I’m from an area of the world with a latitude of about 30° North. That means that I’m used to being about a third of the distance up from the equator to the North Pole. It also means that I’m used to days that in the summer, from sunrise to sunset, are 14 hours long.
Things are a bit different here in Kigali.
Rwanda sits about 2° South. And here, the day is just 15 minutes over 12 hours. Basically, the days and nights here are equal length.
It’s surprising how much this simple geographic reality affects life.
For example, when the electricity goes out in the evening, which is not all that unusual, studying becomes difficult if not impossible. One night last week, the secondary school student whom Julius supports (someone I’ll call E) was studying for a difficult math test he was going to take the next day–then the electricity went out, plunging the house into real darkness.
As we waited to see whether the outage was a momentary blip, the boy turned on the weak flashlight device on his mobile phone. I was writing, and I finished whatever thought was in process and closed my laptop because it doesn’t run long on battery power.
As the minutes lengthened, however, it became apparent that power might be out for awhile, so Joseph the house facilitator went out to buy some candles. He came back in with one already lit and tilted it so that a few drops of wax fell onto the corner of the living room table. Then he held the base of the candle in the wax until it hardened and could support the six-inch taper.
And here’s the hard reality: E leaned into his notebook, close to the candle, and kept on studying. I don’t know how he could see the numbers and letters in his book, but he somehow managed.
After a long while, Joseph came in with another candle and was in the process of standing it on the table close to me. I stopped him and insisted that it be placed closer to E so that he could see better. E took it from Joseph and stood it up close to his notebook. It seemed to help just a little, but was not any comparison to the bright two-foot fluorescent bulb that breaks our darkness on most nights.
Fortunately, these sometimes long nights haven’t held E back, and he makes very high grades in school.
I wonder how these outages affect business and industry in urban areas, and I’m especially curious about the rural areas of Rwanda (and the developing world) that have little or no power. What a challenge to development and education.
The equality of Rwandan days and nights also affects language. The morning greeting is mwaramutse, but this is used only in the very early morning hours. By ten a.m., the appropriate greeting changes to mwiriwe, loosely translated as good afternoon or even good day, since it is also used in the evening. It occurred to me recently that this linguistic shift out of morning that occurs fairly early in the day really isn’t early in the day here. It’s four hours after sunrise, but by then a third of the day is gone.
I’ve always taken days—the time the sun is up—for granted. And in the summer, yes, the day is longer. But now I question what I do with those two extra hours. And I wonder how does a night that lasts two hours longer affects how a country develops.