From Rwanda, 'Semester 16'
– as much a holiday now as work. or even more of one than it.

My previous 'diaries': There is also a page of maps and aerial photos.

The school actually has three terms a year, but the breaks between the terms – if there is one! – are only a week, so the year does feel like consisting of two semesters. (My times here are from August to November and from January or February to May.) It would make sense for the school to adopt a semester-system, but the parents are apparently worried that they would have to pay school fees in two instalments; (one could have 'academic terms' and 'payment terms', but ...)


[Written in the first place for B and L:]

Two weeks ago I came back from a fantastic 'holiday': 5 weeks in Berlin, with short trips to Baden-Baden, (not predominantly to hear "Nora", with Cecilia Bartoli ...) and to Poznań to visit B and L, 3 weeks in the US, mostly in NYC, then almost 2 weeks in Sydney and the summer, (with a stop-over in Hong Kong on the way there, long enough to go the the centre and walk around for some hours) a few days in/near San Francisco, and finally 1 more week in Berlin. I was very very happy all the time spent with my friends in these various places – thank you very much. And I was lucky with the weather everywhere. But it did feel like a long time away from Kigali; the plan for the next year is to spend 3 months here, now, 3 1/2 months away during the summer, 3 1/2 months here, but then only 2 months away in the winter – I already have the ticket for the next time I'll come. ;-)

But two friends I did not get to see in the US, because when I was making my plans, we did not yet know when or where they would be going; still, we had some long conversations on the phone while I was in the country, and it seems that things are alright: at least they have found work ... However, I certainly hope that in the summer I can visit Ayubu, who is in Boise, Idaho, as a refugee, and Noel and his wife, who came after he had won the 'Green Card Lottery', in Milwaukee, where Patrick and his partner are helping them out, even looking after them, amazingly well!!!

The two weeks here have been very nice, relaxed, with friends dropping in and sometimes staying, as usual. P is here of course, and things are good at home, of course, while he is also doing some on-line work for an Indian company that he hopes will turn into a proper job. Rather sad is, though, that of the two lower-leg bones that O broke during football practice at uni three months ago only one had healed, last time he had an X-ray, when we went to King Faisal Hospital. If things are not better when he has the next appointment, in early March, then he will need an operation – at King Faisal and expensive. (My feeling is that here doctors generally resort to amputations rather too quickly, mostly presumably because of lack of resources and perhaps training.)

While I was again not looking for work, work has started to look for me. The Principal of the Secondary School asked me to meet him on Friday to discuss some cover that they would like me to do while I am here till May; (when I went to school for a visit last week, I found that my lovely colleague Flavia had already set up a desk for me in her office.) And when I went to watch a film yesterday at the Goethe Institut (the German cultural and language institute) in town, I was fairly pounced upon, as they are looking for teachers, especially for some two-months intensive courses: I have not committed myself, but I will already fill in for someone on Thursday evening; and then I will see. – The Headmaster of the school is leaving in a few weeks, after nine years here, back to Canada, but we had a very nice lunch together a week ago, and last Saturday he had invited me to share some wine and for dinner at his house, also very nice. In fact, a large part of the administrative team is changing this year.

It is a bit disturbing for me, and at times frustrating, (I think I have mentioned this before, but it has come up again recently) that even many of my friends here don't understand that, and how, I can be very happy without working: they don't understand that there are things that are important to me, things that I really want to do, so that there is no danger of being bored. It seems that because they don't have such things, (and this is of course not only the case with Rwandans, but may apply to the majority of the population everywhere) so that working and making money are the only things that are important to them, they are bored much of the time; and they assume that it is the same for me. While I am not holding them individually responsible, still for me it is very sad that for nearly everyone here education is nothing other than a means to the end of getting a job, making money and collecting possessions. – Having said that, I do think that to my friends their friends at least are in fact important – which is why we can be friends.

Some other friends/people: Philbert (Economics) is still staying near his home, 'searching', but Hadelin (Agriculture) found a job in the same area, as something like an 'extension agent'. Flora has finished both her degree and her relationship with P, but is still working as before, as far as I know. Claude (Languages, wants to be a journalist) is awaiting the results of his National Exams.

Changes in Kigali: High-rise office blocks and buildings of expensive apartments keep going up, but continue to be largely unoccupied; but no affordable housing, from what I can figure out. All the large billboards have been taken down, like one across the road from us; one story, which is probably not true, is that this was ordered by the President after a person was shot by his security detail, who mistook a collapsing board for an attack. The run-down bar next to our building is being upgraded, with glass doors and tiles! And a new addition to our menu: there is fermented milk here, called ikivuguto, which P discovered tastes nice with sugar and strawberry syrup, but I prefer it sweetened with fresh fruit cut into it – very nice.

The usual 'termly' summary (– the academic year for schools in Rwanda is starting now, but it is the middle of the year at the universities):
  • Benjamin has completed the first semester of his two-year M.Sc. course at Politechnika Poznanska in Poznań, which seems to have gone well enough, and has started to study Polish.
  • While waiting to start the one-year internship in Uganda, which he may only be able to do in August, which is needed to qualify as a nurse, Modeste is using his time by helping Britta, my sister, at her organic farming project in Kenya.
  • Oliver should be on the last semester of his course in IT at Ndejje, in Uganda, but some scheduling clashes, and his broken leg, which has become a rather serious issue, may mean that he has to go back for a semester in one year.
  • Arafat, from Kigali, is studying Medicine in Butare, in level 4, (although he is still only 20!) but most of his practicals are at hospitals here. [See below.]
  • Paulin, whom a Ugandan friend had asked me to 'check out' for an association of voluntary organisations, is in level (= year) 3 of Civil Engineering at KIST (= Kigali Institute of Science and Technology); he had been managing to live on RwF 25,000 (= $ 30) per month!
  • After one year of a four-year course on Cyprus, Laurien has finished the first semester of a three-year Finance course at the Economic University of Poznań, with good results; he too has started to study Polish.
  • Justine, B's sister, is in the second year at a college of the U of R, the former SFB (School of Finance and Banking): the government pays the tuition, but not much more.
  • Omar, from Goma, just across the border in the DRC, seems to be enjoying studying in Kigali, at ULK, where he has started his second semester, (but not so happy having to share his lodgings with his cousin.)
  • Emmanuel M ("Bango") is in the last year of the 'Public Works' course at St Joseph, near where I live, and has been doing well; he can also be quite funny.
  • Later: Frank, the third fellow-swimmer, quite a serious guy, is doing the same course, but in the April holidays had to use the money for the next term on treatment for an old problem with his ribs, (which has not stopped him from playing basketball.)
  • Emmanuel T ("Em1") has moved, together with a friend of his, from St Joseph to what sounds like a now very liberal boarding school not far from Kigali, (where Roger used to study) but comes to visit frequently.
  • Mostly because of a difficult family situation, Meddy too has moved to a boarding school, into Senior 5, but further away from Kigali, and has hopefully become more 'serious' than we have sometimes known him. [Later: but perhaps not ...]
  • Chance, Pascal's niece, has started Senior 3 at a government boarding school, so she will take the Tronc Commun (= national exams after Senior 3) in November.

I am pleased that with some of the students above, the parents have been able to pay part of the fees and costs, so that we are sharing the expenses.

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

New guy P

early March

For a long time I have been wondering why my Rwandan friends – and not only my friends, of course – are able to speak English fairly well but have great difficulties reading and writing, to the point that they struggle to take in written information or structure their thoughts and sentences; and why even after years of using English regularly they keep translating word by word, which is reflected in the typical grammatical mistakes. The conclusion I have gradually reached is that certain skills have to be developed very early, in one's mother tongue, but that they then carry over to any language one learns later; and that most of my friends here – and most of their compatriots – had simply not learnt Kinyarwanda well enough as little kids.

So it was gratifying to find recently that I am not alone in holding that view. In an article "RwF 68 billion [= $ 83 million] Kinyarwanda early childhood learning project launched" in The New Times, essentially a government publication, of 17 February 2017, the US ambassador is quoted as saying: "Early grade literacy is the foundation of all learning. ..., from a previous literacy initiative, we've learnt that students who have strong reading skills in Kinyarwanda are more likely to be strong readers in English in P4 and beyond," and the State Minister for Primary and Secondary Education: "Learning to read Kinyarwanda (at an early age) is critical to achieve development goals. When the children are able to learn Kinyarwanda, they are able to learn English and other subjects."

However, as I commented on the newspaper's website, "there is still one more thing that is needed, in my view: parents must be actively involved, and not just leave it to the school. While I know how difficult this would be in many families, parents should aim to read with each child for 15 minutes every evening, something that the child is really interested in. With books being difficult to obtain and expensive, would it perhaps help to provide a free smart phone app, with age-appropriate stories or even longer texts, including some pages of illustrations, to be used by parents? If this was well done, then slightly older children might even come to beg their parents to be allowed to read the next evening's instalment!"

By now I have been teaching again for more than a week, replacing a teacher on maternity leave (who will leave the school for good before she is due to come back): English Language and Literature in grades 10 to 12 and SL Psychology in grade 11. Nearly all the texts that the students have been studying I had read before, but I did need to do some re-reading and preparation, in particular since in three of the courses I am preparing the students for their final IGCSE and IB exams in May. It is A LOT more fun than last term, German in grades 5 to 8! – And two evenings a week I am teaching German at the Goethe Institut in town, eight students at B2 level.

Last week there were two articles about Rwanda in The Economist, both of them about issues that I have mentioned in these pages. One, "Rwanda: If you build it, they may not come – Empty buildings prompt draconian action," is about the over-supply of office space due to a building boom; the other, "Business in Rwanda: Party of business – Crystal Ventures has investments in everything from furniture to finance," about the too close connection between business and politics (and the army) in Rwanda. (In my view, both the articles are too 'polite' and understate the damage to and the risks for the country.)

'Bad news!' Frank, a classmate of E and one of the people with whom I sometimes go swimming, sometimes asks me about world affairs, and today he asked me about Donald Trump 'firing' 46 judges – when I had explained to him some weeks ago about the separation of powers and why it was good: it turned out that in the Kinyarwanda version of the story on a website, the word "federal prosecutors" had been translated as "judges"! What people all over the world must be thinking when they are misled like this by journalists!

After the tibia of the leg O had broken playing football had still not healed after four months in a cast, (apparently because the fibula had already joined and acted as a strut) it was decided that he needed an operation – hopefully all will finally be well after four more weeks. Here he is at King Faisal Hospital, where he had to stay for two days, before quickly going back to his university in Uganda.

I know, hard to believe that A is ...
While bribery is, happily, much less common in Rwanda than in other African countries, corruption comes in many different forms. A possible case in point (– but I am still waiting for some other explanation): the medical students now doing a four-week internship at Kibagabaga Hospital in Kigali, which is a compulsory part of their course, have been told – by the Vice-Rector of their university – that they are not allowed to leave the hospital to buy a cheap lunch outside or to bring their own, but that they must take it in the staff canteen, where they are being charged RwF 45,000 for four weeks, or RwF 2,250 (= $ 2.70) per day; that is enough for someone to live on in Kigali, if not very well, including rent and food! As I said, I am still waiting for an explanation, but it certainly looks like someone is making a profit from that arrangement. (I have paid the money: no choice.) So I am now wondering if the students are also being overcharged for the 'costs of materials' that they have to pay for at each hospital.
[ Some weeks later: the Dean of the Faculty has replied to my e-mails about these matters – because I am paying, I am now considered a 'parent'; at first nothing beyond: "Those are the agreements with the hospitals," but since then he has written that they will discuss with the hospitals. My suspicion of corruption, or at least exploitation, remains. ]
[ Some more weeks later: the students have been told that there will be some changes before their next internships starting in June – since there is room for a better deal, my suspicion seems to have been right. ]


Yesterday was the end of Genocide Memorial Week – today is the first day the bars are open late again and playing the usual music, rather than songs about the Genocide. In other ways, though, the week passed much more 'normally' than in past years; shops could stay open, for instance, provided one member of the staff was released to attend the afternoon meetings, and with all big billboards having been taken down, there were none of the large company-sponsored Kwibuka posters of past years.

Schools were on holiday of course, and at my school for the first time ever Easter Monday is a holiday too; but I have still been teaching German at the Goethe Institut every afternoon for 2 1/2 hours, part of an intensive beginners' course for DAAD-sponsored Rwandan academics. So the last two weeks before I leave at the beginning of May I will be teaching in two places every weekday except on Fridays – not, needless to say, completely happily. [I was lucky, in the end: another teacher took over some of those classes, so the last two weeks will not be so bad.]

In many ways I have been having a very nice time this term, with friends, and the teaching has mostly been great fun. So why am I so much looking forward to going to Berlin in just over two weeks and being away for some months? This is what I have figured out: I am worn out, for various reasons.

  • The injustice that I see everywhere, whether it be the 'wrong' people getting jobs, or the requirements of the Kigali City Master Plan not applying equally to everyone.
  • The poverty that surrounds me, so that practically each one of my friends 'needs me', or rather my financial support, whether it be RwF 1,000,000 (= USD 1,190) for proper treatment of a broken leg, or RwF 83,000 for school fees for a term, or a contribution of RwF 25,000 to a friend's relatives funeral. And I am of course worried, not always but sometimes, that that is not without effect on those friendships.
  • The uncertainty of arrangements, including with my friends: I cannot even fully look forward to meeting someone, because they are almost certain to be late, and I always have to be prepared that they will not turn up, often without even informing me or suggesting an alternative. (This is not just my experience, it is how things are; it just affects me a lot – still.)
So I am worn out, and it is not from work. (Another reason for looking forward to going to Berlin is of course that I have become used to changing place regularly, and by now almost need it.)

On the plus-side: O was here last weekend, from Uganda, and after five months with his leg in a cast and an operation five weeks before, he was finally able to have it removed; (the cast, not the leg. ;-) ) I hope his studies have not been too much affected.

Walking back from a party, I had noticed a neighbourhood bar with live music, guitar and voice, mostly traditional Rwandan, and three of us had a nice relaxed evening there, though it was not easy to talk.

Two weeks later, at a club across the road from home. While it might look like Em1 and I were not having such a good time, it was really nice – the first time since New Year's Eve in DC, after the less than exciting stage show, that I felt like dancing; people were very friendly.

The down-side of living at the very centre of the most fun part of Kigali is that we have to keep 'reminding' the people at the bar on the other side of my bedroom wall to control the volume of the music.

back in Berlin

I didn't write so much this term, largely because I was too busy: I had planned my life without doing much work, but then ended up teaching a lot. Especially the English Language and Literature and the Psychology in grades 10 to 12, including three classes that were preparing for their IGCSE or IB exams, were very enjoyable. And did not even require much preparation: all the literature, except for a collection of 15 poems, I already knew and just had to reread and -think, and with the concepts in the Psychology course I was familiar. It was also reassuring, I must admit, for me who has since his time at university aspired to a solid general education, (the German Bildungsideal) to find that I was not just a 'jack' but enough of a 'master' of these 'trades' to be able to 'pull it off'. In fact I am still working with the Psychology class, by e-mail. So I was pleased to be asked, by the Acting Headmaster, someone I have worked with closely for three years and who knows me well, to continue to teach Psychology next year, for eight lessons a week when I am here anyhow: perfect. [A few weeks later: ... and correspondingly disappointed when I was informed that after some necessary rearrangements of teaching loads I would not be needed after all. So I don't know if I will be working at all when I am back from August.]

Three friends pushing me to the airport, leaving during the day for a change, flying on Ethiopian Airlines. [The one who took the photo got RwF 1000 – see below.]

From Rwanda, 'Semester 17'
– perhaps I am now retired? Nice life if you can get it.

early September

This (northern hemisphere) summer has been the longest time that I have been away from Rwanda for the past eight years – and it has been a great 3.5 months: in Berlin, in various places in the US and in Italy, spending time with so many of my friends, (thank you!) seeing so many places, attending so many performances/events: jazz in New York, chamber music and organ recitals in Berlin, operas in Martina Franca; and so on. And having friends visiting me in Berlin. And also eating so many really nice meals, of course. Even all the travelling went smoothly, though it did not for all my friends (– sorry for the mess with that Air Berlin flight!)

When leaving somewhere, I have never liked a party to send me off: it is not the right kind of occasion to actually talk to one's friends. And similarly, when returning after some time, it is much nicer – for me! – to gradually see friends again properly, rather than quickly at the airport or briefly on the first day back. It works better for me to end and begin a stay with an attitude of 'business as usual'. (That is what I also wish for at my birthdays; and perhaps eventually also ...) So the coming back this time was very nice, for me, with enjoyable visits and conversations, and nearly all friendships being where/how I had hoped/expected to find them.

For now, I am completely on holiday, still. I have gone to the school to greet friends and other people, but whether I will be working there again depends on whether they will find that they need me some time in the next three months; I am fine either way, but I must say that I am beginning to hope that they won't – I don't like getting up regularly at 6am, and I do like having enough time to see friends. So perhaps now I have retired for real?

Domestic changes: P is the main person staying here with me, taking care of lots of things, as he has been for most of the past eight years, while also continuing to work from home for an Indian IT/telecoms company; and for now O is staying as well, supporting P, while waiting to graduate. The two shops that open towards the main road outside and which form one of the four sides of our compound are both empty these days: the owners of the clothing shop and the hair saloon were not making enough profit and closed them down, and the US-based landlady wants to upgrade those premisses – question: only those? – when she comes here again, apparently 'soon'. We used to have to work through the owner of the saloon, but now P is the main local person with whom she communicates. – The water supply has been sporadic; but there has been no long electricity outage, although we often experience short cuts, of just a few minutes. Instead of mosquito nets in the two bedrooms, we have started to use dispensers that plug into mains sockets and evaporate a repellent. They seem to work.

Joseph has just made the last repayment for the house that I bought for him more than five years ago, so it is now his, although the title deed is still in my name. (I am writing this here partly 'for the record'.) But he is keen to move to a place in a better location, so he has been busy 'house-hunting', and we have struck the same kind of deal, for a rather larger sum.

A minor decision: seeing that most people here think of photography only as a way of promoting themselves, with most pictures taken being selfies, and cannot see it as a way of communicating, I have decided to use on this non-blog only pictures taken by others, of us, our lives here, this city and this country, and to pay RwF 1000 (= just over $ 1) for each photo that I use.

A major decision: seeing that 1. most people here whom I/we have supported are poor, without connections, and therefore struggle, even if they have done very well at school or university, to find a job, and 2. that I have been worried how my friendships may have been and still may be affected by my friends continuing to be financially dependent on me, even after they have completed their studies, 3. I have decided to set up a fund, paying out up to RwF X in total per month, to be administered not by me but by A, (except that I would want to be part of the initial discussion of who should be 'eligible' and to view a yearly summary report) to enable my friends to survive (but not live comfortably!) until they have found a job, paying out small amounts of up to RwF Y1, Y2 or Y3 per month for someone living in Kigali, in another town or 'in the village'. 4. I would like to start this scheme in the next few months, and I hope then to be able to keep it up until I die, (although I hope that by that time no one will still be needing it.) 5. This scheme should, I hope, not take away too many of the resources that I can put towards people's education. 6. Should any friends who have managed to find a 'decent' job be willing to contribute, and thereby make it easier for me, their support will be appreciated. (I am crazy, am I not? Any comments or suggestions would be appreciated.)

The usual half-yearly summary (– the academic year for universities in Rwanda will start in a few weeks, the school year finishes in November):
  • Benjamin, whom I got to see twice this summer in Berlin, is about to start the last year of his Master's course in Poznań, sadly after not having found a summer job there.
  • Having taken a two-year A1 degree in Rwanda first, Oliver has now completed his Bachelor's degree in Ndejje in Uganda. While waiting to go back there for 'clearing' and in October for his graduation, he is staying with us, and sometimes reading novels. (His leg seems to be almost completely alright now.)
  • Paulin, studying Civil Engineering at KIST, has had a busy few months, with a long internship on two building sites, (on one of which the site engineer is someone I used to work with closely on the construction projects at school.) He is now also campus coordinator for a major international competition.
  • Modeste has been staying/helping in Kenya, at my sister's place, and in Rwanda – quite bored most of the time, it seems, while waiting to get a place for the internship at a hospital in Uganda that he needs to complete to get is full licence to practice. We hope he will finally be able to start that in December.
  • Justine, B's sister, is about to start the last year of her BBA course at SFB (School of Finance and Banking, now part of the UR.)
  • Laurien, who also came to Berlin this summer, though only for a short visit, has successfully completed the first year of his three-year course in Finance, also in Poznań.
  • His family having been re-categorised, Arafat should only have to pay lower fees, especially for the internships, during the remaining 2.5 years of mostly clinical training of his Medicine course. Having talked to him a lot, it seems to me like it is being taught more as a craft here than as the application of scientific theories: not much chemistry, for instance.
  • Omar has had a very long break, during which he has done some modelling and sometimes gone home to Goma, in the DRC, but his course at ULK will continue in October.
  • Roger completed secondary school five years ago, (in the same place where Em is now studying, as it happens) and then started to work, first with a muzungu couple near our place and since then in a recycling company. He has decided he needs to get a university degree, while continuing to work, to be able to move ahead.
  • Bango (Em2) and Frank have just started the last term of secondary school, in Public Works, at St Joseph, a school near our house; the National Exams will take place in November, and they have been working very hard on their projects about road construction.
  • Manu (Em1) has just started the last term of secondary school, also in Public Works, at his boarding school, which is fairly liberal in many ways, just outside Kigali; so he too will take the National Exams in November.
  • Meddy's situation has improved a bit and he has been trying to be more reliable; he is still studying in Senior 5 at a boarding school in Northern Province.
  • P's niece Chance is in Senior 3, at another boarding school in Northern Province, and is expected to do extremely well in the national Tronc Commun exams at the end of the year.
  • Her brother Fabrice is not as sharp as his sister; he is still in Senior 1, in a local school near his village, (which is where many of my close friends here come from.)

I am again pleased that the parents of some of these students have paid part of the fees and costs, in some cases a greater share than last time, when it might have been easier to "let the muzungu pay" all.

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

The first weeks after I came back, P and O spent a lot of time with a (married) European lady, who was working as a volunteer for an NGO. They had met her through couch-surfing, and seemed to have a lot of fun with her, both in Kigali and on some trips they took. She loved it in Rwanda, and will come again, for a shorter visit, in January. (This was taken at the airport when she was leaving and the shadow is Frank's.)


I don't think it is too early to mention Ulrich, a new friend I think I have made this first month here, the cousin of M, who asked me to visit him at his new place. Really nice to talk to – and the first person I have met here who is interested in watching modern dance; in fact, he is a bit arty, creating lots of images as well as a persona, and great fun to be with. (The pic may have been edited a bit ...)

One thing that this U and I, and other friends, have had fun talking about are cartoons like these three, of which he has a great number, but some of which many people here seem to struggle to make sense of.

Last Sunday B and I went to visit M again, at the fairly liberal boarding school, offering vocational courses, Public Works and Construction, where he is studying the last year of secondary school. We walked around with some friends of theirs, and took fanta and chapati with them before we left – a nice trip.

The class room area:
The dining hall, set up for a service:
The Senior 6 dormitory:

early October

Time has been passing quite quickly: despite the fact that the school has not yet found that they need me, (and by now the larger part of me is hoping that they won't find that they do ...) I have found myself a little busy, in a very pleasant way: spending time with friends, including quite a bit of 'admin' stuff, (like helping people to enter for the Green Card lottery) a lot of reading, occasional swimming, working on my French, and so on. And by now half my time here is already over: water has been a bit of a problem, (but having the tank of rain water has helped a lot) the electricity has only been interrupted for short times, the music from the bar next door has not been disturbing us too often, but I have sometimes suffered a bit from insect bites, (which my friends don't seem to get or be affected by.)

A sad observation: no one I know in Rwanda has managed to pass the police-administered driving test, although I consider my friends generally competent and well coordinated, one of them even had a lot of relevant experience, and they certainly haven't lacked determination. Some years ago, because it seemed a good way to help him to a job, I paid for Alain to take the test three times, with a total of over 100 lessons, but he never passed all parts of the practical exam; so now I have just given up, the odds seem to be stacked against my friends. Meanwhile, there are plenty of drivers on the roads who have big cars, and presumably driving licenses, but who are not good drivers, so one wonders how – if? – they managed to pass and get a licence.

Being lucky: P, who is about to start his last year of civil engineering at KIST, was selected, on the basis of his various non-academic involvements, to go to Kampala as one of the group representing Rwanda at a UN-sponsored all-expenses-paid – I only needed to give him the bus tickets – African youth conference some weeks ago on the environment; being from a very poor village background here, his stay at the fancy Serena hotel seems to have made quite an impression on him and he had a lot of fun.

Being unlucky: P, who had expected to have a bed in a room on campus for his last year at KIST, (at a cost of RwF 75,000 for the year) found that the already published list was cancelled, because members of the student government had taken (quite a lot of) money from some people to put them on the list. So he ended up without a place, and has to look for what is called a 'ghetto', (which will cost at least RwF 20,000 per month, even if he shares with some colleagues.)
[Two weeks later: P and a friend did manage to find a good place to stay, but since the university is unable to refund the RwF 75,000 he had already paid, they are suddenly able to give him a place on campus after all.]

pic to follow
A continuation, finally: a year after finishing his degree in Nursing Science at UCU, M was finally given a place for the one-year internship that he needs to complete to get his license to practice; in the end it all happened in a rush. Talking about the hospital in Kampala where he will be based, he has mentioned corruption, strikes, overcrowding; but once he has the nursing license he has a good chance of getting a position in Europe or America, (although personally I would quite like him to work in his country for a few years first ...)

A happy conclusion: after two years of studying for an 'A1' degree in IT in Rwanda and two more years at Ndejje University in Uganda, which is the oldest private university in the country but in a still very rural area, O has graduated with a good Bachelor's degree – congratulations! P and another friend went there with him for the ceremony: not quite everything went as planned/hoped for, but all is well that ends well. (The real challenge, of course, will be to get a job ...)

late October

On the bad side: I have finally understood why P used to call me "humble" – which most of my friends outside Rwanda would agree I am not! There are certain aspects of Rwandan society that I had noticed before, but that recently started to come together as one trait: it is that people here, though not everyone equally of course, tend to think in terms of 'better' and 'worse' human beings. (Perhaps a bit like the thinking in terms of castes in Indian society?) Some typical examples: Teachers at school and lecturers at university think of themselves as better human beings than students, and that is why they are not prepared to even talk with them: there are no such things as 'office hours' anywhere. Car drivers, being wealthy, think of themselves as better human beings than pedestrians – my Rwandan friends are surprised when they come to Europe and find that drivers actually give way to pedestrians at zebra crossings. Parents think of themselves as better human beings than their children, and that is why they don't, for instance, take seriously any arrangements that their children may have made. Not only a Vice-Chancellor but also his secretary think of themselves as better human beings than any callers, and that is why they don't need to be in the office even at times when they had agreed to meet someone there. Doctors think of themselves as better human beings than their patients, and that is why they don't need to turn up before 10 am, even though their first appointment was two hours before that. And, as is the nature of culture, the people who are at the 'receiving end' of these power relations – the children, students, pedestrians, patients, applicants – accept them as completely normal. – And so that is why even I, and certainly my friends who have come to visit, are considered humble here: even if we are older, richer and white, we do respect others and talk to them as equals.


[Written in February 2018.]

Still in October, Bernd, a German friend (and former student) of mine and Maths professor in the UK, came to Kigali for three weeks to teach at AIMS, the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences, where about 45 selected graduate students from different African countries come each year to do a one-year Master's degree in Maths, taught by visiting lecturers, mostly from Europe and North America, who give three-week intensive courses. B has been involved in the programme from the start, but the institute in Rwanda is still quite new, and this was his first time here. It was great to be able to do more than catch up, and for him to meet some of my friends: we went swimming together twice and went to a bar where they perform local music, he came for dinner and took us to an Indian restaurant, and so on. And to see some of my Kigali-life.

We also met at AIMS, which is located in a converted hotel on the other side of Kigali, and the idea came up that I could teach English to those graduate students, that being the only course other than Maths that they take. But since I am of course not in Rwanda for all of the academic year, I suggested that I co-teach the course with Daniel, a Kenyan friend/ex-colleague, and that is what we have been doing. D and I were given complete freedom to decide what and how we wanted to teach, and so he has been doing more 'normal' English classes, and I have concentrated more on the English needed to talk and write Maths. It's been a lot of fun, (although I must say I am not sure that all the students, especially those from anglophone countries, appreciate how much they need this language support.) Part of the idea at AIMS is that students should experience a different kind of teaching and interaction with their lecturers than they are used to from their previous courses, so the professors have 'office hours' when they are available, which they are used to, of course, but the students are not; and so after teaching from 5 to 7 pm, I always eat with the students in the small dining room.

On the sad and very worrying side, A had to miss some of his internships, including a month in Kenya, because of an illness that left his left arm and left leg paralysed. When at first the doctors were unable come up with a diagnosis, he and his family were sure that he had been 'cursed', and insistent that what he needed was to see a witch doctor in the village, which would have cost a minimum of RwF 150,000 (= $ 130). Needless to say, I was not willing to get involved!
[I should add, though, that now, three months later, after a diagnosis and some treatment that seems to be effective, he no longer talks like this.]

Meanwhile some of my friends – although I must say not all of those in Senior 6 – were studying very hard to prepare for the National Exams; so we met a bit less: the time with B was the last time we went swimming, for instance; and some of them gave up alcohol completely the last few weeks. They had their last exams the day after I left Kigali to fly to Berlin – an uneventful trip, that started a lovely holiday, of two weeks in Berlin, then 3 1/2 weeks in the US, mostly in New York of course, and then another 3 1/2 weeks in Berlin, during which I made a short trip to Poznań again to visit B and L: it was less cold than it had been a year earlier, so we could walk around more and I could see that some of the city is actually very nice-looking. They are both of course a lot more settled there than they had been a year earlier, especially having picked up more Polish in the meantime.

A friend and AIMS lecturer, a friend and an AIMS student.

The Kigali Convention Center, often the venue of major meetings such as of the AU, with a hotel next to it, has been said to be the most expensive building in Africa; they even re-routed a major road to keep all traffic far away, (and a year ago an apparently drunk motorist who failed to stop at a traffic police checkpoint near there was shot dead by police.)

(My thanks to B for the photos.)