School fees - a day at the banks

The Nyamirambo children

It is Friday and a new school year starts on Monday. Like many in Rwanda we are spending the day paying school fees at the last minute. Our excuse is that we have only been back in the country for a few days and it took until yesterday to round up our Nyamirambo children with their school letters telling us what this year's fees are. Everybody else's excuse is that the government only anounced the new term start date a couple of weeks ago. This year is the earliest ever and has caught everybody on the hop.

For most parents, paying school fees means a long queue at their school's bank and then getting on with life. Although we are now down to five children, for us that still means queuing in four banks. Potentially, this could take all day. There are stories of people going to Banque Populaire to draw their salary and not emerging for days. Our first stop is that same Banque Populaire, which lives up to its name. At shortly after 8am the banking hall is filling up and there is only one teller on duty. The good news is that we can pay two schools here. The queue moves in fits and starts and this is clearly not going to be ten minutes. Mindfulness is useful here, especially focusing on who is trying to jump the queue. An hour after

With two schools paid already we have three to go. Next stop, I&M Bank on the other side of the city in Nyamirambo. This needs a motorbike taxi to navigate the morning traffic. Already the sun is getting hot and sitting amongst a swarm of other motos between trucks and buses makes the journey even hotter. This bank isn't so bad. I&M is a business bank and the local branch has only four people waiting in front of us. The small customer sitting area is modern and clean. Only twenty minutes for this one and we are on our way.

Feeling that we were on the homeward stretch we walk along to the nearby Bank of Kigali only to realise that the end of the trail is a bit further away than we had hoped. The branch would be large and spacious if it wasn't filled with five lines of people, one per till, most of them doing the same as us. By now it is the middle of the day and lunch becons, but not before another hour's test of patience and calm. At one point, with only one lady in front of us now, the teller stands up and walks away. Fifteen minutes later she returns and calmly carries on serving.

We had arranged to meet the Nyamirambo boys (and one girl) for lunch and opted for a Rwandan buffet. Cheap and filling, everyone files past the heated pots - rice, chips, bananas in sauce, beans and chunks of beef. A stern waitress guards the meat like a hawk making sure nobody takes more than one piece.

After lunch and a visit to the local market to buy new school-bags, the end is at last in sight. We have saved Belgian-based Cogebank for last as it means a trip into the city centre and potential heavy traffic on a Friday afternoon. Another moto taxi takes us to the new Head Office opening beside the Belgian School, a long-established private school favoured by the diplomatic community and the wealthy. The bank itself is brand new and the banking hall, easily the largest we have seen today, is empty and echoes. We are shown into a small temporary office with three tellers which is air-conditioned and pristine. This is not a long wait and at 3.30pm and we are finished.

What we have done today is set up the remaining five of our original thirteen children for another school year. The older ones, Tharcien and Patrick are being sent to new schools specialising in teacher training and science. These schools will lead to job prospects and a potentially bright future. We have two other boys, Seti and Kuzingo, who have just completed a year's training in car mechanics and we shall be kitting them out with tools so that they can look for work. Ten years ago, we found these children wandering the streets. They now have realistic work prospects.