Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Rare and Resilient Rwanda

I was only in Rwanda a few days, and went just to see the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat, but the country has given me many memories and things to ponder.  

First - the Memorial Museum in Kigali.  After the slaughter of close to a million Tutsi in 100 days in 1994, the country has managed to move on through forgiveness.  Imagine all of a sudden hating your neighbor, your best friend, even a family member because they were a Tutsi, something quite randomly determined in 1932 by the number of cows one owned!  Today, there are only "Rwandans" living here and the country has moved forward in more ways than tribal.  Roads are excellent, land is fertile, moisture is abundant and there is little garbage lying around - plastic bags are prohibited.  

Trekking into Parc National des Volcans to see the gorillas is what you come for.  Even though it costs a lot - $1000 Canadian during high season, seeing part of Diane Fossey's 'Susa family' - the silverback (alpha male) and his 6 females with their numerous babies brought me to tears - 3 times during our designated hour visit.  Poaching almost wiped them out but now park rangers track the groups every day and report their position to the guides who chop bamboo, stinging nettle and other plants out of the way along the uphill, muddy, mountain track.  There are 10 gorilla families and 8 people may visit a family for one hour/day so that's $80,000/day.  Thanks to their cut, the poachers realize the gorillas are worth more alive than dead!

Mzungo, Mzungo, Mzungo - if I heard it once, I heard it a million times.  We are still a novelty which adds to the overall experience.  Kids wave, holler, giggle and run beside the vehicle as we pass by.  Adults glance our way but seem indifferent.

Farming is ALL manual from hoeing, to planting, to cutting and gathering, to threshing.  Crops are wheat, corn, bananas, plantains, sweet potatoes, huge pineapple, paw paw, passion fruit and goat.  We didn't see a lot of work happening in the fields - not ready I guess.  It is a very laid back culture-lots of sitting around and visiting.

Rwanda is a special place, teaching the world about forgiveness and thanks to their wildlife, providing outsiders with an unforgettable experience.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Musanze, Rwanda, December 25, 2015

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!!  I hope you're enjoying good food and company, and maybe decent weather too!

My Christmas has been wonderful.  First, we decorated the truck-


Poppy, who we discovered was conceived in Africa and named after a mountain gorilla we should have seen yesterday but who had just left the family with a young silverback to find happiness elsewhere, stands around the door decorations-


We put our name on our sock so Santa could find us-


We drew names a few weeks ago for "Secret Santa" and I got a variety of things: a Christmas decoration in the shape of a heart from Kazuri in Nairobi, a bag of candy and my favorite-


Giraffe salad spoons!  Rhod also made me this great card-


Too funny.  (Rhod is 25 and Welsh)  Jess and Poppy made everyone personalized cards-


Yes I drink coffee everyday, speak French, come from a cold country and correct spelling mistakes.  What can I say?

I was Mick, our driver's, Santa.  Someone else gave him green hair that just happened to match the wrapping paper around his 6 pack-


I partially attended 2 church services which carry on all day with singing, dancing and music.  First, just behind our dorm is a huge Catholic Church and amphitheatre.  People  come and go all day.  The singing is beautiful but they've only sung one song I've recognized so far-


I walked to the Anglican Church, hoping for an English service but it was at 7:30 this morning.  Instead, I had to settle for one in Kinyarwanda, the official language of the country.  Notice the goat and bag of charcoal at the front.  They led the goat out - I was hoping they would slaughter him right there-


After church, Christmas is just like any other day, spent at the market-


Christmas supper was massive: salade ni├žoise, fish, beef, duck and chicken for meat, and an orange cupcake. So good but pretty different from last year's shrimp on the dive boat in the Great Barrier Reef and the usual turkey at home!

What I love about 'foreign' Christmases is the complete lack, and I'm using that word positively, of commercialism.  So many go to church and then that's it.  There are few decorations and very little hype - the way I think it was meant to be.  There is no feeling of rush, rush, panic - did I buy the right gift? enough gifts? will they like it? Blah, blah, blah.

We're returning to Uganda tomorrow as we make our way back to Nairobi.









Thursday, December 24, 2015

Muzanze, Rwanda, December 24, 2015

Today was one of my best days ever.   I  went trekking in Volcanoes National Park, close to the town of Musanze, Rwanda to see the mountain gorillas.

The Sacola cultural dancers greeted us at the departure point-


They beat their drums and danced around, hooting and hollering for about half an hour.  It was a cultural experience that I didn't really appreciate.

On the way to the gorillas, there were many people carrying huge loads to market- cassava leaves and 100 pound sacks of potatoes or charcoal.  They walk for miles-


Unless they are lucky like this fellow and 'catch a ride'-


We towed him uphill for miles.  He even used his cell phone while hanging on to the back of our truck!

Once  it was determined which of the 10 gorilla families we would get to visit, Adam, Brad and I hopped in a van and we were off.  Lucky for us, we were the only 3 in our group.  Most have 8.  We had to hike about 1.5 hours, uphill, through bamboo-


And mud, and later, through stinging nettles and other vegetation-


 Park rangers-


Constantly track the gorilla families until they start making their nests for the evening.  In the morning, they find them again, then meet the groups and lead them to-


It was very emotional for me to see them.  They have been poached, nearly to extinction, but thanks to people wanting to see them and willing to pay the $1000 !!!,  the government has rangers watching them continuously and former poachers are getting money from the tourist fees and realizing the gorillas are more valuable alive than dead.

Each family has a large silverback - the alpha male, numerous females and quite a few babies-


The mothers are so maternal - hugging and kissing their babies-


There are also a couple rambunctious teenagers - one climbed a bamboo tree and fell out while we spent our hour with them-



Their feet are-


Crazy looking!  While we were watching them, most slept, farted, cuddled or looked at us, but none approached.  The closest I was to them was about 6 feet.  

The silverback weighs about 220 kg.  His arms are massive-


He slept the whole time we were there until the guides started making funny sounds trying to wake him up.  Finally he sat up and looked at us for about 5 minutes, then laid back down.


It was a great way to spend Christmas Eve.  Tonight we're having French onion soup, decorating the truck, drinking egg nog and just enjoying our time in Rwanda.  Merry Christmas!
















Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Kigali, Rwanda, December 23, 2015

We had a 5 am start which means breakfast at 4:15-4:45 and I was cook group!  We made it to the Uganda/Rwanda border before all the tour buses and were through both sides, with money changed, in an hour.  That's a record so far.

Rwanda is beautiful with valleys and terraced farming-


where all work, repeat ALL work is done manually, and by that I mean - no animals.  There were quite a few workers hoeing and planting-


Rwanda is very clean - no garbage, a plastic grocery bag ban, perfectly smooth highways (no speed bumps or rumble strips every 500 meters or less) and friendly people.  

We stopped in Kigali to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial.  What a professional, non judgemental, forgiving, modern and informative place!  I learned so much about recent Rwandan history which has been tumultuous, to say the least.  

In 1932, the government determined that if a person had 10 or more cows, they were a Tutsi and if they had fewer than 10 cows, they were a Hutu.  What a crazy way to determine one's fate.

In 1959, the King died, so there was a mass execution of Tutsi.  A new king was elected in 1961 and the persecution and ethnic cleansing continued.  

In 1990, the Hutu were still in power and Belgian colonists encouraged the exile of more Tutsi so the Rwandan Patriarch Front (RPF) invaded, hoping to establish equal rights for the Tutsi.

The massacres continued from 1990-1994.  Naturally, the media fuelled society with hate propaganda to pit neighbour against neighbour and friend against friend.  The government proclaimed 10 commandments - laws against the Tutsi of course.  If a Hutu was married to a Tutsi or did business with a Tutsi, he or she was a traitor.  All teachers had to be Hutu.  The armed forces were Hutu.  Tutsi were called lnyenzi - cockroaches. 

In 1993, because of pressure from the RPF, there were finally plans to have a democratically elected government, even though the Hutu leader - Habyarimana, was busy buying 12 million dollars worth of grain from the French.  

Meanwhile, "Jean Pierre" was an informant who told the UN about the Hutu plans - they were training soldiers to massacre the Tutsi.  The UN was unable to protect him and he 'disappeared'.  

In 1994, President Habyarimana's plane was shot down and shit hit the fan.  In 100 days, 1 million Tutsi were slaughtered.  Women especially were attacked with the idea to stop the next generation of Tutsi.  More than 300,000 children were orphaned.  The UN, rather than bring in more troops, pulled out.  Romeo Dellaire believes that 5000 UN troops could have prevented the slaughter.  Only the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders stayed.  Over 2 million refugees fled to neighbouring countries.  Two thirds of the entire population was displaced.  

80% of all Rwandan kids experienced a family death and 70% saw someone injured or killed.

After the genocide stopped in 1994, the RPF formed the new government.  

In 2002, the government launched Gacaca (grass) which is a restorative justice system to establish the truth and determine consequences.  Confessors received half of their sentence to be served in the community - building roads etc and half in jail.  Those who wouldn't or didn't or won't confess, spend their whole sentence in jail.  

Now for the biggest message - FORGIVENESS.  I spoke to an employee who lost many family members.  Don't forget - neighbors killed neighbors, friends killed friends.  Relatives even killed each other.  Anyone who has come to him and apologized, he's forgiven.  By forgiving, the country has been able to move on.  Today, Tutsi and Hutu no longer exist.  Those left are Rwandan.  

Besides the informative explanation, there are rooms of skulls and bones, photographs of those killed, clothing worn and lots of videos of interviews with survivors.  Upstairs, there are smaller displays of other genocides including Hereros (1904-1905), Armenia (1915-1918), The Holocaust (1939-1945), the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (1975-1979) and The Balkans in the 1990s.  As we all have realized, it is truly unbelievable what one human being can do to another because of racial, tribal, sexual, religious and whatever minute difference someone wants to find fault with.

Pictures were not allowed in the museum but there is a nice memorial rose garden outside-


Over 200,000 bodies were found on the site in mass graves-


It was a sobering place and makes my visit here all the more important.

I am looking forward to seeing the gorillas tomorrow!


Kampala to Kabale, Uganda, December 22, 2015

We were off at 5 am this morning.  Breakfast was at the equator-



Where they do an interesting 'trick'.  Water is poured into the disc and depending which side of the equator you're on, determines the spin-




We tried pouring water in but didn't notice much.  A man came along and told us we had to pay so we lefl.  I'll check out the toilets and sinks and see if it's true!

The drive was nice - lush, hilly and tropical-


It's onion harvest time, at least in one village.  There had to be a million red onions.  We could smell them driving past!



Bagged charcoal for sale-


A golf course - no flags out on the 'greens' and no players.  Not sure I'd want to pay to play it!


Supper was homemade Rolex and as one of the chefs, I have to say they were pretty good!  We're off at 6 tomorrow morning, heading to Rwanda!





Kampala, Uganda, December 21, 2015

I awoke to pouring rain at 4 this morning and was sooooo happy to be sleeping in a dorm!

Once the rain stopped, I went on a Bwaise slum tour.  50,000 people - 60% women and children, live in this particular area.  30% of the women are sex workers and HIV and AIDS is rampant.

Our guide, Salim, grew up  in the slum and wants to make changes.  He runs a not for profit organization providing an orphanage, schooling and food for the hundreds of kids.  He is also running for local government-


The slum-



Coca Cola has put in a clean water well that takes tokens. It costs about $1.67 for 50, 20 litre jerry cans.  There is also a not treated spring where jugs can be filled.  When it rains, the spring is filled with garbage and must be cleared out before it can be used-


60 students cram into this classroom-


English is the official language but if people don't attend school, they can't learn English, therefore they are not employable.  The cycle continues.

Typical homes-




Children at Salim's orphanage range from ages 1-14 and obviously love him-


Playing Ludo-


I have had a Rolex!  And eaten it too!  It's eggs, cabbage and tomato in chipati and delicious-


 6 cost $3.76 - obviously not Mzungo price-


The children of the slum are so cute!  They want to shake your hand, say hello, get hugged and many call out "Hello Muzungo" which is 'white person'.  It makes as much sense as me saying black African-




Their hair is short to keep lice away.  In spite of their difficult situations, they are very happy and friendly.  The adults were much shyer, but most don't speak enough English to communicate.

It was an interesting day and makes me thankful for all that I have.

We have a very early start tomorrow - 5 am as we drive off to Rwanda!








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