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.