Wednesday, 29 June 2011

When the lights go out...

Well I’m going to type this quickly because I want to have enough power left in my laptop battery to watch another episode of gossip girl. I know that gossip girl is really stupid but I’m hopelessly addicted to it. You get drawn into their vacuous world like a kind of escapism. As you’ve guessed the power is off and its been off all day. My diet today consisted of a marmite and fake laughing cow sandwich with stale bread for lunch followed by cold 24 hour old pasta with fake laughing cow cheese triangle mashed in. Oh how I wish I could just get into my car and drive to a pub! Fortunately I have a whole bag of Haribo which I bought in Kigali with me, its all thats keeping me going.

It gets lonely here too, sat all alone in the dark. I tried to write out some words from my Kinyarwanda lesson yesterday but I couldn’t see. So I rang lots of friends but now I have no airtime left. I would have a candlelight disco bucket shower but it would have to be a cold one.

I did have an interesting day though, trying to teach the students to play snakes and ladders and other games. While it took a lot of explaining and demonstration ‘this is a dice and this is how your throw it’ etc I can honestly say I’ve never heard whoops of joy while people play snakes and ladders before! We worked in the TRC classroom for the first time. We had to sit on the floor due to the lack of furniture but it was kind of nice in a way.

Right onwards and upwards. No power is required to drink waragi and passion fruit squash!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Big Ben

I know its a strange thing to say but my life has been changed by a giant water bucket. He is big and green and my most prized possession, I feel a similar love for my water bucket as I did for my car back in the UK. Therefore just as gave my car a name I have now given my water bucket a name, Big Ben, on account of his enormous size.  The reason I love him is because he has just made my life so much easier. Now I can hoard water in my house. Therefore when the water runs out in the village I don’t have to join the mad dash of people literally running with buckets and jerry cans down the dirt track. I’m not good at running with a jerry can, not that I ever really do as I get someone to fetch my water for me, but still it gives me peace of mind...not that I have to worry at the moment. Considering it is supposed to be the dry season it is incredibly wet.

It rained so much today that I was literally rained in, in my house. In some ways it is a similar fate to being snowed in, in the UK in that the tracks become too treacherous to walk or drive a motorbike along. Because all the tracks round my way are made out of mud, (some of my TTC kids have never seen a tarmac road!) when it rains hard and continuously for more than a few hours they become very slippery and unsafe. The wet mud sticks to your shoes so you have no grip and its a bit like skating on ice.  A few brave souls will still try to get down the tracks but most people hibernate. Fortunately when it rains here its not usually for much more than 20 minutes, an hour at most so it doesn’t normally disrupt your day too much but today it rained hard and solidly from 7am until about 5pm so every track was a red river.

Some poor little girl was stood out in the rain in her short sleeved school dress, looking obviously very cold and miserable with her shoulders hunched and no jacket or umbrella which kind of broke my heart. Especially when I remember the battle I used to have to get kids back home to even wear a coat, I don’t think these children would need to be persuaded! Its little things that you see like that that remind you of the poverty here. I take it for granted that I can always be relatively warm and dry, I don’t think I will anymore. Although people say when you return back home you do eventually take all these things for granted again, and I’m sure I will...but hopefully some of the lessons learned will stick.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

I’m looking at the man in the mirror...

Well quite a bit has happened since my last post. For starters Darryl, another vso volunteer who works in the field of Special Educational Needs came to talk to my S6 students about disability. He did some fabulous sign language with them, although one of the student’s signs for the word ‘woman’ was less than wholesome! Further to this he came and delivered loads of resources for the TRC that have been sat at the VSO office since Easter as I have been unable to find a way of getting them back to the village due to the lack of public transport and it being too heavy to get on  moto. I can get most things on a moto these days but a rice sack bigger and heavier than a person and an enormous crate of books is too much even for me.

Then on Friday I did some consultancy work for the Teacher Service Commission in Kigali. My CV had been sent by VSO to them and a Canadian NGO apparently and they had selected me and three other volunteers to work with them. We are going to be writing a resource centre manual for UNICEF’s child friendly schools in Rwanda. Its going to be quite a bit of work (and the hundreds of dollars worth of consultancy fees we will be earning all have to be given back to VSO, booooo!)  but its a great opportunity to work on a personal level in a small group with people from the Ministry of Education, Kigali Institute of Education and UNICEF so I feel very lucky.

The weekend was passed in a haze of partying. It was Tammy’s birthday (fabulous volunteer friend) and she had hired a live band to play for us. It was lovely sitting out in the sun surrounded by trees listening to live music, beer (or waragi and tonic) in hand. The evening was spent at Papirus dancing the night away. I must admit, people watching in a Rwandese nightclub is totally fascinating. The first strange thing that struck me was the way that people love to dance opposite a mirror. Now if I accidentally catch a glimpse of myself dancing in the mirror I usually move myself so I cannot see, but here people literally dance at the mirror as if it was their dance partner...I only have the courage to do that behind closed doors!

Another strange thing I also discovered that night was that people in Rwanda love Dolly Parton and Kenny Rodgers. American country music in Rwanda....who’d of thought it? I just never expected to hear that country twang in Africa. I am also starting to learn the words to some of the simpler and more repetitive Rwandan pop songs like Bella, Bella, Bella and Dugadugadugadugadugadoo Dugadugadugadugadugadoo which is making me feel very culturally integrated. In fact they have started to go round and round in my head as I hear them so I can feel pleased with my progress in learning Kinyarwanda especially as someone said to me that it is the 14th most difficult language in the world to learn. God knows where they got that statistic from but it makes me feel less stupid so I’m going to believe it J

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Two out of three ain’t bad...

Since arriving in Rwanda I’ve developed a pre-occupation with toilets. I know, its a sign of an enquiring mind gone too far, but it keeps me distracted from the horrors of having to walk past peeing men, avoid puddles on the floor and trying to shut doors that won’t shut when nature calls. The rating system goes: 1 point for a flush toilet that actually does flush, 1 point for toilet paper (like gold dust, really it should be more), and 1 point for a door that locks. If you get one out of three its ok, two out of three ain’t bad, and obviously the whole three points is amazing. The TTC staff toilet gets a one...and the one at my house gets a two on account of the door and the toilet paper when someone doesn’t steal it...I’m sure someone pinches my toilet paper on the weekends, seriously I’ve started to lock it in my house!

Well in one such three starred toilet at La Galette in Kigali I noticed some rather interesting signs. I can’t decide if they are meant to be taken seriously or not....did they just download them from the internet and think that they were serious signs, or does the owner have an unusually well developed sense of humour? I guess I will never know as I don’t know enough French (all the menus and stuff are in French there) or have enough courage to ask...I particularly like the one of the man fishing in the toilet.

Monday, 20 June 2011

It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness...

 In the usual fashion on Friday morning at 8.10 I found out I was going on a school trip at 8.30 across the other side of the country. The trip was to a model school for including children with disabilities with an NGO called Handicap International. Now if I thought my welcome at the airport when I arrived was impressive it was nothing in comparison to this one. We had a whole welcoming committee and ceremony! The children sang and danced for us and we were shown around their classrooms and resource centre.

I have to say I was truly inspired. On the face of it this looked like an ordinary school, just like any other rural school in Rwanda. It was a long way off the main road and not in a wealthy town suburb. Some of the classrooms still had mud walls and class sizes were big. But what made this school different was the way that all children were celebrated and included in the school, regardless of whether they had a disability or not. Disabled children in the school were asked questions in class just like and any other child. Some of the disabled children at the school were brilliant dancers and they were encouraged to show their talents in front of everybody. The staff were warm and caring towards all the children there and the children themselves seemed so calm and happy.

 It just goes to show that its not money and its not fancy buildings that make a good school but creativity, a caring ethos and good leadership. They had the most wonderful little resource centre with the Braille alphabet made out of bottle tops and a map of Rwanda made out of peas and beans for visually impaired children. I made my second impromptu speech in two days in front of about a thousand people (its funny how you kind of get used to doing this!) and I told them all what a great place it was. When they gave us an amazing singing send off I was close to tears, if only all children here could go to a school like this, it shows such hope.

This weekend I also went with Trisha to visit Joan, another vso volunteer who lives high up on a mountain top in Byumba. It was very interesting to see another part of the country and we had a great time chatting and catching up. We walked to the TTC and Joan had done a great job of making rice sacks for teaching her students, some of which I’m going to copy for sure! We also had a good wander around, enjoying the views and we met some very cute children keen to have their picture taken!

Our welcome at the school

These children were more interested in me than their lesson!
 Bottle top Braille, an idea I am already in the process of copying

 The children watch their peers dance

The hills of Byumba

Cute children collecting firewood in Byumba

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

White coats, mice and general hysteria

Today I finally relented and conceded to teach my lessons in the TTC wearing a white lab coat. If you can’t beat them join them. I must admit I never saw the benefits of teaching lessons wearing a white coat unless you are a science teacher, but today I changed my mind and this is why. Once again I was wearing black because I think it makes me look slightly scarier and more intimidating to teenagers. And once again I ended up wiping white chalk all down myself and making said teenagers laugh so totally reducing my scariness. And then I had a eureka moment. If I wear a white lab coat the chalk will go on that and not my clothes!

Further to that I can pretty much wear what the hell I like and no one will see, so if I am wearing that t-shirt with bits of tomato and flour all over it for the third day in a row because I’m too lazy to do my hand washing then no one needs to know. And the final benefit of wearing a lab coat to teach in is that it has pockets to put things in. How very useful seeing as I never seem to wear clothes with pockets in any more.  Now instead of thinking its bizarre I’ve come to see that teaching in a white coat is the best idea ever.

Now unfortunately the day took a turn for the worse in my Kinyarwanda lesson when a mouse ran through my door and round my house. There is nothing worse. Spiders, yeah whatever. Snakes, hmm...well don’t come to close but I’m not really bothered. But mice and rats make me want to hurl with their disgusting little tails, screwed up horrible thin faces and ability to run at you really fast. Well that was it, I couldn’t learn anymore. After chasing it round the house with a broom screaming my Kinyarwanda teacher realised that the lesson would never end unless she got rid of it so she did the deed. The trouble is I’m having nightmares about it coming back as there are gaps under all my doors. At least they can’t fit through mosquito nets J.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

The TRC’s first event

Yesterday was a monumental, landmark day for the TRC. It had its first official event, Steven and Mary came down from the district office in Rwamagana to hold a workshop in the TRC for head teachers. We had to borrow furniture from the computer room and I must have re-arranged it a fair few times but I think it looked good in the end. It was quite a hard day as it was Friday and everyone was feeling tired but the workshop was successful and the evaluation forms were really good. I can’t wait to have my own furniture in the TRC and be able to teach in there, it is going to make such a difference. It was lovely to see people exploring and enjoying the resources and it gives you the motivation to carry on with it all. I think that seeing as a few months ago there was no glass on the windows, no electricity and a pile of rubble on the floor the TRC had come quite a long way.

I did have my own slot in the workshop on using resources to support learning which I think went down well. I showed them how to use rice sack posters and bottle top counting strings in a maths lesson. In the evening we went to my bar across the road for a celebratory bottle of Primus. I am spending my second weekend in a row in Nzige which is quite impressive seeing as before this point I had left the village every single weekend.

 I am definitely feeling more at home here, although there is not a great deal to do on the weekends so I still expect that most of the time I will go off on my travels at the weekend. It lovely to have visitors to go exploring with and to the bar and to not be the only one being stared at all the time! I’m hoping that now I have an extra mattress more people will be persuaded to visit my residence in ‘middle earth.’

Steven in full workshop teaching mode

Me looking like Carol Voderman adding up the results of a group task done by the headteachers

Teaching about using teaching resources

A young headteacher explores the 'television'. A resource made by my Ugandan colleague for teaching young children their letter signs

Heateachers looking at mathematics resources

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Who’s sleeping at the muzungu’s house?

Today I was once again the main topic of gossip in the village. Its funny how you can tell even in a language you can’t understand. It all centred around my mission to buy a mattress for Steven and Mary’s visit to Nzige this weekend. There is no way its possible to sleep on that floor without one, you would probably get bits of peeling paint stuck to your nose and a very sore backside.

So once again I ventured out into the baffling world of the village centre. Now it is not just a case of going to a shop, picking something up and buying it. Oh I wish it was that simple. First of all you have to work out which of the identical looking shops sells what you want. I never get it right first time. Usually I get a colleague to help me to write what I want in Kinyarwanda. Then armed with this piece of paper, I will go to the first shop I come across. 9 times out of 10 they don’t have what I want, but most of the time they will direct me to someone who does. Then you have to find out how much it is. They say the number impossibly quickly in Kinyarwanda. Then they say a completely different (usually higher!) number in French. So then I usually get them to write it down. Most of the time I bargain a bit, especially for something expensive like a mattress, but I’m not particularly good at it.

Well buying a mattress was a right saga. I stupidly went at lunchtime on market day. Big mistake as there are many more people than usual around. When word got round that the muzungu was buying a mattress the tiny shop filled up with interested onlookers. I swear I had about 20 children (and a few adults!) watching my every bargaining move. As soon as I walked down the road carrying it I knew there would be trouble.

I heard a trail of whispers....probably something like this....look at the muzungu carrying that mattress...why is she buying a mattress?...someone must be sleeping at her house....who’s sleeping at the muzungu’s house?....does this mean the muzungu has finally got a boyfriend? (everything ultimately comes back to this question) it anyone we know?....I can’t wait to see their reaction to there being more muzungus, it will be very interesting!

Friday, 3 June 2011

A day in the life of a TTC methodology and resources trainer

At our TTC volunteer gathering on Monday we discussed describing a day in the TTC for the new volunteers. It is different for all of us, so I thought I’d start by describing my typical day (if there is any such thing!) At 7.40 I leave my house, usually with a backpack of stuff on my back. I make the 5 minute walk to work. Children often follow me to the TTC dressed in their blue dresses and mustard coloured shorts and trousers, and I usually take the opportunity to practise my Kinyarwanda with them. I shake hands with quite a variety of people along the dirt track, and I often get my legs bear hugged by a few very cute pre-schoolers.

When I arrive I walk to the secretary’s office to sign my name. The working day officially starts at 8. If I do not have a class for the first period, like today, I walk to the Teacher’s resource centre (TRC) and do some resource making or lesson planning. Today I taught a lesson on disability to two senior 6 classes in the second and third periods. Senior 6 are the eldest students in the TTC, in their last year of upper secondary school. At the end of October they will be either leaving to become Primary school teachers or they may go on to further education.

As the topic was disability I set to work with finding various ways of simulating disability with my students. I wanted them to begin to know how it would feel to be disabled. There is very little awareness here of the rights of disabled children so apart from being a bit of fun this was really intended as an empathy building exercise. Some of the things they had to do was pick up pieces of corn with their fingers taped together, write the alphabet blindfolded, catch with one arm and standing on one leg and respond to instructions written back to front and with the letters the wrong way around. I have to say that this was definitely the most fun lesson I’ve done. It was great to see such energy from the students and genuine smiles! One student said ‘it was very interesting’ and I couldn’t agree more. I was surprised by how well they could catch with one arm behind their back and standing on one leg!

After teaching my lessons I head to the staffroom for break time. This is the most social time of the day as all of the staff are there. We drink some African tea and sometimes we have bananas to eat. The African tea is loaded with milk and sugar and although it took me a while to get used to it I now wouldn’t be without my morning sugar fix. The staffroom is busier than usual because we have trainee TTC/Secondary teachers doing placements at our college at the moment. My camera causes quite a stir so one of the tutors asked me to take a picture of him. He is stood with the staff notice board in the background in case you were wondering what that was!

I then go to the computer room to search the newly installed internet for images related to disability in school for senior 6’s lesson next week. I check my email quickly before heading to the secretary’s office armed with my flashdrive in the hope I can print. My luck was in today. By now its lunchtime. I head home as all the tutors in my TTC go home for lunch. I re-heat last night’s pasta dish on my hotplate, eat up and then go back to work.

In the afternoon I had no classes today so I made some bottle top counting strings and started to plan for next week. I discovered that the bursar has a colour printer so I printed off some photos of the students at work from this morning for making a photograph display. I know the students will love it! I also discovered a brand new globe still in its box and some plastic 3D shapes covered in dust at the bottom of a box which I will clean and use in the TRC. Its amazing what you find. Because many organisations send just stuff rather than people to explain the stuff, things tend to sit around unused because no one really knows what they are (including me at times, I hasten to add!). After doing a bit more resource making its nearly 5pm so I tidy up and head home along the dirt track, saying my usual round of greetings in French, Kinyarwanda and English.  

I then usually relax for a bit with a cup of tea before trying to make dinner. Sometimes I’ll write my blog, sometimes I’ll have a Kinyarwanda lesson, otherwise I’ll learn some French, watch some TV on my hard drive or read a book. Before long its time for bed and another day!

The students try to pick up corn with their fingers taped together
 Trying to catch with one hand and on one leg!

 Writing the alphabet blindfolded

 In the staffroom
 An African staffroom for all those who were wondering what one looked like

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The miraculous day at work

Ok so I know that ever since I’ve started this job I’ve been constantly harping on about the challenges, bit like a broken record really, so for once I’d like to share some work related joy. Today absolutely everything went right (well apart from having to tell a kid off for drawing on his book with marker pen, but thats insignificant in the grand scheme of things). In fact I swear more things have gone right today than in the whole previous term and a half. This is after cracking a mirror at the weekend which is supposed to lead to 7 years of bad luck, so its even more amazing.

Miracle 1: When I arrived at school I went into the computer room and the internet worked, oh ye of little faith.
Miracle 2:  I went to the principal’s office and he was there.
Miracle 3: Further to this he said that the carpenter had received his cheque for the furniture advance from vso without me having to chase it again.
Miracle 4: There were two more tables waiting for me for my resource room so I had more places to put things. By now I’m reaching cloud 9.
Miracle 5: Groups of students came in to look at my newly re-arranged resource centre. They were so sweet. I have now got a rug in the corner and they took their shoes off to stand on it and play with all the newly organised resources. They were genuinely enthralled by all the models and maps and things to play with. One student said (in spite of the new super duper internet connected computer room next door) that ‘this room is more special in our school than all the others’. Bless her, every time I feel that none of them give two hoots about resource making or child centred methodology I will remember this one comment. It was just such an uplifting moment.

Well I’m off to have a celebratory fake laughing cow toasted cheese sandwich. I worry about what vast quantities of Egyptian fake laughing cow is doing to my insides. It doesn’t require a fridge, just like the margarine here. And the mayonnaise keeps for months without a fridge...there is something just not right about these foods. They have a bizarre consistency for starters, and a waxy taste, and the margarine never seems to melt...odd...

I have no bookcases or cupboards or anything yet so I've started to peg things up on long strings.

I've put a rug in the corner to use as a space for resource making and to make it feel a bit more homely. All the tutors are confused by why I would want to do this!

We have a model making table and the other new table now had boxes of resource making materials such as craft knives, scissors and marker pens (all transported in my backpack on the back of a moto).