Wednesday, 15 October 2014

A Few Firsts.

If there is one thing that I really love about teaching it is the opportunity to give children the chance to experience something for the 'First' time. Over the past few weeks I have had the privilege of facilitating a host of firsts. What's more, those firsts have been (ultimately) simple,  and easy to engineer. Which in some ways has made them even more precious.
Our first, first, was the glorious invention known as the sandwich. We have been studying Instruction Writing in Literacy, I had been reminiscing with myself about how I used to do practical sessions when we learnt Instruction Writing (in England!). 'It just isn't possible to do it here' I persuaded myself. It's too hard. I mean how is a person supposed to cope without commodities like ASDA? How can I buy all the things I need? There's no power for about 20 hours of most days. Our kitchen is home to numerous families of cockroaches. Where would I store the ingredients? How will I get it all to school? Oh, the hurdles were many and various. Where would I find enough plates, knives? How would I get the desks clean enough?  Basically, let's face it, I was having an enormous fat, 'weedy moment'.
With my host of reasons 'why we can't make sandwiches,' I decided I would just get the children to write down a set of instructions and leave it at the theoretical stage. Unfortunately, the excitement that just thinking about making sandwiches generated, was just too much for me to resist. How could I deny them the opportunity to actually put their theories into practise. No self-respecting teacher could ignore such an opportunity. I wandered around the room, jotting down the variety of ingredients that were appearing on the various 'You will need lists' .  Things that missed the cut - ham, salami, onions, egg. (all either too expensive or too difficult to procure in numbers) Things that made the cut - Lettuce, tomato, cucumber, cheese, mayonnaise and ketchup (and bread obviously).
Friday morning arrived. One housemate not feeling well, so needing a lift with another housemate on her moto. Moto normally goes to the Secondary school, not the Primary school. So hurdle overcome, ingredients made it to school. Previous shopping hurdles had been leapt by getting Richard our cook to go shopping for me! (due to retention of minor 'weedy moment')
Gradually, the awareness crept around the classroom that we were in fact 'making' sandwiches. The awareness grew to fever pitch excitement with the realisation that not only were we making, we were EATING! Yes, actually EATING the sandwiches, which we were making. We were making and EATING!! There followed hand washing, made a little less than easy for the second group, by the fact that the water was turned off!
One interesting fact: no where on any, You Will Need List, did the words butter or margarine appear. Instead it was agreed that one slice of bread would be spread with mayonnaise and the other with ketchup! So it was done. Sandwiches were made. It was in fact not at all traumatic. Every child was so engrossed in what they were doing, it never even occurred to a single one of them to do anything other than exactly what they were told. Nobody left their seat. Nobody dropped anything on the floor. They made. They ATE. Best of all, most came back after the lessons and said 'Thank you'.

 That was all in Week 4. Week 5 'Firsts' - buying a stamp - sticking a stamp on a letter - posting the letter in a letter-box! In Week 2, we wrote letters to The Dixie Grammar School, Market Bosworth. I had been beginning to wonder if I was ever going to get round to organising the Post Office trip, when I was suddenly inspired to delegate. It's not one of my strong points. My ability to delegate. I do really like to do things myself. Then I'm in control. I know what's happening when, how and why. But I have found that a somewhat challenging fettish in a country where I don't speak the same language as most of the people I need to deal with. We have now in The King's School a Public Relations Manager, so who better to organise to my trip?
 So it was at  11:15 on Wednesday 8th October, I am informed that our trip is due to go ahead on Thursday 9th October! Oh how I love delegation! I have approximately 15 mins left of break time to compose a 'letter to parents'. No point in asking for permission. No way I'll get all the letters back in one day. Most won't even find their way out of books bags in that time. Time to go into TIA mode. I'll just 'tell' them it's happening. (and hope)
Hope got us all there and all back in one piece. It got us on National TV news, because it was some special day at the Post Office. But best of all was to joy in reading all the 'Thank you' letters written on Friday.  For so many of the children, their favourite bit of the day was , sticking the stamp on the envelope. Followed closely by, the drinking of the Fanta we were given at the end of each tour!

High on the favourite list was also the discovery of The King's School, Post box (BP1560). It was crammed full of letters. It was in fact my favourite part of the day, because in the middle of the huge pile of post was a letter for me! 
There's nothing quite like getting a real letter.

Learning how to send and receive a Registered Letter.

That's it for now then. I've sat for about an hour labouriously downloading photos. But the computer, or the Wi Fi, or Burundi internet, has now decided to stop playing the game. Nothing is happening. It's been a long time since I've managed more than one Blog in a month.
There should be some topics for Blogging coming soon, as I have decided to buy my own moto! Me in charge of a vehicle on the wrong side of the road! Watch this space.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Press Post before the Power Goes Off! It's Nearly 10 pm!

I'm very proud of this picture.
 The first time all my children and grandchildren
have been together, plus all in-laws.
A day I will cherish for a very long time.
Initially, I was about to begin this Blog with the word 'so', however I realised that the use of such a word would be entirely inappropriate. Gradually, it dawned upon me that I should put my Connectives lesson from last week into action. Thus, I am trying to use as many of the connectives we learnt, as possible. Therefore, I am having to create rather a lot of waffle. In addition to the waffle, it is my intention to start the Third Year of Blogging from Burundi. Moreover, I have chosen to start this Blog as opposed to continue marking the stack of 44 books which contain copious amounts of inane drivel, trying to achieve the same result that I am now. On the other hand, well actually I can't think of what's on the other hand, consequently this particular sentence isn't going to make much sense. Nevertheless, that got two more connectives out of the way.
Furthermore, I have learnt a valuable lesson tonight.  When you have two groups of Literacy books to mark, 23 belonging to Group A (classic A as in slightly more able than Group B) as well 21 belonging to the said Group B. Always mark Group B’s work first! If you start with Group A and 2 hours later move onto Group B, you will eventually ( I’m not sure, that use of eventually actually qualifies as a connective) want to bang your head on a wall! Finally, I have now used all fourteen connectives from our lesson in Week 3, Term 1. Thus (again, because I like thus a lot) the Blog can begin.

A great by-product of that little exercise, I feel a little more compassionate towards my pupils, especially those for whom English is a second language. It was quite taxing on my brain. I now see why so many of them drifted off into the realms of ‘nonsense writing’.

Still trying to avoid the use of ‘so’ to start a paragraph. Here I am back in Burundi for a third year. 6L of 2014 to 2015, have made a much more positive start than the previous 6L. The previous 6L are now consigned to the history book. Now I can look back and laugh! And oh how I’m laughing, well on the inside, sort of, well at least I’m not sobbing anymore, I can at least smile about the experience. The new 6L, have no lesson saboteurs, no academic terrorists, no concentration killing guerrillas.  The new 6L are that usual mix of, nice, naughty, spacey, serious, quirky, quaint and just what you’d expect to find in every Year 6 class. It’s looking so good, that I am in fact planning to take both Year 6 Literacy classes to the Post Office for a ‘field trip’, as I did in my first year here.

The many faces of Harry J Salmon. Newest grandson. I spent many precious hours with him over the Summer.
Miss him rather a lot now.

Sweepings from the kitchen floor, after and over-night Baygon spraying!!
As I enter my third year, I have begun residence in my fourth house. It is an extremely nice house in many ways, but has one serious draw back. It has a rather a lot of other residents. Cockroaches! They get everywhere. My best Cockroach story so far....... Tucked safely inside my mosquito net on my second night here, I am awoken by that ever-so-wonderful sensation that something has just crawled across my arm. I speak sternly to myself, refusing to put my torch on. Because I know if I find the culprit, that will be the end of sleep for the night. Thus, I limit my panic to frantic brushing of my arm and the area of bed nearest to me. Back to sleep. Unknown time later, I am awoken again by the same awful sensation. Positively yell at myself not to turn the torch on and find out what it is. After all it only felt ‘small’. Leave it, I reason. You don’t want to know. There follows, more frantic brushing of the arm and bed. Back to sleep. Daylight appears. I wake up. I look up. There hanging from the mosquito net above my head.......... is a big, fat, black cockroach!!!!!!! Swift exit from the bed. Lots and lots of frantic brushing of the arm. Lots and lots of strange noises like urrgggggghhhhhhhh  and arrrrrrrrgggg. Cockroaches are so, so not nice and I so, so don’t like to share my bed with them.

This incident led to a very serious dilemma. I have trained myself to get used to the somewhat claustrophobic confines of a mosquito net. I have even reached the place where I prefer to sleep with a net, because I hate being woken by that pppppfffffeeeeeeeeeeeeettt noise in the wee small hours. But if something that size can find its way in, I am not sure I want to be tucked up beside it.  My only consolation was the fact that I was using a temporary mosquito net, which didn’t quite fit the bed. With the arrival of the proper net, I decided to continue keeping the mosquitoes out and me in.  The net is so well tucked in though, that it is a major manoeuvre getting in at night. A number of times I have been safely ensconced in my den with, torch, phone, alarm clock, inhaler (yes it is a huge bed) only to look out and see my kindle sitting happily on the outside, smiling at me!

Having spent another Summer at ‘home’ and returning once more to Burundi the edges are beginning to blur around the boundaries of where I feel home is now.  Although I was made aware of how unsuited I still am, to some aspects of life here.  It was Friday afternoon, I had gone to visit the cash machine, up the main road.  I was escorted by my son’s dog (Sparta) and housemate (Ed). Unusually we’d had a successful visit to the cash point, actually coming away with cash in our pockets.  It’s great that Burundi now has cash machines, what’s not so great is that they are not very reliable, more often than not they make all the right noises but fail to spit any cash out. However, this fine day, we were successful. We were happily striding back down the hill towards home, when I noticed a rather fearful sight heading up the hill towards us. A herd of Long-horn Burundi cows. It’s been a long time since I have faced  this particular cultural challenge. Very quickly, I informed Ed that I was not very ‘good’ with cows. He seemed unaffected by this revelation. No, Ed I really don’t like cows. Again, Ed seemed unmoved by this revelation. And they were getting closer. My instinct was to run in the opposite direction, back up the hill. But clearly that would be a ridiculous course of action. I spotted two cars parked at the side of the road and announced to Ed that I would stand by them, hoping that Ed would protect my open flank. But oh no! Horror of horrors, Ed nonchalantly wanders off to the other side of the road. He abandons me.  The cows are literally yards away.

All the while this is going on, there sits a very jolly Burundian, on a wall just feet from where I am cowering behind the cars. He is happily informing that he is hungry and has no money. I have already said I’m sorry about that. In the next few seconds my life turns into a horror movie. The cows split up and come around both sides of the car, I am rapidly becoming surrounded. That’s when total panic sets in, I flee the 6 feet it takes to get to the jolly Burundian, and I quite literally hide behind him. He displays a mixture of mirth and confusion, what on earth is the crazy muzungu doing?  A cow with huge horns stops and faces the strange sight of laughing Burundian and quivering muzungu. I communicate to my protector that he should make the cow stop staring at us. Which he does amazingly easily, considering the obvious danger we are, with the flick of his fingers. Then it’s over. The cows have gone and I am safe once more, if not a little embarrassed at my rather pathetic ability to cope with the ordinary. My jolly Burundian informs me once more that he is in fact still hungry. Now I have a real dilemma, he has just protected me. Can I really just walk away and not offer him some reward? But all I have in my pockets are 10,000 fbu notes. 10,000 fbu is like a month’s wages to this man. It’s far too much to give. But it’s that or nothing, which is far too little. I ponder for a few seconds, then the decision is made. Why not? Everybody deserves a ‘lucky’ day, and today it can be his. I pressed the 10,000 into his hand and dashed away, to sound of his enthusiastic thanks. Despite the trauma, it was good to feel that I had the opportunity to do something surprising for someone else.

So ........(I had to do it in the end!) many things in life here are finally feeling normal. Power cuts, cold showers, mosquito nets, white boards that are not connected to anything, cobblestone roads, the absence of Supermarkets, milk in bags. But every so often something catches me and reminds me I’m far from ‘home’. Like cows and cockroaches and children begging in the streets.
(My sincere apologies for the random placing of photos around this Blog. The computer just didn't want to play ball!)


Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Creative Curriculum !

Mega oooops! May appears to have disappeared along with two weeks of June. It took with it any vestige of decent Internet connection we had in Bujumbura. Since Easter the Internet here has been supremely frustrating. It has taken 10 minutes for me to get logged on as far as beginning to start writing this Blog. Already the red error message has flashed up three times, telling me the connection has been lost!!
This situation has at least provided me with a launch pad for the subject of this epistle. It is the acquisition of new skills whilst living in Burundi.
Life Skill Number 1:  Multi-tasking whilst working on the Internet. To avoid tears of frustration and hair loss. I have had to develop a system whereby I have a range of activities happening whilst waiting for pages to load on the net. My computer has a small icon in the bottom right corner of the screen. It is two computer display screens ( one sits behind the other, slightly off-set). This icon has become an important part of my life. It's job is to show the 'situation' regarding the computer's connection to the World Wide Web. If the icon displays a globe it's good news, we are connected. If the globe disappears it's bad news. Then we are just connected 'Locally'. Local connection is a waste of space. It's not connection at all. It's pants, rubbish, useless and often brings tears to my eyes.
So the skill is, watching for the globe. When it appears, rapidly clicking refresh on all the pages trying to load and then hoping it stays long enough to complete the action.  Alongside this, it is wise to have a game of Solitaire running. Plus an activity that does not require Internet access at all. I have to say though that icon watching is infinitely more preferable than, the other skill I have been developing lately. That of reading by candle light! Having power and intermittent connection will do me, when the option is often no power at all.

Life Skill Number 2 :  Avoiding Splash-back when flushing the toilet. Most days the water goes off around mid-morning to return late afternoon. This situation requires the novel activity of flushing the toilet using a jug or bucket. My first few attempts ended in the slightly uncomfortable and unpleasant experience known as 'Soggy feet'. I spent some time trying to work out exactly which water had landed on my feet. My conclusions led me to the resolution that I would have to master the art of avoiding the said 'Splash-back'. So now I have it sussed. Stand with your feet placed as far away as your arm reach allows. Aim to send the water from the jug into the toilet in a smooth, steady action. Do not throw at too great a speed. Try to position the entry of the jug water to hit the front part of the toilet bowl. The really strategic thing is the positioning of the feet. It is imperative that they are placed as far from the toilet as is humanly possible. 
Thus, I have not had to ponder again just what liquid is decorating my footwear, for some time now.

Life Skill Number 3 : Wall walking and plank balancing. Kinindo ( the residential quarter I live in) has been undergoing a programme of ' road renovation' for the past 10 months or so. This has involved an elaborate system of digging ditches, dumping rocks and sand, removing rocks and sand, filling holes, making holes, creating drainage ditches, destroying ditches, re-making ditches, removing sand and rocks, dumping sand and rocks. (yes I know I said that one!) But that's what it has been like. It is totally beyond rational, logical explanation, the system that has been applied to the process. Gradually, brand new cobble-stone roads are appearing. The affect of all this on me, has been the requirement to find ways around the road works, in order to find my way to school. Most of the roads first have a drainage ditch constructed along the edge. The walls of these ditches provide very useful walk ways when the road is covered with a mountain of rubble or a huge machine flattening or digging.
When I was young, I like most children had this magnetic desire to clamber on every wall possible and do a dare devil impression. I can still hear my mother's words ringing out, ' If you fall and hurt yourself, don't come crying to me.' 'Now look you've gone too high, what are you going to do now? I told not to go on there, but did you listen to me. No. '  ' Why can't you just walk along the pavement like everybody else?'  and so on, and so forth.  Now here I am, nearly 50 years later, in a 'wall walkers' paradise. Only one slight glitch. My body is no longer in 'wall walker' mode. My balance isn't quite what it was. The 5 kg of rucksac on my back, gives me a bit of jip. So as I totter along the walls, accompanied by sniggers from any Burundians viewing my antics, I try to imagine myself 6 years old again. Ready to scale any obstruction and dare to cross the thinnest of bridges. So far I have conquered every challenge put in my path. I am however, looking forward to a two month break back in safety obsessed Britain. Where I will have clearly marked pedestrian access past all obstacles I encounter on the road!

Life Skill Number 4: Avoiding throwing up when encountering Cockroaches in my coffee. Twice now I have experienced the somewhat disconcerting feeling of, 'there's a lump in my coffee'. The first time it was small and slightly squishy, behind my teeth. I managed to take it out of my mouth with my fingers. A brief glance at the contents of the fingers, revealed a large black ant. The black ant was deposited in the coffee mug and I managed to continue my conversation, without revealing the fact that internally I was screaming. 'Yuk, Yuk Yuk, arrrgggghhh, errrgggg, pththtpththtpththt.'
The second event was slightly more dramatic. I'd left a cup of black coffee on my desk at school. From which I was taking the occasional swig. All was going well, when I took a large swig, only to find my mouth almost filled with a large lump. This time no delicate removal with the fingers. I SPAT the lump back into my mug. It landed with a soggy plop on the side of the mug. It was enormous ( about 2 cm long). I did manage to contain my aarrrrggghhhh, eerrrhhhhh, ppthtptthhpptthppthth's mostly in my head. But then I spotted a student watching me avidly. So I showed him. The whole class the duly viewed the offender in my mug and sympathised with their own versions of aarrrrgggghh, eeeerrrhhh, ppttht's. The really terrible thing was, that when I returned to the mug later,  just to check, in a sort of sadistic torture yourself way. The offender was regaining consciousness and struggling up the side of the mug. For that atrocity he found himself having a swimming lesson in the toilet bowl. Ha!

Life Skill Number 5: Remembering where you are when the lights go out! I'm sure you all think this is very straight forward, if you live in a country where power cuts are a rarity. I have now learnt the importance of making sure that as the sudden darkness engulfs you, the last thought you have is  'where am I?' Failure to actively locate oneself can result in some quite scary disorientation. I have been known to stand for a good 30 seconds, trying to remember precisely where I was, when the lights went out! A step in the wrong direction, or a swing of the arm, can be quite costly. If I am in my own home now and am plunged into blackness , I am proud of the fact that I can usually, within seconds, make my way to my bedroom, locate  my wind-up torch and be back in the light, without any mishaps. If I am not in my own home, I have to say, my strategy is to stand/ sit still and wait for someone else to risk life and limb finding a light source.

Well I think that's about it. My second year in Burundi is drawing to a close. In two weeks time I will be flying back to England, itching to meet my new grandson, who was born last week. I'm gradually getting the hang of living in Central, East Africa and very much aware of the fact that I like it much more than living in not-so-sunny England. But I wouldn't give up my two months home, for anything. So long as, I don't actually swallow any cockroaches in my coffee, fall down a drainage ditch, slip on spillage from a toilet flushing or poke out an eye whilst groping in the dark, I think I'll be happy to stay in Burundi for the foreseeable future. Oh....... and so long as I don't spontaneously combust one day, when I'm getting hot and bothered waiting for the little globe to re-appear!

PS: After two frustrating failed attempts to attach photos to this Blog, I am admitting defeat and publishing pictureless.  Sorry.

PPS: Well I will publish ......... when the stupid red message that says, 'An error occurred while trying to save or publish your post. Please try again. Dismiss'  Naffs off, my screen!

PPPS: What is really annoying, is that the little globe is there! So somebody is lieing to me! If it's the little globe I shall be very disappointed indeed.

PPPPS: And I can't even press Dismiss. Because that does absolutely nothing useful at all. And I've tried again, lots of times and that doesn't work either.

PPPPPS : At least the globe has disappeared. But now it's back, so why doesn't the red message naff off as well?  Aaaaaaaaaaaarrrggghhh!

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Percentages or Blog?

I'll start with the excuses shall I ? The ones about why I seem to have almost missed my April Blog slot. Well I've been busy. I know, so has everybody in the entire universe. But I still feel it is an excuse that can be aired. Also I've been ill. Now I thought I had bronchitis and aggravated asthma, but turns out it seems, I have a worse case of Procrastinitis. Technically, the bronchitis issue has been over for a number of days. I fully intended getting this blog written during the Easter holidays. Well, actually I was all set to start on Easter Monday. But then....... Next I had the rest of the week, but then ..... And now it's Tuesday 29th April. I'm back to school, holidays over and I really should be doing detailed preparations for a lesson on percentages, tomorrow. In fact, it is the prospect of the percentages that has finally pushed me into blog action. Percentages or Blog? No contest!

Kirundi dancers at the Easter Fayre

The end of term was thoroughly blighted by my dodgy breathing apparatus. After fending off many offers to be tested for a variety of interesting illnesses, I had to give in and visit the doctor. Medical visits have to be almost top of my list of  'Most Hated Activities In My Life'. But I have to say I was relatively impressed with the Burundian Health care. I suspect it had a lot to do with the fact that I could afford to pay for my care. Nevertheless, it was very slick. First, I had a consultation with the Doctor. Who spoke French. Which I don't speak. But that's great, because my brain stayed in the car park. Fortunately, my chaperone spoke very good French and tolerated very well, the fact that although she thought she had taken a 51 year old woman into the hospital, it turned out, she had accompanied a jibbering heap of nonsense. So the Doctor says I need an x-ray. What do we do? but go back to the desk. Pay for an x-ray 10,000 fbu ( about £4.00). Walk down to the x-ray room. Have a chest x-ray. Wait 30 mins for it to dry. Walk back to the Doctors office, clutching said x-ray. Doctor looks at x-ray. Prescribes medicine. Done! No 3 day waits for appointments. No waiting for results to be returned to the surgery. All done and dusted in less than 2 hours.
However, the jollity ends there. I was also condemned to 'rest'. In my book you go to the doctor, get medicine and go back to work. But oh, no. The doctor had said (in French) that I had to rest. It seemed that I could not claim ignorance of this order, as an argument for continuing to go to work!
The littlest Burundi drummers I have ever seen!
 Big problem we were just days away from the high spot of our year, the Easter Fayre. There was so much to do and I had to stay at home 'resting'. Needless to say, I had to learn (not for the first time in my life) that the world will not stop spinning just because I am not taking part. In fact my class and the staff of the King's School pulled together and did a fantastic job. I was allowed to go and sit and pretend to be helpful for a few hours on the day. It was great to see everybody, enthusiastically working to produce our second and best Fayre so far!
The first week of my holiday had been planned for a very long time. My house mate from September to December 2012 (Rachel) Who married Isaac in January 2013. Moved to Uganda in January 2014. At Christmas they visited Bujumbura en route from the USA to Kampala, ready to set up home and await the arrival of their first child, in mid March. We decided then that I would go and visit in the Easter holidays. Baby Mubezi would be just a few weeks old and I could go and be surrogate grannie. I'm not a seasoned traveller. I have made it from Leicestershire to Burundi, I know. But my list of travels is actually quite short. Whilst in Burundi I have only left the city on a handful of occasions.
So, I had been eagerly anticipating my venture to Kampala, Uganda.
Sadly, on the day he was due to be born baby Elijah Mahoro Mubezi died. He never made it outside the safety of his mother's womb. He gave no warning as to why he wasn't going to join us. His dutiful dad, Dr Mubezi had listened to his heart beat in the morning, but at some point later in the day, he left his body behind, skipped this part of life and went on to better things.
So I flew to Uganda with a heavy heart. I wanted to be with Rachel and Isaac, but was also aware that I would be facing great sadness. There was nothing I could do to make it better. Nothing I could say. Just stand with them in their grief, for a short time. Elijah has left a huge hole in their hearts. But Rachel and Isaac have shown enormous strength and faith, in dealing with their loss. Sometimes it is so, so hard to understand 'why' things happen the way they do. Both Rachel and Isaac believe that God has a purpose in all things. It's extremely hard for them just now to make sense of His plans. But I want to pay tribute to the outstanding faith and trust they continue to place in God, in the face of their overwhelming grief. They are holding on to His promises and refusing to be shaken to the point of letting go. It was an honour and privilege to stand with them, if only for seven days.
Handing out stickers to the children in Village.
Whilst in Uganda I visited Village. It is the rural area of the country, where much of the population lives on subsistence farming. Again, my understanding of life was rattled and shaken. I was humbled by the honour and respect I was shown. Isaac's elderly mother went to great lengths to make sure we were given the best of everything she had. People who have so little, but do not seem to begrudge giving it away to those of us who have so much.
Uganda also saw an enormous shift in my previously held concepts of the 'Easter Chick'. You know the little yellow, fluffly thing, that pops up on cute cards, made by small children.  It always looks so cheery, having popped out of it's little egg and looking forward to a fun packed life of Easter and chocolate. Well, in Uganda there were lots of Easter chickens. They were packed in crates, stuffed in plastic bags (with their head out of the top), wedged in cardboard boxes, hanging off the back of bota botas, swinging from the handle bars of bicycles, in sacks under the seat on the bus. I didn't see any looking terribly chuffed with their situations. In fact most sounded quite displeased by their plight. I think that was possibly down to the knowledge that they weren't destined for chocolate consumption. They seemed to know that the consumption was going to involve them.

Isaac's mother
Kampala is a city I won't forget in a hurry. It's one hugely redeeming feature was that everybody was driving on the correct side of the road (in my humble opinion!). Another positive, it has proper supermarkets. Like proper, proper big supermarkets. However, never have I seen so many people crammed so tightly into such a space before. It is a seething mass of humanity and the associated transport used by that humanity. At one point I was sitting on the back of a bota bota ( moped) weaving in and out of the nose to tail traffic. I so wanted to be able to capture the moment and show everybody who knows me. I wanted to say, look at me, in the middle of all this. A 51 year old grannie from Hinckley, Leicestershire. It was exhilarating to think that I am still able to push the boundaries of my comfortable existence and do something outrageous and new.
So that's it really. That's most of what happened in April. Although I must also point out, that there have also been lots of ordinary times. Getting up a 5:30am, going to work. Marking books, exams, writing reports. Sitting at home in the dark through power cuts. Reading books, playing endles rounds of solitaire, because there's no television. Eating rice and beans for three days in a row, because I haven't managed to get to the shops to buy anything else. Blogging is very much the 'highlights'. There's lots of normality in between all the excitement.

I'd like to just end by asking that if you are a praying kind of person, remember Isaac, Rachel and Elijah. They have a long hard journey ahead of them.

Our feast.

The Fish market, Kampala.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Beware the Black Blob!

Well, I think this is a first. Composing a Blog on a Friday night! But I am aware that March is very much on danger of slipping through my Blog posting fingers, much like January did.
 Although, I have to say for very different reasons. March seems to have decided to proceed at a much faster rate than most previous months. One minute it had just started and now I look at it and it is more than half way through. Gone of are the days of counting down the days to the end of term. Straining to get through each week as quickly as possible. Now, I find myself utterly dismayed at the thought that there are only three weeks left till the end of term. I need more weeks! The term can't come to an end yet, I'm not ready for it to. Maybe I should stop, before I lose all my readers in the English teaching profession!

Probably the biggest event of note this month would be the visit of Ntahangwa House to Himbaza School. Himbaza school, is technically our 'sister' school, as it is under the umbrella of Africa Revival Ministries, as we are. We are just beginning to build some links across the two schools.
Last year I visited the school twice. Once just to see what it was like. The second time with a few of my students. The students had decided that we should tithe the money we made at the Easter Fayre and give it to Year 6 at Himbaza.
Each class at Himbaza has between 50 and 60 children. But the rooms are similar in size to those at King's School. Children sit squeezed 3 or 4 to a bench. The back of one bench provides the desk of the one behind. Once you're in you're in. It was a thought provoking experience. Wondering if I could ever teach effectively in that environment.
The aim of our visit this time, was to 'Share Life'. To extend the hand of friendship and see where we could develop areas of support.
My role in the day was to deliver a short talk. It was to be delivered on three occasions. Once to the youngest children (Maternelle), secondly to the Lower Juniors and finally to the Upper Juniors. Five minutes into our session with Maternelle, I realised it was not going to be feasible. They were incredibly cute and adorable and all that. But they were a seething mass of small humanity, that closely resembled a tin of maggots (in movement terms). The combined attention span of all 200 of them would have amounted to less 3 minutes. I quietly, retreated behind my camera and watched the time slot tick by. It was a shame, but there just wasn't time in the end, for Mrs Liz to do her talk.
Our programme continued, very loosely based on the published version. When suddenly I found myself faced with about 400 children!! All waiting to hear my little talk. It was scarily, awesome. Being a product of the English education system, my talk of course had to include a 'hands-on' let's all join in element! The ensuing tumult was incredible. Another of those privileges I could never have imagined happening to me.  All those children erupting into joy, having made their own paper cross.
It was such a simple activity, but brought more pleasure  than I could have imagined possible.

The eagle eyed amongst you, will no doubt have spotted the aeroplane! That is the stage before it turns into a cross. And is obviously quite exciting too.
Unfortunately, rain stopped the rest of our day's programme going ahead. Which was a football match between the boys of Year 6, from each school. It was replaced by some very good impromptu singing from the Himbaza children.
I have a love-hate relationship with our resident cat. She is a large, grey feline. Who goes by the very original name of Cat. We get along well. But I like annoying her and she enjoys biting me, when I least expect it. She is the only cat I have ever met that will walk up to you in the kitchen. Lovingly, nestle into your leg, and then attempt to bite a chunk out of your calf muscle. Recently, however she did me an enormous favour. I heard a heavy thud on my bedroom door. Looked round to see her wrestling with a huge black blob. Being extremely squeamish when it comes to cats consuming things like spiders and cockroaches, I looked away. If I am honest, I squealed quite loudly, and made lots of other pathetic noises and gestures.  Eventually, an inspection led me to the remnants you see in the photo. I cannot begin to express how grateful I am, that I never got to meet the owner of those legs, whilst they were still attached to the rest of it. And to think it was walking across my bedroom door, when it met its very timely end! To think it had been living near me for goodness knows how long. There are muscles on those legs!
On to nicer, fluffier, cuter things. Well one of them is! This is a potential new recruit to the African arm of the family. He is possibly destined to become Andrew's guard dog! Although because Andrew lives in a mixed African/English household, there are a few doggie issues to be ironed out before he arrives.  For example: will he be allowed in the house? English vote - Yes. African vote - No. Will he be a pet? English vote - Yes. African vote - No. Do we even like dogs? English vote - Yes. African vote - NO!
There could be some fun cross- cultural developments occurring in the Kinindo area of Bujumbura, very soon.
Well the composition of this Blog started on a Friday. Continued on a Sunday and is now drawing to a very late night conclusion on a Monday.  I am in the process of grinding out another set of End of Term assessments (Exams). In my youth I was a prolific Exam-Failer. I started with my 11+ and reached a peak with my O levels! So I find it a little ironic that I am now inflicting the same process upon others. However, there does seem to be some justice in the fact that I get a sense of pay back for some of the grind they have put me through this year!
If you were wondering, they have actually improved enormously over the past months. On the whole we have a good time together these days. But some of them are teenagers, so they do have certain standards of obtuseness to maintain. My daily trips to the Secondary school have certainly enabled me to see the positives in 6L.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014


I'm not sure if this is typical 'Blogger' behaviour, but, before I compose a Blog I usually have a little look at the Stats for my Blogspot. As usual the Internet was working at Burundi speed. That means click on an action - go and make a cup of tea- come back - and it might have completed. Well, I couldn't be bothered to move. So, I was sitting staring vacantly at the screen, when to my horror I realised that there was a typo in the title of my last Blog! Januray! Oh the shame of it! I mean, I know there are always mistakes in the text somewhere. I make no claims to producing perfect Blogs. But to have one in the title is really a little bit much. It was a painful few minutes waiting for the computer to whir away, so I could get the post up, and edit the title. A least it's not there any more, even if it is a bit like shutting the stable door....! I think maybe I should start wearing my glasses when working on the laptop!
So it's Wednesday again. I thought I would try and pop out another instalment before February slips through my fingers. Next week is Half-term, but it is perilously close to the end of the month.

Quick insert of a photograph that has taken me ages to 'get'. As I walk to school each day, I often see these two birds in the top of the trees, just near the King's School, Principal's house. For weeks now I have either seen them, but not had my camera or had my camera but not seen them. One day, I had the camera. Saw the birds. Nipped through the gates into the compound of the house. Turned round, and then they very rudely flew off, before I could get the camera out of my bag. But I did it finally. They are Palmnut Vultures or Vulturine Fish Eagles. (I think it's the same bird as the one I put in the last Blog, but I'm impressed, even if you're not). Those trees are very tall and very thin.

Here's another one, that really impressed me. Until I read about it in the bird book and was informed that it is a very common bird across Africa. A Hoophoe. That's when I realise, how easily I forget that I am living in Africa!

I really can't Blog without mentioning the catastrophic floods that hit Burundi last week. As I mentioned last time, it had been raining an awful lot. But it was difficult to tell if it really was more than usual. Then on Sunday 9th Feb it rained and rained. There was an enormous storm through the night. A variety of factors came together and caused an enormous amount of water and debris to cascade down the mountain and through the northern suburbs of the city. Whole swathes of houses and buildings were swept away. The death toll rose to over 100. Many had been swept away or crushed by falling houses. I think perhaps for me the story that will stick in my mind is this. My housemate Alli, has been working at giving relief to 60 families that lost their homes. She was in the middle of distributing aid a few days after the flood. When suddenly three women left the aid queue in a hurry. She was told that a message had just come through, of a child's body having been found. Each of the women had lost children that night and each one needed to know if it was their child. I couldn't begin to understand how awful that must be.
It has been really encouraging to be able to channel financial help from Hinckley Baptist church to those 60 families in need. I felt at a loss to know what I personally could do to help. It is a strange thing to be so close to a disaster and yet not affected myself and also feel quite powerless to make any real difference. The only thing I had was some baby vests. It is my practise now when ever I pack my cases after a trip home, to use baby clothes to 'fill the gaps'. My daughters-in-law have left piles of clothes in my room, so I take whatever I can. After Christmas I selected a pile of baby vests. One of the difficulties in giving 'aid' after a disaster, is  when there is not enough of something to go round. When people are desperate, it can lead to rioting and serious problems. So it seemed that maybe my little pile of baby vests was not necessarily a great idea. But Alli decided to take them and hope. She gave a vest to each woman who came her in the queue with a small baby. She got to the very last vest and said to a fellow worker, 'oh dear that's the last one.' To her amazement, it was also the last woman who had a small baby. It was exactly the right number. I'd packed 13 vests and there were 13 small babies needing them.
It struck me that we don't need to do something big. We just need to do the little things and altogether they can become something big.

Well, it is still Wednesday. But not the same Wednesday as mentioned before. It is now a week later. Wednesday of Half term. Having cobbled together lunch for my son and housemate, plus two other 'young people' I am fighting that old person urge, that takes over in the afternoon, the urge to snooze. They are happily playing Monopoly. I traded exemption from the game with washing -up duty.

I thought you all might appreciate a picture from last night's tea. Many Tuesdays find me having tea at the Nahimanas. Here I am free to expose my 'pea' eccentricities. As I have said many times before, peas are a very pleasant vegetable; providing a few clear principles are adhered to. Firstly, they should be a nice, bright, pea green. Certainly not, dull brownish green. Secondly, peas, should always be served in glorious isolation. Never mixed in with anything else. Especially not liquid substances. Thirdly, each pea should be juicy and soft. There should be no hardness or pastiness about a pea. It should be succulent and moist.
I very much appreciate my weekly tea-times with the Nahimanas. There is however, just one small drawback. Tea is generally, beef curry. I like curry. But I don't eat beef, in order to protect my somewhat delicate teeth. So, have curry gravy + rice + chapati. So what's the problem?
The curry gravy always contains a certain amount of peas! Sometimes I am feeling in an extremely mature, set-a-good-example mood and just eat the peas! Yes, I just eat them. It's actually quite awful, because they are really rather nasty when I chew them. But I do it. I eat them. However, there are also weeks when I'm just not in a very mature mood. When the price of setting a good example is just too high. This week was one of those weeks. It's Half term. I'm a teacher on holiday after all. So, I do the opposite to the good example bit. I sit and carefully, pick out every single pea loitering in my curry gravy. And then to make matters even worse, I line them up around the edge of my plate. This week a new record was set. Previously, the furthest I have got around the plate has been just over two thirds. But this week, I managed to pea around the whole of my plate. I did feel entirely vindicated in the end, when Josiah (aged 6), delightedly came and polished off (ate) my pea circle! What really made me feel vindicated was the struggle he had to stab the little blighters, with his fork. They were so hard, they keep shooting off like little bullets. One even had to be retrieved from the floor, having survived the 2 second rule (or is it 5 seconds, or 7 seconds?) anyway it was still edible, according to Josiah. Imagine, how disgusting they would have been to consume! Just in the name of maturity.

My final picture, is of my most recent hippo spotting excursion. You will no doubt, quite quickly observe a slight shortage of hippos in the said photograph. Mainly, because there was in actual fact a real shortage of hippos on the excursion. I was reliably informed that there had been hippos at the same venue the day before. Really though when you look at the photograph, who needs hippos? They would just have spoilt it and detracted from the beautiful view. It's the view across Lake Tanganyika to the Congo mountains. That's when I remember, I really am living in Africa.

I would also like you to know that this Blog has spanned many prolonged power cuts. There have been points where I have believed it might never actually reach completion within the month of February. But here it is! That last picture took over an hour to download !!!!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Oooops, where did January go ?

My sincere apologies to anybody out there who might actually look forward to my Blog. I appear to have missed January somehow. Well actually I do know how it happened. I have come to the realisation that my Blogs have three essential ingredients: Photographs, Time and Humour. Unfortunately at the the beginning of January I was lacking two of the aforementioned ingredients. No photograhs. But perhaps more significantly, my sense of humour seemed to have deserted me. Someone had turned the light off in the funny side of life. Don't worry I don't require any sympathy or anything. Nothing particularly bad or distressing was going on. I just couldn't quite see anything amusing in the day to day occurences that were my life.
Christmas '13 - I popped home to top-up on cuddles
from the grandchildren!
So with the absence of humour and my failure to have my camera about my person when required I , kept thinking about Blogging, but not following through on those thoughts. As January crept by, I managed to resolve the photograph issue. Things were looking up, a seed of an idea appeared for possible Blog topics. By mid to late January the power was restored in the humour department. Like those energy saving bulbs, the light was slowly building. But then disaster struck, Time had fled. I found myself using every spare moment at weekends getting ready for the next week at school.
That's it. That's where January went.
Finally, February has presented me with a day that appears to contain all the ingredients needed for the birth of a Blog. It is Unity Day, (no, I don't know what it is Unity about). It is a Wednesday and it is a National holiday. I have photographs and I have a modicum of humour residing in my brain.
Here goes! (darn it, now I don't know where to start.)
Watching the Africa Cup of Nations (Football) Andrew
and I had been watching 6 Nations Rugby, but we
got out voted by the boys from CRIB and had to watch
the football instead.
ELAP. The King's school is split into four sites or compounds. Three are situated within a radius of about 500 yards. The Nursery, Infant and Junior school are all just 2 minutes walk from each other. The Secondary school however is slightly further away. A 5 minute drive or 15 minute walk down the main road (Avenue du Large). In September there was a slight anomaly in the admissions process, what I like to call 'a brain burp'. What this anomaly amounted to, was the realisation by mid November, that 18 students had been admitted to the school with severly inadequate English language skills. As a fluent Engish speaker! I became involved in finding a solution for the problem. We decided to take the 18 students out of their year 7, 8 and 9 classes, take them off curriculum and form an English Language Acceleration Programme. Thus two weeks ago we put our plan into motion. My part involves leaving the Junior school at breaktime (11am) Monday through to Thursday, jumping in a car, being driven down to the Seconday school and teaching Speaking and Listening skills till 1pm. Up until last year my experience of teaching teenagers had been seriously limited. Last year I had for the first time ever the 'joy' of having teenagers in a year 6 class.
There I stood (and continue to stand each day) faced with .... 17 (one left for Uganda) well, it is hard to put into words what I am faced with. It is probably easier to say what I am not faced with. No smiles. No happy, keen to learn faces. In fact as I look round most days I begin to wonder whether or not we are about to face the end of the world. Many of the faces commnuicate an absolute state of misery. I could be forgiven for believing that I had just missed to most depressing, catastrophic event known to mankind. Every day I have to take myself through a silent mantra. 'It wasn't me, I didn't do it. I did not cause the misery emanating from these individuals. It's not real. They are teenagers. It's their job to look disaffected and disinterested.Underneath those desolate personas are bright, lively individuals, just waiting to be set free!' And so I begin.
It has in fact been a good experience. Despite being a fluent English speaker, I have no real understanding or experience of what is involved and required in teaching  English as an additional language. My involvement in the ELAP class has not been wholly philantrophic, a large part of it is a selfish desire to improve my language teaching skills. I have begun to realise that this is a baptism of fire, if I can teach teenagers, then other age groups should be easy! Please don't disillusion me if you think otherwise.
A real silver -lining to the EAP experience, is the fact that my 'lovely' year 6 class now feel like I am bathing in bright sunshine, compared to gloom of 11:30 to 1pm Monday to Thursday. Some of my Year 6 pupils are actually older than the ELAP students, but it is interesting that they have not developed the same malcontent exhibited by those frequenting the Secondary school. I will see how things pan out over the next 8 weeks, but I think it is safe to say that I won't be rushing to work with post -Year 6 after this!
 One of the things I have enjoyed about living in Burundi, has been the walk to work. Even though I live in the city, it's really not like living in an urban environment. Unforntunately the Burundi Road Works Department have spent the last few months doing their level best to destroy all the roads in our neighbourhood. They have systematically been taking diggers along all the roads and removing all the hardened top stuff. Leaving soil that becomes slimy mud as soon as it rains. And rain it has. I now look extremely fetching as I walk to school in black trainers and a dress! On very wet days I even have to take my umbrella. Not to keep me dry, but to use as a walking stick. Apparently, the ultimate aim for all this destruction is to cobblestone all the roads in the area. At the moment all that seems to be happening is the movement of piles of cobblestones from one storage pile to another.
 It seems to have been a very wet rainy season so far. Not that my vast experience of one previous rainy season qualifies me as a reliable opinion on such things. But it does make me question the logic of our continued daily water- cuts. Most days the water is switched off from mid-morning to late afternoon. Yet recently, I still found myself the victim of my continually deteriorating memory. I had been somewhat traumatised by the attentions of Angel (aged 6) who finds my muzungu hair fascinating. She was gently playing with my hair when she declared, 'Mrs Liz you have white in your hair.' (no not dandruff!) Both I and her mother laugh a little nervously. 'Do I Angel?' Next, thing she declares even more loudly, ' Wow, you have loads of white, look it's all white here!'  Decision made. It's time to get the hair dye out. When I was younger I used to say that I would grow old gracefully. I was never going to dye my hair. Then when the reality of getting older set in, I thought 'hang that' there's going to be no grace in my aging, I'm fighting all the way.
Saturday afternoon, the time arrives. I plaster my hair in Deep Rich Brown hair chemicals and wait for time to roll back. When the thought suddenly occurs to me.......there's no water! How am I going to rinse it out? Fortunately, I'm home alone for a couple of weeks. So without any voice of sense and reason to admonish me, I use every drop of emergency water (Buckets, bottles, barrel) to save my vanity. One of these days, I'll get used to the power and water cuts, but maybe not just yet.

 Not sure what this bird is, but it was stting up in the tree outside Angel's house (the Johnson's).

The pictures of children in Green are from our latest 'House Day'. Ntahangwa continues to struggle at the bottom of the League table in the Primary school. We did lift ourselves to the lofty heights of 3 out of 4 one week. But I suspect we will have returned to the bottom at the next round up of points. It's not that we are all bad in Ntahangwa, it's just we don't quite seem to be able to put the ball in the net as it were.

What we lack in point scoring skills, we make up for in enthusiasm and joy!
 So that's about it. I will endeavour to hang on to my sense of humour a bit more carefully from now on. I'll end with some of the attempts of my little 'lovelies'  at the weekly memory verse. It is meant to be, Psalm 84 v10

" One day your temple will be bigger than one thousand people, so bless the wicked."

" One day in your temple is better than three days away. I'd rather stay in the temple than the homes of the wicked."

For those of you without a bible handy! It should say, 'One day in your temple is better than a thousand any where else. I would rather serve in your house than live in the homes of the wicked.'