|Looking through the window of the mosque, in Kabale.|
It is a perennial frustration of mine that during every visit to Uganda, the more involved I become in the organisation of the trip, the less time I actually have to work on projects with people I meet there. With the small dust particles of free time that I have had over the years, I have been starting to build trust and friendship with a few members of Kabale's Muslim community.
It is Tuesday 10th April 2012 and I am sheltering from the heat of the morning sun in the mosque by Taufiq Islamic Primary School. With me I have nearly all of my students and a handful of staff interested in finding out more about a part of Kabale that lies off most kizungu radars.
Having met with the head teacher, Lule, earlier in the week, we had arranged that during my group’s final two mornings in Kabale we would come to Taufiq to find out more about day-to-day life there. We also arranged to do a couple of fun lessons for the pupils as a break from their exam revision.
We scheduled our arrival for the children’s morning break, and as we crossed over the Kabale-Kisoro Road, you could see a ripple of excitement permeating through the schoolyard. As more and more green-hooped jumpers came running from all directions, my students’ hearts seemed to melt at the cuteness of the whole situation.
A sizeable number of our travelling group this year are Muslims, and indeed some have already become minor celebrities amongst the children and adults of the Muslim community after attending Salat al-Fajr at the mosque – the dawn congregational prayer.
Lule, hearing the excitement and commotion from his pupils outside, appears from the main office and comes to greet us. The breadth of the smile on his face openly reveals his genuine pleasure in having our company. Yusif, the chair of the PTA, who greets us with equal warmth, joins us and we start that typically Ugandan custom of signing the visitors’ book.
After a quick discussion about our programme for the morning, we embark on a tour of the premises. Having only had a brief tour by myself in the past, it was nice to be shown everywhere, meet a number of the teachers, pupils and families, and for other members of my travelling party to see this mysterious school that I am always talking about, but many knew nothing about.
My students were intrigued by two things: firstly, the fact that there were boarding facilities at a primary school with three bunk high beds; and secondly, the fact that there were little or no mosquito nets for the boarders. With this in mind, my students were already beginning to come up with a master plan for the visit in 2013 to deal with this.
|A girl spies on the strange visitors outside the dining room.|
Those pupils of the school who were brave enough, slowly started to congregate behind our group. Our greetings of, ‘as-salaam alaykum,’ were all met with shy responses of, ‘wa alaykum as-salaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh’ as they came to investigate their strange bazungu visitors. My Muslim students couldn't contain how cute they found the whole situation. As a result, it was only a matter of minutes before the primary school children had ‘adopted’ my sixth form students and insisted on conducting their own versions of the guided tour of the school, much to the amusement of the Lule and myself.
The school is essentially made up of three parts at present: the main building, a series of rooms that open outwards around a secure central courtyard; a number of wooden classrooms built from the trees that once occupied the space; and the mosque, a large whitewashed hall with a small minaret striped with green.
The educational programme at the school, Lule tells me, follows the Uganda national curriculum for primary schools with the addition of rudimentary Arabic and Qu’ran lesson. This becomes clear as we see many diligent students holding on to various revision books for the mock tests that seem to be going on at all primary schools at the moment.
After tearing my students away from cuteness of the Taufiq children, we have a quick meeting to run over what we were going to do next. Breaking ourselves into groups, we each head to a different class from P4 to P7 and ask the students to create a storyboard of the different parts of their school day. Limiting them to just four frames to explain their whole day caused many a conflict!
The majority of storyboards included Salat al-Fajr or Salat al-Isha, most mentioned reading their Qu’ran or revising for school, a few even mentioned brushing their teeth – before realising this only left a small amount of space to explain everything else they did in their busy little lives.
The children were fully engrossed in their storyboards until it was time for us to head off. Some didn’t want to stop their work despite their teachers telling them they needed to go and eat. Others didn’t want my students to leave them and were only satisfied with our departure when they realised that we’d be back the following morning.
Ma’a salama. We'll be back at 10 o'clock tomorrow.