A Blog by International Students at Leiden University

From Leiden to Lusaka – Conference Countdown

Rik Jongenelen is a guest blogger on The Leidener and studies the MA in African Studies. He is currently doing a three-month internship in Zambia.

Pleasure after Pressure

After rubbing my face in an attempt to revive my concentration, I put my glasses back on and look at myself in the reflection of my laptop screen. A tanned but tired face is looking back; the internship and research have been high demanding for the past 8 weeks. “I can see you really need a few days off” were my mom’s words after I picked up my parents from the airport in Lusaka. I lock my office door and say goodbye to my colleagues. I am taking one week off to visit the famous Mosi-oa-Tunya or Victoria Falls in both Zambia and Zimbabwe. It has been a long time since I last travelled with my parents but I am amazed by their flexibility, persistence and adaptability at their age. On our final day in Zimbabwe, the devastating mess that Robert Mugabe left behind is being brightened by a group of artists who are performing for a group of Western tourists. They are singing Shosholoza, a song that was used to be sung by train passengers on their way to the goldmines near Johannesburg. Apparently my mom knows the lyrics and starts singing with the performers, to the delight of the present Zimbabweans who make her part of the act. I observe them from a distance, faintly smiling in a mixture of pride and shame. It is hard for me to see Africa from such a touristic and stereotypical point of view, but while watching my mom it also becomes clear once again where my interest in Africa originates from.



Presenting Preliminary Findings

“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy…”. I have not heard Eminem’s song Lose Yourself in many years, but at the moment of my presentation it is stuck in my head as I look at the audience. The conference room of the chic hotel is filled with both familiar faces and local partners that I have not seen before. Persons with disabilities, academics, NGO staff members and my Dutch supervisor look at me expectantly while a graphic artist is making an infographic of my work. During my introduction by the host, I look at the banner of the project that I have been involved in. I feel proud and insecure at the same time. It has been a fantastic experience to contribute to research in disability advocacy, but my limited skills in researching and the high expectations make the Eminem lyrics even more applicable to me. I notice that the audience has dozed off after the tea break and this is where my teaching background comes in handy. With the use of voice dynamics and arm gestures I summarize 3 months of intensive work in just 10 minutes time. “You both have a good story to share” my supervisor said previously, and as I explain the theorised mechanism that I have discovered, I see a clear grin around his mouth. After the feedback session, an academic with a serious face approaches me and offers me to write an introduction for a book about the topic I have been researching. This is the last thing I expected after all the delays, frustration and time pressure of the past 12 weeks.

Second Degree Fun

Winking from one leg to the other, I am waiting for the Ge’ez alphabet on the information screen to turn into Latin. Bole International Airport in Addis Abeba is way busier than during my previous transfers here. ‘Second degree fun’ as one of my previous travel partners would call the airport: you will appreciate it once you are out of the situation. I think this also counts for some parts of my stay in Zambia. It was very exciting and nice, but some moments will be experienced as ‘second degree fun’. Living in a developing country was not that challenging for me, but the cholera outbreak measures and the high work pressure acted like an annoying fly buzzing around my head. But despite these downsides, I feel like I got the very best out of this relatively short stay. The ‘first degree fun’ moments were uncountable. With some modifications I finished my internship product and I did more interviews than I expected beforehand. Finally the next few pages in my agenda only show empty lines, with the exception of the annual Africa Day in Amsterdam. With a melancholic feeling I settle down in my airplane seat and gaze through the window. It is not my first goodbye to Africa… neither will it be my last.




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