Geoff Tennant - Promoting access to mathematics for all
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13/7/14: brief trip to Uganda

Firstly an apology - no photographs!  I had a camera with me, I suppose it's because I enjoy photography and look to find decent angles etc. that I find it difficult to take pictures whilst working.  This, combined with an inability to multi-task and also fairly stringent self-imposed rules about having people's permission if taking a picture which identifies them (as opposed to a distant blob).  But if you need visuals I'm sure Google images can help - and I have been looking at Google glass and wondering if it could help in future trips - at a price, of course...

Very pleased that we have a big project on with the Ugandan Ministry of Education and Sports, funded by the World Bank, looking to train a large number of secondary head teachers.  My role in the project has been fairly peripheral, including the proof reading of the materials being used.  Have to say, having read the materials through thoroughly, I would really like to be a participant in the course, I'm sure it would do me a lot of good!

So, off on Wednesday for a meeting in Kampala on Thursday with Ministriy officials, before then going for a field visit on Friday, back to Kampala Friday evening and then returning to DSM via Nairobi Saturday morning.

Everything went smoothly enough until arriving at the baggage carousel at Entebbe Airport to find that absolutely nothing was coming out at all.  Absolutely everybody's bags had been left behind in Nairobi.  And the 'lost and found' department is staffed on the basis that it's only the occasion person whose bag gets lost, so an enormous great queue got going.  Afraid I marched straight into the boss's office and so inadvertantly skipped the queue - apologies, fellow travellers.  It would, of course, be inappropriate to name the airline in a public blog which behaved in such a disgraceful manner, suffice to say it is the national airline of the country for which Nairobi is the capital.  I've lodged a complaint and received an answer based on the premise that it was just my bag which got lost.  But that's not the point here - I fully understand that the occasional bag gets mislaid, but the bags of everybody on one aeroplane?  So i've indicated I'm not happy with the response, if anything further transpires, I'll let you know.

What makes it worse is that I had packed on the basis of keeping everything with me in the cabin, the reason for putting my small suitcase in the hold is that my colleague with whom I was travelling had stuff to put in, so it wouldn't therefore save any time at the other end.  There's no getting round that it's more pleasant travelling just with very immedate hand luggage, but it does raise the possibility of things getting lost.  Ho hum...

So, arrive in Kampala just with a laptop and my Kindle and not much else, needing to go to the Ministry the following day and then out on a field visit - all this in tropical heat, of course.  The idea that the bags would arrive before we set out the following day seemed a bit far fetched, after all, the repsonsible airline had created a fair bit of work in distributing bags around Kampala and beyond.  So, emergency visit to the shopping mall (fortunately one close by the hotel) to get a couple of extra shirts, underwear, toiletries. Somewhat resented spending money like this, but what are you supposed to do?  And also checked out possibilities for photocopying, one of the things mislaid was a box of papers for the meeting.  Needless to say, photocopying in these situations is VERY expensive.

Get to my room to discover that I'm immediately above a large TV screen broadcasting some football match or another - did somebody say something about a World Cup going on?  No problem, thinks I, I'll just put my earplugs in - but no, they're in my suitcase which is somewhere between Nairobi and Kampala!  Really cannot stand the thought of waiting until the match is over - remember that East African Time is 2 hours ahead of British Summer Time - so asked to be moved which has handled very graciously.  Oh, and need to charge my phone - but no, the charger is in my suitcase which....

Somewhat to my surprise the bags had arrived by the time I went down the following morning - which created another problem, I'd only brought a small suitcase continuing my suit among other things, and now I'd bought additional shirts and underwear, making the bag overfull.  Blowed if I'm going to leave them behind now that I've bought them!  Hope I haven't weakened the zip on the suitcase in all this.

Meeting at the Ministry went well, then put into a car - to go where exactly?  I knew it was some way away, but only discovered that morning I was off to Nyondo Primary Teachers' College, close to Mbale.  We went past Jinja, the source of the Nile (unless you believe the presenters of 'Top Gear' that is, those great authorities on all things river) and on, and arrived in Mbale, with magnificent views of a mountain (feel I ought to be able to tell you which one).  Driver Kenny was superb, even if he did drive closer (actually, considerably closer) to pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists on the side of the road than I was comfortable with.  Standard of road varied hugely, for signifcant stretches it was dual carriage way, corresponding to this being a major East - West trade road, certainly many of the lorries were carrying petrol.  Curiously, roads seemed to be better further away from Kampala, the opposite way round to normal in my experience.

I was staying in a hotel with a number of tourists and people on church trips - I think, I saw a group praying in the morning and managed to restrain myself from asking if I could go with them.  Have an invitation to go to church with the general manager of the hotel, Isaiah, next time I'm there - like me he believes in a single author of the Biblical book, I'm pleased to say....

Thought it might be good to know where I actually was so, before setting out again on Friday, so, courtesy of Google maps, found it - on the East of the country close to the border with Kenya.  Then offf to the Teacher Training College, not unreasonably some 300 km from home, Kenny didn't know exactly where it was, when we asked some police officers they said to turn left at a roundabout. When the crucial moment came the roundabout could hardly be seen but Kenny turned left anyway and managed to find the place with an unerring judgement along unmade unmarked roads that left me fairly dumbfounded with admiration, I'd still be looking for the college now.

What followed was the most fabulous few hours - at its best my job is the best fun in the world!  The college principal was extremely welcoming and very supportive of the work going on, even though he had had to rearrange the timing of his own programmes to make room for our course.  The headteachers were fantastic, 250 in 4 rooms, so I went to meet them and said a few words.

It was then break time and then realised I'd slightly misunderstood discussions going on earlier - I was now supposed to speak to all headteachers together, the few words in groups was a 'both and' not an 'either or' as I'd previously thought.  So, need to say a few words in a few minutes time, meanwhile needing to maintain a conversation, what am I going to say?  Decided to tell an anecdote from my experience in church music, making the point that what can seem a major challenge to one person can seem straightforward to another, so illustrating the importance of talking to each other and having good support networks.  In leading up to this, I said, '...so I won't teach you a children's Christian song now...' to get a protest, led by the college principal, yes, we would like to learn a children's Christian song now!  Great, if you're up for it, I certainly am - so, as in Bagamoyo, did 'Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah, praise ye the Lord!'  Somewhat to my surprise when the moment came the headteachers were quite happy to stand up and sit down in quick succession, I would have been satisfied if they'd put their hands up, or raised their eyebrows, maybe?

Isn't this fantastic?  The only other country I am aware of in the world where one could do something like this is Jamaica - if you know of others do let me know.  Back in the UK I'd have been hauled up before the Vice Chancellor to explain my actions.  As far as I can make out, the Muslim community is smaller in Uganda than in Tanzania or Kenya, explicit Christian acts in the workplace - I forgot to mention that the Ministry meeting opened with a Christian prayer with a Muslim present - seem to be entirely accepted, maybe (and I really am only guessing here) on the basis that there is a meeting of minds of people of faith, albeit that these faiths are different.

Between morning break and lunchtime I visited the groups working.  Interesting from a UK perspective to talk to some of them, they seemed quite interested in my perception that headteachers here try to do too much - so, for example, in 12 years working in initial teacher training in the UK, constantly in and out of schools, I spoke directly with headteachers on a small number of occasions - maybe 4 or 5 in total? - normally when something had gone wrong.  I'm almost certain that in this part of the world I would necssarily speak with the headteacher at the beginning of each visit.  Whilst we in the West have a great deal to learn from life here, on this particularly point, I think I know which pattern I prefer.

When lunch time came the principal invited me to join him in going straight to the front of the queue, but somewhat to his surprise, I refused.  I'd been talking about the importance of the role of the headteacher privately and publicly through the morning, surely to go barging past them would undermine everything I'd just been saying?  Interesting one this: there's a time and a place graciously to accept local customs in how guests are treated, and there's a time and a place to stand one's ground, with no clear rules as to when one should do one rather than the other.  Actually, partly because of the enjoyable conversation whilst waiting, the queue seemed very short, all in all, comfortable with my judgement on this occasion.

Once I had my food I asked two women sitting together if I could join them.  Why, I asked them, are there so few women here - maybe 15% of the total?  Interesting to hear their perceptions as to how girls view education in the first place, the pressure to stay at home rather than go to school, and then problems in progressing their careers once appointed as teachers.

So, off back to Kampala, once we got to the city Kenny's local knowledge was invaluable, staying to the main roads could easily have added an hour to the journey time.  Although was at times not sure whether I was on a public road or a roller coaster ride.  Slightly disconcerting to have to get up at 2.30am. in order to catch the 5.00am. flight, but all travelling - including getting our luggage back in DSM - went smoothly.

So, back now, trying not entirely successfully to catch up on lost sleep, was again awake at 2.30am. this morning, couldn't easily persuade myself that it wasn't necessary today.  Back next month for a slightly longer trip this time - maybe I will succeed in taking some photographs.  And this trip includes a Sunday, so will be able to go to church in Uganda - I'll be sure to tell you all about it!

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