Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Week in Rwanda

Actually I did not spend a single hour of the week in Iowa. Obviously I have more to talk about and more pictures to analyze. Seriously, I have a number of pictures that are complicated enough to deserve their own blog post. Here is what we did day by day:

Sunday: Spent the night at ALARM in Kigali about three miles from the embassies and diplomatic district. We went to church in the morning and hung out at our new friend's, Jean Claude's, house. We had a large meal and took a walk around the neighborhood including seeing bullet marks from the 1994 genocide on the side of a soccer field wall of a formerly private Catholic school. The war affected them all. We spent the night at ALARM again.

Monday: Spent the morning waiting around because things in Africa do not always happen fast or early. We also met up with the four other mzungos who would complement the three in my family during the journey. They included a pediatrician, his wife and daughters aged 18 and 17. Spent the afternoon basically at a mall trying to get cell phones to work and money exchanged, another difficult time consuming task. In the evening we drove to Byumba and stayed at the Anglican Dioscese guest house and hotel.

Tuesday: An emotional day marked by "giving away" two houses to families in need and visiting Hannah Ministries and having a lunch attended by single mothers, orphans, and kids born with AIDs. In the future I will talk about the first and the second house. The first we celebrated was headed by a 20 year old woman who raised her brothers and I posted a picture of that July 10th. The second house I have not posted a picture of yet but it was the more emotional one. They sang for us as we approached on the 600 meter hike. Without shoes, and "dying of hunger" to translate from an old woman in the town, they were happy to see us. I cried.

We then toured the Sorwathe Tea Factory at which our host had worked from age 19 to 29 while saving money for college. I have not posted any pictures about that yet either. Quite interesting.

Wednesday: After once again driving though the dark to reach Ruhengeri we basically spent the whole day in town. After the hustle and bustle of traveling late the last few days it was nice to have a down day. I also managed to run over 12 miles in two runs this day, the longest mileage of the trip. Some of that was with the 17 year old girl we traveled with who was preparing for cross country. Turns out women get whistled at in Rwanda for running wearing short shorts just like in the US.

Thursday: We took a more serious tour of Ruhengeri on foot and made a road trip to see the volcanoes and a Pigmy village. That was an ordeal, first the bus station was energetic to say the least, especially for seven white people who don't speak Kinyarwanda. Then the Pigmy village, we didn't even get out of the van because we were basically mobbed by 30 people pounding on the windows. To get there turn right (north) off the main road, after maybe a mile you come to the place where organized Pigmy dances take place, but we were not organized so we drove all the way to the village, where mzungos apparently never drive.

That night, knowing that it was my last in Rwanda our host Sam picked me up to go stay in the village where his mom and sister lived and where he was born. I was the first white person to stop in the village and first to spend the night. There is nothing extremely special about it. However, if land with that view was in Europe it would cost a fortune, I will share more pictures later. I made my biggest mistake of the trip that night, I said I was hungry at 10 PM because I had not eaten in nine hours and after I did I realized that there were half a dozen children in the room who were probably more hungry at that moment than I have been in years if not ever.
Showing the Village the iPhone
What you are looking at in the picture above is our host's very American daughter in white with long hair showing the village of her nephews and nieces her iPhone. On her right in brown is a woman sponsored by Taraja to finish secondary school (high school) who had dropped out three years short. She is now unemployed but was a significant help while I was there cooking and cleaning up after everyone else. Look at the excitement! All for just one iPhone, a 4S I think too. 

Friday: This was the celebration of maybe 200 people. I posted two pictures of it on July 13th. The one with the kids on the hillside is heartbreaking. They stared at us mzungos until the Fanta was brought out, then they stared at the soda. Generally speaking the light brown/tan shirts, like the one of the boy in the picture above seemed to be the clothing of the poorest. I have a number of videos from the ceremony as our host and his wife renewed their vows after 30 years of marriage. I cried. Not because the couple was renewing their values, but because everyone was so happy, yet again there were few shoes, clothing with holes, hungry hungry people, people who could not afford school, even secondary (high) school. 

After getting a quick bite to eat I headed out with Jean Claude. First in the parking lot we had a flat tire. In the words of Jean Claude, "This is Africa". After the flat tire we made decent time stopping every few miles to let someone off or on. Finally on the paved road 30k from Kigali we ran out of gas. About 10k from Kigali the headlights started flickering on and off. That's when I worried I might miss my flight. However, I made the flight and caught a few hours of sleep.
Flat Tire
Saturday: Belgium! It was my first time in Europe and I had a blast thanks to my host, Wim. Quite a few observations from Belgium and my time in Antwerp. Life is good. 

After two more flights I arrived in Chicago and made the three hour drive home arriving in my bed at 5 AM Sunday. Hardly a week of restful vacation.

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