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.