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A Semester in Rwanda

September 2013 Archives

Mo-Jo back

Just in case you were worried that I was fading away, don't! Took CiPro on Monday morning and feeling much better.

In fact, I headed out to KLab ( yesterday afternoon. After being shown around the place, I met with a group of young entrepreneurs. One, in particular, warmed my heart. I was feeling a bit despondent about the availability of hands-on projects for students to implement. At KLab, I met a student who decided to form a club to get more out of the curriculum. He's an EE doing an Adrino project (everyone who doesn't understand that, just read "a cool hardware independent project"). Like many US students, I get the feeling that there is a basic misunderstanding of how far being a warm body in a lecture can get you.  In the US I tend to blame this on the standardized testing: the point of education is to pass a test and that, in itself, somehow, will be enough reward. Until no one cares what scores you got. At all. Not remotely. In this way, these students seem very much like the typical incoming college freshman. 

Reminds me of a reaction I got from a cousin when I talked about an institution I taught at (not Simmons! not KIST!) where cheating was rampant. He said, "but if they don't know what they're doing, won't they just get fired from any job they get?" I always wondered if 16 years of schooling and $160K of expenses was worth it to get briefly employed. Perhaps things are different outside of engineering and CS. 

Okay, off soap box. On to saying that the experience at KLab was refreshing and energizing and I'll be going there once/ week. I even felt well enough to take the bus -- whose motto is "everyone gets a seat". The seats are very small and some fold down over the aisle ...

Bravado compromised

 I had sailed through the first set of firsts (first class, first moto ride, first wandering around at night, first grocery shopping) and was pretty proud of myself. I mean, I was negotiating taxi fares with the best of them. But there's a time when you need (the royal "you") a second wind or your bravado gets, well, less brave. I had started to hit that wall. I realized I was avoiding things, like motos, motos at night, motos at night in the rain (well, that last thing is just going to be avoided) and then I got sick. 

The interesting thing about being sick far from home is how small and aprehensive you can feel. The fact that I had not yet learned where to buy, say, pepto-bizmo or, perhaps worse, that I don't know where I picked up these little gastric visitors, just made me curl up inside. I stayed in bed, listening to re-runs of This American Life

I wanted to tough it out, or more to the truth, I wanted it to just go away. But,  I resorted to CiPro. Wonderful things, drugs. Now I'm in my office, planning to take my first unaccompanied bus ride out to KLab. I'm feeling, like, that wasn't so bad. Perhaps I can eat again. Someday. 

One other note about being sick: here, in the less resourced clinics, patients are expected to buy their meds (even IV) and have their families provide food, attendance, clean linen if available. If someone doesn't have a family available, they're just alone in a room where someone on the staff checks up on them once a day. No one is going to feed or clean them. My roomate's clinic is now terribly understaffed: one doctor for 30 (high risk) births / day. The rule is: 20 minutes of labor and then a C-section.

I am glad I am teaching Engineering classes ....  


I just wanted to post some pictures of KIST where I'm working. 

I walk from home, about 20 minutes away. The way is hilly. Very hilly. Once on campus, there are paths but there are more 'desire' paths -- basically dirt paths through the grass. A bunch of guys were cutting the fields with machetes last week and now it looks less wild: 

approach2Kist4.jpgThat's my office building (KIST 4) in the background. Here's another picture of the path: 


And, from the other side, KIST 4 and KIST 3 look quite urban: 

kist4.jpgKist 4

SAM_0007.JPGKist 3

And my sole source of electricity and internet in my office. It seems to go on and off depending on whether a student in a nearby lab flips a switch or if a circuit breaker trips. 


First week of teaching, but with very little info about teaching

So, after much preparation and moving into an office (more about it and pics next week), I finally taught my classes for the first time. I'd been warned by everyone "not to expect too much" so I was pleasantly suprised. I'd gotten myself worried that I'd have to review trig functions and I didn't. There are some students cruising in the back of the class but the majority are right down front, listening. I mean really listening. 

Anyway, some non-work related photos first: 

What I eat for breakfast since they don't seem to have oatmeal, even in the mazunga shops: 


My backyard after a particularly heavy rain storm (the head of the department said that there were "ice balls") Those are bananas cut down in the prime of youth! Oh, the humanity!


And, compared to the picture in the last post, this is the view down a busier, less tree lined street. Not all of the busy streets are this wide though. This was just a place I could snap a shot without being seen snapping a shot. There is building going on (like the scaffolded thing you see in the background) all over Kigali. 




Okay, by popular demand (and, after I figured out how to downsample my pics): 

The view from my backyard: 


The view down one tree-lined avenue: 


The view from a pool-side chair at the Serena: 


In answer to your questions:

Alejna: I've only seen one mosquito and it wasn't really interested in me. I've stopped using the net. Makes me feel penned in and this is an expansive country! 

The coffee is good but not, like, omigod great. The food is, well, perhaps I haven't gotten to the best food yet. I did find some lentils that were out of this world. And some "energizing porridge" bc there's no oatmeal. It's amaranth and, once you know that, not bad. 

The very few vegetables are very fresh and really good. It's a little sobering to realize how over-the-top stocked US supermarkets are. There's vegetables in the stores but not Whole Foods plenty and variety. I got spinach that was also very good. The avocadoes that grow in my backyard are the less tasty variety. The bananas taste a little sharper even when they've lost that dry and biting raw taste. I like 'em. 

However, I ate at one of the ubiquitous lunch buffets and it was pretty much all starch, even the things that looked like bananas in ketchup.  It cost $4.50 instead of the guide book's $3.75 so I felt briefly ripped off. However, ate so much that yoga a couple of hours later was really difficult. Speaking of constitutionally: I feel great. 

And Stan, the smells are really not so bad ... There's only one street that's a mad crush and it has the usual marking of crowded humanity carrying large things around (most people don't have cars so it's the only way to transport, say, a new table). However, there are streets that are spacious and tree lined and not so much humanity crushing. I'll post some pics tomorrow (yes, I actually took some pictures ...) 


Arrived almost 48 hours ago after 18 hrs traveling. The first thing you notice is the weather: warm but dry. It surprised me because it's dark early but balmy. And there are the palm trees and summer growing things smells. I spent the next day doing the two most important things: visa and internet. The visa was a confusing process since you have to apply (preferably online although it doesn't seem to save you any steps) and then take a number to present your papers and then go somewhere else and pay and then return to get a tracking number. And then wait 3 days. I was startled when they took my passport (and keep it until the visa comes through). Perhaps I've seen too many movies.

The next step was internet. Boring but important.Or I wouldn't be writing to you right now. 

And today, I did two monumental things: bought a French Press and went to KIST. Apparently there was a sudden change in schedule last weekend: school starts THIS week. However, students were not aware of it, let alone profs. I certainly was surprised. Perhaps 'surprised' is going to be my word here. I did find out that graduation had been rescheduled to tomorrow and I've been outfitted with a cap and gown to participate.

All of this explanation is pretty dry. And no pictures yet. It's a texture thing: the hills, the cool sun, the bustle in the streets with people walking! walking! walking! or taking motos that cruise around continuously looking for paying riders. There are vans and taxis and some cars and zebra cross walks that mean nothing (did you first parse that as "zebra" bc I'm in Africa?) . The first time I went out, I felt ambushed by the newness, by the disconnect you feel when you don't understand anything anyone is saying, the rush of a thousand details different than the back drop you've been taking for granted. By the second and third trips, things seemed to settle down into categories: okay, just a store, okay just an intersection, okay just two people talking. Perhaps the trick with noticing is ignoring the superfluous.

Okay, getting philosophical; time to stop. I have to be at graduation at 7:30/ 8 am.

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Associate Professor Nanette Veilleux has been awarded a Fulbright Grant to teach computer engineering at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) in Rwanda. Follow along on her journey.


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This site is not an official Fulbright Program site. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of its author (Nanette Veilleux) and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.