And There Was Light

“Just wait till the new students arrive,” said one of my human rights students, whose day job is in UCAD’s student services department.  “There will be electricity or there will be strikes.”

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Students hanging out in the main classroom building of the law faculty, where the big amphitheater classrooms are located.

Last week I finished my first course at UCAD, taught at the Institute for Human Rights and Peace.  As my earlier post indicated, the lack of electricity meant that the night course for working students enrolled in a “masters professionel” could not continue till 8pm, the official time, but was forced to wrap up when the sun set.  But, on the last day of this course – one that I added at the students’ request, to make up for some of the hours lost to darkness – there was light!  And some air conditioning.  The extra effort of my diligent students had paid off, I thought – for them and me.  No more insh’allah (God willing), repeated after every sentence setting out a plan of action.  Our purely human effort had paid off.

After we finished drawing conclusions about the ICTR and ICTY case law and its impact on the 1948 Convention, we began discussing the connection between punishment and prevention.  We were poised to take the official “pause” (a sacred institution in French law classes of 3 hours or more, I’ve learned) and return to talk more about preventing genocide, in terms of the analysis framework developed by the Special Advisor (to the U.N. Secretary-General) on the Prevention of Genocide (SAPG) and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).  Then we would apply these techniques and ideas to Darfur.  Fun stuff!

But first, before the pause, a few final words on the final exam.  My pronouncements set off a wave of student questions, including “how long should it be?” and “what font and margin size?”, debate about the value of page limits versus minimums, and general shock at a firm deadline.  This is the stuff of teaching anywhere in the world, a reminder that students are students regardless of language or country.

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An tunnel of palm fronds that shades the last steps of my walk to class.

Then the lights went off.

And the A/C.

And my hope for finishing the course as intended.  Eh bien.  The students laughed, headed outside for the break, and after 15 minutes, when it was still pitch black, filtered back into the classroom to ask if I would add one more class.  No, I explained, because my Comparative Health Law class was due to start the next week and I’d already delayed it once, to extend the Genocide class.  OK, they replied, one after the other, thanking me for the class and wishing me success – and light – in my next course.

Insh’allah, I replied, with a smile.


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