From Rwanda, 2020
– about my six months of the year in Kigali.

My previous such 'diaries' – this is quite a collection by now:

The schedule of the past few years is working very nicely for me: six months in Kigali, four months in Europe, mostly in Berlin, and two months mostly in New York; but rather less time away in the winter, December and January, and a bit more in the summer, May to August – for obvious reasons. Just the right balance of heat and cold, being on my own and being with friends, contributing and consuming, concerts and a bit of a desert ...


Three major items of news early this 'term':

1. P will be getting married to Yvette in just over a week; he had moved out in August, but the place where he was living at first was clearly too small for a married couple, so he has moved again, to a very nice house, in Nyakabanda, just a stone's throw from his former secondary school. There will be a lot of people at the wedding, they are planning for 400, but at least the events of the day are geographically more limited than they might have been.

2. My sister Britta, who hasn't come to visit us here for a number of years, but whom I have seen more often in Europe instead, will be coming from Kenya, in time for P's wedding.

3. We, that is M and I, are moving from the place in Nyamirambo, very close to Cosmos, where I have been staying for just over 10 years. Three major reasons:

  1. Not only has the landlady not invested anything into our part of the compound, while improving her own, but she has taken away facilities without consultation, and partly – but only partly – because of the construction of a new kitchen the compound looks a mess, and will do until she comes again.
  2. The bar next door has continued to be very loud, some nights even until after 4 a.m., and they have often not reacted, as they usually did before, to messages from me (often as late as 2 a.m.) requesting that they reduce the volume so I could fall asleep. And it hasn't only been I who had a problem falling asleep here.
  3. But most seriously, a number for friends of ours have told me that the landlady was very rude to them when they came to visit M while I was away; one person said it felt like she no longer wanted me to live here. This matters especially because she is spending more and more time here.
Finding a new house, which one does by talking to local 'commisioners', to whom one pays about a quarter of a monthly rent as a fee, was VERY quick – after a couple of days we had decided on a new place: completely new and smart-looking, a very short walk from a busy black road and less than ten minutes from a convenient bus stop, in a compound of three houses in which we have our own, fenced-off area. My one reservation is that my room is rather smaller than here, and since I lead much of my life in my room, ... Well, we'll see how it goes. – Pictures will eventually follow, of course.
(The cursor on the images from Google maps shows the location: map 1, map 2. KN 9 Ave, for those readers who know the area a bit, is the road to the sector office and the prison, and 'ERP' is the intersection with the big Nyamirambo road on which we live now.)

I was very happy when I returned herel, after a lovely ten-week break in Germany and the US, to find that everything at home had gone very well; I must admit that I had had some worries.

Having last 'term' finally sold the house I had bought for Joseph, (which really had been his for some years already) I have just bought a house again, for the family of another friend: they don't rent from me and they deal with all tax- and other such issues, but as they repay me in installments over the next five years, that will be part of the income that I/we live on. (The rate of interest on a morgage from a bank here is close to 20%, while I just want to cover my costs, including opportunity costs.)

The usual half-yearly summary (– the academic year for schools in Rwanda has just started, but it is almost the middle of the year at the universities, as in Europe and the US):
  • Oliver has started a two-year Master's course in Rzeszow, and seems to be doing fine, despite finding the course not sufficiently 'technical'; he even managed to go on a trip in the winter to France, to visit a friend, and he, Benjamin, Laurien and I met in Wroclaw, where B is working, for a weekend in January.
  • Roger now has less than half a year left of his course at ULK, where he seems to be managing his ambition to improve his performance from year to year.
  • Bango half-way through level 3 of his four-year course in 'Land Survey' at INES (Institut d'Enseignement Superiéur) in Musanze (the former Ruhengeri, about three hours to the NW from Kigali) and seems to be doing well, at least academically.
  • And the same holds for Frank as for B – in fact, they are staying in ghettos quite close to each other, about 20 minutes from the campus. They both occasionally come to Kigali to visit, and even stayed at our place at different times while I was away.
  • Alice, M's very nice girlfriend, had her course at the former KIST moved to the UR campus in Butare after the first year, so she can longer live with her family in Kigali.
  • Patrick, who failed some of his courses in the first year at the former KIST, has to repeat the year – and pay to redo those courses –, but seems to be doing fine this time; he is also keeping busy doing some work in town.
  • Ulrich is about to complete his six-month course in Video Production.
  • Africa, who had had to drop out of school some years after his parents died, has now gone back to complete the last year of secondary school, in the 'option' of IT.
  • Manu, with whom I am sharing the house, is the oldest in his family, so some of his siblings are still at school.
  • Chance, Pascal's niece has started Senior 6 at a government boarding school, having chosen the Option of Computer Applications.
  • C's brother Fabrice, now about 13 years old, ...
  • A friend in the US has continued to give me money to help U's family, themselves not rich, look after Lincoln/James, a lively kazungu boy whom they have kind of adopted because his mother can't look after him.

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:

  • Eric has not finished his studies, but has changed from INES to a new college in Kigali, where he is following a weekends-only course in Media Studies, while at the same time having a job during the week (– so he no longer needs my/our financial support.)
(Some of the people I/we have been supporting through their studies continue to need financial help, sometimes for a long time, before they can find a job, so I needed to make my own 'scheme' for that: Modeste, for instance, is still looking for a position as a nurse, whether here or abroad.)

late February

The move from the old house at Cosmos to the new one at Cyivugiza went very well, with the help of four friends (including my sister) and of a small lorry with two helpers. We had done some preparation, but after five hours everything was basically in place in the new place, the huge cupboards in M's and my rooms and in the kitchen made it easy to put things away, and in the evening I took everyone out for drinks and chips and brochettes.

I am still not quite used to living here, so I still sometimes get that feeling of "how nice to be living here now" – especially when I go to bed of course, and don't have loud music from the bar nextdoor. My worries about my room being a bit small turned out not to have been justified: having had various friends over already I feel it works well enough for me; and it only takes 6 minutes to Tapis Rouge and 8 minutes to RP, which is where the nearest bus stops are.

And after one quiet day at home, Britta and I, supported by various friends, went to P's and Yvette's wedding, which was a very nice all-day occasion, consisting of five parts:

  1. The Introduction in the morning, at a venue for that kind of event near Tapis Rouge, which finished with some food for everyone; P had agreed that I didn't need to be very formally dressed, but I did get a special mention in the proceedings and a present.
  2. The Church Wedding in Kacyiru, which we gave a miss.
  3. The Photo Session in a place with a nice garden, just a few minutes from where we have moved; this was supposed to have taken place before the Church Wedding, but it had been raining then, (so we had got quite wet on the way back to our place.)
  4. The Reception, in the same place as the Introduction, with drinks, and (for me) lots of meetings with people I hadn't seen for some time, like Appolinaire and Ephraim (who kept us well supplied with drinks, and me in particular with banana beer: he was remembering his graduation celebration, which I had attended some nine years ago.)
  5. The 'Party-After-Party' for a smaller group, including (kindly) my friends again, where there were more drinks and food again, and dancing; (I left a bit early because one of the people who was there because of me, not a friend of P's and not really of mine either, had had too much to drink and was not behaving well.)

Britta with the other friends (P, A and Aloys) who helped us move, in the new house, looking at photos of the move.


This entry may be more of a snap-shot:

A lot has changed in the world in the past few weeks, though not very much here yet: officially there are, at the time of writing, 8 reported cases of CoViD-19 in Rwanda. Except that all schools and universities have been closed since 16 March, (one or two weeks too early, it seems to me) with the government providing the transport for school students to return to their homes; hand sanitizers are available in many places, a very few people walk around with masks, outside the building of the Chinese supermarket 2000 sinks have been set up and soap is provided, and the temperature is taken of everyone who enters; people are not allowed to stand, as they usually have to do closely packed, on buses - the bus leaves when all seats have been taken. But the large amount of misinformation that is circulating on social media – such as that the virus is a 'project' of Hilary Clinton and the Democrats in America, and George Soros, or that black people are immune to the virus – is distressing, and could even become dangerous. The only good consequence I have seen: the betting shops, which are usually crowded with people wasting money that they can ill afford, are all closed for now.

For my/our part, we require everyone who comes to the house to wash their hands well with soap, before they touch anything or anyone. And I am not teaching, as they are trying to minimize the number of people entering AIMS, but am available to give feedback by e-mail to students who, in the absence of lecturers from outside the country, have started their projects early. I have received various e-mails from the German Embassy, where I am registered through the elefand (Elektronische Erfassung von Deutschen im Ausland) system, warning me that more travel restrictions and flight cancellations might lie ahead, and informing me of the last flights of some airlines that I could book to be able to leave soon.

... which I haven't been tempted to do. I am due to fly to Berlin in six weeks anyhow, by which time some things may be more normal again – even if it is 'a new normal' that we still have to get used to: I have been thinking for a few weeks that we will have to learn to live with this, as we have been living with the flu virus, (which this winter has apparently killed about 22,000 people in the US alone: what is different about CoViD-19 is that it is new, so there are not yet many people who are immune to it, that there is no vaccine yet, and that one can pass it on to others long before one has the symptoms.) And even if I can't leave as planned, if all concerts in Berlin have been cancelled, then it is not so important, to me, to be there rather than here.

I know that it is quite likely that I will catch the virus some time, in which case there is a chance I will die – a small chance, but greater in my case than in that of most of my friends, both because I am older than them, and because for now I am in a country with less good medical facilities; (it may also be that younger people are less careful, because the risk to them is lower, and of course they have more social contacts.) I hope, of course, that I will have a mild case, as the great – or even (if it is true that for every reported case there are five to ten undiagnosed cases) vast – majority of infected people seem to do. Still, I am planning to take some time tomorrow to update my will.

begining of April

I guess this can't help being mostly about the pandemic, and how it is affecting us.

While in some ways the world has changed greatly in the last month or so, for me personally, while at home, it hasn't yet. Except that I have of course continued not to go to teach, although I have given some of the students feedback on parts of their projects that they had sent me, and that our ability to move has been severely restricted, with police and security on the road everywhere, challenging everyone who is moving about, (apparently people who cannot explain satisfactorily why they are outside are put in the stadium, far apart from each other, until the evening) although some friends who live in the same area have come to visit – one at a time, and they have to wash their hands before they touch anyone or anything –, using backroads and carrying a bag of food which they can they say they have been out to buy.

It seems that the government is trying to eliminate the virus completely, hoping to be able to make it go away, before they will relax the restrictions – but at what cost to the people in the country! Many people here, perhaps most, need to work one day to be able to buy food for their family the next; the government programme to provide food at the local level to those most affected seems to be very limited, and selective. Some people don't have water in their area for some days, and they are not even allowed to go out to fill their jerry cans. House owners have been instructed not to demand rent during this time – but for many, the rent they receive is what they live on; and what about the huge debts that everyone is going to come out of this with? Even if the restrictions are relaxed after two weeks and people are allowed to go to work again, many small businesses will already have been given up, so many people will have no job to go back to; and the government will have run out of funds to help people.

So, I have just registered for the German government programme to bring German, and perhaps other EU, citizens stranded here back to Germany; the Embassy has sent out information that there may be a flight some time soon, but no details yet. Now, I don't quite consider myself 'stranded' here – after all, I live here –, but

  • I was in any case supposed to leave in four weeks, at the end of the month, so even if I get on a flight next week, say, I won't be missing much 'Rwanda-time',
  • not being able to move around and meet friends as I want, I won't be missing much by leaving early: in fact, I have to say that my life here is much less enjoyable these days, (not least because of seeing the hardships experienced by others,)
  • while I would not mind much having to stay some extra weeks, if I don't go when I can, there is no guarantee that it would only be a few weeks extra: to be able to travel to Berlin with Turkish Airlines, the airport in Kigali has to re-open and flights must have been resumed from Istanbul to Germany,
  • I am very uncertain, worried, about how things will develop here, politically, and in terms of security, and of health: there might be an explosion of cases, or ...,
  • my staying on does not help anybody here: whatever support I can give my friends does not depend on my being in the country,
  • if I do end up getting very sick, I have a better chance of surviving in Germany than here.

A picture (taken by M, who is staying there alone now, from the top of the outside wall) of our part of the compound and of our house – which is where I have not been since taking the flight of the German government's Rückholaktion in very early April, which landed me in Cologne, since when I have been in Berlin; and quite happy to be here.

During these five weeks, for most of which I should still have been in Kigali, I have done a lot of reading, gone on a bike trip every day, to get a cake and coffee to take away, or a snack to have outside, done my language practice regularly and some programming/editing, given feedback by e-mail to AIMS students on work that they have sent me, seen friends very occasionally, outside – and missed going to concerts. No one I know has been affected by the virus, yet.

While most things in my world are therefore almost (old-)normal, my travel plans are up in the air: I certainly won't be going to the US at the end of May, but might be able to make a – possibly shorter – trip later, and hope to make it at least to France and Italy before going back, hopefully in August, to Rwanda.

I can say that I've been pleased with how things have been handled in Germany and been very comfortable, with lots of public discussion (most of it more fact-based than political, unlike in the US) and people generally understanding (unlike in Rwanda, where the government acted as if one could catch the virus just by leaving one's home, and they could stop it completely) what is required and why we are doing this.

begining of October

So now I am back in Kigali – after my first five flights I was (re-)booked on, on Turkish Airlines, had been cancelled one after the other, (presumably because the flights would have continued to Kampala, but Entebbe airport was still closed, so there wouldn't have been enough passengers,) I finally cancelled, took the refund and booked a flight on KLM (which was continuing to Dar instead, and in TZ they seem to be pretending that there is no pandemic): which meant I was able to visit EJ in Amsterdam en route. I finally arrived five weeks later than I had planned; but I will still be staying for three months, as planned, which is until Christmas Day.

Before leaving Germany I had to have a Corona test, of course, and to book a stay in one of the hotels on a government-approved list – some at very reasonable rates – to await the result of another test upon arrival, and submit an on-line 'passenger location form', but it all worked very smoothly, and I was able to go to my place before noon the day after I had arrived.

My/our OLD place, which Manu and I had only moved into in February: in short, the landlord had written to me two weeks before I arrived back that he wanted us to move, saying: "Manu has abused your absence, unfortunately." After having talked to various friends who had come to the house while I was away, it seems quite clear to me that it was mostly our neighbour, whose house was very close to ours, who was behind it all: whatever Manu may have been doing, he cannot have disturbed her as much as she was disturbing him/us, whether it be having hour-long Christian chanting in her house, or piling up their rubbish on their veranda, right in front of Manu's window, or complaining that he had received prostitues when it was his sisters that had come to visit him, to give just three examples. My theory is that she could only think of Manu as a houseboy, and that for her it was therefore completely unacceptable that he should have visitors or some drinks with friends. (From what a friend of ours said he had overheard of a conversation the lady had with a friend of hers, it seems that another problem was that she had had hopes to be become chummy, perhaps very chummy, with me ... – feels a bit like a soap opera.)

My 5.5 months' stay away, almost all of it in Berlin, apart from trips to visit my sister on the farm in the south of France and my Rwandan friends in Poland, falls into three distinct periods:

  • the first 2 months there was not much to do 'outside', but I made sure I went on a bike trip every day, to have a cake and coffee in the street somewhere, or take a walk in a park with a friend (– that's when it felt like the passage of time was suspended,) and I was also still doing some work with AIMS students in Rwanda;
  • the next 2.5 months were fairly normal, I started to also have concerts to go to (with fewer people in the audience, of course, and no interval, and having to leave one's contact details, and to wear a mask until the start and again from the end of the music) and was able to go swimming and to meet with my friends in a cafe or restaurant, and the weather was great too; but
  • the last month, while still doing the same kinds of things and still greatly enjoying them, I was at the same time waiting to leave while the various flights I was booked on were cancelled again and again.

Having previously ever spent only up to 6 weeks at a time living my Berlin-life, I now know that I can 'bear it' for a long time, even with restrictions: a chance to do a lot of reading and re-reading, studying and re-studying, going to concerts and swimming, watching an occasional episode on TV, and so on. The worst things were that my bike was stolen from outside a concert one evening, and that I noticed too late the one concert (Pärt's "Passio") that I would have most loved to hear.

My/our NEW place, which we moved into less than a week after I got back (– again very easily, again with great help from some friends): a little more expensive than where we stayed before, but much more spacious than any place I have ever lived, with 2.5 bedrooms, tiled floors everywhere, three toilets/bathrooms, though only a fairly small kitchen, our own gate, space for two cars in front, from which one walks up a few comfortable steps to the entrance, and our own yard in the back – very nice. It is a more 'local' place, five minutes' walk from a black road, (at Green Corner, a well-known landmark) and 11 minutes from where one takes a bus to town.
(Click on the map to see a larger version; the mouse pointer shows where the house is.)

During the time that I was away, Manu asked if I would pay for a painting course for him, with a craftsman in Karuruma, and I agreed; and upon my return I was 'confronted with' the present of a fairly large-scale portrait, done by him and a colleague, based on a photograph of some years ago. Sometimes he even makes a little money by doing some of the work on a commission.

Less than a week after arriving back, on the first day of new government regulations applying to AIMS, I started to teach again, which I am allowed to do face-to-face: since the students and most tutors live at the institute, they count as 'a family at home' and don't need to wear a mask; but people coming from outside have to have our temperature taken when we arrive and to wash our hands, to wear masks and to have our meals separately; except that we can take the mask off during teaching, where things have been arranged so that the nearest student sits about 3m from me.

A bad thing that had happened, and in the end expensive, while I was away is that Eric sustained an apparently fairly serious head injury in a bike accident, so I was very very very pleased to find him alright when I came back. Other friends are fine too, except that practically everyone is suffering consequences of the (previously overly strict and long, I think) government's CoViD-19 restrictions.

end of October

I/we continue to be very happy with the new place, where we have by now been for four weeks. While the house near Cosmos where I lived, with different friends at different times, may have been in the best location in all of Kigali, it is strange to think, looking back, that I/we put up with the state that the house was in for ten years.

Talking of houses, I just picked up – finally – the title deed of a house in Karuruma that I bought, this time not for a friend but for a friend's (Eric's) family, which they are supposed to pay me back for over the next few years, after which it will be theirs. (As in my previous and other such deals, the interest rate we agreed on is good for me, and very very good for them, in view of what we could get or would have to pay elsewhwere.)

A very very bad experience for M and E, and pretty bad for their friends too, was when they were arrested because of a suspicion of having marijuana, when in fact they were only in the wrong place at the wrong time, while other people were getting arrested. For me the main worry was due to the fact that I was not sure if they were completely 'clean', because if they hadn't been, they might have ended up in prison for up to seven years. – The place, in Gikondo, where they were taken and spent four days – until their mothers' determined efforts and some help from me got them released – is truly terrible: though called a "rehabilitation centre", there seems to be practically no supervision from officials, and so the place is run by a hierarchy of bullies, equipped with sticks, which they use freely to beat others; the bullies control sleeping spaces, the sugar and salt for the porridge, and so on, and these have to be bought by the other inmates, for real money; even the use of the toilets is restricted to half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening; and so on. Having experienced both, M said that this place was much worse even than prison. – And most of the people who end up there, sometimes for long periods, especially if they have no one to vouch for them, have not been accused of any crime! In fact this is the same place where Roger was put for a miserable weekend, about six years ago, also without ever being charged with anything.

"How about the CoViD-19 situation in Rwanda?" I hear you ask. Well, the official figures look pretty good, with at present only about 200 active cases reported; I think they do represent the government's best information, but there may well be quite a few more cases and incorrectly reported deaths. Everyone is supposed to wear a mask outside their house, under threat of paying RwF 10,000 (about USD 10) and/or spending the rest of the day – or a night – sitting in the stadium; the rule is largely adhered to on the black roads and on buses, but in our 'hood most people don't wear a mask or not properly. For some months buses could only operate at half their capacity, to enable social distancing, (and fares were raised to compensate) but by now they are almost back to normal. Schools and universities have started to open, in the first place for students in their final years.

The front of the new house, with more than enough space for a car, seen from the gate. From those steps one sees the centre of Kigali in the distance. The outside doors and the one to the kitchen are sliding doors. The ceilings are high, all the floors tiled. This kind of brick is famous in Rwanda.

NOT quite the usual half-yearly summary – because of the pandemic, schools and universities in Rwanda were closed in March, and they have only just started to be reopened, but at different times at different institutions and for different years:
  • While continuing to work, Laurien is back at university on the weekends, in Wroclaw, for a Master's degree, which should give him better employment opportunities in future.
  • Oliver has started the second year of his Master's course in Rzeszow, and seems to be doing fine, despite finding the course not sufficiently 'technical'; I managed to meet him, L and Benjamin for a weekend in Wroclaw during the summer.
  • Having still not found a job here, even as a nurse, Modeste is checking out if he can do a Master's degree in something like Public Health in Canada, somewhere far in the north.
  • Roger is about to complete his course at ULK, with a six-month delay: some exams left and the thesis to complete.
  • Having spent part of the long break in Musanze and part in Kigali, Bango has just started the final year of his four-year course in 'Land Survey' at INES (Institut d'Enseignement Superiéur).
  • For Frank the same holds as for B. They both occasionally come to Kigali to visit, and sometimes stay at our place, both when I am away and when I am here.
  • Because her courses are all on-line, Alice can be in Kigali while studying at the former KIST, still finishing the second year.
  • Patrick has almost finished catching up and is waiting to continue his studies, also at KIST, but he is also keeping busy doing some work in town.
  • While continuing to work, a bit, Eric is starting the second year of his course in Media Studies, although for now he has to go to Nyagatare, about four hours from Kigali, every weekend.
  • Africa has resumed the resumption of his studies and should be completing Senior 6 next year.
  • Chance, Pascal's niece, has gone back to her government boarding school, to continue her last year, Senior 6, in the Option of Computer Applications.
  • F's sister Liliane has gone back to Catholic boarding school, for an extended second term, and then she will have one more term to take her O-levels at the end of Senior 3; friends of mine in Germany have been finding the money to pay her fees.
  • A friend in the US has continued to give me money to help Ulrich's family, themselves not rich, look after Lincoln/James, a lively kazungu boy whom they have kind of adopted because his mother can't look after him.

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.

(Some of the people I/we have been supporting through their studies continue to need financial help, sometimes for a long time, before they can find a job, so I needed to make my own 'scheme' for that.)

end of November

Recently – finally – M and I, following a Rwandan tradition which has kept the young couple busy with weekend visits since June, went to welcome Pascal's and Yvette's son, Dylan Kingsley, into this world, and had a lovely afternoon with them. P and Y now live near to where M's family used to live, in an area called Gitega. Notes: Y is still very shy with me; M loves kids.

It has been a long time since I last was in Rwanda this late in the year, and I will be staying later than ever before: my flight to Berlin is on Christmas Day. The rainy season has been very wet, even by local standards, but there have begun to be a few days which felt like it is coming to an end. I am planning to come back here, since I don't think I will make it to the US before the summer, in early February (depending to some extent on if/when I can get the CoViD-19 vaccinations.)

Notes: The teaching at AIMS, my 'fun' reading, and the bit of 'studying'/serious reading have continued to be very enjoyable. – Visas have become more expensive, but the application can now be done on-line, and so one only needs to go to the DGIE once, to have the visa put into the passport. – People have become a lot more careless about wearing masks, but luckily in this country that is not a big problem: there are still not many cases, and most of them in some of the prisons and a refugee camp; there is still a 10pm curfew though.

My room: as always, not just a bedroom but where I mostly live; (difficult to capture it in a photo, but it's big, with a big window looking onto the 'yard'.) Behind the door: a separate toilet/shower. Across the corridor: M's room, bigger than in Cyivugiza, and much much bigger than at Cosmos.

Our own 'yard': with a very small room and a separate toilet/shower on the left, 'for a houseboy/housegirl'. Again the nice brick. Things are working well here, and things are quickly fixed, when needed.


Recently Ulrich came to stay with his family's 'adopted' son, Lincoln (or James), who is in P5 and always the best or second-best in his class. He is bright and inquisitive, passed the "24 divided by 3"-test, (which not even all S6 students here manage!) and speaks English pretty well. Here he is with M, (who loves kids.)

The living room and the view from the entrance along the corridor in our (no longer quite so) new house, with the (fairly small) kitchen behind a sliding door on the right, and further along M's and a store (children's?) room on the left and my room on the right.