From Rwanda, 'Term 8'
– if nothing else, you can check here that I am still alive ...

In the 2 1/2 years that I have been living here I have, by now, seen nearly everyone who can read this, a few times even, and so most of you know about my life here from personal conversations; there is therefore less of a need to keep this up. It is still useful for me, though, and may still be of interest occasionally, especially when I manage to put up some pictures. For anyone (of my friends only, of course) who missed the first seven terms, or wants to look at something again, earlier diaries (?) are still available:

There is also a page of maps and aerial photos.

The reason, by the way, that there are scare-quotes in the heading above is that the terms at the school no longer coincide with when I am here: there are are three terms a year, from August to May, but the only holiday are three weeks in the middle of the second term. The gaps between the terms are only a few days each, and the break for Genocide Memorial Week is only one week now, so I will be going away only twice a year. I guess I could have written "Semester 6" instead.

10%   (– any guesses, from this indication of where I am, how I am now doing most of my reading?)

Having been allowed to leave school five weeks early, because of the prior arrangements it was accepted I had made, I was able to enjoy a nine-week holiday, from November to early January. For the first three weeks I had Pascal stay with me; Britta was around in Berlin the first few days, and he came with me to visit friends in Italy and Amsterdam. (Thanks a lot!) I also spent 3 1/2 weeks in the US again, staying with and meeting friends in Chicago, New York, Boston and DC. And the rest of the time I had to myself in Berlin. For the whole of the nine weeks, I – or we, when Pascal was with me – were extremely lucky with the weather: I experienced rain, and also (just) below-freezing temperatures, only twice.

I had told P that I would only ask him back in Kigali if he had enjoyed the trip overall – "overall" including having had to come back here after having experienced how things are there. But he has made it clear that he had greatly enjoyed it, even overall. With some other people I would be a little worried that envy, or some such feeling, might get in the way of enjoying such a trip.

By now I have got used to the initially daunting prospect of being here for 21 weeks without a break in Europe – this is the longest time I have been in one place, or even in one country, in the past 40 years of my life, I think. The next time I will go back to Europe will be at the beginning of June, and a week later I will travel to the US again for 3 weeks: with the change of calendar at the school these trips wil be in the summer rather than the winter from now on.

It was very good to see friends here again. Various people came to visit or stay for a few days, to 'welcome me back', and I visited Modeste in the 'ghetto' where he lives near his university: it is not so far from school. – A slightly odd thing: three of our friends had had themselves circumcised since I left, with the pain and the healing in one case still not complete. This is not a traditional 'rite of passage' here, as it is in (parts of) some of the surrounding countries. While the government is encouraging young men to undergo the procedure, for health reasons, that does not seem to me to be a sufficient explanation of what is a general trend, and I am wondering if I am witnessing the start of a new tradition, a new coming-off-age ritual. One friend told me how he and his classmates had been laughed at when they spent some days at a boarding school, to take exams, for not being circumcised, and told that they must take their bath after everyone else.

'Termly' update on the progress of the people the continuing of whose education we are making possible (– as you know, most of the fees are paid by friends of mine!):
  • M continues to study at Kigali Institute of Education, Biology and Physical Education, but he is still keen to change to Nursing for the next academic year. He knows that he will have to look out for when and how to move.
  • Benjamin will be going to Lovely Professional University in India in March, we are in the process of applying for a visa; after a 4-month 3-month course to improve his English, he will study for a Bachelor in Computer Applications.
  • P has started his last year, Senior 6, at his school near where we live. Senior 6 is said to be "serious, man," so he goes for prep or works with other students most evenings and even on Sunday morning, and we do maths a few times a week.
  • JD, Laurien's brother, (the guy with whom I am finding it difficult to communicate because he is just so diffident, in a white shirt in the top picture on the right: usually they wear school uniform, of course ...) came top again in his class at the end of last year, and is continuing at his boarding school in Senior 5.
  • L and Justine, B's sister, did well in the National O-level exams – considering that they had been attending village schools up to then. They are both now enrolled in Senior 4 at (private) boarding schools near Nyanza, the residence in the past of the kings; B and L took a trip there last week to check out different places. Whereas their fees were RwF 10,000 (= US$ 17) per term up to now, they will now have to pay RwF 90,000 per term, plus initial costs, for school uniforms, bedding and so on.

    [9 days later: In fact both of them did so well in the exams that they gained places at government (boarding) schools, both to do accounting, which had been their first choice. So the cost will be less than RwF 50,000 each per term. About the school where L was accepted I had heard before: it was at Nyange in 1997 that the students refused to identify themselves, or each other, as either Hutu or Tutsi, when the school was attacked by a Hutu militia from Congo, and so they were all killed. These students are among the heroes who are honored on Heroes' Day, on 1 February. ]

About life at my school, what should I write about first, the good news or the bad news? The bad news is that the IB results in November were rather worse than we had expected, in almost all subjects and for all students, and much worse than in the previous year (including HL Maths.) So we have started to think about why that might be, and what we can do to ensure it does not happen again. And of course those results affected the atmosphere.

The good news is that based on the Five-year Self-study that it took most of my time last term, and even some time during the holidays, to put together, the IB has largely accepted our conclusion that we "are making satisfactory progress" in administering the programme. Most of the criticisms were in areas where we had already identified weaknesses, and what they are requiring us to still do looks decidedly manageable – without too many late nights, or weekends spent working.

J on the first day at her new school:

24%   (– I have been able to do a bit more reading than in previous terms)

Did I mention at the end of last term that I had met a new guy, Martin, who lives near here? He had started to talk to me, perhaps to try his English, one evening as I was walking back to our place – that kind of thing happens to me all the time. He is in his mid-20ies but still in Senior 6, and also an official in the administration of his 'cell'. His family background sounded – and seemed, when he took me there one time – rather bad, so I was pleased when he told me this term that he had a job as a night guard, but that he was able to study and sleep in the place. After our beer he suggested we take a walk there, and the person living in the house, to whom he wanted to introduce me, turned out to be a muzungu, an anthropologist from the the UK, who will be in Rwanda doing research till August. Other than Ron, the Headmaster, two other teachers at school, and perhaps Jens from the Embassy, Will is the only muzungu with whom I have felt like meeting up for a drink.

Two weeks ago, I was dragged to a village a bit further away from Kigali: 40 minutes by 'taxi' and 20 minutes on a motorbike. I wrote "dragged", but in the end it was quite alright, although very hot, and interesting to see a different place. The occasion was the graduation party of the boyfriend, who I had never met before, of P's cousin, whom I had. P had joined them the day before in Butare, for the ceremony at the National University, the graduates and professors all in gowns and mortarboards, but everything taking place in a dusty stadium on a hot day. As usual I was the guest of honour at the party, and as usual the seats, borrowed from many neighbours, were arranged in a rectangle, two or three deep: I was seated between P and B in the front row, across from Ephraim and his mother. The villagers liked the fact, it seems, that I was drinking banana beer, although they prefer beer when they can afford it – but this was in fact very good, smooth, and that was all I had. These parties typically have an MC, and the one this time was by far the most expressive I have seen, fun to watch even though I did not understand anything he said of course. The party became livelier as it became a bit cooler: shortly before we left in the late afternoon, to be sure to get transport back to Kigali, people even began to dance, singing some songs from church.

Ephraim had graduated in IT and Computer Science, and a few days after the party he got a job as a teacher at a school in Western Province. I am afraid it says a lot about how the educational system is here that the first thing he did was to call P, to ask him to borrow his notes from last year, so that he could use them to teach from – it may well have been in the same kind of way that P's teacher had got those same notes when he started his teaching career. But perhaps not. In any case, as I have observed before, much remains to be done ...

33%   (– have finished, & enjoyed, in different formats, Pereira Declares (at school) & 1Q84 (at home))

At the moment we have a small break, which is as welcome as it is short: after end-of-term exams, marking and report-writing, (the latter always a bit frustrating: something about flying with eagles comes to mind, I am afraid, ...) and the 'Open House', where students come with their parents to get reports and discuss with teachers, we have Thursday and Friday off, before the third term starts on Monday. The next break will be after another seven weeks, for Genocide Memorial Week, but too short to make a trip to Europe.

Last weekend there were L's sister's wedding on Saturday, which I didn't attend, and B's brother's wedding in the village on Sunday, which I did. L and his brother had got permission from their schools to come for these events and stayed with us from Saturday to Monday. Unfortunately there was a lot of rain on the Sunday, which made for a rather hasty end to the festivities at 5.30 pm, but it was still quite fun, the only uncomfortable thing being the low benches, close to the front, on which I ended up sitting. By now I have been there often enough for only a few kids to be still following me around, endlessly, and regardless of the time of day, intoning: "Good morning, teacher." For both the 'giving away' ceremony at the bride's family's house and for the wedding party after church, near the couple's new house, to which about 200 people came, with another 50 or so looking on, plastic sheets had been put up on poles, to give protection to the couple and the main guests from the sun – or the rain, as it turned out. And under the cover silky cloth in different colours had been used to decorate where the couple was sitting. The atmosphere was nicely non-serious: they came in in dance steps, in time to the hip-hop music that was being played, and seemed to have fun doing the traditional thing of giving each other food and drink.

Two firsts that weekend: it was the first time that I saw P's grandfather's new house, which with much negotiating input from P cost only about RwF 500,000 (= US$ 820). It is basically finished, except that it is still lacking glass in the windows and the outer, concrete layer; but it is not leaking, as the old one, which had been built about 40 years ago, had been, everywhere. Also the first time that JD, L's brother, properly talked with me, instead of just answering questions as briefly as possible; and once he had started, there was no stopping him. ;-)

And perhaps a third first: having decided to take out proper international health insurance, rather than relying on travel insurance, the European cover of the NHS and the school's insurance that covers me for 85% of everything here, I had a full medical check-up, the works, at the best hospital in the country. (From when I am 65, the UK government will pay for the gesetzliche Krankenversicherung that will cover me in Germany.) Shall I share the outcome? Here it is: all's well, except a slightly high level of cholesterol, due here to eggs rather than chocolate, which I should be able to do something about, and a benignly enlarged prostate.

wedding pictures

Pascal, his grandfather and their new house

brothers: L and JD

43%   (– have started the latest by Steven Pinker, on the decline of violence, & a gift: One Day, finally)

Our friends who took last November's A-level exams have now had their results, and most have done well, near the top of their class. Amongst them, the three people I most care about received 46, 35 and 22 points, the first out of 55, the other two out of 60. Of these, the first one is the worst result, and the middle one is the best! – the scores have a completely different distribution depending on the Option: the first student was studying 'HEG' (= History, Economics and Geography), Oliver was studying 'Computers and Electronics', and Roger was doing 'Construction'. The system is not very transparent, it seems even the teachers don't fully understand how the final number of points is arrived at.

Anyone with 9 points or above, i.e. as little as 16%, is awarded a Diploma – the problem seems to be that in most Options, in particular the practical ones, the difficulty of the exams is not commensurate with the kind of teaching that the students have had. A Diploma allows a student to join a university if they can pay for themselves, but only the top students get a scholarship covering tuition and part of their living costs. How many points are needed to get government support again depends on the Option, so students are now waiting for the announcement of the qualifying totals. – I am still only slowly finding out how it all works: in O-levels it is a lower total score that is better ...

The big domestic change coming soon is that after more than a year of living here, B will be going to India, so he will be a reader of this non-blog rather than a 'character' in it. We have not been told the date when his group will be flying, but it should be around 25 March, [update: the group will now be flying on 02 April] so he has begun to be quite excited, but also to find out more practical details himself, by getting in touch with people already there, and to get ready. In the meantime, something that I have started to talk about with P is if, since he goes back to school for prep or to study with friends until late most evenings, we should have someone else coming to stay here, perhaps for four days each week: it would have to be a friend, though, who is at a loose end for a while.

Do you remember my rant about 'taxis' (= commuter minibuses) being banned from the city centre before construction of the promised nearby taxi-park had even started, giving rise to much inconvenience for the majority of ordinary people who depend on public transport, including me? That project has been delayed, apparently because the plans did not fully comply with the city's masterplan. But there has been a lot of construction going on in the city, big buildings are going up everywhere. "Finally, Kigali is getting a skyline," as someone said. Unfortunately it looks like most of the new buildings were designed by the same architect: some features I have had occasion to mention in ThoK classes, as examples of architectural clichés (– to explain an essay title from the IB's required list which started: "If education means learning to see through the clichés of one's time, ...")

A generous friend of mine had offered to share the expense of B's studies with me – but then this enormously generous friend just added up all the costs for the first year and transferred the total to my account! So I now have the luxury of being able to help one or two other people to continue their education, when I come across someone in need who I am sure will make good use of the opportunity.

Some of the people who my friends and I have enabled to continue their education will soon be old enough to attend university, so it will be more expensive for them to continue, even in Rwanda. But I think I have mentioned that university education in this country is not very good, so B also plays the role of a guinea pig: if things go well in India, then I/we should try to help other people to go there.

To be continued ...
(Progress, of sorts. The pictures – limited to one per building, although there are usually a few entrances of the same kind – were all taken in the centre, before and after my weekly swim at the Milles Colines: but there are quite a few other instances, some still under construction.
'MINECOFIN' is the Ministry of Economics and Finance, of course – I think I have mentioned the local predeliction for abbreviations.
At the bottom: one of the entrances to a still mostly empty block at the edge of the Commercial District into which the government is trying to have the local traders and wholesale businesses move.)

57%   (– The Better Angels ...: it's nice when a book agrees with one's own long-held opinion, but ...)

Things at school have quietened down a bit, so my evenings and weekends are mostly free; and next Friday starts the one-week break for Easter and Genocide Memorial Week: a few hours of work on a few days will even be nice. At other schools, the holidays started a week ago and students collected their reports in the last few days. My/our 'supportees' have done very well, with percentages in the 60ies and 70ies, (which is very good here) except for P, who gained 58% but still came 6th in his class of 58: he was studying extremely hard last term, and will continue with classes for three hours a day for most of the break – "Senior 6 is serious," as everyone knows.

B will now be leaving for India next Saturday, they finally fixed a date and we went to pay for the ticket, to Amritsa; I am still figuring out where to transfer the money for his fees, but no problem. So he has gone to the village this weekend, to say Good bye! to his family; and P has gone too, since he had not been there for a long time. But last night L and JD stayed, and did the cooking in the evening and made breakfast this morning, on their way from their boarding schools to the village, and today R is here – my local friends still find it difficult to leave me here alone: that is why last year, when B and P went out to a bar to watch soccer matches, they always tried hard to convince me to join them, telling me how much fun I would have, while I of course preferred to stay on my own and doing some reading.

I am about to buy a house in Kigali. Not for me, I hasten to add. Some weeks ago, Joseph, who is intending to get married soon, and by now even knows who to, asked me to lend him RFr 12,000,000 (= $ 20,000) to buy a house, four rooms, not far from the black road, and in a good location: not far from my place. (I have mentioned, haven't I, that I am living in the 'cool' part of town: lot's of life in the street, bars, taxis 'with style', etc.) In view of a bad experience, going back some decades ago, I decided that that could end up very badly, both for my finances and for our friendship, so the deal now is as follows: I will buy the house, and he will pay me back in UK£, over three or four years, the sum in UK£ that I have transferred, plus 3% per year for inflation, after which the house will be his, all taxes and improvement and maintenance costs in the meantime to be paid by him, as if the house was his. Should he not be able to keep up payments, the house will remain mine, and we will consider whatever he has paid as rent, at the going local rate. Does that sound fair enough?

The reason that I can help him like that is that I am now receiving a pension, and that started with a lump sum payment. As a closet arithmomaniac, since 60 has many factors, there are certain neat fractions about my life so far, give or take a couple of months, that I could not help noticing:
1/1living in peace (Pinker's 'the Long Peace')
2/3living in the UK: South Wales, Oxford
2/3visiting the US each year
1/2working as a teacher
2/5in full-time education
1/3living in Germany
1/3visiting Africa each year, or living there
1/5living in the 21st century
1/12in the US: 4H-Camp, visiting, travelling
1/20living in Rwanda
1/45mean time between getting to new countries
So what can I say at this stage? Other than: "So far, so very good," and: "Lucky me!" – and of course: "Thank you, my friends."

Another one ...

In various places in town there are statues of one of Rwanda's main attractions:

68%   (– The Better Angels ...: ..., but I don't like the mix of styles, between flippant and academic.)

Last week was Genocide Memorial Week – up to now I had always been in Berlin at this time. So, no loud music, no games, no local shops open in the afternoons, and so on, but a lot of commemorating, local meetings, exhortation, fires in the evening and a mournful cello interlude on the radio and the TV repeated many times each day. The churches even agreed to delay some of the Easter celebrations by a week. Most of the large purple posters and banners throughout the city sponsored by different businesses will be staying up for the remainder of the 100 days of commemoration.

Wile the school had a one-week break, I was busy on some of those days, with visiting teachers from Europe who were doing some intensive revision with our students, and with the marks for internal assessments that needed to be entered on the IB website: a large part of my work as DP Coordinator is done on that website – it does not help that the internet here is often slow, and that website always. But I did have a few days completely free, and the weather was good enough, despite this being the rainy season, supposedly, for me to go swimming four times.

And B finally left for India — "finally", because originally we had been told the group would be flying at the end of March, but the departure was postponed first to the 2nd of April, then to the 7th, then to the 15th, and in the end they only left on the 16th. Because the other people in the group are Rwandans too, and some of them had not paid, had not got their visa, had not paid for their flight, and so on. :-( He seems to have arrived well, and I am looking forward to hearing how it is going.

Since P is a Senior 6 student, and "Senior 6 is serious, man," we have been thinking how to manage without B. As it happens, a friend of ours, Roger, who finished school last year, having done Construction as his option, wanted to learn how to use CAD software from a graduate student he knows, so he is staying with us and doing some of the work from Monday to Friday, and each day he is studying with that guy for a few hours, and I am paying for the RwF 50,000 (= US$ 83) for the four weeks of tuition.

So long, B.
All the best!
So that old Apple computer
is still finding some use.
The end of the week and the weekend was nice and a bit busy, with some of the people whose school fees we/I are paying passing through on their way to school for the next term. Including Alain, whom I had just met a few weeks before – I was coming from school and he from church; a few days later he invited me to his home, where I met his uncle and aunt, brother and four nephews and nieces. He too is a genocide orphan, 22 years old and studying in Senior 6, HEG (= History, Economics and Geography) – I seem to be finding/be found by a certain type, not sure why.

86%  (– found One Day very enjoyable, evocative of its times, & not soppy, as I had worried it might be.)

I hope the weather for my friends in the Northern hemisphere is more appropriate to the season, i.e. spring-like, than it has been here: the rainy season should have finished by now, but it is still wet, very, and a little cool, though not cold enough for me to have to put on more than a shirt. O was staying for a few days: he was waiting for one of his teams' soccer practice that was postponed again and again, and he couldn't go back to the village, because of rain. – Meanwhile B, in India, is getting used to life there and at the university, which seems to be going well enough, and to temperatures in the upper 30ies.

While it was sunnier and warmer a few weeks ago, I took O to the Mille Colines with me, for a beer while I went for my swim. The reason that I take each one of my friends there some time is to show them that while it is a place for the rich, with beer costing almost four times as much as in our area, the rich are not a different species from the rest of us. Of course he wanted his picture taken there. – People here sometimes have strange ideas about what one pays for: P and B used to think that one had to pay an entrance fee to have a drink or a meal at a hotel, many people in the village apparently believe that I take pictures of them or their houses to sell them in Europe, so they ask me to pay them, and O asked me who was counting how many lengths I was swimming so that they would know how much to charge me.

With three weeks left of the term, the IB exams more than half done, (very nice to be able to conduct them in a large hall for the first time, although I am struggling to read the instructions to the candidates when the rain is coming down heavily on the sheet metal roof of the gym) and only one week left of teaching, school is beginning to wind down. At home things are well too, though we are missing B, with various friends staying at various times.

Obama stating his position on same-sex marriage last week has caused a bit of a stir here. Referring to the President's announcement, the priest at P's church apparently warned the congregation in his sermon this morning that "there are many devils around," and predicted that Obama would be forced to resign. – The topic, and the issue of homosexuality in general, also came up at W's house yesterday, when M, the guy working for W at the same time as finishing school who had first introduced us, asked about the meaning of the phrase "gay pride", which he had seen on the T-shirt of a woman in his area (– many people here wear imported T-shirts with texts that they don't understand: I saw one a few months ago from a brewery-sponsored brass band festival some years ago in some Bavarian town.) M got visibly upset when W and his wife, both of them anthropologists, tried to explain to him how these things are viewed in Western countries. "The end of the world is coming," was, quite seriously, his main conclusion.

I think I will introduce a new irregular feature in this non-blog, about the things I am most worried about here in Rwanda, for myself and for the country. (Needless to say, it is my personal views that I am expressing here.)

    1. For me personally: being injured, maimed or killed while taking a taxi moto (= a motorbike for hire). I enjoy riding on the back of a moto, but only take one when necessary.
    2. For the country: the absence of public debate of alternative positions, and the lack of involvement of the population in the process of taking decisions. It may be a reflection both of the character of the people and of the political system that policies are decided centrally and passed down from the top. (On the plus-side, a re-think does now seem to be taking place of the 'master plan' for Kigali, as not reflecting the needs of residents and businesses.)

And another one – I don't think I am going to run out – they are building more of them as quickly as I can take the pictures ...:

B in India, (edited) at LPU, w/ fellow students

100%  (– not only do I prefer reading on it, most things, the kindle also cuts down on how much I carry.)

Once again at the airport, [and on the plane] on the way to home2, via Amsterdam. Had a good few last weeks, with school taking just the normal amount of time, (unlike at AC, the plan for the IT guy to take over the day-to-day operation of my report-writing system seems to be working!) and with friends, or people who may become friends. In fact the 'stress' came not from work but from badly organised friends:

  1. M submitted his application for a Bachelor in Nursing Science at Uganda Christian University, on his second trip to Uganda in a week, after some rushed completion of forms, obtaining of certificates and certification of translations, on the day of the deadline (– it won't be cheap if he gets in, but I am getting support for his living costs;) and
  2. the signing of a contract, at the office of our 'cell', and the transfer at the bank of half of the purchase price of the house I am buying – not for me, remember, but for J, who will pay me back over the next 3 to 4 years, after which the house will be his – only took place yesterday, again all in a rush.

On Friday a week ago, some of the teachers at the school went to an exhibition of works by the art teacher, a Swiss guy who I get along with very well, who has married a Rwandan woman – and has, to the great surprise of the locals, taken her last name, (which, it seems to me, in view of the two names, he might have done partly for aesthetic reasons ...) The exhibition took place in one of the houses of a newly completed 'gated community' of fancy and expensive homes, as part of a sales event, complete with free drinks, coloured lights by the pool, and speeches. I was pleased that when the deputy mayor of the district spoke, he appealed to the company to consider investing in low- and middle-income housing as well. While walking around, and enjoying my first glasses of wine all term, I got talking to a young guy, a genocide orphan born – you guessed it! – in 1990! Though only 22, Matthew has a Biology degree from Makerere but is working as a journalist, mostly writing about economic issues and business matters. Since we live in the same area, he invited me to his place on the way back, made me a chapati omelette and introduced me to his elder brother, with whom I had perhaps my first serious philosophical conversation all term, before they walked me to my place (or "pushed me," in the local English) and shared the snack which P, who was at a party that night too, had left for me. – We met again, a few days ago, again in both places. M tried to convince me to delay my departure: he talked about previous occasions of meeting abazungu (= white people), working for an NGO perhaps, or a UN agency or some embassy, who would leave when their time in the country was up, and quickly forget about the relationships they had made, presumably to make new ones, equally quickly, elsewhere; or who would from the beginning expect the local to be more involved, more in need perhaps, than they were. He seems hopeful that I am different.

Then last Sunday A's brother and I went to visit A at his school, St Aloys in Rwamagana, about an hour from Kigali; he had already asked me to come to visit him the second time we met. This was my first time outside Kigali after 20 weeks here. I guess I will only get time to travel a bit more around the country when I am no longer working full-time, in perhaps two years, but will still be coming to spend part of each year here. It is a boarding school run by 'brothers', and they are very strict: no moble phones are allowed at all, and A was not allowed to leave the school grounds with us. But it was nice to be shown around, have a snack at their canteen, and sit and talk in his classroom, where he is studying 'HEG' (= History, Economics, Geography).

Yesterday was graduation, a major event at the school, (other people were surprised: they think of graduation as something that happens after one's first degree) and since I had been the homeroom teacher of one of the grade 12 classes, I had to present my students etc. – not the kind of thing I greatly enjoy, needless to say, but it was alright. And I still got away without wearing a tie, by putting on Rwandan national attire over something informal. The guest of honour was Rose Kabuye, who has children at the school, but had the rank of a Lieutenant Colonel and became one of the President's closest aides. I liked the way she tried to bring it home to our graduates how privileged they are, asking them: "Has anyone of you ever carried water in the morning before going to school?" – no one raised their hand – and similar questions, interweaving her points with some of her own story. I think I have mentioned before that I live in two very different worlds, that at the school and that at home1.

So much for this 'semester'. These holidays I will be mostly in Berlin, but also in the US for 3 1/2 weeks and, on the way back from there, in the UK and Amsterdam for a few days. Then back in Kigali in early August. So long.

Going to Rwamagana, at Remera bus park, 5 minutes after a 20-minute downpour:
At St Aloys:
The church of Rwamagana, which has a genocide memorial across the road, (of which it is apparently not allowed to take pictures):

From Rwanda, 'Semester 7'
Is anyone still following this?


After a most enjoyable, only-just-long-enough, 'summer' holiday, of seeing friends – in Berlin, the US, the UK, Amsterdam and Martina Franca, in the South of Italy – and having some time to myself, I am happy to be back in Rwanda; it was nice to see Pascal and Laurien at the airport. I would be even happier, though, if it was for three months rather than 19 weeks, and if the 'winter' break was longer than just three weeks. (I have already booked my flights for the next 'semester' – on Turkish Airlines! – and will be leaving two weeks early in May, as my agreement with the school allows me to do, after 19 rather than the full 21 weeks.)

Two days after I arrived, the admin staff went for a three-day retreat, near Lake Ruhondo again, in the North – this one, on 'leadership', more interesting than I had expected. The next two days were teacher preparation days, and then classes started on Monday, very differently from what I had expected: last year, there were seven teachers in the English Department, of whom only one has returned – three we had known would be leaving, two we only found out about a week before the beginning of the term. (I am afraid that kind of thing is not uncommon here, one of the challenges of working in a 3rd World country, perhaps.) After some frantic hiring, there are now six 'proper' English teachers, a number of them abazungu, plus me: for the time being, I am not teaching any Maths or ThoK, and am not doing much admin, (our IB results were not great, I am afraid) but instead I am teaching 27 lessons a week of English, in grades 8, 9 and 10. So far, so good, and quite fun, although I am a bit worried about my IB students ... This is the first time since the early days of teaching Japanese that I am making lesson plans; grade 8 students do require quite a different way of teaching.

Another challenge of working in a 3rd World country is, of course, that basic services may not always be available: in the part of Kigali where we live, there has been no tap water for most of the past month. But then it is of course possible, here, for water to be brought in, we need a couple of jerry cans a day, for cooking, washing, and so on; but it means a lot of extra work. Mostly for P, who is at the same time studying very hard, preparing for his final exams in November, working on his project, attending a revision course in the evenings even during the holidays, and so on. So friends who have come to visit – someone has been staying every day since I came back! – help out around the house. At normal schools, the start of the term, and at the universities the start of the year, is at the end of August, so Alain, a Senior 6 student like P, is here for a whole week, doing his own revision (which may be easier here than at his uncle's and aunt's place, where he would otherwise be staying, but where he is not always comfortable) as well as some of the shopping, cooking and cleaning.

The business of buying the house that Joseph will be buying from me over the next three years or so, is mostly concluded: after two trips to the bank to transfer money, in two installments, and two meetings at the office of the local 'cell', to make a provisional and then the final contract, (which on the side of the seller had to be signed by all the members of his immediate family!) the only thing that remains is a visit to the notary, after which a new title can be issued.

It feels a bit as though some of the shine has come off the country, with the recent (or further) UN findings and the responses of Western governments, which many people here seem very aware of, although they are hoping that it can all be 'cleared up' soon. The opinion seems to be spreading that the political and economic system largely serves the minority in power, notably those with connections with the government and the army. For instance, a policy that causes great resentment is that, apparently, [I am being careful here] those students who have received support from FARG (the fund supporting (Tutsi) 'genocide survivors') get funding at university with just a Diploma, i.e. 9 points out of 55 or 60, while the usual requirement is 35, or even more, depending on the Option. – And affecting me more directly, construction of the new bus interchange near the city centre – much needed because of the inconveniences for ordinary people that have resulted from the high-handed banning of 'taxis' (= minibuses) from parts of the centre – seems to have come to a stop.

P studying at home, (or sorting out his music?)

Water for 3+ people for a day: washing, cooking, the toilet, etc. [A few days later: am pleased to be able to report that things have returned to normal.]

At the Petit Stade early in the morning on Ede. It fell on a Sunday this year, so the next day was a holiday. And Ayubu, (whose pictures these are) who has invited P and me to his house for Ede every year; he is in S6 too, and I am helping him a bit with his VB project, (as I am P with web-programming.)

early September

The last few weeks have continued very busy – and nice: most of the time P has had help with the shopping, cooking, washing up and cleaning – at home, before friends went off to another term at school or to the start of a new year at university. I have also been busy 'supervising' P's web programming project, which is due in just over a week, and have helped Ayubu with his Visual Basic project when he has not been able to make things work; (having made plenty of programming errors myself and often struggled for long times to spot them, I have become rather better at this skill, even in a language I don't know.) According to him, fewer than 10% of students in their class are having a go at making their own project, with all the others paying someone else, or even a teacher, to make it for them. (From what I have seen myself, even what the teachers 'make' is largely copied from the internet ...) So the government may think that there are all these bright young people who have been well trained, and not realise that these kids have in fact not learnt so much. Very sad.

The various friends who are starting university are not finding it easy. Thus, Benjamin in an e-mail from India: "Now i can see the meaning of University!! I don't know if it's in the same way in other parts of world that students can be lost far away from other things, just only sticking on the studies that we are in now. You get my words?" And Modeste in various texts from Uganda: "UCU is totally #nt 2 KIE. ... Most of d tm, apart fm lectures room am in d library, v busy. ... It's not easy here, lot of work, no free tm." (KIE is where he was studying last year.) And Oliver is finding the Maths a struggle, feeling that he has not been well prepared for it at school, but complaining that the English course is pitched too low, that there should be greater emphasis on comprehension. He was also surprised that even at university, at least at his college, students still share a bed. – I hope they will get used to it, that it will be challenging, but not too challening.

An update on who my/our 'supportees' are and their progress – with many thanks on their behalf, and mine, to the supporters:
  • NEW! Hadelin (apparently named after a muzungu called Adoré) should be starting the third year of his Agriculture course, on a government scholarship covering tuition, but he will be working two weeks longer at the bar near our house, to earn some more money. Since his family's cash income is probably just RwF 20,000 (= $ 32) per month, he is entitled to government loan, – which at RwF 25,000 per month is still too little to live on! – but he has only received it for three months during the past two years. Checking at the office in Kigali again recently, he was told not to have any hopes that his name would be on the list when he gets to university. Not an uncommon story, I am afraid. (Obvious question: where then does the money go?) [Two weeks later: I have now written an e-mail to the Ombudsman's Office about this.]
  • Modeste has started his nursing degree at UCU (Uganda Christian University), where he says things are very different from how they were last year, when he was at KIE (Kigali Institute of Education) and doing well – I think he may be struggling a bit, partly because of English. He is living in a hostel at UCU, sharing a room with a Ugandan. Britta and I met M, of course, when he was working at the same bar near our house: the two of them come from the same village and are close friends.
  • Benjamin, having completed the three months of an English course, started his degree in Computer Applications at LPU, in India, last month and seems to be coping well enough. Apparently there are many Africans, and even Rwandans, at LPU, but it is nice to know that he is missing us.
  • NEW! Oliver, whose parents could afford the fees at his school last year but can't the rather higher residence fees at Tumba College of Technology, has been with us for almost a week, but will be joining there on Monday – a week late, but apparently in time for the first lectures.
  • P (IT and Management, S6) is studying hard, as well as working a lot on his project and, as always, around the house. Some courses that the students, and perhaps the teachers, – at least the students and teachers at his school – only recently found out they would be examined on still have to be completed, in a bit of a rush now: the exams will be in early November.
  • It was very good, and useful, to have AT ('HEG': History, Economics and Geography, S6) around for a week: he is very keen to work for me, when P too will have gone to university next year, or even before, when he will be done with school, and from what we have seen that should work out well.
  • JD ('MPG': Mathematics, Physics and Geography, S5) was in the village for nearly the whole of the holiday, where he and L farm the land around their house, so I did not get to see him at all.
  • His brother L (Accounting, S4) is a bit more city-fied by now and stayed with us twice since I came back, and he too 'made himself very useful'. His position in his class improved from 19th to 12th last term. While his school is famous, as I have mentioned before, the food seems to be much worse than at other places: no breakfast, and bad kaunga (= pap) all the time; here too I am wondering where the money is disappearing to. I gave him a little extra so that he can have different sometimes.
  • But B's sister Justine (Accounting, S4) is the one who did really well, coming first in her class; she came here one day, when we paid her school fees into the school's bank account – which is better than the students taking the money with them in cash – but she had to go back to the village before I got home.
  • M had had to pay the village school fees for his sisters, Christine and Louise, (in S2 and S3) from the money that I/we gave him while he was at KIE, but I did not like that, – the money was supposed to be for him – so now I gave him money for them separately.

In the last few months, the roads in Kigali have been numbered, even ones that already had a name.
Top: we live near one of the main Muslim areas of Kigali. Bottom: a lot of building in the city centre, but most of it quite boring. (Note the garbage can – Kigali is extremely clean, largely due to the work of the many street cleaners.)

late September

I have been wondering for 30 years or so whether I would at some point in my life/career end up teaching German; it almost came to it once at AC. Well, I am teaching German now: after a German teacher, who had just joined five weeks ago, decided to leave – issues related to her salary, I believe: as I have said, we do not get an ex-pat salary! We have been unable to find a replacement, (I was involved in some of the telephone interviews) so I have now taken over three classes in grades 10, 11 and 12. They are small classes, and the students are keen and good, so it should be fun. In fact, in HL German B in Grade 12 there are only two students, one of whom is practically fluent and intending to apply to study in Germany. – Which means that I am now extremely/too busy at school, even with only five lessons of Maths. But today, Saturday, afternoon is at least the last session of my SAT Strategies course that we have been running again.

Talking of being extremely busy, other people are too, of course. Roger, who has been at the house helping, was also looking for a job while staying with us, and has now found one, at the Chinese supermarket in town, earning RwF 45,000 (= US$ 75) per month, plus perhaps RwF 15,000 in tips he gets when he is packing for customers, all of which would be ony just enough money to live on if he was on his own. Instead of getting a day off, he only starts at 9am, but then works for almost 12 hours, seven days a week. Hmmm. And P, as other friends who are in Senior 6, having in some cases had a 'break' for their practical assessment last week, are now studying very hard for the exams in mid-November.

By contrast, there is one aspect of the school where I work that has started to affect me a bit more this year – I think I have hinted at it before: the students mostly come from the richest, best-connected families in the country, and this, sadly, is reflected in the attitude of many of them, especially the older ones, many of whom take things for granted and are unwilling to take any initiative, even when it comes to their own learning or their own university applications. While I am enjoying the teaching, and even some of the admin and webdesign, it is wearing to have to constantly push people who can't be bothered.

After what felt to me like a fairly cool start of the term, which I thought might have felt like that because I had got too used to the warm climate here, there have finally been some really hot days, good for swimming, but also some of the torrential downpours that we get in the rainy season that is starting about now.

Some more of the things I am most worried about here in Rwanda, for myself and for the country. (Again, it is of course my personal views that I am expressing here.)

    1. For me personally: being injured, maimed or killed while crossing the road or being on a moto or in a (minibus) taxi, because of a lorry, bus or car driving without its lights. While there are plenty of policeman around during the day, and soldiers in groups of three are patrolling along main roads until late in the evening, there seem to be no policemen on duty after dark.
    2. For the country: the involvement in business of senior members of the army and the government, or their wives, which distorts the policy-making and decision-taking processes. A well-connected upper class has been able to amass great wealth, without necessarily helping the economic development of the country as a whole or doing much to improve the quality of life of ordinary Rwandans.
      (People here are surprised when I tell them that in (most of) Europe, in the US and in Canada, politicians and generals have a good income and great benefits but don't become very rich.)

In the commercial district: unloading and loading happen all day; the local government is trying to move businesses into buildings like the one at the back in the third picture, to make space for 'improvements'.

late October

How one pays for electricity: Every house has a meter with a unique identification number. One buys electricity at certain shops, where they go on line, enter the number of one's meter and obtain a code, which one has to enter on the keypad of one's meter, but which does not work on any other meter. (One friend of P's, who lives far from such an outlet, sometimes calls late in the evening to ask P to buy 'cash power' and send him the code.) The first time one buys electricity each month, one is also billed for the fixed 'meter rental'. Not a bad system. For the whole compound we pay about RwF 20,000 (=US$ 33) per month. As the electricity network is being expanded, soon even to P's village it seems, each household is required to contribute RwF 80,000 to get connected.

How one pays for one's university studies: Well, if one gets a government scholarship at a public university and is certified by the officials in one's village/cell as very poor, one is supposed to get a loan of RwF 25,000 per month, which is by far not enough to live on, from SFAR, the Student Financing Authority of Rwanda. Except that, as I think I have mentioned, this is often not working very well, from all I have heard, giving rise to real hardship – students not eating, and sleeping on the floor of their friends' rooms. So I thought I'd make a case to the Ombudsman, who at the moment is a woman, but without mentioning particular students or where they study – people are worried about future problems if they have made a complaint against a government agency.

  1. More than three weeks ago I explained the issue on the complaint form on the website of the Ombudsman's Office. No reply.
  2. More than two weeks ago I sent a message via another form on the website, asking for an acknowledgement. No reply.
  3. More than one week ago, on 16 Oct, I sent an e-mail to the Ombudsman, using the address given on the site, offering to send my original letter as an attachment. No reply. [26 Nov: To at least one of my communications a very brief response seems to have been sent, but I never received it.]
  4. Next I think I will try the free-phone number shown on the website, and then I might actually go to the Office. I regret this isn't working well either.
  5. [09 Nov: I have called that free-phone number repeatedly during the last few days, but never had an answer. I have found out where the office is and am planning to go there when I can.] Update 1.
(The support SFAR also gives, according to its mandate, to students studying in foreign countries, mostly the US, I believe, who mostly do not come from poor families, is apparently paid regularly – I did not mention that in my complaint.)

How one pays for medical care: To be in the goverment-run insurance scheme called Mutuel one has to pay a premium of RwF 3000 per year, though this varies with income, after which most treatments are free. While it does not apply at the top hospital in the country, where my school's group policy pays 85% of costs, it does cover major treatments, like fixing the leg fracture of M's cousin – last year, a motorbike accident ... – with a metal plate: I was surprised they were able to perform that kind of operation at a hospital outside Kigali!

And talking of health matters, as of this term I am no longer taking my malaria prophylaxis, but I have enough tablets left so that I can take them again for a few days before and after I go to an area of higher risk than Kigali is. – Something I have noticed here is that there are very few people wearing glasses. Someone said that is might be that people see a lot of green, and green is good for the eyes, but I am wondering if it is that people who don't see well are just considered as 'backward', as happened to me, from what I know, when I was a kid. So I have proposed that we test students at the school.

And talking of M and bad things happening, after he had been here last weekend, for less than 24 hours, (despite a ten-hour bus trip each way) to pick up the university fees and spending money for the second half of the term, which I hadn't been able to give him before, he was mugged in Kampala when he had exchanged the money, on the way back to his university. Although he came to no physical harm, he was badly shaken, of course, and at first he wanted to pack his suitcase and come back here; but then he decided to stay, although he is still not settled, and might not have done well in the exams this week. For me it is only losing US$ 900, which I can bear; (I don't like grinning.) – Something I have thought many times: if instead of in Rwanda I had ended up in Uganda or Kenya, I think I would have gone back to Berlin by now. One has to be too careful in those places: Gareth and Deon, from AC, were 'kidnapped' and robbed on the way from Entebbe airport to an IB conference in Kampala; and when Mugimba was studying medicine at Makerere, I got an e-mail from a hospital saying that he had been badly injured and could I immediately transfer some large sum to a certain doctor for the operation he needed to survive. (By chance Mugimba called me that evening. Me: "Are you in hospital?" He: "No, I just finished my shift, I am on the way to my residence." Me: "What about your injury?". He: "What injury?")

With P studying hard and R continuing to be exploited by the Chinese ;-) , Apollinaire, a friend of P's from the village and a mason, who unfortunately speaks hardly any English or French, is staying for a few weeks to help us; as I have mentioned before, I think, everyone here seems able to cook fairly well and is used to shopping, washing up, washing and so on. When Ap works, he gets paid about RwF 5000 per day, but even when he does, he is home before dark, i.e. by 6pm. – Other things are nice too, including coming to Europe in seven weeks. ;-) Bad things: a cold that hasn't been so bad but is lingering on, and too much to do at/for school.

Because Kigali is built on hills, there are many stone walls to prevent erosion, to avoid buildings sliding, and as foundations. It is a particular skill to pack the wall out of rough stones so that there are the smallest possible gaps, which are then filled with cement, which may be painted – I quite like it.
(The second picture is below The German Butcher, La Galette, where the bread we sometimes eat comes from – not great, but better than other bread.)


I had been thinking of going to Butare, the old capital and the seat of the National University, during the short break between the first and the second term, but then the person I was going to stay with there was teaching that week and was "too stressed", so I invited the other person I was going to meet with there to visit us instead. Philbert is a first-year student at NUR, in Economics, on a government scholarship, which means, since his Option at school was HEG (= History, Economics, Geography), that he got the highest possible mark, 55 out of 55, in the National Exams. (AT is just sitting for the same exams, at the same school as it happens, precisely a year later.) According to his identity card he is 21 years old, but he suspects his mother was out by a year or two when she completed forms at some point. With no financial support from home – the father out of the picture since the genocide, some older siblings without jobs, surviving on a little land, and two younger ones still at school: when people talk about their sometimes pretty dire circumstances, there is never any appeal for pity, perhaps because they know that their situation is quite common, so one gets just matter-of-fact reporting. We hadn't talked so much before, but he is great fun, inquisitive, keen to talk about God and the world, and to learn more about Hitler, about evolution, and so on; and he helped with the washing in the morning. – Anyhow, where was I? So, with no financial support from home, and SFAR – again – not paying the money he badly needs and is entitled to, he has been struggling at university; in fact I didn't quite figure out how he had been managing to eat for the past few weeks, I think he was supported by the other three people he is sharing two rooms in a 'ghetto' with.

The term at normal Rwandan schools has finished, (while universities are on a Northern-hemisphere schedule) and P's and his class mates' National Exams (the 'A-levels') start this week. JD was here for a week, on the way back to the village, having come 3rd again out of 48 in his class. And now his brother L, who has further improved his position, to 9th out of 32, has come and will be the one doing the work around the house for the next 10 days or so, very comfortable. After which we'll go back to normal at home: P and I, plus on most weekends some friend. (J was disappointed to have slipped from 1st to 3rd place in her class; she was not feeling well at the end of the term.)

And after the busy-ness of the last weeks of term, and then the pressure relating to registering grade 12 students for the IB, things should also be mostly back to normal soon at work (– which is what school does now, a bit sadly, feel like most of the time: not precisely what I came here for ...)

Update 1 about my complaint about SFAR: After weeks of failing to get an answer on the free-phone number from the website, I finally had time to go to the Ombudsman's Office, which has its own building in one of the areas of government buildings, very convenient on the way back from school, as it turned out. It appears that my complaint – despite the fact that I had not received the acknowledgement I had repeately asked for – had in fact been registered in September, reviewed by the Ombudsman(-lady) and assigned to the Director of the 'Unit of Preventing and Fighting against Injustice'. That gentleman was unfortunately in the field, so the member of his staff who I met with suggested that I contact him to make an appointment, to hear about the progress of the case. The excuse/reason given for the lack of any answer on the free-phone number was that they are in the process of changing from having just one mobile to a small switch board – hmmm. My point that many parts of their website are some years out of date was accepted, but I will raise it again. Over all though the place made a good impression. Update 2.

A new and fun 'friend in the making', also poor: that nice shirt was not his, he said. ;-)

early December

I guess this is 'Kai-country' – as in "There is no Christmas in Kai-country." The only Christmas tree I have seen is in the entrance to the Mille Collines when I go swimming, complete with flashing lights, but not too bad, and fake presents wrapped in shiny paper. And almost the only Christmas songs I have heard have been ring-tones, but these are popular here throughout the year. The last three years I had always left in early November, so this is the first time I am in Rwanda at this time of the year. The rainy season is not too rainy, and while it can be a bit cool at night, it is still sometimes very hot during the day. (I still have not ever needed to wear anything more than a short- or long-sleeved or T-shirt.)

When students here finish their National Exams at the end of Senior 6, they are expected to join a training and education camp for three weeks, called Ingando, run by the army and local officials, at one of the boarding schools, according to the sector where they come from. Like his fellow-students, P registered at his school, but when they were told – at an orientation meeting the day before the camp started! – that they were in the wrong place, he decided that it was all not worth it. I am pleased. And being here he has been able to help (or rather: work for) two muzungu-ladies, one of whom will be working on a project in Rwanda for the next 2 1/2 years, for a friend of mine in the US. He found a house for them, with an amazingly nice lady-owner, not far from where we are staying, is taking them around Kigali to find furniture, and so on. And L will be 'houseboy/ guard' in their place until he goes back to school in January.

Update 2 about my complaint about SFAR: The second visit, to see the gentleman to whom the case has been assigned, felt rather less positive – while I accept his point that it is difficult for them to pursue a complaint without having details of particular cases, I am worried that SFAR will make excuses and that the investigation will stop with those particular cases: he came across as reluctant to do anything, citing the amount of work they get. He said he would write me an e-mail, [which I did receive two weeks later,] with an assurance that there would be no reprisals, even in future, against people who come forward, and that I should encourage people to complain themselves, using his number, which I have started to do.

A problem that everyone here is very aware of is that customer service is very bad in general, with some notable exceptions; there even was a government-sponsored conference about this issue recently. My own worst experiences have been with my bank, Cogebanque: a random charge, to give just one example, of RwF 18,000 (= US$ 30) which it took me a few months and a visit to the head office to get refunded. At some banks, the queue can be two hours long, and customers have to wait while the tellers are chatting with each other. Of course, everyone is always very polite – but they don't do anything, no one is willing to take responsibility. My impression is that Rwandans are very reluctant to complain, (I suspect other people did not get that random fee refunded) or to question 'authorities'. This attitude is of course reflected in the realm of politics. (Having said that, young people seem to be increasingly frustrated with the President's standard response to questions about unemployment, that young people should show initiative and all set up their own businesses – has not every student who finishes secondary school taken a course in Entrepreneurship?)

Even before the recent loss of budgetary support from Western countries, (in response to what is beginning to appear to be a biased and flawed UN report) the country's economy did not have a strong basis: there is something like a building boom, but there seems to be hardly any investment from abroad. (Perhaps I am all wrong about this ...) But now the sanctions are starting to have a major impact: the RwF has lost value, and it has apparently become difficult even to obtain US$ – which is affecting me, (or rather my friends) when I take/send money that has been repaid to me back to Europe.

On the weekend there is always someone visiting. This weekend it was H, one of the two guys we know from the local bar where they sometimes work, who is in the third year of studying Agriculture. M, the other one, will come back from Uganda two days before I leave.

I finally got to see the house which I bought, 5% of which belong to Joseph by now, and had a glass of wine with him, looking at a nice view of Kigali from the veranda. All rooms have curtains, but only one room is (partly) furnished.