Confusingly, one needs to zoom to the diagonal right in order to see points on this map, at time of writing. SI601 work.
If that doesn’t work, try this: http://a.tiles.mapbox.com/v3/maurafriend.gtmd9529/page.html#8/38.490/-97.734
In the frenzied 24 hours after my last School of Information final and before my flight to Kigali, Rwanda last May in which I also managed to move out of my house – a friend of mine spent the day chauffeuring me around greater Ann Arbor, tending to all of the loose ends I needed to tie up or cut off before showing my CDC-stamped yellow card and heading to Brussels.
Waiting for my prescription of anti-malarials to be filled, we drove to Dexter to buy a replacement part for my camera. Still driving conservatively, counting gazebos on the way in, my friend confessed:
“I hate to admit it, but when you said you were going to Rwanda – I had to look it up on a map.”
Staring ahead, plotting what I would get from Dairy Queen on the way home, I said: “I hate to admit it – so did I.”
For everyone’s reference, Rwanda is here. ^
Four weeks earlier, my professor Joyojeet Pal – a person so tall I don’t come up to his shoulder – pitched a month-long field research field trip to Rwanda on the 2nd of April. My other internship didn’t start until June. There were no good reasons to say no. I agreed on the 5th, told my parents on the 6th, and would board a plane less than a month later.
When I first started planning my trip to Kigali last April – it was at one point my impulse to type: “Rwanda Hotel” into Google.
It turns out when you type “Rwanda Hotel” into Google, all you’re going to get are largely favorable ratings and reviews for the 2004 Don Cheadle film.
I settled on getting my research assistant – an infinitely resourceful 33-year old Rwandan named Cyprien Sebushi – to find me a place to live, with nuns, for 9 USD a night outside of Kigali’s main roundabout.
Armed with anti-malarias, a place to stay upon arrival, a CDC stamped yellow card the Detroit-based TSA agent looked genuinely perplexed by, and a healthy amount of vegan survival food, I set off to Rwanda.
I arrived at the the tail-end of the rainy season – lots of water falling on tin rooftops. It was also the end of a month-long remembrance period of the genocide, which occurred 19 years earlier – lots of signs noting: “We will learn from history to build tomorrow.” With the rainy season, and the genocide remembrance month coming to an end, we set to work.
Bus rides with Michael Chabon.
We rode harrowing bus rides throughout the country and met many frustrated visually impaired people with university degrees, languishing in unemployment and working under a public perception that as at non-seeing individuals, they were useless.
In particular, we met with visually impaired women who felt an acute kind of dual-invisibility in society – an inability to move forward in their lives because of a kind of double burden a vision impairment, and a lack of resources granted to them as women.
Field research is not unlike journalism in that you ask for someone’s time, and their story and they sometimes give it to you in startling amounts and detail. It is not uncommon for people to ask you to advocate for them. A few interviewees asked if I could help them get into school in the United States.
My answer was always be the same: Thanks for your time, and no, and probably this won’t change anything for you even a little, and have a good day. And I’d grab a bottled water on my way back to my hostel and know I’d be settling into an internship at Harvard in a few weeks.
A week before leaving Rwanda, we held one of our last interviews at the only place our interviewee would meet us – a bar next to his place of work in the Eastern Province. We drank Primus, the big bottles. The lights periodically powered off which phased everyone except our interviewee, who continued to flirt with the waitstaff. At the end of our interview, Cyprien turned to me and said:
"I can’t believe you’ll be back in the United States in a week?"
"I have to admit, I can’t either."
A week later, I boarded a plane and shuffled back to the United States to begin a research internship at Harvard. I arrived on campus just as Oprah, the 2013 commencement speaker left.
I spent the first week ultimately baffled that Cambridge, MA and Kigali, Rwanda exist in the same place at all.
Then, I began to settle into my new project. I snapped back to America like a rubber band worn thin.
I spent summer lunches sitting on HLS garden rooftops — and getting froyo or drinking beers with intellectual, academic (and actual) rockstars. And other Harvard things.
But – what was that, that happened in Rwanda?
Alone, I thought about how to navigate the difference between university-sponsored socio-economic tourism, and something meaningful. There’s an impulse to call yourself a change-agent and wrap yourself in the comfort with the idea that you created knowledge where it did not exist before. And that’s how you figure out the difference. But, mostly, that’s all you get. It’s not always convincing. There are no earth-shattering policy changes.
So then the challenge lies in moving onto whatever the next project is, and there will always be a next project – and to obtain a comfort in projects that don’t end in resolution, but are still valuable for the process, the output, and for one’s hope in the long game that continues without you.
Anonymous asked: beep beep
it’s a pillow
it’s a pet
Last night’s dream.
It is April, 1994 and Kigali is a tinderbox. All troubled, directionless movement. The checkpoints are set-up.
I am roughly at my hostel. I need to get to Milles Collines.
I have the added benefit of being an American – one of the only left in the country. Also, I know what happens. I know the St. Johns Catholic church off the main roundabout is safe. I know Saint Famille is a killing field. I know the refugees at Hotel Rwanda survive, even though I never saw that movie, and it hasn’t come out yet.
I need an ATM. I follow a cat I find on the side of the road who I know will lead me to one.
"I’m taking you to the main banking center."
It’s dangerous out. Everyone knows something is coming.
Why didn’t I think of the banking center? Even though it’s 1994, the banks are probably still there.
We don’t get to the banking center, but climb down a slope and land in a previously invisible shack of a water and snack stand by my hostel.
"Here is the ATM"
But the ATM seems to be missing, or not to work. I’m struck to see a few small piles of American bills rolled up on the ground. So out of place in Kigali, 1994 but such a normal sight in the rest of my life that it takes me a moment to remember why the situation is strange.
I gather the cat, who has become a kitten, into my arms.
A lanky white man comes to his shack. He sees me with his cat. We are friends instantaneously and there’s nothing to discuss but the obvious:
"What are you doing?" he asks.
"I have to leave." I have to live. I need to live.
"Yeah." he says. "It’s decision time. We’re at that point where we can ride this out. Or we can concede and say, ‘there’s nothing we can do,’ and get out of here."
"I need to leave." Now that he’s here, I don’t need the ATM or the Milles Collines.
The kitten hugs closer with its cold nose against my arm and we leave into the streets of Kigali. It’s the rainy season and the red dirt that makes up the roads is all slick and slippery. Everyone’s pant legs are rust-colored red. No one sees anyone while they walk to find the things that will make them safe.
We go to the U.S.-embassy’s compound parking lot. Despite its proximity to my house, I’d never seen it before, a large steel compound.
My friend (did he ever get a name? If he did, it was two syllables and started with a vowel) scanned a card, and we were in.
As we walk in, I’m concerned about the cat in my arms. We need a cat carrier. Of all the things to think about.
There were a surprising number of cars still left. I wanted to ask why, and forgot. Everything would be fine now, this man knew everything. The two Americans left in Rwanda. He knows whats about to happen, too. We don’t talk about it.
I took the kitten out of my arms.
"Is that your camera bag?" He smiles and says yes. We put the cat inside. He is fully prepared and shoots the cat with a sedative to keep him/her under for the drive and the flight to Brussels.
"Sorry, friend." he says, zipping up the case.
I load a tremendous suitcase into the trunk of a tremendously glossy black SUV.
We see only one woman in the parking lot. She is white, dressed all in layers of white with a golden, dangling necklace on and red lipstick. She looks thoroughly unconcerned.
I think: yes, that’s convincing dress for 1994.
"Were you going to go?" I ask my friend.
He’s impatient, mapping out scenarios in his head and putting some protective layer of sticky plastic on the car window.
"Was I going to go? Of course I wanted this little country to work." That’s not what I’m asking.
"I mean, before me?" He prepares a window for the drive, putting some layer of thick sticky plastic over it and doesn’t answer.
Before we leave, in the front seat, we’re looking out in front of us to the door of this deserted parking lot. I can’t get my seat belt to buckle.
He says something from Genesis. But I couldn’t tell if he was saying it because it was appropriate, or because it’s the only Bible verse we know. At first I think it’s a reference to a Terry Pratchet novel and want to say something witty. He ends with a half-sung line from a hymn. I think it must be appropriate, because he knows every verse of the Bible.
We leave the compound and I can’t get my seatbelt to buckle. I sit in the back, worried I’ve made my companion feel like a chauffeur. I wonder why I’m not with him and closer, as close as possible.
As we exit, we see two boys trudging through the red-rust earth alongside the railroad tracks (there aren’t any in Kigali), half unable to walk under the weight of the water jugs they’re carrying. The same desperation in their eyes as everyone.
We make our way out, not speaking. Letting his BIble verse hang in the air.
I woke up wanting to go back to the dream, wondering if we had a gun, wondering if the check-points would let us through, wondering if the Kigali airport would still be open for us or if we would have to drive to Uganda with the rest of the refugees, wondering if we would have enough gas and if not how we would get it, wondering if I was selfish for not even considering rescuing others, wondering why he didn’t tell me what would happen to us, and hoping we would make it out.
The MIT report (PDF) on the Aaron Swartz case is out. I am going to take some time to study it and understand it more fully. I’m away with my family and won’t be commenting on the report now, beyond the following:
The report says that MIT never told the prosecutor that Aaron’s access was…
Quick application, here. What is to stop you besides you? That’s right, nothing. Go for it, yo.
What I eat for breakfast everyday in Rwanda. Though, the egg ends up unconvincingly cut up and moved around the plate and shoved off to the side to make it look like I ate some of it.
This is the cafeteria hall across from my hostel. The place is decorated in a way that is spartan but seemingly based around someone’s idea of practicality – with a series of small fans with neon blades coated in dust, and single strand of garland hanging limply down one wall. In the corner, there is a portrait of a pope from two popes ago. The clock works.
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"VII Photo Agency is pleased to announce a call for submissions for membership. Membership will be offered only to photographers working with the highest standards of journalistic and documentary integrity, who will extend the breadth of work we currently produce and who we believe can work within the management structure of VII. Deadline for submission: April 26, 2013.”
"VII Photo Agency is pleased to announce a call for submissions for membership.
Membership will be offered only to photographers working with the highest standards of journalistic and documentary integrity, who will extend the breadth of work we currently produce and who we believe can work within the management structure of VII.
Deadline for submission: April 26, 2013.”