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.'