Sunday, May 30, 2010

Muzungu in the Mist

Last weekend we went with friends to hang with gorillas at the foot of the volcanoes of Ruhengeri in northern Rwanda. Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda share this magnificent land and the groups of mountain gorillas in them.  Here are a few pictures!

On Friday afternoon, after a 2-1/2 hour drive through typically stunning country, we arrived at the Virunga Lodge, an eco-lodge which provides (and you pay for) comfort, beauty, and incredible food.  While sitting on our patio, looking out at the view and sipping a cup of tea, I said to myself, "If I fell ill and had to go to a perfect place to recover, this would be the place."

We were treated that evening to a private performance by Intore dancers.  The dancers and singers were locals, mostly school children, and while their performance was less polished than you might have seen from older, more experienced dancers, they were full of heart and joy, and we loved watching them. Pictures are in the link above.

Unfortunately, Bill had a cold, and had to stay back at the lodge the following day.  If you are sick with a cold or flu, you are not allowed to visit the gorillas because you might infect them.  At least Bill was in a perfect place to recuperate.

We were awakened the next morning at 5 a.m. with coffee at our door, and by 6 a.m. the rest of us were on the road in a huge 4x4 to the meeting spot for gorilla-lovers.  By 7:30 a.m. we were part of a group of 8 people and our guide, Francois.  (Sorry, I can't find the thing that makes the correct 'c' for Francois!)  By 8:00 we were on the road to the foot of one of the volcanoes which comprise the Virunga mountains and the Volcanoes National Park.  "Road" here is a loose term for wide path with a lot of rocks, ruts, and mud.  The farmers walking along the road were sometimes faster than our 4x4.  I kind of wanted to get out and walk, but eventually the road evened out a little, and we bumped along so that the kids following us had to jog to keep up.

There are trackers in the mountains that keep track of the five or so gorilla clans there.  We arrived at a drop point nearest our designated clan, and soon we were tramping across a field to the foothill of one of the volcanoes.  It's beautiful country, by the way.  So as to stimulate the local economy, we were encouraged to hire "porters" (for ~ $9) who would carry our stuff and help us along the way.  I acquiesced, even though I would have preferred to carry my own day pack.

I have heard horror stories about people tramping through the cold rain for hours before they happened upon a clan.  We were about as lucky as they come.  The day was sunny; even the mud was kind of pleasant in that it wasn't cold. After 15 minutes of schplopping through thick black mud, we heard a grunting sound.  I thought it might be our guide Francois calling them, but he turned quickly to us, told us to be quiet, to relinquish our packs, etc, to the porters, and to follow him.  The following hour was nothing but up-close gorillas.

Francois is a gorilla-whisperer.  Well, really he is a gorilla-grunter.  (Diane Fossey taught him all he knows!) He would grunt to them, and sometimes they responded.  Sometimes he interpreted their noises for us.  Once, when a female walked past the third-in-line male, the male made a low grunt, looking in the other direction, like he wasn't really talking to any one in particular.  She made her own noise, something like a high-pitched "hmmph".  Francois said, "He is asking her if she wants to do the jiggy-jiggy.  She is telling him she has a headache."  Number Three took it in stride and got up to go find some more leaves to chew on.

I had heard the mountain gorillas were used to humans, but these guys just plain ignored us.  They pretty much only ambled about looking for things to chew on.  I guess if you're a 400-pound leaf-eater, you need to conserve your strength for the important stuff.  We were not the least bit interesting to them.  Except that I did have a brush with a juvenile about my size:  I was walking along a path, trying to catch up to the guide, when this little-ish guy came scurrying down a path to my left.  I scooted ahead so that he could get by behind me easily, and that would have been that, except that he decided to have some fun and went out of his way to whop me from behind with a body check.  I did not fall down, but I was surprised enough to make one of those housewife "ooh!"  noises.  Some people are touched by an angel; I got whomped by a gorilla.

Afterwards, we stayed in yet another (over-priced) beautiful lodge at the foot of the mountains.  We were planning on seeing the golden monkeys the following day, but we were all grooving so much our lovely accommodations, and the thought of getting up again at 5 a.m. was so unpleasant, we decided to stay put and loll about for another day.  One of the workers there took pity on Bill and made a steaming tea out of eucalyptus leaves to put in a bowl for him to inhale.  Bill felt much better after that, and I brought some leaves back to Kigali to continue the therapy.  He's much better now.

We've heard from other people that visiting the mountain gorillas is a life-changing event.  As much as I enjoyed it, I wouldn't say I'm a different person for the experience.  My companions agreed, and we found ourselves wondering how this change would show itself.  Would a person grunt more?  Move less?  Become raw-vegan?  Anybody reading this who did have their lives changed, please share with us in the comments!  We want to know!

Monday, May 17, 2010


During the first week of May, Bill and I traveled with our friends Kathy and Gerise to Ethiopia.  In a nutshell:  what a place!  We flew to Addis Ababa, one of the craziest cities in the world (so they say), and from there we visited Bahir Dar, Gondar, and Lalibela.  This is the historic Ethiopian Orthodox Church Crawl.  If we had had a few more days, we might have included Axum, which has some serious history going on, but we didn't.

Ethiopia has the distinction of being the only country in Africa that was never a colony of anyone.  The first occupation was by the Italians leading up to WWII.  The northern part of the country (where we visited) is mountainous and severe.  It is also very beautiful.

I could hold forth on the varying quality of the accomodations, taxis, attempts to overcharge foreigners, but I don't feel like it.  As in any developing country, if a hotel says they have hot water, that means they try and sometimes succeed in providing hot water.  Sometimes not.  Reliable electricity is also subject to the whims of the gods, but the better hotels have generators.  Which are not attached to the hot water heaters.

Here are pictures from our trip.  I have a new camera, and I got kind of snap-happy, but these are the highlights.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Memorial Week

March to remember the victims of the genocide from the 
district of Nyarungenge (our neighborhood)

The month of April is devoted to remembering the victims of the 1994 genocide.  Here the government and local press do not just refer to it as "the 1994 genocide", but "the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis".  During this month, celebrations are strongly discouraged--no weddings, parties, etc.  It is a very somber time.  There is one particular day and one particular week this month which get extra attention.  

April 7, 1994 is the day that President Habyarimana's plane was shot down, sparking the genocide that had been brewing for some time.  The 100 days that followed saw the slaughter of nearly a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus who refused to join in the killing of their Tutsi neighbors and family members.  It is difficult for me (and perhaps redundant) to go into the details of those horrors.  Here is a video with footage that can say and show more that any words I could provide:  I'll Never Understand  

April 7 of each year is a national holiday, the only day during the academic year that the KIST campus is completely closed, and the buildings' doors are locked.  On this day, people gather in their communities to remember and to promise to each other that such things will never, ever happen again.  (This was actually the third time in Rwanda's history that Tutsis had been singled out for violence.  The first two were in 1961 and 1973.)  This April 7th, the stadium in Kigali was filled to capacity for a morning service and then again in the evening for a vigil.  At the morning gathering, which Bill and I watched on TV, there were performers singing, survivors bearing witness, and officials holding forth. Kagame spoke, half in English, half in Kinyarwanda.  [It was perhaps not surprising that he used the event as a political pulpit to bash the increasing call from other countries for a more open press and the freedom to oppose the government without fear of being put in jail for "divisionism". (He has a special dislike for  Human Rights Watch) Still, in the context of remembering, it was a weird speech.]

April 7th plus the following six days comprise Memorial Week, when businesses are open until noon, but closed for the afternoon so that people can attend memorial services.  During this week, Rwanda Television (the only Rwandan TV channel) showed one music video after another devoted to remembering.  The videos vary greatly in production quality, but they have in common that each is devoted to remembering individuals from particular towns and showing memorial ceremonies from those towns.  Photos and the naming of lost loved ones are part of the songs.  Here's one example:  Mbahobere Bwa Nyuma

Each town has a mass grave site and memorial for the victims of that town.  During Memorial Week, the bones of victims that have been found over the course of the past year are laid to rest in their town's mass grave.  Every year they find more bones.   Here's a video of a memorial service from 2009, the genocide's 15th anniversary: Nyanza Commemoration.  

Needless to say, this is a very difficult time for everyone.  Our students had Memorial Week off from school.  Some went home to their villages, others could not afford the $4 trip home and stayed on campus to remember with each other.  It is estimated that 90% of all Rwandan children observed at least one violent murder during the genocide.  My students are those children, but you wouldn't know it to see them during the rest of the year. They generally act happy and upbeat.  During this month though, they've been subdued.  Several have missed appointments with me because they were "sick".  I've come to understand that "sick" is code for sad, depressed, and not able to sleep at night.  I do not ask about their experiences because it seems hard enough on them to dredge it up for each other on an annual basis.  

Even I had a few days where I just didn't want to get out of bed, and I could only blame the sad air about me.  Trying to wrap my mind around the fact that the vast majority of the adults around me collectively suffered so much violence and hatred gives a headache.  Tutsis and moderate Hutus were hunted down and murdered, but no one escaped the terror of the times. The entire country completely fell apart.  Hutu families fled to neighboring countries to escape what they felt would be certain Tutsi revenge killings.   It took years to convince them that they could come home safely.  Many died on the road and in refugee camps of disease and starvation.  Some are still in the DRC jungles, nominally members of but essentially held captive by Hutu rebel army forces.  Defectors are shot on sight.

Part of healing is confrontation and forgiveness of the murderers.  The gacaca courts are where the people themselves try the cases of accused genocidaires.  Here's a video from last year about gacaca courts:  Gacaca Justice.   It will take generations for the people of this country to recover, but they have made a magnificent start.   

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Puppies are Home

Early in the morning on Easter Sunday, Andy Williams of the Koinonia Foundation came by to pick up the puppies for an Easter surprise for his son.  They are happy, well, and loved!  We are so grateful to the Williams family!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Morning in Rwanda

This is the first thing I see most mornings.  
We sleep with a mosquito net and the veranda door open.

You have read my complaints about all sorts of things, almost all of them having to do with technology or the lack thereof.  However, there is one thing I think I will never get tired of:  Sunrises and sunsets that are so beautiful they break your heart.  Every day.

I am not a morning person, but the light coming into our room each day is so lovely, I allow myself the possibility that getting out of bed might be a cool thing.  If you read Diana's blog about morning at the guest house, you'll know that the cleaning staff start early.  If you think about it, it makes sense.  Most homes of non-professionals, even in Kigali, do not have electricity, so they wake with first light.  (I have three 8 a.m. classes each week, and I rarely have late students.  I never have groggy students.  It's astounding.)

Anyway, the house staff is at it each morning no later than 6:30 a.m., seven days a week, filling buckets, mopping floors and happily chatting at maximum decibel level in a house that defines the word "echo".   They put Snow White to shame.  Their joy of the morning is infectious, and somehow I walk out the door every morning with a smile on my face.  By the end of the day, it's another story, but you've read all that already.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


A few weeks ago, someone near our guest house was beating a dog.  We sat mutely through the yelps and screams, assuming the brutality was taking place in the neighborhood on the other side of our wall.  We don't know where the sound was coming from, but a few days later, I found these two puppies living in the rubbish pit behind our guest house.

I have named them Bowser and Squirt.  Bowser is the one in my lap in the picture, and he is by far the more intrepid puppy.  Squirt has clearly suffered more--his tail is between his little legs when a stranger comes near.  If he gets startled he will squeal and run away while piddling.  He has mange and maybe worms.  We have to get him to a vet, but I'm not sure he could get through the car trip.  Poor Squirt.

I have posted  an ad on a local message board for ex-pats to try to find them a home, but I am only a little hopeful.   There are many stray dogs, and few potential homes.  There are few dogs as pets in the city, and those are in homes with walls; if they belong to Rwandans, they are guard dogs.  People do not walk their dogs.  They are not status symbols for the rich like they are in the Dominican Republic, for example.   In the two trips outside of Kigali that I've made, I haven't seen a single dog.  Rwandans do not like dogs. At all.  If you ask them why (and I have), they will tell you it's one more mouth to feed.

From what I understand, however, there is a deeper reason:  During the genocide there were corpses lying about everywhere possible.  Dogs which had been pets were left on their own; the obvious food was lying all about them.  The dogs then went feral, and when family members would try to protect their loved ones' remains, the dogs would attack.  Then the dogs started attacking anyone as a potential food source.  All dogs seen in Rwanda were shot on sight, for the sake of both the living and the dead.

Today, when I mentioned to a student that I have a dog at home that I love and miss, he was completely incredulous.  Thankfully, the staff at our guest house tolerate the puppies.  There is a night guard who has actually taken a fancy to them.  For the short term, I think they are safe here.  When they are grown, though, I fear for them.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Adrienne finds comfort in tacky lamps, even in Rwanda.  
(Thanks to fellow Fulbrighter Diana Perdue for scoring the lamp!)

Last week was my last week of lecturing for the semester.  All that remains are exams, which get drawn out into a really long time period. Instead of a day or two of reading before exams, students have an entire week, called Revision Week.  There is then a week devoted to mourning the genocide, in which there are no classes or exams or anything.  Then there are two weeks devoted to final exams.  The month of April is looking good!  

Except that the month of April is Genocide Remembrance Month, which is essentially a state-sponsored version of Lent.  Public celebrations of any kind are outlawed until May 1.  I have refrained from talking about the genocide (which most people here simply refer to as "The War") because I felt I needed time to listen and  watch, and because I don't see the point in repeating what shows up on every blog from every person who has ever visited Rwanda.   I will save my observations for the appropriate time.

In the meantime, besides working myself blind (see picture to get the lighting situation), we've managed to get away a few times for some proper tourist excursions.  Two weeks ago, we went to the Nyungwe National Forest and took a 10 km round-trip hike to a pretty good waterfall.  Last week, we made it to the Akagera game reserve to make noises at various animals.  Check Diana's blog for pictures like I could never take.  I am coveting her photographic skills and her camera. (Diana is also staying at the guest house (when she has to) and is much better at blogging and describing the Rwandan experience than I am.  So if you're interested, read it and imagine me saying "what she said".)

To add to all the joy, KIST held its 8th Commencement last week.  Taking 3/4 of a day to prance about in robes and listen to long speeches was not on my extensive to-do list for this past week, so perhaps predictably, I was pretty grumpy when I was informed (less than 24 hours in advance) that attendance was expected, even (and perhaps especially) for the abazungu faculty. But the whole experience was kind of a hoot, so I'm glad I dressed up and went.

As I write this I am trying to upload images, but our fine internet here is moving at an average of 5 kbps.  I exaggerate not.  And that's the good internet that we are paying US prices for. The internet we are not paying for has been non-functional for the past 3.5 weeks. (Oh wait, I shouldn't get started on another internet rant...  Sorry.)  Here's a link to Flickr that has a few photos.  They have no comments yet--you get to make up your own captions!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Education Challenges

Kist students studying on a Friday night.

Sorry we’ve been so silent the past weeks.  The work load has been high, and it’s been hard to keep up.
I want to give you a picture of what education is up against in Rwanda, from first grade to graduation from university.  This entry is about what I have seen firsthand at KIST.  Later entries will be about the state of K-12 education in the country.

To repeat myself from an earlier entry, there are no textbooks for students.  Books of any kind are prohibitively expensive; KIST relies on donations to put even one copy in their library.  The physics section in the library is paltry, so students must rely on the internet for information beyond what is given them in class. 
For basic information, it is up to the professor to write out notes for each class period to hand out.  Each week I write up what I consider to be the basic ideas of that day’s lecture.  KIST will not pay for photocopies for students, so I print out three copies of the lecture notes and give them to the class representative, who gives them to the students to photocopy and return to him.  The students pay 50 FRW (about ten cents) per copy.  This is a lot of money for them, so I keep the notes to two pages so they can afford to make the copies.  Even then, some students hand-copy the notes.

Remember, these classes meet once a week for three hours at a time.  I am not in my comfort zone writing two pages to cover what is essentially a chapter in a textbook!  There is only space for the very basics (formulas, basic derivations, and a few graphs), and no space for any kind of expansion, analysis or discussion about the ramifications of the lesson. 

If students want additional information, they must go to the internet.  There are very few open source options for advanced physics out there, but there are some.  I am extremely grateful to all the physics professors in the world who have posted their notes and lectures on the web!  Finding information is haphazard, but there is a growing source of organized information through  and other places that students can avail themselves of. 

If they can get on the internet.  Another huge hurdle is access to the internet.  Although KIST has computer labs, getting someone to open it for the students is like pulling teeth.  Other than the few machines in the library, students cannot have access to computers unless a faculty member is in the room at the same time.   Even when a faculty member is lined up to babysit the room, the one person on campus with the key to the room may or may not show up.   

With few exceptions, the computers that the students can get to are slow and riddled with viruses.  KIST does have wireless access which is sort of reliable. The few students who are fortunate enough to own laptops share with everyone else.  (Rwandans are excellent sharers of resources.)  A few more have flash drives, and those also get shared around.  They also pick up the viruses on the public machines, and those get shared.  I’m starting to think of computer viruses as venereal diseases.

Here endeth the rant.  For now.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Rwanda: "Disneyland Africa"?

A local ex-pat posted this thoughtful blog entry a few weeks ago.  She compares and contrasts highly-functioning Rwanda with its not-so-fortunate neighbor to the south, Burundi.  Read it!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Food, Part II: Rwandan Cuisine

Brochettes and Chips for Sunday Lunch
Bill is pictured with our friend Gavin.  He and his wife Bronwen 
(sitting next to Bill but sadly not in the picture) are with 
Mission Rwanda, a very cool outfit from Scotland.  
Check out their blog in the blog list.  

The nagging question we had was, what is Rwandan home cooking? We finally got a decent taste of it when we happened on a weekend buffet lunch at a local cafĂ© we like.  During the week, this restaurant (which few abazungu frequent) serves burgers and pizza.  The only local fare that we could understand were brochettes, which is meat, usually beef, roasted on a skewer with onions.  (See the picture!)  Brochettes and chips (French fries) seem to be the Rwandan version of a burger and fries.  Except that it’s not fast.  Nothing here is fast.

But back to the buffet:  for ~$5 a piece, we could load one plate as full as we liked of several local dishes.    Given how we’ve been eating the past weeks, which is pretty simple and spare, this spread was a cornucopia.  For those of you from the South who know of such things, it was an African Luby’s, but without the ladies who chant “Thank-you-m’elp-you”.  It was all Rwandan home-cooking, and it was completely soul-satisfying.   Here’s my attempt to list from memory the items that were laid out on two sides of a ten-foot table:  On one side were the hot items; cold salads were on the other. 
On the hot side: 
  • Rice (jasmine, with a few cubes of vegetables mixed in for color).
  • Potatoes slightly mashed in a light tomato-y sauce. (The sauce was pureed, but I thought I tasted some green pepper in it.)
  • Roasted cassava root.   Boring but substantial.
  • White beans.
  • Aubergines (small eggplants that really look like eggs, both in color and size) in tomato sauce with a vinegar kick.
  • Greens that were cooked to look like an Indian saag.  They are the leafy part of the cassava and taste a bit like collards or mustard greens but are not nearly so strong.
  • Fried plantains.
  • Cubes of stewed beef (the sign said “3, only”).  Meat in Rwanda is a challenge for the jaw.
  • Gravy for the beef and whatever else.  It’s a gravy seen everywhere here—you can buy plastic packets of it in the produce section at a few markets.  It has a tomato flavor added to a thin beef gravy.  It’s pretty good.
  • For an extra $2, you could add in a piece of chicken or fish, both in what looked like the same gravy, but we didn’t feel the need for it. 

On the cold side: (I don’t remember this side as well because I loaded up on hot food.)
  • Cauliflower that had been batter-dipped and fried, chilled, then mixed with strings of carrot in a light vinaigrette. 
  • Sliced tomatoes.
  • Potato salad.
  • Carrot salad.
  • Cucumber salad.
  • Large slices of perfectly ripe avocado with vinaigrette on the side.
We hear complaints that Rwandan food is boring and monotonous.  It might be that we will get tired of it, but still this was the best meal we’d had in a few weeks.  (And we don’t bore easily, anyway.)  There is a saying I find myself repeating on a regular basis these days:  “If you’ve had a good meal today, it hasn’t been a bad day.”  So true.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Food, Part I: Buying It

Welcome to Nakumatt

Some of you have been asking about Rwandan food, and finally I think I can say what we’ve seen and eaten.  The bottom line is that, except at fancy restaurants, eating in Rwanda is not an inspiring experience. Unless you are very hungry, and then it’s downright spiritual. 

During our first few weeks here, we have mostly eaten our own food, both cold and cooked.   There are a few supermarkets in the city center, which is a half-hour walk from our guest house.  The one we tend to go to is called the Nakumatt, and it is an African Wal-Mart on a smaller scale.  In addition to food, toiletries, etc., you can buy appliances (including large ones), clothing, hardware, bedding, and furniture (for both home and office—you can buy a boardroom table and appropriate chairs for ten).  All this squeezed into a space 1/3 the size of a non-super Wal-Mart.  Much of it at prices that are twice those of Wal-Mart, or more.  Nakumatt is a Kenyan chain, and most items in the store are imported from Kenya, including the produce. 

For that reason, the produce there is pitiful.  It is often sad and tired, and the availability is unreliable.  (They have been out of bananas for the past several days.  How does a store in a country covered with banana trees run out of bananas?)  A few times we have been to a meal at someone's house, where we have been served the most astounding mangoes, pineapples, avocados, tomatoes, and even berries.  Each time, when I asked where they got their produce, they shrugged and said that their cooks or housekeepers got it for them.  We have since been introduced to the local marketplaces, which are crushes of humanity with bananas galore, and everything else you can imagine.  (We often eat little half-sized bananas which are a little sweeter yet have a light, almost lemony taste behind the sweet.)  Most locals do their daily shopping in the smaller mom and pop stores that line the neighborhood streets. 

Nakumatt caters primarily to abazungu and rich Africans.  I do not think the average Kigali resident can afford much that is in there.  ($140 for a standing oscillating fan.  $10 for a box of Weetabix.)  Actually, the staples are fairly affordable, even at Nakumatt.  They carry Rwandan dairy products, coffee, and tea, and buying them is not painful:  $3/pound of Rwandan gouda vs. $20/pound of imported gouda.  We like the Rwandan gouda, and have been eating it steadily for the five weeks we’ve been here so far.   We have been splurging on the Weetabix, however. 

The groceries available are not extensive.  If you want to get interesting with your cooking here, you cook Indian.  In Texas supermarkets, an entire supermarket aisle is devoted to Tex-Mex.  In the Northeast, it’s Italian that gets its own aisle.  In Kigali, it’s Indian.  We can live with that.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Give me water...

The rainy season is not yet upon us here.  Any time now, they say...  In the meantime, it has been hot (upper 80's) and dry.

Unlike in America, most other people in the world do not walk down the street clutching a Super-Grande-Big Gulp.  They sip a bit of soda or coffee here and there socially, always sitting down in a civilized manner.  Imbibing liquid here seems to be reserved for meals and socializing. There are not cooled water fountains in the hallways.  (It's not like you could drink the water.) You do not get coffee to go.  If you're thirsty, you suck it up until you get home or meet with your buddies.   This is a change for me.  I am a two-fisted Large-Coffee-To-Go drinker, and have been all my adult days.

The bottom line is that at the end of the day, after I have climbed the four flights of stairs to my office multiple times, taught a three-hour lecture, worked with students who seem to need a minimum of two hours of me at a time, I'm hot, tired, and very, very thirsty.  (I can hear the sound of a thousand World's Smallest Violins coming from all you frozen New Englanders!)  Bill is in the same state.  We have become acutely aware of our need for something cold, wet, and sweet at these times: cold sugar water.   While Bill prefers pineapple juice, I crave Cokes.   Cold Cokes.  In glass bottles, with a straw.  Heaven.  (Si, Laurie?)

Bill and I have decided that we remind us of Edgar from Men in Black:
Now at the end of the day, before the "how was your day" pleasantries, we simply look at each other and say "Give me water"  and then we go see if we can find some.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Adventures in Ophthalmology

Bill here.  I thought I’d write about my recent adventures in ophthalmology.  First, the quick medical facts: a couple of days ago I had a vitreous hemorrhage associated with posterior vitreous detachment in my right eye.  In other words, a blood vessel in my eye broke and the vision in my right eye went blurry.  It appears, though, that the retina is OK.  Assuming this is the whole story, it means I’ll have some blurriness in that eye for some weeks but it will eventually get back to normal.  I can live with that. 

Of course, when the blurriness began I had no clue what was going on.  The clues came from Google and visits to two doctors in Kigali.  The second doctor, whom I saw Tuesday morning at the King Faisal Hospital, used ultrasound to find the source of the hemorrhage.  The exam and consultation cost a total of Rwf 20,000, less than $40.  But the more interesting story is my visit Monday to the Kigali Eye Clinic, just a half-hour’s walk from where we’re staying. 

I called the clinic around 9:15 in the morning and asked if I could have an eye exam sometime that day.  The receptionist said I should come in between 9:00 and 10:00.  So I hurried over, and found that they operate on a first-come, first-served basis.  There were several people ahead of me, so it was about an hour’s wait, not bad for not having an appointment.  I sat down in the very pleasant waiting room—a wall of glass and an open sliding glass door looked out on a garden full of flowers. 

I was busy using the flowers to compare the vision in my two eyes, when a family with three young boys sat down in the chairs on both sides of me.  At first the boys were occupied looking at pictures in the magazines, and possibly reading some of the French, and chatting occasionally in Kinyarwanda.  At some point the dad brought me into the conversation by pointing to a picture of Barack Obama, and I said yes, I’m from the USA.  He then pointed to various other dignitaries in the magazine, and the youngest boy, maybe six years old, correctly identified, by country, Gordon Brown, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Angela Merkel.  (He used the English words for the countries—those were the only English words I heard in the waiting room.)  The kids also recognized Michelle Obama on another page.  Then the dad came across a photo of a certain French writer named Philippe Delerm, with a caption in French about his recent work.  He showed the page to the kids and said something in Kinyarwanda, and they all started laughing.  I wondered how these kids, who were not speaking any French, knew anything about Philippe Delerm.  After a few minutes, I finally figured out that they all thought Philippe Delerm looked exactly like me.  The dad was apparently saying something like, “See this guy in the magazine?  He’s sitting next to you!”  (For the record, Philippe Delerm’s beard is totally gray, not merely graying.)  Once I got the joke I laughed too.

Then they got to exploring the whole muzungu thing in more depth.  (“Muzungu” means “white person.”)  The dad pointed out to the kids that I had hair on my arms—Rwandans have none.  They all had to feel the hair.  Another dad with a much younger boy in his arms wandered over from across the waiting room just to show his son what a muzungu looked like.  This was the scene when the doctor called me in. 

Her office was much like the one I go to in Berkshire County, with similar, though less fancy equipment.  She did a very thorough exam that cost me less than $20.  And she called the doctor at the hospital to set up the ultrasound exam.  By the time I was finished—there was a half-hour period of waiting in a separate, dark room, while my pupils were dilating—the family I had been sitting with had apparently seen the doctor and had disappeared.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Out With the Old, In With the New

Workers take down an old army barrack
in the shadow of the new KIST laboratories.

The KIST campus is large and sprawling; there are but ten or so buildings on about 75 acres. There is room for many more buildings, and that is the plan.   The land used to be the main government army base, and there are still dilapidated barracks dotted about the land.  There has been slow, systematic tearing down of these buildings.  Work crews work seven days a week to take down each wall with sledgehammers and carry the bricks away in wheelbarrows.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The KIST Classroom

KIST Science Buildings  

I taught my first class yesterday afternoon, and all things considered, it went well.  Most students showed up, and they are very, very sweet and helpful.  I showed up with my computer and projector, hoping to plug in and go, but of course nothing is ever that simple.  First of all, there are no screens for projectors, apparently not anywhere on campus.  There are also no extension cords that I know of.  The students were great in helping me set up—they put a table near the one outlet in the room (that holds 100 people), and I projected the slides up onto a wall.  With the exception of a 5-minute power outage, we did okay.  I would say that I will resort to chalk next week, but there is not a proper board in the room.  (They did find a portable board that they could rest on chairs and lean against the wall, but the sight-lines and lighting in the room are such that it's very difficult for the students to see it.)  Next week, I'll bring both chalk and projector and see what happens.

I do not know how these students manage to learn, but they do.  All their courses are in English, taught by professors who do not know Kinyarwanda.   (None of the current physics faculty is Rwandan.)   A few of the students are fluent in French, but none of them are fluent enough in English to be comfortable with a lecture in English.  It’s Kinyarwanda that they know.  I spoke at what I considered a snail’s pace, and it was too fast for them.  After a few hours, we were all fried.  

My first reaction to the classroom situation is, of course, frustration with the Powers That Be.  Why build huge new buildings and neglect to put in enough chalkboards and enough outlets?  Why can't I find an extension cord? Where are the library books?  The answer, as I think I understand it, is due to the fact that there is one central budget, subject to what the government can provide, and there is not enough to around.  One positive, key feature of the current budget is that all students go to KIST for free.  100% of their costs are paid for by the Rwandan government.  If I were a government official, eager to jump start a technological economy, I might do similarly.  "Put the money you can into the infrastructure (the buildings) and the students, and add the other things in as you can," I can imagine them saying.  Maybe. So many projects and initiatives at once are happening at KIST and in Rwanda, it's dizzying.  Chalkboards get forgotten.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Wootterses Have Landed

We arrived in Kigali last Thursday night safe, sound, and with all our baggage.  After a busy few days settling in, we are now taking our time to get to know Kigali.  The center of the city is about a mile down the road, and it's a very pleasant walk.  As with most large cities in developing countries, everyone wants to sell you something, and you take your life in your hands every time you cross a street in the city's center.

We have a room in a guest house at KIST.  It's a convenient 2-minute walk to the science building. Our room is small, but we have a veranda on which we spend most of our time, both working and free.  The picture you see above is sunrise seen from there.  The house itself is large and currently has four other residents.  Some are here for only a week, some will be here for another year.  They are very nice people and from all over the place.

There are so many sights and sounds I could share with you, but you'd go on the same sensory overload I have.  I will share one of my favorites, though.  Our guest house is at the south end of the rather extensive KIST campus.  On the southeast side, there is an Anglican church which has stuff going on all the time.  There has not been a night when music has not been pouring out of its windows.  On the southwest side there is a mosque which, every evening around 6:15 broadcasts a call to prayer.  The call is usually instrumental, and it is always haunting and beautiful.  On a few evenings, there has been simultaneous music from both church and mosque.  The two sounds blended to make a different creation that I found deeply moving.

Classes started today, and I had been told that my first class would be 8 a.m. this morning.  When I showed up, I found out that the class had been moved to tomorrow at 8 a.m.  Life is what happens while you were making other plans.