Tuesday, November 19, 2013


So this will hopefully be a long post because of the long interim in which I have not posted.  The reasons:

1.     I am extremely immersed in work now and am rushing to completion.  My friend here is concerned about me because I work all the time.  Yeah?  Well, I don’t have to cook my own food or do my own laundry and that’s something.  Thanks friend!

2.     The time I have spent without either power or internet has increased by a large factor.

3.     Whenever I do have power and internet I have to spend that limited time grading for my online course and also in applying to post docs in order to make sense of next year for myself. 

Anyway, things are busy.  So much has happened that I have wanted to post about though and I make notes for myself that I can't seem to get around to.  This is not how I wanted this blog to be.  A good blog is often good because it is dependable.  Well, nothing about Rwanda is dependable…except my friend that is.

So, to the blog title:

Here is the Wikipedia definition for hysteresis:

It basically refers to objects that are removed from one system and yet still behave according to the prior system in a more general systems theory applicable in lots of places and theories.  One of those is the sociological theory of Bourdieu:

Hysteresis according to Bourdieu:  the condition that results from having a habitus that is not appropriate for the situation in which one lives

I would be delighted if you would peruse my lecture presentation on the day that I talk about Bourdieu, hysteresis, and moving to Rwanda prepared for my theory course last spring.  But, there are not lecture notes to accompany it.  However, I still think you will get a laugh from it.  And you know it was important because Jay-Z himself helped me to teach it:

Anyway, why is the title of this post hysteresis?  Because I am experiencing it like mad.  In other words, culture shock.  I am over the shock of the shock.  But I am desperately homesick.  I love Rwanda but without any real way to process all of the information around me (that is, without being able to really talk to people intimate to me and to adjust emotionally and intellectually) things are extremely hard.

It is not because:

1.     I have not had a hot shower in 2 months.

2.     Rwanda has really soft water.  In that freezing cold bucket bath I take in the morning, I have to use TONS of freezing cold water to get the shampoo out of my long hair.

3.     I have to bring toilet paper with me everywhere

4.     I cannot eat another bean nor would I like to for the rest of my life

5.     I am developing diabetes from the constant stream of carbs and sugar and my mood suffers for this as well (carbs make you crash and cranky and sleep funny ya’ll, learn it!)

6.     At my work when I ask for coffee they serve me boiled condensed milk with tons of sugar and one teaspoon of instant coffee totally inundated with powdered ginger, which while it tastes really good is like drinking a hot milk shake in 100 degree weather (it's not really 100 degrees it just feels like it to me in the specific place I work at which I can't tell you about because it's a secret)

7.     A dozen other strange things

It is because:

1.     I hurt my foot somehow and now walking the long distance up hill in the heat towards a bus where everyone will turn around to stare at me and be close enough to sweat on me and touch me and be concerned with what is in my backpack and where I am going and can I give them money is really really a lot harder than it was before.  I have been taking a cab to work.  And as cheap as the buses are is as expensive as the cabs are.

2.     I sweat so much that I am concerned about getting some sort of fungus or infection in my crevices

3.     The staring.

4.     The fact that my name is not muzungu and that just because my skin is light doesn’t mean I have ANY money.

5.     The staring.

6.     The fact that even though I have made a ton of “friends” they all just leave or don’t want to hang out with me anymore because I am leaving, but see below about Hamada.

7.     To reiterate…the staring.  It makes me crazy.  I get ruder to people everyday.  I just can't take it anymore.

Totally random bit of information, which is basically how this post will be throughout, my online course was recently observed/evaluated by a distinguished professor in my department who I respect very much but have little reason to interact with.  I would like to just quote the very last paragraph of their extended evaluation of my course:

“In sum, Ms. Mitchell’s course far exceeds the minimal requirements for an on-line course (or even an off-line course) taught out of the UAlbany Sociology Department.  She has created a rigorous and comprehensive program of instruction in the subject matter, and it is clear that she cares deeply about her students and their ability to master the requisite material.  This course could, in many ways, serve as a template for the development of successful on-line courses.”

A part from the fact that I am now a Mrs. (soon to be Dr.!), this obviously made me ecstatic.

Based on my calculations at work, I think I can be done by about December 6th.  In order to be safe, my husband and I agreed that it would be reasonable to buy a plane ticket for December 15th.  We have done so.

A few things about this:  I am so excited to go home.  Really, really, dreadfully missing home.  It's not that I want to be away from Rwanda.  In all actuality, I love Rwanda.  I said so to begin with, the idea of Rwanda I always loved and the first impression.  But upon further consideration, I really and truly love it here.  There are a few problems though:  my family, my friends, my dog, and my stuff.  Home is not in Rwanda.  Additionally, I could never live in Rwanda.  While I am here I am suffering from what, for me, is like seasonal affective disorder or whatever it is called.  It really is a never-ending summer for me.  Except that as a tropical and summery place, Rwanda is absolute paradise.  Unfortunately, I LOVE LOVE LOVE the autumn and spring.  Autumn because melancholy is my true nature and I feel as if the world is expressing me in the autumn from the colors to the crispness in the air to the crunch of falling leaves to the smell.  Second, because I love snow.  I really do love snow.  Last, because I really do not enjoy putting my hair up every single freaking day.  I want to “let my hair down” so to speak.  And last, last (you already know my issues with “last”), the gender issue.  It's true that the USA is in many ways as backward about gender as Rwanda.  But it is in ways that I was already trained to deal with.  I miss my department and being around sociologists, though.  Sociology departments and conferences, etc., are all like safe little cocoons in which I have felt more like myself than anywhere on earth (apart from the presence of my husband and my close friends and…my good friend here in Rwanda who I would do anything to take home with me).

So, since I miss so many thing about home, a few words on what I miss and the trip home.  First, it seems like I will be moving on back home.  I cannot continue to stay in Albany.  I am going to miss my department a lot.  So much so that I had a dream that, unable to find a reasonable job or post doc, that I decided to go back to school for my JD or something.  Because this is mostly memorization.  And that I am really good at.  And, compared to what I know, and what I know is intimate and informed, about both JD and top-tier department sociology study – law would be really, really easy.

Second, I am obsessed with my flight.  I will bring a change of clothes, I will be, at least bodily, in Istanbul!!! (not Constantinople).  I think I am beginning to count the days.

My good friend here who you will remember is not OK with the fact that I will be leaving.  She wants me to stay forever.  I want to bring her around with me.  I really do adore here.  In some ways, I was concerned that I had really romanticized her as some sort of in road or representative to the entirety of my internal Rwandan fantasy.  But, I assure you, I have spent a realty large amount of time with her.  And I REALLY like her as a person.  I think she is really great.

My friend, as I mentioned before, is trying to start her own business for beauty services.  I recently asked her for a massage.  She explained things to me even as I experienced them because she is good with muzungu.  Some interesting facts about Rwandan massages:

1.     There is no nicely placed or kindly held sheet to cover your naughty bits.  You are all there in your all together.

2.     They massage EVERYWHERE if you let them.  You have to tell them not to REALLY massage your derriere or your breasts, though if you have ever been pregnant or are currently pregnant they will not do it.

3.     It includes a hot washcloth with a bit of soap “bath” before and after.

4.     Good places will even massage your face and your hair…with oil.  Eeewww...feels good but leaves you feeling disgusting.  As my friend recently told me here, though, muzungu like their hair differently.  I came out of my room after a long day of writing and encoding and was feeling sweating and oily and grimy and needed a bath.  My hair was like an oil slick on my head.  I can't remember feeling that “naturally” gross without including something that didn’t come from my body.  I remarked to my friend that I was so gross and that I didn’t even want my hair to touch me anymore.  She told me, “see, it's funny, now I think your hair looks really nice!  After a shower when my hair is dry, you know, how muzungu like it, I think it's terrible).  Of course, I am paraphrasing.

I have also noticed my speech patterns changing from speaking to Rwandans all the time.  I can't really describe this easily.  Maybe I will try sometime, but if you speak to me near my return date then I can tell you and you will probably notice it yourself.

On my dissertation – from what I have seen in my work and in the culture and from the thousands of bits of anecdotal evidence that is entirely nonscientific and yet I think important, I believe that my dissertation hypothesis is utterly correct.  I feel really good about this and it helps me to sleep at night.

The other day, one of the Rwandan women here was trying to make sweet bread ball biscuit roll things in the oven.  She asked me if I can help her to bake it because she doesn’t know how to work the oven.  I helped her.  As I was helping her I told her that my husband does all the baking at home.  The women found this hilarious.  And after I told them about us, and based on more information they have received about us, they think that he is a spectacular person and are happy that I am with him.

On this point, the other day as my friend was painting my toenails, I introduced her to Manhattan Transfer.  Very few people will know who that is on here, but my mother will know and appreciate it.  I told her about the song “Operator” which is about a person trying to call Jesus in heaven on the phone.  “Operator, give me information, information, give me long distance, long distance, give me heaaaaaavvvvvvveeeeenn.”  I was whistling the song and telling her about it.  She started cackling with laughter.  I said what?  She said in Rwanda women do not whistle because it makes men feel bad.  Because only bosses whistle.  I can only imagine where this comes from.  I imagine Belgian or British or French or Germans whistling while overseeing darker skinned bodies working and that makes me sad.  Anyway…women cannot whistle here because they say it's like people will think that you think that you are the boss.  And it's worse if you are married.  You cannot even whistle while you are home alone.  A neighbor might hear you and tell your husband later!  And of course, with most gender bending traits, what a good married women cannot do, prostitutes have always been able to do.

Just another thing that I think is metaphoric for Rwanda.  Here, sometimes, in the heat of the day, I can see Umbria / Tuscany, Italy.  It is so gorgeous and they pay attention to how to use certain house types and certain building materials and certain window restraint at different times of the day (plus drapes) to deal with the heat.  And sometimes rosemary wafts on air.  They love to use this to cook, just like Italians.

So what is different, apart from red soil, sometimes what wafts on the hot (humid or dry depending on the day and time of year) is the sweet smell of rosemary.  And sometimes it is the acrid smell of human waste…PEE PEE ya’ll. Because what else are you going to do with it if the water is off?!  Put it in the gutter.  So, one part Europe and two parts medieval Europe and you have Rwanda.

So, what are my days like here now that I am working?  I wake up at 6am.  I barely put myself together and have some tea.  Then I walk a half a mile to the bus station.  Then I get on a bus (I have already described this experience…being stared at, harrowing danger around every high altitude corner, touching, and people talking about me  (my ears are finely tuned to hear the word muzungu)).  Then I arrive.  I walk in past many AK47s with a COPY of my passport (not the actual thing), an official letter with a thousand official stamps, and my handy dandy badge saying that I am an “official” visitor.  Then I start work.  At 7 AM!!!!!

Why 7am?  I have a theory about that.  By 8am it's really really hot in the sun and you cannot continue to wear what are the business norms for clothes here.  It's true that Africans often wear brightly colored clothes.  But the business class here wears like wool and silk and dark clothes and really nice shoes.  I can't even keep up with them with my clothes from the west.  Not because I don’t have them, but because I’ll melt.

Another thing, they don’t seem to really work all that much.  At first, they pray.  A pastor comes in and prays for like half an hour out loud, or actually he gives like a little sermon and then prays.  At the same time everyone else prays out loud.  So there is a cacophony of Kinyarwandan voices praying out loud.  And then they seem to work for a while.  Then they take lunch for an hour and a half.  And then they nap.  And then they watch videos or hang out or continue napping.  And then they leave precisely at 5pm.  Unless it's Friday and then they leave at 3pm.  Unless someone there is getting married or their cousin died recently and then they all leave on a bus for the funeral together.  It's interesting.  They think I am crazy because I arrive and work even through lunch every single second until I reach a good stopping point near the closing time and then I leave regardless of what actual time it is.

At the office they have assigned assistants that get boxes or bring things to you and assigned assistants that do the floors and clean your desk (in the morning while I am already trying to get to work).  And assigned assistants that bring you tea or bread and things.  It's pretty nice service.  They also have completely open doors and windows and wasps that come in whenever you have your hot milkshake coffee.

So I am petrified of wasps and bees.  It's a legitimate phobia among my other phobias (all of which I have met in Rwanda, it's a personal challenge that my phobias are winning for the most part).  Anyway, when a giant one came in and was really interested in my bananas, I basically ran and went part way up some stairs I the warehouse and crouched and watched the invader rampage around the room and watched everyone else not notice.  And if you think that you know what a large wasp looks like and if you think that everything is bigger in Texas, you have never seen a Rwandan wasp and hopefully you will never have to.  The people all started to stare at me wondering what I am doing.

They were all laughing at me.  This is a common occurrence.  When I tried to explain that I only wanted hot water only to put my tea bag in instead of my hot milkshake, when I told them that I am afraid of wasps, when I am sweating in the afternoon and they are wearing jackets still, when I ever say anything in Kinyarwandan this is good for fits of laughter, in particular from the women.

Sometimes on the way home I stop at a restaurant/pub called Joy Time (inspired name!) that is on my walk home depending on which bus I got on and which stop I get off at.  Everyone stares at me there too as I order my beer.  But they are really nice to me.  I wish I could spend more time there and that I wasn’t alone so much.

I have a ton more that I can post but I am afraid I will lose internet shortly as the power is flickering.  I will go ahead and post this now with my best wishes from Rwanda and my heart missing so many things.  Next time will probably be another long post or a picture post.  I have tons of photos that I want to share withyou, technology allowing.  Anyway, sleep tight.


  1. I'm excited for you to come home love. And I love your course evaluation...I'm completely unsurprised by it.

  2. December 15! I was wondering when we were talking if you had definite plans to come home. That must feel so fast and so eternally slow all at the same time. As homesick as you are, try your best to enjoy it! I know you will, and I know you appreciate how life changing this experience will be. Try to soak it all in so you remember every smell, every everything about this time in your life, as crazy and chaotic as it is, I know you will reminisce about this when you are older! I have so many more things I want to say but this is the most important! :) Wishing you a safe end of your trip!

    1. As always, and I know you, you are so simply WISE. I adore you and yours.