How time flies! I am in an internet cafe in Nairobi with Robin, one of my
friends from the volunteer portion of my trip who also decided to join me
on the safari portion of my adventure! Before I go into that I'll tell you
about the previous week, our last couple days in Rwanda.
We got to play another soccer game with the teachers from the local
primary school and then had drinks with them, and then at the end of the
week we went to a World Cup Soccer party at the village where the Green
Helmets and students from the community who helped us at the COVAGA
project, live. They hosted us for dinner, dancing and too many drinks.
It was a great opportunity to get to hang out with some locals our age
outside of the worksite and we also got to meet 50 other students at the
school. We watched the Mexico/South Africa game (tied 1-1) and then
France and Uruguay. It's so exciting being in the continent that is
partying for hosting the World Cup; a similar feel to the Olympics being
in Vancouver! There are advertisements and merchandise everywhere.
The next morning we headed out to Akagera National Park to drive through
and see some animals! We were supposed to leave at 530 but the bus was 2
hours late, then we had to stop and wait for our in-country host, Lama,
for over an hour at a random market that had great samosas and we got
poked and prodded by children who had never seen a muzungu before. Drove
for another 2 hours (the park borders Tanzania), arrived at the park at
12:30 and the guide told us that the animals had moved and that it would
be worthwhile to drive another 2 1/2 hours south to another park entrance
than borders Uganda. We decided to do it because we had already invested
so much driving time and money for the bus. Before we headed that way,
Lama wanted to show us the other DWC project in a small village called
Kazo, where we were originally going to be volunteering. The project is
great, it is a community health center that will serve for the community
because the closest hospital is about an hour away. The building was
constructed by DWC volunteers in January/February and intends to be
completed, and up and We also dropped off some of the soccer donations
that were sent from Kamloops and then we were on our way to the second
Akagera park entrance. Well it took us about 3 hours and by the time we
arrived, it was 5:30 and the sun sets at 6:30 or earlier. When we arrived
we also found out that the park fees were an extra $25 more than we had
been told and the valley that all the animals were in were another 40
minutes away and it was practically sundown. Needless to say, after such
a long day we were all expecting that things weren't going to happen and
while we were super bummed (among other things), we kinda saw it coming.
I wasn't too upset because I only paid $15 to drive around a part of the
country that I never would have seen otherwise (the drive was beautiful,
the sun was shining, and I had a window seat and my ipod, life was good :)
), plus the next portion of my trip is pretty much solid safari so I have
other opportunities to see the same animals we would have seen. On a
positive note, we saw a hippo in a pond right next to the road, zebras,
impala, eland and tons of cool birds on our way out of the park. We drove
back towards Gashora, stopping for dinner at a roadside restaurant then
continued on and finally got back home at 12:30am. Plus, our driver drove
like a madman because he was out later than expected so we hit potholes at
at least 70km/h for about 2 hours. What a day!
Sunday was a very relaxing day so I had lunch at the hotel, read my book
in the sun and in the afternoon we bought beers and rented the hotels
wooden 32 person motor boat for an hour for $3 each! We drove around the
lake looking for hippos with no such luck but it was a great time
regardless. We also got to wear hilarious orange life jackets.
On the last day of work in Gashora I finally got to meet my pen friend, a
little 5 year old girl named Igate - her mom is a policewoman in Gashora,
divorced with 3 children. Igate is so beautiful and shy, she's got the
prettiest smile and gigantic brown eyes and she loves to sing. After
work, one of the COVAGA women opened the Gashora Genocide Memorial for me,
since I had been sick the day that everyone else went. It was definitely
a more raw, realistic depiction of the evidence and loss in the genocide,
but absolutely something that everyone who visits Rwanda needs to see. It
was similar to the Ntarama Genocide Memorial that we visited later in the
week which I will explain later.
Tuesday was our goodbye party/celebration with the community, Green
Helmets, the Rwandan Army that came to help us a couple times, and the
COVAGA women and children. We met at the worksite where speeches were
made, we had some of our local friends perform some sweet songs that they
had written, while others lip synced and did some rad "hip hop". The
local press was also there with a cameraman who filmed the whole ceremony.
We exchanged some gifts, such as pins, cards and photos and began to say
our goodbyes. Igate and her mom, Joyce came also, so I spent some time
with them. Then the DWC volunteers and COVAGA women had a final time to
hang out and express our thanks for our time spent together. Many of the
COVAGA women spoke (and our friend Lama translated) and thanked us for all
of our hardwork, our smiles and laughter and friendships that we made. It
was such a wonderful time, to finally transcend the language barrier and
hear their thoughts on the project and our presence in Gashora. They were
so grateful, and at the end they all stood up and sang a call/echo type
song and danced for us, it was definitely one of the goosebump moments
that I will remember from this trip!! They gave us beautiful baskets, hot
plates, hats and bags as gifts and we gave them all of our donations that
we had brought for them and their children. When it was time to say
goodbye, most of us were crying (and by most I mean me and many of the
girls), we shared last hugs and "murakoze chanay's" (thank you very much).
I didn't fully realize how much my time in Gashora affected me but when
it was time to leave, it was much more difficult than I had anticipated.
Some people exchanged gifts to certain individuals who they had made
special connections with; most gave bracelets or baskets, or clothes.
Grant, one of the volunteers, received 2 pigeons as a gift of friendship.
Apparently he was supposed to breed them and then give away the babies as
gifts of friendship. Oh Africa. We left Gashora for the final time and
headed to the Ntarama Genocide Memorial and Nelson Mandela Education
Center to say final goodbyes.
We visited Ntarama with Eugene, who is a student at the Nelson Mandela
Education Center (NMEC) and one of 10 survivors from the Ntarama church
during the genocide in 1994. He gave us a tour of the chapel, and showed
us exactly where he had sat, hiding beside some of the bunk beds that
filled the church. He sought refuge there for 3 weeks eating trees,
bricks or nothing (many died of starvation), thinking along with everyone
else, that no one would ever kill somebody in a church. After 3 weeks, 3
buses of soldiers arrived at Ntarama and threw grenades through the open
windows, killing most. After that they entered and slaughtered everyone
else that remained. Eugene was hiding beside a bed when the man above him
was shot and his dead body fell on top of Eugene, hiding his little 9 year
old body and saving his life because the soldiers left when they thought
everyone was dead. Eugene's father, uncle, 3 brothers and 1 sister were
all killed in that church. His mother and 2 sisters escaped and he was
reunited with them 2 weeks later. Inside the chapel is shelves of human
skulls and femurs/tibia. Many show the evidence of how they were killed -
head injuries, knife cuts etc. The building also contains piles of
clothes that victims wore when they died, and many different belongings,
as well as the weapons that were used - clubs with nails, machetes, spears
and knives. He showed us another building, the kitchen, where many died
trying to cook or send food between the two buildings. The ground of this
building was littered with bones (I could identify several ribs, vertebrae
and pieces of pelvis) and clothing. The third building was a small chapel
where children would attend Sunday school. This is where children were
taken to be killed; 5 children were killed every day - there was even a
tally written on the wall of how many children were killed in that room.
It only gets more and more graphic from there; I will spare the victims
the decency of not sharing this information on the internet.
It is thought that over 5,000 people were murdered in the Ntarama area
around the church. Today the memorial remains with plaques of names
containing the known victims. Eugene pointed out the names of his
brothers and father on the wall. This was such an important experience;
one that few visitors to Rwanda and the memorial get to witness. After, I
spoke with Eugene and thanked him for sharing his story with us. It was
the hardest thing I have ever had to hear someone tell me, but what I felt
was only a tiny fraction of what Eugene and his family and the people of
Rwanda experienced for years of their lives. I will always remember this
day and Eugene.
We drove to Kigali from here, spent the night and next day exploring the
craft market and visiting the hotel Mille Collines, where the real Hotel
Rwanda (based on the movie) took place. Had a final team dinner and then
Robin and I flew out the next morning at 10am. Had a great, short flight
to Nairobi where we are now. We are staying at a hostel near downtown
that our friend Wanja booked for us. Her sister met us at the airport
yesterday and we took 2 buses to our hostel which is at a nunnery/convent
type thing. We bussed downtown this morning to exchange money and
explore. Had a terrible experience trying to get travellers cheques
cashed - went to 3 banks and 6 forex's before I found one that would do it
and they gave me a terrible exchange rate, and I had a little freak out in
the midst of it all. It all worked out and I'm happy to be in Nairobi!
Wanja met us this morning at our hostel, where we got on a bus and headed
to see the Kazuri women, they are coop of women that make beads out of local
clay and bead them into necklaces, bracelets or painted pottery. In the
afternoon, she took us to a giant, crowded market in downtown Nairobi with
tons of curios (tourist gifts/crafts). Two of her friends met us with their
car downtown and took Robin and I to our pre-departure meeting for our safari
that starts tomorrow morning. There are 24 of us, 21 girls, 3 guys, all from
parts of the world like Britain, Norway, Australia, New Zealand etc; we are
the only Canadians! Sounds like it's going to be a great trip.
It's so exciting to be starting the next portion of our trip and to get to
meet new people but I miss Rwanda already and know that one day, I will be
back. More to come later! Love from Kenya.