17 July 2011

Connecting on African Time

So, it has been a month since my last post. I know I keep saying this to everyone, but: where is this year going??!!

To be honest, I've prided myself on the fact that generally (up until the past month) I post fairly regularly. But here in Uganda, things often go more by 'African time' than by 'mzungu time'. That is to say, things here rarely happen 'on time' or exactly when or how I think they should. I like to joke that I can never be late because the sense of being 'on time' is so different. Generally people focus on the event happening in that moment, not necessarily what time it is on the clock. And it means there is no set schedule for when I should blog about my latest library adventures...I am learning to focus on the events at hand. :)

The events at hand? Holiday (what many of you call summer vacation) and visits from my sister and good friend from college. During the past month I still worked at the library as much as possible but we also found time to travel to Western Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda. It was a great combination of seeing other cultures, visiting friends, and sightseeing.

And for my always-thinking mind (you can ask my sister how hard it was for me to sit still by the pool in Mombasa for more than 20 min), these travels also gave me a lot of time to think...because, yes, a 12 hour bus ride to Kigali, Rwanda and hours waiting in the Nairobi airport give one plenty of time to prepare for the upcoming semester. Which starts in one week, by the way. So amidst all the travel, I spent a lot of time thinking about things I want to do this semester: continue cataloging, create more orientation sessions, research and gather online research tools (i.e. free websites/databases), meet with instructors, etc. But one of the main things I want to focus on is reaching out and connecting with students. I find this to be one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of my job.

Many students here are new to the concept of libraries and especially of librarians. Often they will enter the library, pause for a minute by my desk, and quietly say, 'I'm sorry to interrupt you...'. To which I respond that that is why I am here! And, really, librarians seem to intimidate students everywhere...even when I worked in the U.S. students seem hesitant to ask for help. A college student thing? A human thing? A scary librarian thing? Probably a topic to be explored at another time.

At any rate, despite most students being gone the past two months, I was able to connect with several students. My trip to Western Uganda was at the invitation of a student to come, meet his wife and kids, and visit his church. It was another small village, where few people had ever seen a 'mzungu' (white person) before. It was humbling to see the way people live and be reminded how much I have that I really don't need. Mostly I was reminded how much we (in the West) often take education for granted...this student has a family to support and is pastor at a church and still manages to come to Kampala and study. How often do I take my two degrees for granted?

Last weekend I went with my sister and friends to Kigali, Rwanda. Rwanda is a beautiful country and we had a great time exploring and learning about the culture and history. We visited the Kigali Memorial Centre...it was good to go and learn more about the history of the genocide in Rwanda but it was also awful. The kind of museum that makes you sick to your stomach when you're reminded of the terrible things human beings do to each other. Many of our students come from Rwanda and by visiting the memorial I was reminded of and overwhelmed by the background many of them come from. Like the student in Western Uganda, it helps me to see contexts from which the RTC students come from because they are so different than my own background. Understanding where they come from helps me begin to understand how to reach out to them.

In Kigali I also was able to see three RTC students. One afternoon my sister and friend decided to go visit Nyamata Memorial, another memorial near Kigali...a church where many people were killed and which has now been turned into a memorial. I wondered if I should also go but met with students instead. I was so glad I did! Being able to meet with students in their own country was such a privilege. And I was reminded again that that's what it's all about...connecting with people, meeting them, learning their stories, and building relationships. And if building relationships means traveling, I'll do it.

Bridget, a beautiful student from Rwanda. After we met for
sodas/coffee she didn't want me to go back alone so she
went with me to find the taxi back and rode it with me. We
mostly communicate with short sentences but I loved
spending time with her!

Emile, a Congolese student living in Rwanda. I helped him
a lot on his research project last semester...he was so
shocked to find out we're the same age. :)

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