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Showing posts from June, 2011

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

Never one to do things in the most logical of orders, I watched the film version of A Single Man, starring Colin Firth as the main protagonist, before I had read the novella. In fact I had no clue about the existence of Christopher Isherwood prior to watching the film. The film was a fantastic piece of cinema so I decided to investigate the novel behind it.
A Single Man is the story of one day in the life of George, a gay Englishman working as a professor in a Los Angeles college. The narrative focuses an intense light on George's movements and actions from the moment he wakes until the end of the day - maybe that should say the end of his days.
George is living in a neighbourhood that was once bohemian, but has been slowly populated by homogenous, Stepford-esque suburbanites. They all aspire to have clean lives free from anything 'queer' infringing upon it. To this extent George exists very much on the periphery of this way of life with the character of Mrs Strunk as good a…

The Bakiga Window: Watching Evening Arrive in Kabale

When you've been as busy as I have today, a moment's respite from it all is a necessity. I've met many familiar faces and greeted many new faces and now is an opportunity for thirty minutes of 'me' time.
It is the evening of Monday 11th April and I am sat on my balcony in Room 103 of Green Hills Hotel, Kabale - a hotel that is as familiar to me now as my own family's home in Warwick, in the UK. As the trip leader, my one perk - other than executive decision making power - is a room with a view and balcony.
This time of day is perfect for reflecting on the frenetic pace of the day behind you with all of its counting of shillings and being here or that at such a time. What an irony it is then that Ugandans don't seem to rush around for anything and yet bazungu are quite happy to, exhausting themselves by 6pm. What was it that they say about mad dogs and Englishmen?
Sitting back, even as the smoke from a combination of coal and kerosene burners drifts up the vall…

The Bakiga Window: Never Cry for Love...

A small message, written in chalk at the top of a blackboard, raises a few smiles in one of the prep rooms of Elizabeth Hall. A few of my students are inclined to agree, some ask about the spelling and punctuation, others try to decipher the meaning.
It is Monday 11th  April and we're upstairs above the newest girl's dormitory block. The upstairs hosts three rather barren looking prep rooms - rooms where the students are meant to do independent study before and after their school day. The dorm is named for Ms. Elizabeth Walton OBE, one of the pioneers of the partnership.
The building is lot brighter than some of the older dorms, but upstairs feels a little impersonal. Their are no books, and just two solemn notepads of a student's work adorn the shelves. Taking a look inside, it appears that the student studies A Level Maths and the notes go far beyond my realms of understanding. It must surely be a risky business leaving your notes here with exams around the corner.
Turning …

The Bakiga Window: Faith

This little girl doesn't really want to talk to me. She wants to stare at me. As I cast my eyes around the group of puzzled looking nursery children, she stands out. A small stream of snot running constantly from her nose, sleepy looking eyes and a little hooded top underneath her sweater.
It is Tuesday 12th April and I've taken a small group of my students down to the Wise Parents Day Nursery in Kabale. The weather is a little muggy and a small girl is staring up at me expectantly.
Out of all of the children, she seems the least inclined to want to run about the yard at the nursery chasing footballs. She also seems completely uninterested in going on the see-saw, the swings or even talking. All she wants to do is follow me around. So, without a word, she grabs my index finder in her tiny hand and holds it as I walk around checking on my students.
At one point I ask her what her name is. She whispers, "Faith". I then ask her whether she knows my name. She whispers with …

The Bakiga Window: In the Shade

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 wi…

The Bakiga Window: Up Above Lake Bunyonyi

The shifting images in front of my eyes have been so varied today. We have gone from the busy city of Kigali, wound our way through the Rwandese hills and valleys, negotiated the border crossing, arrived in Kabale for long enough to unload our bags from the Coaster and now, with my small troupe of students, have headed up into the hills.
It is still Sunday 10th April and I am high up above Lake Bunyonyi, a few kilometres outside of Kabale, in southwestern Uganda. With me are a couple of teachers from Kigezi High School, twelve of their students, one of my colleagues from the UK and my twelve students. We are here to get to know one another a little better.
The truth is that I know Penninah and Patrick from Kigezi very well now - this is my third visit to this district after all. The two groups of students instantly take an interest in each other. It is only a matter of time before the ice is broken with conversations about football, music, life, technology. My group of students is quite…

The Bakiga Window: Oraire Gye Nyabo?

"Oraire gye nyabo?" I ask the lady at the passport control desk. Her response is to giggle at me before starting to process the pile of twenty-six passports - a heady mix of nationalities with and without visas depending on who you are and where you're from. I am assured later that my pronunciation of a standard greeting that translates as 'how did you spend your night, madam?' is perfectly fine, but it is the fact that it is a mzungu saying it which has raised a giggle.
It is Sunday 10th April and we've left Rwanda and are now waiting on the Ugandan side of the border to be processed and allowed into the country officially. In past years we've all had to fill in forms individually and queue up to be seen one by one. This year we have a pragmatic border controller who is willing to process us in one group. Thank the Lord - we are on a tight schedule today!
Having made our way through the winding roads of Rwanda, we find ourselves in Kabale district in the s…

Breaking the Barriers to Girls’ Education in the Developing World

Whenever I have written about time I’ve spent in East Africa, I often talk about the fact that geography plays such a big role in how different my life is compared to someone there. What I hadn’t realised until much more recently is that not only does somebody’s physical location in the world play a massive part in the opportunities available to them, but so does their gender.
One question that begs to be asked is: why is it that girls in particular are less likely to get access to education in poorer countries?
According to Plan UK, women earn 30-60% of men’s earnings for similar jobs and women are more likely to be in low-paid employment, yet an extra year of secondary school boosts a girl’s eventual future wage by 15-25%. Many don't even have the opportunity to get this far.
There are obvious cultural and economic pressures dictating that boys, as historical breadwinners, should be pushed to the fore and afforded the greater opportunities to be educated.
After all, imagine you are…

Cotonou Club by Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou

I often dream and get ideas into my head about some great voyage into the unknown that I wish to take. I have been lucky enough to have had a few chance meetings and brief conversations recently which have already taken root in my mind. With a bit of effort they should definitely come to fruition. So, my most recent dream? Bénin and Ghana, by way of Togo - most likely over a two week period.
With thoughts of visiting a project in Bénin firmly planted, I made the effort to indulge in a bit of research related to a West African country that, although looking small on the map, seemingly has an immensely rich cultural heritage. I found a couple of things in my initial efforts: a novella called The Viceroy of Ouidah by Bruce Chatwin and an album called Cotonou Club by Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou.
The former, although a beautifully intriguing novella, was written by a yovo (the Béninois equivalent of mzungu). I needed something a little more African and the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo is just …