Friday, February 24, 2012

Trajectory of a Thursday

I stayed up late the night before, skype-chatting with Doreen as she took the bus to Boston on her way to Kuala Lumpur via Boston, New York and Seoul. Kigali is seven hours ahead of the east coast of the US. So when I was chatting with her past midnight here it was early evening there.

I awoke Thursday morning, and as usual I made a cup of strong coffee downstairs and took it up to my balcony. I turned on the computer and checked mail and ate my breakfast. Breakfasts here are either plain yogurt, or one or two rolls with butter. Today was a roll day. They weren't bad. I bought them the evening before at Nakumatt downtown. Tomorrow I will also have rolls, but they won't be as fresh. Sometimes on yogurt days I put a spoonful of jam in the yogurt. Sometimes I don't. It depends on my mood.

It was cool and gloomy this morning. It was probably cold for Rwandans, but I liked it. It was cloudy and dark, almost like it was twilight. The skies continued to darken. It started to rain. It got cooler and darker. The rain intensity increased. And increased some more. Soon sheets of rain were falling from the sky. The sound of the rain on my metal roof and the metal roofs in the neighborhood was intense. The drainage gullies around the house quickly filled to overflowing.

I had long since retreated inside. It was too wet on the balcony. It was dark inside. The air was cool, and the sound of the rain echoed. I watched the rain fall and did some work. I enjoyed the dark, rainy, ambiance. But then I realized that the roof was leaking a little. Onto my bed. I quickly put a towel where the water dripping. I used a lavender-colored towel with teddy bears on it that I bought here a few months ago. I like it.

I then went downstairs to get a pot to catch the water. I discovered that the hallway on the second floor was covered with water. I think it had blown in under a door from one of the balconies. I'm not sure. The guest house has cement floors, so water is not a big deal. I suspect it is a common occurrence.

The rain eventually stopped. I had some yogurt (with jam) for lunch, and went to my office. It is "revision week" here. In practice, this seems to be the time when students spend time checking their scores, arguing for more points, and mysteriously producing homework assignments that they hadn't handed in earlier in the term. I feel like I spent a few hours getting lied to by a succession of students. One case was particularly egregious; he produced an impressive string of mistruths. I took no pleasure in pointing them out to him.

It is one thing to copy over someone's written work. I suppose it is possible that in the act of copying one might learn something. But taking a series of lab assignments (written up as a word document), and then simply deleting your friend's name and adding yours, does not strike me as a way to learn anything. This seems to be how many students get by. It is frustrating, and I don't like being lied to. But it also seems to be a fairly standard practice here. Students stick together. Failing can have bad consequences and I think makes all students uncomfortable. And then there is the fact that many students, through little or no fault of their own, simply may not have the background to complete the degree program they have been admitted to. So if a lot of students get low but passing grades, maybe this is a less awkward outcome than the alternative. I don't know. I am trying to go with the flow and figure out how things are done here.

In any event, the afternoon was not entirely filled with less-than-believable stories about suddenly discovered lab assignments. I also talked to some students who had come by with good questions on some of the review problems I assigned. I got some other work done as well. It was a beautiful afternoon. The sun came out after all the rain. It was cool and there were purple-grey clouds in the sky.

A little before six I got an email from my copy-editor at Oxford, the main thrust of which was that almost all the contractions in my book had to do. No "I'm", "let's", "I'll", "don't", etc. All too informal for Oxford. It is probably good advice, although I'll also be sad to see them go. Removing them from the draft will be one of my many final editing tasks to look forward to in the next month.

I finally extracted myself from the office and returned to my room. I read for a little bit and then met two people for dinner. They are both professors from the UK who are here for two weeks lecturing in a new masters in traffic engineering program. I like them both a lot. They are interesting, smart, and I enjoy sharing perspectives on education and scholarship in Rwanda, the UK, and elsewhere. We had an excellent Indian meal at a very pleasant restaurant. Sadly, the two Brits are leaving on Saturday.

I am now again on my balcony. There is a puddle of water from all the rain in the morning. I have just been emailing with Doreen who is now in Seoul---seven hours later than me. It is a typically cool Kigali evening. Crickets chirp and the lights on the hills twinkle. I am tired. I will soon go inside, do some reading, and go to sleep. Tomorrow I will have rolls for breakfast.


  1. How do students view school there (KIST in this case)? Why do they go?

  2. Good question. I'm not at all sure. My understanding is that students by and large do not choose which university to attend and have little choice in their major. I have heard that at KIST almost all students would prefer to major in engineering. This is understandable, as there are many more jobs in engineering than there are in the sciences. I know that there are a handful of students who are quite eager to continue their studies, ideally in the US. I think many, however, are interested mainly in getting their degree and then seeing what comes next. I am going to try and learn a little more about student goals and the educational system in general over the next few months. I should have a little more time in the second semester. I'll be teaching 72 students instead of 240.