Exkurs: Auf und ab in der UPP. Ein Brief
7. April 2011, Panafrican Peace University uvira, Congo
i don't know what to say. things are not going well heere. i was totally down the week end before last. ready to just give up. sitting in my room and hating everybody, feeling useless and not loved or needed or wanted. of course my mood was such, that all people withdrew or at least i felt they did.then - at the end of two brooding moody week end days - i sat with two students in our office. we chatted for a long time and this helped. this was sunday night 12 days ago.then i was sort of okay for some days. just trying to work and make things move here. but for me it's like walking next to a snail which crawls so slowly and we should be making long strides to get out of the hole we are in. i talk, i try to explain, i accept, that things are the way they are. i try to be what - generous or wise and for two or three days it kind of works. then, last friday and saturday i was again down. i feel as if i'm the only person here, who cares - well, I guess, others care, but they don't seem to be doing anything and they don't seem to feel the slowness of things and the many things which don't work.
Last saturday evening i had another good talk with Alain, one of our students. And again, it helped. But i feel like a fool. i need this kid's love or attention, ya, i guess, it's attention to be able to function. it's like breathing. there's only this one student who sits down next to me like a friend, who is interested in how i feel and what i think. the others respect me and ask for my advice or my thoughts about things. But even when this happens in a friendship like spirit i am the rector or the teacher or the european with his special experiences and connections and knowledge for them, not just Martin, the human. i try to make things moving, but we have meetings and no one shows up, we talk about a week end we want to arrange, and then nothing happens, we talk about having lunch together in the office rather than scattered in our rooms, they agree and nothing happens. it takes a week to have one official letter written, which should help us to open a banc account. then it may take another week before someone can deposit the letter at the banc, then they might say, that they need another signature on the paper...
since ten weeks we are trying to get current from the city. they talk to the société in charge, they come back, write a letter, bring it there and then we are told,we have to write the letter in a different way. two weeks later we are told that some neighbours of us are also interested in public current and we should write a letter together with them.then one of the six parties involved brings all our dossiers to the société, and again nothing for a week. i say, please call them and ask, how things are going. they do it. aha, three dossiers are still missing. okay, please go to the guy who is organizing this group and make sure he gets the other dossiers ... it's always me who pushes and still things are going in a circle. the story of the current is now, where it was 8 weeks ago: someone said, we don't have to do it that way, just buy some pillers and wire and take the current from the one cabine next to us. they say, yes, it's legal, no problem. aha. maybe and so on and so on with every fucking thing.
our internet access is a joke. sometimes it works, sometimes it works just a tiny bit and often it doesn't work. Then four people are staggering all over the place. They spend hours trying to figure out, what's wrong, while we should be doing all kinds of things, but not this! Then a real expert comes, a friend of a student, who is good at these things they say. he sits and tries hard for ... last week it was three afternoons. i can't say, he didn't do his best. at the end he says, he thinks it's the temperature. Really, the day had been kind of cool. In Europe we would say, a nice day, maybe 20 or 25 degrees. I tell him, that in europe internet works even with 20 degree minus ... aha. but you have fiber glass cable. no, not every where. and ten years ago they were rare. aha. well, maybe it's not the temperature. yes, I think, it's not the temperature. He is tired. i say, thank you for trying, It was really nice of you to help. And it was nice of him, but in the meantime, I start to think, that he actually knows shit about internet connections, routers and all this. But he was really nice. Well, after he had left our wireless connection, which had worked before at least for some people here, is now working for nobody anymore. So the guy was successful after all: No more second class citizens and no digital divide in ourr small community. We're all suffering together! - I don't know what to say. call another expert? Maybe - I don't care. Today the nice guy was here again with a guy who brought another antenna.
Wifi is working again. Miracle. But we had miracles before, they usually don't last long ... I try not to hope, that the problems could really be solved for good this time! I will be too disappointed, when the internet connection is again down tomorrow morning ...
we should right the budgett of this year, to be able to send some requests for money to potenttial donors. we also need a report about the last six months, so that people see, that we're really doing something. up until two weeks it still said on our website, that UPP will start its operation in fall of 2010. they have a person who is responsable for the website. He's also a student here, so maybe we shouldn't expect to much from him. but nobody looks at the fucking website, or say, yes, they do, but they don't realize, that it may make not such a good impression, if you read in mid march 2011 that UPP will open its doors in fall of 2010. Its a joke. it takes two minutes to fix that, but neither Flory nor Robert or anybody else tells our dreaming webmaster, to change it. instead the website is full of burocratic stuff. the agenda of the academic year 2010/2011, which they got from Kinshasa last year and which has nothing to do with our own time table, a long list of projects which lye ahead of us: building dorms and sport facilities and a medical center for the students and more such things ... another list from Kinshasa, just uploaded and published because ... because ... no idea! I guess it should signal, that we're a University.
. In november or december they had decided, that they wouldn't teach in mornings anymore, because so few students were turning up. in a discussion they said, they had to work. okay, it's true. we are a workers university. we have to acknowledge this reality. let's just teach in the afternoon. The decision was maybe really good and in tune with the situation here, but on the website I find something like 28 courses we are giving this year. I look at the dates - well, some of them cannot be right. i ask, whether they had really given all these courses. O no, that is just the table we got from the government. So how many courses did you actually have until now? Well, I don't know, maybe 6 or 8. Maybe? Yes, I think. And we need to give all these courses until the end of the year? Yes. So do you have a plan, when these courses will take place? O no, but they will take place. Okay. Can you please sit down and make a plan, because we only have three more months and maybe there isn't enough time for all these courses. Aha, yes, I will make the plan. - After looking at the facts it looks like we have to have courses in the morning and afternoon if we really want to do them all until the end of this academic year. Even then it's tight. Well now. I am patient, but i start to doubt. When would they have noticed this, if I hadn't mentioned it But Robert has had another job until a few weeks ago, so I try to be patient although you don't really have to be the academic advisor to feel that planning a years cicle could be a good idea and that things may not work out at the end, if you just cut the time of classes in half.
Well, now i have the plan, says Robert. It will be okay. And the students? You're just going to tell them, that courses will be in the morning again? - Yes. There will be no problem. They will have to fill out a paper, if they work in the morning and they will be excused from the courses and can just take the exam at the end. - It's no problem for them. I explain, that if we want the students to behave in more responsable ways, we can't just shove them around like boxes and change the whole program of the school just like that once again. At least we have to tell them, why things have changed again. - O, yes, that's true. So I will tell them in the next school assembly. - Ja, super. Dieser mensch ist Robert. gutmütig aber irgendwie total unbeholfen. - In the meantime the budget for this year has been produced. Until the end of summer we need about another 15,000 dollars to keep going. If we want to do the things we need to do, we'd need 25,000 dollars. We can do with 15,000, that's not a big problem, but in fall they want to open a new first year... Have you thought through the consequences in regard to the rooms we need and the teachers etc. and how are you going to coach 60 instead of 30 students, and do you have the teachers you need? How many classes will be offered simultaniously when we have three or four "facultés" of the second year students plus the "tronc commun"-courses of the first year students. and what about the library and the computer work spaces. We promised that there will be computers available. We agree, that it is important. But we still have not one machine for the students. Will we just keep making promisses or tell them, that they just have to share this one old machine? O, but maybe we will have a possibility ... It will work... of course, somehow ... with bricolage and new promisses and more hot air.
To build the library or install the computers and do all the things, we are constantly talking about, we need money. We need money to hire somebody who takes all our disfunctional electrical installation apart and puts up something solid ... But how do you want to appeal to international donors if you have no documentation, no paper, which explains how the university is structured, which legal form we have, who is responsable for it ... and no budget for 2011/12 nor a strategic plan for the next 3 or 5 years, just a pompous website without any actual information? We have to produce all this stuff and half of the time we have no current.
Just now the secretary showed up in my room and asked, whether I had 2000 francs congolais to buy some fuil for the generator ... Well, I am lying. These things do not happen very often any more! After two weeks of explaining and losing my temper and explaining again, they have understood, that this we-are-so-poor system cannot go on. The pasteur has promissed that there would always be some fuil in the generator, so that it can be started without an hour or half an hour delay and the secretary has the authority and a little money, to pay such things without knocking at the rectors door and begging for a few coins. This problem has thus been solved - at least to 80 or 90%. However, if it happened again, it could be the trigger of another nervous break down.
But back to Alain, the student I mentioned before. Last saturday I spoke with him about the university and what we do here. I had been down all day, but the talk was amazing! I interviewed him so that I have something like a personal memory - his voice in my computer - and I also wanted to transcribe the thing for the website, which we are slowly changing to something a bit more real and more alife. What he said really helped me to put things into perspective. I add the text, I wrote after the interview, so you can read it. What he says made me feel more relaxed. Sunday was good, monday and tuesday also, wednesday so so la la and today I had another nervous break down - the third in twelve days. Yes, I guess, i have to call it that way. I just freak out because of something totally unimportant ...
Flory, Robert and I had our coordination meeting. Robert wasn't here. Flory called. O, yes, I am on the way. He came half an hour later. He had over slept. I understand. He really works a lot. So half past nine instead of nine. Okay, that's not the end of the world. It just reminded me of the fact, that Flory wanted to have a meeting with some students, which had to be rescheduled three times until now because the only student who showed up was Alain. The others either do not show up or they show up an hour later - for instance today at 09:30 instead of 08:30. I am not directly affected by that because they need to talk to Flory, but i think of all the other things which drag on for ever because they never happen in time, there's always something else - no current, no transport, mother dying, brother in the hospital ... some stories are true, some are just excuses, but the fact remains, we are not moving. In the meantime we eat up what's left of the money my father sent .., because he's so enthusiastic about this project.
When I started to write this mail, i thought i would just cry. i thought it was about poor martins lonelyness and how nobody loves me and how i begin to feel so needy that i start to be totally dependent from the good words of our students and their caring. Now i feel that no, it's not about this, but it's really about the amazing slowness and sleepyness of things here. I do see, that they try. Flory and Robert work a lot, or say, they are around and do things, they talk and have papers on their desk. They just don't seemm to get anything done. They try, but I don't know, whether it'sour poor infrastructture or their work habits orplain carelessness or mindlessness or ... I get into this colonial rage, which I do not like, but I can see, how I get there! For example:
We don't have money to finish the second floor of the new building. No problem. We have two new rooms. The three rooms upstairs can wait - maybe in the winter, when we have enough money. That was our decision. Then I start to think and two or three days later I ask Flory, who is in charge of construction, whether we can just leave the upstairs as it is for six months or longer? Is the roof finished and solid? Are the walls and floors okay? If we don't do anything for 6 or 12 months, we have to be sure, that we won't have damage from rain or wind afterwards ... O, yes, that's true. I will ask. ... Okay! turns out, that we really can't leave things the way they are because of the rain. They need to do some more small things, then it's okay. If uncle martin hadn't thought of it ... well, bricolage ... somehow it's working. We may have had to pay another 3,000 dollar because of the damage, but ... o, it's just bad luck.
There is story after story like this. If i don't ask and push and ask and explain we will just sell hot air here until we have no more air, then we'll continue to sell until the students start to leave ...
I still feel, that i can work well with Flory and Robert, but i feel more and more how week they are in many things, especially Robert, and he is a nice guy, tries his best ...
I was really patient, decided, that I just had to let go of an other big chunk of my expectations ... But today i had it again. Yesterday i felt for the first time some warm feeling when i thought of returning in the fall. but today i was suddenly in such a pissy mood, like a child which throws a tantrom,to get attention. Totally stupid and childish. I tried to be reasonable and it worked a bit, but i couldn't hold it all back, so i was freaking out a bit, complaining and - well, throwing my fit. In the evening, before Robert left, i appologized for my roodness. - He just said: o no problem, non, non! - I said, yes, it was a problem, if not for him, so for me. O no, non non! - He's just to scared to open up more ... at least, that's how I feel. He withdraws inwardly and respects me outwardly. And that's the lonelyness. Flory is a bit better, but not today. Our big social week end, which we announced and proposed in school assembly four weeks ago has since shrunk first to one social saturday and finally to a evening at the beach of lake tanganjika. Well, Flory mentions yesterday, that he will leave for Bujumbura friday evening. That's okay, he has his wife there and i said, that he should take week ends off, he couldn't be here all the time. But then, in the middle of the night, i woke up and thought: wait, friday night, that's that social event... How come, he didn't even mention, that he couldn't participate? - I think, he just forgot. So today in my grumpy mood i said, that i was disappointed, that he just seem to have forgotten - I said, that to me this was one of the many examples, where i felt, that we just make a lot of promisses, big words, unrealistic dreams, and then - very often - we just forget and let things crumble as if nobody cared ... Well, no, he said, but but but ... Of course there are reasons, why he wanted to go to Bujumbura, and I told him, that this was not really the issue, more the fact, that he didn't even mention, that there was a collision of interests or a problem with timing. I told him, that he was very important here and that i had told him this before. Important for us and for the students ... well. i guess he understood and i think he will be here tonight, but ... well again, i say: stupid me. I didn't talk to him all day. In the evening I wanted to appologize with him as well, but somehow i didn't get over my pissing mood. And he and our russian volunteers and others just retreat in their friendly "mr. rector" mode. It makes me so frustrated and angry, that I don't care anymore, if this hole thing here goes to bits or not.
Since i came here, i feel as if I am enclosed in some roles pretty much all the time. Even Flory, with whom i have very good conversations and who thinks very much along my lines, talks to me as "the rector" or the one who knows about things, not really like a friend. i can't say, he ignores my emotions. No, two or three times he really listened, but somehow more like a good listener, a real professional, not like someone who is affected by what happens. The only one who cares in a somewhat direct way seems to be Alain. Already in my first and second week here we talked about the cultural differences I felt. I told him about small things, which make my life here hard at times, and he was not only listening, he was asking, exploring with me, being surprised and laughing with me, and sometimes he would come and say: "I thought this morning, when I saw you there: O! Martin is again having a hard time ...". Ye, he sees it and he cares ... But he is the only one who can show it.
So this is a bumpy road. Many many things are not going well according to my standards, and we have very limited capacity to "fix" things or develop them in a systematic and calm way. We have a big vision and a great educational profile, but it's like sitting in a Bentley de lux and the engine is squeeking, the flat tires are making strange sounds, the cooling water is boyling, the doors are not opening, the springs are broken ... but we drive on like lords ...
It's really not going well. I start to get so arrogant and bitter inside - like many "well intentioned" (?) helpers, I guess - like the missionaries who started to hate their pupils because they never were the way they should ... I lose sighht of the fact, that in terms of culture we are centuries away from each other and that things cannot be easy under these circumstances. I lose sight of the fact, that we are making some progress, even if it's slow, and that "the others" do care, they just can't show it the way I am used to. Or maybe they don't even realize, that I am not happy and content, because how could I not be happy and content: I am an old man, therefore I am wise, and I am white, therefore I have no worries and last but not least, I am le recteur therefore one has to be on gard anyhow...
Well, fuck. I am so moody and so little in balance!
To get the other side of the picture, read the attached interview. It's as true as my being fed up and just wanting to leave this show. I would be sad and disappointed, but it's not the first time ...
Sleep well or have a nice day or what ever,
PS 1: Phone and skype are another frustrating thing here. The connection is just too bad and slow most of the times.
PS 2: I wrote until three or four in the morning. At eight, Flory stands in my room, asking whether I was still sleeping ... I wake up from deepest sluumber ... African friendlyness! Like Vickys mam, who enters my room at five in the morning with a bucket of water to start cleaning ... indian charmes! ...
At nine I want to turn on my computer. It doesn't start any more. I hear, that we have a prooblem with the Onduleur which in reality is a converter. The expert from the other village is on his way... So I sit and listen to Radio France International ... Also not really what cheers you up at present with Côte D'yvoir and Libi and Japan and jemmen and all.
At ten I talked to Robert and Flory. I appologizeed also to Flory about my difficult behaviour. It turned into a real good talk, where I could explain many of the small things, which are difficult for me and first of all, I asked them, what they do with their anger or frustration. Are you never angry? Do you never get desperate ... That was good. I encouraged them to be more direct and straight forward with their feelings and I would try to be more patient and relaxed ... Both talked about their frustration and how they deal with it ... So that was good.
At one I just sat outside, for we still didn't have current, so what should I do.
At two still sitting, meditating and breathing. Slowly I come down. At three I relax a bit on the couch in the office. The student have test in general Law. Afterwards we have our social event at the lake. Flory has gone to Bujumbura, which is good, because he sticks to his decision even if I grumble. I decide, that I want to talk to the students before we go to the beach. I don't quite know, what I want to say, but I know, I want to talk. At four we unite in the office. It's cosy with two big couches. I tell them about my reoccuring crises and how strongly I am influanced by all the events, big and small, and how small things can encourage and discourage me, how I want to leave them next week with good feelings already looking forward to October, when I come back and not with bad feelings and no wish to come back. I told them, I want to talk to them like to adults, not hiding things and pretending to be some untouchable super human etc. etc. It's about honesty and about how I want all of us to deal with each other ... They listened very attentively, then - after some ten minutes of exchange and reactions - we departed to the lake and swam and sang and danced. They are really a crazy bunch, but we had a good time. I even learned the Swahili word for a guy who cries easily, for in the middle of my speech I was very close to crying and I told them, that this was probably strange for a leader in Africa, but it was as strange for leaders in europe, but that crying for me was just part of life and that they shouldn't be afraid, that I had no strength ... So when they told me the word (Kalia Lia) we laughed and had fun about the whole issue.
After our return to UPP I talked a bit to Alain. We made him coordinateur des choses du currant et de l'internet at our meeting yesterday, and this may have been my best move since I am here. He's not functioning in magic mode anymore touching this cable and that switch and then supposing, that maybe the current was slow or the weather to cold or the antenna broken ... No, he checks systematically and comes and reporrts ... This is such ann enormous relief! - Now I already start to regret, that I will be leaving in a week, because I won't widness all the progress ... And yes, students and staff really apreciate my being here with all its difficult moments.
I just wanted to add this, so you are not too worried. In the meantime - 9 o.clock - we even have current again. The expert from Kiliba fixed the converter and mentioned that it might help to have a fuse somewhere so that the converter doesn't burn out every time we have a short circuit. Well, I encouraged him to share such ideas more freely, because we don't know about these things and we are happy, when he helps us as expert. He was very pleased. The extra fuse costs only about 5 dollars. - but no, they couldn't buy it, because Mr. Flory said, he didn't have the cash... O!!! Again I felt my stommack muscles cramp up for a moment. - We don't have the five dollars, means that the fuse might come next monday or in a week or a month In Sh'allah ... The converter might blow up in the meantime, but who cares. O God, my bad mood is right back! Nobody thought about paying the helpful guy. He stood there, asking mee for some money to get back to Kiliba! A 60 year old guy who has tobeg for a few congolese francs after having spent an entire afternoon working for us, and Flory, who is in charge of these kinds of things, is long gone! It's just not my understanding ofdecent behaviour. I gave the guy money for his ride back home and a dollar or two for his work, and I told Alain to buy the fuse tomorrow. He was with the expert asking all kinds of questions and watching, what the guy was doing! Great kid, great help!
On this note good bye for now.