From Rwanda, 'Semester 18'
– very relaxed now, with just the right amount of stuff to do.

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

The term "semester" is used loosely here, now, for one of my two yearly stays in Kigali, each of tree months or a bit more. In the (northern hemisphere) summer, I go away for 3 1/2 months, mostly to Berlin and the US, where I spent most of the time in New York, but in the winter for only two months or a bit more, for obvious reasons.

Very nice to be living in three places, which is what it feels like these days; it was only quite recently that I remembered that this is what I had been 'planning', in a very vague way, even when I was a student already: I used to say that I would rather have small apartments in three different places, preferably big cities, than have a big house and being settled in just one place. But I certainly did not expect that one of those places would be in Africa.

late February

[Having been lazy in November about keeping this non-blog current, I have returned to last year's page this term, to add one more entry with pics.]

Having come back from a great two-month break in Berlin and the US, and there mostly in New York, and lovely times with my friends, as well as (in Berlin) lots of concerts and reading, swimming regularly and cycling everywhere, (I was a bit lucky with the winter weather), cakes for lunch and a little mulled wine with my Abendbrot, I am also pleased to be back in Kigali, for three months this time. – For most of the time that I was away, the owner of the compound was here, and she has taken over the smaller house, which I used to rent out, but my rent has gone down too. She had some renovating and repairing done, and P and Oliver got along with her very well, they said.

Those of my friends who finished secondary school in November are happy to be out of school, but looking for jobs, a bit bored, and worried about their future. Some have taken on some project, whether for money or not, and some have started to read a bit: I discovered a great website, with hundreds of novels, short stories and the stories of some movies, all retold in simpler English, from Beginner-level to Advanced; and so by now some of my friends have enjoyed Erich Kästner's Emil and the Detectives, written 1929 but still great, I think.

After Daniel, my Kenyan friend/ex-colleague, had been 'holding the fort' at AIMS while I was away, I started to share the teaching of English again when I came back, usually twice a week, my particular emphasis being on 'Talking and Writing Maths'. It continues to be fun, but worrying that many students may not be aware of their weakness, although some of the time they are just too stressed by the demands of the intensive Maths courses they have. – I am now also teaching German to the son of the Academic Director of AIMS, which he had started to learn in Cameroon and wanted to do in the French Bac, in June, rather than change to Spanish which is what is done at the Ecole Française. Not much money, so I am lucky that he is at least a very nice and clever boy; and I also get to use, quite a lot in fact, the French I have been studying ...

As well as doing a 1/4 job for his Indian company, for which he therefore only gets a 1/4 salary, P has started a small business, of selling mobile phones and accessories, mostly, in a market in town. Best wishes for that! O is continuing to live with us, and sometimes needed, but they are both increasingly living lives outside our place. – One friend, unfortunately, has had a major health problem: A has had to interrupt his medical studies, having suffered from a form of encephalitis since November, which resulted in paralysis of his left arm and leg; with antibiotics his condition has improved, but even with regular physiotherapy it will be some time before he will be fit enough again. (It says something about society here, and his family, that when at first at the hospital they could not make a diagnosis, he begged me to pay RwF 150,000 (= USD 130) for him to go to a witch doctor in a village; I said No. And by now he understands that that would not have done any good.)

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, as in Europe and the US):
  • Benjamin has just one semester left of his two-year M.Sc. course at Politechnika Poznanska in Poznań, which seems to have gone well enough, and having learnt enough Polish, he even landed a part-time job at a hotel.
  • Modeste is continuing the one-year internship, which is needed to qualify as a nurse, at a big hospital in Kampala; he is not very pleased with conditions there: bribery, strikes, lack of concern, and so on.
  • Arafat is continuing to study Medicine, alternating between three months of internships in Kigali, and one month at university in Butare; but he has, sadly, had a major health problem for the past few months.
  • Paulin is in the 4th and last year of Civil Engineering at KIST (= Kigali Institute of Science and Technology), but also very active outside his course, such as coordinating the Rwandan part of an international student-project competition.
  • Justine, B's sister, is in the last year at a college of the U of R, the former SFB (School of Finance and Banking): the government pays the tuition for good students like her, but not much more.
    [Later: we had thought that her course would be compressed into three years, but J will now only finish in June 2019.]
  • Laurien is just about half-way through his three-year Finance course at the Economic University of Poznań, with good results; when I visited B and him in January, it seemed that having picked up more Polish he has begun to feel more comfortable there.
  • Omar, from Goma, just across the border in the DRC, seems to be enjoying studying in Kigali, at ULK (= Université Libre de Kigali); he too is just about half-way through his course, and doing well.
  • Roger had been combining a full-time job with studying, also at ULK, and only needed a little help, but sadly the company he was working for closed down at the end of last year, so ... We'll manage, I think.
  • [Later:] Having worked hard and done quite well in the National Exams, (though not well enough to get a government bourse to study at university) Bango and Frank have both registered at INES (Institut d'Enseignement Superiéur) in Ruhengeri, about two hours north of Kigali, for the four-year A0 (Bachelor's degree) course 'Land Survey' (Topography).
  • Meddy has started the last year of secondary school at his boarding school, far from Kigali – at least we hope that he has actually gone! He has continued to be very unreliable, so I am not sure yet if ...
  • Chance, Pascal's niece completed the Tronc Commun (= national exams after Senior 3) with a Grand Distinction in November, so she is now in Senior 4 at a different boarding school, having chosen the Option of Computer Applications.
  • C's brother Fabrice, now about 12 years old, is not doing as well as his sister, so he is in Senior 2 at a school near their village – actually not so near: he has to walk about an hour each way!

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.

Of my friends here, five finished secondary school in November and have recently received their National Exam results. That they were in the same year, and mostly studying the same 'option', is no coincidence – many of my friends here I first met through other friends. (That kind of thing may not be so uncommon, but perhaps it happens more here, or to me.) So, four years ago a guy started to talk to me in the street as I was walking home. Now, he is still in Senior 5, because he restarted after one year in a different 'option', but he introduced a friend to me, and at the end of the term that person brought along one of his friends; both of them are now friends of mine too, passed the exams and will get a Diploma. Half a year later that last person asked me if two of his friends could join us at the pool, and they have become my friends too; both of these did quite well in the Exams (– well enough for me to perhaps help them continue to study.) And last year I also met the cousin, who was then also in Senior 6, of the first person; but he, I am afraid, did not do well enough in November.


We have just had a lovely, though rather short, visit from Anusch, a Berlin friend of mine, with his daughter (21) and youngest son (11), on their way to Uganda, where they will be staying rather longer with his mother, who is working on behalf of, and for a few months each year at, an orphanage half-way between Kampala and Entebbe. Here, they stayed in a nearby hotel (USD 50 per night for a triple room) and got to see some of Kigali, meet some of our friends, eat some local food, experience a couple of big downpours, and so on: we walked around town for half a day, then Anusch – being a Maths prof – came with me to AIMS and talked with some people there while the other two were taken to a local market, and the next day we went to a pool and then they visited the Genocide Memorial for a few hours while I came home to teach. Rather than taking the plane to Kampala, they had decided 'to take the risk' – no risk, really! – of travelling there by bus, but I had arranged for two of our friends, O and M, to accompany them on the 10-hour journey, and they could stay on in Uganda for a couple of days afterwards. – Short, as I said, but really nice.

Talking of M, he has started a small clothes business with a friend in his 'village': that's what his area feels like, a bit, even though it is in Kigali, closer even to the centre than where we stay.

Seeing that for most of my friends here their smart phone is their most valuable possession, it has surprised me over the past few years, how many of them lose or damage theirs, whether it falls into the pit latrine, or is sat on so that the screen stops working, or gets a bed-wetting little brother's susu on it in the shared bed.

We were lucky with the weather that day in this too rainy rainy season.

The person who appears in both the other photos took this one.

On their second day in Kampala, O and M met with M, and they went to Entebbe and Lake Victoria together.

With all of us having decided that it would be a good idea to start sooner rather than later, B and F left to start their course at INES in Musanze on the same day that our German visitors and their companions travelled to Kampala. They had gone up a few days before to register and to find a house, which they are sharing with another student, who had been at school with Manu. They said they will miss being in Kigali, but that they will come for regular visits.

Domestic affairs:

When the owner of the compound was here in December and January, she not only took over the smaller one of the buildings, so that I am paying a little less rent now, but she also had the two shops facing the main road renovated. There used to be a salon (= hairdresser's) and a clothes shop, but the units have stood empty; now a betting firm is about to move into one of them (– not something I am pleased about: there is too much betting and gambling here already, and I am sure many people are addicted.)
The electricity – except for two very long power outages – and water supplies have generally been quite good the last couple of months (– and now even P's house in the village, two hours walk from the nearest black road, is about to get electricity!)
Getting the three-month tourist visa, for which one pays RwF 30,000 (= $ 35), was also quite unproblematic this time. I always start off with a thirty-dollar thirty-day visa that one gets at the border (– which, remarkably, is available to anyone nowadays, regardless of nationality!)
The music from the bar next door has sometimes been too loud again, especially after midnight, but they know that if I make a formal complaint they will be closed down, like many other bars have been, and even many churches: because of noise, not enough parking, hygiene problems, and so on. Even the mosques have been told to stop their calls to prayer (– this was even picked up by the BBC!)
With P these days away most of most days, and O often doing other things too, things are running a bit differently at home (– but no big problem.)
My birthday passed completely 'painlessly' this year.

Teaching German, chez moi; at other times we met at Antoine's school, the École française

Their accommodation, shared with a third guy, is quite basic, and they still need some more furniture, but it is safe and just 10 minutes' quick walk from the university.
The university, INES, looks alright (in both senses: it has a nice consistent design, more so, I think, than the former National University in Butare, with all the paths paved; and the teaching seems to be alright too, even they are not made to work hard enough yet.) The dull weather that is apparent from the photos is apparently what it is normally like up there, closer to the volcanoes.

An old friend and (perhaps?) a new friend: Eric (or 'Walily') manages his mother's bar not far from Kigali, 15 minutes from a black road, as well as having a small barbershop and working with a Chinese company installing small gambling machines in small bars, but is also a good Catholic, altar boy, and so on.


At the end of March, just before Easter, another lovely visit: Bernd, my other German Maths prof friend, although he is based in the UK, who had been here in October already for three weeks to teach at AIMS, (and had started my connection with the institute) came again, for the three-day "Next Einstein" conference at the Convention Center, but was able to stay on for some more days: to go swimming again, the third time with the same three of my friends, join us for a meal at home again, and this time also go to a village just outside Kigali, in Karuruma, about 15 minutes' walk from the bus stop on the black road, where we received a very warm welcome at E's bar and from his family. – And it looks like he will do another stint at AIMS in August/September, which would of course be great.

Talking of going outside Kigali, next weekend, at the end of Genocide Memorial Week, which lasts from 07 to 13 April, (during which the bar next door has to be quiet, of course: but I think after many fruitless attempts to come to an arrangement with them, we will now go to the police when they start up again next week) M and I are planning to visit B and F where they are studying at INES in Musanze, about 2.5 hours from here – which will be, I must admit, my first trip outside Kigali for a couple of years, I think! I hope we won't be too much affected by the rain: this rainy season has been much rainier and less sunny than is normal – very inconvenient for us in the city, but much worse for the farmers, (as Hadelin has told us, who is now working for a government agency – from which they have, however, received no pay for three months! – as an agricultural adviser) whose newly planted seedlings are being washed away.

A Good Friday picture. ;-)

Later: For our trip to Musanze we got off to a late start – I arrived more than an hour late at the gare because a heavy downpour had flooded the road through Kimisagara. Musanze – unlike Butare, I must say, although I have not been there again for some years now – feels like a real town, but quite different from Kigali: it is fairly flat, even though one can sometimes see the mountains in the distance, so one can stand by the main road through the town and see it going straight for a few kilometres in either direction. And instead of the dark red earth here, one there sees mostly black volcanic rock and grey sand. B, F and a friend of theirs have three rooms and a public area, all still quite bare, in a large compound, with a pit latrine shared with the other people renting there, but very secure and close to a black road. (Cost: RwF 35,000 = $ 40 per month.) We went out for drinks and food in the evening, and the next day they showed us the campus, located some distance from the centre of the town, and then we left in the late afternoon. From the bus back to Kigali I caught vistas of range behind distant range of hills shrouded in mist and gloom, reminding me how attractive this country is. – A very enjoyable trip, which I guess we will make once a 'term' for the next few years.

P in his shop –
so far, so good ...

Trying to reach Nyabugogo: the moto driver just refused to go on – there is in fact a storm drain on this side of the road ...

At INES, with the two new students.

Back in Berlin

It's not always been an easy 'term'. Mostly good, or even great when I was with my friends, but with a lot of times when I was not so happy, when I was left dangling, wondering: I know it's the culture, and I am trying hard to adjust, but still ... Sometimes it almost seems as if words, sentences don't have any meaning. – What a contrast: two days after coming back, I had arranged to meet a German friend for breakfast, and having come on my bike, I was a few minutes early; but he arrived just after me, also a bit early – of course!

So now, four weeks here, then just over a month in the US, mostly in NYC but finishing in Milwaukee/Chicago, and then another six weeks in Berlin. Lots of concerts, various visitors – the usual. And back to Kigali in mid-August.

From Rwanda, 'Semester 19'
– much of the same, but with some major differences.

early September

Two more of my friends have departed for a different country, at least for now. Daniel left the only IB school in Rwanda, which is where I used to work and he had still been teaching, to move to another country with his family, and on to another, better-paying – and perhaps also better organised – IB school. Since last October, as may be recalled, I had been sharing the English teaching at AIMS with Daniel, so I have been asked to cover all the lessons for now, four or five two-hour sessions a week, starting, as it happens, on the same day as Bernd, my German Maths prof friend from the UK, who has returned for his second three-week stint at AIMS Rwanda, and his third visit in the country.

But "a different country" – that is also how inmates describe the inside of the prison where Manu has been kept since July, and will be until next June, after having been caught with a small amount of marijuana. (There is rather more to this story, but that is not for here: amongst his friends we have talked about it a lot.) So a few days after I arrived back for this three-month stay in Rwanda, Eric and I went to visit him, on a Wednesday, as 'family'; the visiting time on Friday is open to everyone, but one only has very little time together. Though it is on our side of Kigali, it is quite a trek to get there, about RwF 1200 by moto, mostly along a very dusty dirt-road. After various controls, and passing through a shop where we bought things for M, like sugar, milk and mandazi, we handed in the form with his and our names on, and waited for more than 30 minutes in a large covered space just outside the very high walls of the main prison compound, to which the inmates were then brought in groups and allowed to talk to their visitors for about 20 minutes. He was able to bring along a new friend, who seemed a good guy, in prison for the same 'crime', and he appeared to be in alright shape, considering. – I am planning to go see him every three weeks while I am here, and will also help other friends to visit and support him.

During the summer, after M had been arrested and when he started his time in prison, I had had quite a lot of contact with his friend Eric, whom I had first met when visiting M at his school last year and who had come to visit a few times last term; and in March Bernd and I had gone to his village with M to visit him. (Now he is no longer managing a bar, but a hair saloon next to his house.) So we were becoming friends already when I arrived back a month ago; and after he had come to stay a few more times, and we had found that he really is 'a good guy', we started an arrangement whereby he stays four days or so each week: in the village he is often bored, he has said, and P and O have been very – too? – busy much of the time, with work and other things; and E is also 'managing' visits to M in prison. – So, the plan: that E will also go to study at INES from March. And the hope: that some months later, when he has been released from prison, M will be the one to mostly stay here.

Sometimes I also still meet new people, like Mundo Boy last term – this is one of the less stylish/suggestive pictures. He is a student at (the former) SFB, writes a lot, in the style of telenovelas, and makes music, songs like Dance Well, Follow Me, Mine and Wee, and videos.

The usual half-yearly summary (– the academic year for universities in Rwanda will start in a few weeks, in step with Europe and the US, but the school year finishes in November):
  • Modeste has just two months left of the one-year internship needed to obtain the Licence to Practise as a nurse, at a big hospital in Kampala; he has started to think about going to work in Europe or the US, but has not done much about it yet.
  • Justine, B's sister, is in the last year of studying Business Administration/Finance at a college of the U of R, the former SFB (School of Finance and Banking): the government pays the tuition for good students like her, but not much more. She should be finished in June 2019.
  • Laurien, who came to Kigali for a six-week holiday this summer and then stayed with me in Berlin for a few days in August on his way back to Poland, is about to start the last year of his three-year Finance course at the Economic University of Poznań.
  • Omar, from Goma, just across the border in the DRC, has since April been studying at the Gisenyi campus of his university, the ULK (= Université Libre de Kigali), because the fees and the living expenses there are lower than in Kigali; he has one more year until he finishes.
  • Roger has successfully completed the first year of his three-year course at the ULK.
  • Bango is amongst the students at INES (Institut d'Enseignement Superiéur) in Ruhengeri who only started in March, but who will now join the students who had started last October already to begin the second year of their four-year course in 'Land Survey'.
  • And the same for Frank as for B – in fact, they are staying in ghettos across the road from each other, about 20 minutes from the campus; the compressed first year has required some hard work and has meant no holiday for them.
  • [Later in the term:] Theogene, also known as "MB", will now be continuing at (the former) SFB, in the second year, rather than having to change to (the rather worse) University of Kigali.
  • Meddy has one more term until the National Exams; he seems to have moved to a school in Kigali, and his grades have not been great, (I don't think IT is his kind of thing at all ...) but he has been going to school and made some progress.
  • Chance, Pascal's niece completed the Tronc Commun (= national exams after Senior 3) with a Grand Distinction last November, so she is now in Senior 4 at a government boarding school, having chosen the Option of Computer Applications.
  • C's brother Fabrice, now about 12 years old, is not doing as well as his sister, so he is in Senior 2 at a school near their village – actually not so near: he has to walk about an hour each way!

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.

And 'supportees' who have recently finished:

  • Benjamin completed his Master's degree in July and has already started a job, in his field but also requiring some French, in Katowice, further south in Poland.
  • Paulin completed his Civil Engineering course at what used to be called KIST (= Kigali Institute of Science and Technology) and is now looking for work, with some hopeful leads already.
    (I still have to support him, so that he can even survive in Kigali: I decided that I might have to do that, but this is all from my own funds, for some friends even after they have completed their studies.)
  • Arafat – I am not sure what happened with him, but he had been very unreliable, even after numerous requests, about submitting receipts and so on, and he has already informed the university that he no longer has a sponsor. (But he did send a message to thank us for the support.)

late September

It was great to have Bernd at AIMS again, we met nearly every day and sometimes went for coffee, he came to have dinner with us twice and invited us to the roof-top restaurant of a new (relatively) high-rise hotel in the centre; and one weekend he, E and I went to Gisenyi together, (my first time there) where we were joined from Musanze (where they are studying) by B and F – who, when we arrived, had already found a (cheap, pretty basic but ok) place for all of us to stay: I was impressed. So we spent the afternoon at Tam Tam, a club by the shore of Lake Kivu, drinking beer, and eating chips and fish and chicken, and swimming in the muddy water, and playing volleyball on the pebbly beach, and talking (I did less than the others of some of those things and more of one of them ...) and the evening at a bar/club, watching a – very mixed – floor show, though with one very good guy, and dancing: E was by far the best, but I am pleased that I got fairly hight marks too ...

Having gone to visit him twice, on Wednesdays, the 'family day', when one gets a bit more time together, it seems that M is managing fairly well in that 'other country', considering: he has made friends, and been given an official position, as indicated by a green cap he is allowed to wear; and I am not now so worried that he will come out of prison as a small criminal or in some way 'damaged'.
    Sadly, he was not amongst the more than 2000 prisoners who received an out-of-the-blue presidential pardon earlier this month, (although Kizito, the singer-songwriter I have mentioned previously, was.)
    At first, I was trying to organise those Wednesday visits, but I have decided that, since I am not Rwandan, I shouldn't be doing that – things are just too different here. For instance, when I go to the airport, I am quite happy to go on my own, or with one or two close friends; whereas someone from here would want as many people as possible to 'push' him or her. Or if someone close to me died, I would want life to carry on as 'normal' as possible around me, and just to share my feelings and thoughts with a few close friends, who I hope would 'look after me' a bit; whereas here, people expect crowds to come to support them, of former classmates, colleagues, neighbours, relatives and so on. So all that is too different.
    I am of course continuing to make a contribution every Wednesday, to help people go there, and for them to be able to buy things for him, but don't know now how often I will get to see him: what I had hoped was once every three weeks, because I will then be away for 2.5 months, (I already have my ticket to be here again for three months from the start of February) but ... So I may sometimes have to write letters instead, for others to take to him.

Almost half my time here, for this stay, is already over – how time flies! Water and electricity have been pretty good, and the bar next door has not been too noisy too late at night, and sometimes even quite quiet. I have applied for a new passport at the Embassy, because the one I have is almost full, because in Rwanda I can only get a three-month visa each time. (To get a longer-term visa, I would need to have USD 5,000 a month!) Ah, and there is a fridge in the house now: all my friends who have lived here with me have explained to me time and again why we needed one, so in the summer, finally, I told P and O that they could get one; certain things are nicer because of it, of course, or easier.

late October

A whole month has passed, quickly and very enjoyably, it's now less than three weeks until I leave.

□ E has continued to stay with us four days each week, which has continued to work well, and after weekly trips to Sports View Hotel he has begun to be able to swim: my fourth successful student; and other friends have come to visit too.

□ E and I have continued to visit M in prison every three weeks, with other people going there on other Wednesdays; he has a good chance, it seems, to be released soon, or at least before his 12 months are over.

□ Teaching at AIMS, which these days I am doing for 14 hours a week, officially 'English and Communication', (although sometimes I also explain Maths and Python programming) has continued well too; some weeks ago I invited a professor from California and one of the tutors for dinner at our place, and we also took them to E's place so that they could see a place outside the city.

□ P's business in town has continued to expand, not least perhaps because of the excellent customer care that he gives, and O's work – which, rather to his frustration, requires none of what he studied at university but, as I had to explain to him, the general skills that he gained there – is going well enough too.

□ All our friends are entering for the Diversity Visa lottery again; I keep having to explain that it is not "applying for a Green Card" and that one does not "pass" or "fail". (Noel and his family, as well as another person we know who won and is now in the US, seem to have made a success of their move, and no regrets.)

□ Being here has again become a bit wearing, as it does every time after a few months, because of the difficulty of making plans, and because of incessant, (at least that is what it feels like ...) albeit mostly understandable, demands on my resources.

□ But it's not all just "has continued" and "again": new items on our table include a very tasty liver paté and a nice 'banana wine', which P gets from one particular place in the city.

□ And I got the new passport, which I had to convince the German Embassy to give me here, rather than waiting to get in Berlin: I have more time here, and it was easier than it would have been there, I think.

□ And sometimes there also is a new prospective friend, like Jean Baptiste, who started to talk to me on a bus last 'term', is studying at (the former) KIST and has come to visit regularly.

□ My plans for the winter: two weeks in Berlin, two days in London, 12 days in Sydney, 3.5 weeks in New York and thereabouts, two days each in London again and in Paris, and just over two more weeks in Berlin; somebody asked me if I wasn't going to be rushing and get stressed, but on the contrary, it will all be relaxed.