Kalashnikovs and Continuing Education

Kirundo, Monday, July 27

I just shook hands with someone who was carrying a Kalashnikov. (To be honest, I don’t really know if it was a Kalashnikov, an AK-47, or some other long, lethal, brand name, but you get the idea!) Apparently, she’s our bodyguard for the night. White sweater, trousers, very chic long cornrows, army boots and a Kalashnikov. Last night’s bodyguard was in full uniform, though I don’t know if he was police or army or something else. He walked into the porch where we were meeting with a big, friendly smile, the kind that just makes you want to smile back. He spoke very good fluent French, chatting with us for a while before going to his post outside the walls. He only had a pistol in his belt, but he was accompanied by another man with a machine gun, who shook all of our hands and then left immediately.

Stephanie has arranged guards for the hotel grounds every night. So far it hasn’t really felt like it’s necessary, but we’re trusting her judgment. If she feels it’s necessary, it’s fine with us.

workshop participants

workshop participants

We did our first day of the workshop today and it was very interesting. The teachers struck me as very young, enthusiastic, and well-off – surprisingly, considering they make less than 100 euros a month. Their clothing was neat and matching, and their shoes were decent quality. The women had stylish haircuts rather than what most women we see have, which is hair that is cut extremely close to their heads. They wore western clothing, rather than the traditional brightly-coloured African cloths.

The level of English was not very high. Almost all of the teachers had to think carefully and speak slowly, and even then they made a lot of mistakes and sometimes couldn’t even be understood. Some of them found it extremely difficult to follow the workshop, often asking for us to explain again the instructions that had been given. I wonder if their English really is so poor, or if it’s just a matter of so many years without anyone to speak it to but students. If the latter is so, we should see improvement in this three week workshop.

The oldest man in the workshop is 63. His name is Balthazar and he’s been teaching English for 35 years. Quite of few of his former students are in the workshop as well, and even some former students of one of his former students. I loved seeing his enthusiasm even after all that time and all the troubles the country has had. He said that before 1993, when their civil war started, he often used the sorts of activities we’re demonstrating in the workshops. But then they had more books and more equipment, like cassette players, and they got continuing education courses. He said this is the first course that’s been offered since then.

70-100 students in a classroom like this

70-100 students in a classroom like this

Their classes are ridiculously large. One man said he was lucky only to have about 70 students per class. There were some who had about 100 students per class. Unbelievable! I’m told they’re busy building schools and classrooms all over the place, but they don’t have the teachers yet to reduce the class sizes. And, when they talked about it, you could see how tired they are, and discouraged. They truly want to improve the education they’re offering, but aren’t convinced it’s possible. I was really moved by their willingness to try and learn what they can from us anyway.

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