugh at you also, but they do that when I speak English anyway so perhaps it is just me and not my language...well the way I’m looking at all this language learning is that if my awfulness in Kinyarwanda and/or French makes people laugh then at least I have brightened up someone’s day. At the end of the day you only improve by taking a deep breath and giving it a go, no matter how silly you sound. There is a real culture here of never making a mistake. Mistakes are seen as the end of the world and therefore people are often reluctant to try things for fear of making a mistake and losing face, hence why some students tent to opt out of participating. While I know I’m unlikely to change this completely I would like to show them that mistakes are not the end of the world even if people do laugh at you!

No pain, no gain...she who dares wins...a glass of amarula cream will be drunk this eve to celebrate my linguistic bravery ;-)

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Land of hope and glory

Wow what a fun weekend! It started off with me making union jack flags in my resource centre because I couldn’t find any students to teach, God knows where they all were, I sure didn’t, followed by indulging in my favourite passion – spending too much money at the craft market (there are some beautiful things made in Rwanda, I guarantee you will have some gorgeous Christmas prezzies when I finally come back) and ended with an outrageous hangover.

On Friday I attended the Royal wedding garden party at the new British high commissioner’s house in Kigali. Oh my god. They had Pimms!!! It was such a taste of home. They also had a free open bar full of imported wines and canapés of cheese on toast, sandwiches , mini Yorkshire puddings with roast beef and sticky toffee puddings. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven, it was magic. They played land of hope and glory and clips of the Royal wedding on a big screen in the garden which was lit up by fairy lights. I spoke to the high commissioner and his wife very briefly and we established that I had the perfect name for such an occasion. It was lovely to be able to dress up and celebrate all things British. It amazing how much you miss your own culture when you are taken somewhere which is so completely different.

After that we went to the Ethiopian restaurant lallibella for Rachel’s birthday which I have raved about in previous blog posts. And then my memory starts to fade a little. We ended up at this club nearby where they played some really fun music, all the world cup songs from the summer and pop music we knew from home. Had a great time dancing.

Unfortunately I then got a huge piece of glass stuck in my foot. And boy did it bleed. Despite my fabulous American nurse Erin doing her best, we just couldn’t get it to stop. They didn’t have any plasters or bandages so we had to go around the club looking for them. I didn’t realise it was quite so bad until the other volunteers noticed that I was leaving blood footprints all over the concrete outside. The only compensation was that I did attract a crowd of good looking concerned young men, there is nothing like a damsel in distress. Although all they said was ‘this is Africa’, not the most helpful response! Well that has put paid to my running for a few days. I am now able to put some weight back onto my foot but its still sore. Still I expect I will make a full recovery soon.

The High Commissioner's house

VSO volunteers (clockwise from front left): Rose, Louise, Rachel, Pauline, Tammy, Kathy and me.

Everyone watching the Royal wedding

Our new British High Commissioner and his wife

Girls just like to have fun.....