A new term starts at
However, with a few students in each class -- last term there were none for two weeks -- the headmaster and I are both more active.
I give human rights classes -- it's on the
Isoke -- pronounced 'It's OK' -- is an isolated, beautiful valley, surrounded by mountains, with no public transport or mobile telephone network. In the market, the mango season being over, there is no fruit and only local greens or beans on sale. In the school there are almost no textbooks. Up to now, I have been writing my own History of
At last the school has a library, stocked with books donated from abroad. Among the volumes I found a copy of Nabokov's Lolita provided by a library in
Since the closure of oil wells, the rise in food prices has become a major issue. Maize, the main staple, had risen from SSP60 (South Sudanese pounds) for a 50 kilo sack in 2011 to SSP150 in April. When term started at the end of May it had risen to to SSP250, or about £35.
Both the primary school -- St Kizita's -- and the secondary school closed a week early last term having run out of food. Our school fees -- SSP250 a term for full board -- would have covered the food, but too many had been left unpaid, and a number of students dropped out in March. Parents in urban schools are more likely to find money but here agriculture is almost entirely subsistence. The headmaster rails against fathers: 'They will find cows for another wife but not to send their children to school.'
These are the hunger months before harvest. The World Food Programme distributes food but nothing has yet arrived. Before closing early last term, pupils sometimes had only one meal a day. The first two weeks of this term there was torrential rain each day and a World Food Programme lorry taking maize to primary schools north of Torit, which is about 180km from here, got stuck in the road and was plundered by men with pangas, who cut open the 100kg sacks to make them lighter to carry. Local people say the lorry must have been hired in a corrupt deal: 'A child could see it was unsuitable for these roads,' said a worker from the Catholic diocese of Torit. In another incident, after drinking heavily, three villagers near Lobira ambushed a lorry carrying sacks of maize, killing a passenger.
With food prices so high, everyone is taking cultivation much more seriously. When two more teachers arrive after the start of term, the headmaster disappears to work on his own land. State governments have declared Fridays national agriculture days. Those living in our compound -- a mixed group of South Sudanese and Ugandans mostly working for the hospital or NGOs -- joked about how public servants in Juba, the capital, would be 'watering' their throats with beer or kwete and 'planting' cards. The same assessment may have led the government to announce that playing cards, dominoes and Ludo on cultivation days will be penalised.
Teachers' salaries are low anyway and they are paid in South Sudanese pounds, so have seen their salaries cut in half. The maths teacher has still not arrived, three weeks after the beginning of term.
Last term he said to me: 'I am wondering if it is worth continuing if I cannot support my family.' For six months we have had no chemistry teacher: now two doctors and some nurses and technical staff have agreed to split classes between them. The science, maths and the commerce teachers are Ugandans; if they leave the school will collapse.
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