Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Changing Perspectives.

Sunday Blogscomposition time totally usurped yesterday by Downton Abbey and a Newsletter deadline. So I'll have a go at a Monday slot and see what happens. 
Relaxing on a Wednesday at the Johnson's!

I have been reflecting a lot on changing perspectives in my life over the past few weeks. One big change in perspective just 'happened' as I was making a cup of tea before settling down to write.
Trailing down the kitchen wall was a ragged line of Sugar ants. They had set up one of their highways from the remnants of the cats dinner, all the way up to the ceiling , which must be about 8 ft high. Now, this time last year I would have been fascinated by the whole scene. I would have had a lovely time watching the little darlings wend their merry way up the wall. Oh the awe I would have felt at their incredible feats of strength, carrying crumbs of cat food up the vertical surface. I might even have had a little game re-directing them by putting a line of water across their road. It would have necessitated the camera coming out. BUT NO MORE! Those days are gone. Now a trail of Sugar ants inspires only one response in me. Mass murder. Now, I know what it means, those comical little trails. It means a creeping sensation all over your skin every time you sit down at your desk. It is especially nasty to take the last swig of cold coffee and find you mouth and face alive with little intruders. So no more fascination for me. Just violent thoughts of total annihilation.
Another huge change for me this year. I have actually started feeling cold. Last year I used to struggle sleeping at night because it was always too hot to sleep with any covers. There is something wrong and not nice about sleeping without a quilt or something. But this year I have woken up 'cold' some nights. Yes, cold. The temperature has dropped to 25 degrees and it feels cold. It's great! I have even had to resort to wearing my travelling to and from England hoodie twice.

So what of the progress of 6L? Have perspectives changed there? Well, yes and no! I think I can safely say that my description of them at the start of the term would no longer be accurate for a growing proportion of them. I have a lovely little team at the end of every day who stay and tidy the class. They always leave with the words, " Thank you for teaching me today." It always ends my day with a smile. I have decided to try and approach them with a bit more of a sense of humour. Which isn't always easy!
We have recently introduced the concept of collaborative group work to the primary school. It was great to watch the children take on different roles in a group. Each group had a Manager, Designer, Runner, Timekeeper, Encourager and Presenter. The group was then given a very easy task to perform. This time it was to produce a poster about How We Should Treat One Another.  I made a decision (rightly or wrongly?) to put 6 of the most difficult customers into the same group. My reasoning being, that if they achieved nothing it would be better to do it all together than spread out and cause all the groups to achieve the same nothing. As with most things to do with children, they knocked my reasoning out of the window, by getting on with the task and producing and end result that was comparable with every other group! One group member however did spend the 45 minutes work time holding a pair of scissors and insisting his job was to cut out. I think he had a total cutting job load of about 4 minutes. Never mind he was happy sitting holding his scissors and looking busy. It did my heart good to watch all 25 of them working alongside each other, developing  skills that are not usual in this culture.
 Can you see the 'waiting' scissors? Not the ones actually working, but the ones being held in sort of readiness! That is how they spent most of the lesson. It was quicker for the other team members to do it themselves if they wanted something cut.

I have probably mentioned before that King's School is now split into a House system. The aim of the system is to provide inspiration for better behaviour and a greater sense of positive identity. It has also become an avenue for enabling the children to think beyond themselves and contribute to the wider community of Bujumbura and Burundi. I belong to Ntahangwa house (Green) . To this end the Primary school had a Community Day on November 22nd. Ntahangwa house visited the Mother Teresa Home in Bujumbura. The home cares for both the elderly and very young who have been abandoned by their families. It was again a chance for me to view three of my very challenging boys with a new perspective. They each had to care for a younger child through the day, whilst meeting and greeting a wide range of people. It was good to see them willingly serving others and letting go of their 'attitude'. The children of Ntahangwa house sang and danced for the residents. Then we shared juice and donuts with absolutely everyone in the place. Even I tottered round in very inappropriate school shoes, serving drinks to the workmen who were digging up all the paths.

 Ntangahwa House : all set to leave on our great Adventure

Greeting the 'Old Ladies'.

Finally, I'll share my change in perspective regarding the artistic abilities of Burundian children. Last year I have to admit that I was a little sceptical about such skills. It seemed that on the whole many of the children lacked the ability to produce anything approaching 'artistic'. Painting was just an exercise in making a mess. However in September when it came to choosing an After School to run, I decided that a nice little painting class would do the job for me. Most of the children would turn their nose up at it, I was sure. Too slow, too boring. How wrong was I? On average I have about 25- 30 at the club each week. They have shown incredible progress in their ability to paint. They accept happily that art is a slow, quiet activity! Shh! don't tell them that's not always true. It is if you are in Mrs Liz's art class. Every week I plod round, telling them painting is slow and peaceful. They have learnt how to care for a paint brush. To never use it as a scrubbing brush. They mostly believe that I can hear their paint brush crying if they squash down too hard. Last, week sadly one newcomer actually abused their paint brush so badly, it had to be taken away for a paint brush funeral. We had to have a minute's silence. And I have to admit that there is in fact an abundance of artistic talent among Burundian children. (plus a few other nationalities)

Sunday, 17 November 2013

A New Friend.

My Sunday night 'Blog time' has been usurped by an appointment to watch Downton Abbey, Series 4 (recording). So I am attempting to Blog during Sunday afternoon 'Snooze Time' instead. So far this has entailed getting the screen ready and then having a little snooze, for inspirations sake. At the moment my brain is doing a very good job of thinking mainly about snoozing, even though I've got lots to write about.
I made a lovely new friend yesterday. Her name was Avril and she's a baby chimp. I heard about her last year, but never managed to get to see her. But finally yesterday on a very rare, cold and wet Saturday in Bujumbura, we made a strange decision to visit a beach resort, despite the awful conditions. Due to to cold, the resort was almost empty and we were allowed to eat our lunch in a room normally reserved for post-massage relaxation. No! I didn't have massage. But I did get a cuddle with Avril and took part in a real live Chimp's Tea Party. She blitzed round the room, grabbing all the tea cups and draining the dregs. Then she discovered Alli's coke bottle. She grabbed the bottle and darted outside. Her expression saying quite clearly that she knew was doing wrong, but there was no way we were going to stop her.
Our meeting was quite short, but I'm hoping to get to see her again very soon.
She might make a positive addition to 6L!

Last weekend saw another first for me. A trip to Gitega, the second 'city' of Burundi. City is not quite an accurate label really. Bujumbura barely merits the label city and Gitega is a fraction of it's size. Gitega is situated in the centre of Burundi. It was the seat of the Burundian Kings. We stopped off on the way, at the coldest, wettest place Burundi has to offer. Bugarama. It suits it's name! We did however get to meet up with an inspirational young man, Freddie. As a child, Freddie fell into a fire and suffered horrific burns. His face melted into his chest and part of one hand was burnt a way. He then spent the rest of his childhood begging in the Central Market. Until he met Alli one day and she set the ball in motion to get him surgery and help. Through his many lonely years recovering from numerous operations he taught himself to speak English and French. He has struggled through and redeemed all the years he lost at school. Now he is studying to gain a qualification as a Medical technician. Whenever I have met him, it has been a humbling experience to hear him express his gratitude towards us for taking the time to meet with him. He has four years to go to finish his studies, but he is determined to achieve his goal. The only wage earner in his family is his elderly father. His job is a bicycle taxi. Which involves taxiing people down the mountain and then walking back up. Needless to say it's not a highly paid line of work. I've never heard Freddie moan or go on about how hard his life is. I have only ever heard him, express gratitude for all the help he receives. It was only after much questioning that he admitted that he has been having to go without food, because the money he was given to help with his studies, is just enough to cover tuition fees and books. He doesn't have anything left to buy food. He sat shivering and apologising for causing problems.
From Bugarama we continued through the mountains towards Gitega. It was a strange experience to have landmarks pointed out to me that involved massacres. A school, where the headmaster locked the children inside and then set fire to the building. Such beautiful landscapes holding horrific ghosts. Places where the  rebels used to hang out. As we left Bujumbura, Deo had pointed out a place on the road where his brother was killed. ' He was killed there and they dumped his body in the river.' The road was called Death Road.

Gitega itself gave the general impression of happy, relaxed sort of town. Alli and I wandered around. Chatted to all sorts of people. We went on a tour of nostalgia for Alli as she lived in Gitega for five years. Every time we stopped we found ourselves surrounded by people who wanted to know everything possible about us. I practised a little Kirundi, but mostly I had English practised upon me.
On the way home we pursued the great Burundian activity of 'Up country' shopping. As you drive through all the little towns and villages each one has it's own selection of goods to sell on the roadside. One particular town was selected for us to stop and shop. As muzungus we had to stay in the car, because we have a very bad effect on the prices charged. Deo and our other Burundian passenger Sandrine disappeared off up the road to start their negotiations. Alli and I sat in the car. Within seconds the car was surrounded by fascinated onlookers. Alli immediately struck up a conversation with a very lively young lady. I sat and began to ponder how much this must be like the experience of animals in the zoo.  I pulled a face at one young man with his nose stuck to the glass just two inches from my face. He mimicked the face and stared on. After what seemed an eternity, Deo and Sandrine returned to the car with their purchases. A dozen cabbages, 4 great stems of bananas, avocados, mangoes and a live chicken in a green plastic bag!
Shopping is not one of my favoured pursuits, so Burundi's chaotic version of Asda really doesn't appeal to me at all. A final stop in Bugarama to buy Cape gooseberries left my head reeling. Dozens of bags of gooseberries were thrust through all open windows and the car literally mobbed with sellers. I couldn't understand how anyone knew who was selling what to whom!

Well, I am now way past Sunday Snooze time. I have been and watched what we thought was going to be Episode 3 of Series 4 Downton Abbey. But after a few minutes watching it became clear it could not possibly be the next episode, as there were huge gaps in the story line. I cannot begin to tell you the consternation, indignation, frustration and sheer awfulness of the situation. When you have no normal television and look forward to a once weekly dose of something like Downton, to have it wrecked by a missing episode is more than one can take on a Sunday night. The one male watching with us, tried to say that we'd get over in no time. Oh, I think not. There are some things that are not so easily set aside.
To close, I thought you might like some 'quotes' from 6L. My first go under the title, ' Only in a Christian School'. These are answers to questions in a History lesson. We had been looking at Victorian Workhouses and I set the question......'
If you were a poor Victorian, which would you do you... go and live in the Workhouse or starve?

If I lived in the poor Victorian I would starve because I would not want to miss my family and if I die I would go up to heaven with the rest of my family and I will live a better life in heaven and I would praise my father in heaven called Jesus.
I’d rather stay outside with my mother have a little bit of food and praise the Lord, to get ready to go to heaven.
My next could be 'Not in a Christian school.' The following answer was made by a very lovely, daughter of Pastor. It is part of Reading Comprehension activity.
Q: Do you think there is going to be a "sighting" later in the story?
A: I don't think there is going to be a "sighting" because it was just a balloon. I think they are going to dress up as aliens and just try to get them to take pictures and put it in the local newspaper. On the other hand they might just creep the crap out of them and make them tell the whole village.
(My marking..... Good answer, but not very ladylike!!)


Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Never too old to say Sorry. (Darn it!)

It's the end of Half term week, so I thought I should probably sit down and have a bit of a ponder about life. I am 10 weeks into my second year in Burundi, which has to be worth a bit of a muse I think.
The onset of Half term found me in a bit of a 'low'. Without going into over much detail, this year finds me in a slightly different financial position to that of the previous year. This time last year I had money, but could not access it. 2013 finds me without access issues, but nothing to draw upon. I constantly have to remind myself I remain far richer than 95% of the population around me.
Finances, weariness regarding my class and parenting issues, had pushed me into a state of gloom.
So starts Half term. I am grumpy. I am Mrs Don't-Poke-Me-I-Bite. I am an accident waiting to happen. And happen it did!
Sunday, I reluctantly haul myself off to church. The service turns out better than all my negative anticipations. By the end I'm mildly more positive than 3 hours before. But it's a fragile improvement. The routine at the end of the church. 1, Text Son to say church is done walk down to meet me. 2, Son walks down and meets me. 3, Mother and Son walk to local restaurant have lunch. 4, Everybody happy.
Reality...........I text son. Wait 10 minutes no reply. I phone son, no answer. Wait 10 minutes more. Friend offers to drive me up the road to son's house. (It's on her way to her lunch engagement.)
Remember my fragile improvement in mood? Well it's crumbling fast. I get to son's gate. Knock. No answer. Phone again. Finally, an answer. Son has clearly just moved from slumber to consciousness.
" I am not ready, come back in half and hour."
" I am stood at your gate!"
" Meet me on the corner in half an hour."
Fragile mood, turns into an avalanche of anger, frustration, you name it. I climb back into the car. Am I mad? I'm seething. I inform my friend that I am about revoke a recent 'renouncing' of swearing. Then I go for it! It all floods out, all my rubbish thoughts and emotions. I let rip.
After a short chat about the difficulties of parenting and such, I trudge back in my gate, up the drive and plop into a chair to wait the allotted 30 minutes. 15 minutes later I receive a text. From my Son.
' I don't want to come for lunch with you now. You should learn to hang up your phone properly, before you say horrible things about people.'
There is nothing quite like that feeling. The utter despair, that crawls over you in a situation like that. Nothing I could say would justify what I had done. If I thought I was low before! Now I was sewer material. The rest of the day was spent in solitary confinement. Which I felt I deserved for being such a rubbish learner of lessons. How long have I known, Ephesians 4:29 ?
(The Message)29 Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.
But like so many situations in life, that seem to be catastrophic, it all worked out in the end. After long pondering I knew the only thing I could do was to say a simple no excuses, 'Sorry.' I apologised. Monday came and we talked, cleared the air of a few issues that had been festering between us. And life went on.
Wednesday we treated ourselves to a Full English Breakfast at Ubuntu. One of the restaurants in town has been advertising this breakfast on Facebook. To be honest when you look at the picture of the breakfast your immediate reaction is to laugh, because there is no way the pictured breakfast was ever cooked in Burundi. Thus, it became a bit of a challenge to go and test the Ubuntu breakfast. Our verdict? It wasn't too bad. The best bit for me, it contained mushrooms. The first mushrooms I've had since I got back. The baked beans were not quite Heinz, they had onion and were a little spicy. The sausages were very spicy. Burundians are not familiar with frying eggs and leaving the yolks runny. And there is no such thing a back bacon here, so it was some kind of ham shredded to look like bacon.  But it came with a pot of coffee or tea and only cost 8000fbu, so all in all a thumbs up to the Ubuntu Full English. ( the picture above is the actual Burundi English breakfast, not the advertised version)
The rest of the week was spent reading, planning and preparing lessons, learning and revising kirundi. I spent two mornings at the Crib house, with the teenagers helping them complete their 'Sponsor' letters. I think it's called 'hanging out'. It's at times like this (Blogging) that it hits me, what a privilege it is to be able to write that. I sat colouring the decorations around the letters, listening to them chat and sing. I spent two mornings of my week with a group of orphans. I had the privilege of investing a little bit of my time with them.
The last few weeks have also seen me return to a weekly privilege established last year. Wednesday lunch with the Johnsons.
Sitting round the table with eight children aged 5 to 18. Enjoying not just good food but great company.
Sam who loves to have my camera and go in search of Burundi's next top model. Christopher whose energy and enthusiasm for life is a wonder to behold. Angel 6, going on 16, trying to keep pace with her teenage sisters. James and Daniel, with the low growling banter that comes with early adolescent boys. Both quietly, trying to wind up any willing volunteer. Finally, little Andy who sits and chats his way through his rice and beans. When you're thousands of miles away from your own grandchildren it goes some way to filling the void of missing them. Just being part of a family for a short while.
So, finally, I think I can be fairly certain my son has forgiven me for certain. He had the opportunity to be rid of me and he didn't take it! We were leaving the restaurant after breakfast, which required crossing one of Bujumbura's, nicest, fastest roads. It has a central reservation and is tarmacked! I was very proud of myself because I had managed to hail a taxi from the opposite side of the road. However, I do have some issues with cars and roads here. I still struggle to cope with the fact that everything is on the wrong side. But for one brief moment I had got it all in place in my mind. Unfortunately, the combined activities of hailing and crossing at the same time, threw my brain somewhat. Suddenly my grey matter reverted to English 'sides'. So I proceed to dash across the road to my expertly hailed taxi, forgetting completely which direction the other traffic is moving in. I'm aware of a noise, which could be Andrew saying, 'Mum!' But I'm a woman on a mission, so I carry on. Next thing, I am very much aware of a voice shouting, " MUM, STOP! There's a moto coming." And sure enough there was. In fact there were two motos. Both of whom had come to an abrupt halt in the middle of the road. All four riders, looking at me in bewilderment, obviously wondering why the muzungu seemed to want to throw herself in front of their wheels. So it was profuse apologies all round. With Andrew muttering something about how embarrassing I was and something very rude about my age! I think perhaps my driving days in Burundi are still some way off. It's just so hard to remember who is coming from where. But harder still to hold on to the knowledge when trying to do anything other than just think whose-on-what-side-of-the road, thoughts.

Well it's back to school. (Actually due to a technical error I am now re-writing half of this Blog. I wrote and published on Sunday. But somehow I lost most of what I had written, without realising. So now it's Wednesday and I'm trying to remember what I wrote the first time!)
 Thus I can now write from a view point of having 'done' three days at school. 6L have a new seating plan, that largely seems to be working positively. I have reinstated two clauses on our Classroom Contract, which I had blotted out, a number of weeks ago. On one particularly bad day, I had taken a black marker to the statements - We will be responsible and respectful to everyone on the school.
-We will set a good example to the rest of the school.
In perhaps not the most positive move I decided that their behaviour was so contradictory to these statements, that it was a waste of time having them. It was pointed out to me that once a contract is signed, it's not actually legal to just go an delete clauses! Ooops. Never mind, just don't tell anyone in 6L. Anyway I've put them back now. With probably an equally illegal act. I've inserted the words, TRY TO!
 But when all is said and done. After three days I can safely say that I have more 'rays of sunshine' in the class, than I did in September.
The picture to the left, is one of the growing number.
The gloom is lifting and revealing a much brighter future for us all.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Cross-Cultural Smiles.

Have you been wondering how my class are doing? Was I too exhausted to Blog at the end of the week? Well, yes and no. I have just endured a week of no Internet access at home, which severely cramped my mood and style. Before that, yes, I was hitting the week-end on my knees and crawling back to standing by Monday morning.
Slowly, slowly my lovely class are creeping forward, towards semi-civilised academic behaviour. Last week was very helpful as we had National holidays on Monday and Tuesday. Three day weeks are a great boost to morale. This week, it's only Monday that is a National holiday. But never mind, the following week is Half term. I think I can manage to soldier on !
On the Tuesday National holiday I took a trip to Blue Bay, with my housemate (to celebrate her 60th birthday). Accompanied by Deo my long suffering Kirundi teacher and Alli's long term friend, and his 6 children.
Alli and I turned up to pick up Deo + kids, to be met by a very familiar situation. Teenage strife! It is amazing how similar parental angst sounds, whether in English or Kirundi. I didn't understand a word of what Deo was saying to his teenage daughter, but I so got the jist of it all.
And the body language is so much the same ! It's amazing.
Blue Bay is situated on Lake Tanganyika. Lake Tanganyika is beautiful, but is home to two major forms of wild life. Hippos and crocodiles. Last year I went along happily with the line of thinking that the risks of swimming in the lake are somewhat minimal. Crocodiles, I reasoned did not like open clear water. Hippos steer clear of places where there are a lot of people. An unfortunate side effect of having my son in Burundi with me, is that he is more passionate than ever about dissuading me from swimming in the lake. He says that the crocodiles love clear water. They just lie on the bottom and wait for something to swim over. Then they launch up with enormous power and snap you out of the water. At our recent visit to the zoo, he also very kindly alerted me to the fact that even close up, they are very hard to spot when they are under the water. A fact with which I sadly had to concur. It was indeed very hard to see them when they were just feet away. Imagine how hard they would be to see in the lake. Thus it was on Tuesday I found myself having a not-so-relaxing swim in the lake. It was so hard to resist the temptation to keep looking down through the water, just to check! Fortunately the water is very clear. But I couldn't persuade myself to swim out of my depth. According some people the deeper you go the safer it is. As the crocodile needs the bottom to launch from. But I just knew that if the littlest stick or debris in the water would so much a brush my foot or leg, I would drown through sheer panic. I'm not sure how much longer my I-will-swim-in the-lake resolve is going to hold.
I did however, have a great moment sitting on some rocks looking out across the lake. Listening to the waves lap on the shore. One of those over-whelming moments, where I am shocked by the amazing reality of my life. Here I was, on a 'Bank holiday' outing, sitting in the African sun, looking out across the waters of Lake Tanganyika at the Democratic Republic of Congo. Contemplating the dangers of being eaten by crocodiles or hippos. Me, living my life ....unreal ......but real.
Every so often I get those 'pinches' that remind me that I have escaped the culture of my life time and am now a world away.
Not all of the 'pinches' are quite so pleasant. A couple of weeks ago, I was slowly trudging across the dusty playground of the Junior school. It was the end of another long day of battles with 6L. When up pops a voice from the benches outside the Year 4 classroom. " Hey, Mrs Liz you look BIG." Emphasis was very clearly on the big. "Oh, do I." My slightly choked reply. I'm desperately hoping the reference is in fact to the large rucksack on my back. " Yes. There is more of you." All hope faded. I have nothing repeatable or respectable to reply. " You look different to last year." So I smile weakly, and feel my whole body ballooning out to match the image of myself that is formulating in my mind. I obvioulsy went home to England and got as fat as a house. So slunk home the fattest woman in the world! I know, I know, it's cultural. My heckler was a Kenyan, and she saw no insult in her words. She probably meant it as a compliment. I have yet to learn how to find being told I look fatter, a compliment!
At King's School a House system has been introduced. Recently we had a House Day. I belong to Ntangwa (Green) house. The idea is to help the children build a sense of community and corporate identity. To give them an incentive to behave well. Also we are looking at ways to give them opportunities to reach out into the community and make a positive contribution to Burundi. At the end of November Ntangwa house will be visiting some old people at the Mother Teresa Home in Bujumbura.
 Poor old Ntangwa though, we are struggling in the points department.
 In Year 6 we have introduced 'Friday after school Detention' for those pupils wishing to push the boundaries over the limit. The House day was also the first ever detention day. Of the four attendees, one was the Ntangwa house Captain and two, were the other year 6 Ntangwa boys!
One last cross-cultural smile. On my walk to school every day I pass a whole host of men going to work at a building site, that is en-route. Every so often, one of the passing builders is wearing a lovely pale blue blouse with red roses. I have to smile because I have the exact same blouse hanging in my wardrobe, back in England. It actually suits him and doesn't really look that wrong.
Hang on I've just thought of another last cross-cultural smile. Beware of accepting snacks from genuine Indian pupils. I was offered some popcorn by Shrey a new addition to King's School. He is one of my little rays of sunshine in 6L. I love popcorn, so I accept the proffered gift. Whoaa! it was good, but it nearly blew my head off! Spicy popcorn. Shrey's face was a picture of concern and joy at my reaction and a keen offering of more!
So all in all, yes my class are getting better. We are beginning to have the odd moment of fun learning together. I am starting to see the odd aspiration to achieve higher standards. I am beginning to find myself thinking it's going to be worth all the tears and tiredness, eventually. But maybe I should reserve judgement until after our first 'Field trip'. Bujumbura Post Office, watch out! 6L are coming.
Drawing a picture to give to the old people.


Sunday, 29 September 2013

You're having a Gilaffe!

Yes I know, it's been a bit sparse on the Blog front. I've been struggling to find something even remotely amusing to share, about my first few weeks back at school.
My bubble has been burst and stamped upon! I had realised last year that my ideal of coming to Africa, to teach children who wanted to learn, was in fact a tad unrealistic. I discovered that children are children, all over the world. They have an inclination towards naughtiness. They don't always say 'yippee' when asked to work hard. In fact, even in one of the poorest nations of the world my role as motivator is high on my list of priorities.
So, who popped my balloon, who knocked the wind out of my sails? My present class 6L, Mrs Liz's, year 6 class. They are, as a group of children one of the most challenging I have ever faced. As individuals, (sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, nephews and neices, children of your best friend) I am sure they can be vouched for, as being, wonderful, loving, fun to be with human beings. BUT, put them together and call them a Class, and they become something different entirely. Herein lies my problem in Blogging about them. This Blog has the potential to be read by a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, friend, and so I do not want to be saying that the child known to any of those people, is anything less than wonderful. I would hate to read a Blog that said anything negative about any of my beautiful, perfect grandchildren!
So, if by chance you do happen to be reading this and are directly connected with one of the individuals that makes up 6L King's School, Primary, Bujumbura, please be aware that I am talking about your child as part of the entitiy that is 6L not as the individual you know and love.
You see the entity that has become 6L has a history of being difficult to maintain. Together they draw out in one another a desire to oppose all forms of authority. Thwart, all attempts at consistent learning. Some have developed highly skilled strategies of concentration avoidance. They have an intricate 'domino effect' attitude to reprimands. Finding it highly amusing to create a string of accustions and denials of involvement in actions requiring a reprimand. 
All in all they have been a nightmare to teach so far!! And yes, I have set boundaries around them, because I know that is what children need. But sadly, 6L as a group are boundary jumpers, boundary tunnellers, boundary climbers. Boundaries are great if those inside them acknowledge them and stop at them. But these guys, they are something else! My next step is to seek out and develop any potential for in-boundary dwellers. There are a few showing signs of tiring, when it comes to fighting the system. A few, for whom the thought of not getting a good education is beginning to be less appealing.
Thus my time has been rather consumed with keeping on top of my lovely crowd. The last two weekends have just been spent re-charging the batteries, ready for the next onslaught.
But I do have a little ray of sunshine to add. This week I visited my colleague's house for lunch, between school and a staff meeting. She has two beautiful children Joanna and Enoch. Whilst home in Endgland a young friend gave my grandson some plastic animals that he had grown out of playing with. When I saw them I negotiated with both my friend and grandson, (Well at 2 years old, the grandson wasn't really up to much negotiating) that at the end of the Summer, I could take the animals to Burundi, and give them to Enoch and Joanna. Thus, this Thursday I was able to pass them on. It was again one of those experiences that makes it all worth while. The absolute joy and excitement on Joanna and Enoch's faces as they identified the animals and played with them, was such a privilege to behold. Enoch was so taken with the Gilaffe. He kept saying, 'it's a Gilaffe, it's a Gilaffe.' The kangaroo was a complete unknown. In Bujumbura children will get to see, hippos, crocodiles, dogs, cats, goats, and cows. Not much else. They wont all have seen the hippos and crocodiles. Enoch and his Gilaffe was great therapy for me.

Even though my class are hard work and appear not to appreciate the privilege they have in attending King's School.They are all still children growing up in one of the poorest nations in the world. They may not be the poorest children in the country, but they are still facing many hurdles and limitations that are not faced by children in the west. And I am still privileged to be able to make a difference to their lives (even if they make it hard work!).
The more I write, I realise that when my balloon popped and must have fallen over my sense of humour eyes. There are actually far more good things that have happened than I first thought when I started writing.

I nearly forgot! What great joy this weekend to hear that a young footballer from Burundi, Saido Berahino scored the winning goal for West Bromwich Albion against none other than Manchester United! Oh what joy that brought to my heart.

Finally, an update on my pea eating exploits! Evidence here of a meal shared with the Junior staff. I am the gap in the photo. We are sharing ibitoke and peas!( and a few carrots)

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Back in Bujumbura.

Maybe I should start with a re-wind. Yes, I am back in Bujumbura, after having two months at home in England.
I arrived home on July 2nd to be met by some thoroughly 'poxy' children. All four grand children were covered in Chicken pox. One of them had the most dramatic spots I have ever seen, and I've seen quite a few cases of Chicken pox over the years. Within days of arriving home I also encountered a very nice virus, which laid me low for a few days. It was so bad, that on the worst day my fingers ached too much to even use my phone to text!
 After, a tussle with the NHS I discovered that surgery to remove my errant teeth was impossible, due to my exposure to Chicken pox. Week 2, found me at the dentist having my teeth hauled out the good old fashioned way. Just to make me feel 'at home' I walked through the dentist's door to be greeted with the news that there was a power-cut! I discovered that teeth extraction can be done quite effectively without electricity. A big bonus also, no assistant hoovering out my mouth whilst dentist is yanking teeth out. I hate that hoover thingy. All my dreams of luxurious eating, when I got back to England for the Summer were blown apart. It took weeks for my gums to stop aching and getting sore. Even a fish finger sandwich was too scratchy.
Due to slight memory and communication issues, my car stayed resolutely on the drive. Having no Tax, no MOT, no insurance, no Log book. Therefore, no leave the drive. I found the process of being reliant on public transport somewhat frustrating and mystifying. The setting of fares by the train companies seems to be a random affair, whereby they pick a price, half it, double it and then choose which time to charge, which fare. I'm still grumbling about the fact that if you buy a ticket 24 hrs in advance, you can travel from Hinckley to Peterborough for £9.60. But if you leave it and buy the ticket on the day you have to pay £30 single or £25.50 return. (and yes, I have got them the right way round!)

Off on a Bug hunt.

My first month home was a bit of a grumbly, achy, wobbly, frustrating time. It was a struggle to settle into a 'life' that was no longer quite mine, but was really. I felt like a very rusty Grannie. It was lovely having real cuddles with real grandchildren, not the Skype varieties, I had got used to. But Rusty Grannie had a slightly lower tolerance level for noise and mess and chasing determined 2 year old's, than she realised.
By the end of the second month however, I can safely say that I had built up a fine collection of happy memories to bring back to Bujumbura with me. I never did manage all my visits to Mc Donalds, but I think I gathered some better times, to go onto next year's wish list.
I have discovered the joy of finding pebbles on the beach that can used as mobile phones. Stones - phones, when you're three years old the link is quite feasible. I've pushed a two year old on a swing until my brain went numb. I've built stone castles, because there was no sand for the sand variety. I've spent hours carefully sticking Princess stickers in a very precious album. Painted a garden gnome. Been shot in the eye with a NERF gun. Seen the musical Mamma Mia. Met a beautiful springer spaniel puppy, the newest member of the family. Spent a few precious hours with my newest 8 year old grand daughter (step). Been on a steam engine, on the beach, in a tent, on the river, fishing, bug hunting, watched movies, shopping, sleeping, baking, walking, talking, and spent some great time with family and friends.

So now, here I am back in Buja. Back to being a 'Skype' Grannie, Mum and friend. But this time it's a bit different. This time I know what 16- weeks -until -Christmas feels like. I don't feel the need to count the days away until I see everyone again.  This time, I am also an actual Mum, here in Burundi. This time, I have brought my youngest son with me. Contrary to some rumours, that were spread, it was not just because I needed someone to help put my hand luggage in the overhead lockers on the plane. Although that was indeed a very useful by-product of the process.
What a strange experience it has been. Me being the one who knows my way around. All the things that this time last year Rachel (house mate) was doing for me, now it falls to me to do for Andrew.  I have negotiated a taxi fare, helped him open a bank account, shown him where to buy eggs and fizzy drinks. We have even visited the zoo. Something that I said I wouldn't do, but he promised he didn't want to feed live guinea pigs to the crocodiles, so I agreed.

What then of, 'First Impressions' second time round. Maybe that makes them Second Impressions, not sure. It's not as hot as it felt last year, you really do get 'used' to the temperature. Knowing even a little bit of the language spoken by the people around you, makes you feel far more at ease and less 'different'. Rice and beans are good to eat. Cockroaches are not quite as gruesome as they used to be (but still pretty yucky) Walking along a dusty road to get to work each day is AWESOME. Looking forward to the start of term, as opposed to dreading it, is a privilege. The odd cold shower is ok. Toilets without seats, water and toilet paper are disgusting, always will be and I will never get used to them! Mosquito's inside the mosquito net should not allowed, especially when they only reveal themselves at two o clock in the morning by going pzzzzeeeeeeeetttt in your ear. Having good friends and family on two continents is mind blowing.
 Slowly, buke buke, I am learning how to value all the time I have, where ever I am. To look at each day and enjoy it for itself and not be looking for what is coming next or what has gone by.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

On the consumption of the Pea.

One week left of my first year in Burundi. I am spending a fair amount of time 'reflecting' about the past 10 months.
Needless to say, (but I will anyway) so much has changed!
Abby her hair all ready for her 2 month trip to England.
The most recent change being that of my capacity to chew. Yes, chew. As in teeth. When I left last August, I had unfortunately, been reduced to chewing on one side of my mouth. In June 2012, the crown came off on the right side and was promptly condemned by my dentist. At that point, that had been my chewing side. Because the other side of my teeth already had a bit of a disaster, in the form of a remnant root, left from an extraction a few years before. The fantastic NHS Dental system could not even begin to entertain the possibility, that I could have surgery to remove the remnant root and pathetic remains of a tooth, before my departure in late August. So I arrived in Burundi with a rather dodgy set of chompers. I have often had to turn down the offer of meat at meals, due to my feeble ability to chew. So, true to form in June 2013, my last crown decided to make an exit from my mouth. Now I have no chewing sides! Just an abundance of gaping holes in my gums! So it is mush for meals for the next few weeks. I am desperately hoping that the great British NHS Dental machine will be able to process me in the two months I have at home! If not.............. !!

My Year 6 class have changed enormously over the past year. It has been my first ever encounter of teaching, in a system that makes students repeat if they fail to make the grade at the end of the year. Of my 21 students about 1/3 are teenagers. The oldest is now 15. As we reach the end of the year, the teenage hormones really are kicking in, big time. It has confirmed my belief that I never want to teach in Secondary school.
Last week , we took the whole of year 6 to visit the Secondary school. We had a session of 'what do you want to be when you grow-up?' Of course we had a handful of footballers. But the range of aspirations was huge. Paediatric doctor and nurse, Architect, Designer, Worship Leader, Rapper, Statistician. Two Presidents! Who were duly asked to come forward and give an election speech. We were promised more comedians in Burundi and tougher laws on littering. My favourite, however, was a young man who has caused me some 'stress' announcing that his life's aim was to become a comedian! My first ungracious thought was, 'well you do anything but make me laugh!' He too was invited to the front to demonstrate his talents.  You can imagine my mixture of emotions when he proceeded to tell a string of 'You're-so-black' jokes. My English PC'itis, was turning cartwheels. I searched in vain, for someone to confirm whether or not I was actually allowed to laugh. Surely, not? But it appeared that everyone in the room seemed to think it was ok. As they were rolling around in stitches. So I am going to risk sanctions from the PC police and tell you my favourite of his jokes.
- You're so black, when you went to the charcoal merchant, a man saw you a said, 'can I have that big chunk there please!' !!!!!

Inevitably, my perspective on wealth and poverty has undergone the biggest change of all. As I have been pondering my return to England, it has been this, that has caused me the most angst. How am I going to deal with the wealth I know I'm going to face? How am I going balance what I have seen in Burundi with the lifestyles at home?
One of the things I love most about Burundi is the fact that, on the whole life is stripped back to the necessities. It has the potential to be so much more straight forward than life in the UK. The absolute poverty here, is not easy to face or understand. I am still very much in the early days of understanding what my role is, in acting to deal with the poverty I have discovered. But in a way there is a real sense of satisfaction in being in a position to actually face issues and have options of things to do. One conclusion I have come to, is this. The change in perspective has come because I am here and I cannot force that change on anyone else. I need to be sensitive in my expression of how I see things now.
And just to show that it hasn't turned me into a total zealot, here is my, 'Things I'm going to do when I get home.' list:
1. Have a fish finger sandwich (white, bouncy, sliced bread)
2. Go to McDonalds for breakfast/lunch/tea ( not all on the same day!!) with Katie, Robert, Evie, Bella, George, Megan and Andrew (not all together!!!)
3. Go to the cinema .
4. Go for a walk at Burbage common with Jake (( dog) if his mum and dad will let me.)
5. Eat at Cosmo's as many times as possible. ( I've not had a tiger prawn for 6 months)
6.Watch TV with Katie.
7. Potter round the garden, weeding and chopping and generally pottering.

I'll stop there. But I think it might get longer the closer the reality gets.

Another major change has been that of my ability to eat peas. When I left England in August 2012, I had very strict rules regarding the eating of peas. Yes, that is possible. Rules concerning the eating of peas were as follows-
- the peas must be small and bright green.
- peas must be moist and nicely rounded, never shrivelled.
- dull green peas may not be eaten under any circumstances.
- peas must not be mixed with any other vegetable, even sweetcorn.
- peas may be eaten with sweetcorn, but not mixed.
- ideally peas should not be touching any other food on the plate.
- the only liquid that can be introduced to peas is melted butter.

So have you got the picture? I know slightly, strange, but there you go, we each have our little oddities. It's just most people don't publish them! Let me tell you about the rules for eating peas in Burundi.
- peas are dull green, dark green, pale green, not really green at all, but never bright green.
- peas can be shrivelled, pasty, mushy, rock solid, but never moist and nicely rounded.
- peas appear in the middle of rice, floating in meat sauce, swimming in tomato sauce, next to carrots.
- peas never appear in isolation they are always accompanied by some other edible material.
On the majority of occasions I have sacrificed my 'Rules' and consumed any peas placed in front of me. I have however at one home, partaken in the ritual removal of all pea offenders from my meal. But as I explained to my hosts, that was because I felt very much at home there and hoped they wouldn't be too offended! On the whole I feel very proud that most of the time I can eat a pea from whatever situation I find it.

Well maybe that's enough pondering for now.
One last change. I used to only be able to eat 1 square of Cadbury's dairy milk at a time. Last week, I ate 6 squares one after the other. (The teeth situation, meant I sucked them, rather than chewed them!) It was from a bar I got at Christmas and realised needed to be finished by July 1st.
 It's still not gone, but I'm working on it.