Saturday, May 2, 2015

BJM Bujumbura Report 4: Know When to Fold ‘Em

The past week has been both quiet and loud at the university. A week ago Saturday, the President of Burundi announced that he is running for a third term. Burundi’s constitution contains ambiguity on whether a third term is allowed, which the Burundi courts are deciding. Opponents of the third term are protesting in the streets.

Although the protests are not large, hundreds of protestors in a city of millions, they are random, moving targets, and the city shuts down as a result. Shops must close, people must stop making money for food, and, closest to my situation, public transportation stops running so students can’t come to classes.

So I have not held class since Friday April 24 (and that class was relatively sparsely attended). Each day we wonder if the students will be able to come. Each day they can’t. The sounds of protest move near, then far, although the university and clinic across the street are guarded. Sometimes I hear gunshots, although I think they’re mostly far away.

So what is a professor of a three-week course to do when the last week of the course is cancelled? Keep calm and carry on and use your audio recorder.

I’ve gotten into a habit of recording all my classes, and posting them on iTunesU. When I started doing this I used a battery-operated handheld recorder for the audio. Since then we moved to a system involving processing the files  online, but I thought I’d grab the audio recorder for Burundi, just in case.

The biggest hindrance to audio recording is my own forgetfulness. Usually about every third class I forget to record. But here for some reason I remembered to record every class -- which means I can solve the age-old dilemma of how to be “here” and “there” at the same time.

I condensed my last three lectures into three hours of instruction and cancelled all remaining quizzes (no complaints about that have been logged as of yet). Since some students live on campus I let them know I would be recording the lectures in a classroom and that they could listen if they wanted. About 10 students showed up (out of a class of 170) and even asked questions. We finished all the remaining topics assigned for the class.

Then I wrote a final, translated it into French, and organized everything so they could run the class without me. When things calm down, the students will gather, play the audio, and watch the slides. Someone else can hand out the final, and the course will be completed.

As for the second three-week course that I was going to do, those students have several years before they graduate, and if they want, they can listen to the whole course as recordings. I’ll write quizzes and a new final for them if needed. So they can fulfill their biochemistry requirement and I can go home.

It is a little disappointing to have plans cut short like this, and a little stressful to be living in a place with random, potentially violent protests. My wife was able to change the plane ticket and now I fly home on Monday (arriving back in Seattle Tuesday afternoon, with a 10-hour time difference that subtracts time = about 40 hours).

I have more to say about what it’s been like the past week but I’m saving that for a later post. For now, I’d ask for continued prayers. This country really needs peace. Most people are in lockdown mode, and I’m sure cortisol levels are way up across the city. Pray that the country takes more steps along the road to freedom. And I would also appreciate your prayers for my 40-hour journey home. I’m a little uncertain about the simple act of getting to the airport! So how much more uncertain must my students be?

I believe that God called me to fill a need, and that He’ll use what I can offer in some way, maybe not the way I thought, but that’s not my concern. Pray that the students will be able to learn from the materials I leave behind.

When all’s said and done, about 300 students will have had Biochemistry 3 here that couldn’t get it otherwise. I can say “Mission Accomplished” even if it’s as yet incomplete. “Mission (On the Way to Being) Accomplished.” But isn’t all life like that?

Stay tuned for more updates on what the past week has been like.

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