Life on campus has a predictable trajectory. Some liken the behavior of students to that of a moth: wherever there is light, whatever the source, the moth will go after it.
This behavior is perhaps best captured by relationships between the sexes, with the light being represented by the availability of money.
The first semester of an academic year is always filled with mixed fortunes for different students. While continuing students are faced with anxieties of possible ‘re-sits’ or ‘supplementaries’ (sups), the newcomers are filled with pride.
Nothing, it would seem, can go wrong. They have finally made it to the highest academic institution in the land.
However, it is not all gloom for the continuing students because a new semester also marks the arrival of new students.
To the old students this means a fresh supply of boyfriends and girlfriends. At this take-off stage, life is rife with intrigue, suspense and drama as the students sharpen their seduction skills.
With or without the spice of ‘freshers’, the first four or five weeks of a semester could be described as heavenly for many a pleasure seeker.
Everything is ‘cool’, especially for those who have passed all their examinations. Even the more spiritual ones know that this is the season of blessings.
The wallets and purses are bursting at the seams with SFAR loan, money from parents, handouts from relatives and other legal and illegal sources. The long and short of it is that students sometimes have more money than is good for them.
The moneyed can be spotted from a mile away, from their exaggerated language, walking styles and even demeanor.
Posh restaurants that serve buffet are filled to more than capacity unlike usual because of these rich students. Forget the fact that at other times they spend a lot of time trying to budget for the cheapest meals in the cheapest restaurants.
While they used to whisper orders for ubugali and source not so long ago, now with pockets bulging they shout their orders even before arriving at the counter. “Prepare a full chicken,” someone shouts from the back of the line.
Lecture halls also bear witness to the season of money.
Sweet and gum wrappers and juice and soda bottles stand side by side. Such times also mark the most intensive battles for romance between students. Those with newly acquired driving licenses will do everything to drive a car to campus just to show-off.
The high fuel prices have done nothing to put a damper on these individuals. The mantra of the moment is that ‘money talks’. Come Friday, everyone will troop to the nearest entertainment joints.
The seriously moneyed will hire a car and, with their lovers, drive to exclusive bars, where they will rub shoulders with the elite and celebrities of the country.
For taxi operators this is boom time. “Business is really good when these young people have just resumed their studies. Money flows, and a male student will often pay double or triple the normal fare just to show his girl that he has it,” says 36-year-old Venuste, a taxi driver in Kigali.
The level of money-fuelled attraction between couples can be seen in the way they carry themselves. Some will walk side by side holding each other from the canteen to the library and to town.
If the two are in the same class, nothing less is expected. This closeness is, however, bound to change as the mirage of wealth disappears.
Other aspects of campus life also revert to normal with the disappearance of wealth. The students troop back to the campus restaurant where beans and rice once again become the norm. Fridays now are dreaded because there is no money to throw about.
The former lovers no longer go out and there is no shortage of excuses such as that they are saving for their future. Sanity makes a return to the lecture halls where few will be seen chewing anything leave alone drinking sodas. With the approaching assessments tests the lecture halls are full to capacity.
The exams provide a perfect cover for the empty wallets, as students make a beeline for the libraries on Fridays and Saturdays. As the semester approaches its old age, life becomes desolate.
Many students, now completely broke, will be trying to find ways to at least get a few coins for public transport. Few relationships survive to this stage. Those who want to avoid their partners will swap mobile phone lines and feign loss of their phones.
“You cannot frankly tell your chick that you are broke,” says Christian, a third year Accounting student at the School of Finance and Banking. “You must devise ways to avoid that. I changed my phone and bought another SIM card and that worked out quite well.”
As the cash famine bites, some resort to selling their electronics like DVDs, phones, sub-woofer speakers and radios. Outsiders take advantage of the season of want to buy these items at throwaway prices. Outings on Friday or any other day are things of the past, and it is at this point that students look upon their well off friends for a once in a while outing some who are so desperate resort to taking illegal illicit brews like’ kanyanga.’
The dumping of ‘fresher’ lovers is as frequent as throwing waste paper into a bin.
The season of drought has hit the students with a vengeance. Some impatient students drop out while the rest can’t wait for the end of the semester. That is life on campus for you, but generally, University students love campus.