Sometimes it is hard to do justice to the nature, the beauty, the wonder and the downright weirdness of this job. But we shall try. A day in the life of a Redearth representative:
6.30- 7.00 am:
Awoken by the blurry but rather lovely mixture of birds in the trees, lizards on the roof, cocks cockadoodledooing, church choirs singing, calls to prayer from the mosque and of course the hollering and whooping laughter that is Stella’s morning hello. Breakfast, often in the dark or by candlelight as the power is out. Toast, cooked over a flame and an egg boiled on the hob.
Flying along the freshly rained-on red roads on a motorbike, alone for a moment, on the way to work. The sun not yet fully in the sky, throws a hazy, golden, light on the fields of green sugar cane, maize and beans in the valley below. Birds and their morning music everywhere. The misty-blue, forested hills rising slowly in the distance. Small gatherings of wooden or mud homes whizz across the horizon or are spied, nestled comfortably behind a bushy enclave of tropical trees, streams of smoke rising from them as breakfast tea is prepared. Children, barefoot on their way to school, smiling and waving, whilst men and women of all ages, their bikes and heads stacked high with produce to sell at the market, walk with all the time in the world.
Arrive at school: greeted by crowd of suspicious stares that quickly turn to smiles, especially if you attempt a Runyoro greeting ‘Oraire ota? (How are you?) Children running to see you, or running away crying in distress at having seen you (presumably due to disturbing alien whiteness of your skin).
Ushered quickly in to the heads office to sign the much revered visitors book and begin the days rounds of greetings to all those who you know or do not know –hand shaking, questions of ‘how is town?’ and ‘how is home?’ ‘How is the weather finding you?’ ‘greet the others from us!’ And then, after chatting some more with the head teacher or local priest, finally, work begins:
Visits to classrooms where you are welcomed, religiously by the entire class: ‘Good morning madam, this is P6 class, feel at home! *Claps* ’ . Observing teachers implementing the Redearth training with gusto and enthusiasm. Feeling proud, inspired. Visiting a second class and experiencing the absence of any indication that training has been given. Feeling disheartened. Taking classes yourself for demonstration, watching as the children stare at you, open mouthed with disbelief, taking several attempts to get the children to do what you want.
(“Yes, I really mean it, come up here and act like you are a mosquito’’)
Supporting teachers and offering suggestions of how to implement the training effectively. Feeling hopeful.
Giving training: waiting in the spare classroom for at least an extra 30 minutes after the session was scheduled to start whilst the staff assemble. (Ugandan rule – if it is supposed to start at 10, it starts at 11.) Watching as teachers with unsure faces break in to fits of giggles and raucous laughter as they are introduced to new games to warm up their brains or their bodies. Struggling to explain things in your best Ugandan-English, speaking carefully and clearly. Watching as the activities you have planned fall flat on their face due to your poor explanations but then, inevitably, with enough interactive activities and group competitions, having a great time with the teachers and building new relationships and trust. Occasionally, abandoning all due to torrential rain banging on the corrugated iron roof and gusts of wind blowing in through the windowless window and throwing you paper and plans everywhere.
Then lunch. Maybe it is insisted that you eat with the staff – sweet tea and cassava chips under a mango tree, beans and matoke(boiled and mashed) in the staff room. Maybe you go for a short walk to a neighbouring village, buy a roll (watch as locals ask in confusion “just ONE?! This is not enough!) and a banana and again, find a tree for sitting and watching the world go by.
Your solitude is invariably disturbed by a gaggle of small children with torn clothes, dirty face and big grins, who have come to inspect you. Hair is pulled (not always gently), skin is poked and stroked, voice is giggled at and mimicked and all items in your pockets and bag are carefully investigated and experimented with, including the trying on of sunglasses or taking ‘selfies’ with the phone, until you find that you have company for as long as you would like it. When lunch is over, your newfound company escorts you off the land and shout ‘Muzhungu byeeee’ until you are out of sight.
The afternoon is probably hot and sticky and its usually off to another school, across the wide and open countryside, up steep and bumpy un-tarmaced roads and down in to quiet villages, sun on the shoulders and a breeze in your face. Otherwise by the window of the passangers seat of the car, discussing the ways of the world with Johnson: Mini-skirt laws, anti-gay laws, the rise of the power of women, the do’s and don’t of discipline.. the differences between ‘you people’ and ‘we people’.
Or, as happened recently, returning to Court View to deliver a training session to Redearth Reading schools on Storytelling. Greeting head teachers and teachers. Introducing some well-known stories. Discussing storytelling techniques and the importance of sharing stories with children. Reading stories to teachers in English and Runyouro. Making masks, reinacting stories through role play and drama.
Experimenting with voices, squealing with laughter and making pigs from plastic bottles. Experiencing together the sheer joy that we all feel when reading, acting or watching a story for the first time.
Or, delivering a training session to lead teachers, on their own presentation skills. Shrieks of joy and hugs as teachers see each other for the first time in 2 weeks. Sharing ideas and reflecting on our own professional development. Practicing presentations, discussing difficulties. Eating chapatis and drinking sodas.
OR, attending a ceremony to celebrate and congratulate the hard-working schools of the achievement project. Feeling proud as the minister for education of the whole of Uganda tells the crowd that the Redearth project is making a real impact and that he is impressed. Feeling happy for teachers collecting a silver certificate for their excellent teaching practice. Feeling confused as Ronnie tells a story of the egg, the carrot and the coffee bean and asks ‘Are you an Egg? Are you a carrot? Or are you a coffee bean?’ The story later unfolds to make much sense – the boiling water in to which each item is thrown is the difficult circumstances that teachers work under, and the individuals , the egg, the carrot and the coffee bean, go in to the boiling water. The egg goes in soft and comes out hard (angry, frustrated), the carrot goes in to the water hard and comes out soft (weakened, disheartedned, and the coffee bean comes out of the water unchanged but having improved the water, made it richer and tastier and good-smelling for all. Listening with sincerity as teachers conduct a prayer in which god is requested to ‘Give us all the strength to become coffee beans’.
Returning home, everyone is returning home. The roads are busy with budda buddas, children in dusty school clothes and tractors carrying stacks of fresh produce. The air is fresh and cool, the markets are busy and bustling as todays fresh fish catch is brought in from Lake Albert and is laid out on wooden benches. Wandering through the stalls, being greeted by familiar, friendly faces with the mingling smells of roasting cassava, smoked fish and fresh mangoes in the air around. Buying ingredients for a vegetarian soup and wandering home to share the days experiences with the rest of the redearth team.
Always dinner (at home cooked by our very selves or at Court View hotel if we can’t be bothered) usually stars, maybe guitar playing, maybe football watching, maybe drinking, and probably falling asleep at a ridiculously early time.