From Rwanda, 'Semester 8'
– it's mostly old hat now, but still ...

The earlier diaries: There is also a page of maps and aerial photos.

The school does not have semesters, but three terms a year; but the breaks between the terms are only two or three days, so the year does feel like consisting of two semesters, from August to December and from January to May. These are almost the same length, so it would make sense to change to a semester-system, for various educational reasons as well – but parents would not like it.

late January

After three weeks in Berlin, with pleasantly mild weather most of the time, time for reading and concerts and installing a proper shower partition, (Thanks!) a quiet non-Christmas and more lively New Year with lots of fireworks, a very enjoyable five-day visit from friends from New York, and a negative biopsy of the prostate, (which organ had given rise to some concern in the course of the year) I arrived back after midnight on a Saturday night, was picked up by Pascal and Laurien, and was back into the full routine on Monday. No one had known when other schools and universities would start, but as it turned out they mostly did on the same day, so I did not get to see some people before they went, and others only briefly, but still we've had visitors most of the time.

Talking of visitors, I am/we are looking forward to having some intercontinental ones: a friend from London for a weekend at the start of February, and my sister again, from France, from a week later until the end of March.

And on the plane coming here I met, and talked a lot with, (mostly in German) a young Rwandan who is married and working in Germany, and who was taking his son, who is five-years old, to Rwanda for the first time. He has a technical job, at a utility company, but has done some work for them in various African countries, including here; and he is fun. The two of them visited us one evening, and it was interesting to get his outside/inside views. In particular he said about Rwandan children, how controlled they are, "not allowed to do anything." It may be a very fine line that parents need to tread, between raising children who are spoilt and greedy for attention, prone to screaming when they don't get what they want, and raising children who lack initiative and the ability to think for and express themselves.

Just before I came back, P had started a one-month internship at a computer company, which has turned out to be like a job but without pay. So he has been busy, in particular since there were some things around the house that needed fixing, (all the rooms were repainted, for instance) but nowhere near as bad as during the revision for the National Exams, the results of which should be published next month.

'Termly' summary (– it is the start of the academic year for schools but almost the middle of the year at the universities):
  • Hadelin, who we originally know from the nice quiet bar near our house, is continuing in the third year of his Agronomy course, (although he was studying about poultry when he was here for two days) which he seems to be doing very well on.
  • Modeste, originally from the same bar, and from the same village, as H, will be returning to UCU (Uganda Christian University) soon; his course in Nursing will only continue in May, but he is taking an preparatory course, for English and so on, which he missed out on last year.
  • Benjamin is continuing his first year at Lovely Professional University in India, where he hopes to take up karate again soon; I hope I can bring him here for the summer holidays, (and that he can come at a time so that I can spend time with him too ...)
  • Oliver is continuing his first year at Tumba College of Technology, a branch – in a fairly remote place – of KIST (Kigali Institute of Science and Technology), where he hopes to transfer after 2 1/2 years.
  • Philbert is continuing his first year at NUR (National University of Rwanda) in Butare; he is considering specialising in Economics, and especially Development Economics, from next year.
  • JD has started Senior 6, the last year at school, in MPG (= Maths, Physics and Geography); these Options (= combinations of subjects, although people take other courses, like Entrepreneurship, which is compulsory), to which pupils are assigned in Senior 4, largely determine which subject they get to choose if they get to university.
  • His brother L has returned to his famous school, where life is pretty rough, it seems, and the food is bad, after three weeks of living as a guard at the house of some abazungu who have moved to our area; (in fact the people whom P helped so much before the break.) He is now in Senior 5, studying Accountancy.
  • Justine, B's sister, has also started Senior 5, at a different school, with better food, also studying Accountancy.
  • Christine, M's sister, has joined Senior 3 in the school in her village.
P, Alain Theogene and Louise are all waiting for their results in the National Exams, and to find out if and where they might be able to continue their studies. [Later: L did unfortunately not do well enough.]

As always, I am very grateful for the extremely generous support I get in supporting most of these students – from friends of mine who don't even know the people who their money is going to! Amazing.

late February

Things have been rather more enjoyable – which does NOT mean that there has been less work – at school since the winter break. Though I don't have a contract yet for next year, and might find myself with a different job, but the school has already paid for my flights from Berlin to Kigali in August and back to Berlin in December.

Britta arrived two weeks ago, P, O and I went to the airport in the middle of the night to pick her up. She will be flying back at the end of March, but is doing her own thing most of the time, as she did two years ago. After five days here, including one when she came to school with me, she left for Uganda to meet with people she had met two years ago, and to check out some organic farms there.

story 1. The day Britta came to school was our Valentine's Day, two days early, because exams were about to start. She agreed to help supervise the selling of icecreams, half the profits from which go to the orphanage that students are supporting as part of their community service. Some time during the day, she apparently saw a boy of about 12 years push in front of another who was about 8 years old. But the small one managed to regain his place, he looked the big guy in the eyes, and said: "May God punish you," to which the big guy had no answer.

story 2. After school one day, I looked around the many small ForEx offices in the Commercial Area in town to find the best rate to get $ 80 for Britta. Having received four $ 20 bills, since the visa to Uganda costs $ 50, I asked the guy behind the window to change one of the $ 20 bills into two $ 10 bills. I only noticed at home that he had given me two $ 5 bills instead! So I went back the next day, having prepared all kinds of things to say, but I didn't need to say anything: as soon as I sat down, the guy behind the window, a different one from the day before, said something over his shoulder about the muzungu being back, the guy from the day before appeared, looking a little apologetic, (I thought) and they handed over a $ 10 bill that had been lying in readiness.

The results of the National Exams in November have been published. With 33 points out of 60 P did not do as well as he had done in the last school exams, where he had come top in his class, but he is still in the top 20% – I think: the system is far from clear and the distribution of points depends on the Option (= combination of subjects.) To get a Diploma, one needs 10 points, so reason enough to congratulate and celebrate. ;-) But people will only find out in a month or so how many points are needed, for each course, for the government to pay for the tuition costs at university. AT scored 49 points out of 73, (I think ...) but people tend to get many more points in his Option.

We are now in the small dry season, so it has been quite hot sometimes – during the very short, two-day break between two terms, I had a good day in town and at the pool, even got a bit burnt. But on the Saturday before there had been an amazing downpour, so that the gushing water swept cars off the road, combined with the strongest winds I have experienced here, which blew the roofs off some houses and many trees over. People even got killed. One of the houses that was badly damaged was the one in which AT – who happened to be visiting us at the time – lives with his student-brother, uncle and aunt, and four small cousins, (again: no parents) and since they could only afford some of the new sheets of metal they needed, I agreed of course to pay for the rest; the old ones may have ended up in the trees somewhere ...

Some pictures that Britta came back with from her first two-week trip to Uganda, where she visited M at UCU and another friend. She also went on a briefer trip in Rwanda and then went to Uganda again.
M's room  


Life has been too busy at school – Mocks! – but continued well, and at home very-nice-busy with friends: I don't think there has been a weekend when we have not had at least one person stay, and Britta has been here between her various trips. – I have recently booked two more plane tickets, one for me to fly to the US for most of June, the other for B to come to Rwanda for the summer: I will be back here for a week before he returns to India. – The weather has been quite rainy, as appropriate for the season, and sometimes a little cool, (= "very cold," according to the locals) but very hot at other times.

story 3. So one day when she was here, Britta was walking around in our local market, and walked into a shed where some guys were playing billiards, so she joined them, took some pictures and even took some shots. Unfortunately, when she got back home, she found that her (i.e. my, cheap) phone had been stolen from her bag, as well as a very small sum of money. That evening she had just told me what had happened, and we had just said: "Oh well, ...," when my phone rang. The caller was Ph, with whom Britta had spent an afternoon in Butare the previous week, and he told me that she must have a problem, since he had received a call, from her phone, with someone from our local police station asking him to inform her that they had her phone! We still don't know how that phone ended up with the police.

story 3, continued. So the next day Britta and P went to the police station to collect the phone, but were told that the policeman who had the phone was away; and P was told the same thing when he tried again later, after Britta had left, with another phone, on her second trip to Uganda. Eventually they admitted that the phone had been stolen again, this time from the police station! The guys there were very embarrassed apparently, and understandably, and very worried that I would make a big thing out of it; and the policeman in whose care the phone had been was suspended until he had sorted the matter out with me – which he has done: so I have ended up with a phone with fewer functions than the one I had before but of better quality, which I will give to someone who needs it.

On the domestic front, it has become clear over the past few months that L's boarding school does not work well for him, very famous though it is: it is difficult to study when one has to spend a few hours each day getting water and firewood, and when there is no electricity after 9 pm, and the food must be pretty bad too. He had hoped things would be better in his second year there, but instead they have become worse. At first I had suggested that he look for a private boarding school during his three-week holiday in April and move, even though there he would not get government support, but after talking with P, (who may be away at university from the summer ...) we decided to offer L to stay (and work) here, and attend the local private school, which is quite good, where P was studying until he finished in November. Until B went to India, almost a year ago, it had been very nice to have both him and P in the house, and I think it will be as nice to have P and L here from next month. They are all very close.

Pictures taken by my adventurous sister ...


After seven weeks in Rwanda and Uganda, Britta went back to France at the end of March. The 2 1/2 weeks that she was staying with us were very nice, and she seems to have had a good time, meeting some old and making some new friends, here and in other places, even if sometimes during the seven weeks she may have felt too much like a tourist – a feeling I recognise from some of my visits to Africa before I started to work here, even though I was always also visiting friends.

07 to 13 April is Genocide Memorial Week, which means that almost every place is closed in the afternoon for people to attend meetings, no loud or fast music is allowed to be played anywhere, on the radio one mostly hears songs about the "jenoside yakorewe abatutsi", bars close early, many of the usual advertisements have again been replaced by commemorative posters, with just a small company logo at the bottom, and so on. (After years of purple as the commemorative colour, it was decided that this was a Western, perhaps Christian colour, so this year the posters are grey, inspired, apparently, by the Rwandan tradition of daubing one's face with ash as a sign of mourning.) Every Genocide Memorial Week has a motto, and this year's is "Striving for Self-Reliance," presumably a reference to the budget support that was cut, for the greater part of a year, by Western governments, after a UN report last summer that Rwanda was militarily involved across the border in Congo.

It is also a time when a certain topic, certain memories people have, come up more often than at other times of the year, even though people are, as always, and as Britta discovered as she was moving around, extremely reluctant, not to say scared, to say anything that isn't part of the official version of events. To explain the gist of it, it should be safe for me to quote the New Times, which after all reads like a government publication; about Victoire Ingabire, who has been in prison for, I think, almost three years, it wrote: "Part of her charges were drawn from [sic] her speech at Gisozi Genocide Memorial, which included insinuation [sic] that there had been double [sic] genocide in Rwanda – a narrative seen as trivialising the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi." (26/03/2013)

It is also a school holiday, so I am reading a lot, sleeping more than usual and having friends visit, but also occasionally meeting my HL Maths class to help them with revision, as the IB is just three weeks away; this time there is a student who may get a 7. And I had time for a trip outside Kigali – my first, on my own, in almost four years! Up to now I had only ever been to two villages not far from here, on weekend visits with P, and twice to Lake Ruhondo in the north, for an admin staff retreat, (which this year I will be missing, because I will be flying to Berlin two weeks before the end of the term, in five weeks' time; I will still be doing 'tele-working' though, to run the on-line report-writing.) So I went to Butare, the old capital in the south, not far from the border with Burundi, and seat of the National University, but really a very small town, to visit friends. It was easy to find a good-enough place to stay, at RwF 5000 (= US$ 8) per night, but not easy, and in fact impossible after 6 pm, to be allowed into the grounds of the university: worries about security, perhaps especially in this period. A very enjoyable trip, though perhaps without much that was new – other than perhaps a new friend, someone I sat next to and talked with on the bus going there, and then met up with again before I returned to Kigali.

A worrying development: it seems the government has decided to drastically reduce the support for university students, and to only fully fund "the very poorest" – of whom there are not many at the universities, because those classified as "the very poorest" could generally not have completed a secondary school which even with government support requires paying at least RwF 50,000 (= US$ 75) per term ... – That would mean that some of our friends, people who we know for sure are desperately poor, would not only have to pay half of the fees next year, which they can of course not afford, but would also no longer receive the small allowance of RwF 25,000 per month (which was not enough in any case, and only a loan) towards their living costs; and that many students, even ones who have only one year of their course left, would have to drop out: the public universities may end up quite empty. – Very sadly, it seems that it can happen that someone who has been classified as category 1 or 2 in the village, i.e. as one of "the very poorest", finds himself put in category 3 at district level, his complaints notwithstanding, presumably because the officials want their district to look good. – Even my Rwandan colleagues had (apparently: people are careful here) not heard of this, but our friends who were present at the meetings that the Minister of Education has had with students at different universities have all told precisely the same story.

[PS, in June:] I have found two articles about this in the New Times, dated 14 March and 18 March; the first still talks about students being able to get loans, instead of grants, but the second one says basically the same as what I've been told.

[PS, in late July:] From what people have written to me recently, it seems that government-supported university students in categories 3 and 4 will now have to pay RwF 300,000 (plus perhaps a registration fee of RwF 50,000, not clear) per year, plus their full cost of living, amounting to about US$ 1,200 in total – which will still be out of reach for many of them, or their families, including most/all of our friends. Apparently this is being discussed a lot in Rwanda. (I am not sure yet, and haven't told them, but if this is what will happen, then I may be able to pay for four people for the next year.)

At the very end of May, B will be coming to Rwanda for his summer holiday, to get a break and be able to see his friends and family. After I have come back in August he will still be here for six days. This is he, with an afro, in front of his house in India.

On Britta's last evening, w/ P & L
At the NUR at Butare, w/ Chr

mid-May, at the airport

I have been looking forward to leaving for some weeks – there has just been too much to do at school, and even though I am leaving two weeks before the end of term, it feels like I have been here for a long time. But I am also sad: six days after I come back in August, P will leave, (together with B, who will be arriving here in two weeks from now,) and start to also study in India – the university he was/we were looking at in South Africa never came back with the information we needed. So, things will never be the same, although I am very happy to be sharing the house with L from now on, who has made a good start at P's old school and who I think is happy to have moved, and to have moved in.

This has been an unusually cold and wet rainy season, despite which we had no water for more than two recent weeks; and for the weeks before that we often did not have electricity. But these are of course not the reasons that next year is, probably, going to be my last year in Kigali, or at least my last year of working full-time at the school. There are two reasons:

  • It has become more and more wearing to teach the children of the richest section of society, the sons and daughters of ministers and generals, too many of whom, (but certainly not all!) because of their parents' money and position, have no interest in learning, don't even bother to make any effort when it comes to applying to universities. This is such a contrast to the people who I meet at my house, who are desperate to have an education, (even if, sadly, they often don't think of learning as fun.) The Headmaster has said he wants me to 'connect with US universities', so that our students get an assured route there – the problem is that I am not convinced enough of the 'product' I am supposed to sell: our low IB results are largely due to the students not doing the work, not caring. But as I said, it is certainly not all students, otherwise I would have run away long ago.
  • It has become more and more wearing to live in a society which seems to operate to further the interests of the rich and of a particular group. For instance, while the government has announced plans to drastically reduce the support for university students next year, which would mean that many of them would not be able to complete their degrees, the children of a senator are being supported by SFAR, the Student Financing Authority of Rwanda, to study at expensive foreign universities. (I don't want to give away who I hear various things from, but this is from someone who I am sure knows.)
Having said that, I am very happy with my friends and my personal and home life in Rwanda, so I do want to continue to spend part of each year in the country as long as I am able to. And find things to do while I am here.

In my Theory of Knowledge classes I recently talked about Marx's view of history, and the development he described from a feudal to an industrialised and then to a communist society. As I tried to relate the three kinds of society to the present world, citing Scandinavian countries as near examples of the communist society Marx was envisaging, I found that not one of the students had heard of the collapse of the garment factory building in Bangladesh, at a time when the death toll was already known to be above 500, which was my example of labour being exploited by capital. And it occurred to me, while I was teaching, that Rwanda is in many ways a present-day example of a feudal society, in that at every level power is conferred from above: and since officals are appointed rather than elected, their allegiance is to the holders of power above them, ultimately to the President, rather than to the people whom they should, in my view, (and who they would no doubt claim to) be serving.

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: That I will get into political trouble if some people in the country find out some of the things that I am now thinking, and writing about here, and occasionally sharing, if not so directly, with some classes. (That 'political trouble' might well start with claims about my personal life – after all, this is Africa, this is Rwanda.)
    2. For the country:
      'Divisionism' is a serious crime in Rwanda, for obvious reasons. But what can you call a government policy that delivers great financial and other benefits to genocide survivors, (at least one of whom has both parents: I have met them ...) while other children who were orphaned at the same time or subsequently are left to fend for themselves?
      What will happen in September, when a large number of university students will find that they cannot continue their studies, because their government support has been more than halved, whereas the beneficiaries of FARG (the government's genocide survivors support fund) are not affected, even if they have performed less well?
      A conclusion I came to a long time ago, when affirmative action was much discussed in the US, is that the justification for such a policy, at least after a certain time has passed, cannot be to right past wrongs, but must be that it will lead to a better, more equitable society in the future. FARG is part of a policy of affirmative action, but I don't think the policy is leading to a more equitable society, which is what the country most needs.
Should I be mistaken, should it for instance not be the case that genocide survivors have needed much lower grades (9 points, say, rather than 40 out of 55, depending on the subject) to have their university fees paid by the government, or that students who are supported by FARG will continue to be fully funded next year while others, even from poorer families, will have to contribute 50% of the tuition fees at universities (and will therefore probably have to break off their studies,) I would still say that a mere perception like this is, in view of the history, dangerous for the country, and that the government has failed to communicate well enough and to explain policies clearly enough. – Sometimes it is very nice to be wrong: I so want this country to do well!

Having said somewhere, I think, that I don't like most of the modern buildings in Kigali, there are a few new buildings that I find more interesting, although in both cases I would have preferred them to keep the naked concrete instead of applying the ubiquitous beige/light yellow. This is going to be the Kigali District (?) administration, in the city centre.

Between the hills, on top and on the slopes of which most of Kigali is built, are of course valleys, but buildings in these 'wetlands' would fare badly in the heavy rains, so they, though within the city, have been left green, and some of them have been turned into little, immaculately clean, empty parks.

Last 'semester' I had pictures of some retaining walls, built to prevent mud slides during the heavy rains. Some of these are made out of natural stone, in a traditional way, others out of small cinder blocks, in which grass can be planted. (A plan to alternate green with reddish brown grass to create a local striped pattern has not worked well.) This is on the way down from the city centre.

(These pictures were taken by P, who went on a little trip for me around town, just before I left.)

early July - this is not from Rwanda

For many years, when people have asked me why I like being in Africa, and being with Africans, one of the answers I have given is that Africans relate differently, and in particular that relationships between people are not as much modelled on ownership of things as it often seems to me they are in the West (– a point partly inspired by what Marx says about alienation: first of the labourer from the product of his labour, and then, consequently, of one human being from his fellow human being.) So African children and young people seem to be less homesick, and parents can send a child to live with relatives for many years for them to attend a better school, without this meaning that they love, or care for, one another any less.

But up to now this had only been a personal impression. So I was pleased to come across evidence for an at least related point, in The Self Illusion: Why There is No 'You' Inside Your Head, 2012. In Chapter 5, the author, Bruce Hood, describes the endowment effect, that "owners placed much greater value on objects in their possession, relative to what other people were willing to pay for them. Moreover, as soon as an object comes into our possession, we have a bias to overvalue it in comparison to an identical object. This bias ... has been widely replicated [sic] many times with items ranging from bottles of wine to chocolate bars."

But Hood observes that most of the studies of this effect have been done on North American students. "This is an important limitation as other cultures have different attitudes towards object ownership. For example, in comparison to Westerners, Nigerians are reported to value gifts from others more and exhibit less of an endowment effect for personally acquired possessions. A recent study of the Hadza hunter gatherers of Northern Tanzania also found no evidence of endowment for possessions." While this is not quite the same as my point, it does suggest a difference in possessiveness that would also be reflected in the nature of relationships.

From Rwanda, 'Semester 9'
– not all is quite the same, so ...


After two weeks back in Kigali, the summer holidays already seem some time – not quite: long – ago: two weeks in Berlin at the beginning, 4 1/2 weeks at the end, with 4 1/2 weeks in the UK and the US in between, enjoyable travelling and great to see friends, as always, including two who travelled to visit me.

Here: no water at our house for the past few months, except for the occasional few days, the pressure is too low most of the time – something one does get used to. But a compound nicely renovated by the owner while I was away, with a new large tank to catch rain water from the roofs; the rains have just started to fall again, after three dry months. A slighlty intense start at school, partly because of a more positive orientation towards the IB and a proper 1st-year induction (both of which I had suggested last year ...), all largely because of an upcoming IB evaluation visit in two weeks; so things will remain a bit like that until then. My title is new this year, 'Senior Consultant', but the work is not much different. ;-) And a slightly intense first week at home, as Pascal and Benjamin were preparing to leave for India, B to continue and P to start his studies: friends passing through to say Hi! to me and Bye! to them – a minibus was needed to take all the people to the airport who wanted to 'push' them, including two girlfriends. Since then things have just about settled into a new routine, with Laurien instead of P, but similar to before. Nice.

During my second weekend, Modeste passed through on his way from Uganda to a wedding and then to his village; he'll stay a bit longer on the trip back, in two weeks. And Noel (which is how Chris told me he prefers to be called) came for his first proper visit. Nice. Roger, still working at the same abazungu house near us, apparently very happily, and Ayubu, one of P's ex-classmates, have stopped by quite regularly.

'Semesterly' summary (– it is the start of the academic year for universities but the start of the third trimester at schools):
  • Hadelin will start the fourth and last year of his Agronomy course, which he is doing very well in, but is working at the bar near us until the end of September to earn a little money.

    Like N, Oliver, Philbert and Oscar, H is affected by the new government policy which requires students in categories III and IV, which (quite wrongly!) is most of them, to pay half of their university fees, all of their living expenses and transport, a total of about RwF 80,000 (= USD 120) per month – roughly the cash income of a whole family in category III.

  • New: Not having found a holiday job, N must have been quite bored since June, just staying with his brother, but he will return to NUR (the National University of Rwanda, of which from this year all public unviversities are supposed to be part) in Butare in two weeks, for his last year of Urban and Regional Planning.
  • New: Having got to like, and supported, Alain Theogene in his last year of secondary school, it was a difficult decision (which I did first discuss with him) to pay for his brother Oscar instead, who I have met only a few times, but who has already completed two years of Biology and Chemistry at KIE (Kigali Institute of Education).
  • M will be starting year two of his Nursing course at UCU (Uganda Christian University) in two weeks; at one stage I had worries whether he could manage, but they were based on his worries, and in fact he is doing well.
  • B is starting his second year of a BCA (Bachelor of Computer Applications) at LPU in India, where he has taken up karate again; I think it was a good break for him to come to Rwanda for the summer.
  • O is about to start his second year of Computing at Tumba College of Technology, now – supposedly – a branch of the NUR. He is one of our 'regulars' at home.
  • Ph has been in his village for the whole of the holiday, but he will come up to visit for a couple of days next week, and will then also go back to Butare in two weeks, for the second year of his Social Science course.
  • We are missing P, but wish him all the best for the start of his course, also at LPU, in India. He has found it very hot there, but I am sure he'll be alright.
  • With his National Exams in MPG (= Maths, Physics and Geography) in November, JD has stayed at his school the whole of the holiday; he came 11th in his class at the end of last term.
  • His brother L is now living with and working for me, while studying Accountancy in Senior 5 at the school where P used to go. It's all working very nicely, and he even came top of his class in his first end-of-term exams at his new school.
  • Justine, B's sister, is also in Senior 5, at a different school, also studying Accountancy. She too was top in her class.
  • Charles and Floride, H's brother and sister, are continuing in their school in the village, where the fees for one student are RwF 3,000 (= $ 5) each term. They both had very nice reports last term, and had improved their position in class.
  • Christine, M's sister, is continuing in Senior 3 in the school in her village.
  • Chance, P's niece, is also going to school in her village.

As always, I am very grateful for the extremely generous support I get in supporting most of these students – from friends of mine who don't even know the people who their money is going to! Amazing.

P's 12-year old niece Chance and her brother (– the picture was taken by L when he went to the village):

All our best
wishes to you
in India, B
and P. Stay
The last time I showed pictures of our compound was when we had just moved in, 3 1/2 years ago – but the rent is still the same, despite an inflation rate of about 8%. But we now have a black road outside and even a house number next to the gate.

The new tank for rain water


A bit more resident: It feels like I am becoming viewed as more of a resident in this country. Not only was I sold the carnet of 20 tickets for my weekly swim at the Milles Collines for 2/3 of what I had been charged previously, (so that now it is just slightly more expensive to swim here than at the pool in Berlin) I have also been given a voting card (which was delivered to our compound!) for the parliamentary elections on Monday. Which I will not make use of, for two reasons (– although I am very pleased to have a long weekend): I don't feel I understand the party politics well enough, and it does not seem that parliament matters at all – no one seems to have heard of "checks and balances" or "the three branches of government," or to be taking these ideas seriously, and the two people I asked what they had been told about parliament at the ingando, the two-week civic education and community service camp that is compulsory for everyone who has completed secondary school, didn't remember parliament being mentioned at all!

Life in general: 1. At school, things have been much more relaxed than they were for most of last year, despite the 2.5-day IB Evaluation visit we had, and despite having to cover, just for a short while, an IB HL English A class, after a (good) teacher had just walked out – again: he had done the same thing four years ago, but was rehired last year. As we all know, a lot of work, including now teaching until 8pm on Mondays, (which I get paid for separately, but not much) is no problem as long as it is, in a sense, one's own work. So it feels odd that 1/3 of this 'semester' has already passed. I am happy too to gradually have more time for reading.
2. At home, things have been very good. We still don't have tap water most of the time, but the rainy season has started, so the rain-water tank is usually full. (It has happened for the second time that it started to rain, suddenly and heavily, while I was swimming, just after I had basked in hot sunshine for 40 minutes, and stopped again just as I was finishing, all alone in the pool, my usual 2 km. Fun.) But there have not been so many interruptions in the power supply.
3. The house not far from ours, where Roger is working for those abazungu of James's, was broken into one very early morning last week: the thieves locked the door of Roger's hut in the compound from the outside, but only got away with five pairs of shoes and food.
4. Britta had intended to come and visit this month, but she was asked to direct a performance that an actress-friend/colleague of hers, Ilke Schönbein, will be taking on her next tour, and so now she is planning to arrive in December.
4. Just over the wall of our compound – next to my bedroom! – a new bar has opened, called 'Q-Bar' (a pun on "Cuba"?) While there is noise, of people drinking and talking and music, (mostly quite nice, actually) sometimes till late, or rather early, and sometimes quite loud, it has not kept me from sleeping; but L and some friends of ours are more sensitive: perhaps the noise is easier for me to ignore, because I don't understand what people are saying or the words of songs.

University news: Nearly all of our friends/'supportees' have by now returned to their universities, registered and paid the (half-)fees that are due, as of this year, even from the poor (except – according to the government – from the very poorest.) With many students not being able to take up their places, because they and their families cannot afford even the half-fees, (plus the living expenses, for part of which they used to get a loan) more places at the government universities have been given, it seems, to candidates who did not do so well in the National Exams, but who are supported by the 'Genocide Survivors' Fund', which I have mentioned before. This even leads to personal divisions: "How can we stay friends," I was told someone asked, "if I can go to university with 22 points, while my friend, who gained 40 points, has to stay at home?" One does have to wonder, very very sadly, if there isn't a hidden, or not-so-hidden, agenda. It will also become a problem, both at the universities and in the workforce, that many students, and eventually graduates, will have been selected on grounds other than their ability and motivation: the over-all standard will go down.

Updates: 1. The government has just instructed the districts to review the ubudehe categorisation of students and their families, and set up a committee to see if the categories (on the basis of which people had to pay RwF 1000 or 3000 or 7000 per year for health insurance) are appropriate for deciding their ability to pay university (half-)fees plus living expenses (which together amount to RwF 800,000 per year.) How could the government not have known long ago that there would be problems?
2. Hadelin has been selected for a scheme that takes agricultural students from different countries to work and study in Israel for a year, somewhere in the occupied territories, by the sounds of it, but it should be a great experience. They were only told last week, but he may be flying as early as 01 October.
3. I had offered Alain, who did not gain a government-sponsored place at university, (although I may pay for him to go to a private university next year) to fund some other course this year, and he has decided to learn how to drive, a fairly marketable skill here, it seems.

Progress? Some weeks ago, the City introduced a new transport policy, awarding monopolies to certain taxi (= mini-bus) and bus companies for certain areas. The idea is that each company can now be required to provide a certain minimum of service in its area. As a result, some 'inter-zonal' routes, including the route I used to use most often, are not allowed to be operated any longer; and waiting times everywhere have become much longer than they were before. And all the taxis that operate in our area, many of which previously were completely, and stylishly, covered with different motives, of singers, football clubs, and so on, have been repainted and are now boringly white with an ugly, green or blue wavey logo.

Pictures from India – our two friends there have written that they are doing well, but studying very hard. (I've bought a ticket to go there in April for a week, 'to check on them'.)

How the other half lives: B's and P's place in India – for US$ 100 per month!

Apparently it is no longer as hot as it was, and will soon get quite cold: the change of seasons must be something new to them.


The rainy season has started more seriously, it sometimes gets a bit cool in the evening, and I can't always go swimming during a weekend. I even had a cold last week, but it did not last long. We have now had mains water (as well as rain water of course) practically all the time for some weeks – much easier. On the weekends our friends take turns to come and visit – very nice. And JD came for a few days to take a short break from studying for his National Exams in November – not much of a break though: he was at his books before 5 every morning. After one night when the music from the new bar, Q-Bar, next door did actually disturb me, L and I went to talk to the manager the next day, and there has been no problem since – we have even gone there for a drink.

And I greatly enjoyed Er ist wieder da, a satirical German novel I just finished, told by the Führer himself, whose premise is that Adolf Hitler finds himself one sunny morning in present-day Berlin, with no idea of how he got there, but with the same ideas and way of thinking as before – he ends up as the wildly popular host of a political TV show, somewhat disappointed with the lack of progress since 1945, but still with great ambitions for Germany. (A bit like the nightly "Colbert Report" in the US?)

Progress! After a surprisingly speedy re-assessment, the goverment support for 13100 of the students who had complained that they could not afford to go to or to continue at university has been improved. So two of our friends who had, according to the policy introduced this year, been required to pay half the tuition fee plus all of their living expenses, which was way above their means, will now receive a loan covering all the tuition fee plus part of their living expenses; and two others have been recategorised and they (should) get the same loan.

  • For me, personally, what is most important about this is that it is more comfortable if my friends don't depend on me to be able to continue to study, although I had made it clear that the support, once I had offered it, was a separate issue from our friendship, (which was clearest of course with the guy who is not being supported by me at all but by one friend of mine.) Still, it is reassuring, for me, that neither my paying fees for them, as I started to do last month, nor my now not having to pay for them has made any difference to these friendships.
  • For those friends, it may feel better to take a loan from the government than to have no choice but to accept 'a favour' from someone. But they are also worse off – because they will have to repay the loan when they start working, and (this is a somewhat cynical point:) they would have had a better chance of getting a job after graduation if all those other students had been unable to complete their studies.
  • For the country, it is a bit reassuring that the government was willing to change a bad policy. (But again, how could they not have known? How far removed must the government be from the people?) Perhaps the universities complained: at some institutions, three weeks into the academic year, according to figures in The New Times, only about 2/3 of expected students had registered, and fewer than 1/2 had paid the required first installment of one third of the full or half-fees. (There had even been a student demonstration in Kigali, something illegal and quite unheard of in this country, at which 20 people were arrested, most of whom were released later the same day. For the remaining ones, the prosecution apparently demanded a fine of RwF 1,000,000 plus 6 months in prison, but they have since then been found not guilty, as it was accepted that they were just delivering letters to the minister.)
  • For me, financially, I/we are of course saving money, although I will continue to have to help with living expenses, only about half of which are covered by the government loan; some of the money I had been prepared to spend I may re-allocate to other people. I'll have to think about that.

Tales from schools:

  • Many of the students at private schools are there because they are supported by FARG, the government's very generous genocide survivors' fund. So it happened in one class that the not-so-motivated and perhaps not-so-clever majority was sitting there smirking while some of their more motivated and perhaps cleverer fellow-students were sent home because their parents had not yet paid the school fees for the term.
  • Since the recent parliamentary election took place during term time, most students at (government) boarding schools were registered to vote in the area of their school. So it happened at one school that the headmaster, seeing that students were not voting for the government party, the RPF, took the remaining ballot papers and completed them himself. No student would/could complain, of course, for fear of being immediately expelled.

I again went to the party at the German ambassador's residence on the German National Day, mostly for the Wein, Gulasch and Kartoffelpuffer, but this time I also met some Germans who seemed alright; in the past I had always just talked to Rwandans. From the way the conversations went it seemed that no one knows any German who has lived in this country as long as I have.

This week half my present 'term' (in the sense of a prison term, i.e. time I am here, rather than of a school term: my 'term' is actually 1.5 trimesters) is over – already. Time has passed more quickly this year than it did a year ago, mostly because there is less 'irrationality in the workplace': the reaction to the still disappointing IB results has been more constructive, some of it along lines I had suggested last year, and the atmosphere at school, even among students, is more positive. But I have no idea yet what I want to do next year; I'll wait till after the winter to think about it and talk with the school about possibilities.

early November

After a much too busy two weeks at the end of the first trimester, though perhaps not quite as bad as what Gareth used to call "a week from hell", we are having a three-day break. The three-week 'winter holiday' will start in six weeks, but I will be leaving in five weeks already, (not quite by design: when booking that flight, I was assuming – wrongly – that the holiday would start at the same time as last year.) Towards the end of these five weeks, Britta will be coming to Rwanda, after arriving in Nairobi, soon, and then making her way here through Uganda. So she may well be 'pushing' me to the airport and stay with L for some time after I have left. I, for most of my four-week break, will be in Berlin, but I will go to Amsterdam and the UK for six days in January, shortly before coming back here.

At school, while I am doing no less teaching, I am increasingly involved in different projects for which 'my boss' is not the Principal of the Secondary School but the Headmaster. Right now I am working on introducing proper bookkeeping at the school: looking around for suitable software, talking to the accountant and the auditor, hiring a professional for two weeks to set things up, and so on; up to now the Accounts people have just been using spreadsheets, which were not even backed up. So this is something different for me, and quite fun; and perhaps a preparation for no longer working there full time next year.

If what has been reported about Angela Merkel and Barack Obama is true, that he knew that her mobile was being tapped but lied about it to her, I quite sympathise with her. They have an official relationship, as German Chancellor and President of the USA, but it appears that she may have started to think, after years of meeting regularly and working together, that there was also a personal relationship that she could trust. So on top of feeling betrayed she may also feel stupid: after all, as President of the USA it was his job to lie to her on an occasion like that, so how can she blame him? (He presumably would not have got to where he is now if he agreed with Oscar Wilde: "If I had to choose between my country and my friend, I hope I would choose my friend.") The reason that I, or at least the most paranoid part of me, sympathises with Angela Merkel is that if I found out some time that someone here was not really a friend, or only a little bit of a friend, but just needed financial support from me, I would of course feel quite miserable – but how could I even hold it against them: as a poor person in need of an education, wouldn't they be right to be pretending? (So far I have not had to go through that experience, and I hope it will stay that way ...)

At normal Rwandan schools, the academic year has ended. So JD has just finished sitting for the National Exams, in MPG (= Maths, Physics and Geography), and is passing through on his way from boarding school to the village, and J and L have completed Senior 5: they both did very well, she coming second and he first in their respective classes. And AT passed the theory exam for the provisional driving licence, with the highest score in his class of 55 mostly older learners, only 8 of whom passed; most people have to take the course and the exam repeatedly. (The reason for mentioning these successes is of course that I/we have been funding these various educational activities ...)

I hope AT will become a better driver than most people here are: it is sad, and sometimes frightening, to see how people drive. Some years ago I came across the concept of "half an accident" – here there are lots of half- or even 80%-accidents waiting to meet one another:

  • many taxis, cars and motorbikes drive without lights in the dark, for instance, (which may partly be because there are no police to be seen after dark, except sometimes late at night at roadblocks to check drivers' papers,)
  • after dark and on weekends one quite commonly sees cars and motorbikes going the wrong way on one-way streets, to save a little time, (this too is presumably because these are the times when there are no policemen around,)
  • drivers generally lack any conception of staying in a lane, even when turning at an intersection, so they typically just take the shortest route from where they are to where they are going,
  • drivers generally seem to have little conception of the size of their vehicle, so they often stop or even park a long way from the kerb, making the road narrower and more dangerous for other vehicles, (but this may partly be because they just don't care about the obstruction they are causing,) and
  • there seems to be a general attitude of just wanting to squeeze by, of pushing one's luck.
(Personal relevance of the above: Our school bus drivers, I can say, tend to be very good. But it can be scary to cross the road outside our house in the evening. And L recently had an accident when he was knocked off the bike by the side mirror of a passing car, which did not even stop; no serious damage, fortunately, but ...)

There have now been many days with mostly overcast skies and long, slow rains, instead of the typical short, heavy rains (– from a song by Toto: "I miss the rains down in Africa".) On one such day I did manage to briefly glimpse behind the clouds an eclipse of the sun, when it was almost completely covered by the moon; the fourth of my life perhaps. And many days with long hours without electricity in our area; water on the other hand has not been a problem recently.

Another friend heading out of the country:

Having got their passports in just one day, the students who had been selected still had to wait for four weeks (during which H continued to work at that bar near our house) until they got their visas and were able to leave for their 11-month stay in Israel. This programme places students from various African countries with local farmers, they do five days a week of agricultural work (or practical training) and have one day of classes, as well as getting pocket money and a computer which they can keep. From what a previous participant had said to H, about going to work with an army escort, it sounded like they are being placed in the occupied territories. After he has come back, H will still have one more year until he graduates.

early December

Things are (mostly) fine, but I am certainly ready for the break. These two weekends we have no visitors staying, because university students are all preparing for end-of-term exams, writing proposals for their theses, and so on. My sister has made it to Uganda and will be arriving in Kigali five days before I leave, but M will get here the day after I have gone, so we can only meet after I have come back in January, before he starts his internship, which he will do in Uganda. While people say that Christmas is important, some colleges of the University will only start their break on the 26th.

At school, we are making progress in introducing proper accounting, but it has been slow: just deciding on a sensible 'chart of accounts', grouping revenues, expenses and assets, has required a lot oF thinking and discussion. Classes are fine, I am much happier with this year's grade 11 than I was with last year's – I think we all are. But an upcoming Sports Day, next Saturday, does rather disrupt the routine; I have volunteered to be in charge of tickets, but am not sure it is all worthwhile. I have started to mention to some people that I might want to work 'half time for half pay' from August.

There have been two major changes at the universities:

  • It will take a while to see if the creation of the University of Rwanda (UR), out of all the different public universities, can be made to work and will be a success. One reason was to get a higher total of published research papers for this new university than the institutions had separately – but just adding the numbers of papers does not mean that more or better research is being done. So KIE is now the College of Education, and the former NUR in Butare has become the College of Arts and Applied Sciences, I think.
  • It seems the government is trying to reduce the number of university students. After having had to backtrack on cutting the support loans for poor (i.e. most) students, they are now requiring universities to be stricter on admissions and on performance. So students in Level 1 (= freshmen, 1st-year students) who did not gain a pass in at least two core subjects in the National Exams are being sent away, even at the private universities. And, very surprisingly/encouragingly, this also applies to students supported by FARG, the government's Genocide Survivors' Fund: in the past, FARG-supported students sometimes even bragged, it seems, that they did not need to study hard for the National Exams, because they were sure to get a university place and funding: they only needed 11 points out of 55 or 60, while other students needed to get between about 43 and 55 points, depending on the subject, to be eligbile for just a loan. While I am sure this is the right way to improve standards, the change, even if it is just a belated implementation of a requirement introduced six years ago, should of course have been announced before the start of the year, rather than half-way through the first term, after parents have already paid the fees.

mid-December, in Berlin

As expected, school was busy to the end – see above; and I had to arrange for my classes for the week that I am missing. One reason for no longer wanting to work full-time is that I am a bit bored: when I started 4 1/2 years ago, it felt like it was half-work and half-holiday, but by now it has become all work.

Britta came to visit the last week I was in Kigali, having made her way to Rwanda slowly, from Kenya through Uganda. She stayed on, at our house, after I had left, but also went to the village with M, who did come back from university in Uganda just before I left; it felt a bit odd to be 'pushed' to the airport by her.

I then found myself bumped off the flight that I was booked on, (for reasons that I did understand, not the airline's fault.) But the airline did put me up in a nice hotel in Kigali and is giving me a (substantial) cash compensation. It also felt a bit odd to visit B and M again, (L having gone to the village.)

Pictures of the 'mice', (as in: "When the cat's away, ...") in various combinations:

So for the next four weeks, I will be in Berlin, – relaxing: reading, going to concerts and swimming, eating cakes and drinking wine, cycling, seeing friends, but also doing some work (and avoiding Christmas, of course ...) – apart from a six-day trip to Amsterdam and the UK after New Year, before I fly back to Kigali.


Copy of an e-mail I have sent to various people I know in or from Rwanda, and will try to send to more people.

From: Kai Arste
Subject: A very bad weekend
Date: 02 December 2013

Last weekend, on Friday night, a friend of ours and a friend of his from home were put in prison and kept there until Monday morning. I haven't met his friend, R, but I have known O for four years, and I know him as a caring, mild-mannered and completely honest person - otherwise we would not have recommended him to the muzungu couple at whose house he has been living and working for almost a year now. O finished Senior 6 two years ago and speaks English moderately well.

On Friday night, O and R [not their real initials: one has to be careful in Rwanda!] had drunk a few beers at a bar in Nyamirambo and then gone to a nearby dance place for some hours. They were smartly dressed and not drunk. As they were leaving at about 3am, and O was 'pushing' (= accompanying) R to where he could get a 'moto' (= motorbike taxi) to go home, they were stopped by local security guards and the police. O found himself grabbed by the front of his trousers by a policeman, sufficiently hard for the trousers to tear. When he asked the policeman to let go of him, he was hit on the side of the face, and when he asked what crime he was accused of, he was hit again, shoved into a vehicle and taken to Nyamirambo police station.

At the police station, about 100 people were being held that night, O told us later, including even some middle-aged men. (When we asked after O and his friend at the police station the next morning, their names were on a hand-written list of about four pages, with about 25 names on each.) They were made to sit on the ground, to take off and leave their shoes, and to hand over their phones and any money or valuables. O had to hand over his keys, but the policeman said that he should keep his coins, since he could not guarantee that he could keep them safe.

From about 8am, those 100 people, in small groups, were loaded into a truck, or trucks, and ferried to the prison in Gikondo. O had had his phone returned, so that is when he was able to call, to tell us what had happened. (When we arrived at the prison shortly afterwards, the place seemed closed and we were informed by a quite cheerful police woman outside that the earliest anyone would be released would be on Monday morning, we should come before 10am.)

In that prison in Gikondo
- prisoners were beaten at least once a day, with rounded wooden poles, mostly on the buttocks: this was called their "breakfast of sticks".
- on Sunday, all prisoners had their head shaved, very crudely, so that some men ended up with cuts on their scalp; (there is of course a risk, admittedly very small, of HIV being transmitted that way.)
- O received an extra beating, on the sides of his head and on various joints, when he appealed to a guard, very meekly, for a little soap.
- the new and short-term prisoners were made to sleep on the ground, the thin mattresses that there were having been occupied by earlier arrivals; the place was overcrowded and insect-infested - lice, I think.
- in the two days that he spent there, O and the other people detained the same night received just one meagre meal, on Sunday, of mais and beans.

On Monday morning, after a series of questions, about where he came from and what he had been doing on Friday night, all his answers having been written down, O was released to his employer and a friend of his, who had come to get him out, together with R. At no point during the whole of the two days had O been asked for any form of identification. On the way home, when they checked at the police station in Nyamirambo, O's shoes, which had been quite nice, were no longer there, and the policeman to whom he had been made to hand over his keys - for safekeeping! - denied having taken them from him, and that the conversation about coins had ever taken place.

While the police would presumably say that most of this "could not have happened", or claim that "O must have been provoking" them, and that "he must have lost the keys", and while the list of 100 names may have disappeared the same way as O's shoes, the facts remain that on that on Monday O no longer had his keys and shoes, that he had no hair on his head, that he experienced discomfort when sitting down - and that he had been released without charge. (O felt particularly bad about having had his head shaved, not just for reasons of style: since people in Rwanda tend to be quite uncritical of any authority, if they find out that you have been in prison, many will assume, and state it as a fact behind your back, that you have committed a crime.) Someone randomly put away like that for the weekend might lose their job too, for failing to turn up on Saturday, Sunday and Monday - and for having been in prison.

An earlier example of how one may end up being treated by the police happened when a Rwandan friend of ours, G, accompanied a young muzungu who had been living in the same place with him to the police station, to help him sort out a rent matter. When G tried to explain the matter to the policeman on duty, the first thing he was asked was whether he was the other guy's boyfriend! Since this was said in Kinyarwanda there is not much danger of it being "just a misunderstanding". In Rwandan culture this is of course an extremely offensive thing to say to someone, and cannot have been meant as "just a joke".

Now, where can one even go to complain about such things without having to fear being targeted in one's neighbourhood in future? None of the students I have encouraged to go to the Ombudsman's Office, after they had made their complaints directly to SFAR first, has dared to do so. (I have gone there, on their behalf, but the official I talked to simply denied that anyone would be worried about consequences they might face some time in the future if they made a complaint.)

I am sure you will appreciate that O's experience last weekend has been very disturbing for me too, because I greatly like it in Rwanda, and had thought, rather naively it now seems, that this kind of injustice could not happen here, at least not nowadays. It is certainly not the way the country tries to present itself to the outside world! Moreover, I have to say that, even being a muzungu, I feel rather less secure in Rwanda now and less hopeful that the country is on the right path.