Sunday, 25 September 2016

I Hope You Dance

It is the eve of the start of Week 4, Term 1, school year 2016/17. Things are just beginning to hit a 'routine', so I thought it was about time I got to grips with writing the 'Back to School' Blog.
Here are a few Snap Shots of my time so far....

 This is the regular scene in my office, at Break time, It is my twice daily encounter with what-it's-all about.
Monday, Wednesday and Friday I sit for what feels like hours around the table with the Leadership (Principal, Head of Secondary  and Head of Operation). Then Tuesdays, Primary Senior Leadership.  Sometimes I spend so much time in meetings, it begins to feel like the children are just an optional extra.
But then at 9:15 am and 11:15 am, my stodgy meeting saturated life gets blown apart by the Yellow invasion.
Suddenly all the heaviness of the decisions, dilemmas, and deliberations , dissipates. As those trophies are lifted, for the umpteenth time.And everything is investigated with enthusiasm and abandonment.
Last week, I was very earnestly informing Adarsh, that I was sorry, but I really was extremely busy and needed to continue what I was doing. When he equally earnestly,informed me that he wanted to see the Blue Poisonous Dart frog picture on the computer. Next thing, there he was sitting on my lap, moving the cursor off my 'I'm-too-busy' document and onto his, there-is-nothing-more-important-than-me icon!
 Since my move into the Head Teacher's office I have been exposed to a new and fascinating element of life, Jolly Phonics. During the Summer I actually attended a Jolly Phonics Conference in London.
So, I have now graduated from my false understanding of , a ..a..ants in my pants. To a...a..ants on my arm, causing me alarm!
Also, I have now  discovered, Jelly and jam, Jelly and jam, jiggling on the plate. Oh what will I eat with it? j....j....j...j..j (Action: Pretend to wobble like jelly on a plate, saying j,j,j,j,j)
Just one slight issue, we don't have JELLY in Burundi.So most of the children have no idea why they are wobbling.
Thus, one of my 'missions' this Summer was to purchase some jelly blocks to bring back for J day. I discovered that jelly no longer comes in blocks , it comes in little packets of granules, which are all very definitely Sugar Free!
Armed with my sachets, I eagerly anticipated J day in the Reception class.
Jelly and moto transport, interesting combination. Jelly and Bujumbura temperatures, somewhat sloppy combination.
Jelly tasting and small Burundian (Wise pictured above) Not-too-sure combination.

I have to confess that the above picture is in fact 'Staged'. I don't carry my camera at all times to make sure I have photographic evidence of all the strange things I land up doing. Sitting on the bike is Ashton (Burundian spelling Hatchiton) . On Tuesdays we have Clubs. Clubs finish at 4:30. But TIA, so at 5:45pm it is not too unusual to have a few 'left-overs'.
On our very first Tuesday back, it's 5:55pm and I am still waiting with Hatchiton. After a few phone calls , it is decided that I will transport said child to the house of one of the teachers, where he will wait until someone can come and get him. It is at these times that a little 'English' voice in the back of my mind starts wittering about, safety procedures and Risk Assessments. Next thing we are bumping along the road, Hatchiton wearing a rather large helmet, that may or may not stay on his head if he falls off. Me constantly asking him, if he's holding on  and telling him to yell loudly if he's going to fall off. The sight causing much entertainment to all on lookers in the Kinindo area.
Just in case you are wondering, he got there in one piece with all brain cells in working order.

I am now about to do some shameless, Fund Raising. The picture to the left is our present, Pets Corner.
I would very much like to develop this area. At the moment we have one Guinea pig cage. All the mummies and daddies together!! and a few babies!!!!
Next to them the rabbits. Mummies, daddies and babies. My plan is to have four larger cages and start a Family Planning System.
We want to transform the area into a place where the children can learn about Animal Husbandry, yes I deliberately said that, rather than Pet Care!
We also want to include an area for growing vegetables. But it all costs money. Not huge amounts. However, I don't often find myself in a position of having spare cash to put into projects like this. So if you read and feel moved to help , please do message me.
Finally, before you all nod off. This week I celebrated my birthday . I've had 5 birthdays since living in Burundi. The first was my 50th and I was caught very unawares by all the celebrations and demands that come with having a birthday. I was mortified that first year to find that at the Friday Assembly in the week of your birthday , you are required to go to the front of the assembly to be sung to and prayed for. No big deal? Ahhh, not until you have hundreds of children all clapping and chanting , DANCE, DANCE, DANCE!
I was utterly, traumatised that first year. So much so, that the next two years I managed to 'avoid' being at the assembly in my birthday week and the two following weeks , just to make sure.
Last year, presented a slight problem. Now I was the Head of the school. Can't really 'avoid' assembly. It took all my strength and resolve to make myself face the situation. But I did. When the DANCE chant came, I calmly informed the children that it was just not possible. I don't dance. Then in a moment of complete madness, I made them a promise that I would try and get myself to a point where I would dance , next year. You'd think after living for 53 years, I'd remember that years are very short!They go by, in a blink of an eye. And that's just what that year did. During the Summer it dawned on me that within weeks of returning to Bujumbura, I would need to be dancing.
Thankfully, my grandson Robert (5)has some pretty good moves. He does a great line in back seat dancing in the car, on the way to school. He taught me that it's just a case of 'letting go' and moving . Then, grand daughter, Megan (11) saved my bacon big time, by recording a very simple routine for me to copy. She did however break one condition I set. I did say when planning the moves to only move legs or arms, not both at the same time. I think I have a syndrome that makes it impossible for me to coordinate my top and and bottom half. I can still hear them yelling at me as a child, when trying to march in time down The Mall, for the Silver Jubilee.
Year 6 added the final support to my venture, by very quickly learning the routine and performing it at the assembly. So all I had to do was copy them.
Anyway, the end of it all, was the most incredible achievement of my life. I danced. I danced sober. I danced in front of 200 people. I didn't cry.  I danced. I finally managed to overcome all my hideous inhibitions, anxieties and paranoia and I danced. BUT, I think I might not be doing it too often. Video evidence, demonstrates a lack of coordination and fluidity in my movement. At 54 years old, I danced.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Moving into The Promised Land!

Embarking on my 5th year in Burundi. Moved into my 6th house. There have been some huge changes over the past four years.
The Front Door + Dog.
Firstly, it looks like this year's house is going to be my first real 'home'.
 For the first time, I'm not living in school accommodation, or lodging with friends or even house sitting for absent residents.
This house is one I've chosen to rent (with Alli). We chose it because it has everything we want and need (well almost).
So what did I want in a house? Light and space. What I really love, is space to walk all the way around the house.
As you can see, we have our very own little guard dog, Badger. I know he doesn't look like a Badger any more, but when he was born, he was black with a white stripe on his head.

Luxury bathroom. With fully intact, no cracks, toilet seat. As you can see, great colour co-ordination. White toilet, green bidet, beige bath and two tone floor tiles. Plus, bright orange toilet brush. Just one major draw back ....... no hot water !Back to cold showers. It is at least a hand held shower, so I am developing an elaborate system of washing using a flannel and minimal amounts of cold shower water directly hitting my body.
I know most of you are thinking...but isn't it so hot in Burundi that a cold shower would be nice? NO, NO, NO. Cold showers are never nice in my world. You are thinking of somebody else's world, not mine.
No, he's not usually allowed on the bed. It's a Saturday treat.
 So far no dramatic stories to tell of giant cockroaches or even late night ppppzzzzzzttttttting mosquitoes. Just one small bug, that did produce a large amount of blood, when squished. I rather think some of it may have been acquired from me at some point. But I have no evidence on my body to prove that theory, so I won't press charges. I suppose that means I may have executed an innocent bystander, whose only crime was to be crawling up the inside of my mosquito net. Oooops! Well let that be a warning to all bugs in my bedroom. In this room you are guilty until proved innocent and don't bank on being given time to prove your innocence.
Moving on to the kitchen, which contains everything a girl could need. Sink with cold tap. Cupboards, shelves, cooker. Ultimate luxury, a fridge freezer.
There is a slight absence of work tops, granted. The most frustrating thing we have found is that between us Alli and I have discovered we own not a single tea towel. When I think about the 100's of tea towels I have given a  home to over the past 30 years. It beggars belief that I have finally reached a point where I have not one left.
So for now it's all drip dry.

We inherited a dining table and chairs from the previous tenant.
As for the living room area, we decided to go to Budget, a large shop in Bujumbura that stocks just about everything.
The name Budget however, is a tad misleading. It is Budget, as in, have you got a huge one? If so, you might manage to purchase something in this shop. The average price of a living room suite turned out to be between 4 and 5 million francs.
We got on the moto and travelled to the Wood Working sheds of Mutanga Nord. Here we did our bit for the Burundian economy and ordered a traditional package of 3 seater, 2 seater, 2 single chairs, coffee table and 4 small tables all for the grand price of 600,000 fbu. Just got to wait until 21st of September for them to be made and delivered. A very kind friend at school has loaned us two arm chairs until then.
Alli is a tough Canadian and she had been excited by the prospect of being Bohemian and lounging on the floor with cushions for the next few weeks. Not I. My body no longer does Bohemian. It just does aching and cramping and things like that. I find myself saying things like, 'could someone help me up?' or  'I think I might be stuck here for a while.' So now we have two 'mobile' comfy (ish) chairs, that live on the balcony pre 5:30pm and living room, post 5:30pm. 5:30 is mosquito time.
So, here's the Promised Land link. The house is great. But the compound around the house is Awesome. My idea of heaven on earth is the facility to be able to relax and walk all around my house in the garden. Here I can do just that.

Left side

 Granted it all looks a bit bare just now. But it is coming to the end of the dry season. Soon, it will be green and growing.

It's hard to find fault with life, when you can wander all the way around your house in the garden.

It was a friend who referred to the house and garden being like finally reaching my Promised Land.
When I reflected on that, I realised that the Israelites waited 40 years to reach  their Promised Land, because they ticked off, God.
I briefly hoped that it wasn't the case for me, but realised quite quickly, I've done a fair bit of ticking off on my time.

I'm very grateful that even though we tick Him off, God is in the business of forgiveness and new starts. Pretty impressed with mine. I really hope that time and familiarity don't erode my appreciation.

Back - Mango tree
Right side, from back
Right side, from front
My second huge change, is that I am starting my second year as Head Teacher of The King's School - Primary.
Hopefully, I'll Blog further about that next weekend!

When I look at all the gloomy posts about teaching on Face book and talk to those returning to teaching in England this week, I realise how immensely blessed I am to be doing a job where I am excited to be going 'Back to school'.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Office Holidays.

Today is President Ntaryamira Day. I have just spent a little time reading up on exactly what that means. 
'On April 6, Burundians celebrate President Ntaryamira Day. It is a public holiday that commemorates the anniversary of President Cyprien Ntaryamira's death in 1994.'
'On April 6, 1994, Cyprien Ntaryamira died in a plane crash. The private Dassault Falcon 50 jet which belonged to Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana, a fellow Hutu, was shot down while landing at Kigali International Airport, Rwanda. The plane crashed, killing both presidents. Their death ignited the Rwandan Genocide.
President Ntaryamira Day is a solemn observance during which people reflect upon one of the most tragic events in the African history.'
Thus, it seems quite fitting that I am spending this 'holiday' in my office. Circumstances mostly beyond my control ( granted I could have said 'No') mean that I need to be at work and available, today.
 I was tempted to feel a little sorry for myself. Poor me, having to work today! But I am surrounded by others also giving up their 'holiday'. So I am neither unique, nor alone. Together with the fact that today is meant to be a day of reflection and solemnity, I no longer feel quite so hard done by.
I have also taken some strategic steps to help today feel 'different.
1. I have Highland milk to go in my coffee. No black stuff today.
2. I have Vanilla sugar instead of ordinary white sugar.
3. I am Blogging.
4. I have a sewing project. I'm not going to spend all day doing School work. In fact if I can manage it I'm not going to do any . But I am in my office, so that might not be possible.
Now I just have to get my brain to agree that although the surroundings are 'work' the circumstances are 'holiday'.  My brain's a bit dense with things like this. Not very adaptable. 
Knowing that I would be spending Week 2 of my Easter break in the office, I made the huge effort of having a 'mini break' last week. Towards the end of Term 2, I began to be aware of the fact that my daily life had become confined to a bubble that extended approximatley 5 miles from my home. School, church, Club du Lac. I know that for many living here, their bubbles ar even smaller. So I am not trying to play the 'woe-is-me' card. Even the fact that I get to go to Club du Lac to swim and relax, is a privilege denied to very many living here. But I had the feeling that during the Easter break I should take the opportunity to leave the city and venture  Up-Country. 
So at 8am, on the dot (even though we didn't have a deadline), Thursday 31st March 2016, together with my house-mate Alli, I escaped the confines of Bujumbura. Off we went, up the hill towards Gitega. 
We had a very loose agenda or mission. Alli had heard of a project running in Cankuzo province, where donkeys were being introduced to work on the land. Alli is somewhat of a donkey freak. Ever since she heard of there being donkeys in Burundi, she's been desperate to go and see them. 
Therefore, destination 1 was Cankuzo, about 4 hours drive from home. We have a luxury lunch stop at a town I can't remember the name of. Luxury lunch - bread & ibitumbura (Burundi doughnuts) and milk, in an Amata Neza Shack. The Milk shack offers, 3 glass sizes of milk , 1 litre, 700ml, 600ml and a choice of fresh or rancid, room temperature or cold. The total cost of our lunch 1200 fbu . What's that in £'s?  At present there are 2200fbu to £1. 
Amata Meza Shack - The one with a man outside
Shortly after lunch we were stopped at our first Police check. The very nice policeman at the Check point asked us where we were going... Cankuzo......would we like to take a passenger? The answer of course to that question has to be 'Yes'. We looked across to the small crowd of people waiting. A mother with a flock of smalls, a couple more policemen and a man with bags. Which one(s) we wondered? It was the man who approached when given the nod by the policeman. Fortunately, I've been here long enough now, to have released my 'Englishness' in such situations. It turned out that the young man was a doctor travelling home. He was completely harmless and pleasant.

But he did start a chain of very interesting 'Directions-to-find-theDonkeys'. It seems to be culturally wrong to ever admitt that you don't know where something is. So if you are asked if you know where the Donkey Project is in Cankuzo, it is better to make up an answer, than actually just say, 'Sorry I've no idea'. So our passenger, confidently, confirmed that there were donkeys in Cankuso and we would very easily find them opposite Coodec.
Unfortunatley, his drop off point arrived earlier than the easiliy found donkeys. 
We arrived in Cankuzo in the early afternoon and choose our hotel based upon the fact we liked the Zebras decorating the drive way. Cup of tea and we were set to visit the donkeys. Cankuzo is not a large place, one roundabout, four roads. Alli reliably informed me that Coodec is nearly always opposite the Commune. Easy. Drive to the Commune, but no Coodec. Never mind, another person who fortunately knows exactly where the donkeys are. Back to the roundabout, past the hotel, along the road and there they will be.
Off we go. The road starts as tarmac, very shortly becomes dirt. Then it goes on and on and on and on. Finally turning into a bumpy, muddy, windy track. With absolutely NO sign of donkeys. We come to a small village. And low and behold another person who knows with great clarity where the donkeys are! Just keep going along this road turn right then left and there they will be. At this point we ask, about how long will it take,  'about 2 hours!!. How long? It's now around 4pm.  Finally,as we approach an extemely steep bumpy descent,we call it a day, do a 20 point turn and head home.

My hotel room - 10,000 fbu a night
Discussions at the hotel, with a group running a project in the place to which we were heading, reveal that it is a tiny little communtiy and if there are donkeys there, they had never seen them! Ah.... so all those directions were in fact the route to see the incredible, invisible donkeys of Burundi!
Back to the drawing board with the donkey hunt then.

Day 2 found us on the second part of our mission. I'm a little skeptical now, as it is another 'search' based activity. Alli has lost Eric. Eric is a young Street boy, who a few months ago was fortunate enough to come across Alli and with her help get placed in a programme that helps Street children. Sadly, after settling in extremely well for 3 months he suddenly disappeared in February.  Alli had a feeling he might have tried to return to his home town, to find his father. His home town being, Gisenyi, in the very north of the country. Another 2 hours drive Up-country.

At least this part of the journey involves driving through the Ruvubu National Park. After being rewarded with a great view of a troop of monkeys, we stop off and have a little trek into forest.Find nothing but big footprints (of cow like things) and insects. But we felt awesomely, intrepid, out in the wilds of Africa all on our own.

I won't go into all the details of the  Eric search, other than to say it was almost as fruitless as the Donkey search. But involved a lot less wild goose chases.

However, on Day 2, Apirl 1 2026, my 6th Grandchild appeared in the world! Riley Eleanor Salmon arrived at 12:40, while I was trekking in the forest.

After, the failure to find Eric, we decided to head home. The whole journey made somewhat stressful, by the discovery at another Police check, that Alli's driving licence expired in December 2015.  Fortunately, the young policeman who made the discovery was happy to accept a small gift to allow us to continue unhindered. The next 5 Police checks were , Master Classes from Alli, in how-to-talk-your -way-through-a-Police-check-without-allowing-them-time-to-ask-for-your-documents. Alli might be rubbish at finding things, but she's a genius talker.

As darkness drew in, we flew down the mountain from Bugarama at break neck speed. I was heard to whimper at one point,' It would be nice to arrive home alive!'. Over taking container lorries on mountain roads, still not something I am at ease with.

Well it's 2:30 pm . I have just about completed this Blog, finished the sewing project and drunk 5 cups of coffee. That leaves 2.5 hours for soloemnity. Think I might pop into town on the moto and get the ingredients for making volcanoes.

3:30pm. Shopping trip on National holiday not such a great idea. I've given my bestest smiles to lots of heavily armed policemen and soldiers.
My shopping list - Vinegar, baking powder and liquid soap.
First shop, Bon Prix  - closed. Second shop - Carre Four - open . No vinegar, no baking powder. Just liquid soap. Third shop, Italbu  - closed. Fourth shop, Engen - open. No baking powder. Just vinegar. Fifth shop , Chez Shiva - closed down. Sixth shop, the-one-by-Pont-Muha-on-route-Rumonge - no longer a shop!
 On my way home I will try Payless (which is not actually called Payless anymore, but everyone still calls it Payless, because that's what it used to be called and no one likes the new name.) If they don't have any, I will try the Indian shop (which got it's name because it was owned by an Indian family. But they've left Burundi now and it's owned by Burundians, but we still call it the Indian shop, because it's too hard to identify it any other way!!)

Sometimes I do miss Asda ( or Tesco, or Sainsburys, or Morrisons, or Waitrose, or Aldi, or Lidl)

Friday, 25 March 2016

Bullets in the Bedroom!

Just read through my last Blog from September 2015. My final line said something about Blogging more regularly. That was 6 months ago!
It's Good Friday. I have just completed my second Term as Head Teacher, with 0 days off sick. Granted, my body does feel a little less than great today. I have a sneaking suspicion that my face seems to inspire people to make the comment, 'you are going to rest now aren't you?'
But I've made it. We've made it. The King's School, Bujumbura, Burundi has survived two terms, in one of the hardest periods of time in the country. 
There have been so many challenges, I have at times begun to feel like the ball-bearing on a pin ball machine.  Many days where I have reached that point where I know I've got to laugh, rather than cry. 

Term 1 (September) found us with just under 50% of our pupils across the whole school. But all the 'signs' were good. Lots of people believed that Burundi was going to settle down and things would slowly get better. So we started back at school with a real sense of hope and expectation. Numbers would rise, slowly. We just needed to tighten our belts and ride the storm. 
I began to get used to the sound of gun fire at night. I began to be able to identify the different weapons used by the various factions trying to sort out their problems in the wee small hours. At school we learned to be compassionate to 'tired' children, who'd had disturbed sleep. Most mornings began with a .....'did you hear?  .....story.  But, life went on. Term 2 would come and lots of children would return to Burundi, and all would be well.
Unfortunately, nobody told the people here, who were having the significant disagreements with one another, that story.
Not a big bullet, I know, but big enough for me.
So, in the early hours of Friday December 11th, the shooting became even more intense than usual. I was lying in bed trying to work out just how close it was, when there was an especially loud bang. It made me jump, quite significantly. It almost sounded like it was in the room. But I remembered what I’d been told about it being very loud if the shooting got close. So, I assured myself that this must be in fact just how loud it got. I laid in bed, determined not to be pathetic and wake up the others in the house. The shooting continued for the rest of the night. This was clearly a change from the normal procedure. I woke around 5am, still feeling a bit shaky. The phone messages started, school start delayed........delayed again. I did my usual early morning stagger from bed to bathroom. Shower. Then stood on the mat next to my bed, looked down to the floor and something caught my eye. Surely, not!? There, lying about 3 ft from my bed was a bullet. I looked up at the ceiling and there indeed was a nice bullet shaped hole. That loud bang ......was a bullet coming through the roof, through the ceiling and landing next to my bed. No wonder it had been so loud. No wonder it sounded like it was in the room. IT WAS!! There followed some very shaky, excited waking up of everyone else in the house.
(Apologies to my family who haven't heard that story - it seemed best to wait a while to tell it)
Sadly though, the effect of  December 11th on the school was very nearly devastating. No more steady return of students. Finally, the families who were just about coping with the difficulties, had enough and called it a day. No more back to normal, coming for Term 2.

Term 2 (January 2016) found us with around 50% of our students, but this time with few good ‘signs’ to look forward to. This time also, with a huge ‘situation’ to deal with. We could no longer ‘ride the storm’ we had to face full on an issue that we had been avoiding for the past few months. 50% pupils, but 100% staff at the school. January and February were very difficult times. It’s a huge problem in a country without a ‘Benefits System’ to think about making people jobless. The situation at The King’s School was in no way unique. All across the capital employers were facing the same dilemma. More staff than required, but making someone redundant, could mean condemning them and their families to starve.
Finally, after much soul searching and discussion we found a solution. It was hard, but seemed to be the best we could do in such a negative situation. The end of Term 2 found us still there, still determined to give the children of The King’s School the best education we possibly can.
So what else have I done in the last 6 months?
After the Hydrogen Chloride had been poured on!
 In October I learned a hard lesson about gas!  I was busy trying to do quite a number of things all at once. Baking a cake being one of the events. The cake baking was turning out to be more troublesome than usual. At one point the gas got turned off accidently , so about 5 mins before the meeting at which  the cake was to be consumed, it was discovered to be very soggy in the middle.  In my rush, I opened the oven door, quick sniff, no gas smell. Grab the lighter. Turn the gas on. Oh look ! the gas was on all along. Flick the lighter on. Hand in the oven. BOOM!  Hand engulfed in flame. Bad words, uttered. Sudden remembrance of a fact contained at the back of my head. Gas in Burundi doesn’t smell. Twerp!  Second lesson I learned in this episode. Hydrogen Chloride is extremely painful when poured over the raw,  unhealed skin of a burn!!
As I said in my last Blog, my office is sandwiched between the Pre-school and Reception classes. I’ve learnt all sorts of new songs. One of the best is ‘ Today is my favourite day, it’s better than any other day. Yesterday, was a very good day, but today is my favourite day.’  Another good one, is a golden oldie, ‘Read your bible, pray every day, pray every day, pray every day. Read your bible, pray every day , if you want to grow.’ The second verse is new to me and always makes me smile.  ‘ If you don’t read your bible and pray every day, pray every day, you will shrink, shrink, shrink.’ Not so good for us short people. Clearly a lack of reading and praying going on somewhere!
My little frog expert.
One of the high spots of most of my days is break time. 9:30 am and Ardash  will appear. He will come in for his daily chat about the frog pictures on the wall. He loves to name them all. Slowly, we are looking up the names on the internet. Every day he reminds me that the blue and black one, ‘is a Poison dart frog, and you mustn’t touch it, because if you do you will get sick.’  Then he leaps around the room like a frog and disappears back into the playground. Some days a whole swarm of yellow shirts appear in the office. All picking things up and touching buttons on printers, computers, phones, it’s great. Keeps me firmly in my place!

Just a few - Yellow Shirts.
Well, I think that’s about it for now. I will try to keep more up to date with Term 3 progress. Tonight we have been blessed with a serious of explosions and some automatic gunfire, blasting somewhere across the city.  It’s actually been a while since we’ve heard so much. Still some differences to be resolved, unfortunately.

The King's School Primary - Term 1

One of my favourite photos - being escorted into school on a rainy day (by a security guard)

Another favourite - brotherly love on Sports day.