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.


  1. That is an incredible, if a little frightening, story. Be Adventurous, but be careful please. Mainly because I want to keep reading this stuff...

  2. Great story. I should have purchased you that peanut butter. You could have gifted it to Fred

  3. Ravi, Spencer pointed me here and wow! we will both be following your reports from the land of 1000 hills. I know a bit about Rwanda at the time of the genocide, and I'm very interested to hear what your students are like and what their everyday life is like.

    Incidentally: I don't know if you will be travelling farther afield in Africa, but we have a friend who's working this year in Mbambane, Swaziland, if you are in the market for couch-surfing or semi-local guides in that area.

  4. waiting to hear more...

    how is your class going?

  5. The English vs. French anecdote with Fred is classic! I'm sure you can pick up some French while at KIST and use it to advantage....You know, order some fine meats etc.