Category Archives: Rwanda

Back in Nairobi

It is way past midnight-as I write this- and I don’t want to go to sleep, not just yet. I don’t want to lie awake for hours thinking, asking questions without answers. It’s the quest for the meaning of life; those are the questions I keep asking myself. It was easier when I was working because I had to sleep early, wake up early and there was many work-related things to occupy my mind. Now I’m kind of between jobs, you would say, so my day’s agenda consists of a little housework and which movie to watch afterwards. Sometimes I go to the cyber café and send out my CV plus application letter to places I dream of working in. Then the waiting begins. I want to do my Master’s Degree next year so I’ve also been doing lots of googling in that area.

I’m in a transitional period right now. I finished university a little less than three months ago (17 Dec 2010 to be precise) and I didn’t have a chance to cool down and think about what I really want to do in life. I got an internship opportunity in Rwanda and took the first bus out come January. I had the time of my life (cue for Greenday’s Time of Your Life) and would love to go back.

I want to travel, see the world. I don’t want a two-day, grab some souvenirs, sleeping at tourist hotels, stopover kind of travel, I want the 6 month or year long stay at a place where you get to know the real life there.

Anyway, there wasn’t much change in Nairobi in the two moths I was gone. There are now street numbers on buildings, which I started noticing sometime last year, but it will be a while before you tell someone to deliver something to 23, Moi Avenue. You’ll most likely still use the house name and colour amongst many other features. Few people even remember street names!

35, Tom Mboya Street

A street sign on Tom Mboya Street showing the address

Matatus are now required to have dustbins. The first time I saw a matatu with a dustbin, I was so impressed till I was later told it’s a requirement by the government. I suspect some people still continue to throw trash out of the window! My mum told me of this huge bus with a dustbin the size of a tea cup! I would think the dustbin would be proportional to the size of the vehicle!

In other news, it’s my friend’s birthday today. Happy birthday mon ami! On the exact same date next month, it will be my birthday too.

From Rwanda to Kenya: The Journey Back Home

I certainly had a grand exit from Rwanda (meeting the president and all), one I fear I may not be able to match elsewhere. I was on a six-week internship in Rwanda which extended to eight weeks, but I do hope to go back and continue what I was doing. Working on the logistics right now. I might also get an offer to be a teaching assistant at my alma mater (JKUAT) since you know, I got a first class honours degree. Currently, I’m in Nairobi on a short holiday (another word for jobless).

The Horrible Bus to Kampala

I was leaving Musanze town, where I’d been staying, for Kampala through the border at Cyanika. I asked around for a bus that leaves for Kampala and was directed to Horizon. I went early to book the bus. I suppose I should have seen the warning signs when they told me you can’t book a day early, you have to book on the day you were leaving. The office was outside on the verandah of a building facing the Musanze Market.

So I booked at noon for my 4.30pm bus. Check-in time: 4pm. I was there at about 5 minutes past four with all my luggage, with Julie and Val and the other Val there to see me off. The bus was nowhere in sight. We waited till 4.30 and still the bus was not there. I thought when they said the bus leaves at 4.30 it means it leaves at 4.30, passengers arrive earlier at 4 so they can settle.

Finally, at almost five, the bus came speeding round a corner. It came to a stop right in front of us and I rushed in so I could secure a good seat. See, when booking you don’t choose a seat number, it’s a scram for any good seats like it was in the old times in Kenya.

When I got onto the bus, I was dismayed! There were five seats per row: 2-isle-3 seat arrangement. The seats were old and looked uncomfortable. The floor of the bus was dirty and rusty, with holes in some places. The seats had no armrests, the seatbelts were dysfunctional and dirty or missing altogether. Any hope that the seats could recline so I could snatch some sleep on the 10 hour journey were dashed. I feared I’d fall off my seat if I dozed… there was not much space and as I mentioned, no armrests/seatbelts to keep you in your seat!

The bus was not full so I could have the 2-seater to myself. I had a lot of luggage, which I had to keep in the bus because you cannot be assured of the security of your luggage. Soon, I was hugging my friends in Rwanda bye and the bus took off.

It stopped a few kilometers out of town to pick up more passengers. This we did all night! Picking and dropping off passengers in-the-middle-of-nowhere kind of towns.

I was gloomy, staring out at Muhabura (volcano that is part of the Virunga massif) as it loomed closer and closer. We were approaching the Cyanika border, just 25Km from Musanze. At the border, the money changers were enticing me and I wanted to change part of my money into Ugandan Shillings. It was very confusing though; new currency confuses me! Not forgetting I had not yet cleared with immigration on both sides and the custom officials searching luggage. I was in a panic! I told the money changer that once everything was settled, I’d look for him.

I had no trouble getting my Rwanda exit/Uganda entry stamps on my travel document. I got back to the bus to find all my luggage in a heap outside, just like the rest of the passengers. I opened my bags for a Ugandan customs official who confirmed I was not smuggling any contraband. Now I had the daunting task of getting my luggage back in the bus!

I started with my suitcase, trying to lag it up the steps of the bus. Two small boys who were hawking water to the passengers in the bus noticed my struggle and offered to help. They put their bottles aside and carried my suitcase in, plus my other heavy bag. I gave them all the Rwandese currency I had left, about $5. They thanked me profusely and wished me a safe journey. I asked them their names: Alex Moses and his friend (can’t remember his name). Their beautiful faces stuck with me. I smiled for the first time since leaving Rwanda. My only regret is that I did not have a camera with me at the time.

I eventually changed my money, trying to get accustomed to the Ugandan notes. I gave up the seat next to mine as the bus filled up on the way. It got dark as we went up and down the hills; Western Uganda is quite hilly. The road was being repaired but there were bad sections where I felt as if we were going to topple off the hill. Worse, the driver was driving way over the speed limit, slowing down only to take sharp corners. I remembered there were no seatbelts and kept hoping we don’t crash. Outside, it was a clear beautiful night. The moon was casting a soft shadow on the hills, which looked like mountains in the night. The stars shone brilliantly. I remember thinking it was a beautiful night to die(!). Sometimes I lost sight of the moon as we drove on one side of a steep hill and at that time, the stars looked like motherless children: sad and forlorn.

I dozed off sometime later after midnight. I slept on and off until we arrived in Kampala at five in the morning. The conductor told us to get off the bus but no one was budging, we were all waiting for it to be light. I did not want to spend another minute in the horrible bus and took a cab to my friend’s place in a hostel near Makerere University.

In Kampala

Kampala was just the opposite of Musanze. Musanze is a quiet, beautiful town; clean and cool. In fact when I left, it was raining.

Kampala was hot and dusty! It felt like being in Kenyan coast only without the redeeming quality of sunny beaches and an endless ocean view. I dreaded going out in the scorching sun and dusty streets, where cars competed with motorbikes for space on the roads. The passenger-carrying motorbikes- boda bodas- sometimes drove the wrong way on one-way roads. You don’t know ‘dangerous’ until you’ve taken a boda boda in downtown Kampala, without a helmet!

If wearing helmets for both the passenger and the rider is a law in Rwanda (which it is), then there must be a law forbidding helmets in Kampala. Maybe it’s the heat, I don’t blame them. The 24hr protection advertised by Nivea deodorant lasted only 1hr, tops!

I stayed in Kampala for about 3 days, doing what young people do to pass time.

The Luxury Bus to Nairobi

Easy Coach is easily the most luxurious bus I’ve ever taken. It’s not just comfortable, it’s luxurious. Akamba is comfortable. So are the coast-plying buses from Nairobi. Easy Coach to-and-from Kampala is luxurious.

The bus was there when we arrived at 5.25p.m. and departure time was 6pm. I had booked the previous day and chosen a seat in the singles column. The bus has just three seats per row: 1-isle-2 seat arrangement. The floor of the bus was shiny and clean, the area under the seats carpeted. There was a bag-thingy at the back of the seat in front of me so I didn’t have to hold my handbag and food-to-eat-on-the-bus on my lap. There was plenty of space and the seatbelts worked. The seat could recline all the way back until you are almost horizontal. There were footrests that you could lower/raise. I sighed with pleasure.

Luggage was checked and labeled. There would be no stopovers to pick random passengers on the way so luggage was safe till we arrived in Nairobi. I hugged my friends goodbye and got onto the bus. I waved at them till we turned a corner and joined Kampala traffic. The sun was setting and I was reading Charles Onyango-Obbo’s book: Uganda’s Poorly Kept Secrets.

Before we took off (at 6pm on the dot), the guy who had been labeling our luggage handed us cold bottled water. Compliments of Easy Coach.

As I was getting comfortable; adjusting my seatbelt, reclining and pulling up my seat, raising and lowering the footrests; I noticed some buttons overheard. One was drawn on it the G-clef (I remember my brief music lessons in primary school) and I pressed it. Nothing happened. Two were for the individual overhead lights, these worked. One bright, one dim. On another button was a steaming cup of tea. I didn’t press it: I’m not an idiot. It may have been first class, but it was still a bus!

I had an interesting conversation with the guy in the seat ahead of me. On my two-month stay in Rwanda, I had to use correct grammar so I could be understood. Now some guys I meet are telling me I don’t sound Kenyan. Sample some parts of our conversation with the guy:

“Me I am telling you…”

“I had used that ka-machine of mine sijui for like for 6 six years.”

“Otherwise me I think night runners are just shy nudists.”

I’m definitely back in Kenya.

Leaving For Kampala

As I write this, am packing and unpacking and repacking. I’ve sat on the suitcase and finally managed to have it closed. Now I have to figure how the rest of my stuff is going to fit into other two small bags. The situation looks hopeless. To get away from this depressing mood, I’m thinking of motorcycles. My current wallpaper (desktop background) is a picture of the kind of bikes used at the 30th edition of the Dakar Rally. [Google it.]

 

The bike used in the Dakar rally, super cool, eh?

The bike used in the Dakar rally, super cool, eh?

On my list of things I want to achieve this year: Learn how to ride a motorbike. Check. Learn French, next target. When I get back to Nairobi, I’m applying for a motorbike license. Some are still asking me, why a bike?

I’ve been trying to explain how I’m trying to be unique. Graduation may not be for another three months, but when it finally arrives, most of my fellow graduands will be arriving for the rehearsal ceremony in borrowed/begged/rented/stolen cars to impress. I, on the other hand, will be on a motorcycle, which is way cooler and more impressive not to mention different.

Nonetheless, my motorcycle lessons were interesting. To start with, there was no theory and even if there was, I don’t think I would have understood much of my teacher’s Congolese Kiswahili. So here are the parts of the motorcycle as I understand them:

Umbriage: (I hope I have spelled it correctly, that is how it is pronounced): I suppose this is the clutch. Located on the left handlebar, you have to hold it when shifting gears and release it so you can shoot forward. Which is what I’ve been doing when I’m starting up the bike. You’re supposed to release the clutch slowly so you can leave smoothly but I usually let go so fast, the bike almost leaves me behind. Takes practice though and am almost getting the hang of it.

The Tia Moto Thing: Usually on the right handlebar, it’s the part that gives you power so you can accelerate. The vroom vroom part just before you leave. Accelerators on bikes have a different name though, am sure. Too lazy to google. It’s easily my favorite part of the bike. Vroom vroom!

Honi: the horn. At first I was honking all the time, because most people you find on the road don’t move out of the way. No matter how much you honk. So I’ve learned to just honk a little warning so they don’t make any sudden movements and then I’m the one who moves out of their way!

The brake: I find it easier to stop by stepping on the break instead of down-shifting until you stop, though stepping on the break shuts down the bike so you have to kick-start it into life again.
The lights of the bike I was using to learn were not working so I was just shown theoretically using my imagination. I have to remember to use the left side of the road in Kenya because in Rwanda they drive on the right.

I don’t know many other parts of the motorbike but I suppose that’s what mechanics are for, no? But… that’s what the internet is there for. Or is there a good book on motorbikes that anyone can recommend?

The day I was able to ride on my own, turning corners, starting and stopping, was my best day of learning. There was no teacher behind me, just me and the bike. Sometimes they’d shout instructions when am passing by: shift gears, sit properly (they want me to sit relaxed but I’m usually too tense, leaning forward wanting to be one with the bike.)

I overpaid for the lessons, I was supposed to have 17 hours in total, one hour daily. These guys came late and left early and missed some days, and we hopelessly tried to make up for the lost lessons. Then they told me that when I’m leaving, I should leave them a present. They gave me an example of someone they had taught who bought one of them a brand new mobile phone. Ha!

In the end though, it was totally worth it.

P.S. Tonight, I’m taking the bus to Kampala. Time to say hi to some friends over there before coming back to Nairobi.

Meeting President Paul Kagame

How it began: the background to the story
It all started with a tweet. Rather, two tweets.

 

The tweets to President Kagame that started it all.

The tweets to President Kagame that started it all.

Let me backtrack a little

Friday morning. My last day at work. Fridays are easy days around here, we report to work at nine in the morning, which means I get up at 8, and on most days, I oversleep till 8.30 and I have to shower, dress, have breakfast and do the 10-min walk to work in 30min! Today at around 4pm, there is a farewell party for me. I don’t really have that much work, so I spend most of the morning tweeting, Facebooking, blog reading and emailing.

Julie, my wonderful boss (I know you’re thinking am just saying this because she might read this blog but it’s the truth). Where was I? Julie, my wonderful boss, was playing tennis in the morning when she noticed Coach Tony (the Ibirunga Tennis and Running Club coach) planting bananas/flowers around the tennis court. So she asked why he was doing that, and he said President Kagame was going to pass through on his way to Kigali. They were not sure he was going to stop, but the coach and the tennis kids were going to wave at him when he passed by.

The Ibirunga Tennis Court in Musanze Town was in a bad state, until the organization I work with, Art of Conservation, came in and helped rehabilitate the club. We also sponsor a few kids to be coached on weekends, since they go to school on weekdays. They are the tennis kids (duh!). The United States Tennis Association provides some of the equipment needed at the court.

 

Coach Tony and others during the early stages of the tennis court rehabilitation. Photo courtesy of AoC

Coach Tony and others during the early stages of the tennis court rehabilitation. Photo courtesy of AoC

Back at the office, Julie told me about the president passing through today and I told her you know what? The president is on twitter, I could tweet him. She was like, why not?

So I tweeted him, and kept checking my replies every few minutes. Finally, 30 minutes later I get a reply:

 

President Paul Kagame's tweet to me!

President Paul Kagame’s tweet to me!

I’m ecstatic.

The Party That Was Not

The president’s timing is er… inopportune since it clashed with my party. He was to come in at around 4pm or 5pm and that’s when guests should be arriving. At first we are not even sure he’s coming so we get on with the party. We have some pizza, wine, soda for the kids and beer. Two of AoC’s staff go to the tennis court, just-in-case.

There are a few guests who’ve arrived so far, and two of them, little angels 7 years old, are drawing something for me as a going-away present. In the end, it’s something a little strange, if abstract, but I appreciate the gesture and will keep the drawings for as long as I can.

The Signs of His Coming

Apart from his tweet, and the excitement in the air as the tennis kids were told to come in their best club t-shirts, there was little to show the president was going to stop by. But at around 5pm, the commissioner of police in this area (I think) called and started asking all sorts of questions about the club. Then we knew things were getting thick! Later, a few security guys (a part of the presidential guards perhaps) arrive and also start asking questions. We’re called from the office. We (AoC staff) have to leave the party for the tennis court. We tell the guests not to worry, we’ll be back to continue it but for now, well…

More army guys arrive. They surround the tennis court and melt into the shadows. They go into the houses neighbouring the court and command the residents to stay indoors. It’s all very movie-like. They are asking questions. They are polite, because they ask me, “may we please speak to you” and then pull me aside and ask me all sorts of things. Then they call Julie aside and do the same. Then they call me back. Then they call Valerie (another staff member) and do the same. Then back to Julie. It is just so very exciting.

The rain and the waiting

Then we begin the wait. The kids continue playing tennis, it would be fantastic if the president sees them in action. The security guys ask us to brief them about our plan. How should we receive the president? What gift do we have for him? Here we show them the various t-shirts we have and wonder what his size is. We plan how we will say hi, introduce everyone, coach thinks of what he’ll say, Julie thinks she should be brief but hit the main points, I think of how I first want to go to the bathroom quickly before he comes.

Unfortunately, it starts raining and I know it will ruin the pretty little picture of the president playing a little tennis in the dust. We wonder what to do. There is a small shelter that will eventually become a bathroom but is currently not functional. The kids shelter there. We run to the car and wait for the rain to stop. I tweet the rain and tell it to please stop.

It stops after a while and we get out. We ask the security guys how long before he comes, they say “we will tell you when he does, don’t worry”. The guests at the party have excused themselves. It’s okay really, since the focus is now elsewhere.

The security guys decide the t-shirt we have for the president is too wet and drive us back to the office to get another one.

It’s now six in the evening and the rain starts again. We rush back to the car. It gets dark. 7pm and we’re a little wet from the rain, we’re cold and the little kids are starting to have long faces. It finally stops raining, the lights at the tennis court come on (well, some of them) and we’re searched before entering the court. We are told to keep our mobile phones away. The camera is examined. No one else will be allowed in/out except the original party.

He’s almost here

You can tell just the moment we realize he is near. There is an increase in the two-way radio static. We’re told to move from the tennis court onto the road. Phone calls are being made. Traffic is diverted so there is an empty stretch and we all look into the distance.

There are several headlights in the distance but they keep turning before hitting this stretch. Another nobody, we sigh.

 

We look at the headlights in the distance!

We look at the headlights in the distance!

Finally, a car travelling at high speed blazes through, flashing lights and hooting horns. Or maybe a siren. In our excited state, we see and hear things. Off it goes past us. It must be the decoy car, I think. The presidential motorcade finally weaves its way and at the tennis court where we wait by the roadside, a small sleek car stops. Someone opens the door. And Kagame steps out.

I wave to A. A is our unofficial photographer tonight. We have done several practice shots so we are ready to go. I must say I’m hogging the limelight, at one point making sure I am looking into the camera all the time. I hope no one notices this.

Julie is the first to greet him and to introduce herself. I shake his hand next. He then greets everyone by hand, paying special attention to the smallest kid here. He speaks with Coach Tony. He says he has a gift for us and hands us an envelope. We thank him and clap for him. We remember the t-shirt we promised him. We give it to him. He holds it up, saying “thank you, it’s my size.” We couldn’t be happier at this moment!

 

president kagame

With our best smiles, we let the president know just how much we appreciate his stopping by and accepting our gift.

There is a pause in conversation and activity, and I seize the chance to tell him I’m the one who tweeted him. He turns back to some of his entourage and says, “she’s the one who invited me.” Then I tell him am going back to Kenya soon, and he said no, you should stay. I tell him I want to be the president of the EA Republic when it’s formed in 2032.

Julie invites him to the pizza and wine party but acknowledges that he’s probably tired. She thanks him and we all clap for him and thank him yet again. Then he waves bye, slides into the back seat of his car and they slowly leave. The security guys are leaving. Traffic resumes. Then it hits us: the president came!

His Gift

We open the envelope. Crisp bank notes. We’re so happy, we’re shouting and laughing and whooping and singing as we walk back to the AoC office. It’s about 9pm (we don’t have our phones so I’m not sure of the time). We make more noise and sing louder.

 

Excitement is in the air

Excitement is in the air

The After-party That Was

Singing and dancing, we arrive at the office and distribute pizza and soda to the kids. Drinks are handed to the adults. The mood is buoyant! We’re high on adrenalin.

After a while, the tiredness starts to kick in. I stop the music and give a little speech. I’m kind of emotional right now, I’ve encountered nothing but love all around (most of the time). I love this place yet am leaving soon.

Then my co-workers start handing me gifts, giving a little speech about how they will miss me and tears are slipping from my eyes. Anyone who has something to say says it. We allow the kids to go. The adults remain and continue to have fun. More wine and music and dancing. It’s two in the morning when the last people leave the party.

Meeting President Paul Kagame is definitely the highlight of my two-month stay here. I like this town a lot, I would love to come back. Perhaps I will.

The Aftershocks

We wake up on Saturday to a flurry of phone calls left, right and all over. Definitely, a lot of questions about Art of Conservation. In short, we carry out conservation and health education to kids living near the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. For more, check out the AoC blog.

We count the money the president gifted the Ibirunga Tennis and Running Club. One million Rwandese Francs (about 2000 USD).

My impression of him is that he’s a very nice guy. There, I don’t have glowing descriptions. It was humbling for me, for all of us. He’s generous and polite. A great man.

There are also a lot of questions about Twitter. What is this twitter thing? And we have to tell them it’s like Facebook, you know, the internet site?

What are you all waiting for, sign up and follow me on twitter!

The Chilling Side

Ever heard of places where people are so jealous of you, they literally poison you? They’re jealous of your success, mostly financial success, and instead of breaking and stealing (that may help them perhaps) but they kill you?

Well, come to think of it, when in Kenya it’s very rare to hear stories of poisoning because your neighbours are jealous. One time, I was talking with a friend here in Rwanda and she was telling me of her friend who eventually left Congo after she got poisoned. She’s originally from England and when she couldn’t take it anymore, she left DRC. Someone else told me her sibling was poisoned when she (the sibling) was a baby. Why would anyone poison an infant?

The Batwa in Rwanda (and Uganda too) are a tribe that is described by the politically correct term, marginalized. They are a minority (1-2%), very poor with no sources of income. Originally a forest people, they now live in communities in towns surrounding the forests where they used to gather and hunt. They are short people very skilled in dancing.

 

A Batwa family. Immage 'borrowed' from gorillas.org. I'm sorry to use such a blatant unapologetic picture

A Batwa family. Immage ‘borrowed’ from gorillas.org. I’m sorry to use such a blatant unapologetic picture

On a Friday, am walking into the hospital corridors of the district hospital. We’re here to see K, a little old woman who’s been beaten up by some Hutu rogues. No, it’s not a tribal issue but I’ll explain later.

The mood is solemn, in my hand am holding a paper-cup of milk and I’m taking care not to spill a drop. The hospital corridor smells of disinfectant, though not of a strong kind. We enter this ward with about six people, it’s an open kind of place. The little woman is lying in bed, she’s been here for over 24 hours. She hasn’t spoken a word, hasn’t even opened her eyes. She lies unconscious, still breathing, her head a little swollen. Her husband tries shaking her a little, I suppose he’s asking her in Kinyarwanda to wake up, open her eyes. But they remain closed. She looks so vulnerable, half alive really. I can’t stand the pitiful scene any longer. I hand the milk paper cup to the husband and walk out.

K’s son and grandson had a quarrel at a bar with those rogue guys I mentioned earlier. They (K’s family) left before they could settle scores. The rogues swore they’ll punish the first person they met from K’s family. That Thursday, K was coming from the market with another of her grandson. They beat her unconscious, using metal(objects) to bash her head in.

It’s been about 3 weeks since she was taken to hospital. She hasn’t spoken a word since. My boss who’s concerned for her has been buying the medicine the doctors recommended. No change. Yesterday, there were rumours that she had died, but she’s still breathing. It seems like just a matter of time. It’s just a sad situation.

Friendliness: It’s not a matter of race

I’ve met so many people here, from so many different nationalities: Germans, Americans, Croatians, Canadians, Kenyans, Italians, Britons, Spaniards, Congolese, Zanzibaris, Belgians, French nationals (Frens? Frenchians?) etc. Most are tourists, some work here, some to visit, some for whatever reasons… goes without saying I’ve met lots of Rwandans too.

 

black-hat-white-hat-struggle

It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white

Let me break this into locals and foreigners:

Rwandans

Reception from locals is mixed. One time, I was hanging out with the Zanzibari (I’ve since learnt they are not called Zanzibarians) at a small café, and someone asked us if there are no jobs in Kenya/Zanzibar. Well, we broke it down to him: had we remained in our own countries, we’d have got better paying jobs (after lots of competition, of course) and we’d be in cities with vibrant social lives (read fun). Of course, we seem to be escaping competition and we have an edge in the rat race here because we are generally (sic) more qualified. We want to contribute to Rwanda’s development (at least that’s my dream) and I don’t intend to stay here forever, but when I leave I hope to have left a mark. We then told the guy who asked us the question that this is not a matter of just Rwanda but East Africa, let there be love among us. He was welcome in Kenya/Zanzibar anytime!

So far one of the challenges I face every day is trying not to scream when someone says: “but you look like one of us, how can you not speak Kinyarwanda?” Well, I have news for you: every black person looks Rwandan. There are black people in Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Senegal… and they all don’t speak Kinyarwanda. I’m trying to learn it, you know, the basics. I even borrowed a book: English, French, Kiswahili and Kinyarwanda phrases that is so inaccurate (at least the Eng/Swa translation because I understand these two languages), I literally laugh out loud at some of the translations. Everywhere I go, whenever I tell people I don’t speak Kinyarwanda, they’re always genuinely surprised. “ You look Rwandan!” Then they tell me they’ll find me a Rwandan husband.

Well, some of the kids we teach conservation education have taken a liking to me. One time during recess, one of the girls wanted to take me to a market somewhere and buy me tea because she thought I’d be so hungry by the time the class would be over. Glad to know someone cares about me! I politely declined but they ask every time I’m in their class. Later, we had a broken conversation (as in, it was hard to understand each other), and she told me about her brothers and sisters, then asked me how many children I have, or if I’m married.

The other Rwandans I’ve met have all been very nice to me. My co-workers, I love them very much. Some others who are friends of friends, them too. The girl who works down by Volcana Lounge where I sometimes play pool. Some vets from Kigali.

The Other People in Rwanda

Well, foreigners sounds like such a harsh word, innit? Though I think it’s better than aliens!
By far, the Americans are the friendliest. I guess by the time they overcome the images ‘genocide’ brings into most minds, they’re pretty much open-minded and informed. So they’re not likely to say something like:

“Wow, you speak good English.”

It’s a miracle! A Rwandan who speaks good English!

Then when I clarify that I’m Kenyan, they sometimes nod their heads in understanding. Sometimes they’re still puzzled as to how an African (am using this term loosely, I think I mean a black African) can speak such good English.

So I’ve had some ask me, “pizza, you know pizza? We’re going to have that.” All the while speaking slooowly so I can get what they are saying. Other times, if I happen to hang out with some of them amongst other friends, they won’t speak to me directly and am like, why am I even hanging out? I love staying in my room listening to music, typing these blog posts…

But as I said, these are rare times. If someone actually decided to travel to Rwanda, they must be well informed and it’s always fun to interact with all these different people from all over Africa, and the rest of the world.

The question am sure you want to ask me is, how do I meet all these people?

Well, I live at a guest house. It’s quite small, so I get to meet all the visitors that pass through, staying for a day or two at a time. Then there are friends, and friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends… I think that’s what we Kenyans like to call connez (connections).

connections

Connections, see what I mean?

 

Parties, Funny Pets and Long Weekends

Last week, there were two public holidays in Rwanda. One was Heroes’ Day which was on a Tuesday (1st Feb) and the other was an elections day for local leaders, which was on Friday (4th Feb) so in the end, we only went to work for 3 days! How can I not love Rwanda if this trend of holidays continues?

So because Tuesday was a holiday, Kim threw his party on Monday night. Who is Kim? Oh, he’s a fun guy who sits on the board of MGVP. That’s the abbreviation of Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, gorilla doctors who are partners of AoC, where am interning currently. Whenever Kim is in town, he throws a party and everybody is invited. Open bar and some finger foods, what more can anyone ask for on a Monday night? Suffice to say, I got home safe with albeit with little drama involving a captain in the Rwandan army, a cigarette and Amarula. Some stories are left untold, you know?

We went back to work on Wednesday only to learn Friday was a holiday. This time, I just chilled out. Read my book, Wizard of the Crow, by Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Worked on some long overdue report… came up with a nice format/template, now to fill in the information and acquire appropriate pictures.

Later on Friday evening, I went for a walk with my boss to see her friend. The friend (who’s a vet) had just acquired a new puppy, and they were debating on names: Strider, Aragon, Gollum or Rocky. The first three names are from The Lord of The Rings, FYI. The puppy’s a um… I forget the breed but he was only 3 months old. He’d traveled for almost a week, from Paris to Amsterdam to (I don’t know where) to Kigali to here…

She has two other dogs apart from Puppy (his temporary name though Rocky was beginning to stick.) Her 7-year-old daughter is a bundle of energy and she loves animals too. She took me round their place: they have a donkey, called Punda. He’s a cute donkey, little but that’s his size, he’s fully grown. She has a saddle and rides him sometimes.

Next… she showed me their guinea pigs. (Just for those who might be thinking so: they’re not pigs from Guinea but a cross between rats and rabbits.) I didn’t want to hold them at first but after a while, figuring out if they can’t harm a 7-year-old, what can they do to an over (slightly over) 18? So I picked one up, petted it and gave it a carrot. They love carrots. They’re just so cute, one is er.. I forget their names. I think  Mdogo was black and white, and Sir was pure white with sparkling red eyes.

 

A very cute guinea pig

A very cute guinea pig

This weekend, I also went for swimming at the nearby Ishema Hotel. You pay about 1500 Rwandan Francs and swim for the whole day.

 

swimming-pool

The Ishema Hotel Swimming pool. Image from www.tripadvisor.com

And after finishing Wizard of the Crow on Sunday, I went to visit a workmate. I’m doing rounds visiting everyone I work with during weekends, don’t ask why. I’m trying to build relations, friendships, you know? Anyway, he made me watch a longer than 1-hr tape of his wedding! (Yawn). But I only write good things about my colleagues, so the wedding was very interesting. No drama, nothing out of the ordinary, just a nice wedding. Then he handed me about 1000-photo album with guess what, just wedding pictures! I was thoroughly entertained. And well fed by my hosts.

Here’s to Rwanda.

Weekends in Rwanda

My friend called me the other day and was very sympathetic, thinking how bored I must be at night and during the weekends. If you recall, I’ve been in Rwanda for about 3 weeks, and I didn’t know anyone when I was coming here. She thought by now I’d have finished all my movies and series (I have about 500GB worth of stuff to watch) plus I brought a number of novels. Wrong. I’ve only managed to finish one book so far, 2 or 3 movies and maybe one or two series.

I leave work around 5p.m. but remain at the office to surf and read blogs, you know the drill, tweeting all the while. Then I head home and read about 2 pages of my book, have supper and by 9p.m. am feeling sleepy already. If am lucky, I have the energy to read another page of the book I’m currently reading or perhaps watch one episode of 90210. That’s some American high school drama series.

Weekends: mornings I may sleep in or go to the tennis court, where I miss more balls than I hit. I stay there for one hour, playing for half and resting the other half of the hour. Then afternoons I may go visit a co-worker at their home (you know, tea, sugar, bread kind of visits that usually occur at around lunchtime. The timing is not a coincidence.)

This past weekend, I was invited to go visit an island on a lake near here. A friend of a friend of a friend bought the island on Lake Burera and we were going to see it. We carried a little food for a cookout/picnic.

 

Lake Burera

Lake Burera. Image from tomallen3.blogspot.com

The occupants of the tiny island were bought off (a little sad) so when we scrambled round the island, we found abandoned houses where they used to live. Their crops are still intact so they do come round to harvest them. There are also some birds on the island. The East Africa crested crowns.

east-African-Crowned-Crane

Photo by Mahdi Kazzazi. 

 

The owner of the island has not officially started living there but there was one house where he had built discernible path. There, we left our bags and took a walk around the island, getting lost in some maize plots and emerging unscathed except for some blackjacks. You know, those plants with black ‘seeds’ that cling to your clothes?

The view was magnificent…and if you got the house at the highest point on the island, the view was panoramic. The sun shone on the water and you can only imagine the spectacular sunrises and sunsets that will be witnessed there. Hope I get another invite when he finally builds a gazebo and has a fridge full of cold drinks.

We were starting to feel hungry, since some of us helped to row the boat….it was of the most basic kind, which took us about 20min to get to the island. Someone went and brought maize from the farm and guess what? Some of the guys ate it raw! I shook my head and took the rest to be roasted…..then we had roasted maize and beer as we waited for the meat to cook.

Then we had ourselves some boiled matoke, bread and meat and beer for lunch.

I took a short swim, so cool and refreshing but it began getting cold and as we were leaving in the afternoon, the rain caught up with us just as we stepped out of the boat onto the mainland.

All About Mountain Gorillas

If you ever have the opportunity to look into the eyes of a gorilla, you will instinctively know that that these unique creatures deserve our efforts to save them - Howard G. Buffet, Threatened Kingdom: The Story of the mountain gorilla

 

A gorilla mother

A gorilla mother

I cannot begin to explain just how true that statement is.

This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to visit the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. I was with a colleague, Valerie and my boss Julie.

We were at the park headquarters by 7am, the required time. From there, you are divided into groups and told which group of gorillas you will visit.

Gorillas are divided into two broad categories, mountain gorillas and lowland gorillas. Their names are explanatory, it’s where they live. The mountain gorillas are an endangered group, there are only about 700 mountain gorillas in the whole wide world! Imagine that. There are about 10billion people (or thereof) and only 700 of these gorillas.

They eat a lot; an adult mountain gorilla can weigh up to 250Kg. They survive on bamboo and vegetation found in forests, and we all know how everyday, forests are being cleared for farming, and trees are cut down for charcoal, firewood etc. This is the reason why conserving these forests is so important to animals that live there.

Did you know that a mountain gorilla can survive for a whole year without drinking water? That’s because the vegetation they eat contains a lot of water.

The mountain gorillas can only be found in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. These three countries coordinate their conservation efforts and the results have been significant. The number of mountain gorillas has been slowly increasing.

Gorillas live in families (or groups) and there are trackers that keep track of where each family is. So that morning, we were to visit the Amahoro family. Amahoro means peace. Our guide, Hope (that’s his name!) talked to the trackers via a 2-way radio as we trekked through the forest, going higher and higher up the mountains.

The forest was dense but there was a beaten path which we followed. The narrow path was blocked here and there by bushes, including sting nettles (you know those plants that sting?) Gorillas eat that, and even in the Czech Republic, they are eaten as vegetables.

A gorilla family is led by a large male, consists of a few other males, many females and a number of children. All the females belong to the lead male, so usually the other subordinate males leave the group to start their own families. Males mature around the age of 10-12, and the fur on their back turns silver. Hence they are known as the silverbacks. Females don’t turn silver though.

A silverback, Kajolite. I think that was his name. He lost a hand to snares in the Congo when he was young. He is the second in command of the Amahoro group.

A silverback, Kajolite. I think that was his name. He lost a hand to snares in the Congo when he was young. He is the second in command of the Amahoro group.

A newborn gorillas weighs just 1.4 to 2Kgs, half of the weight of a human at birth. They are totally dependent on the mother and begins to crawl at about 2 months of age and at 4 months, it will begin riding on its mother’s back.

 

baby gorilla

A baby mama and baby gorilla. Saw them with my own eyes, they passed by so close to us. They’re really gentle beasts.

Young gorillas, between the ages of 3 and 4, are very playful. “They are little balls of black fur with punk rock hairdos and perpetually astonished expressions..” to quote from the book, Threatened Kingdom: The story of the mountain gorilla by Buffet/IGCP. They are called juveniles and play tag, wrestle and tickle while the males guard the family against danger and the females take care of young ones.

On Saturday, the juveniles kept rolling and rolling towards where we were, and we couldn’t move away fast enough! I remember I fell down and landed right next to them (we are encouraged to keep a distance of 7m, so as not to transmit any diseases to them.) I moved away slowly.

I was told however, that these were tourist gorillas. They are so used to people and clicking cameras, they acted as if we weren’t there. The juveniles though, did were curious and would stop wrestling each other to stare at us and then they’d lie in the grass and stretch out and bask in the lovely morning sunlight.

 

juvenile gorillas

A group of juveniles takes a break from wrestling and rolling around in the bush to bask in the sun. They were such a joy to watch.

 

The trek down the mountainside was easier…we were coming down following a familiar path. There was a park warden who walked with us, carrying a gun, in case we met any hostile forest elephants or buffaloes. We didn’t, though we saw here and there fresh buffalo dung.

There are also other animals that live in the forests; like the Bushbuck but we were not lucky to see any. We only spent an hour with the gorillas as per regulations and trekked back down the mountain.

Watching these gorillas was worth every penny. It’s 500 USD for foreigners, 200 USD for East Africans and 40USD for Rwandans.

P.S. All photos courtesy of Art of Conservation

Picture Story: A Look Into My Life

In case you are wondering, what am I doing in Rwanda? Do I have rich parents who decided to give me touring money to visit East Africa? Did I save enough to just come lounge in Rwanda? Am I working here, and if so, how did I get the job?

Well, am working here in Rwanda, with an organisation called Art of Conservation.. How I knew about the job? Believe it or not, through twitter. I know a tweep who knows the directors and when I told him I want to work in Rwanda, he provided me with a link to the organization. I checked it out and decided to apply for the job. How I got the job? Well, through my own merit. See, knowing about a job and getting it are two different things.

Anyway, I’ve been here almost two weeks and I like working here. I’m an administrative intern, which means I do most of the paperwork and blogging sometimes. This organization teaches kids about conservation and health through art.

A typical day for me begins around 6:30 am when I wake and take breakfast at the guest house where I stay. Here’s some photos of the room that is my residence:

 

My bed with the bedside lamp

My bed with the bedside lamp

Of course you may want to see my bathroom too; am just guessing so here you go:

 

bathroomThis is where I keep my toiletries and such:

 

 toiletries shelf


toiletries shelf

Okay, now to the table where I sometimes pretend to sit and learn French.

My not-so-tidy table where I sit and pretend to learn French

My not-so-tidy table where I sit and pretend to learn French

I spend my nights watching series and reading novels. Here’s my library so far:

 

My micro-mini library

My micro-mini library

And lastly, a view of the outside from my room:

A view of the outside from my door

A view of the outside from my door