Friday, 28 September 2012

How long is a piece of string?

A ball of Plastic string

It is great having a husband who is very practical and good with his hands.  I have learnt so far in my married life of three years that he finds nothing more exciting than fixing things with odd pieces of anything he can find and even better if he has been storing in some out-of-the-way place known as justincase.  I find it amusing but also very handy as I can say things like “make me a door knocker”  (that sounds like a command actually) or “I really need somewhere to store my ….” And he is off and away in pursuit of a solution.

So I was glad to find him some little jobs to do in Sudan.  My mother always said “a man needs a hobby” especially if it is mutually beneficial.

The first task was a washing line.  “Martin I need a washing line”.  This was while we were staying with Tanya and Susannah.  It was perfect.  

We brought the remains of the red ball of plastic string and this is what he has done with it so far.

“I need a washing line.  No make them further apart.  I need more.”

Double washing line

Extra line space needed
It's holding up well
“What do we do about the mosquito net?”
A careful design to avoid tangling the mozzy net with the fan

“We need a toilet roll holder.”
"And a Towel rail."

His and Hers Towel rail
Our home 
 A view of the gardens
My husband is a lovely bloke.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

First Day at School

Assembly time at Madani Girls' School
 We had already visited both the boys’ and girls’ schools and met the teachers and had a quick look around but today we actually started at the girls’ school properly.  Martin was in the girls’ school on the first floor and I was placed in the girls’ school on the ground floor.  Until June this was one school but the decision was made to create two schools on the same site but with different administration and staff. The smaller of the schools, upstairs has around 400 pupils and has smaller classrooms and higher ability students, whereas the downstairs school has around 800 pupils and larger classroom sizes and are lower ability students.  I was amazed to observe a class of 84 students crammed into a classroom without any room to move.  You couldn’t get a fag paper between them.  We were told that the classes upstairs were small – around 30 to a class but the classes Martin saw were 40 to 50.  High schools consist of only 3 years of students, 1st years are aged 14, 2nd years are 15 and 3rd years are 16.  The 3rd years are being prepared for exams and so we will not be working with them in the class, just with 1st and 2nd years.

They were very excited to have me there
Singing and saying prayers

Lined up ready to say their bit
The day started at 7:30 with assembly and a group of girls led the assembly with a mixture of poems, pop songs and prayers in both Arabic and English, presumably for my benefit.  A couple of the girls were really nervous and tears welled up in me for them and I gave encouraging smiles as best I could.  The head teacher asked me to say a few words which was a little daunting as I had to use a microphone and I hadn’t prepared anything.  But I just told them my name and that I was from London and I had come here with my husband to work with their teachers to help them with listening and speaking English.  I then said “and as I look around at all you beautiful and talented young women, I look forward to getting to know you all” They let out a big “whoooo” at the word beautiful!

Hard to tell them apart in their uniform but their footwear shows their individuality!

I only got to observe a 3rd year class and as I said they were crammed in tightly. As you would imagine, a few students were particularly active and most of the students didn’t fully participate.  It would be impossible to move around the classroom and check on student’s understanding.  Similarly there would be no moving around for the students and so the only thing to do would be to group the students into 6, with 3 in front turning around to the 3 behind and working together.  Ideally, there would be a seating plan so that the groups were mixed ability and the better students could support the weaker students.  I discussed these thoughts with the teachers in the staffroom and  they we happy enough to try them out. 

One teacher has worked in Saudi and had already been exposed to these ideas and was very interested in trying them.  The other teachers were a little negative but I understand that.  The truth is that my ideas are theoretical as I have never worked with such large classes and the ideas may need refining.  But what they are looking for from me is to show them how to incorporate modern teaching methods and expand listening and speaking skills into the curriculum.  We were led to believe we would definitely not be doing that but instead working with the teachers and improving their language skills.  The conflict arises where the teachers have a deadline to complete the curriculum and therefore do not have time to take a leisurely approach and spent time on developing speech.  Not forgetting of course the broad range of ability in the class and the fact that probably half the class are way below the ability of what what is being taught.

However, as it turned out we didn’t try anything out and were whisked away by the Ministry to attend a workshop on introducing a Debating Society in school.  This was very interesting and I look forward to the possibility of getting involved.

Our Permanent Home!

Proud owner of a book shelf
 On Sunday we moved to our new place which will be our permanent home in Wad Medani.  It is the Teacher’s Union which is a conference centre for ‘educational stuff’ and has a block of en-suite rooms for people who have to travel a distance.  We are on the ground floor and are the only people living there.  It is set in some pleasant gardens and is very close the two boys’ schools and two girls’ schools we will be teaching in and so very convenient.  The shops are in reasonable distance but it feels quite far when walking in the heat so we have used a rakshar (tuk-tuk) to get there.  We think there are some nearer shops in a different direction but we have yet to explore.

The walls were crusty brown before we scrubbed all day

Thrilled to have a wardrobe and to be able to unpack everything

Martin playing ghosties behind the mozzy net
The room is a reasonable size but it is like a hotel room with nowhere to sit other than on the bed which is fine if you are on holiday but not so convenient when you are living and working there.  The Ministry of Education however have been more than helpful and have said they will find us a table and a couple of chairs plus a bookcase which will be very helpful.  We had to scrub the whole place as it was really filthy! But we are making it our own and are very happy to have unpacked finally after living out of suitcases since June 15th!

We have had to buy a few things though. We have a fridge in our room, but decided we needed some bowls for food for the fridge.  Basic stuff like plates and cutlery plus plastic bowls for washing our clothes and a little and iron.  There is no kitchen attached to our room, but we have been given authority to use the Teacher’s Union’s kitchen when they give us a key he he.  This will be another adventure I suspect.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Getting Started

The Anglican church
The maize field belonging to the church
We arrived but this was the first part of the process and things move slowly.  Having come from Khartoum, Medani is a pleasant sight.   There are trees!  And we saw some grass!  Our temporary apartment block is a couple of hundred yards from the River Nile which is lined by green parks with swings and slides for children and seating areas for relaxing.  Across the road are rows of tea ladies and juice bars and people sit around chatting and relaxing with friends.  It has a real seaside feel and is very pleasant.

We took a little walk around early evening the day after we arrived and found an Anglican church.  We had a look around and met the Bishop and had a good chat with him about his visits to England and the work they were doing here.  He showed us around the place which consists of a few small buildings one of which houses five computers.  I am quite excited about this as it is an opportunity to teach skills and English at the same time and so my brain starts doing somersaults thinking about what I can do here.  However, what hit me like a bolt was seeing blackboards fixed to various points on the outside of the buildings with seats arranged under nearby trees.  These informal outside classrooms are where young people come for English lessons after they have been at school or university.  They hang around the church because they know that this is where they can learn and practice their English.  They come because they need to and the Church meets that need.

Makeshift Classroom
Jessica was an SVP volunteer in Wad Medani before us and she had given us the names of some people from an English School that she volunteered at and we asked the Bishop if he knew them.  Of course he did and so Rose came over when she finished teaching and took us to the English Institute.  We met Doris, a German woman married to a Sudanese man and had lived all over Africa but came to settle here when her husband retired.   (My description does not do justice to this very interesting woman who has done some amazing stuff)  We met James as well; both he and Rose run the little English Language Institute.  It had a lovely atmosphere, like an oasis of calm.

We then met up with Christine who is doing her 3rd year of her language degree in Sudan and is due back to the UK next week.  We all went along to Nile street, ate pizza and drank tea.

In fact this is all we seem to do all day.  We go over to the Ministry of Education, sit around and drink tea and chat, hand over a piece of paper.  Then we go somewhere else and do the same.  Patience, patience.

Our home town - Wad Medani

View from a Rakshar in Medani

We have been hanging around for what seems like forever and so we were very excited to be travelling to our final destination (not that final!)  The journey itself was fairly seamless and we arrived in Wad Medani after a 2 ½ hour air-conditioned coach ride and were picked up immediately and taken to our temporary accommodation by people from the Ministry of Education.

The accommodation is quite plush, with ceramic floor tiles, air conditioning in all rooms, double glazing and comfortable furniture.  We were told that we would be here for 2 or 3 days and we also guess that our permanent accommodation will not be as salubrious as this so we are making the most of it.   Take-away lunch is brought for us all and we sit around and chat for a while with the Ministry people for a while.  They leave and tell us that they will ring at 6 to make sure we have everything we need for our evening meal and that is that.

The apartment is on the 3rd floor and some poor lad had carried our 6 bags up the stairs and so we asked Rami how much we should give as a tip and he said 3 or 4 pounds. We gave Rami 5 and asked him to give it to him on his way out but Rami couldn’t find him and so instead put the money on my phone.

At 6 this same boy turns up and asks us about food and so assuming he had been sent by the Ministry we gave him our order for food.  He spoke only very little English but he explained that his brother has a market stall and would we like some oranges or bananas?  So he went and bought us a kilo of each. We also took the opportunity of giving him the tip for carrying up the bags.  He came back again later, asking us whether we wanted some meat.  There followed a long conversation about meat and we said no we didn’t want any.  Then he came back with a frozen chicken and a couple of packs of meat.  We said no again.   He was hard to get rid of.  We were suspecting that he wasn’t from the Ministry at all but acting under his own initiative and we were feeling really put out by his persistence.  Echoes of Ethiopia.

The next day he was back again.  Banging on the door asking if we wanted food.  We told him no but he kept on.  Martin went down to buy something from the shops but the guy was behind him harassing him and so he came back up without buying anything.  The next day as we were walking out he stops us and tells us that the money we gave him wasn’t enough for carrying so many bags – it was “Little money”.  He asked us the same thing next time.

It got to the point that we stopped answering the door and it was only after persistent banging last night that we opened the door and he had brought us up a visitor who we had met the day before who didn’t have my number but knew where we lived.

She told us that he was Ethiopian.  Well that explained everything as this was our experience in Ethiopia and were beginning to think it was going to be a Sudanese approach as well.  What a relief.

Ethiopians are not liked here.  I don’t think it is for any particular reason other than the fact that they are immigrants.  During famine times, many Ethiopians crossed the border to The Sudan and have stayed and many go looking for work here as it certainly appears to be more prosperous that what we saw in Ethiopia.  From what I can see, all countries do this when they have groups of immigrants coming into their country, no different to us or the US in this respect.

Monday, 17 September 2012

In sickness and in health

It took me a week to get an appointment with a Rheumatologist at a hospital.  I went to the hospital last week hoping to see the specialist that day but it was not possible.  Instead I had to wait for the secretary to arrive and she wrote my name down in position 15 in a book for the following Wednesday.   She said 12 o’clock but I had no clue what that meant as there were 15 written down before me.  The waiting room was overflowing so I imagined I would have to be waiting for hours.

Anyhow, Wednesday came and we turned up at the hospital to an empty waiting room and I was seen straight away.  The doctor was very nice and I was given medication for my Rheumatoid arthritis and I have to come back in 6 weeks time.  It is a 3 hour bus ride from our placement city so I guess we will be in Khartoum for the night otherwise it will be a very long day.

The fee for the doctor was 150 SDP which is about £19.  So that was ok.  But the meds were very expensive.  The pharmacy wanted 50 SDP (£5.50) for 10 tablets and when I pulled a face she gave me some cheaper ones for 16 SDP (£2) Why not give me those ones first? I tried in 4 different pharmacies for the main medication and they didn’t have it.  In the last pharmacy, they called a number and a bloke appeared who sold me some directly.  Apparently, he is a pharmacist who goes to Egypt to stock up on drugs that are not available in The Sudan and sells them to pharmacies.  He charged me 150SDP that’s £19 for what would be 2 month’s supply.  I have bought drugs in Egypt and they are very cheap.  Am I being ripped off?  No doubt.  What a pisser.  Not happy.

But the good news is that I have my meds, am off steroids , so my little chubby chops should start to recede and am on the way to being pain free.  Also, my blood pressure is normal for the FIRST TIME IN 8 years without any medication.  Why is this the case?  I have no idea.  In fact it is very good not even just OK.  It was up when I was in the UK in June, maybe Africa suits me after all lol.

As you will gather from my FB statuses, we are working our way through the Sopranos at a steady rate and this has required lying down in bed for endless hours in an awkward position.  This has resulted in a painful muscle spasm at the top of my ribcage.   It was so bad that when it “went” it woke me with a start and I honestly thought I had cracked a rib!  It is like a crick in the neck but in the rib cage so not as bad but I am groaning and moaning like a good’un when I turn over in bed.  To top it all the last batch of our staple food – BBQd chicken – left us with a bug or two and we were up all night with sickness and diarrhoea which has lasted all day today.

BUT this morning we have woken up full of beans and feel great!!

On Covering up 2

Tanya - fellow SVP volunteer - British Muslim with a Jamaican heritage

Following on from my previous entry I wanted to find out more about the religious aspects of the dress code.
This article explains why Muslim women wear a veil.  Known as a Hijab, this is different to the Niqab which is the black, full body plus face veil and is a related but different issue.  The article says that the reason for wearing the veil or headscarf is

“… because they believe God has made it an obligation for believing women.  In the Quran God tells the believing men and women to lower their gaze and to dress modestly.  He (God) specifically addresses women when He asks them not to show off their adornment, except that which is apparent, and draw their veils over their bodies”

“Islam is known as a religion concerned with community cohesion and moral boundaries, and therefore hijab is a way of ensuring that the moral boundaries between unrelated men and women are respected.  In this sense, the term hijab encompasses more than a scarf and more than a dress code.  It is a term that denotes modest dressing and modest behaviour.”

One argument is that wearing the hijab is a symbol of gender-based repression but many women see it as their right to wear a hijab and make independent choices proclaiming their independent thought.  They also feel liberated by the fashion dictates of the society, less vulnerable to sexual harassment in the work place and being valued for their minds and not how they look.

I get both arguments.  I see both sides.  The reality is that these issues apply to all women in all society and not just to Muslims.  While I understand that walking around being too ‘alluring’ (in any society) may well send the message that a woman is available for sexual favours that will be freely given there is also something wrong if women need to totally de-sexualise themselves in order to send the message they do not welcome sexual advances and will not freely perform sex acts on request.  In the end doesn’t it just come down to the belief that men cannot be expected to NOT ACT on any sexual feelings they have?

Of course religion always gets mixed up with the culture which is why different Islamic countries insist on different dress codes for women with some insistent on the full Niqab (burka) for women.

Tanya, a volunteer here is a Black British Muslim and wears a veil in the UK.  Interestingly she says that in the UK she has found that there is more emphasis on how she dresses where other Muslims will feel free to comment about her style of dressing than in The Sudan where she has been living for the past 8 months. Here, she told me, comments about her behaviour, such as sitting at the tea stall in the street on her own will raise comments or looks whereas in the UK this would not be an issue. 

The Koran says that wearing the veil indicates to all men that a woman is a woman of piety and therefore not to be molested; so I was surprised to hear that Tanya is regularly touched up when travelling on buses, despite being fully covered, because she is clearly not Sudanese; the assumption is that she is Nigerian and therefore foreign and therefore sexually available.

This article looks at one Leicestershire woman’s view of wearing a Niqab (full veil) and also discusses how this is a problem.

One woman's experience of wearing a Niqab in Leicester, UK.

“It is a strange thing for something so apparently anti-fashion, but the anonymous black silhouette of the burka and niqab has become a status symbol.  A sports star pulls on a pair of expensively-endorsed Nikes, a Tory politician dons an electric blue suit, and the Muslim woman who has to be seen as holier than thou draws a veil over her face.”

The relationship between religious practices and the culture it is practiced within is a complex one and the dividing line between what is pure religion and what is culture can be very blurred.