Monday, June 13, 2011

The Bakiga Window: In the Shade

Looking out through the window of a dormitory building.

Out of the mid-morning sunshine, and in the cool of a dormitory at Kigezi High School, I can't help but feeling like I am somewhere that I shouldn't be. The room is dark, long, and punctuated by three-storey bunk beds surrounded by a bare minimum of personal effects.

It is Monday 11th April and I am in a girls dorm whilst on a tour of the compound with some of the teachers and my students - the place is deserted right now, because, of course, it is against school rules to be in your bunk during school hours.

Looking around the cavernous building your instinct is to think that it looks quite cosy and inviting for any potential students, but after a few minutes of reflection you usually come to your senses. 

Although the girls may be a lot better behaved, you are ultimately sharing a very open space with many other people. The spread of students here goes from Senior 1 through to Senior 6, meaning girls as young as 11 or 12 years old could stay here, miles from home, potentially with lots of older students.

Furthermore, the dorms seem remarkably open. Through the window you can see down the hillside into open countryside. There are no high fences surrounding the compound - indeed we are a few hundred metres down the track from the main school premises. The door is open during the daytime to drifters to wander into, should they not be spotted. After dark, when the door is surely shut, the often glassless windows still give a sense of openness. What vagrants could roam in the dark?

As a new student, young, feeling lonely, a long way from home, on a darkened hillside with no mosquito net and no glass in your windows, it must all be a daunting and intimidating experience. For sure it must get better as the years pass, but there could be many battles with fear to overcome in the meantime.

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