Monday, 1 May 2017

Hippo Hunting

It’s 3:40 am. I ‘m sitting bed with a coffee and my lap top (and a few uninvited, unwelcome mosquitoes) It’s not unusual for me to be awake at this time, I’m not a proficient sleeper. But it is somewhat unusual for me to resort to coffee and typing.
The dog is howling and yapping in the ‘garage’, in the near and far distance a variety of other  mutts are howling and barking, for whatever reason they deem best. 
But we at on the corner of Burugane and Nwarante are up and about because a HIPPO just strolled by!
It’s been happening for a while. Every so often our worker will tell us about the hippo who wanders through Kinindo at night. We nod kindly, and think   ‘ Yeah, in your dreams.’  Alli (housemate) had asked that he wake her next time it goes by.
Tonight, the knock on the window came. The hippo is outside. Alli leaps up, knocks on my door (I’m awake so I leap up)  And out we shoot! Onto the road, clad only in night clothes; two ‘post-50’ women, bare foot, in the middle of the night, dashing around hippo spotting.
Sorry no Hippo, picture. But me visiting pig purchased by Hinckley Baptist Church, to replace the previous one that had been fried by a lightning strike!
It was amazing, there just yards away, a full grown hippo, sauntering down the road, munching the plants and plodding on, turns and casually acknowledges our presence. Unimpressed, it returned to its munching and then wandered on. Alli’s camera is flashing away. (Sadly, nothing but darkness shows on any of the pictures)  I’m remembering all those ‘facts’ about how fast a hippo can run. Fortunately, this hippo, either hasn’t watched the documentary or is a not-up-for-running hippo.
 I also briefly wonder whether we are watching a Norman No Mates of the Bujumbura hippo population or Percy Plenty Pals!  What if there is another one quietly padding up behind us? I have a quick check, but it looks like this is Norman’s time to be out in town.
So, I can’t just jump out of bed at 3:30am, watch a hippo pass by, then crawl back into bed and go to sleep. If anything qualifies as a ‘Blogging plot’ this surely does.
Unrelated again. Teaching English at Saturday Wezesha Kids Project.

We are into Day 7 of no power at home. I was thinking I’d check when I last Blogged. But it’s not possible. Oh yes, even though I’m post-50, I do know about Hot Spots on the phone. However, knowing is not enough. My phone or my service provider has decided not to play. It doesn’t want to go the final step and allow me to connect. But enough of boring ‘technical moans’.
I’m now approaching the end of my fifth year in Burundi and still enjoying new experiences.
Last week, I had the dubious pleasure of extracting a Mango fly larva from the back of my housemate! It all started with the very mundane,  ‘can you have a look at this on my back?’  With my move to Bujumbura came my introduction to the world of Boils. Maybe it’s the climate or the dust, or ………………..  But for some reason boils are a routine.
Didn't think you'd want to see the boil! But here's another of my very rare Nursy moments. Broken arm falling out of a tree, during lunch break.
So I look at the not-so-attractive red lump on the back of my house-mate. It could be a boil, not really sure. Let’s say it is. Over the next few days the let’s-call-it-a-boil grows, develops a large infected area around itself. But shows no real signs of coming to a ‘head’ ( the proper behaviour for any self respecting boil) A second opinion declares the let’s-call-it-a-boil to be in fact a Staf infection (??) treatment advised, covering it with a tar-like substance, to draw out the yukky stuff. Two days later, whilst changing the dressing, it appears that let’s-call-it-a-staf-infection-now has sprouted a sort of head. This calls for a tentative squeeze of the area. Further squeezing produces a small (I haven’t got my glasses on, so can’t see properly) something that looks remarkably like it might once have been alive. After, sending the photo to a friend via What’s App, we are informed it is in fact a Mango fly larva. Oh yuk! Yuk! Yuk! So that’s why the boil felt like it was wiggling under her skin!
Easter Holiday. Rowing on Lake Gihoa

It’s no longer 3 something am! It’s now the weekend. We have today purchased a new android phone, whose sole purpose in life will be to provide a ‘hot spot’ for our internet connection.  No more relying on the power being on to be able to get on-line. Next power cut that comes along, we are still part of the technologically advanced world.
I have now checked and seen that my last Blog, was in fact 6 months ago!  Oooops!
So now I have the task of dragging through my aging memory to think of things that have happened that were both Blog-worthy and politically neutral enough to share.
Perhaps the event that has most shaped my thinking over the past months is one that is not quite within the parameters of that which I usually want to share. It’s not funny or quirky, it’s doesn’t make me smile and I can’t think of a way to putting it into writing that will make it any of those things. It is serious, sad and for me was utterly heart wrenching.
One of the teachers at school, who I have increasingly become close to, crept into my office, back in November to say that she was pregnant. Great news, you might think. Actually, my heart lurched and feeling of dread spread through me. Why? because the previous three pregnancies had ended in miscarriages. We agreed to tell no one, but to commit to earnest prayer. Slowly the days went by. She passed the 8 week mark. No miscarriage. 12 weeks. No miscarriage. 15 weeks. Things were looking good. She began to look pregnant. 20 weeks, she’d made it past all previous miscarriage points.
 It felt like it was ok to begin letting people know. My own daughter-in-law had also announced during this time, that my 8th grandchild was due two days after Antoinette’s baby. Baby talk was becoming comfortable amongst the staff. We were planning for maternity leave. I was moaning about missing the birth of my last three grandchildren, because I was in Burundi, and now missing the arrival of the Burundi baby, because I’d be in England.
Then on the evening of Wednesday 29th March, came a text message that would change the course of events. Antoinette had noticed blood and gone to the hospital. A scan could find no heart beat. It seemed that the baby had died. She had been sent home from hospital to ‘wait and see’. I went along with a friend and colleague to be with her at home. The next few hours are ones that will be seared into my memory for the rest of my life.  The utterly raw, bitter emotions were over whelming. We prayed. We pleaded with God, for that tiny life to be, if not to be, then to be restored. We called on all that we knew of God. He is a God of miracles, blessing, life. We prayed, praised, hoped. We left Antoinette that night falling into an exhausted sleep.
The next morning when she went to the hospital for another scan our worse fears and dreads were confirmed. The baby was dead. Five months into this most precious of pregnancies, just at the point where we had dared to hope, all would be well, it was over.
As her Boss and friend I decided I should go to the hospital and ‘stand with her’ through the delivery of this cherished baby. What followed were hours of excruciating pain, physically and mentally. Fervent prayers. Around 8:30pm on Thursday 30th March, a tiny little boy was delivered; a vision that will be with me for a very long time. That tiny little body held so much potential for so much joy and healing; yet he lay there lifeless.
In the days that followed it was so hard to gather together all the questions and emotions. I have been a Christian for around 40 years, but still it was almost impossible to see the ‘sense’ in what had happened. So many events in my life have taught me to know that I don’t understand God’s ways. Many times I have had to humbly accept that ‘God’s ways are not my ways’. But this time seemed to push me to limits beyond myself. I was angry. I shook my fist at God. I stomped of, I turned my back on Him.
I knew all the platitudes to answer the questions, but they didn’t seem good enough this time. This time God had gone too far. He had breached the limits of sense and moved into nonsense, as far as I was concerned. I was falling into an abyss, where nothing made sense any more.
It was only when I heard Antoinette bravely declare, ‘He’s a good God’ that I was forced to drag myself back from my drop into oblivion. If she could in all the confusion and grief, still declare God to be good. Then so could I.
My faith is built upon knowing that there is somewhere a Good God. This is not all random, senseless, pain and joy. It is purposeful, meaningful, created life. There is over it all a God who understands and cares. Who has a plan and purpose. I don’t say that lightly. It still causes huge turmoil in me, that I can’t see the sense in so much that happens in my life and in the world. But I can only see two choices- it is either all random, meaningless happenings or it is created, purposeful life. The first needs no ‘God’, the second requires such a being, but not just a ‘being’, it requires a loving creator a Good God.
So we are now into Term 3 . Today (May 1st ) is Labour Day, a holiday. I’m looking out of the window, it’s gently drizzling. The sky is grey, the mountains are hidden. I’m looking out on a mango tree, papaya trees and a Coeur de Boef tree. Lenga lenga  and beans growing in the vegetable patch. It still amazes me that I live in ‘Africa’ . Sometimes I so wish I could meet myself of 20 years ago and tell her what is coming! 
Final unrelated!! Christmas holiday in Tanzania.Breakfast with Zebras.
Last week I walked into the Thursday Debate club and discovered about a dozen Year 1’s and 2’s sitting with glazed expressions listening to the older children debate. I made a quick decision to remove them to another classroom and start an impromptu Mini-Debaters Club. Great fun, when one of the ‘Honourable Speakers’ stood and addressed the ‘”Horrible Chairperson” !  The motion was, ‘Children should not be made to do homework.’  The Honourable Speaker went on to declare, that this was in fact true, because, ‘if you do too much writing when you get home it makes your arm hurt, then it makes you sleepy and then you start to feel ill.’  The next Honourable Speaker stood and proudly addressed the Horrible Chairperson, with the very persuasive argument, ‘I haven’t got any points.’
Oooops!  A little work needed there methinks.

Well I think that’s about it for now. Time to get on with some serious work, or maybe a cup of tea first, followed by some Turtle making, then some work.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

I Hope You Dance

It is the eve of the start of Week 4, Term 1, school year 2016/17. Things are just beginning to hit a 'routine', so I thought it was about time I got to grips with writing the 'Back to School' Blog.
Here are a few Snap Shots of my time so far....

 This is the regular scene in my office, at Break time, It is my twice daily encounter with what-it's-all about.
Monday, Wednesday and Friday I sit for what feels like hours around the table with the Leadership (Principal, Head of Secondary  and Head of Operation). Then Tuesdays, Primary Senior Leadership.  Sometimes I spend so much time in meetings, it begins to feel like the children are just an optional extra.
But then at 9:15 am and 11:15 am, my stodgy meeting saturated life gets blown apart by the Yellow invasion.
Suddenly all the heaviness of the decisions, dilemmas, and deliberations , dissipates. As those trophies are lifted, for the umpteenth time.And everything is investigated with enthusiasm and abandonment.
Last week, I was very earnestly informing Adarsh, that I was sorry, but I really was extremely busy and needed to continue what I was doing. When he equally earnestly,informed me that he wanted to see the Blue Poisonous Dart frog picture on the computer. Next thing, there he was sitting on my lap, moving the cursor off my 'I'm-too-busy' document and onto his, there-is-nothing-more-important-than-me icon!
 Since my move into the Head Teacher's office I have been exposed to a new and fascinating element of life, Jolly Phonics. During the Summer I actually attended a Jolly Phonics Conference in London.
So, I have now graduated from my false understanding of , a ..a..ants in my pants. To a...a..ants on my arm, causing me alarm!
Also, I have now  discovered, Jelly and jam, Jelly and jam, jiggling on the plate. Oh what will I eat with it? j....j....j...j..j (Action: Pretend to wobble like jelly on a plate, saying j,j,j,j,j)
Just one slight issue, we don't have JELLY in Burundi.So most of the children have no idea why they are wobbling.
Thus, one of my 'missions' this Summer was to purchase some jelly blocks to bring back for J day. I discovered that jelly no longer comes in blocks , it comes in little packets of granules, which are all very definitely Sugar Free!
Armed with my sachets, I eagerly anticipated J day in the Reception class.
Jelly and moto transport, interesting combination. Jelly and Bujumbura temperatures, somewhat sloppy combination.
Jelly tasting and small Burundian (Wise pictured above) Not-too-sure combination.

I have to confess that the above picture is in fact 'Staged'. I don't carry my camera at all times to make sure I have photographic evidence of all the strange things I land up doing. Sitting on the bike is Ashton (Burundian spelling Hatchiton) . On Tuesdays we have Clubs. Clubs finish at 4:30. But TIA, so at 5:45pm it is not too unusual to have a few 'left-overs'.
On our very first Tuesday back, it's 5:55pm and I am still waiting with Hatchiton. After a few phone calls , it is decided that I will transport said child to the house of one of the teachers, where he will wait until someone can come and get him. It is at these times that a little 'English' voice in the back of my mind starts wittering about, safety procedures and Risk Assessments. Next thing we are bumping along the road, Hatchiton wearing a rather large helmet, that may or may not stay on his head if he falls off. Me constantly asking him, if he's holding on  and telling him to yell loudly if he's going to fall off. The sight causing much entertainment to all on lookers in the Kinindo area.
Just in case you are wondering, he got there in one piece with all brain cells in working order.

I am now about to do some shameless, Fund Raising. The picture to the left is our present, Pets Corner.
I would very much like to develop this area. At the moment we have one Guinea pig cage. All the mummies and daddies together!! and a few babies!!!!
Next to them the rabbits. Mummies, daddies and babies. My plan is to have four larger cages and start a Family Planning System.
We want to transform the area into a place where the children can learn about Animal Husbandry, yes I deliberately said that, rather than Pet Care!
We also want to include an area for growing vegetables. But it all costs money. Not huge amounts. However, I don't often find myself in a position of having spare cash to put into projects like this. So if you read and feel moved to help , please do message me.
Finally, before you all nod off. This week I celebrated my birthday . I've had 5 birthdays since living in Burundi. The first was my 50th and I was caught very unawares by all the celebrations and demands that come with having a birthday. I was mortified that first year to find that at the Friday Assembly in the week of your birthday , you are required to go to the front of the assembly to be sung to and prayed for. No big deal? Ahhh, not until you have hundreds of children all clapping and chanting , DANCE, DANCE, DANCE!
I was utterly, traumatised that first year. So much so, that the next two years I managed to 'avoid' being at the assembly in my birthday week and the two following weeks , just to make sure.
Last year, presented a slight problem. Now I was the Head of the school. Can't really 'avoid' assembly. It took all my strength and resolve to make myself face the situation. But I did. When the DANCE chant came, I calmly informed the children that it was just not possible. I don't dance. Then in a moment of complete madness, I made them a promise that I would try and get myself to a point where I would dance , next year. You'd think after living for 53 years, I'd remember that years are very short!They go by, in a blink of an eye. And that's just what that year did. During the Summer it dawned on me that within weeks of returning to Bujumbura, I would need to be dancing.
Thankfully, my grandson Robert (5)has some pretty good moves. He does a great line in back seat dancing in the car, on the way to school. He taught me that it's just a case of 'letting go' and moving . Then, grand daughter, Megan (11) saved my bacon big time, by recording a very simple routine for me to copy. She did however break one condition I set. I did say when planning the moves to only move legs or arms, not both at the same time. I think I have a syndrome that makes it impossible for me to coordinate my top and and bottom half. I can still hear them yelling at me as a child, when trying to march in time down The Mall, for the Silver Jubilee.
Year 6 added the final support to my venture, by very quickly learning the routine and performing it at the assembly. So all I had to do was copy them.
Anyway, the end of it all, was the most incredible achievement of my life. I danced. I danced sober. I danced in front of 200 people. I didn't cry.  I danced. I finally managed to overcome all my hideous inhibitions, anxieties and paranoia and I danced. BUT, I think I might not be doing it too often. Video evidence, demonstrates a lack of coordination and fluidity in my movement. At 54 years old, I danced.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Moving into The Promised Land!

Embarking on my 5th year in Burundi. Moved into my 6th house. There have been some huge changes over the past four years.
The Front Door + Dog.
Firstly, it looks like this year's house is going to be my first real 'home'.
 For the first time, I'm not living in school accommodation, or lodging with friends or even house sitting for absent residents.
This house is one I've chosen to rent (with Alli). We chose it because it has everything we want and need (well almost).
So what did I want in a house? Light and space. What I really love, is space to walk all the way around the house.
As you can see, we have our very own little guard dog, Badger. I know he doesn't look like a Badger any more, but when he was born, he was black with a white stripe on his head.

Luxury bathroom. With fully intact, no cracks, toilet seat. As you can see, great colour co-ordination. White toilet, green bidet, beige bath and two tone floor tiles. Plus, bright orange toilet brush. Just one major draw back ....... no hot water !Back to cold showers. It is at least a hand held shower, so I am developing an elaborate system of washing using a flannel and minimal amounts of cold shower water directly hitting my body.
I know most of you are thinking...but isn't it so hot in Burundi that a cold shower would be nice? NO, NO, NO. Cold showers are never nice in my world. You are thinking of somebody else's world, not mine.
No, he's not usually allowed on the bed. It's a Saturday treat.
 So far no dramatic stories to tell of giant cockroaches or even late night ppppzzzzzzttttttting mosquitoes. Just one small bug, that did produce a large amount of blood, when squished. I rather think some of it may have been acquired from me at some point. But I have no evidence on my body to prove that theory, so I won't press charges. I suppose that means I may have executed an innocent bystander, whose only crime was to be crawling up the inside of my mosquito net. Oooops! Well let that be a warning to all bugs in my bedroom. In this room you are guilty until proved innocent and don't bank on being given time to prove your innocence.
Moving on to the kitchen, which contains everything a girl could need. Sink with cold tap. Cupboards, shelves, cooker. Ultimate luxury, a fridge freezer.
There is a slight absence of work tops, granted. The most frustrating thing we have found is that between us Alli and I have discovered we own not a single tea towel. When I think about the 100's of tea towels I have given a  home to over the past 30 years. It beggars belief that I have finally reached a point where I have not one left.
So for now it's all drip dry.

We inherited a dining table and chairs from the previous tenant.
As for the living room area, we decided to go to Budget, a large shop in Bujumbura that stocks just about everything.
The name Budget however, is a tad misleading. It is Budget, as in, have you got a huge one? If so, you might manage to purchase something in this shop. The average price of a living room suite turned out to be between 4 and 5 million francs.
We got on the moto and travelled to the Wood Working sheds of Mutanga Nord. Here we did our bit for the Burundian economy and ordered a traditional package of 3 seater, 2 seater, 2 single chairs, coffee table and 4 small tables all for the grand price of 600,000 fbu. Just got to wait until 21st of September for them to be made and delivered. A very kind friend at school has loaned us two arm chairs until then.
Alli is a tough Canadian and she had been excited by the prospect of being Bohemian and lounging on the floor with cushions for the next few weeks. Not I. My body no longer does Bohemian. It just does aching and cramping and things like that. I find myself saying things like, 'could someone help me up?' or  'I think I might be stuck here for a while.' So now we have two 'mobile' comfy (ish) chairs, that live on the balcony pre 5:30pm and living room, post 5:30pm. 5:30 is mosquito time.
So, here's the Promised Land link. The house is great. But the compound around the house is Awesome. My idea of heaven on earth is the facility to be able to relax and walk all around my house in the garden. Here I can do just that.

Left side

 Granted it all looks a bit bare just now. But it is coming to the end of the dry season. Soon, it will be green and growing.

It's hard to find fault with life, when you can wander all the way around your house in the garden.

It was a friend who referred to the house and garden being like finally reaching my Promised Land.
When I reflected on that, I realised that the Israelites waited 40 years to reach  their Promised Land, because they ticked off, God.
I briefly hoped that it wasn't the case for me, but realised quite quickly, I've done a fair bit of ticking off on my time.

I'm very grateful that even though we tick Him off, God is in the business of forgiveness and new starts. Pretty impressed with mine. I really hope that time and familiarity don't erode my appreciation.

Back - Mango tree
Right side, from back
Right side, from front
My second huge change, is that I am starting my second year as Head Teacher of The King's School - Primary.
Hopefully, I'll Blog further about that next weekend!

When I look at all the gloomy posts about teaching on Face book and talk to those returning to teaching in England this week, I realise how immensely blessed I am to be doing a job where I am excited to be going 'Back to school'.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Office Holidays.

Today is President Ntaryamira Day. I have just spent a little time reading up on exactly what that means. 
'On April 6, Burundians celebrate President Ntaryamira Day. It is a public holiday that commemorates the anniversary of President Cyprien Ntaryamira's death in 1994.'
'On April 6, 1994, Cyprien Ntaryamira died in a plane crash. The private Dassault Falcon 50 jet which belonged to Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana, a fellow Hutu, was shot down while landing at Kigali International Airport, Rwanda. The plane crashed, killing both presidents. Their death ignited the Rwandan Genocide.
President Ntaryamira Day is a solemn observance during which people reflect upon one of the most tragic events in the African history.'
Thus, it seems quite fitting that I am spending this 'holiday' in my office. Circumstances mostly beyond my control ( granted I could have said 'No') mean that I need to be at work and available, today.
 I was tempted to feel a little sorry for myself. Poor me, having to work today! But I am surrounded by others also giving up their 'holiday'. So I am neither unique, nor alone. Together with the fact that today is meant to be a day of reflection and solemnity, I no longer feel quite so hard done by.
I have also taken some strategic steps to help today feel 'different.
1. I have Highland milk to go in my coffee. No black stuff today.
2. I have Vanilla sugar instead of ordinary white sugar.
3. I am Blogging.
4. I have a sewing project. I'm not going to spend all day doing School work. In fact if I can manage it I'm not going to do any . But I am in my office, so that might not be possible.
Now I just have to get my brain to agree that although the surroundings are 'work' the circumstances are 'holiday'.  My brain's a bit dense with things like this. Not very adaptable. 
Knowing that I would be spending Week 2 of my Easter break in the office, I made the huge effort of having a 'mini break' last week. Towards the end of Term 2, I began to be aware of the fact that my daily life had become confined to a bubble that extended approximatley 5 miles from my home. School, church, Club du Lac. I know that for many living here, their bubbles ar even smaller. So I am not trying to play the 'woe-is-me' card. Even the fact that I get to go to Club du Lac to swim and relax, is a privilege denied to very many living here. But I had the feeling that during the Easter break I should take the opportunity to leave the city and venture  Up-Country. 
So at 8am, on the dot (even though we didn't have a deadline), Thursday 31st March 2016, together with my house-mate Alli, I escaped the confines of Bujumbura. Off we went, up the hill towards Gitega. 
We had a very loose agenda or mission. Alli had heard of a project running in Cankuzo province, where donkeys were being introduced to work on the land. Alli is somewhat of a donkey freak. Ever since she heard of there being donkeys in Burundi, she's been desperate to go and see them. 
Therefore, destination 1 was Cankuzo, about 4 hours drive from home. We have a luxury lunch stop at a town I can't remember the name of. Luxury lunch - bread & ibitumbura (Burundi doughnuts) and milk, in an Amata Neza Shack. The Milk shack offers, 3 glass sizes of milk , 1 litre, 700ml, 600ml and a choice of fresh or rancid, room temperature or cold. The total cost of our lunch 1200 fbu . What's that in £'s?  At present there are 2200fbu to £1. 
Amata Meza Shack - The one with a man outside
Shortly after lunch we were stopped at our first Police check. The very nice policeman at the Check point asked us where we were going... Cankuzo......would we like to take a passenger? The answer of course to that question has to be 'Yes'. We looked across to the small crowd of people waiting. A mother with a flock of smalls, a couple more policemen and a man with bags. Which one(s) we wondered? It was the man who approached when given the nod by the policeman. Fortunately, I've been here long enough now, to have released my 'Englishness' in such situations. It turned out that the young man was a doctor travelling home. He was completely harmless and pleasant.

But he did start a chain of very interesting 'Directions-to-find-theDonkeys'. It seems to be culturally wrong to ever admitt that you don't know where something is. So if you are asked if you know where the Donkey Project is in Cankuzo, it is better to make up an answer, than actually just say, 'Sorry I've no idea'. So our passenger, confidently, confirmed that there were donkeys in Cankuso and we would very easily find them opposite Coodec.
Unfortunatley, his drop off point arrived earlier than the easiliy found donkeys. 
We arrived in Cankuzo in the early afternoon and choose our hotel based upon the fact we liked the Zebras decorating the drive way. Cup of tea and we were set to visit the donkeys. Cankuzo is not a large place, one roundabout, four roads. Alli reliably informed me that Coodec is nearly always opposite the Commune. Easy. Drive to the Commune, but no Coodec. Never mind, another person who fortunately knows exactly where the donkeys are. Back to the roundabout, past the hotel, along the road and there they will be.
Off we go. The road starts as tarmac, very shortly becomes dirt. Then it goes on and on and on and on. Finally turning into a bumpy, muddy, windy track. With absolutely NO sign of donkeys. We come to a small village. And low and behold another person who knows with great clarity where the donkeys are! Just keep going along this road turn right then left and there they will be. At this point we ask, about how long will it take,  'about 2 hours!!. How long? It's now around 4pm.  Finally,as we approach an extemely steep bumpy descent,we call it a day, do a 20 point turn and head home.

My hotel room - 10,000 fbu a night
Discussions at the hotel, with a group running a project in the place to which we were heading, reveal that it is a tiny little communtiy and if there are donkeys there, they had never seen them! Ah.... so all those directions were in fact the route to see the incredible, invisible donkeys of Burundi!
Back to the drawing board with the donkey hunt then.

Day 2 found us on the second part of our mission. I'm a little skeptical now, as it is another 'search' based activity. Alli has lost Eric. Eric is a young Street boy, who a few months ago was fortunate enough to come across Alli and with her help get placed in a programme that helps Street children. Sadly, after settling in extremely well for 3 months he suddenly disappeared in February.  Alli had a feeling he might have tried to return to his home town, to find his father. His home town being, Gisenyi, in the very north of the country. Another 2 hours drive Up-country.

At least this part of the journey involves driving through the Ruvubu National Park. After being rewarded with a great view of a troop of monkeys, we stop off and have a little trek into forest.Find nothing but big footprints (of cow like things) and insects. But we felt awesomely, intrepid, out in the wilds of Africa all on our own.

I won't go into all the details of the  Eric search, other than to say it was almost as fruitless as the Donkey search. But involved a lot less wild goose chases.

However, on Day 2, Apirl 1 2026, my 6th Grandchild appeared in the world! Riley Eleanor Salmon arrived at 12:40, while I was trekking in the forest.

After, the failure to find Eric, we decided to head home. The whole journey made somewhat stressful, by the discovery at another Police check, that Alli's driving licence expired in December 2015.  Fortunately, the young policeman who made the discovery was happy to accept a small gift to allow us to continue unhindered. The next 5 Police checks were , Master Classes from Alli, in how-to-talk-your -way-through-a-Police-check-without-allowing-them-time-to-ask-for-your-documents. Alli might be rubbish at finding things, but she's a genius talker.

As darkness drew in, we flew down the mountain from Bugarama at break neck speed. I was heard to whimper at one point,' It would be nice to arrive home alive!'. Over taking container lorries on mountain roads, still not something I am at ease with.

Well it's 2:30 pm . I have just about completed this Blog, finished the sewing project and drunk 5 cups of coffee. That leaves 2.5 hours for soloemnity. Think I might pop into town on the moto and get the ingredients for making volcanoes.

3:30pm. Shopping trip on National holiday not such a great idea. I've given my bestest smiles to lots of heavily armed policemen and soldiers.
My shopping list - Vinegar, baking powder and liquid soap.
First shop, Bon Prix  - closed. Second shop - Carre Four - open . No vinegar, no baking powder. Just liquid soap. Third shop, Italbu  - closed. Fourth shop, Engen - open. No baking powder. Just vinegar. Fifth shop , Chez Shiva - closed down. Sixth shop, the-one-by-Pont-Muha-on-route-Rumonge - no longer a shop!
 On my way home I will try Payless (which is not actually called Payless anymore, but everyone still calls it Payless, because that's what it used to be called and no one likes the new name.) If they don't have any, I will try the Indian shop (which got it's name because it was owned by an Indian family. But they've left Burundi now and it's owned by Burundians, but we still call it the Indian shop, because it's too hard to identify it any other way!!)

Sometimes I do miss Asda ( or Tesco, or Sainsburys, or Morrisons, or Waitrose, or Aldi, or Lidl)

Friday, 25 March 2016

Bullets in the Bedroom!

Just read through my last Blog from September 2015. My final line said something about Blogging more regularly. That was 6 months ago!
It's Good Friday. I have just completed my second Term as Head Teacher, with 0 days off sick. Granted, my body does feel a little less than great today. I have a sneaking suspicion that my face seems to inspire people to make the comment, 'you are going to rest now aren't you?'
But I've made it. We've made it. The King's School, Bujumbura, Burundi has survived two terms, in one of the hardest periods of time in the country. 
There have been so many challenges, I have at times begun to feel like the ball-bearing on a pin ball machine.  Many days where I have reached that point where I know I've got to laugh, rather than cry. 

Term 1 (September) found us with just under 50% of our pupils across the whole school. But all the 'signs' were good. Lots of people believed that Burundi was going to settle down and things would slowly get better. So we started back at school with a real sense of hope and expectation. Numbers would rise, slowly. We just needed to tighten our belts and ride the storm. 
I began to get used to the sound of gun fire at night. I began to be able to identify the different weapons used by the various factions trying to sort out their problems in the wee small hours. At school we learned to be compassionate to 'tired' children, who'd had disturbed sleep. Most mornings began with a .....'did you hear?  .....story.  But, life went on. Term 2 would come and lots of children would return to Burundi, and all would be well.
Unfortunately, nobody told the people here, who were having the significant disagreements with one another, that story.
Not a big bullet, I know, but big enough for me.
So, in the early hours of Friday December 11th, the shooting became even more intense than usual. I was lying in bed trying to work out just how close it was, when there was an especially loud bang. It made me jump, quite significantly. It almost sounded like it was in the room. But I remembered what I’d been told about it being very loud if the shooting got close. So, I assured myself that this must be in fact just how loud it got. I laid in bed, determined not to be pathetic and wake up the others in the house. The shooting continued for the rest of the night. This was clearly a change from the normal procedure. I woke around 5am, still feeling a bit shaky. The phone messages started, school start delayed........delayed again. I did my usual early morning stagger from bed to bathroom. Shower. Then stood on the mat next to my bed, looked down to the floor and something caught my eye. Surely, not!? There, lying about 3 ft from my bed was a bullet. I looked up at the ceiling and there indeed was a nice bullet shaped hole. That loud bang ......was a bullet coming through the roof, through the ceiling and landing next to my bed. No wonder it had been so loud. No wonder it sounded like it was in the room. IT WAS!! There followed some very shaky, excited waking up of everyone else in the house.
(Apologies to my family who haven't heard that story - it seemed best to wait a while to tell it)
Sadly though, the effect of  December 11th on the school was very nearly devastating. No more steady return of students. Finally, the families who were just about coping with the difficulties, had enough and called it a day. No more back to normal, coming for Term 2.

Term 2 (January 2016) found us with around 50% of our students, but this time with few good ‘signs’ to look forward to. This time also, with a huge ‘situation’ to deal with. We could no longer ‘ride the storm’ we had to face full on an issue that we had been avoiding for the past few months. 50% pupils, but 100% staff at the school. January and February were very difficult times. It’s a huge problem in a country without a ‘Benefits System’ to think about making people jobless. The situation at The King’s School was in no way unique. All across the capital employers were facing the same dilemma. More staff than required, but making someone redundant, could mean condemning them and their families to starve.
Finally, after much soul searching and discussion we found a solution. It was hard, but seemed to be the best we could do in such a negative situation. The end of Term 2 found us still there, still determined to give the children of The King’s School the best education we possibly can.
So what else have I done in the last 6 months?
After the Hydrogen Chloride had been poured on!
 In October I learned a hard lesson about gas!  I was busy trying to do quite a number of things all at once. Baking a cake being one of the events. The cake baking was turning out to be more troublesome than usual. At one point the gas got turned off accidently , so about 5 mins before the meeting at which  the cake was to be consumed, it was discovered to be very soggy in the middle.  In my rush, I opened the oven door, quick sniff, no gas smell. Grab the lighter. Turn the gas on. Oh look ! the gas was on all along. Flick the lighter on. Hand in the oven. BOOM!  Hand engulfed in flame. Bad words, uttered. Sudden remembrance of a fact contained at the back of my head. Gas in Burundi doesn’t smell. Twerp!  Second lesson I learned in this episode. Hydrogen Chloride is extremely painful when poured over the raw,  unhealed skin of a burn!!
As I said in my last Blog, my office is sandwiched between the Pre-school and Reception classes. I’ve learnt all sorts of new songs. One of the best is ‘ Today is my favourite day, it’s better than any other day. Yesterday, was a very good day, but today is my favourite day.’  Another good one, is a golden oldie, ‘Read your bible, pray every day, pray every day, pray every day. Read your bible, pray every day , if you want to grow.’ The second verse is new to me and always makes me smile.  ‘ If you don’t read your bible and pray every day, pray every day, you will shrink, shrink, shrink.’ Not so good for us short people. Clearly a lack of reading and praying going on somewhere!
My little frog expert.
One of the high spots of most of my days is break time. 9:30 am and Ardash  will appear. He will come in for his daily chat about the frog pictures on the wall. He loves to name them all. Slowly, we are looking up the names on the internet. Every day he reminds me that the blue and black one, ‘is a Poison dart frog, and you mustn’t touch it, because if you do you will get sick.’  Then he leaps around the room like a frog and disappears back into the playground. Some days a whole swarm of yellow shirts appear in the office. All picking things up and touching buttons on printers, computers, phones, it’s great. Keeps me firmly in my place!

Just a few - Yellow Shirts.
Well, I think that’s about it for now. I will try to keep more up to date with Term 3 progress. Tonight we have been blessed with a serious of explosions and some automatic gunfire, blasting somewhere across the city.  It’s actually been a while since we’ve heard so much. Still some differences to be resolved, unfortunately.

The King's School Primary - Term 1

One of my favourite photos - being escorted into school on a rainy day (by a security guard)

Another favourite - brotherly love on Sports day. 

Sunday, 20 September 2015

I'm BACK !

Little did I know, when I composed my last Blog in February, that I was in no way on the road to recovery! I was in fact on a road that led to further sickness and ultimately to the surgeon's knife.
So now in some ways there is less of me, but in other ways there is more.
I am having to get used to the Burundian compliment that runs along the lines of , ' Mrs Liz, you look good, you look well.' at which point I say, STOP! don't say the next sentence. But they always do.
 ' You look fat!' I know they mean well. But it is so hard to take that as a compliment!

So yes, I am back in Burundi, after an absence of 5 months. I had to leave at the end of March and face major surgery. I was an extremely unhappy, miserable, sulky bunny. You really didn't want to read any Blog I might have written at that time.
One of my biggest achievements during that time was the knitting of small cardigans. Despite much encouragement to branch out and knit a variety of articles, I persisted in knitting the same cardigan over and over again. It gave me a kind of anchor in a life that otherwise felt like I was floating in limbo. To date I have produced 30 cardigans. I am still in possession of 28, as I am struggling with the concept of giving away. I like counting them, arranging them in various colour orders, and so on and so forth. I know. I can be very sad sometimes.
Another achievement was the watching of the whole 10 Seasons of Stargate SG1 and 5 Seasons of Fringe. Probably not really something that can be classed as an achievement, but I managed it. It did mean that there were points during March and April, where I struggled to hold on to reality. I started expecting aliens to appear in front of me at any minute. Worried that I might not actually be me, I might be myself from an alternate universe!

But here I am back in Burundi. Things have changed here in many ways, both personally and nationally. I will stick to commenting on the personal rather than the national!
I left in March a very frustrated and disappointed Year 6 teacher. Absolutely devastated that I wouldn't be able to finish the year with my class. Sadly, the school had to close not many weeks later. So ultimately I only missed two weeks of school. Lots of sad bunnies around at that time.
September finds me in a new role at The King's School. I am now the Head Teacher of the Primary school! How grown up do I have to be now?! Some days I have to pinch myself to check it's still me in my body. Some days I wonder if I have in fact accidentally walked into an alternate universe.

So far the experience has been positive. My office is situated next to Pre-school classroom. Pre-schoolers are little ones who have had their third birthday. They seem far too tiny to be in school. I've had some special times trying to placate bawling ankle-biters. One little man whose only language is chinese, spent a long time earnestly whispering in my ear and sobbing. He clearly believed I understood chinese fluently, as I nodded sagely and I kept telling him 'Mama is coming later.'
I stand in awe of these children who come to a new school and have to learn in a completely new language. I found school utterly confusing when I was 5. I distincly remember on my

Winner's first day in Nursery (Yes, his name is Winner!)
first day at school, the teacher asked , everybody to stand up. I wondered who Everybody was. It certainly wasn't me.

I think my favourite part of starting school has been the privilege of watching a very special young man finally make his way to school. His name is Enoch, but he is known as Mugisha (Blessing). He is the son of two very special teachers at The King's School. He has had to wait for the right time to begin school. As with so many times in life the saying 'every cloud has a silver lining' proves to be true. Due to all the disturbance in Burundi, only 6 children turned up at the Nursery. We have the capacity for 40. So, it is time for Mugisha to come and 'bless' us.  On some levels Burundian culture struggles to cope with those who are deemed 'different'. For many reasons, such children remain at home and shut away from society. Some of the reasons are purely practical. There is no such thing as disabled access in Burundi. The world is a  dangerous place if you find it diffcult to walk.
So it was, on Wednesday that Mugisha made his way up the drive of the Nursery, for his first day at school.I have a feeling that Mugisha is going to bring more to our lives than we can imagine possible.

Debbie the out-going Head, was renown for her ability to identify and name every child in the school. So I felt obliged to begin the process of achieveing the same feat.
One huge step I have made so far. Two children I had named Mini Igor boy and Mini  Igor girl (Igor being their big brother, who I taught two years ago) I now recognise as Charles and Olga. Three boys who look identical, I now know have the names, Duncan, Keffa and Echo. But sadly, I don't know which name goes with which child. I know that there is both a boy and a girl called Praise and a boy and girl Jesse. I can identify Hilary, Harry and Haylene, but only if they all present themselves to me en-block. If they appear indiviually I am stumped. Little Tommy is actually called Davy Yan.  I keep forgetting what Little Kimberley is properly called. I'm trying very hard not to identify anybody by their hair, because I've been tripped up by that mistake too many times before. But I do know that Keyla and Keysha both have braids.

I have also moved house for the fifth time! Technically, I am house sitting this year (and dog sitting).
Back with a house mate from the year before last. Recently we were both out with friends when some beautiful little kittens came up. We both went into kniptions about how lovely they were and how we might entice them into our bags to take them home. One 'friend' exclaimed, ' Oh no ,you two are going to turn into a couple of weird old ladies if you live together aren't you!'  Well how very rude. (But possibly true) Home is so much easier,when you live with someone who also forgets why they came into the room.

Well I think that has to be it for now. Hopefully, I will get round to writing on a more regular basis now I am 'fat'!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

I Don't Want to carry Rhubarb!

I was so very sad. I'd just died and I felt an over-whelming sense of grief about it.

But then came the news that everyone had to move out of the building we were in. We all had to get out and go to the camp site. It was vital that we all went.

But I had just died!

No, we all had to go. Everyone. Each one had a different job to do. My job was to be a carrier. I had to take a bag, pick and carry rhubarb.

But I had just died!

I didn't want to carry anything. I wanted to be able to just run. To be free.

No! I had to carry rhubarb.

I started running. I didn't take a bag. I didn't stop to pick rhubarb. I was running. Running through the fields. I was dead. I was free. But they came after me. With the bag. Shouting at me. Telling me, that I had to carry rhubarb.

I fell face down.

I woke! Sobbing. With the words, “But I don't want to carry rhubarb!” ringing through my cloudy, befuddled mind.

Such are the dreams induced by IV quinine! “ I don't want to carry rhubarb!” is No 2 on my 'Most Memorable Phrases from November 2014' list. No 1 on the list, is the phrase, “ This one is full of Malaria.”

It all started weeks ago. At October Half-term, a long wet trek through the jungle, looking for baboons, left me with a significant asthma crisis. In the weeks that followed, I also discovered that my energy had packed it's bags and moved on, to who knows where. I began to experience the joy of dizzy spells. The need to rest, after walking up stairs. Making a list of all the things I needed to do downstairs before venturing on the trip. Using the 'student toilet' because it is on the same floor as the classroom. And so on and so forth. Anything that saved energy and helped me keep going.

My mantra became, 'it's just asthma, get on with it.'

No I didn't need to go the Doctor........why?.......because.......well, just because!

Slowly, slowly things got worse. But I am a firm believer in that saying my mother taught me. 'If something is being annoying, just ignore it and it will go away eventually.' On reflection, I think maybe she was trying to help me deal with my brothers, not sickness.

Eventually, the Doctor decision was removed from my stubborn grasp. I was escorted off to see the Pnuemologist. Who decided a course of steroids was needed. (Wednesday)

Friday (two days later) 5:25pm found me at the end of two days of Parent Interviews. Just about every body had gone home. I had my laptop, nebulizer and books in my ruck-sac. I am on steroids, I must be getting better. (I reason) It's ok, I can walk home. 55Mins later I stagger through the front door. The walk usually takes 10 to 15mins. How wrong was I? I couldn't walk home!

Monday, back to the Pneumologist. He's not in. So off to the hospital. Blood tests and chest x ray. Verdict. Severe anaemia. Solution. Blood transfusion. Sharp intake of breath. A blood transfusion in Africa. One slightly offended Doctor, who informs us that Black blood is the same as white blood! Oh yes, we agree, it's not that, it's just ….... do you screen it? Further offence taken. Of course. After a phone call for reassurance from a Burundian husband. The transfusion was set to go ahead.

Two weeks later, that phrase was issued 'this one is full of Malaria'. Yes, the blood is screened, but No, not for malaria!
 Everything needed to be done in a hurry, so I found myself in Jabe Hospital. My room happened to be located 20m from Jabe church. Jabe church we discovered has prayer meetings from 6am to 7am every morning. Evening prayer meetings from 6pm to 8pm. A Sunday service from 9am - 1pm. Oh, and by the way a few impromptu Prayer meetings from 1am to 3am!!  Guess what else we discovered, God is DEAF! Even at 2 am in the morning He needs to be shouted at. It is not possible to talk to God quietly, if you want Him to hear, you have to shout loudly, sing loudly, pray loudly!
Sadly, one of the biggest side effects of IV quinine is a thumping headache and ringing in the ears. Oh so funny to look back on. But not so hilarious at the time.

So that accounted for November and December!
The Christmas holiday saw a great new addition to my life. I am now mobile. The walk to and from school kept leaving me shattered, so I decided that it was time to invest in a Moto.
The plan was to just use it for the very simple route to and from school. This involved only a few junctions and very quiet roads. That I could manage (I hoped).
 However, once I discovered the joy of being mobile again, I realised that I could actually attempt some far more ambitious trips.
My strategy has been to flash a big smile at all the cars, buses, taxis, motos that appear to know far better than I do, which side of the road I should be on and whose right of way it is.
I am becoming increasingly skilled at 'pothole avoidance'. It no longer phases me when other drivers pull alongside me and shout 'Hey Muzungu!'.

This year was the first time I have spent Christmas outside England. It was an interesting experience. I hated being so far from family, but enjoyed seeing a different side of life.
 I think it's best just to put some photos in,
Christmas morning at CRIB, opening presents

Christmas dinner with some Street Children

Christmas Eve party

So it's been a long time in the pipeline, this Blog. A new laptop, poor power and internet have contributed to the delay. A serious absence of energy and brain power have also dragged things down.
But such as it is, here it is.

The final photo is a Red Bishop that visited  our compound on Saturday. It hadit in it's head that it had found a 'date' in the kitchen window.

The contrast in the photo says so much about Burundi.