Saturday, 30 March 2013

Bagatelle Queen RIP !

Yesterday I laid to rest one of my many personae, the Bagatelle Queen.
The Bagatelle Queen evolved over the period of around a dozen years, at Weavers Close Primary school.
Early on in my career at the school I encountered the English 'Fayre' phenomenon. I felt like hadn't really been aware of it until I moved to the Midlands in the early 1990's.  I'm sure we must have had such things in Sunny Surrey. But I think I must have avoided them fairly successfully. Or maybe just blotted them out of my mind. In fact the more I think about it the more a niggling memory comes to mind of an annual 'Event' that took place at Vernon Baptist Church, Kings Cross, London. As I recall it was a huge event, that involved complex planning and execution. Yes, I think I had walled up all such memories, and locked them in a room, at the back of my mind.
Thus, when I first encountered the Christmas Fayre at Weavers, my instant reaction was to back-off and keep my head down. The question was posed in a staff meeting, "What are you going to do for the Fayre?" Obviously, it was inappropriate to voice the answer that sprang to mind, "Nothing!" So, I came up with an idea that stood me in good stead for the next decade. Bagatelle.
 I had commandeered the school Bagatelle (whatever you call it - board, range, plateau!) It was easy. Put the Bagatelle on a table. Sit behind the table. Take the 20p. Watch a child ping 10 balls. Add up the score (encouraging the children to do the maths themselves, in the pretence that it was educational, not because I was struggling with the calculations myself!) Dish out a sweet or send them packing, depending on the total. Stress free. Easy-peasy.
As the years went by, it became quite simple to answer, the question, "What are you doing for the Christmas/Summer Fayre?" "Bagatelle." No need to ask. Bagatelle. No running around like a blue-arsed fly for me. Just a table, a chair and a box of penny sweets. Job done.
As I re-read that last paragraph I realise that some of my colleagues must have found my attitude a little irksome. As they were dashing about like manic insects. Sorry about that. I think I had been burnt out by previous church based fund raising events. Whatever, the reason, the Bagatelle Queen became my default persona during all Christmas and Summer Fayres.
Kirundi Drummers -  Junior Boys
But now she is gone. Well and truly carked-it. Yesterday, saw the first ever Easter Fayre at King's School, Bujumbura. And guess who was the blue-arsed fly behind it all? Me! Well behind it all was God. But He's not so much a blue-arsed fly, more of a divine, calm, all powerful, steady, supporting hand. (When I choose to remember to rely on him!)

Rainbow Centre - Outdoor Cafe
Kirundi Dancers - Junior Girls

 Bravo Ministries stall

I had this great idea, that through my Literacy classes the Year 6 could learn how to organise an 'event'. So we did. We learnt how to write letters asking for help and donations, design leaflets and posters. We learnt how to plan a programme of entertainment events. How to prioritise, organise, delegate, all sorts of great skills. We painted signs. Drew up rules for games. Then, yesterday
discovered  we need to do lots more work on handling money and calculating change. That was just me!
Security on the gate !

It was about a week before the event that it

suddenly dawned on me how incredible it would appear to my colleagues at Weavers Close, who had endured my years of 'Bagatelle'. Again, my sincere apologies.
And to answer your question. Yes, it went very well. Stacks of people came. It didn't rain. We only had two short power cuts. We raised 600,000fbu.

 What's more I found myself, planning how we would improve on it all next year! All the staff of the Junior school, who had been a little bemused as to what an Easter Fayre was, were enthused and planning their part for next year!

To cap it all off, I ended the day looking like a lobster, having spent three hours wandering about in the sun!!!

The Fashion Show.     

Sunday, 17 March 2013

For Leah

Tonight I am actually not sorry that I am 4000 miles away from England. I have just 'watched' the England Rugby Union team attempt to win the Grand Slam, via Facebook messages with my son. The messages were short and to the point. It was clearly not a match to enjoy as an England fan!

Whilst 'watching' the rugby I have also been composing my end of term exams. It's really not a task I enjoy. Me and exams have never really got along too well.
My first major fall out with them was my 11+. This I managed to fail and was thus condemned to attend the not very local Comprehensive school. Not that I would have coped well with the Grammar school. With it's straw hats in Summer and felt boaters in the Winter.
My next non-triumph was O levels, where I managed a staggering amount of fails. My pinnacle being an Unclassified in maths. I even managed to get an E in Biology, a subject that hitherto, I had only achieved A's in!! A' levels were an equal struggle. Fantastic failures in my Mocks, to be followed by some daring scrape-throughs in the final exams.
One of my problems has always been multiple choice. Somehow I know the answer until I'm presented with some plausible options, then I go to pieces.
So, it has been a huge torment to me, setting exams for my own students. Not to mention the fact that I have suddenly come face to face with all the things we never got round to doing during the term!

At the Crib House - this photo was taken by Dada
Last weekend was a very different state of affairs. The King's School was set up about 16 years ago to educate the children of the CRIB Orphanage (40 in number, now aged from 11 to 20'ish). Five of the children in my class are from Crib. So, I have gradually been getting to know them over the past months.
 Last Friday 8th of March, 19 year old Leah lost her life long battle with Aids. I had only met Leah on one previous occasion. At Christmas I had sat next to her, at the Christmas movie night. It was a night that almost blew my mind! I sat in the open air in late December under a clear night sky. Watching a movie on a big screen. To my left sat Leah, who I had just been told was slowly losing her battle with aids. On my right sat Janine who had on our first meeting (back in August) stared at me so aggressively that I almost turned to jelly on the spot. And now Janine was hugging my arm and wanting reassurance that I would be returning after the Christmas break. And Leah just smiled and sat quietly watching the film. That evening I was overwhelmed by the enormous privilege I had in being part of these lives, even if it was only on a very small level.
In Burundi the tradition is to bury the dead as soon as possible. So Leah's funeral was on the Saturday. This presented huge logistical problems and meant that some of the Crib children were not able to attend the funeral itself. All the children in Years 5, 6 and 7 needed to stay behind.
 It was an honour for me to be asked to go and spend the time with them. We spent time remembering Leah's life and what she had mean to each one of them. The children prayed and sang and thanked God for her.  I ended that time knowing what a precious life had been lost. But I had a real picture of a young lady who had enjoyed life. She had been a real fighter. She loved monopoly, the children said. And she always won....but only because she cheated! She was bossy and spoke her mind .......but always because she wanted the best for us!
 It is so hard to put down in words what an immense privilege it was to be part of that time together.

There were also other more light hearted points. I experienced 'lunch' with the Crib kids. They were a little taken aback when I said, of course I wanted to eat with them! So, I was duly furnished with two plastic plates, one containing a large amount of beans in sauce, topped by what I thought at first were grass cuttings, but I was assured were Sombe, ( a legitimate vegetable.) In the second bowl there rolled, what looked suspiciously like a large lump of grey Play Doh. This, I was informed was Bugali. And Bugali I was told was, very nice. Ok. Next, came the somewhat interesting logistics of getting the said food into my mouth. No cutlery, is used for this meal. You take a small ball of play doh, sorry, bugali,  roll it around in your fingers and make a small dent in it. Then you dip the bugali ball into the beans and grass cuttings, sorry, sombe, then eat! Easy! Messy, very messy. Somehow it seemed to manage to dribble all the way up (or down) to my elbow. Not only very messy, but also not one of nicest flavour and texture combinations I have experienced. On my list of 'Nasty Green Things What I Have Eaten in Burundi' Sombe went in at second nastiest. No 1 Nasty is Sukumu Wiki. No 3 Nasty is Lenga Lenga. When the children asked if I would ever eat with them again, I said yes, but maybe not on a Bugale day!

I also decided on that Saturday to break my strict rule of never lending my camera to anyone under 21. It seemed right to allow two of the youngsters to have a time using it. In the morning Dada, had fun pointing it at people and clicking. Then Freddie said, 'Mrs Liz can I have a go with your camera?'
Before I had even had time to open my mouth, I was hit by an onslaught of shouts. 'No, don't let Freddie touch it.' 'He'll break it.' 'He'll smash it.' 'He's not to be trusted with things like that.'
There's  something in me, that rebells when I'm given advice like that. I just wanted to say, he's never broken anything of mine. So, in the afternoon I sought Freddie out, and gave him my camera, with a commission to take care of it and bring it back in one piece. He gave it back later with a big smile and a very interesting selection of photographs, which made me think he might well have a future in photography. All the photo's in the Blog are part of Freddies Album.

So to close, it is now Sunday. I have been on a 3 hour walking tour of Bujumbura. Just one little tale, from the walk. We (Alli + me) turned down a small back street to be faced by some cows coming towards us, sporting some extrememly oversized horns. I started my little 'mantra', which goes along the lines of, ' I'm not afraid of cows, I'm not afraid of cows .............' I managed about 6 steps and then my body decided to STOP, I am afraid of cows. I stood. I could hear Alli saying something about them being fine and not being interested in us and not to worry. I managed to blurt out, 'Alli stop, I can't walk any further.' When the lead cow changed direction and headed straight for her!! Great big horns and everything. It walked right in front of her and tossed it's head at her AND THEN started walking towards me. I'm frantically looking for somewhere to hide. I turn, there is a young Burundian boy (about 10) standing behind me. We look at each other. I think about hiding behind him, but then again maybe not. So I half slide, half teeter on the edge of the drainage ditch and hope! The cow passes without tossing it's head me. Which means I don't wet my pants. Now its the turn of the second cow. It too walks straight at Alli, tosses it's head and walks on past me.Dry pants.  Cow three, omits the head toss. Cow four, omits the change of direction and head toss. The whole scene ends with a man hanging out of a window above where I'm standing, laughing and saying, ' You scared of cows? they no hurt you, they cows.'
Oh yeah! In England cows trample people to death you know!!

Sunday, 3 March 2013


It's Sunday evening. I've completed my Kirundi excersises. Translated: Fasha abakorbga kurima mu bitoke. (into English) Help the girls hoe the bananas. Translated: Hoe well in your (s) big garden. (into Kirundi) Rima cane mu murima wawe munini.
You need to know that hoeing is a big thing in Burundi, hence it is one of the first verbs learnt. I'm still looking for my first opportunity to say to someone, 'Hello, you are hoeing well.'

I've marked all my literacy books. The next school job, is to plan next week's lessons. Then put together a letter asking for help for our great Easter Fayre. It is being organised by Year 6. My job is to take all the children's drafted letters and combine the best bits to form one letter!
So what to do next, that's the question.

' What about a Blog?' . I've had a week off, due to flu. But I'm better now. No excuses. But I think I have developed, Post Flu Blog Syndrome. What does PFBS involve? Well it means every time I think about composing a Blog, my mind goes blank and all I can think of is lying in bed doing nothing for a week. I think about all the exciting things I didn't do over Half-Term. All the places I haven't been. All the photos I haven't taken. Then my Post Flu Blog Syndrome persuades me that I just can't Blog today. And so it has been for the last week or so.

But as you can see, today I am fighting it. I am trying to rise above it, drag myself out of the pit of self-pity. I am limping into the realms of ............. oh dear PFBS, hit again and I can't put into words what I'm trying to say.

So, PFBS would have me believe I have been nowhere. As would my regular visits to Facebook. Where I read of trips here, there and everywhere by all and sundry.
But on reflection I realise that, the 4000 mile journey to get me here in January does count as a bit of travel. And, I have been to a couple of concerts, recently. 

One took place in the garden in the pink blossom (sorry don't know it's technical name)tree. It was during my bout of flu and I had gone to sit in the garden for a while like a good sufferer. I looked into the tree and suddenly it was full of tiny Sunbirds. The first act was aerial acrobatics by pairs of juvenilles. Demonstrating their abilities to weave in and out of the branches at high speed, in formation. This was followed by some individual hovering displays by a beautiful male and it's mate. The finale was a spectacular performance by two males. This very simply involved sitting on a branch and moving subtly to show the various sheens of colours their apparently black feathers could produce. It's hard to capture the beauty on the camera, but I did manage to get a bit of a shot of the finale.

This the same bird as the one in the picture above. As the light catches it, the feathers change colour!

The other performance was maybe not quite a concert. It was more of a Comedy with opportunities for audience participation.  It could be entitled, Banana Bread Removals.
Banana Bread Removals involves a plate with banana bread crumbs and 100's of the tiniest ants ever. To attend the performance all I have to do is leave the plate on my desk for 15 to 20 mins and the performers arrive! They then take it upon themselves to remove all the crumbs from the plate, across the desk, up the wall  and out of the air bricks above the window. Where is the comedic value in that you ask? Well.
Firstly, there is the 'One crumb, Four ant' senario. The crumb bounces around as each ant snatches it off the other and makes a run for it. It's great to watch and see who gets the crumb in the end.
Secondly, there is the 'Help I can't see where I'm going' senario. When an over ambitious ant picks up a crumb twice it's size. This usually results in random wandering and bumping into other ants and obstacles. Those crumbs look great as they appear to walk themselves off the plate and across the desk.
Thirdly, we have the, 'Excuse me can I help you with that crumb?' scene. I have had to guess at the dialogue that goes with this scene. But I think it is something like this:
Crumb Carrying Ant: Phew this is heavy!
Hands Free Ant: Would you like some help there mate?
CCA : Ah no thank you. This is my crumb, thank you.
HFA: Come on mate, just let me take the strain. No point in you doing it all by yourself.
CCA: I said no thank you and I meant no thank you. Go get your own crumb.
HFA:  Alright keep your antenea on. It's a long way up that wall and you don't want to be dropping that crumb half way up.
CCA: (Shouting) I said no. Now let me past and go get your own crumb, you lazy, good for nothing, not-carrying-a-crumb ant.
Finally, there is the 'My SAT nav has broken' senario. This is the one where I get to join in. As the ants go and down up the wall, they create quite a clear path. If I take my somewhat sweaty finger and draw a line across their path on the wall, it creates a great scene of chaos. The traffic coming down the wall hits the line of sweat, rebounds in horror and charges back up at double pace. The traffic heading up the wall hits the line and starts running in frantic circles wondering what to do next. Eventually, either one ant discovers a way around the line or it dries up sufficiently to allow SAT nav's to start again. It's great fun and nobody gets hurt in the process.
I have enjoyed the Ant comedy a number of time recently. Once it even threatened to make me late for work!
Come to think of it I have also taken part in a horror movie. Well a horror without the movie. I did my own version of, Sleeping with the Enemy.
It was a stiffling hot night, no way I could have any covers. There was no power, so I had been reading by candlelight. All was quiet and peaceful, when I blew out the candle and laid down to sleep. I was just drifting into oblivion, when there came the dreaded noise in my ear. Something along the lines of zeeeeeeeeezzeeeeeeeeettttt! A mosquito. I clapped my hand to my ear, I must have got it. No sound. Drifting off to sleep. Zeeeeeeeeeeezzeeeeeeeeeeetttt! I'm awake, alert. Electric racket swiping around my head. Nothing. My ankles start to itch. My arms start to itch. I pull the sheet over me. The heat generated within two minutes is suffocating. I fling the sheet off. I'm itching all over. With my racket in hand I doze. Zeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeezzeeeeeeeeeeeeeettttt!!!!!! And so it goes on all night. If only I could switch the light on and find the little blighter. My racket runs out of charge. I've covered myself with calomine cream, but still I itch all over. The rest of the night goes along the lines of  Zeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeezzzzzzeeeeeeeeeeetttt, scratch, Zeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeezzzzeeeeeeeeeeeeettttt, scratch, Zeeeeeeeeeeezzzzzeeeeeeeeeeettt...............
By the morning I had bites on my bites. I was not a happy bunny at all.
And here is the answer:-
I've slept on my own ever since!!
So now I think we can safely say,  I have successfully beaten my PFBS. Not sure I'm going to get any work done now, but never mind. I can always do it tomorrow. TIA (this is Africa)