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Journal from Rwanda

By Anita Reetz

[In September, my Barnard College classmate, Anita Reetz decided to go to Rwanda to teach for one year with her husband, former WINS anchor Jim McGiffert. The move was not unusual for a woman who had spent many months in Banda Aceh, Indonesia responding to the need for ESL medical teachers after the tsunami. Anita will be sharing her journal from Rwanda with Education Update each month. ED.]

Sept 19, 2007
It was raining lightly when I got up about 6:30-7:00 am. We left the house at 8:30 for our presentation to a group of English teachers. We had umbrellas and thought that would suffice. At 9:00, the scheduled start of the meeting, the skies opened up and torrents fell for about 30 minutes. We were waiting in a cold, damp classroom for three teachers. Jim and I laid out the books we sent, arranging them by skill category (listening, speaking, reading, writing, fun activities, teacher training books, plus maps, games, picture cards, etc.)

Lined along two tables, the assortment of 50 plus items looked impressive. Firmard Sabimana, the head of the Language Center and our boss, had copied our 3 page list of materials for the teachers. The four ESL medical books we bought made a very good impression.

About 10am the rain let up and two more teachers arrived from Namishaba, another campus in the Kivu Lake District about two hours ride to the West. They–Bernard and DieuDonne (God Given)—told us they had to get up at 3:30 am and leave before dawn because of the gacaca (ga-cha-cha) which are the community trials of people accused of participating in the genocide of 1994. Gacacas are being held all over the country. They go on for several days in the mornings. The towns come to a stand still—shops and office, and work is shut down; townspeople are required to attend the courts, and when relevant give testimony. The leaders of the genocide who have been apprehended (some extradited from abroad) have or will stand trial in Kigali at the Ministry of Justice.

Our meeting got underway before 10:30 (we’re on African Time) and went well. We made our presentations, introduced books, exercises and games. Rukondo who just returned from a year’s study at Groning University in the Netherlands brought up an unexpected point: lack of student motivation.

The Language Center persuaded the Administration to set up a 9 week English intensive program in Namishama. Intensive means 8 hours of classes everyday (8am-5pm with a merciful hour for lunch), 5 days a week. When we heard the schedule, our jaws dropped. At the meeting when they saw the DVDs we had brought (Spider Man 1+2, Ray, Finding Nemo, March of the Penguins, King Kong, Hoop Dreams), the teachers said “Great! We can show English movies on the weekends!”

Sept 22, 2007
Jim is in King Faycal Hospital. His illness is undiagnosed. He’s very uncomfortable and the altitude is contributing to his problem. His white cell count is elevated. We have both been prescribed antibiotics because our flu-like symptoms have continued for over a week. I’m literally sick and tired. My cold hasn’t subsided. I have a severe sinus headache most of the time. Both of us feel exhausted.

In terms of food, we haven’t found a good solution. There are six others staying at the guesthouse and most of them cook their meals here. There is a four burner stove, but usually the two gas burners are turned off and only the electric units are working. Not everyone wants to eat at the same time; we have to wait until we can get access to the stove. After we have prepared a meal, the question is how to store leftovers. There is only one cold refrigerator. The other refrigerator that we are assigned to is a “cold box” where the temperature doesn’t go below 50 degrees.The result is that a lot of the food I have cooked has gone bad pretty quickly.

In addition there is the malaria prophylaxis problem. We have both had bad reactions to mefloquine—described by the doctor at the Polyclinique as “poison.” Insomnia, irritation and depression have been our reactions. Jim and I are now sharing a small cache of 8 malarone pills given to me by Rob Lindsay, my boss who visited from Pretoria this week.

We feel tremendous obligation to stay to complete the contract and a special allegiance to Firmard. But if both of us continue to be sick, there seems to be no alternative, but to leave because we can’t be useful in the state we are in. We are scheduled to move to Kibuye in about three weeks. Kibuye, near Lake Vu, is reportedly beautiful, and at a lower elevation than Kigali—by about 100 meters. In Kibuye, medical help would be perhaps unavailable as the campus is quite removed from the village and we would have no car there. So we would definitely have to be healthy to commit to 2 1⁄2 months there to participate in the intensive English program.

I have a clear idea of how I can help the English program. There is no doubt that our staying here and working with the teachers would be quite helpful for them. The work is similar to a lot of previous work I have done. Jim also would have the opportunity to consult with radio stations and given his 40 years experience in broadcasting, he could be extremely useful in his own area of expertise. We have a lot to offer them if we could get our game together.

The bottom line is we need some help with either the food or transportation problems.#

Rwanda Journal continued next month.



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