Thursday, January 22, 2009

In case things don't go well.....

he has a fall back plan. I bought a snack there the other day.

The African youth soccer championship is going on right now. I saw
Ghana defeat Mali yesterday 2-0. Cornellians, you'll be pleased to
know that there were a handful of diehard fans who had the
equivalent of a cowbell and rang it the entire game.

Ghana is in white. One thing was surprising. Of the maybe 5000
people in the stands I saw one woman. So I expect more men
than women to go to a soccer game, but only one? And as far as
I could tell I was the only foreigner there. Nonetheless it was fun.
This was the first game of a doubleheader with the big match
afterwards. That one involved Rwanda. There was a huge
contingent of Rwanda fans who wore team colors,
had painted their faces and were dancing and cheering their team
on during the whole first game between Mali and Ghana.

It's hard to find cultural events here. The soccer game is the only
such thing I've done in 3+ weeks. There isn't much in the way of
performance in the city, and as far as I know there's only one
small museum in Kigali. Butare (2 hours away) is supposed to
have a very nice museum and there are famous dancers based there,
but that's about it for the whole country. It makes being a tourist
here different. The museums and shows you might
do in London simply don't exist here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Week 4

So I haven't really written about KIST very much. It's a relatively
new institution, about 12 years old. The math department is
only 3, it's first class graduates this fall. (They're on a different
schedule than back home).

Things are very different here. The students don't have internet
at home (some don't have electricity). They take about 8 classes
for 30 hours or more per week. This means I can't assign very
much homework, let alone the the outlandish amounts I usually
do. The curriculum is not what I would design. For the
mathematicians out there, measure theory and functional
analysis are part of the (required) undergrad curriculum. I don't
see how students can learn this material at a level we would
consider acceptable at home. I haven't talked to too many
students yet, but my small amount of anecdotal information backs
this up.

Other differences: Well, KIST is still being built and expanded.
There's a lot of land on the campus overgrown with weeds.
You could bring in some heavy equipment (which does exist in
Rwanda) to clear it away in a week. Instead a team of about
6 or 8 women work with hoes and are clearing it by hand. It
will take months. The lawn here is mowed by men with scythes.
Ok, they aren't the kind of things you picture the Grim
Reaper using, more like short swords. I haven't seen a
lawnmower in the 3 weeks I've been here.

I teach the entire second year class of math majors - they don't get to pick their major, they are placed in it. I have one small chalkboard which makes it a bit difficult, Sometimes I start to erase while students are still copying stuff down! The class representative is working on findinganother board. (Yeah, it's her job, not the custodian's or department head's)

Administration is different too. Profs carry their own chalk and erasers. I asked how to get an eraser. I was told the chair would give me a form that would allow me to get one at a central office where all supplies are housed. I rummaged through my office and found one in a box marked `stapler' instead. It seemed easier.

The location is kind of interesting. It's maybe a mile from the fancy
downtown area, Kiyovu, with all the shops, bars, restaurants etc. It
also abuts Nyamirambo, a *much* less affluent area that extends
for miles. Much less affluent meand that parts are lower middle class
and parts are slums. On of my students told me she lives in a
Nyamirambo ghetto. It's certainly worth walking around there,
and you can get lots of stuff cheaper there - that's where I got my haircut.

Finally there is one cultural difference that I don't think I will get used to. You have to close your office door because it's too noisy otherwise. The standard here is that people knock and enter without waiting for an answer. By American standards, people just barge into your office. Of course noone here takes offense.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

More of week 3


so I'm an idiot. Of course I've known I was coming here
for some time, and I knew there was no way to learn the
local language, Kinyarwanda, while in Ithaca. I also knew
this was a Belgian colony and that many people here speak
SEMESTER!! My one year of French back in the mid 80s
isn't cutting it.

I went to this town a little ways outside of Kigali, my first
trip outside of the city. It's called Nyamata - there's a
memorial there. It was very sad.
So after I visited the memorial I looked around the town a
bit. Since the point of getting out of the city was to see the
countryside I decided to walk back. A mzungu (foreigner)
walking on a country road is an oddity that attracts a *lot*
of attention, especially from children. The guy in the green
helmets t-shirt spoke English and told me his sister goes
to KIST, the place where I'm teaching. The boy in the tan
shirt and girl in the pink shirt went the same way as me for quite
some time. Even though we had no language in common they
really wanted to walk with me. I need to carry a couple boxes
of cookies with me on trips like this to give them out to the kids.
I had a few that I shared with these two. The boy in the red shirt
spoke French, so we could communicate a little. He came upon
us halfway back and went to Kigali with me. I bought him a coke,
but he probably thought I was crazy - if I had money for a coke
I had money for bus fare. The two little boys
in the distance shot saw me pull out my camera and decided they
were going to be the point of the picture. (I had wanted to
take a picture of the thatched hut to the right). Later I was
waylaid by about ten 6 year olds, who all insisted on telling me their
names and shaking my hand. As they left the road to go home
they gave me an enthusiastic `bon voyage'.
I went up and down many hills,
into a river valley, through several villages and saw several
hundred people walking along the road. If you give people a smile
and a `Bon Jour' you get the same back. A fun day, and seeing the
countryside at 3 mph is very different than seeing it at 40mph.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Week 3

So Last week I visited the genocide memorial here in Kigali. I'm told there's one in every
town in the country. It was really quite moving. The best way I can think to describe
it this: A few years I met a colleague at a conference and he told me he had recently
been to Auschwitz and Hiroshima and added the comment `two places everyone should
visit'. Add the memorial here to the list. There was one thing that really hit me that shouldn't
have made a difference but did. In one room they had clothing from various victims on
display. It was mostly non-western, no sports t-shirts or anything like that except
for one - a Cornell sweatshirt.


Last Saturday I did one of my favorite things to do in a new city. I got on a bus
with no idea of the destination and rode it til the end of the line with the plan of
walking back home - it's a nice way to see different districts. Except this went
to the place Ihad walked to the previous night. So I decided to keep going
forward. I realized I was leaving the city. Off to my right was a big hill that
was undeveloped - no roads, no housing developments, but a few trails and a
few huts halfway up. So I get off the road and hike up the hill, every now and
then coming to a hut filled with half a dozen kids or so who never see a
mzungu (foreigner) up where they live in the woods. Then I ran into Fred
(see above). After a bit of confusion with me trying to communicate
in my tiny amount of French (French is much more useful than English here)
we realized neither of us spoke French but we both spoke English. Fred
volunteered to be my guide to the top of the mountain. The kids (not his)
followed along for the fun of it. They got a big kick out of seeing their picture.
Fred and I walked together for over an hour - he got me to a bus stand so
I could get home. He really wanted me to get him a job - I could only give
him my water bottle, some food I had and a couple bucks (real money here).
The mzungu thing is very real. People, especially small children, point at you
and call you one. And people try to overcharge you. A funny story:
I got a haircut recently. I asked a student I know where I should go. He
insisted on coming with me and asked the price. It was 500 Rwf
(Rwandan francs, about $1). When the time came to pay they explained
the price of 500 was for him, for a mzungu it was 1000.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

So, after a minor fiasco at Logan airport (United Airlines wouldn't let me check my luggage) I had to leave behind a box of books I had intended to give to the Institutehere. I flew on to DC, then Rome, then Addis Ababa (Ethiopia - at over 7000 feet!) and then on to Kigali. The whole thing took about 24 hours.

Kigali itself is at about 5000 feet and maybe 50-100 miles south of the equator.
The temperature is pretty moderate, highs around 80 and lows around 60. Rwanda
is (justly!) called the Land of a thousand hills. The city is built on several hills, each
about as big as the hill on which Cornell sits. I get my exercise just walking up
and down them checking out the city. I'm living in a guest house on the campus
of KIST (Kigali Institute of Sciences and Technology) about 100 yards from my office.
Pictures of the guest house, my academic building and a view of the city are

I'll be teaching an algebra class here. It supposed to start tomorrow, but I'm told
that not many students show up for the first week. The course schedule was only published
online today and most students don't have the internet. Most students can't afford books,
there are no texts here. They learn only from notes.