Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Final Stretch

I apologize for how long it took for this update to appear. It's been an exhausting week! 5 days left :(
Day 21
When we crawl out of our beds at 5am, it’s still dark outside. Judy points out Jupiter and Venus in the northern hemisphere, explaining that we can tell they are planets because they don’t twinkle. Breakfast is rough, since we’re not used to eating so early.
As we load the bus, we get a burst of energy; Nicole dances in the aisle of the large van, her disco fingers pointing to the ceiling as we shove backpacks under seats and stack them in the back seat. We stop at the Nakumat in Kigali, use the restroom, and get snacks for the rest of the trip. Then, we all pass out in the van.
 Steve sleeping on the bus and using his Kinyarwanda flash cards as a pillow
In Butare, we visit the old palace of King Mutara Rudahigwa III. As we step up on to the cement, we look up at the intricate tiles bordering the palace. We remove our shoes before entering the bedroom of the King’s mother. In Rwanda, the king’s mother was always ruling by the side of the king.
Unfortunately King Mutara’s mother was moved to a different house when Belgians felt that she was affecting their relationship with the King and their position of power. When the Germans gave King Mutara the gift of a Volkswagen Beatle, which he was almost too tall to fit in, the car disappeared. It’s suggested that the Belgians poisoned Mutara for resisting Christianity; they asked him to follow the “king of kings,” which he did not understand because he was a king. He died just before he could move into his new palace, a large modern building with brick red roofing that sits on a hill above the old palace.
Inside the mother’s room, there is no furniture, because it was stolen during the genocide. This is also the case for the rest of the palace. In the King’s study, a chair the size of a futon sits to represent just how important the king was. Black and white photos of kings, sometimes standing with random muzungus, decorate the walls. We peer into a glass case filled with ivory presents which are also visible in an old picture of the original sitting room.
When we enter the bathroom, our guide tells us that he’s curious about how the king fit in such a small bathtub since he was around 7ft tall. A cell phone is plugged into the wall, “Is that the king’s cell phone?” we ask, laughing. The king’s toilet is said to be the only place that he went without driving his car.
After touring the palace, we tour a replica of a traditional hut palace. At the entrance, the tour guide explains that two guards used to stand at the entrance with spears and would only let a person in if given the proper signal from the king. Some people would wait for days, weeks, months, just to speak with the king.
Once the guests entered the yard of the king, they would stand in front of the hut where a clay barrier, painted white, separated them from the king. They had to walk around the barrier and bow in front of the king before speaking with him.
Inside the hut, straw walls separate the meeting room where fires were built. On one side of the hut, women stayed, and in the front of the hut, men stayed. The king’s room consists of a king sized bed and woven baskets which act as armoires. The bed is the size of four modern king sized bed. The guide calls the room “the king’s playground.”
Then we tour the two huts behind the main hut. One hut, where a girl was selected to stay at a young age, was the milk hut. The girl was not allowed to have male visitors and had to remain a virgin for fear that someone might poison the king’s milk. The girl had to work for the king throughout his entire reign, which sounds like no big deal, except that one king ruled for 42 years.
 The other hut, where a man was selected to stay, was the beer hut, where many men came to visit and taste-test the beer. Sounds like a great job! There were three types of beer: banana beer, honey beer, and a mixture of the two. The beer they’re talking about is so high in alcohol content that they taste more like wines. I imagine a crowd of young men sipping beer from gourd cups with hollow sticks and shouting.
“How did the milk maid remain a virgin with all of these rowdy men getting drunk next door?”
It was said that if the milk went bad, it was proof that the milk maid had sex.
Afterward, we visit the traditional cows. When we reach the corral, we see the rusty brown cows with their long horns pulling their heads toward the grass. A man, we’ll call him the cow whisperer, whistles for one of the cows to come to the fence. He recites a poem in Kinyarwanda and dances for us, pinching the cow’s skin as the cow stands majestic. He calls the cow to step through a gate and we rub his long horns and his dusty fur. When we leave, the cow whisperer hitches a ride with us. On the bus, he performs something similar to slam poetry in Kinyarwanda.
We head to Butare for lunch, where we find a Chinese restaurant. We order brochettes and rice. In other words, we eat Rwandan food in a Chinese setting. During lunch, Judy asks our Rwandan tagalongs if they have girlfriends. Rogers, Teddy, and Olivier do not have girlfriends. Somehow we get into a conversation about the role of a mother in marriage. In Rwanda, the mother has always been a force behind a man, as within the monarchy. The opinion of the mother, for some, reigns over the man’s love of his girlfriend.
After eating, we go to the national museum which displays traditional Rwandan culture. In history, Rwandans have always been pastoral and agricultural people. One room shows the different agricultural and pastoral tools. There were few hunters and when the people hunted, they rarely ate the meat, but instead used the furs of animals.
Another room shows several basket styles, their uses, and stories. One room shows an array of traditional clothing. The fur loin cloths are much different from the modern conservative culture in Rwanda. In one picture, a woman wears a calf full of iron anklets, and this shows traditional Rwandan jewelry which was eventually deemed to be unhealthy.
Another really interesting picture shows a woman holding her naked baby and putting a straw up to the baby’s butt. The title of the picture: “Washing.” Yeah. There is a lot to learn at the museum.
We don’t have time for a sit down dinner, so we head to Kigali and go to the mall which contains Nakumat. Some of us order pizza and burgers, though we realize that the pizza is the worst thing ever and there isn’t even sauce on it.
At night, we check into our hotel, “One Love.” It’s a slightly shabby place but multiple kittens are running around the yard, climbing up trees, and hiding under banana leaves. The showers have decent water pressure and the beds are rock solid! Then, we head  to a club in Kigali. Lindsey and I both get pick-pocketed and lose our wallets, our I.D.s our credit cards and money. Luckily, our passports are safe.
Day 22
In the morning, we eat breakfast which consists of some scramble egg and a piece of dry bread that tastes like paper. However, we get to meet with Judy’s friend Ariel, who has been a Peace Corps volunteer in Rwanda for two and a half years and was part of the first group when Peace Corps returned to Rwanda. She tells us to think about the bigger picture, about how building relationships and surveying the Gashora community is useful for the future. It’s an inspiring talk.
We ask her questions about family planning, and she tells us about the ABC teaching plan: Abstinence, Be faithful, Condom. She explains that some organizations, including her own, occasionally only teach A and B. Ariel is knowledgeable about Rwanda and even draws us a map of places we can shop and visit in Kigali.
We head to Kigali, taste some milk shakes across from the Nakumat which are made without a blender and contain the freshest bananas ever.  We say goodbye to Steve, grateful for all of the structure and support he provided for us in the first 3 weeks of the trip. Before heading to the hotel to settle in, we make a quick stop at co-ops, where we get a taste of bartering in Rwanda. Most of us decide to wait to purchase things until we have more Rwandans present to help us.
At the hotel, many of us nap because the previous night was rowdy, but Lauren and I swim in the pool, which is freezing cold.
“I hate it; I hate it,” I say, as Lauren, who used to be on a swim team, swims across the pool like she’s floating in heaven. She even jumps off the diving board, and I’m surprised because the ratio of men to women in the pool is about 15:1, so it’s a little uncomfortable.
We head to dinner and finally get a variety of food which we’ve been craving: Mexican! The restaurant, Meza Fresh, is owned by a man from Santa Barabra and attracts many westerners. The walls flash vibrant colors of green and blue, and a taco bar rests at the front. We stuff our faces with large burritos, tacos, and chips and salsa. In Rwanda, chicken is more expensive than beef, so many of us get steak. We take way to much food, but it’s so good.
After dinner we go out in Kigali again to a restaurant/club called the Sundowner. The atmosphere is classy with an outdoor seating area where umbrellas privatize discussions, a bar beneath an overhang, and a wood-fire stove for pizza. As the night goes on, people filter in from all over the world including: Brazilians who play on the Rwandan national soccer team, a Guatemalan and a Nigerian who are managers of Tigo, a phone company, and a Rwandan who works for Brussels Air.
Everyone is dressed smart, which in Rwandan means to look professional or nice, and the lights outside set a glowing atmosphere that leads to great networking and dancing with many brilliant and interesting people.
Day 23
In the morning we return to the co-ops where we spend an hour and a half haggling with owners for local art. Each room at the co-op contains similar items, so we feel that we need to look around for the best prices. As we walk down the row of vendors, Rwandas call to us, “Sister, come see.”   The shops are small and stacked with statues, baskets, pictures, and stone replicas. By the time we get in the van to leave, we’re exhausted from bartering.
We head to Meza Fresh for lunch because we know it’s a quick stop. SO GOOD. Then we head to a neighborhood in Kigali called Nyamirambo. The area hosts diverse range of people, sports a mosque, and colorful shops line the main street. It’s a quick tour, but it’s interesting to see another area of Kigali which is so vibrant.
Then it’s on the van and back to La Palisse in Gashora!
When we reach the hotel, most of us return to freshly made beds. Carrie however, calls a hotel worker to come and sweep her room, because bat poop speckles her floor. “Apparently they just had a little party while I was gone, a little fiesta,” she says, laughing.
Day 24
Today, we have our usual schedule, except it’s Carmelle’s birthday! At Covaga, the women stand up in a circle and sing “Happy Birthday” to Carmelle in Kinyarwanda and in English. She blushes, but claps along and sways her body in her typical two-step way. Her 21st birthday starts out well.
When we get to the Health Center we realize that we are replacing Steve. Those are big shoes to fill. We start the lesson by discussing our weekends and the students enjoy practicing their English. We review body parts by standing in a circle and taking turns saying one body part. One man says “goatee” and plays with the hair beneath his lip; Brooke rushes over to give him a high-five, because she taught him the word. Anyone who can‘t think of a body part has to sit down, but the only people that sit down are in our group!
We celebrate Caremelle’s birthday with a spongy cake after dinner smothered in frosting. Then we head to the Green Hotel, a local hotel that plays music, because Carmelle loves to dance. Unfortunately, the power is out and they can’t play music! This is the village. Despite the music disappointment, the stars are plenty.
Day 25
In the morning, Carrie and Judy measure the temperature of the solar dehydrator at Covaga and start some new experiments. They put thinly sliced tomatoes, bananas and mushrooms in the front middle and back of a few trays. The temperature is not where it needs to be in the morning or by 2pm, but the food still manages to dry successfully.
While some of us brainstorm marketing ideas at Covaga, a new nutritionist named Christophe from the Health Center takes Filimon and Carrie to three houses in Gashora, and shows them what the nutritionists teach the community about food and health.  He interviews the first woman on her daily diet which, thankfully, includes protein-packed beans and veggies from her very own kitchen garden.  Her children help with food preparation and eat with her as much as possible, which is great to hear, because that is not the cultural norm. The second woman struggles a bit more with getting a good diet, but with Christophe’s extensive knowledge, she will be helped.  Then, we talk to three young mothers sitting in the shade with their children.  Christophe asks the same questions and explains the importance of boiling water, especially for their children’s health. 
All the hosts are very gracious in answering Filimon and Carrie’s many questions.  It is inspiring to see a health-educated person working with the community in a hands-on fashion. We have a lot of hope for Gashora and the Health Center.
At Covaga, we brainstorm marketing ideas for Covaga which include: creating a catalog so that products can be sold internationally, product ideas, website ideas, and price ideas. Kristi leads the discussion and keeps track of ideas on a black board. Only some of the women are willing to participate, but all of them like the ideas we share.
We head to the Health Center where our students have prepared presentations about themselves for class. Hilarity ensues as each person presents and the rest of us ask questions. The Rwandan men ask us if we’re married, and when we say no, one man insists that he would like to marry us. When asked which one of us girls he likes best, he says he likes us all. We sit on the small benches, rocking them as we laugh and clap. It’s a riot!
After the Health Center, Carmelle, Carrie and I head back to Covaga for a potential house visit with one of the women named Vistina. We are unable to find a translator so we walk with her to the market. A smile spreads across her face for the entire walk.
Once at the market, we walk through the vendors and Vistina purchases pineapples, “inanasi,” she says, and we stumble over the word. Children start to close in on us, but a vendor shoos them away. Bright red tomatoes decorate a mat on the ground along with huge bunches of green bananas. Bees swarm around bags of white powder, which we think might contain corn-flour. One woman sells handfuls of tiny, silver slivers of dried fish. We leave the market with children trailing behind us and Vistina lugging three pineapples.
Day 26
In the morning we head to Big Dog’s house to build a kitchen garden. We follow a dirt trail up past some clay houses and stop, lost, at a crossroad. Then, through a forest of banana trees, Big Dog comes running, his small bright beneath the shade. When we reach his house, we meet his grandmother and see inside his house.
When we realize there aren’t enough sticks, a child, probably around age 10, climbs up into a tree and begins to machete the branches. I start taking pictures of him and am suddenly swarmed by children who want their pictures taken. Big Dog rushes to the rescue and pulls me to the back yard where we begin clearing a spot for the garden. 
 Harvesting local resources
 The Love of having your photo taken
Then, five or six bicycle taxi men show up to help. They clear the space and dig up soil from the front yard in no time. We watch as their hoes reach toward the sky and then crash down to dig up mounds of soil. Soon they’re cutting and sharpening steaks at an incredible rate, and we’re sitting beneath a banana tree in awe of their speed. 
 Rwandans are so good at what they do!
Children keep us busy, dancing with us and playing with us. I sit near the wood shavings that remain from when the men sharpened the steaks and I start to build a platform for a house. Children gather around me, curious about what I’m doing, and start to gather materials. I use a machete to sharpen small twigs, and we try to hammer them into the soil. The children gather large banana-tree leaves and we use them as a ceiling. When we take a picture of the kitchen garden, the children gather in with us.
 Lauren being entertained and entertaining 
 Carrie and children
 Twig-banana leaf house
At lunch time, Cedric makes a short speech because it’s his last day with our group. He has to return to school to finish up exams. He gives each of us a bracelet with our name on it to remember him by.
Carrie and I go to Vistina’s house for a visit.  Her husband, Hassan, treks behind us with his bike, their son Fils strapped on. When we enter the house we find a sitting area with a few chairs surrounding a small coffee table. The power has been out for a while, so we leave the door open so we can see. Children swarm the door, staring at us. Vistina tells them to go away and shuts the door. Moments later, children return saying, “Where are the Muzungus?” and Vistina says, “What Muzungus?”
Hassan shows us pictures from Vistina’s wedding. There are pictures of the swearing process, where the husband and wife swear to God and to Rwanda that they will not hurt each other and that they will love each other. In one picture, Hassan lifts Vistina from the ground, cradling her in his arms as she smiles, embarrassed, behind her hands.
Carrie, Me, and Fils
Hassan cuts us pineapple and we all grab a fork and dig in. Pineapple juice drips down our hands and on to the dirt floor. We ask questions about their youth and families as Fils plops down on a straw mat and shoves pineapple into his mouth. They give us each Rwandan names; Carries receives the name Mutoni, which means lovely and cared about, and I receive the name Keza, which means beautiful. Before we leave, we exchange information.
As we walk outside, we hug and take a photo. We look like a family. Hassan walks with us to the main road where we say goodbye. The sun starts to set as we return home, bright orange and sinking like a giant fruit.
 Hassan, Me, Carrie, Fils, Vistina, and Random child

Day 27
In the morning, we go to the primary school to visit Abel’s English Club. When we enter, we take seats in the wooden desks and join in as a Canadian, Correy, from the group “Developing World Connections” leads the children in singing Bingo. She then looks to us, to see if we have any ideas for the English club. We decide to play Simon says. We circle up, and though translating the game is difficult, once the children understand, we have a blast. We play other games, inspired by the children’s desire to learn, and their infinite ability to smile.
Day 28
It's Judy's last day, so several of us wake up early to go birding with her. The sun is glowing and king fisher's are staring at their reflections in windows when we meet her near the lake. She shows us some eagle nests which weigh massively at the top of trees. When we walk along the lake, we see the nests of weaver birds, a colonial species. Judy explains that the birds weave their nests at the end of branches to make it more difficult for snakes to reach them. We see a hippo footprint and Judy leads us around the La Palisse property, through their farming area, and up to a path where we see several mouse birds. It's a great opportunity to connect with Judy since she's been an important addition to our team. We miss her immediately as we walk to town and watch birds flit across our path.
African weaver bird nests

Hippo foot print
 Judy leading us sleepy-heads on a birding trek
Then, some people from the group meet with about 45 of the 56 bicycle taxi co-op members that provide transportation for Gashora.  Amazingly, after making their living pulling people on bike, many are in their soccer uniforms. They thank us for meeting with them, and we share how great it has been to have such great company on our rides.  They’re always smiling and having fun with the language barriers. They explain their co-op and their business scheme to create an office. Once roads are paved in Gashora, they wish to become Moto Taxis. They do their best to help each other out, and if someone doesn’t get enough business and is in need, they gladly share profits.  They pay a membership fee, and most of them are intelligent young men who had their education cut short. 
They ask how we like Rwanda, and Lama makes sure to explain that Americans work very hard to come on these trips, both financially and academically.  They jump at the opportunity to take a picture and are very gracious for our business. They ask Tim the usual question: “How many kids do you have?” He replies. “None; I’m a priest.” Even the bicycle taxis laugh.  He goes on to explain that there is less pressure in the United States to get married and having kids is more of a choice than a cultural duty.
Meanwhile, Lindsey, Brooke and I visit the primary school again. We sing Bingo, have all of the children talk about what they like (all of them like English lessons), and then we play a game in which a representative from each of two teams must come to the blackboard and answer a question with complete English. Although the teachers will be on vacation on Monday, the children are excited to see us for English club again.
Afterward, we meet at Covaga where we make friendship bracelets. The women sit close to us and try to learn how to make the bracelets. I lie down on the top stair and take a short cat nap, feeling safe because I know the women at Covaga will be sure that no one bothers me. It’s a short day, but we’re exhausted from the week, so after lunch, many of us nap.
By nighttime, we’re ready to go downtown. We go to a bar called the Good Samaritan which is paved nicely, is nicely lit, and has a television which replays one music DVD over and over again, complete with Whitney Houston and Celine Dion. “I wanna dance with somebody! I wanna feel the heat with somebody! With somebody who loves me!”
We order brochettes, more than ready to taste some delicious goat. What comes to us is nothing like we imagined. 15 shish kabobs rest on the table. Sara takes one bite, her face contorts and she returns the stick to the pile. Nicole, who has been waiting for brochettes all day, looks severely disappointed. Some of us pull a stringy outer layer off of the meat and place it on the table. “What is this!?” We soon find out that the meet is beef ribs wrapped in cow intestine. Lindsey eats an entire brochette, and Jon eats two and a half- the champions. 
 A disappointed Nicole
We stay out later than expected, trying to make up for the beginning of the night with weird shit brochettes. On the walk home, the fact that we’re leaving starts to set in; it’s our last Friday beneath the stars, walking down the dusty road hand in hand, with our flashlights making the leaves glow.


  1. Ex-Pat Ex-Diver here looking for somewhere in Kigali with a diving board. Olympics have really made me miss it. Found your blog through google search...what hotel were you at that had the diving board =)

    1. We were staying at La Palisse, Kigali. Here is a link to their website:

      glad to help!