Star Date: July 2010
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
(Welcome! Thank you. Rwandan)
" We are out embracing life - as long as the journey lasts. "
Life is brimming with adventure and discovery as we start our 8th year of continuous travel over this remarkable planet. We are very slowly, 'pole pole', wandering like nomads through Africa, enjoying every day along the way. Catapulted into the moment we never know what a day will bring but try to relish what is happening right Now. With 3 months to cover Rwanda, the smallest country in Central Africa, we were given the gift of time. We bumped our way south from Uganda past the rugged volcanoes, through valleys lined with patchwork fields and landed at Gisenyi, on the shores of breathtaking Lake Kivu. It is a massive blue lake dotted with islands and ringed by volcanic peaks, many still glowing with red smoke at night. The Congo, a country in perpetual turmoil, sits quietly on the opposite shore waiting for it's turn at peace. A land brimming with natural resources the Congo churns with conflict contrived by outside interests, while these very resources disappear out the back door. This game is played out continuously time and time again worldwide. Life in the remote Congo basin remains undeveloped, apart from conflicts fought on their lands. A book published in 2000 stated that all Congolese tribes have been or are currently cannibals. Combine all the above with a good share of war criminals from Rwanda and it is not a place to currently visit. On a wild adventure we followed the Congo border south in a truck in search of pygmies. (See March 2010) Day trips to Goma, on the border, costing $35 for the visa are safe but much further into the basin is one of those risks to be weighed very carefully.
We spent 7 (instead of 4) hours on a bus south to Kibuye through the lush terraced farmlands lining the shores of Lake Kivu. This back route, although bone jarring at times, is worth every minute. It allowed us to soak in the breathtaking views and take a glimpse into life in rural Rwanda. Delays found us standing in the rain, in the dark, in the middle of nowhere, wondering where we were and why? As the rain let up we were racing along on the back of motorcycles for 3 miles, out to the remote Bethanie Center. Exhausted we fell into bed and awoke to the magnificent surroundings of our home away from home for the next month. The blue-green waters of Lake Kivu enveloped us in the serenity as we hid away, spending the time reading, writing, hiking and just plain relaxing.
Every few days we walked the 3 miles to town and have a hoot bargaining and kidding with the 'guava girls', the 'avocado lady' or my favorite dear, the 'potato lady'. After a filling buffet lunch of local specialties we would climb on a motorcycle, piled high with our market produce and ride the picturesque loop back to our hideaway. We hiked the loop back one day taking a detour out to St Jeans for a look down on the lake below. We explored paths along the lake shore, talking to fishermen and farmers we met. At night I would cook meals in the large kitchen then Joseph and I enjoyed a sunset dinner by the lake. The welcoming, friendly staff became our friends as many a laugh or story were shared. As we ate we were serenaded by the passing fishermen, paddling across the lake to their rhythmic singing. The setting sun gave way to the glowing red of a volcano in the distance, followed by a large yellow moon rising over the lake, surrounded by millions of twinkling stars. With a nightly show like that, who needs television??
It was a sad parting as we walked up the road to catch our bus to Cyangugu at 7 am. At noon the bus still hadn't arrived! Just as we were ready to throw in the towel a big old bus rumbled up, jam packed with people. Our bus had broken down and now there were 2 busloads crammed into one. We oozed our way in, just happy to be on the move. The delay once again put us in Cyangugu after dark - never our preference. We spent the next week on the border with the Congo, exploring this southern tip of Lake Kivu, with it's pretty hills and valleys.
Huye is the academic and cultural center of Rwanda. We enjoyed talking with many students in this University town, also learning about Rwanda at the impressive National Ethnological Museum. It was there that we were privileged to spend a couple hours with the excellent Urugangazi Dancers, Rwanda's National Dance Troupe. (See June 2010 for photos). We went through Huye and visited the University of Rwanda. We all agree that education is the key to change and we are supportive of education worldwide. Our hope is that the light of learning will shine brightly in young and old alike.
We enjoyed the tasty buffet food and company in the local restaurant at the top of the Africana Hotel where we were staying. The staff couldn't believe their eyes when I walked back into the kitchen with a big bag of fresh vegetables from the market, rolled up my sleeves, stoked the charcoal fires, and cooked our evening meal. Joseph got lost in 'computer time' one night and hadn't shown up for dinner (which rarely happens!) The term for foreigner is 'Muzungu'. I said to all the kitchen staff, "Where is my Muzungu?" They howled. Then I went to the top of the steep steps and yelled, Muzungu!" amid roars of laughter. Another night there was a big pot of nasty looking animal parts boiling over the coals. No one spoke English, which is often the case in local kitchens, so I began unraveling the mystery of what the heck was bubbling away in that pot.
Not "Cluck cluck" with my wings flapping, or "Moooooo" with horns jutting, "Oink, oink" with nose pushed up, or pursed fish lips, but my fellow cooks filled in the blanks: "Baaaaaaa", beard, out the butt (intestines). Goat intestines are a Rwandan specialty, but not high on our vegetarian scale. The crowd of about 15 by then, went wild with my pantomimes. You learn to laugh a lot and be animated – not meeting anyone who spoke English for one whole month in China got us started.
Completing the circle around Rwanda we arrived in the 'wanna be' cosmopolitan Capitol city of Kigale. Workers for aid organizations stoke the economy here, attracting the large Nakumatt Department store complete with a 'Starbucks' type coffee shop, several interesting artisan shops and some excellent restaurants.
When dealing with different customs, traditions, mores, rules and laws in so many countries we smile a lot. What is gospel truth and strictly adhered to in one country is a source of amusement in the next. What is a rigid law enforced in one country isn't even an offence in another. What is beautiful in one culture, such as the reddish black teeth of the women chewing beetle nut, is considered outrageous in another corner of the world. The more laws, the more police are needed to enforce them and in the long run more freedoms are lost. Flashback from the past: whatever happened to "Question Authority"? Ask questions, do our own research, make our own informed decisions. Just because it is a law doesn't mean it should be. Right now, everyone reading this webpage is a law breaker. Yes you! Most of us are in possession of plastic bags. Plastic bags are illegal in Rwanda. In trying to reform the country into a more modern, environmentally friendly place plastic bags were outlawed. More power to them. Hope more countries follow suit. Confessions of a plastic ziploc junkie: I use them (until shredded) to organize in my 18 inch suitcase. Oh well, maybe I can attend 'ziplocs anonymous'?
Sitting by the pool after lunch in this spotless, serene environment I started to sense an ominous energy filling my surroundings. Tragic events that took place here in 1994, at the Hotel des Mille Collines, scene of the "Hotel Rwanda" have been whitewashed but not forgotten. "Never Again" is the message of the many Rwandan war memorials and as people heal memories fade.
The hospitals are filled with poor souls who can't shake the nightmare trapped in their minds. The strong ones carry on with life, moving forward one step at a time. Survival of the fittest. Old Rwanda is disappearing and a new culture reinforced by the strength of those remaining is emerging. Forward, slowly.
Everyone you meet has a story. No one remained untouched. Starting out with proud courage of one having conquered an obstacle, most stories soon are told through quivering mouths and tear welled eyes. Only time will truly heal.
Strength and compassion replacing hate. One wonders if we could do the same had we endured such suffering.
True courage often comes in plain, humble wrappings. Teddy (our 'Teddy Bear') was one of these remarkable people. A happy, bright little 6 year old, her whole life as she knew it was about to vanish. Rwanda was in turmoil and as the family huddled behind closed doors a group of soldiers, hunting down any Tutsis they could find, broke down the door and massacred her father, mother, brothers and sisters. In the confusion she ran and hid outside. There she remained, frozen in fear, until a few surviving neighbors found her. That night they walked, as a group, towards the Congo in hopes of escaping from the nightmare. Weeks of hiding by day, walking by night through the dense forests and fields to avoid the roads filled with soldiers, they slowly made their way towards the border. Once in the Congo the refugee camps were still targets of attack by the renegade Interhamwe soldiers. For two years they lived hand to mouth, barely surviving, side by side with thousands of other automaton refugees, lucky to even be alive.
As the RFG regained control of Rwanda the Red Cross began flying Rwandans back home. The journey which had taken months to walk, took 1 hour to fly. Upon landing many refugees spotted family members and were lovingly reunited. Through tear filled eyes Teddy scoured the crowd for any familiar faces. No one. Finally she caught sight of a neighbor lady who recognized her and welcomed her to come live with them; returning to a neighborhood full of sadness, not joy.
Teddy then began, with the help of Aid organizations to systematically look for any family members that may have miraculously survived the genocide. For a year she scoured records and photos of children in the endless orphanages. Finally she noticed a small boy who looked familiar. Taken to meet him in person she recognized her brother in a tearful reunion. She had family! His identity was confirmed by a missing tooth he had knocked out when he fell down several years earlier in their front yard.
Not giving up she continued her search. It was not in vain as a baby, found by a man fleeing for his life, was carried for hundreds of miles to the Congo. Strangers helped strangers, trying to turn fear into compassion. After a couple of years there she had been returned to a Kigale orphanage. The man only gave the date he found her and the location. Everything matched and she joyfully embraced her baby sister.
The search continued but to no avail. Counting her blessings at age twelve she decided to return to the family home and start a fresh life for the new little family of three. With the help of foreign aid and the government they all went to school, grew a garden, wore donated clothes, ate relief foods and tried to pick up the pieces of a shattered life. When Teddy graduated she found a job through her church, cleaning rooms at the Okapi Hotel. This is where we met her and when she & I spent the day together she related her story over lunch. She like many Rwandans is thankful to be alive, thankful to have survived, thankful for what they have. She has replaced hate and fear with gratitude, forgiveness, and compassion. The courage of a lion hiding within a warm fuzzy teddy bear.
And so it goes......................................... Next month, life is what happens while we make other plans. We found ourselves temporarily hurled back into life in the U.S. Until then let's be thankful for our many, many blessings in life as we celebrate Thanksgiving. Our love goes out to all of you. We are thankful for family & friends like you and that you have joined us on our journey. Keep Smiling! Thanks for keeping in touch and sharing our website. Take care.
Love, Light &
xoxoox Nancy & Joseph
1.00 USD = 588.000 Rwanda Francs RWF
Helpful young man, eager to learn, Kennedy, speaks great English, in fact 7 languages, and can help you with short tours or walks of the area. Contact him via email only (say Nancy & Joseph recommended him). email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Home St Jean, 8,000rfw plus
lower priced dorms. On a hill west of town this isolated hotel
is a good place to stop by for the views and maybe have lunch while
walking the loop from Bethanie - to town - and back around.
Bethanie has much nicer rooms for the same price.
Cyangugu/now Kamembe Town:
This is the commercial center above the lake about 4 kms. Half way down to the lake is the pricey Peace Guesthouse (quoted 15,000 rfw for the cheapest room - 500 rfw moto or catch a bus down 150 from behind the market), in the middle of nowhere, with sketchy views of the lake. Even more surprising is that Rusizi, on the water is in fact located along the river, at the small wooden bridge to the Congo. The Chutes Hotel looks out at the very end of the lake, but the busy road is between you and the water. This area doesn't take advantage of the beautiful lake at all. Don't come here looking for a lakeside retreat, Kibuye is the place. If you stay in Kamembe, it is worth taking a walk down (and catching a 150 rfw ride back up) to the border town of Rusizi just to have a look.
There is a good internet (when it's working) on the 3rd floor above the yellow MTN building, left back towards the market, main drag.
The market is the whole next block on your right. Behind it is a really good local buffet restaurant, street level, just keep asking. 1000rfw.
on the main drag, full of snacks for a junk food fix, a small snack
bar and large 20 L bottles of water. Help Mother Earth and use
less plastic bottles - just refill from a larger bottle.
EPR Kiyovu, phone # 0788769130
Nakumatt, is the center of action at the Union Trade Center. You can get anything you need at this large Kenyan owned department store.
The best Indian food is at the Okapi Hotel but stop by Khazana for good food, at twice the price (for ambiance).
Check out the Indian Restaurant and the local Restaurant at the end of the hall across from Nakumatt. The local Restaurant has an excellent buffet for lunch daily for a great price. Stop by and say hi to the friendly staff and owners!