Monday, October 19, 2009

DRC and less than two weeks to go

So, first of all, I have less than 2 weeks left in Rwanda. Crazy! I’m going to travel around for about a month before I get back to North America, so it’s still a little while until you can all see me again, but still…AHHHH! I’m in the process of saying my goodbyes and figuring out what I’m bringing back and what I’m leaving here. I’ve finished grading the exams and I’m almost done with the report cards, and that’s all I have left.

When I first came here I made it my goal to visit each country that borders Rwanda. I went to Uganda in April and Burundi a couple of months after that. Two weekends ago I went to the Democratic Republic of Congo. (If you don’t know much about the country, you should look it up. It’s got an interesting story, though pretty depressing, and have been locked in a series of rebellions and civil wars pretty much since it was created. It currently resides as No 3 on the UN’s list of most failed states, behind Somalia and Afghanistan. I tell you that so I can brag that I visited a country with less of a government than Iraq and Sudan.) Anyway, we only spent one night there (in Goma) but spent a good deal of time walking around the town. Let me tell you, it’s not in good shape. In 2004 the town was destroyed by/covered with lava from the volcano just to the north and even now the streets and alleys are covered in piles of volcanic rock. There are UN troops and aid workers everywhere, severely driving up prices making it more expensive than Kigali (which is very expensive compared to other parts of East Africa). There was also a lot more obvious poverty than you generally see in Rwanda. It’s definitely a rough place to live.

We did try two new beers though, both darker than the Rwandese beers. Tempo is quite good, but Turbo King (yes, that is what it is actually called) is disgusting. It tasted like they tried to make an energy drink/beer combination.

The craziest part of the trip though, is that we stumbled upon some illegal gorilla smugglers (not that any gorilla smuggling is legal). The compound bordering our hotel had two baby gorillas in it (so incredibly cute btw!). We asked at the hotel and found out that it was “unauthorized”. The smugglers didn’t like the fact that we took pictures, but we had to get photo evidence, so we took quite a few and walked up a creepy little side street to get the address of the place, then got the heck out of the country. We’re also in the process of trying to report this so some sort of authority.

So, I’m only human, right? Is it so wrong of me to want to know what my students think of me? On their finals, many of them had to write essays or paragraphs about…me. The results were, well, interesting. Mostly a huge ego boost of course, but some strange answers too. Almost every student said that they loved me and that I was a good teacher/the best teacher they’ve ever had. Of course, I know that a lot of that might be fishing for points but I have to believe that some of it is the truth! As for the other things they said…

The extremely obvious:
I’m white.
I don’t like cheating. (I made this quite clear!)

The complimentary:
I have a pretty smile.
I am thought of as a parent of the school.
I am handsome.
I have strength in my arms.
I look like a boxer or someone who knows karate.

The contradictory:
I’m fairly fat.
I am very thin.
I am short.
I am taller than others.

The just plain wrong:
I studied in USA (Union of South America)
I went to Denver University.
I was a secretary for Barack Obama (or Black Obama as several kids think he is called).
I was a teacher of Barack Obama.
I’m going to teach in Tanzania next.
I like to pray to God (or play God – Ls and Rs are difficult) every day and night.
I’m married.
I have two brothers and two sisters.
I live in England.

And the strange/extremely screwed up English:
I have white hair and side beards.
I am brown.
I am yellow.
I have an 84% for weight.
I don’t wear a trouser to school (definitely not true, I just don’t know what he meant!)
I have a good tail.
I have a chocolate head. (WHAT?)

See y’all in a couple months!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Book Reviews

A few of the books I’ve read this year. I wrote this instead of grading papers. I actually have some great stories to tell about a trip I just took, but I’ll have to post that at a future time.

Anna Karenina – My first Tolstoy. Anna is one of the most annoying characters in all literature, IMO. (Spoiler!) She should have jumped under the bus much, much earlier.

War and Peace – My second Tolstoy. Much better than the first. The story is quite riveting and non of the characters made me want to gouge my eyes out. The only problem was Tolstoy’s 100-page rant in the conclusion about how stupid historians are.

Great Expectations – This was a lot easier read than I thought it would be. Dickens genius may not be his stories, but it is definitely in his characters. All of them are such interesting portrayals of different aspects of the human spirit. I did figure out who Pip’s benefactor was after about the 3rd chapter though…

Lord of the Flies – I have read this before, but it was in the pile of books Dad and Sara brought for my school’s library. Always a great book.

The Road – An interesting post-apocalyptic story about a man and his son traveling a road in search of food and safety. Love the idea, but it gets a little repetitive. And there was very little punctuation, which after a year of teaching English bothered me.

Digital Fortress – Dan Brown. One of the worst books I have ever read. It was written like a bad junior novelisation of a bad movie.

Free Willy 2 – A bad junior novelisation of a bad movie, but it was better than Digital Fortress.

The Super Adventures of Wishbone – Awesome. Just awesome.

Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass – Very strange. I enjoyed the two immensely, but Lewis Carroll was definitely on some interesting drugs. As for the Walrus and the Carpenter song, I don’t really see the religion analogy. It seems like it fits on a very basic level, but if you actually read the poem, there’s very little connection.

Audacity of Hope – Quite good. I read this around the time of his inauguration so I was doubly happy. Doesn’t quite deserve the Nobel Prize for literature though, sorry.

The Poisonwood Bible – A great novel about a family of missionaries in Congo/Zaire. It pretty much exactly spells out my feelings about missionaries (not positive!) as well as covering a lot of Congolese politics around the time of their independence. Spoiler – The US screwed that country over pretty effectively.

A State of Blood – Covers Idi Amin’s time in Uganda, written by an ex-comrade.

Hitching Rides with Buddha – A hilarious story by Canadian Will Ferguson who lived in Japan for several years. The book covers his journey hitchhiking from the North tip of Japan to the South tip. Interestingly, much of the cultural confusion he experiences there is directly relatable to things that have happened to me here in Rwanda.

Zanzibar Chest – A good, but a bit pompous story about a journalist in Africa. He covers all the major events in Africa through the 80 and 90s.

The Long Road Down – Ewen McGregor and some other guy ride motorcycles from the UK to South Africa. Meh. Too much pompous actor dialogue.

Krakatoa – An extensive discussion about the Indonesian volcano. A lot of great information, but a bit too extensive.

I read a lot of other books this year but either I can’t remember their names or they didn’t deserve a mention.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Winding down or winding up?

My time here is winding up (or down?)! I’m working on the exams that
I will give in less than two weeks and I’m starting review next week.
After that I’ve got to proctor (a word that always makes me giggle)
the exams and mark them, then I’m finished! In less than a month, I
will be finished at Rusumo High School. In less than two months I’ll
be back in North America! I don’t even know what to think!

I still have a fair amount of traveling to do before I leave. There
are still a couple places in Rwanda I haven’t visited, like Gisenyi
and Byumba that I hope to see soon, plus I’m going to be spending a
week in Zanzibar, a tropical paradise. You will be jealous.

Unfortunately, the final debate of the year was cancelled. It turns
out that the Tanzanian school actually had exams during the time we
were planning on going. This was a huge disappointment for the
students and for me. We lost the previous two debates, but I thought
we really had a chance to win this one, and I had been hoping to end
the year on a positive note. We have continued to meet, just to
debate for fun, and the club seems pretty enthusiastic about
continuing next year. We elected club officers and I’m compiling a
list of debate teacher’s phone numbers from around the province so
they can set up debates next year without a volunteer’s help. They
are great kids, and I’ll really miss them.

Things I didn’t want to find on my toilet seat: mating cockroaches, a
giant spider building a web across the hole. Fortunately, that is all
so far.

For some reason, I’ve noticed an increased number of Toronto Maple
Leafs jerseys around Kirehe district. It always makes me happy to see
them until I remember that there probably wouldn’t have been donated
to Africa if they actually won once in a while. Oh, and apparently
the new restaurant, Kirehe Modern Center, has satellite TV and I saw a
clip of a Bruins game on ESPN. The first hockey I’ve seen in over 8
months. It was strange.