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.