Sunday, April 19, 2009


Last week I went to Uganda. I was on a program called Teach
and Tour Sojourners. The idea is they get profs from the west
to come and give lectures. Everybody at Cornell got invited to
come a couple months back and since I was in the neighborhood
I went. I gave about a dozen lectures at high schools,
universities and one primary school. More in a bit.

I also went to Jinja, a couple hours east of Kampala and went
white water rafting on the Nile (the `Tour' part of `Teach and
Tour'. This was fantastic. You cover about 30 kilometers. It's
mostly smooth, but there are about 8 or 9 rapids, some of which
are very tough, grade 5. At the end we got out and walked the
rafts around a grade 6 rapids to do the grade 5 one beneath it.
The first thing they do is basic safety stuff. You practice
flipping the raft, how to get out from underneath it if it does
flip etc. Then you go on some pretty easy rapids. No problems.
You think the day will be easy. The rapids get more interesting.
At one point I was thrown out of the raft. At another we were in
a calm strong downstream current. No need to paddle. No need to
stay in the raft. We all jumped out and floated down the Nile in
our life jackets at the good clip of 5 mph or so for 10 minutes.
Later a storm came in and was blowing upriver. There was
practically no current. When we didn't row, we went backwards.
Then the rain really came down and it was freezing. We pulled
over to the river bank. What do you do in a cold rain on the Nile?
Jump in the river to keep warm! The water was great - it was just
the rain that was cold. The last rapids was crazy. I don't know
what happened except we flipped the raft 2 seconds into it. It was
terrific! Afterwhat seemed like 30 seconds (probably < 10) my jacket
brought me up. All in all we were on the river for 6 hours. No
pictures as I don't have a waterproof camera. I would have lost it
when we flipped anyway!

Before the trip, which starts at `The Source of the Nile' I visited
a shrine to Gandhi. He worked in Uganda for a while.

Now for the `Teach' part. I gave about twelve lectures while
I was there, mostly at high schools and universities, but one
at a primary school. A main point was to explain that there are
math problems we don't know the answer to, as many people don't
realize this. I used the Goldbach Conjecture that every even number
is a sum of two primes as an easy to explain example, though I don't
like the problem very much. Primes are for multiplying, not adding!
I explained that to get a Ph.d you have to solve a problem that has
not been solved. When put this way it took them aback. Then I did
the History of Fermat's Last Theorem thing. At the end of the talk
I asked if they had any questions. It was my turn to be taken aback.
I got asked by a high school student for a Ph.d problem. I also got
asked all the hard math problems they had, integrals, the area of a
trapezoid from the elementary school kids. It was not what I
expected, but the whole thing was very fun! A couple pictures are
below. I am, as usual, covered in chalk.

Finally check out the bird below, They are EVERYWHERE in
downtown Kampala, which is a much bigger and busier city
than Kigali. There are skyscrapers, fast food places, and
since it was a British colony, English works there. It was
nice to able to talk to people. Also, the students had an
easier time with my lecture because English is their second
language, not third like in Rwanda.

Things are winding down. I have 8 more days in Rwanda,
then I go to Beirut and Ethiopia for 12 days then back home.

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