Oh dear, the start of the winter term was not very promising. Even before it began I was aware that we were undersubscribed in terms of students for the Masters in International Public Policy. There should have been 15 domestic students plus a number of ‘African Leaders of Tomorrow’. For various reasons that are beyond my understanding we ended up with just nine Canadian students, fortunately there is one international and four African students, which increases the cohort size to fourteen. In my special course IP641: Economic Policy in an Interdependent World: The Case of Health, HIV and AIDS and Other Epidemics, there are just seven students. The Inter-disciplinary Seminar has the full complement but that is hardly surprising since attendance is compulsory.
I suspect that the basic problem has been the lack of certainty about the future of the Balsillie School. The funds for the organisation are held at Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier Universities, but the Balsillie school is a partnership between the universities and the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). CIGI is the landlord for the BSIA, owning the magnificent building we are housed in. The ten year agreement that governed the money ran out in November last year. We ran on a ‘steady as you go’ type of extension and are assured will be renewed in the next few days. Unfortunately all the promises in the world cannot replace a signed agreement that sets out exactly what can and cannot be done. Hopefully we will, by the time you have read this blog, have certainty as to what is going on. While we think that things will continue without too much change, we need to see the signed agreement to know that this is indeed be the case.
The one activity that began well was the salon series. These are gatherings of up to 20 people that I convene in my apartment. The idea is that there is a guided conversation with a special guest who answers questions on their topic of expertise. The first one of the year was with David Wilson, a friend of long-standing who grew up and worked in Zimbabwe, before joining the World Bank. The second was with Peter Boehm, a senior Canadian civil servant, currently engaged in preparing for Canada hosting the G-7 meeting in June 2018.
Both were extraordinarily successful meetings although the numbers were a little large in the case of the second one. Every chair in the apartment was in use. The idea is that the guests bring something to eat, generally bread, biscuits, cheese and dips, and something to drink (hopefully a bottle of wine). This is spread out on the table, everyone digs in and gets a drink. People are expected to arrive by seven and after about 40 minutes of eating and mingling we sit down for the conversation. The rule is that we always finish at or before 9:45.
Apart from the teaching, which is surprisingly draining, there is not a lot to report from Waterloo. For the most part the students are very pleasant and hard-working. My Ph.D. student successfully defended his proposal and so will be heading out for his fieldwork in Botswana fairly soon. It will be good to get that completed and I really do need to get involved in more Ph.D.’s to justify my existence here. For me the major problem is that most of the students are in the political science field. That means it is sometimes rather a stretch for them to come to me for supervision.
In the middle of January I was invited to a house music party. What this is essentially means is someone opens their house to people to come and listen to music by local artists. The house, which was with walking distance of my apartment place was quite packed, there must have been about 60 or 70 people. There is a small charge: $20 for people with money and just $10 for people without. In theory some food is provided, although on this occasion it was absolutely minimal. As a result as we walked back through the town we stopped at a pizza parlour for something to make us feel as though we had been fed.
I thoroughly enjoyed the music, which tended towards the folky end of the spectrum. One of the women sang by herself while the second act was a singer with a small backing band of drums and a violin. Waterloo has quite a strong music scene; there is a jazz room at one of the hotels and a few other venues with live performances. Every Monday there is an open mike night down in Kitchener in a pub venue. This is well attended and, while some of the music is absolutely dire, it is always worth going to as firstly it needs supporting and secondly there are gems.
As would be expected at this time of year Waterloo is cold, indeed at times it is bitterly cold. When the weather forecasters or newscasters give the temperature they talk about the actual temperature and then add on the wind chill. It has been as cold as -30° with the wind chill. At the moment there is a pristine blanket of new snow lying on the ground, and as it is a beautifully sunny day it looks very attractive indeed. However it is not a good idea to go out without a hat. There was snow about when I arrived at the end of December, but a few warmish days in January meant that most of it melted leaving a horrible grey mess beside the pavements.
I am glad that I had my snow tires put on almost as soon as I got back. As expected the car did not start, fair enough after nearly three months without being used. I actually called a tow-truck company to take it to the garage to have it serviced, the battery recharged or replaced, and the tyres changed. The driver of the tow-truck noted that I had parked the car with the front facing the garage door, and since there is a small slope down the drive, he suggested that all we needed to do was bump start it. (Most Canadians are not familiar with this concept because they drive automatics). I explained that I was not eager to do this myself because of the snow on the ground. He jumped into the car, I gave it a push and he started it. He did not even charge me for the callout, which I thought was extremely generous. I then immediately took it to the garage for the work to be done.
The intense cold and the fact that both houses and offices are heated means that the air is very dry. I have bought myself a humidifier which I run at night. Colleagues who have a precious piano have three that they run continuously. The immediate impact of this dryness is my thumbnail broke and I had a nasty hangnail that then would not heal. I ended up going to see my GP after a week of applying ointment, soaking in salt water and generally trying to make my own repairs failed. He was surprisingly sympathetic and used liquid nitrogen to deal with the problem.
I am pretty much grounded in Waterloo until the end of term. This will be at the beginning of April, by which time the weather will be warmer and, hopefully, there will be leaves on the trees. We are in the middle of what is called the winter term. Canadian academia has three terms: the autumn term at the beginning of the academic year from September to December; the winter term from January until April; and then finally the spring term which runs from May until August. It is hard to believe it but I have now been here long enough to have earnt a sabbatical, which I intend to take in the academic year 2019/20. The big question is what I will do during that period. Anyway at least there is plenty of time for me to think about it and make plans.
I know this is not a very exciting blog, but in all honesty January has not been an exciting month.