Friday, June 23, 2006

World Refugee Day!

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been working with Kigali, the local government, and the refugee committee to organize celebrations for World Refugee Day, June 20 every year.

The refugees planned their own activities, and we were to revise it if necessary. Needless to say, it became necessary, as the refugees included such activities as “Presentation of gifts to the Refugee Committee,” and “Lunch Reception with Refugee Committee and Invited Guests,” which were both impossible because the budget of World Refugee Day activities across the country this year was low (I can’t post the figure, but let’s just say it approximates what I paid in rent for my apartment in DC). I couldn’t blame the refugees for trying as hard as they could to get more money and goods from UNHCR, but it’s still frustrating. They think we’re a bottomless pot of money, and don’t understand or believe us when we tell them we have serious budgetary restrictions.

The morning of the big day, crisis was averted—thirty minutes after our scheduled arrival, there were hardly any chairs and no one was gathering or preparing for the festivities. Our head of office, angry at the seeming reluctance of the refugees to gather since they knew they wouldn’t be receiving any gifts, nearly cancelled the whole day. Ten minutes later, they began to gather and the women started singing and beating on a goatskin drum to encourage people to come. I had been nervous that a month’s worth of efforts would be flushed down the drain, but we did finally get underway.

Dancing and singing ensued, with women in a circle, arms outstretched like the longhorns of a cow, stomping to the driving beat of the drum, rhythmic clapping, and traditional chants. Clouds of dust billowed from the stomping. I jumped into the fray, trying my hand at Rwandese traditional dance, much to my own enjoyment and that of the refugees! Speeches by the Refugee Committee president, the president of the Women’s Committee, UNHCR, the local authorities, and the head of the camp were then interspersed with song, more dancing, anti-AIDS poetry, and an AIDS-awareness themed play by the youth. During one of the songs, the women sang (in Kinyarwanda), “Morgan, I love you, but I have nothing to give you to show you my love!” It was very touching.

I eagerly awaited the end of the festivities, because the boys’ soccer team was to play against the strongest village team. To prepare, they had used money they had saved to buy shoes and socks. They built metal goals and secured them with the cement that I purchased for them. They cleared the terrain of sharp rocks.

What they didn’t know was that I had two surprises for them: red jerseys (a gift from UNICEF…they were too small, but if they weren’t fastened, they worked quite well), and a beautiful, new World Cup commemorative soccer ball (a gift, I explained, from their American friends!).

They were delighted at the presentation—the jerseys were a lifesaver, as the opposing team showed up with blue shirts, and our team was also wearing blue shirts. The red jerseys made it possible to distinguish between the two teams, for which the Nkamira team was grateful. Everyone marveled at the shiny ball. I was only able to stay for the kickoff, as we left to go to a “restaurant” (only brochettes are served, so it’s more like an eatery) as a treat for the invited guests and the head of both the Refugee and the Women’s Committees. We left them as they began to play, and I had to be dragged away kicking and screaming.

I received word later that day of the final score: our team won 3-1! I don’t think I could have been happier if the US won the World Cup.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Soccer Ball Fund

I would like to personally thank the numerous people who have so generously provided soccer equipment to the youth of Nkamira. In particular, several people deserve individual thanks for their exceptional efforts: Amy M., Raff P., Mariam F., and Chris F. Thanks to EM for hand-carrying almost all the donations.

The Soccer Ball Fund provided 18 soccer balls, equipment bags, cones, and pumps. Mariam and Chris F. Separately sent two holographic leather World Cup commemorative soccer balls. The generosity was overwhelming, and everyone in the HCR office and among our operational partners was stunned by the outpouring of support.

I should also note that the Soccer Ball Fund also provided educational posters (which I think are at the post office in Kigali) and $100 to use on the youth at my discretion.

After several efforts to unite the Refugee Committee and the Youth Committee to make the announcement, I finally succeeded last week.

To say that they were overjoyed would be an understatement. I had brought one ball with me, which they were very happy to receive—but then, when I told them that they would get another ball every time an old ball wore out, they were beside themselves. They stood and cheered. They had been scrounging to save enough money to buy another ball; I told them that they could now use that money to buy shoes.

They asked me at the meeting if I could also provide metal goals. I told them that I had seen them use goals made of plywood. They explained that the goals were stolen for firewood, and that they needed some cement to keep the goals firmly planted. I thought it was a fair request.

With some of the money given to me by the Soccer Ball Fund, I purchased a bag of cement and delivered it the next day, along with cones and a pump. Today, I saw that they had found metal bars to construct a proper goal, and they are conducting umuganda (community work) to remove all the volcanic rock from the soccer field. Tomorrow is World Refugee Day, and the boys’ team, which is still undefeated in the entire area, will play against a village team. The girls will play on Friday.

A colleague later told me something he had overheard the kids saying. “This muzungu promises things and then keeps her word,” they said. Probably the best compliment I’ve received since I arrived, I thought I would share it with all of you, because they’re really talking about you. You deserve all the credit. Thank you, from the kids, from the parents, from the Refugee Committee, and from me.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Rafting the Source of the Nile

No one can call me a powder puff ever again.

My friend Danielle, after two weeks of intense lobbying, finally convinced me to go to Uganda to white water raft up the Nile. “Only a couple of the medium rapids, and we’ll go around the hard rapids,” she had said.

This did not happen.

The rapids are located at what is now known as the source of the mighty Nile River, in Jinja, Uganda, about 50 km east of Kampala. Fed from Lake Victoria, the water moves north into what is called the White or Victoria Nile, and then continues the long journey northward. Ranging from Class 1 to Class 6, the rapids are known as some of the best and most challenging in the world. We were to tackle all of the Class 3s, 4s, and 5s.

Two things that I should mention here: 1) Class 6 is synonymous with certain death (so you can understand how terrifying a Class 5 is), and 2) I’ve never gone rafting before.

We decided to go with Adrift, the first company to establish operations there, and which has taken the likes of Prince William and Geri Halliwell. They have great facilities and equipment, and I’m happy that I chose to go with them instead of with the other companies. The day-long rafting trip was $95, which was competitive with the others.

We got all suited up in our helmets and life jackets and were sorted into two rafts. For whatever reason, all 4 girls were placed into the same boat. I wasn’t sure why, but I guessed it was because we didn’t want our raft to flip. Our boat ended up having only seven people compared to 10 in the other, and I still wonder why the boats were uneven. This seems like a minor detail, but the weight of our boat did become important.

Our raft included two Swiss guys and their uncle (the uncle was cool but I have taken to calling his Swiss nephews “the fairy Swiss” because they were weak, slow, and generally useless); an Australian who took six months off from university to travel around Africa; a doctor from DC, and Danielle and myself. Our guide was from New Zealand, and I will henceforth call him “Sadistic Simon,” (or “SS”) because that’s what he was. Very nice, but he had a daredevil streak.

We told him that, while the other boat wanted to flip, we didn’t want to. “Only once,” he said. “Otherwise, where’s the fun?” Almost everyone in my boat had rafted before (in Colorado and Canada) but only one person had ever flipped. I wasn’t very excited about flipping even once. It just didn’t sound very pleasant.

We learned the ropes over a half hour, and SS gave us a comprehensive lesson. We flipped the boat, we paddled, we steered, we learned how to get down in a rapid. Then we started heading for the first rapid, a Class 1-2. SS gave us instructions, but the fairy Swiss, who were at the front of our raft (and are therefore the most important people in the boat apart from the guide) didn’t catch on…when we’d gotten through, SS asked if we all understood English, and the fairy Swiss responded, “No, no English.”

I looked around the boat and caught the terrified glances of everyone else. I didn’t have any particular desire to go through a Class 5 rapid being directed by people who didn’t understand the directions. They also didn’t understand the concept of rowing in time, so our boat was all over the place. SS was pretty upset, as were we all.

The first real rapid was a Class 3, whose name I have forgotten. All I remember was going over the edge, smacking into a wave, and finding myself plunging into warm water. I came up, dazed, like everyone else. I managed to find the raft and was pulled back in. SS was standing in the raft and laughing. He had done it on purpose.

That was okay, though. The bottom of the rapid was flat water, so at least you could come up and stay up. And since the water was warm, it was really nice to swim.

We went over the famous Bujagali Falls, where apparently village boys, paid by visitors, hold on to jerry cans and go through the rapids. We were told that tens of boys die every year in their dangerous quest for a little money. Between that and the other rapids, it seems that finding corpses in the water is quite common; one of the guides said that she has a signal that she sends to the safety kayakers to tell them to collect the body and bring it to shore. Apparently, though, retrieving the bodies is a problem because if you bring it to shore, the Ugandan police immediately implicate you in the person’s death. Unfortunately for the staff of the rafting companies, it’s in their interest because no queasy rafting client wants to see a body floating in the water to remind them of the real dangers of the rapids.

The next rapid was called “G-Spot,” which inevitably inspired many jokes. It was a Class 5. We paddled and paddled, and got down when instructed.

The next thing I remember was a huge hole in the water and a 12-foot wave coming over the side of the raft. I was thrown far from the raft and plunged deep. My contacts were loose and I couldn’t see. Swimming to the surface to catch a breath, I only barely managed when I was blindsided by another huge wave and sucked under. Coming up again for an even smaller breath, I was hit again and sucked under again. Finally, I was struggling at the surface for air, smaller waves still smacking me, out of breath, blind, and feeling like a rag doll in a washing machine. Someone grabbed my life vest and put my hand on a safety kayak, whose handle I could barely grab because I was so exhausted and shaky. If I could have cried, I would have, but I didn’t have the energy.

Everyone had had pretty violent wipeouts, and we were floating at the bottom of the rapid like flotsam and jetsam. The kayak took me and two others further downstream before we were pulled back into the raft.

We were all pretty angry. It was a wicked rapid, and we had flipped right in the middle of it. It wasn’t that common to flip there, and the other boat even TRIED to do so, but couldn’t. We were covered in bruises from where oars had smacked us underwater and were all short of breath. Danielle decided that from then on, she was going to abandon our boat, opting to take the safety boat through the rapids.

In retrospect, I’m not sure if it was the poor paddling of the fairy Swiss, or the poor steering of our guide, or the sheer lightness of our boat compared to the other that caused us to flip that time. All I can say is that I can’t sleep at night thinking about that 12-foot wave.

We barely had time to let our hearts settle back into our chests before we reached the next rapid, a Class 4-5. Danielle went through on the safety boat. We maneuvered and got down, and the next thing I remember was being dumped into the water again, getting tangled in oars, and not being able to come to the surface because I was stuck under the raft. I swam out and one of the fairy Swiss grabbed my life vest and pulled me to the raft, for which I was grateful because I didn’t have the energy to swim anymore. Danielle told me later that SS was jumping on the upside-down raft, pumping his fists in the air from pride that he’d flipped the boat.

I was unhappy.

So was everyone else, for that matter, and we told him that we didn’t want to flip anymore. Finito. The other boat watched us with envy, as they had still only successfully flipped once that day.

A few more rapids, and we parked our raft at Wakisi Island for a lunch buffet. My neck was aching terribly from the whiplash of the second flip, and everyone was comparing bruises.

“Four more after lunch,” SS said. “Two easy, two hard. But we probably won’t flip on the hard ones.” Probably.

The first three we successfully navigated without being thrown out of the boat. The last one, however, SS had not described until we were approaching it.

“This is Itanda,” he said. “The locals call it ‘The Bad Place.’” A Class 6, SS said it was the biggest rapid he’d ever seen in his life. “We can take the chicken run or we can take the intermediate course. What do you guys want?”

If the locals called it “The Bad Place,” I was definitely opting for the chicken run. So did everyone else. The thing was, to get to the “doable” parts of Itanda, we had to get out of the water and go overland to avoid certain death. Village boys carried our boats behind us as we crossed over to the other side.

It was easily one of the most terrifying moments in my life, not just because the water was churning violently—by this point, I knew the dangers of a Class 5, and this rapid would have been a Class 10 if the classification system went higher than 6. I was also terrified because I knew that I wasn’t going to be safely watching it from the shore; I was getting in.

The first boat went through with the aim of flipping, at which they again failed. It was our turn. We were all yelling at the fairy Swiss because one slip and we would be in for a bigger wipeout than before. We hugged the edges of the river, but a wave brought us into the Class 4-5 section and I’ll be damned if we hit a huge wave broadside, tipping our raft up on its side, so I was perpendicular to the water. But we were more determined than that wave, and we hunkered down, forcing the raft back down and sailing out of the rough water.

SS laughed afterward. “You know, for the past three weeks, my clients have asked me to flip their boat right there and I haven’t succeeded. I finally get a boat that doesn’t want that, and what happens? You guys almost flip! I just had to shift my weight and you guys would have been finished.”

Bruised and battered, that was the end of our day-long rafting trip. When SS asked us if we enjoyed it, Danielle said it best: “We definitely got our money’s worth.” SS had said that 2-3 flips was average, but that they were intentional flips on easier rapids. “Of all the places where you guys could have wiped out, you had the worst!” he exclaimed.

The all-boys boat had only flipped once. And they had wanted to.

We dried off, shared war stories and drank beer on the shore before heading back to Kampala. I was so shaky from the adrenaline rush that I could hardly hold the bottle.

I’m in complete pain right now but have to say that I’m pretty proud of my war wounds. For someone who has never gone rafting before, I still can’t believe I managed Class 5 rapids. And at the famous source of the Nile, in equatorial Africa! It was beautiful, memorable, and extreme and I don’t regret going at all. But I will say this: After repeatedly cheating death, I won’t be doing that again!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Tomb of Fireflies

Last Tuesday, so I am told, was World Children’s Day. To celebrate, DED, an NGO which funds a program called CINEDUC, came to show an educational film to the kids at the camp and hold a discussion.

They came to our camp with all of the sound and projection equipment. My friend at HCR Kigali asked me to get the room ready (it was less a room than a shelter of corrugated metal) with chairs for the kids. I had to tell her that...well, we didn’t actually have any chairs. So we put down some plastic sheeting, which worked just as well for the 150 people or so who showed up.

The film they showed, The Tomb of Fireflies (Le Tombeau des Lucioles) was one in a series of films they’ll be showing during the coming weeks. This one was about the rights of children in wartime; other subjects include racism (they’ll be showing Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner) and the right of girls to choose their husbands.

I was eager to watch the movie. Imagine! A movie at our little camp! It was almost too much to ask. I thought the kids would be overjoyed.

The reaction was mixed—and I could understand why. The movie, a Japanese anime dubbed in French (and translated into Kinyarwanda by microphone by the NGO staff) was set during World War II, and included images that were only too familiar to many of these children. A boy and his younger sister survive the atomic blast, but their mother dies a few days later. They show her body wrapped in blood-soaked bandages…and then, following her death, the showed the maggots which began to infest the corpse. The mother’s body was burned. If these kids had never heard of a funeral pyre, they must have been really appalled—I know I would have been! Japanese anime tends to have a flair for the dramatic, but JESUS that was not appropriate for the kids! One child started crying, flailing wildy, and threw herself up against the door, screaming to be let out. When she was allowed to leave, half of the children followed, and we thought only the adults would be left.

The story went on to show the brother trying to provide for his little sister by working and stealing. It turned out that the father had died as well, and then, at the end, the little sister dies of malnutrition, and her body is also burned.

Am I crazy? When the movie was over, I wanted to make a run for it, to escape potentially angry parents.

Thank goodness that there was a post-film discussion. They made some very charged statements and asked volunteers to pick a side—agree or disagree. The NGO team thought it would be funny if I participated, and I immediately knew my role, to be the voice of the UN. It wasn’t easy.

The first question was, “Is it justified to target civilians in times of war?” which, of course, is a no-brainer. Interestingly, several refugees said yes, and had to explain themselves; but they changed their minds after hearing contrary opinions from fellow refugees.

The second was harder: “Is it justified to steal to survive in times of war?” Oy. Survival is a whole separate ball game. I had to decline speaking first while I sorted out my thoughts, but ended up saying something like, “It’s never okay to steal, because you’re taking what’s not yours. Instead, people should share in wartime, because if people shared, there would be less theft.” Even I recognize that to be wholly unrealistic, but as a UN worker, I couldn’t say that it was okay to steal!

The program closed with music. As we left, we could hear the echo of Michael Jackson singing about making the world “a better place for you and for me and the entire human race.” No comment needed.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The art of the "eh"

Here’s a tip for anyone who comes to Rwanda and doesn’t know how to respond to a question: just say “eh.” Not a Canadian “eh,” but with a tone of acknowledgment. (It sounds kind of like, “Eh, how YOU doin’?”) If it were a word, it would be the most popular in the Kinyarwanda language.

“Eh” means about 400 different things. It can mean “oh,” or “yes,” or “sure,” or “I heard you,” or "I don't believe you," or "you're joking," among others. So once you’re beyond the “hello” and “how are you?” and someone asks you a follow-up question, and you have no idea what they’re saying, if you just say, “eh,” people often think that you’ve responded (and therefore understood), and they don’t ask further questions.

It’s also helpful when people talk about you, which is obvious because even a Kinyarwanda amateur can hear “muzungu” dropped into a nearby conversation. Looking up and responding, “eh,” often makes people stop in their tracks, because they think you’ve understood them! And then they laugh (in a good way) because everyone believes that muzungus don’t understand any Kinyarwanda!

On that note, I’m going to add more words to the Kinyarwanda dictionary. I recently found a book (more like a pamphlet) in Kigali with some English-Kinyarwanda vocabulary, and will share...

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Pictures from the whirlwind tour

EM and I at Akagera Park, and a giraffe spying over my head!

Elephants! Before they started coming toward us.

In Ruhengeri, en route to the gorillas!

The bamboo forest we walked through to get to the gorillas. Watch out for the "buffalo."

Making luuuuurve.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Whirlwind Tour

**Photos to come when the internet is more cooperative!**

My first international visitor arrived two weeks ago! EM flew from DC into Kigali on May 18, and we embarked on a whirlwind tour of Rwanda. I led him on what I now call the “Best and Worst of Rwanda” tour…we started by going out to two genocide memorials so he could see for himself the tragedy of Rwanda’s past, and then proceeded during the rest of the trip to all the best that Rwanda has to offer…great brochettes, bustling markets, bodega bars, and, of course, gorillas.

After two days in Kigali, we took a jeep out to Akagera Park. After my monkey-less experience the last time I was there, I was hopeful that the second time around, I would be luckier. And were we ever! We saw baboons and monkeys! I have also said that my life would be complete if I saw an elephant in the wild, and I’m happy to report that my life is now complete—we didn’t just see one, but FIVE. They were bathing and eating on a lake shore. They had enormous flappy ears and, while big, seemed smaller than the elephants at the zoo. I’m pretty sure they’re smaller than South Asian elephants. We left the car and watched them further down the shore, perhaps 100 yards away, as they collected wet grasses with their trunks and whipped some of the excess water onto their shoulders before eating them. The largest elephant finally tired of being a spectacle—he grunted and started moving toward us, which prompted everyone, including our guide (who, I don’t think, had seen elephants in a long time, because he started taking pictures with his camera phone) to start running back to the car.

We stayed at the Akagera Lodge that night, the only hotel in the park, primarily because I had heard that baboons basically owned the place. Unfortunately, the hotel staff had chased them away because there was a wedding that afternoon. I had to content myself with the baboons in the park. Surprisingly, the food there was pretty good—we had fresh frog’s legs! (No, this was not my suggestion—it was actually EM’s.)

The next day, we headed back through Kigali, taking an Okapi matatu (I should clarify the difference between a matatu that has a name and a local matatu…the former are more expensive and are essentially express vans that go between the major cities, and the latter are cheaper and stop EVERYWHERE, and are generally derelict) to Gisenyi. EM had so much luggage (half of which was soccer balls, which I will talk about in another post!) that we had to buy the whole matatu seat, and we still weren’t comfortable.

When we arrived in Gisenyi, we were at a loss to figure out how to carry all of his luggage to my house; thankfully, the Gisenyi street children, who all know my name (they call me Morgani) were there to welcome us and anyone else who could spare 100 francs. Six children carried all of our bags, for which I paid them handsomely—a big bag full of our snacks for the safari, which included a big bottle of water, Pringles, cookies, peanuts, and apples!

EM came to work with me that week. We went out monitoring on Monday, and had a great interview with a returnee from Congo-Brazzaville that had returned to Rwanda thinking that his wife and daughter were dead. When he returned to his land, he found his wife had still been faithful to him and was cultivating his fields, and his daughter was in fourth grade! His story will be reported in the next UNHCR Rwanda newsletter. At night, we had drinks with Boniface, the HCR driver, and even though EM thought he could keep up with Boniface, he couldn’t….we had drinks with him twice, and every time, Boniface drank him under the table.

On Wednesday, we took a break from work to go to Ruhengeri to see the world-famous Rwandan mountain gorillas. An endangered species, there are only 300 left in the Congo-Uganda-Rwanda tri-state area. The tourism office certainly uses this knowledge to their benefit, as the price to see them was a bank-breaking $400 for EM and $200 for me, since I have resident status. You buy your tickets in Kigali at the ORTPN (tourism office) and have to arrange your own transport to Kinigi, the base office from which the gorilla treks depart, by 7:00 am. When you arrive at Kinigi, you can choose which gorilla group you would like to see; for the older or less athletic, you can see some groups which are easier to reach, but those families are generally made up of 7-10 gorillas. The gorilla group that was the furthest away and required the steepest climb was the Susa Group, made up of 37 gorillas. This was the group that Dian Fossey, the famous gorilla researcher who was slaughtered by poachers (see Gorillas in the Mist for details) studied.

Of course, we chose the Susa. How could you not?

So off we went to Karisimbi, the tallest volcano in Rwanda (and the only place that you can find snow here, but only during the coldest months and it’s only a fine dust that covers the top 5 meters of the mountain). It is now dormant. I had gone monitoring in the area before, so I was quite familiar with the route and the warnings associated with it. Boniface, the HCR driver, had told me that it was dangerous to be there after 5 pm, as the Interahamwe make frequent forays into the area there. During the day, though, it’s fine, and I left my fears behind as we started to climb up the base of the mountain.

To our surprise, we were accompanied by 3 Army soldiers; one in front and two behind. We asked why, and our guide told us that there are wild buffalo in the mountain forests that are very aggressive. Apparently the Army soldiers shoot in the air to scare them away.

Riiiiiiight. We asked ourselves how many people actually believed that crap. You don’t need three armed soldiers to scare a buffalo!

In reality, as Boniface had warned, there is still insecurity in that particular area. The government is taking precautions to avoid what happened in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Park a couple of years ago—a group of gorilla trekkers and their guide were slaughtered by Interahamwe.

At moments like these, I realize that, honestly, the genocide and its aftermath have repercussions in every aspect of life here, even the tourism.

We left the cultivated fields at the base of the mountain and entered a dense bamboo forest. The bamboo forest gave way to a rainforest, replete with vines and stinging nettles. I had never heard of them before, but now I’ll never forget them. Those things hurt like hell. They sting across your clothing! I made the mistake of touching one, and it felt like someone was stabbing my forefinger with invisible needles. It turned red and developed spots where I had touched the plant.

We climbed over and through vines and up steep, slippery inclines until we met up with more soldiers and ORTPN workers. We left our bags with them and were led to the gorillas.

The first one we saw was the beta male, a silverback. Interestingly, these mountain gorillas’ backs change color when they reach full maturity, at about 25 years old. Not surprisingly, they’re just like humans—their hair goes gray as they get older! He was reclining on his back, his bare stomach exposed to the sun.

We moved on and saw the alpha male, who was also reclining. We had caught them during their afternoon nap, which follows “happy hour,” so to speak, when all the gorillas play and romp. While they didn’t do much for the first 20 minutes or so, the alpha male let out a call alerting the other gorillas that naptime was over. Soon, there were baby gorillas tumbling out of the trees, down bamboo stalks. A female wandered over to the beta male, who grabbed her violently and threw her in front of him, after which he started to mate with her while picking insects out of her back hair and eating them.

How romantic.

The most amazing thing about the gorillas is that they are family. Literally. Their expressions and behavior are remarkably similar to ours. The alpha male was sleeping while a baby gorilla inadvertently tickled his nose with bamboo leaves—just the kind of thing kids do to their fathers. A mother held her baby in her arms, and every time the baby started to crawl away, the mother would pull the baby back in. Another baby was rolling around, playing with its mother. One gorilla started peeing from its nest in a tree (thank God I wasn’t standing there). Their resemblance to us made me feel a little guilty. You had to feel bad for them—here we were, strangers gawking and taking pictures of them when all they wanted to do was take a nap or eat in peace. It’s not the same kind of feeling as watching other animals.

We spent an hour with them before we had to turn back. Our driver insisted that we take a local matatu to get back to Gisenyi, as he didn’t have any gas (all taxis and taxi-motos in Rwanda run on empty, both because gas is expensive and because if someone steals the vehicle, it won’t go very far). We hopped onto a matatu and headed west. At one matatu stop, we got into an accident and had to change matatus…several were fighting over who got to take the muzungus!

He came with me to work for the rest of the week, which was largely uneventful, as we were unable to get to the camp. Thursday was a refugee day of mourning for the Interahamwe massacres in UNHCR camps in the 1990s, and we were advised that it would be inappropriate to visit the camp. On Friday, every vehicle we had at our disposal had broken down. Oh, well. Life in the field, I guess.

On Saturday, we headed into Goma, Congo with my friend Danielle and the Canadian Ambassador and his daughter, of all people. We took a tour around the city, but since we were in a Rwandan car, the driver refused to take us to certain parts of town. According to Boniface, there are areas of the city where Rwandans never go because they might not come back. As a result, we spent the day going in circles and taking side routes. The city is an anarchic wasteland. Once you cross the border, you suddenly feel as though there is no order. I’ve been there several times, and will devote a whole post to it soon!

We headed back through Kigali on our way to Uganda. (This time, I decided to take the path most taken.) We took a matatu up to the border and a taxi from there to the lakeside. The camp was as peaceful as ever. This time, there was a big Anglican church group there from Pennsylvania—they had just finished three weeks working in northern Uganda and were resting before heading home. We arrived on their last night, which, to our surprise, was celebrated by the camp staff with a big bonfire, Ugandan songs, and traditional dances under the stars.

It was a very relaxing vacation…breakfast on the deck of our cottage, overlooking the lake, lazing on lounge chairs by the water, jumping off the rope swing into the lake (this was EM’s domain, I was too chicken), canoeing. The canoe was actually the cause of a mini-fight because our boat kept turning around in circles, and EM thought it was me, and I thought it was him. We heard laughing on the shore and were quite sure that the natives were laughing at the stupid muzungus who couldn’t steer a simple canoe. In reality, the boat was just too big and with too flat a bottom for us novices to control! (I later talked to other expats who had the same experience, and I’m now starting to think it’s a great joke for the workers on the island.)

To end his trip, we returned to Kigali and spent the last couple of days in luxury. (By luxury, I mean that there was a hot shower with good water pressure!) We had drinks at Republika, a hip bar in Kigali, had a delicious lunch at the Silverback (at the Hotel Gorillas—I give it 4 stars. Really the best meal in town), lounged by the pool at the Intercontinental, and then finished off with dinner at the Diplomate (the restaurant at the Intercontinental, named after the old Hotel des Diplomates, on whose site the Intercon is now situated). Dinner at the Diplomate is so overrated that I feel cheated for having spent time there.

The following day, I took EM back to the airport, and he was off to Nairobi. It was nice not only having such great company, but also going around with someone whose skin color attracted more attention than mine!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Pictures from Kabale, Uganda

Lake Bunyonyi, Kabale, Uganda
Village children playing on a hill...we tried jumping over their hurdles but didn't do half as well!

Friday, June 02, 2006


Just a short post to say that I have not been abducted, but that I took a week-long vacation and will be back soon to post all about my travels! As a preview, I'll say: gorillas, elephants, baboons, Congo, and another trip to Uganda. I'll be posting soon, I promise!