Saturday, 6 January 2018

An Elephant On My Lap!

For a while now I have been returning to a 'Life Lesson' I heard by chance one day. 
How do you eat an elephant? 
One bite at a time!
Why do I consider that to be a life lesson? and not a joke? 
Children enjoying the Farm area of the Primary School
Because life seems to be full of 'elephants'. Everywhere I turn there are situations that appear to be too big to deal with. Needs too vast to be met. Injustices too deeply embedded to be changed. 
When I took on the role of Principal of The King's School it felt like an elephant had sat on my lap. So many things to be done. Issues to be addressed. I had to start eating my elephant 'one bite at a time' or risk being totally squashed by it. 
I want to tell you about one of my 'Bites'. This is a bite I need to hand to some one else to deal with for me. 
(By the way the photos are mostly unrelated - but each represents a 'bite' )
What a difference a raincoat and boots make -  If you are
walking miles through muddy hills -
It means you can go to school on rainy days.
Contributions of £4 from supporters in  England -
change lives in rural Bujumbura.
Like so many people in this world, I am a reader. I read to get to sleep at night. If I wake in the early hours, I read to get back to the land of nod. If I want to grab a few minutes break during the day, I read to relax.  If I want to know something, I Google it and then read until I have an answer. I am not unique, I know, the world is full of ‘readers’.
 A number of years ago I discovered some statistics that radically changed my attitude towards children and reading. I had always been keen on engendering an interest in reading with my own children and those I taught through school. But this discovery changed my ‘keen’ into 'passionate'.
For many years I taught in an area of England where the children came from homes caught in the ‘Benefits Trap’. A significant proportion of the pupils I taught were 3rd Generation Benefit Recipients. Home life often meant living with alcoholics, drug addicts or gamblers. The more fortunate just suffered the effects of living without aspirations or hope for the future. The children had access to education, financial support, social initiatives, but it seemed to account for nothing in the long term. I watched bright eyed little 5 year olds grow through years of living with substance abuse into 16 year old substance abusers. They were trapped in a life without Emergency Exits. 
Developing a love of reading can be more important for a child’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic background (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).
This made a huge amount of sense to me. If there was one thing I could do, I could work towards developing a love of reading in the pupils I taught. Thus it became a foundational principle for my life. I would always encourage children to explore the world of books.
In 2012, I moved to Burundi (with my ‘love of reading’ passion). Now in 2017, I remain as committed as ever, but have discovered some enormous HURDLES to the sharing of my passion, that did not exist in the UK.
Saturday English Lessons, for children from the poorer districts
Bujumbura. 
First and foremost – the availability of books in Burundi. 99% of the books available in this country are second-hand books, shipped in from the UK, Canada and the USA. Burundi publishes very few books each year. It would take 20 years for Burundi to publish the same amount of books published in the UK in one month.  It’s not easy to get the books you want, you just have to want the books you get.
It's not much - but the mothers of these children say, that it boosts
their confidence and they have seen improved results at school
Secondly - language and contextualisation. Most of the books that arrive here are written in English (3rd or 4th Language for many). The children’s story books are about a life style and society that is almost totally alien to most children here. It’s not that we don’t want those books, but we would love to be able to offer children the chance to read good books in Kirundi, Swahili and French as well.
Thirdly- the absence of reading material for the last 20 – 30 years, means this is not a ‘Reading’ culture.  Education is not based around a reading mentality. Learning is executed through the ‘chalk and talk’ or ‘dictation’ methods. The only reading required is that of the notes made during lessons. A student reads the notes, learns them off by heart, then regurgitates them at test time. We need to educate the Educators, into discovering the value of reading.
Despite these huge hurdles, I have come to believe that the principle regarding a love for reading remains true even in this culture. Those who develop a ‘love for reading’ are those who are most likely to rise above the difficulties of their life situations. It’s just a huge task to provide the reading material for those who want to read.
In April 2017 the Community Library Project began at The King’s School, Bujumbura. Phase 1 involved bringing all the books of the Primary school together under ‘one roof’. Organising and recording every title, setting up a systematic approach to the provision of reading material to the pupils of the Primary school.
September 2017 – Phase 2 : Up-grading the Library stock and reading areas.

Aim:       To provide appropriate books for all the study themes across the school
                To provide books in French/Kirundi/Swahili
                To provide furniture for a study area and ’relaxed’ reading area

Action: Employ a Librarian to continue the process of assessment and evaluation of needs
                Purchase or procure relevant books
A young man in the UK - sacrifices a little each month
which makes a huge difference to these
young ladies.
                Design and build Study area and Reading area
Outstanding needs:
Funding for Librarian
Funding for books or contacts for sending books
Funding for new furniture

Phase 2 Objectives achieved:
·         Librarian and Assistant employed – courtesy of a gift from an American supporter
·         All books have been logged (handwritten system)
·         Large mats and small furniture moved into the Reading rooms
·         Weekly reading sessions set up for the school and New Generation Street Kids Project
January 2018 should see us attempt to complete Phase 2 and move into Phase 3. But our biggest problem now is securing funding. The gift that carried us through Phase 1 and most of Phase 2, is just about finished.
Probably for many of you reading,  the first question that spring to mind will be, ‘Why can’t you fund the Project from within the school’s budget?’  If you believe it so vital, surely it should be near the top of your agenda for spending?’
There is a phrase in Kirundi that I often find myself using, ‘Buke, buke’. It means , slowly, slowly. After the crisis of 2015, we are gradually picking up the pieces and moving on as a school. But 2015 left us with a huge hole in finances.  Just getting back to where we were has taken time. Buke, buke.  Moving into new areas, requires reaching outside our own boundaries and seeking assistance from the world beyond Burundi.
My hope is this…that there is someone ‘out there’ who feels inspired to change the lives of some of the children in Bujumbura. It won’t have an impact on the whole world, it probably won’t make you famous. But I can guarantee there will be handfuls of children whose lives will change direction, if they have regular access to a vibrant, working library.
I’m looking for someone to be The King’s School Community Library Project – International Partner. 
The role would involve raising funds for the Project – 
  • to pay the Librarian and Assistant (£300 a month), 
  • to improve the facilities 
  •  to stock the Library with books.

Another set of sisters whose lives have been turned around
by small acts of kindness from abroad.

The International Partner would also be more than a Fundraiser. It would be someone who could inspire and develop the role of our Librarian and Assistant. In turn, to facilitate them to go on and motivate the staff of The King’s School and others in the Community.  Someone with the time and passion to develop the Project to its fullest potential.

We have so many dreams for the Library Project – but at present they are all on hold, until we find our ‘Partner’. We can’t stand alone on this one, we need help and support.

My prayer is that someone, somewhere will read this and will know the identity of our International Partner.

If would like to help, but don’t feel you are called to be our ‘Partner’ your contribution would be very welcome.  Although, we do have many offers of books, but without funding we have no way to get books here.

Please contact me on liz.stephen@thekingsschool.edu.bi  and we can explore any ideas you have.
               

 
Hamish - Please can he have access to a first class library in the coming years? 

Friday, 13 October 2017

Big Cheese!

Happy times during my visit 'home' with the Somerset Grandchildren. 
September 2017, saw the onset of my 6th year in Burundi. During my two month visit to England in July and August, I seemed to face the ‘How long?’ question more than ever before. How long have you been in Burundi? How long are you home for? How long do you think you will stay out there?
Some are surprised at how long I’ve been out there, some can’t believe it’s been 5 years. Some would like me to come back home (England)now.







I met this little one for the first time ! She snuck into the
world in September 2016, no one was even aware she
was on her way! Not even her mum!!

Lunch out with the Hinckley Crew.






















So as I started out on year 6, I thought I’d do a little reflecting on the changes that have taken place.
(That was September, now it’s October! I didn’t get so far with my reflections. The school year hit me like a battering ram and I found myself hurtling through September and out the other end, hardly even touching the sides.)

My first year saw me writing merrily about ‘Bathroom Buddies’. Huge cockroaches that decided to occupy my bathroom. I made a great effort to tolerate their presence in my life. It seemed wrong to  destroy them  just because they were foul, grotesque creatures (in my humble opinion). Oh no, I tried to rise above my prejudices and ablute alongside them.  Roll on to September 2017. Two bathroom Buddies who have been enjoying free use of the facilities for the past few months, discover a new tolerance-free me. They were zapped and beheaded. Then just in case…… heads and bodies were drowned.  It was fascinating watching their decapitated bodies wriggle around alongside the isolated heads with antennae twitching bemusedly.  Sorry, to all you nature lovers, but cockroaches just don’t feature on my compassion scale any more.

The same can also be said of my attitude to the Sugar ants I used to find so cute and enthralling. I’d spend many a happy moment gazing at the lines of miniscule creatures, earnestly making their way across my desk, into my cup of tea for a drink and off home again. NO more gazing, just a quick mop up with a wet cloth and a rinse down the sink.

But don’t worry, I’ve not completely lost my Awe and Wonder at the world. I’m just rationing it a bit more now.

When I arrived in Burundi in August 2012, I took on the role of Year 6 teacher. Years of teaching in the UK education system had left me a washed-out, cynic. Within weeks of being in the classroom in The King’s school, I realised just how much I loved teaching.  Yes, I missed my interactive white-board, internet connection in the classroom, but oh the joy of being empowered to ‘teach’.  After so many years of being treated like a brain-dead robot, I was suddenly a professional again; with the ability to make decisions about the needs of my pupils; the authority to implement strategies that enhanced the individual achievement of the personalities occupying the seats in my classroom. My pupils had names, characters, home lives, personal histories. They were no longer just a set of ‘Levels with Targets’. I didn’t need to be obsessed with Pupil Progress in every single lesson. I could acknowledge that some days it was just great that ‘A’ was sitting on the chair quietly, listening and taking things in, because two years ago he’d have been sitting under that table, chewing the plaster off the wall.

September 2012 was a Landmark month – I re-discovered my love of teaching.

For those who support me financially - your support
turns into smiles like this. I was able to buy this young man
his House T-shirt. He is number 6 of 6 in the family.
House T-shirts are a luxury. 
September 2015 saw me move into the Role of Primary School Head. This is not the place to go into the circumstances that led to that change, other than to say it was a little more of an abrupt change than I had been anticipating.

Despite the suddenness of the role change, I discovered a great joy in the new situation. Having been confined to the classroom for so many years, I found the freedom of the Headship invigorating. I had the ability to make decisions, see needs and react to them. I had the power to change things.
Alright, alongside that, I had the frustrations of, working in the ‘Third World’, economic instability, political disturbances and a few other minor issues.  But on the whole being Head of Primary was a role I loved.

Here we are in September (October) 2017 and I have moved on once again. Now I find myself Principal of the whole Show; Nursery, Infant, Junior and Secondary. Boy, am I a Big Cheese ?! Actually no. Certainly, I am living and working well outside my comfort zone now. But still the same me, just with more responsibility and influence. It’s actually a bit scary (a huge bit!)

As I write today  (Friday 13th October 2017 – Rwagasori Day ) I have completed 7 weeks in the Role of Principal of The King’s School, Bujumbura, Burundi.  We have 425 students across the whole school.  36 teachers, 18 Support Staff, 6 Administration staff and 14 Site personnel.  I think that is 499 + me = 500. I often have to pinch myself to check I am not dreaming. Me in charge of all that!
My mornings now begin with a prayer, “ Lord, I know you know what you’re doing, I can’t believe you are trusting me with all this. Poke me hard in the eye if I’m not doing it the way you want.”

 It may only have been 7 weeks, but I have already managed to accumulate a number of ‘Projects’ that require support  from the world outside Bujumbura. This job is much, much bigger than me and my efforts.
  • ·         The Library Project – We are hoping to establish a Literacy and Language Centre to serve the school and the surrounding community. We have already linked up with New Generation , a local church working with Street children.

What we need now is an Overseas Sponsor or Project Co-ordinator. Someone  who has a love of reading and books. Someone who wants to bring books into the lives of people who otherwise have no access to them. If you do a little research into the literacy rates of Burundi and the publication of new books in this country, you will discover there is a huge need.
So far we have set up a Library, we have two Librarians working every day, to improve and expand the Project.  However, funding will run out in January. At present I have no clear understanding of how we will continue moving forward.
Are you the person? Are you the one who can co-ordinate fundraising and enthusiasm for the Project? Please contact me if you are.
  • ·         Laptops for Teachers – The King’s School delivers a British based curriculum. That means a skills based approach to learning. The East African, French, Belgium and Burundian approach to learning is predominantly ‘Chalk and Talk’. The teacher has the information – the teacher delivers the information – the pupil receives the information – the pupil retains the information – the teacher sets a test – the pupil regurgitates the information – the teacher checks the information has remained exactly as delivered – the teacher ticks the box – Learnt.

For Chalk and Talk , all the teacher has to do is write on the board or dictate. Easy. No resources required. Skills based learning is another story entirely . Skills based learning requires the teacher and pupil to move from ignorance to understanding to applying. Skills based learning demands resources.
Many of my teachers (especially the Burundians)  struggle with the acquisition of resources. One Primary teacher spoke to me recently, saying we do have a laptop, but we have just one in the family. (Both husband and wife are teachers at The King’s School.) She went on to say, I did get the laptop the other day, but then I felt so guilty, I took it from my young brothers who are studying at university. If I have the laptop, it means they can’t do their work. So I gave it back after a day.
This teacher would dearly love to have access to the Twinkl site (who very generously Sponsor our school). She is not alone. I have around 10 teachers who are either sharing laptops with family or have none at all.
If you could get a Laptop to us, you’d be making a big difference to the life of not only a teacher but all the pupils they teach.
  • ·         Completion of the Administration Block – at the Secondary School. For the past five years this block has stood derelict. It needs finishing for a number of reasons. We need the space. At present Administration uses a classroom. We need that classroom urgently. The new block has space for a Study area/Library, which is also a great need.







But for me there is a deeper purpose. At present the incomplete building gives the whole site an un-cared for feeling. Without making a ‘political’ statement it is extremely hard for the young people of this nation to feel proud of their country, their situation. Young people often experience periods of hopelessness and depression about their future, regardless of the country they live in. But for young Burundians it can be an enormous weight to bear.  I want to make The King’s School a positive place for our young people, a place where they learn to believe in a positive future for themselves and their country.
I know it is just a building, but in a sense it is the tip of an iceberg. It is just one thing in a long line of negatives that ends with drugs, drink and hopelessness.
This one really just involves money . The Project has started, I am living in faith that we will be able to finish by December. But finances are the KEY.
  • ·         Scholarship Programme – Of the 425 pupils, 58 are on some sort of Support/Sponsorship/Scholarship programme. When the school was founded in 1998 , it was the vision of Chrissie Chapman. She had rescued around 45 babies and toddlers in the 1990’s conflict. These children were now all needing education. The King’s School was established to provide that education. As time went by the school grew.  New students were introduced on a fee paying basis. And the school continued to grow. Today there are 14 of the original ‘Orphans’ left in the school. All in years 9 and above.  It is our desire that we continue to offer an education to those who are not in a position to pay for it. Recently we have accepted new pupils who are returning refugees. It is not easy if you have grown up in an English speaking environment and then find yourself needing to attend a French/Kirundi speaking school.  Of the 58 supported pupils, some are the children of Burundian Pastors, missionaries, support workers.

This September we formally introduced a Scholarship Programme for the Secondary school.  
If you would like to help us extend that Programme and reach out to more young people who are not in a position to pay fees we would be happy to receive that help.

I think that is probably enough for now! The next bit in the Blog process, is the most frustrating. Moving photos from folders onto the Blog, it usually takes ages and involves many bad words falling out of my mouth!

One final appeal …….. please come and visit us! If you want a life changing ‘holiday’ come to Burundi. Don’t worry too much about the FO status! Just go for it

Another event that happened because of a generous
Supporter. Newly elected Prefects and Head Boy and Girl
on a lunch out

. At Bujumbura's one and only answer to
Mac Donald's.
Events like this make a great difference to morale.
I can't end without showing off my Burundi Grandchild.
Hamish Mwakao Stephen born 23/07/17.
Parents Andrew and Peris Stephen.

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.
Bedroom.
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)