or: This is so not a blog ...
- Starting this:
- Friday, my 6th day here, the day before I moved into my own one-room place, was the first day I was back early enough to walk around in the area, very lively, of the guesthouse where the school had put me up for the first week. I was looking for something to eat and drink, and found the kind of covered outdoor place where I had only gone with friends before (– i.e. not like a Bourbon Cafe, with Western decor, menu and prices, of which there is one in the MTN Centre near the school). "But I live here now," I thought. And while having an African tea (mostly milk, with ginger, taken quite sweet) and a snack, I started to formulate things about my experiences here – and decided to start this non-blog.
- The school:
- Wireless internet everywhere (except that it was not working on Friday ...) At break there is tea and a snack, for students as well as teachers.
- Was asked on Tuesday morning to be 'team leader' for maths, attended the team-leader meeting that afternoon, and ran my first team meeting on Wednesday. A lot of things seem a little ad hoc.
- Am being looked after amazingly well. For instance, Alpana, despite being extremely busy as both the Principal of the upper school and the IB Coordinator, took me to look at the place where I have now moved, and Gaspard took me there on Friday, to help when I signed the contract and paid the three months in advance, which is standard here, it seems; and drove me here with my luggage yesterday.
- Teacher Elenoa – I am 'Teacher Kai' – had been supposed to stay till the end of the term in November, but has had to leave rather earlier, at the end of the week, so I have taken over all her classes. Including one grade 7 class, very lively, and with the President's son in it.
- It seems that African teachers, especially the men, are expected, not least by themselves, to move and talk with gravitas, which should ideally be supported by the necessary weight, and most of my colleagues are good African teachers. But there are exceptions, like some young white women, who are here for a shorter time. And I get along especially well with a young English teacher, Daniel, from Kenya.
- Next week are Mock Exams for three of my classes, so I will have less class time (usually 27 hours a week) but have to do marking, which unlike at AC I will do at school.
- Have had dinner with Gaspard, and at the house (where, sensibly, the houseboys sit at the table for dinner) of the Headmaster, a retired Canadian school superintendent; and have met with Joseph, who is an accountant now at KIST, and Tadeo, who has left MTN to start his own computer servicing company with a friend, and by now even with an office. (Tadeo put a lot of effort into and did an excellent job with the project on which 12 AC-students came to Rwanda for a few weeks in June, and he seems to have enjoyed it as much as the students.) Have not seen David yet. Had thought I would have lots of free time, even too much, but have not read more than 200 pages of one of the novels I brought with me – and that despite the compulsory 15-minute reading time – great idea! – after break every day, when I am again with my home-room students.
- Evenings don't finish late – I get up at 5.45 in the morning, to be picked up by a school bus at 6.30. At 7.00 I start taking attendance: I am the home-room teacher – the what? – of the grade 11/IB I class, who seem like a good bunch, of close to 30 students. The day finishes at 3pm, except on days on which there is after-school maths for another hour. So no chance of the brief afternoon nap which I had got quite used to, perhaps even dependent on, at AC.
- My place:
As I had expected, the feeling of actually living here became much stronger once I had moved into the one-room place, containing not much more than a bed, a table and a chair, but with a small bathroom and a 'change room', in a well-kept compound with a watchman, that I have rented, and had put my things on the shelves. Gaspard had picked me up at the guesthouse, with my luggage, and on the way we went to buy some basic things, like a kettle, cups, plates and so on. What is still missing is a table/bedside lamp, the ceiling light is not very satisfactory for reading. (Nearly all lights here use energy-saving bulbs, on a scheme of the utility company.) We also arranged for a 'boy' who works here to do my laundry once a week – sheets and cleaning are included in the rent. The area is very safe – everywhere is safe, actually – and very quiet: a bit dead at night, I am afraid. An advantage: a school bus passes a few minutes' walk away, so that will make things easy in the morning.
In the compound
Outside my room
At breakfast, before being picked up, I had a long conversation with a Ugandan businessman staying at the guesthouse; only after a few hours did we discover that we knew someone in common. When I had said something about my first trip to Uganda, he asked: "You mean Junior?" – and it turned out that he had grown up in Kabale, across the dirtroad from James, and had been at his and Charity's wedding. One comment: "I just found out about the IB today, [I had mentioned it, and just afterwards he saw it mentioned again as he was leafing through his Ugandan newspaper] and James actually went to Britain to take that exam all those years ago!"
Looking into my room
- As it was the last Saturday of the month, Gaspard had spent the morning, like everyone in the country, doing some joint neighbourhood project. The enforcement is not so strict, but if you are caught moving around, you might end up being stopped there until the end of the morning.
- The weather:
- Very pleasant, right now, always warm enough for a short-sleeved shirt: cool, often overcast, early in the morning, but the sun always comes out soon, and it can get quite hot in the afternoon and a bit humid. Have been warned about the long rainy season, from September to April, but other people say it is not bad at all: even after a downpour, it is always dry again in less than an hour. (Some website spoke of two rainy seasons, a small one in November and a big one in April – but I suppose global warming has made things less predictable here too.)
- And of course, throughout the year, it gets light around 6am and very quickly dark around 6pm, which, even after all these years, is still often a little surprising.
- Things work differently here from what I am used to, partly because this is Africa, but also because of the wider age range. (And it is not a boarding school of course.) For instance, at breaktime and at lunch, which are served in a large covered space that is frequently used for weddings on weekends, but during the week is full of long grey metal tables, teachers cut in in front of the students queuing at the windows to the kitchen and get served more quickly. Apart from the fact that there are a lot of beans, I rather like the food, mostly an adapted version of local cooking – there has not been a meal yet which I have not finished. A pity though that there are no sweets ...
- And the Mock exams last week were conducted in 'the Shade', a concreted area with a corrugated metal roof against the sun, where exam desks had been set up, so basically outdoors: sometimes the students were struggling with the wind blowing their papers about.
- Last week also saw the elections of the Headboy and the Headgirl and their deputies, as well as the prefects. However, the student with the most votes for that first position was vetoed (I am not sure by whom ...): he used to be a bad boy, he told me, without apparently any great resentment.
- It feels a little strange to find myself 'in charge' of things so soon after having arrived, while still learning how things work – what do I know about the IGCSE exams that the grade 10 students are doing? But there I was, in charge of starting the Mocks most mornings of last week. I am very excited though to also find myself as part of an 'inner circle' for the upper school, to feel that my views are sought and valued, to be asked to present ideas at meetings, to have access to, as well as a lot of support from, Alpana any time. This is very different from how things have mostly been at AC, at least recently (except in the SCO and with certain Houseparents, like Julian and Chris.)
- Also unlike at AC – I am not sure why it is different here: perhaps I have never felt quite at ease with the Britishness of the British (as they may not have felt at ease with me ...) – I am very comfortable with my colleagues here, not just a few of them, and enjoy sitting with them at break and lunch. [I rephrased this paragraph.]
- And I certainly work harder here than I used to: more, and larger, classes, mostly.
- Most of my classes had Mocks last week, so a lot of marking; am mostly done, though. On Friday next week there will be an 'Open House', where the students will come with their parents to discuss the results. That will be a new experience, meeting – having to deal with? – parents.
- I am very pleased with the class which I have taken over as home-room teacher, grade 11, IB 1st-years, the science/maths group (– the other group are taking Maths Studies, and I don't teach them): they are lively, interested, bright. The four 'elected' student representatives, as well as the one who was vetoed, are all in that class.
- Something neat: when Elenoa, the teacher who I am replacing, had to take a couple of months off after a death in the family, the school asked Pacific, who used to be my tutee at AC and happened to be home from Tufts, to teach her classes for that time, i.e. the classes I am teaching now. Apparently he did a very good job, even though it was not easy of course, because he was not so much older than the students.
My daily/weekly life:
- Right, from Monday to Friday I get up before 6am and leave half an hour later to walk to where I catch the school bus. School starts at 7am and finishes at 3pm, but sometimes there are things to do till later. After school, Daniel and I often talk for a while or go for a soda at the MTN Centre, right next to the school, and often I meet up with one of my friends from before, and return to my place around 9pm, then take a bath, read a bit or write e-mails, and go to sleep.
On the weekends – this has only been my second one here – it now looks like I will be mostly at home, except to meet up with friends, and do some shopping. This Saturday I spent the afternoon with Tadeo, and he helped me buy another pair of semi-formal trousers at the covered market outside the city centre, (where his bargaining brought down the price to FRw 6500, about $ 12 – Rwanda is not a cheap place ...) as well as a reading-lamp – finally! – at 'the Chinese supermarket'.
My room, with the mosquito net and my lamp
- Saturday is also the day when I can meet Pascal, the 'boy' (he is 19 years old) who does washing and such things for some people who are staying here. First time in my life I have that kind of relationship with someone. Having absolutely no idea, I asked Joseph on Friday, as we were sharing some beers, how much I should consider paying, and he gave me a range of between FRw 2000 ("local rate") and FRw 5000 ("supporting someone") per week. (After I had made the arrangement with Pascal, the Indian lady in the house in front of my room told me that her maid had also been very keen to do the work for me.)
- For moving around I increasingly use buses, which are called "taxis" and cheap, and better organised than the matatus in Nairobi or the dala-dalas in Dar, although when I am in a hurry or don't know the place, or it is too late, the motorbikes are still great fun, dangerous though they are said to be, despite the helmet that one has to wear.
- I just put on some music while writing this, and noticed how much I have missed it: as I was saying to Joseph yesterday, I think now that if I don't stay longer than November 2010, it will not be because I don't like it here, but because I might not have enough time for other things I want to do.
- While the electricity supply in this neighbourhood is very reliable, – various government offices are in the area, and the American Ambassador lives not far away – there is no tap water for much of the morning and the evening: it usally goes off shortly after I have got up and comes on before I go to sleep; during the day I am of course not at home, except on the weekends. So I have got used to filling my basin with water again when I have finished my evening 'bath', and to always fill the kettle for the next use when I can. (I have two buckets of water too, as a reserve, and there is a black tank in the compound, about 2 m across and 2 m high, very common in this part of the world, from which one can refill one's buckets.)
Talking of the US Ambassador, I have started to wait for the school bus at a different intersection, as the Presidential Guards indicated that they were not happy for me to wait at the bus stop outside his (His?) residence. In fact, that bus stop is simply not in use. Why the Presidential Guard? Apparently they protect the President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker – and the Ambassador of the US.
This is where I now
take the bus every morning.
- Where I live:
- Have I said that the neighbourhood is quiet, even too quiet? That does not quite apply to the compound: while I hardly see any of the other residents, the house of an Indian family, with an outdor kitchen, a noisy, spoilt two-year old, and visitors early in the mornings on weekends, backs onto the area in front of my room.
I have started to use the bednet at night. Malaria is not common in Kigali, at least not at this time of the year, and I am taking doxycycline every day for prophylaxis, but some nights I have been annoyed by a mosquito.
The compound is in a quiet neighbourhood, but ...
- Pascal did a good job; it helps that he speaks and reads English, so he can send me an SMS, for instance, that this week he will be coming on Sunday instead of Saturday. He told me that he is an orphan of the genocide, lives with his grandfather, and travels about two hours and a half each way to come here.
- Something that has impressed me over the years is how well turned-out people often are, when I know in what conditions they live, and how difficult, and time-consuming, it is to do basic things, like washing and ironing. This also applies to Daniel, to whose place – his "little hole", as he called it when he welcomed me in – I went Friday evening: a bare room, though with a socket to recharge the mobile, with concrete walls but with another room on the other side of a wooden partition, a rough bed with a coarse bednet, and facilities shared with the family he knows in the house next door. He pays $ 35 rent a month, often walks to or from school, which takes close to an hour, and cooks on a charcoal stove. As I said, I am impressed. [I give him this to read every week, by the way.]
- At work:
- It has been a very busy week, following the Mock exams, which most of my students were taking. There must be something wrong, nowadays, with a system where every teacher writes the names and grades and subject and class of each of his/her students on separate sheets of paper, which are then collated into little report folders by the home-room teachers, all of which has to be done a few times a year! And every few weeks each one of us lists the names of the students in our home-room on the sheets on which we then record attendance in the morning.
- Yesterday was an especially long day. Right after teaching from 7am to 3pm, we had the Open House where parents could come and discuss their children's progress: I was finally done at 7.15pm, having had no break! (– although Alpana had kindly brought me a mug of tea at some point.) Many parents were Francophone, and some spoke hardly any or even no English, even though their children are being educated in that language only. I had worried a bit, but all were very positive, and nobody tried to give me a hard time, so it was all only rather tedious.
- Oh, the grades at SL were alright, but at HL no student gained above a grade 3. And it is less than 8 weeks to their IB.
- On Thursday evening I had been able to see David for the first time. It turns out that he had been very busy for a while too, investigating a case of major theft at the 'inland port', a fairly large area close to the centre, where he is in charge of security – he lives very close to it and is basically on duty 24/7. David came back with the RPF in 1994 and has also been in the police, where he remembers receiving some of his training from instructors from Germany. – On my way home, fairly late, I had my fastest motorbike ride ever, but very safe on the wide empty roads.
Road to school, with new pavement and street lighting
- One of the things that is exciting here is the feeling of progress, whether it be the street lighting that was switched on some weeks ago and the pedestrian pavement that is being laid along the road close to the school, or the reports recently of officials close to the President having been dismissed and even ended up in prison for corruption. I was not surprised to hear that this is the easiest country, apparently, in Africa to start a business: it took me less than a day to open a bank account. Rather than complaining about immigration, mostly from East Africa, and giving in to calls to protect jobs for the locals, the President in a recent speech berated Rwandans themselves, such as lecturers at universities, for not being well-enough qualified for those positions.
In the city, many major roads are comfortably wide and very tidy, though at certain times very busy with people walking to work or home. While things can slow down at some intersections during the busiest times, the only traffic jam I have seen has been near the school, when the children get delivered in the morning by their parents or, more likely, the drivers. Things feel very different from Kampala or Nairobi. ;-)
MTN Centre (Bourbon Coffee shop):
the school is off to the right
- Travel plans:
- I have made some bookings for flights recently, the prices not too bad, from London to Chicago on 30 November and back from New York on 02 January, and from London to Kigali on 04 January and back on 02 April. This term I will be leaving here, before the end of the exams, on 07 November, and then live in Berlin for almost three weeks (– unpacking has not been quite the same as living there.)
- Saturday evening, my first ever rain in Rwanda – a torrential downpour, starting at dusk, for close to an hour, with thunder and lightning, and the rain hammering on the corrugated metal roof above the veranda running in front of the five rooms in one of which I live. Is this the beginning of the rainy season? I hope I won't get caught in that kind of downpour too often! Afterwards, no electricity, I hear the whirring of the generators belonging to the fancy houses along the road; so, no marking. When I wander out, to have a tea in a place with light and read a bit, the sky is clear; by the time I walk home, the roads are dry.
Rwanda is known as 'the land of 1000 hills', or something like that, and all of Kigali is built on hills, or rather ridges, and in the valleys between them. The comfortable main roads run at the top of the ridges or contour along them, and as one drops down on one side or the other, there are nice views across to the next ridge, The big houses, official buildings and so on, including the school, tend to be near the tops; as one goes lower, the roads become dirt roads, the houses more basic, the feeling almost rural, although even those areas are well kept. (The government, or the President, decided early on to ban the use of plastic bags: in other East African countries the landscape is suffering from a blight of discarded thin brown plastic bags, caught on fences, trees, everywhere.)
View from 'my' road towards the city
centre. Kigali is not a big city.
- Kigali is not very big. From the city centre, where there are some tall buildings, and more are under construction, and from the covered market where I bought my trousers, one can see to beyond the edge of the built-up area; and where Daniel is staying, in Kimironko, some 25 minutes by 'taxi' from the city, it is almost farm land again.
My area is somewhere half-way, near a big, landscaped roundabout with a statue at the centre, where on Saturdays many wedding parties come, sometimes three at a time, in the obligatory large 4x4 vehicles hired for the occasion, to have pictures taken. (Weddings here tend to be literally ruinous affairs, at the one Pascal went to last Saturday, somewhere out of town, there were apparently 1000 guests. However, it can be done differently: David told me that his cousin only had the official ceremony and invited a few friends for a nice meal to celebrate.)
The round-about nearby, the Top
Tower Hotel in the background
- Since the downpour a week ago there has only been one short rain, so not the rainy season yet. – Two days later: Since writing this, it has rained every day at least once, sometimes quite heavily. So ...
- Getting here (and away):
- However, they found a sufficiently flat area for the small airport not far from the centre, so that is convenient. Not that it is a busy airport, Kigali is a bit of a cul de sac: there are up to two flights a day to Nairobi, the hub of Kenya Airways, and a few times a week Ethiopian Airways flies to Addis Abeba, with onward connections to Rome and Frankfurt.
- Kigali airport is a pleasure to arrive at, immigration procedures in particular are very smooth. And unlike in the other East African countries, where the cost of a visa is $ 50, I can enter Rwanda for free.
- And talking of visas, with my degree certificates having arrived, precisely three weeks after they were mailed from Oxford, the school can now start the process of getting me a work visa.
- Flights in Africa are very expensive – apparently the short hop from Nairobi to Entebbe (Kampala) is the most expensive route, per km, in the world. One reason is that the market is small and that there are government-protected monopolies. But another may be that there is not much of a middle class yet: the rich will pay whatever the cost, and the poor can only use buses even for long trips between countries, and so there is no incentive for airlines to lower the price to expand the market. (Kenya Airways is particularly expensive/inefficient/exploitative: even though they are in an alliance with KLM, they were going to charge me $ 580 for a return trip from London to Berlin which on the internet and at KLM ended up costing only $ 225. (The reason that I am not taking a cheaper airline is to get 50% more airmiles for the next year.) I have also had bad experiences with them just cancelling flights that I was booked on. Sorry for the rant. To be fair though I should also mention that I managed to get the return trip from London for next term at £ 423, much more cheaply than on previous occasions.)
- This is a long weekend, with Monday off because of the end of Ramadan, so some of my colleagues have gone away. I have not been out of Kigali at all yet, but have been happy to just relax on the weekends. Which does not mean that I would not go if an opportunity came up, like accompanying Tadeo on an out-of-town job some Saturday.
- Much to do ...
- The thing that has shocked me the most since I came here four weeks ago is an outline that Daniel showed me, apparently from the Ministry of Education, for a new course taken by grade-12 students doing the National Exams, in either English or French. Many of those students are about to go to university! – Here are some excerpts:
- "General Paper Sylbas. ... Introduction: As the name suggests, general paper is paper that generalize/combines information from different subjects, as we shell go on discussing such topics. It involves open discussion of the teacher with the students. Its a participatory paper for both parties, its have two sections: Section A: This includes Passages. Its acompulsory number in the examination. They give a passage and you read through, then you answer the questions below getting answer from the passage. ... Section B: This involves generational knowledge from all papers for example;- Topics. ... 4. Abortion. - Its meaning - causes - Solution - Effects ... 6. Indoctrination. - Factors for development of an industry - Causes - Effects of industrializations."
The sample passage, "Life Dilemma", concerns a young man, Eric, who wants to marry, but his father rejects all the proposed brides, because "all these girls are his sisters. But please do not tell your mother Nshimirimana." Eventually the boy does go to his mother. "The mother with smiling face said to Eric that:- 'Do not worry my son, you can marry any of those girls, because you are not his son anyway, but do not tell your father. So Eric was confused but went head to marry one of the girls. The father was sad and refused to help Eric in the wedding, one day Eric went to the father and told him what the mother had told him. The father was shocked and decided to divorce the mother. Only Eric to remain in a Dilemma as no one was there to help him in the wedding."
Not as common here as in some other places
in Africa, but still, there is much to do ...
- Now some of the questions: "1. How many people are involved in the passage? ... 3. What is the name of the young boy? ... 7. Whom would you trust in the passage? Son, mother or father. 8. Who reviled the secret? ... 10. What do you learn from the passage?" – I have just gone through all the syllabus with Pascal, to help him with his English, and talk about the issues. In answer to the last question we managed to conclude that when a man – he, in future – is married, he should not sleep with other women, because his wife might also do that. That if she cannot trust him, then he cannot trust her. (I also read with him the paragraphs where he appears in this non-blog.)
- No matter where that course outline came from, there is much to do!
- After seeing that syllabus I thought of the (worrying) possibility that there might be a tendency, at the school, for Hutus to take the National Exams and for Tutsis to take the Cambridge IGCSE and the IB, but that was dismissed, strongly, both by some students I asked and by Alpana.
- And in a conversation with Daniel about country music, fundamentalist Christians in the US, George W. Bush and the invasion of Iraq, when he asked what right a country has to interfere in the affairs of another country, an answer came to my mind that I had used in other discussions over the years – once when the issue was FGM, for instance – but had never thought about further: that there is indeed no such right, but that it may sometimes be a moral duty to do so. (I am not sure if that is a worthwhile thought, and if so, if it is the slightest bit original, or if it is just a cheap quip.)
- Needless to say, just as in the last two paragraphs, the genocide is in the background in many conversations, and sometimes also in the foreground. Audrey, a teacher from France, complained one day at lunch that people here had held against her personally the role that France had played, at least in their view, in the events of 1994.
- At school:
Something that has come up in various contexts in the last two weeks, and I have had occasion to talk to some of my classes about, is that the school is not a 'normal' African school, as the parents must all be quite well off, which is reflected, I am afraid, in the attitude of some of the children, mostly in my younger classes – for those, none of that education-is-a-privilege business! On the other hand, nor is it an international school of the kind that AC has always tried to avoid being: there are such schools in this part of the world too, (and they pay a lot more to their mostly expatriate teachers ...)
- Having seen what I wrote some weeks ago, and knowing me, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I have offered to set up a web-based system for writing reports, which I started to design yesterday: the different situation means that it makes more sense to start from scratch, and make something more transferable. I used a team-leader (= Heads of Department) meeting to put forward the idea, and outline how it would work, and it was accepted, (again: by whom?) that we would use my grade 11 class (= 1st-year IB) to trial it this term already. – In fact, there is not much staff discussion of school issues, the place is, I have to say, working mostly top-down.
- Out of school:
- Went to a new part of town, new to me, quite lively at night, with Joseph on Friday and had another few beers with him. And brouchettes, skewers with pieces of grilled meat, very tasty and a bit of a speciality here, mentioned in guidebooks. The place consisted of a rectangular open space, with corrugated metal roofing running around the edges. The covered space had tables and chairs on one side, but on the other side was divided into booths, each with a table and two padded benches, all quite rough. Nice place though, and the toilette was very clean. A guy from his village, not quite a friend it seemed, joined us for a while, who had recently completed his high school.
- People tend to finish school and university late here, for financial reasons of course: Joseph completed his first degree last year, when he was 28. He is hoping that the government will go through with a plan to pay the costs of further education – in their private time, of course – for government employees: he wants to take the ACCA qualifications, which are done by distance learning.
Pascal is also keen to continue with school – for most, education is of course still a privilege; the cost would be RFr 50,000 (about £ 50) per term. I don't know how academically able he is, but he is keen to learn, and very 'aufgeweckt': yesterday we discussed that "to remove" is not the opposite of "to move", as he had (quite sensibly) thought, but that an opposite of "to move" is in fact "to stay".
Rubangura, considered the city centre
- Have also followed Daniel's quest, and gone along with him some time, to transfer money to Kenya to enable his family to come to his graduation ceremony in Uganda in early November. The spread of the exchange rates at the bank was almost as bad as at the forex places at Heathrow – the ones that shout: "0% Commission!" In the end he got a good rate on the street, almost, and then handed his KSh to the Kenyan bank to transfer. – I have started to think about how to do this kind of thing at the end of the term; I may just carry cash in €.
- At my place:
- The water came back on this morning, after three days without, so we were beginning to run out, with even the big tank in the compound running empty. And that despite a big downpour yesterday – "Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink."
- Indians around here are not popular as employers, it seems: even if well-off, they pay little and only grudgingly, and they often "talk bad". My neighbours do not allow the maid to eat the food she has cooked for them but buy separate things for her; another family insisted that Pascal come on a Sunday, and not go to church, when he had missed a Saturday for a wedding. – Nor are my Indian neighbours popular, with me, as neighbours, I am afraid: constant shouting when they are outside in their kitchen area, including (or especially?) early on Saturdays and Sundays.
- I finally finished the novel I had started on the way here, five weeks ago, partly set, as it happens, in Carcassonne, where I had spent a few hours with Britta in May, and the area where they live. The reason it took me so long was largely that I was not enjoying it a lot: too much violence and suspense, and way too many adjectives. The Satanic Verses, which I have now started, may take me even longer, but that will be for the good reasons that I am savouring the writing, that the story is intense rather than just depending on suspense, and that the telling is dense rather than just convoluted.
Week 6 ( – 05 Oct 09)
- The natural environment:
- As anywhere, I have to say, I don't appreciate or even notice the fauna and flora around me much, although I do like the way that some places in the city, along some main roads and the big roundabouts, are neatly landscaped; things seem to grow easily. And behind the walls that surround many of the houses and compounds, like the one where my one-room is, gardens are nicely kept. I hear the birds in the morning – no crows here! – and there is in particular one kind that has a 'song' that to me sounded artificial when I first heard it, a repeated hoot with a little click at the end, quite loud, so I was not sure if the small bird that I saw was actually the one making it.
- Still, I am affected by the natural world as well, not always in a good way. Since it has started to rain more often, I have my usual hayfever, though not enough for me to write that I am suffering from my usual hayfever; (a couple of people at school have commented that I look tired.) But I did suffer from two bites or stings on my legs that I got one night, probably from an ant in my bed, resulting in some rather serious swelling and oozing wounds that took a few days to go away and just leave a red mark on my skin. – In all other ways I have been in good health. And to keep it that way I have an appointment with my dentist in Bridgend – thanks, Joe! – when I am briefly passing through London and Llantwit in early November.
- Although on most days there has been no rain, I did get seriously wet on Friday, after having met Joseph at his office and gone for a bite and a drink, in the same place again. It started to rain while we were there, under cover, and, unusually, it continued, on and off, for a long time. So I got caught while changing 'taxi' in town, (after 9 pm there are not so many) and had to take shelter for a while. When the rain abated a little, I found a motorbike, but during that ride home it really started to pelt down! Fortunately the bag, the one that I bought in Colombia last year, which had my computer and some work to mark in it, is waterproof; and it is warm enough so that even with a wet shirt on a fast bike I hardly felt cold.
- The question of the use of French is very sensitive these days, after a recent government pronouncement that English would be the sole language of instruction, as well as Kinyarwanda in primary schools of course. One reason may be that a large part of the educated elite consists of returnees who have come back from Uganda and other English-speaking places since 1994 – this partly explains the success of the school. Another is that Rwanda has moved away, politically, from Congo – where many of the Hutus accused of having taken part in the genocide have settled – and become a member of the East African Community. And France's alleged role in the genocide may have played a role as well. So the francophone community in the country feels rather hard done by. Some teachers on the school bus, for instance, seem very happy that I manage to start a conversation in French, even if we then switch to English.
- In fact, my tiny amount of French has proved very useful, I use it practically every day (– though not as much as I would have done in Toulouse, of course.) I order and buy things mostly in French, and Joseph and Pascal too like to occasionally switch into short bits of conversation in French with me. – Yesterday, when Pascal had to go off to do some ironing for someone else here, (needless to say, my shirts don't need, or at least don't get, any ironing) he said that he would "summarize"; having figured out what he meant, I explained to him later that one can use that word only when one tells a story briefly, not when one does anything else quickly, like ironing. He is now learning how to use a mouse, in preparation for opening the e-mail account he wants to have.
- The school is careful to keep as many French-as-first-language options as possible. So the fact that students are able to get a bilingual diploma is one of the points I will be making at the orientation meeting on Friday, at which I have been asked to present the IB, to perhaps as many as a few hundred parents and other people. And because some of the audience will be francophone, I will make my first ever Powerpoint presentation, just a few slides to help the people who find reading English easier than following spoken English.
- Even before that goverment pronouncement, there had been a large market for English teaching, and the school facilities – including from next week my friend Daniel, who wants to increase his income a little – are used in the evenings for courses for French-speakers to learn or improve their English.
- What else?
- The half-way point of this term, and of my stay here, (since I arrived late and will be leaving a bit early) passed last week. I am looking forward to spending some time in Berlin, and then seeing more friends while travelling. (I have greatly appreciated the few phone calls I have received.) I have also started to think about what I will want to bring next term: the number one item is a radio and a small pair of speakers. Also a few small USB sticks: many things are very expensive here, in fact this is an expensive country. – A perhaps surprising detail of my life here: after six weeks, I am still only on my second pack of bisquits!
- Apparently it would be a good idea for me to register with the German embassy here: if I had done that before, I would have been invited to a party there on Friday, the Day of Unification. Some wine would have been nice. So I will try to do that next week.
- I regret that there are no pictures on this non-blog; partly for technical reasons, but it is also that I would find it awkward to walk around with a camera here. I will see though what I can do: I may not continue to write so much next term, as my friends will on the whole know by then what my life here looks and feels like, so that I will be able to manage with just writing e-mails, but I may add pictures.
Week 7 ( – 12 Oct 09)
- National character:
- This would, in many other places, be a dangerous topic: even for suggesting that there is such a thing one might be accused of racism or at least prejudice. However, it is clear to me that there is something like that, though obviously not in the simplistic sense that there are some character traits that all people in a country share. Instead there are, from my experience, in each society certain ways of playing different roles, of being a mother, being a son, being a teacher, being a shop keeper, and so on, and these are not the same in all societies; each society provides certain 'patterns', although there are of course always many people who don't follow any of them. Might one not even say that what a society consists of is just this collection of patterns of behaviour that it provides for its members? It should be noted that, not withstanding the heading, what I am talking about are different societies rather than different countries or nations.
- A concrete example: many, perhaps even most, of the Japanese students we had over the years at AC were of one of two types: either quiet and traditional, or loud, even exhibitionist, and 'modern' or Western, perhaps sometimes too Western. Those are two ways of being a young person in Japan.
- A main reason that thinking in these terms is not (or need not be) racist, or evidence of prejudice, is that it does not in the first place involve value-judgements. Having said that, one can of course find oneself more or less in sympathy with certain nationalities/societies, just as one can do with different people.
- With many teachers at the school being from different countries, mostly Uganda and Kenya, these things get talked about quite a lot, over break and lunch, mostly jokingly. And I suppose where I am writing now there was no need to 'defend' myself ...
- So, Rwandans:
- I can say I find myself in sympathy with the way people are here (– much of this is in fact not restricted to this country.) People are on the whole gentle with each other, don't take offence easily, acknowledge one another on the road. When I do something, like stumble very slightly on the road, or someone drops something, people around respond: "Sorry, sorry." So when some people, foreigners, get angry, people here just don't know at all how to respond; they cannot say anything until it has all blown over. I experienced that when I was complaining at the bank some weeks ago, not as sarcastically as I would have done in the UK of course, that there was no cheaper way of making a money transfer.
- One of the things I like, and have easily joined in with, is that people, perhaps in particular men with other men, at the school and in the country, tend to be quite physical with each other, shaking hands a lot and touching while talking with each other, for instance. Even when passing strangers on the road, people do not need to be as careful to keep their distance as in other places I have been. Sometimes of course the lack of distance is a matter of necessity, as when a 'taxi' is very crowded (– which they usually are ...): it can happen that a mother with two small children, say, passes one of them to a stranger, even to me, to keep on their lap, in a natural way that is unimaginable everywhere I have been other than in Africa.
- As I mentioned, Pascal is a genocide orphan, and I asked him about this for the first time yesterday. When I asked him what tribe he was, he said he did not know; his grandfather, since he had been small, has always told him that "we are all Rwandans now." And he added that even asking that kind of question, as a Rwandan, one might be accused of "genocide ideology" (his words) and end up in prison!
- At school:
Talking of being physical, while there is absolutely no corporal punishment at the school, teachers are much more physical with students than would be acceptable at a school in a Western country, both in a friendly way, but also while keeping order in the lunch queue, for instance. The canings and beatings that Daniel has talked about that were going on in a school in Kenya where he taught, as well as his own experiences, sound very bad, and just plain wrong.
My classroom is the first on the left
Part of the school from the MTN Centre
- The orientation meeting on Friday, where I had been asked to explain the IB to the close to two hundred parents and students who had turned up, went well. Not just to explain it, in fact, but to advertise it. My first Powerpoint presentation, as I mentioned before; and the student input we had organised was a great success. The evening did rather drag on though, because it had been decided at short notice to have everything translated for the francophone parents. For me, it still does not feel natural to speak on behalf of the school and say "we", as I explained to the Headmaster the next evening when I had dinner with him and his wife. But I quite enjoyed the occasion: doing that kind of thing here is a case of 'passing', which is something I really like being able to do, in the sense of passing for a native New Yorker when I am in New York.
- I am about to finish the first round (in the sense that it will then start to be useful) of the on-line admin website I am programming for the school. The IT department at AC have been finding their way well enough around 'Kai's site' which they have now largely taken over. But I am still supervising one EE at AC, submitted predicted grades for university applications last week, and have two references to write. (As an aside, I also had an exchange, of e-mails and positive, with Neil, our first since I decided to leave AC, over half a year ago.)
Week 8 ( – 19 Oct 09)
- A good busy week:
- Usually I come back late, which here means after 9pm, about four times a week, and have something on about three evenings a week, like meeting up with someone after school or having a meal. This week, on Wednesday, I met with Tadeo after school at the MTN Centre (– African tea and chapati). He has been very busy with the IT company he has set up this year, so I had not seen him for a few weeks, and it was nice that this time he did not have to answer phone calls all the time we were talking – I hope that does not mean that his business is not doing so well.
Then on Friday I met up with Joseph again, and this time we went to a 'pub' near where he is living for our beers and brouchettes, and I stayed over at his place, in a fairly lively, rather crowded part of town. He and a friend share one of four three-room flats, a few steep steps up, two on each long side of a narrow concreted rectangle, with the doors to the one shared, non-Western toilet and a bare room – without even a tap, since the water has to be carried there from a public supply along the road – for 'bathing' on a short side. The floor, as in most places, including where I am staying, consists of smooth painted concrete, the walls are dark green. Light, again as in most places, including mine, is provided by a single energy-saving bulb suspended from the ceiling – not very homely, according to my taste. The cost: $ 100 per month for the two of them.
Joseph's place, Joseph and houseboy
They have a houseboy, who had prepared some rice and potatoes for when we came back, quite tasty; he gets accommodation and all his food, but apart from that only RFr 6000 (= just over $ 10) a month. He is from Joseph's village, but Joseph does not seem to trust (like?) him enough to ever allow him to be in his room.
- That evening Ghana played Brazil in the under-18s World Cup, but even though we were back at Joseph's place when the game ended, we could tell the outcome from the way the whole neighbourhood erupted in cheering. In the same way I had been able to 'follow' games when I was staying at a university residence in Dar, one year when I was visiting Arnold during a World Cup tournament: there is a certain predictable order in which people choose which team they support in any match.
- Trip to a village:
- Some weeks ago I had asked Pascal if some day I could go back to his village with him, which is where he comes from and goes back to almost every day, and we had settled on this weekend. He was very keen: on Tuesday he even came early to my place, before I left for school, to check that I had not changed my mind. I had mentioned to Gaspard, the Vice-Principal at the school, where I was going to go and with whom, and he was a bit worried, about my safety or how I would manage there, so I sent him a text beforehand, telling him the place and Pascal's phone number, and I wrote again when I had arrived safely. I hadn't been at all (– worried, that is.)
- So Saturday afternoon, after Pascal had finished my laundry etc., we took a 'taxi' and then another, and then motorbikes for the last 6 km from the road to the village; on the way back we walked the whole way to the road, about 1 1/2 hours, which he does almost every day, both ways. While I had been in places like that before, I had not stayed anywhere quite as basic: a mud hut, with a clean dirt floor, – sounds like an oxymoron but isn't – with a corrugated metal roof that leaks in some places covering the space that is divided by walls into four small rooms, with rough, home-made wooden furniture in it. A mud hut is held up by poles at the corners, with walls that are woven out of branches and then packed with mud, so that they are smooth on the inside and can even be painted. The roof extends so that the rain does not wash away the mud, but the walls have to be repacked every couple of years. (Some people here are surprised that most of my friends would never even have seen a mud hut ...) Smaller and rougher versions, with banana leaves for roofs, make up a kitchen- and a toilet-hut. The buildings are surrounded by banana trees, but they also grow some other vegetables. On the path to the hut, Pascal was proud of some shapes he has cut into the mud, a square a circle, a heart, covered with grass. He lives with his grandfather, and I was made very welcome when we arrived around dusk.
- So how was it? Annoying, still oozing now: while there were no mosquitos at all, so people don't even use a net at night, when Pascal and I were taking a walk the next day with some of his friends and relatives, we were enveloped in clouds of tiny flies with a vicious bite. Cold, at night: with only a thin blanket, I was happy to be sharing the bed. Difficult: being asked for money, directly and indirectly, again and again; this happens to Africans all the time when they return from abroad, and will even happen to Pascal now that he has been seen with me – it is immediately assumed that people have become rich. Good: talked more with Pascal, and met some of his friends, relatives; even did some English and maths, they are so keen to learn! Interesting: when we were caught by a downpour at the end of our walk, we had some banana beer, two large bottles between four of us, including one 14-year old neighbour, orphan and very clever, whom we later passed manning a stall by the roadside; first time I have had it since I went with Arnold when he visited family on the slopes of Kilimanjaro some years ago, but the stuff here was quite different. Non-religious: quite a few people did not go to church on Sunday because I was around. Safe, completely: not even any side effect on my digestion; the road was muddy when we went up, but the speed was low and the motorbike guys are used to it. Tasty: the food was well-prepared, with very rudimentary equipment, but of course that is what people are used to, and I got to eat a lot of delicious bananas; (I had given Pascal some extra money, because I knew they would spend extra because of me.) Tedious, pretty soon: the children that followed me everywhere, and came to the house to keep repeating: "Good morning, teacher," and count in chorus in English; children also followed us on our walk, up to 20 of them. (A line that produced some laughs: "At least they are distracting some of the flies.")
- On the way back we stopped at an internet cafe, because Pascal has been keen to open an e-mail account, then got back to my place late (– see above.)
- Breaking news:
- Students will not be coming to school for the next few days, because of the spread of swine flu in Rwanda. It seems that 4 out of the 46 or so confirmed cases in the country are kids from 'our' nursery and primary sections. Teachers still have to come in, though we are starting one hour later tomorrow, but it is a good time to prepare the end-of-term exams. And external exams starting on Wednesday will of course be held, "with a minimum of 1m between candidates, and in well-ventilated rooms." For the past week already we have been discouraged from shaking hands and being as physical as people usually are.
- Something that came up at lunch today, in a conversation that had started with someone telling the story of two Kenyan men getting married in London: in some tribes in Kenya it is completely unacceptable for a boy over the age of about 12 to even sleep under the same roof as his mother, so a separate little hut is built. Quite the opposite of what I know is common in some other part of the world!
Week 9 ( – 25 Oct 09)
- A visitor:
- At the beginning of the week I finally sent an e-mail to Fumiko, who is still working for UNESCO in Nairobi, to tell her that I am actually here: the last time I had written to her was when I was leaving AC, and both moving to Berlin and coming to work here were still tentative plans. I got a reply the next morning – that she was actually in Kigali. Quite a coincidence, since this was, as it turned out, only her third visit here in two years. So we met up the next day at 6pm, at the Top Tower Hotel, where her meetings had been. Another, rather smaller coincidence: that hotel is five minutes' walk from my place. It has a column at the top with different coloured lights that run up it throughout the night, quite attractive and visible from many parts of the city. I had a gin and tonic at the reception that was just ending, and then we went to the area where her hotel was. Apparently UN personnel are not supposed to take local transport, "for insurance reasons," but we did go by 'taxi', and then for African tea and an African version of Spaghetti Bolognese, not bad, in a local place nearby where I had been a few times before. Most of the customers there were watching football on a large TV, sitting "packed like children in a classroom," as Fumiko observed.
- I must say that it was very good to talk to someone, for the first time in more than two months, apart from some phone conversations, – again, thanks for the calls – who knows where I have come from and some of the people I know there. One of the things Fumiko said was that however happy she was to be in this part of the world, every few months she felt she needed to 'get out'. I feel similarly – but did of course in the UK already: I always tried to 'get out' at least once a term, not so much out of AC as out of the country.
Roundabout below Union Trade Centre
UTC, near what is considered the city centre
The road outside
- "Muzungu" means white man/person, in Ki'Swahili I think, but it is used in other languages in the area; the plural is "wazungu". And I hear it all the time when I am in places where they don't see many white people, never with any hostility, just as part of an observation. Or, in the village, of the event of the week! Fumiko too counts as 'muzungu' rather than as Asian, which is what Indians are called.
- Being a muzungu does mean, I have to say, that one is treated differently. Not that people make room for me when I take a 'taxi' or anything. But I do get greeted more often in the street, for instance, people saying: "Bon jour." as I pass, even though everyone, as I said, is very friendly anyhow. And it is assumed that I must be rich, and that therefore I cannot walk more than a hundred meters or so, so motorbike riders and (individual) taxis always assume that I must be wanting a ride. (Pascal too was concerned when we walked down from his village last week whether I could cope. And he was surprised that I can ride a bike! – but then even some of my friends from AC have been surprised.) Like in Tanzania though, I can say that people don't try to overcharge me – except sometimes, a very little: a 'muzungu tax', which is fine with me. It would presumably be different if I was a tourist trying to buy local crafts ...
- Even at the school it may be a certain advantage to be a muzungu, although I believe – but I would, of course – that it is to my competence and experience that I owe my somewhat special position. I am the only male teacher, for instance, who does not wear a tie and nothing has been said about this to me. That may largely be, though, because the first few times I came I was a volunteer who was paying his own way, with the school only providing accommodation and some general support, so people are used to seeing me without.
- Last week, with no classes and no students because of the flu, most teachers came dressed a lot more informally than usual. We still had to come, but had time to prepare exams, we decided on staffing for next term, I ran a meeting for the IB teachers about applying to US colleges/universities, and so on. The school transport picked me up an hour later in the morning, and I realised that there is a good side to school usually starting so early: by 8 am, I found, it can already be pretty hot. I also made a temporary webpage for the school: the company that is working on a new site has been a bit slow, and an up-to-date page was needed there this weekend, both because the address appears in an ad this week in the T.E.S., and because the students were directed to it, by bulk-SMS, to find out what the Ministry of Health had decided about re-opening next week.
- I have now started to think about where to stay next term, or even for the whole of next year. My present place is very convenient, if a bit small, but expensive. But then, do I need more space, and can't I afford it? Still, the area is a bit dead. So I have agreed with Joseph that if he finds me a cheaper place which over all is comparable, then he can keep one month's difference in rent. This Friday we met in my area, where I had found the one 'non-fancy' beer drinking place, even if each bottle cost RFr 100 more than in the areas where we had been before, and he came to look at my place and stayed over.
- Daniel has been extremely busy, and stressed. He is now teaching not only at the school, but also an evening course at a language school, based at the school, for francophone professionals, and a few times a week he gives lessons to a new student who joined with very little English. The hourly pay is much better than that of a school teacher, and most teachers work on the side like that – have to, in fact. The two main sources of stress, financial and personal, have been his graduation next weekend in Uganda, to which many relatives want to come, all expecting him to pay for their trip and expenses, and a computer that someone lent him that because of a virus had to have Windows reinstalled, and the computer people, who also look after the school's network, have been annoyingly slow and incompetent and even dishonest. Still, we have kept talking a lot, and on Tuesday he will be staying at my place to be able to leave on a bus very early the next morning.
- Finally for this week, ...
- Finally for this week, and very directly: is anyone prepared to pay Pascal's school fees so he can continue his education? Having seen his exercise books last weekend, and how much of it all he remembers, including some things that the teacher had told them wrong, and how keen he is to learn, I am sure he would use the opportunity well. The cost would be about $ 100 per term.
- The reason that I am not (yet) simply doing it myself is that I would quite like some of my friends, even if they cannot come to visit, to be involved in things here. Together with me: for if Pascal did go back to school, while he would still work, it could not be as much as now, so someone, presumably I, would have to make up for the lost income as well – there is no slack.
- There would be another good candidate, Laurent, a friend of Pascal's who had the banana beer with us and shared our lunch last weekend. Why these two, if there are so many boys and girls in the same situation, and not only in Rwanda? Well, for one, I have met them and have seen their standard and their potential. Another friend of his, Apollinaire, I would not recommend in the same way, for instance.
Week 10 ( – 01 Nov 09)
- Housekeeping matters:
- As I have said before, Rwanda is very expensive, not only compared with other African countries but even, in some cases, compared to Western countries – the packet of biscuits I just shared with someone would have cost slightly less in the supermarket on the street where I live in Berlin, and the instant coffee is almost double the price here of what it is there. Earlier, I had finally gone to the big hotel nearby, to check how much it costs to go swimming in their fairly nice 25-meter open-air pool, and was told that it is RFr 4500 (= $ 8), with a one-month pass costing RFr 30,000.
- Of course I can afford that. But I don't want to: I have always felt that Marx was right to distinguish between the value and the price of a good. Even if economists since his time have complained that there is no operational definition of value, I have a strong gut-reaction that $ 8 for a swim is too expensive, at least here. Because of this kind of feeling I have been living quite cheaply. Joseph has asked me a few times what I am saving for; but I guess it is just in my nature to live quite frugally and not to (as I consider it:) waste money. Not that I am not willing to pay hundreds of pounds for plane tickets when I want to go somewhere, or to take the (usually slight) risk of helping friends by lending them largish sums ... That this is not simply meanness on my part is shown by the fact that I have felt extremely uncomfortable, even though it was clear that I wouldn't pay in the end, when friends have taken me to expensive restaurants where I felt the price did not match the value.
- So my total spending over the past ten weeks, excluding the rent, has amounted to less than $ 10 a day, including paying Pascal, and often/usually for my friends when we go somewhere.
- I am still thinking about whether to keep this house, – "house keeping"? – or rather room, at $ 300 per month. Again, the price does not match the value. If nothing has been sorted out by the time I come back in January, David, who I went to see again this week, has offered that I could stay at his place for a while: he has a large house, but I would have to take a 'motor' (= motorbike) to and from school – I am not sure if that is a pro or a con. Most of my things I will be leaving here until then, at the school, so I will be able to travel with hand luggage only.
- Usually last week would have been a revision week for students taking external exams, which is most of mine. But having been closed the week before because of the flu, students had to come in last week instead. (There was a newspaper headline: "School closes as swine flu affects 56," which did not make it clear that that was the number of cases in the country, not at the school: it has felt a bit like we were targeted – I don't think any other school in the country had its own testing centre set up by the Ministry of Health.) I have finished writing the program for the on-line report-writing system; when I introduced it to my colleagues last week, they seemed quite keen, and immediately had suggestions what else to include, next term. It appears that next year I will end up working as, even as I am resisting becoming, the IB Coordinator. Oh well.
- While there will not be so much teaching next week, I will be busy writing reports, which will not be easy as I have not been here long and the classes are large. I will also be busy seeing people before I leave on Saturday – I am planning to write the last instalment of this non-blog during the seven-hour lay-over in Nairobi airport. By the way, I have just started to take some pictures, with my phone, so some of these will eventually, and belatedly, appear here.
I have reported before that the food at the school, the cakes and tea at break and a meal with some meat at lunch, is very tasty; and it still is after ten weeks. So I don't mind that there is little choice. (A joke: A foreigner is travelling for the first time on an airplane in Russia. The stewardess comes around with the trolley: "Food?" He asks: "What is the choice?" She replies: "Yes or no." (It works better with a rolled 'r' ...)) I had been aware that the school's kitchen is not actually very large, and mostly open-air, but was surprised, very surprised, when I realised just last week that all the cooking and baking is done over just a wood fire. That kitchen each day feeds well over 1500 students and staff!
The kitchen: wood is used for cooking
- It has been raining a lot more, and more persistently, but I have still never needed more than a shirt, and have not yet got caught in the rain a second time. When I come back in January it should be dry again, until late March.
- Just as it feels a bit odd in the (northern hemisphere) summer that here it already gets dark, which it does very quickly, around 6 pm every day, so it does not feel like November now, as it still gets light around 6 am and dark around 6 pm every day.
- For a couple of weeks I suffered quite badly from what were apparently, because of being in a line on my skin, spider bites. Very slow healing. Mosquito bites, on the other hand, hardly affect me at all.
- I have started to see some small lizzards on the veranda outside my room. Must be their season.
Week 11 ( – 07 Nov 09)
- Here and now:
The time is right but the place isn't: had been planning to write this during the stop-over in Nairobi, but with the flight being five hours late, at least, I am still in Kigali and not even sure that I will make the connection to London in Nairobi. Was lied to when I checked in, that the flight would be late but was already en route; and later, that there was food available for the delayed passengers. Kenya Airways likes to call itself "The Pride of Africa". Hmmm.
- Leaving went quite smoothly, had a lot to do at school the last week, with marking exams, writing reports, invigilating, and explaining the online report-writing to other teachers, (who seemed to quite appreciate it.) I have left most of my things here, of course, at the school, and am travelling with hand luggage only. Odd to be leaving without having any idea where I will be staying from January, but no problem.
- Was also busy with seeing friends once more during the week: Tadeo on Tuesday, Joseph on Wednesday, Pascal on Thursday, and Daniel on Friday. All very nice and relaxed.
- Went to town once more today, to change my RFr into € to take with me. One of the nice things is that one can feel quite safe carrying a large amount of cash, even if one is seen walking – or allows oneself to be dragged – into various ForEx places to find the best rate, as I was doing. (The 'spread' in the case of € is rather greater than it is for $, where it can be as low as 0.7%. I'd seen that before in Moscow.) In the UK or Germany they might not recognise the notes from here, and since the largest bill seems to be RFr 5000 (= $ 9) it would have been quite a wad to carry.
- Have felt like a fool sometimes this last week, when I was taking pictures with my mobile phone. I hope they are good enough to be put here eventually.
- [ Now that I have put some pictures here, you can view a slightly larger version of each on its own by right-clicking on it and selecting "View Image"; use the "Back"-button to return to the page. ]
- Que mas?
- I forgot to mention some weeks ago that Jill and Neil had arrived back in Rwanda. They are the Canadian couple that built up the school from about 200 students 10 years ago, all in the lower grades, to "the foremost English-medium school in the country" (quoted from what I wrote on the 'temporary' webpage a few weeks ago ...) It was they who invited me to come here for a fortnight four years ago, when they were about to introduce the IB. I happened to walking with Jill when she came into the dining hall during lunch, and the reception she got from the students who remembered her was amazing! She and Neil are back to work with some other schools in Kigali – as well as to avoid the Canadian winter.
- Like them, I may keep coming back. Have thought that even if I don't want to renew my contract in a year's time, I might want to come here for one term each year, from August to November.
- [ We have started to board. I might want to write more later, but for now that's all, folks. ]