Congo Nile Trail

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I wrote this post in September 2015 and never published it, but want to share it now, even though I am 2.5 years late

The Congo Nile Trail

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As soon as I learned of its existence, I knew I needed to see the Congo Nile Trail for myself. Without much plan and without much gear, I intended to hike as much of the trail as I could on Saturday 29 August, with the goal of reaching Gisenyi sometime midday Sunday. I printed a poor copy of a trail map, bought a few bottles of water and some chocolate digestive biscuits, and there ended my rigorous planning.

The Congo Nile Trail is a 227 km hiking/biking trail along Lake Kivu. The trail is a road-slash-path linking hills, towns, and farmland, and is a very recent creation by the Government of Rwanda to boost tourism in the country. With a name like Congo Nile Trail, how could they fail?

Map courtesy of Responsible Nomad – click on the picture to read a very helpful blog post

After the great night fishing experience, I went to sleep early and woke at sunrise to begin my hike. The plan was to catch a bus from Kibuye to Rubengera and then a moto to Mushubati. But when I got to the quiet city center of Kibuye at 7am, a moto driver told me that no buses were running due to Umuganda. Of COURSE Saturday was Umuganda – how did I forget such a simple fact?

No worries, said the moto driver, and he offered to drive me to Rubengera for 2,000 francs. I thought that seemed steep, but he assured me that he wasn’t able to overcharge me since he was a tour guide. Ha! I smiled at that, but accepted his fee and we drove east towards the beginning of my trek.

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have i mentioned yet how beautiful Rwanda is?

When we got to Rubengera, he asked me specifically where I wanted to be dropped off, and I told him that anywhere was fine because I was actually walking to Mushubati. Not quite grasping that I actually wanted to walk, he looked alarmed and said that for friendship but not for more money, he would get me as close to Mushubati as possible (he needed to be back in Kibuye before 8am to avoid getting a fine for driving during Umuganda). That seemed very kind, so we left the paved road and started driving on a very hilly dirt road. He turned the moto off during the steep descents, which allowed us some time to chat.

Turns out my moto driver – Ignacious – is one of the coolest and most genuine people I’ve come across. His father was from Congo and his mother from Rwanda. During the conflict in Congo his family moved to Rwanda and he lived in a refugee camp for eight years. To support his family, he enrolled in driving classes and learned English on the street. He is extremely kind, and works a driver, moto driver, and tour guide. I really enjoyed chatting with him, and when he stopped to drop me off just before Mushubati, he showed me pictures of his wife and seven children on his phone. Of course I asked him if I could take his photo.

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Ignacious – if you get a chance to give this man your business, please do

Later in the day, he ended up nearly saving my sanity-slash-life (more on that later), but for the time being we exchanged numbers and smiles and I promised to pass his number on to anyone who may need a friendly driver in Kibuye, which I’m doing right now: 0788 591 067 His English is great and he is a friendly and safe driver.

After bidding adieu to Ignacious, I started walking north with the hope of reaching Kinunu before nightfall. I should mention right now that hiking from Rubengera/Mushubati to Kinunu is billed as a two-day hike, but I felt confident that I could do it in one (maybe you already see where this story is going?).

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Hiking in the morning in Rwanda is pleasant. My bulky backpack didn’t feel too heavy. I was well rested and well hydrated, and happily took pictures of my surroundings as I walked. If you’re planning to hike the trail, be forewarned that it isn’t well marked. My strategy was to verify my direction with a Rwandan at every fork in the road – and often in the middle of the trail – just to avoid going the wrong way. In the morning I would simply say “Mwaramutse! Musasa?” and villagers were happy to point the correct direction to Musasa. And in the afternoon after I reached Musasa I said “Miriwe! Kinunu?” and villagers directed me towards Kinunu. It worked! Just remember that you want to hike the trail, not the road. You can ensure that you start out on the trail by taking the road down (left) in Mushubati (but again, ask to verify).

This is not a hike for solitude. Rwanda is the size of Maryland and has 12.3 million people (nearly 500 people per square kilometer!), so I don’t know why I thought I’d have time to contemplate my life. Not a minute went by without a chorus of “muzungu muzungu” following me. I must admit it started to wear on me.

Everywhere I went, I was followed by a crowd of children. They smiled and touched my skin, they hid behind trees and watched from afar, they chased me – laughing – but ran away when I turned to face them. They were – in a word – everywhere. And nearly all of them wanted me to take their photo. They pleaded with me: “photo? photo? photo?” until I pointed at my camera and said: “yego (yes)? oya (no)?” Always they said “yego!” They really loved rushing me after I took the photo to look at their image on the screen, so I’m guessing that was the appeal. I don’t usually take photos of people, but since they asked I was happy to comply. And am happy to share their beautiful faces with you here…

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What I found most interesting was observing the pose that each child chose for their photo. Some awkwardly showed off all of their teeth. Some became militantly serious. Some saluted me (!!). And some (like the girl on the hill with the bananas behind her) simply stood as they were and looked confidently at the camera. I was happy that she asked me to take her photo, because when I saw her quietly watching me from the hill I so badly wanted to capture the moment.

But all good things must come to an end, and the children started to grate on me as the sun came out and the hills got steep and my water supply ran low. I kept putting one foot in front of the other over and over, willing myself to continue on as I enjoyed the stunningly gorgeous scenery.

One highlight of the walk was greeting older men and women. Unlike the children, they were very respectful and helpful, and were thrilled when I started speaking Kinyarwanda to them. One elderly woman walked up to me with a giant smile on her face and took my hand in both of hers and said the kindest things to me in Kinyarwanda (I have no idea what she said, but I know it was kind).

This woman was walking down the hill as I was walking up, and she is the only person that I asked for a photo. Her happiness was infectious, and I forgave her for happily cooing “muzungu, muzungu” to her son as we greeted each other.

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Oh this place is beautiful. The hills, the heat, the lake, the farms, the people, the smiles, the dust, the (oh please come soon) rains… The pictures speak for themselves.

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I thought this was cute…

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…until I saw this

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A very smart-looking little boy was walking two pigs down the path

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One really cool thing about this trail is that you walk by a lot of coffee washing stations. I really wanted to see one in action, but apparently it isn’t the right season. When I asked the hotel proprietor when coffee washing season is, he said “how should I know? I’m not a farmer!!” Ok then.

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coffee washing station on Lake Kivu in the off season

 Around 4:30pm I started to really get tired. These hills are no joke, and neither are the children tagging after me at.every.turn. I wasn’t sure how far it was to Kinunu (my destination), and I didn’t want to be hiking in the dark (the sun sets at 6 here year round). Just at the right moment, I saw a moto at the top of the hill with a group of people, and I was prepared to pay any amount of money for him to take me to where I would spend the night. Until I realized that I didn’t actually know where I was going. Negotiations were not going well, and I feared I was going to have a Hotel California moment with the Congo Nile Trail.

LUCKILY, about eight hours before I had met the best possible moto driver (remember him?), and I called Ignacious. He absolutely saved me, because what I was calling the Kinunu Guest House is actually the Rushel Kivu Lodge. Somehow Ignacious was able to tell the driver where to take me AND he negotiated a really cheap (to me) fare.

When I saw this site about 5km later, I was very very happy:

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Their two rooms weren’t available, but luckily their tent option is sleeping bag inclusive and this was my home for the night. 15,000 per night (including breakfast) included a super comfortable mattress, and I got the best night of sleep since I arrived in Rwanda.

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the tent includes sleeping bag, mattress, towel, toothbrush, toothpaste and a bar of soap

I met a group of Germans who biked half of what I hiked because biking the entire distance would have been too hard (I didn’t realize that the section of trail I decided to hike was one of the most difficult). They clearly thought I was crazy/insane, and told me I did about 30km, which was news to me.

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still

After a year of travel, change, ups, downs, getting married, and nonstop movement, I’ve finally found myself, at once, still. Such a beautiful feeling to relax in this house that is – finally – clean and in order.

Making space to breathe has never felt so good.

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Hoping to come back to this space more frequently, too.

Night Fishing. Or, Third Time is a Charm

Finally, finally, finally I got to go night fishing on Lake Kivu! The first time I went to Kibuye, I ended up milking cows instead of going night fishing. The second time I went to Kibuye, all the fisherman were taking a night off from night fishing and I went to the Best Nightclub instead. So when I heard that the last possible day to go night fishing before the end of the season was August 28th, I jumped at the chance and headed for the first bus out of Kigali.

The interesting thing about going to the same small town and staying in the same small place three times is that the people in that place become more like friends than strangers. I was greeted in the parking lot by an employee who I affectionately call “Yes Please Bye Bye” (more on that later), and when I went down to the bar I was greeted with a chorus of “you’re back!” And if you think I wasn’t a wee bit sad knowing I’d likely never come back to Kibuye, think again.

I mean seriously, this place just makes me happy….

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But things change as they must. They recently installed a television at the bar (why?!?), so now I can find the staff here. Ha!

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But back to night fishing… I booked an evening of night fishing through Vayando and met up with my guide Olivier at Home Saint Jean. He picked me up in a boat just before sunset, and we headed out onto the lake to meet up with the fishermen.

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Lake Kivu does not support much wildlife (due to the high methane gas levels beneath the surface), but it does support sambaza! Fishermen catch the little fish by spreading nets under three connected wooden boats. Lanterns are hung over the side, which attract the sambaza, and after two hours the nets are pulled in. This process is repeated three times in a night.

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August 28th was a super moon, which was super not conducive to a bountiful harvest. Since the fishermen rely on their lanterns to attract the sambaza into their nets, a bright moon makes the lanterns less effective.  C’est la vie, said me! I was still pumped to get this authentic fishing experience (and of course to eat my fill of sambaza).

Fishing in Rwanda is strangely similar to fishing in the US – lots of sitting around waiting, and then a rush of excitement when it is time to reel in the catch. Waiting was fine with me, though, because it gave me time to chat with – but mostly observe – these interesting guys. They spend all night out on the lake, and often their families live in a different part of the country.

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I wondered for a hot second if heading out to the middle of the lake with a group of fishermen was a good idea for this lady, but it turns out it was! The men were very friendly and respectful, and after asking me if I was single or not the talk turned to important things – do people in the US fish with nets like this? How do you manage to spend this much time away from your families? We had a nice chat out there under the super moon.

Did I mention the sitting and waiting?

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And then, suddenly, ACTION! I don’t know how they knew it was time to start bringing in the nets, but suddenly all ten men on the three boats started working in a synchronized way to bring in the giant nets that were – hopefully – full of sambaza. I used to pride myself on my arm strength until I tried to pull in one of these nets. I literally lasted 7 seconds before I had to hand it off to a pro. This is HARD work!

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Luckily hard work pays off!

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this is a light catch – a good harvest would fill the bucket

My new friends speared a couple sambaza and cooked the sambaza right there. It was surprisingly delicious. Talk about minimizing the distance between source and plate!

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cooking sambaza over a kerosene fire

 

After eating a few sambaza, the men gave me a small bucket of fish to take back and we said our goodbyes – I headed to my hotel, and they stayed for more fishing before heading home to their families the next day.

Night fishing on Lake Kivu was such a fun and authentic experience; connecting with people is really important to me and this evening did not disappoint.

When I got back to Home Saint Jean, I said farewell to Olivier and had the kitchen fry up my bucket of sambaza.

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I couldn’t eat most of this, so I shared it with the staff. One of the managers and I had a nice chat while we snacked on sambaza. I can never remember his name because I think of him as “Yes Please Bye Bye,” which is what he says in response to nearly everything I say. From what I can gather, it basically translates to a gentler version of “FU.” He’s a stickler for rules and enjoys enforcing them, but despite his quirks he is pretty endearing and I’ve grown fond of him.

As we were eating the sambaza at 11pm, he said: “this is really nice of you. I’m going to buy you a beer…. next time you come.” And I didn’t have the heart to tell him this was likely the last time we’d see each other. I just smiled and said, ok. And thanks.

Yes, please. Bye bye Kibuye.

Rwandan Food – cooking under the sun

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Yesterday morning I crossed off an item pretty high on my Rwanda Bucket List and spent three hours taking a cooking class with Aminatha. This was an experience made possible by Vayando, and I am SO happy that I got such a unique opportunity.

The morning started at 9am at the Nyamirambo Women’s Center, where our interpreter Claude met us before we walked to meet our chef. Aminatha came to Rwanda from Congo in 1998 as a refugee, and now supports herself and her children by working at the Nyamirambo Women’s Center and by offering cooking classes.

We chopped vegetables inside our little kitchen for the day, and cooked all six dishes outdoors on charcoal stoves. So cool! Or, shall I say, hot.

The menu:

  • Sweet Potato
  • Cassava
  • Dodo (amaranth) – dodo, 4 tomatoes, 3 small onions, 1 green pepper, 6 small garlic bubs, peanut flour (lots), 4 African eggplants (NOT the purple eggplants – the ones that look like eggs and you don’t have to peel), oil, salt, pepper, seasoning, bullion
  • Beansfresh beans, 2 small onions, 4 small tomatoes, celery leaves, 1 green pepper, carrots, lots of water, oil, salt, about 6 bullion cubes, small can tomato paste
  • Plantainsplantains, tomatoes, onions, green onions, celery leaves, oil, salt, pepper, bullion {we started the plantains first because they boiled for hours}
  • Ugali – maize flour and water

I don’t usually put photos of myself in this blog, but Claude used my camera to take a million photos (thanks Claude!!), so you’ll see pics of me as well as Claude, Aminatha, and Trevor (the other chef-in-training).

The raw ingredients before starting…

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Starting the charcoal stoves…

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This is where my mouth starts watering!

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Adding plantains…

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Let’s just say I pretty much need a mortar and pestle just like this…

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Mother and son taking a break to check out photos of our progress so far

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The secret to dodo? Lots and lots of peanut flour

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Also – two packets of this. It smelled like the flavor packets of chicken ramen so probably you could use that. We also added 6 bouillon cubes.

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The recipes involved lots of chopping…

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…and chatting! 🙂

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For the beans, brown the onions and celery leaves

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Add tomatoes, carrots and green pepper (and a small can of tomato paste, lots of water and 6 bullion cubes)

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Add the fresh beans and let simmer

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Is anyone curious about that guy in the green shirt? I was. Turns out he’s wearing the coolest shirt in Kigali.

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Anyway, Back to the Food

Beans!

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I came all the way to Rwanda to peel potatoes…

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LOTS of potatoes! Luckily I spent my entire childhood preparing for this task. It was a very Maine morning.

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Ugali is the last dish we cooked, and is prepared by cooking maize flour and water for a long time until it becomes a gelatinous-ish mass. I’m not sure how else to describe it, but I really liked it.

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Ugali requires superhuman strength to prepare. Aminatha made it look simple, but Trevor and I only lasted about 15 seconds when we tried to stir it.

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Fini!!

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After cooking, we had the opportunity to share the food with a large group of tourists who had taken the Nyamirambo Women’s Center walking tour (I took this tour a couple of months ago and highly recommend it).

I was really hungry and somehow didn’t take many photos of the final product. In the battle between photographic documentation and hunger, my stomach won. Friends, it usually does. But this photo will do the job:

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Clockwise from top left: sweet potatoes, dodo, beans, cassava, and plantains in the center. The ugali is not pictured here. Everything was so delicious, but the dodo and plantains were my favorite. Rwandese only cook one or two dishes at a time – a family would never prepare all of this food for one meal.

We seriously cooked for all of these people!

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PS Who else loves the color on these walls?

Women’s Center staff…

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Thanks Aminatha! Had a truly awesome time!

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Boats, Banana Beer, and Bats (or, Kivu Two)

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Folks, you just can’t keep me away from Kibuye. On Friday after work I ran walked calmly to my waiting taxi to meet up with Scott at the Nyabugogo bus station (wait, doesn’t this sound familiar?). When I arrived at the jam packed bus station I made my way to the bus, got my ticket from Scott, jumped on the bus to take the last two seats, and within a minute we were on our way. Perfect timing! This time I managed to snap a blurry shot from my seat at the back of the bus. Blurry pictures are the worst, but sometimes it’s more important to share a visual, isn’t it?

IMG_0230You can see from this photo that the bus doesn’t have an aisle at all. It does, but as the bus fills up the aisle seat is dropped down. Those aisle seats are the worst – super uncomfortable.

After arriving in Kibuye around 5:30pm, we dropped our bags at our rooms and then headed down to check out New Chiaz Bar, which is a pretty awesome local bar with cold beer and good grilled meat. Afterwards we decided to check out Best Nightclub. Yup, it really is called Best Nightclub. I mandated that we go there due to their fancy-creative name, and we were rewarded by some AWESOME music and a good local scene.

I have to pause this blog post right now and tell you that I’m really really sick. This week has been mildly unmanageable because I haven’t had a wink of sleep, am congested, and my work obligations haven’t let up. So right now I’m pretty exhausted and sort of unable to turn my perfect weekend into an enthralling blog post. I might let the pictures do the talking because I’m going to fall asleep in T-20 seconds and counting.

Because it really was an awesome weekend. Night fishing was my entire reason for going, but once we got to Kibuye we found out that August 1st was the one night a year when no fishing is allowed. Whyyyyyyyyyy?!?!

We more than made up for our night-fishing woes by renting motos by day and a boat by night. And of course I started the morning early with a well-balanced breakfast of omelet and a fruit plate that I was apparently allergic to due to the tingling in my mouth/throat. Yes I kept eating.IMG_0241

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After we rented motos, we drove them on what we thought would be a rural road, but ended up being a road in the midst of Chinese construction.

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I wasn’t a huge fan of the dirt and dust everywhere, and was even less a fan of the scar gouged out of the side of Rwanda’s hills, but I will admit that this view gave me pause.IMG_0267The scar may not be pretty, but the past is, and I can always marvel at a piece of geology that was once lying just beneath the surface.

After an hour or so on the road, we stopped at a little bar/shack for a fanta. The locals sitting outside enjoying their refreshments were pretty intrigued by our mzungu selves rolling in to their establishment, but we said howdy and accepted the Cokes that were brought our way. My hair was a MESS after being hidden under a helmet, so I tried to slyly whip it into shape until I realized that the women at the bar were laughing at me and taking photos with their phones. Ha! Only one man in the place spoke English, and he started SHOUTING pleasantries at us. It wasn’t until Scott started responding in an equally loud tone that he reduced his decibel level. He kept telling us “don’t worry, you are safe here,” which was mildly creepy because I haven’t worried since I’ve been in Rwanda, and also because more and more and more people started showing up at the bar to surround us. Awkward city. Did we chug our cokes and say goodbye pretty quick? Yes.

Scott picked up a guy who wanted a ride back to Kibuye, which really cracked people up. You NEVER see a Rwandan riding on the back of a moto being driven by a mzungu, so it was entertaining for all. See the guys laughing at the sight??

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But oh, isn’t Rwanda beautiful? Pictures don’t do it justice…IMG_1925Naturally after our hard work moto-ing around the countryside we had to stop at Chiaz Bar for a cold beverage.

IMG_0274And after a day in the sun, we decided to spend the evening on the water. There is an island very near Kibuye where a bunch of bats live, and we rented a boat to take us to Napoleon Island to see them.

But FIRST, we stopped off at a little bar that sold homemade banana beer. For 200 francs we filled up an empty water bottle… I can see where it could be good, but this batch went wrong and a sip was enough for me. Thank goodness we also had a tiny bottle of whiskey for our boat ride!!

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IMG_0279 IMG_0281The evening was perfect, beautiful, serene and surreal. At one point the water and the sky matched each other in color.

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IMG_1938On our way to Napoleon Island to see the bats, we saw a tiny island that was screaming for attention. Olivier told us “it’s too small!!” but we needed to step foot on it anyway.

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IMG_1964When we were back on the boat and on our way, night quickly fell. As we approached Napoleon Island we could see and hear bats by the thousands. I really couldn’t get any photos, but the bats were EVERYWHERE.IMG_0326 IMG_1968Olivier let me captain the boat back through the peaceful waters of Lake Kivu – perfect ending to the perfect day…

And perhaps some other day I’ll tell you the story of how Scott and I both ran out of money on Sunday, how three ATMs were broken in Kibuye, and how – through the kindness of the Capitol Bus ticket seller – I was able to sell the MTN airtime in my wallet to afford bus tickets to get Scott and I back to Kigali in one piece. It really is a good story, but I’m so tired, and so sick, and will have to tell you about another time.

Good night friends,

D

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

work

Tags

I’ve hit a groove
working hard
diving head first and oh so deep into my mission here

Health of the public
smiling children on the street
Rwanda you fill my heart

With something like meaning

The days are long (8am-9pm today…and still working)
satisfaction is high
fun weekend events cancelled because the work piles without end

But isn’t it right, just, and free
to work at work that brings more than a paycheck
brings something like satisfaction

To a wayward soul like mine

july 4th, independence, hash house harriers

To my US friends, I hope you had a wonderful 4th of July!! I hope you spent this weekend watching fireworks, drinking beer, grilling out, and enjoying the beautiful summer weather. More than that, I hope you’re celebrating your freedoms and independence. As much as the media tries to divide us into red and blue, I think we’re all more alike than we are different, no?

The 4th of July is a national holiday in Rwanda, too. Liberation Day marks the end of 100 days of genocide 21 years ago. Needless to say, the fourth of July is not an excited, fireworks-filled holiday like it is for us. Out of respect, the US does not celebrate July 4th in Rwanda, so our 4th of July work party will be next weekend.

I ended up having an amazing day on the fourth. The first half of the day was leisurely. I finished a book (The Interestings), started a new one (11/22/63), and did lots of lounging. That lounging came in handy when I somehow found myself walking across the entire city later in the day. Seriously.

I intended to walk 3km to an art exhibit, stay for an hour, and get a cab to the meeting place for my first Hash with the Kigali Hash House Harriers, but when I got to where I thought the exhibit would be they had no clue what I was talking about. So I decided that even though I really didn’t know where I was going next, I would walk. The benefit of Kigali’s hills is that you can stand on one hill, look across the city, and choose a building on the other side of the valley to be your target. The bad thing about Kigali’s hills is…well… the hills.

This gives you a bit of a glimpse of the topo here. And I didn’t take a straight shot since I had no clue where I was going, so add a couple of winding kilometers to what the map says.

kigali walkingOn my way to my destination, I took a shortcut through a field with well-worn footpaths and plenty of pedestrians. The field was full of randomly dispersed maize plants. I haven’t walked through a corn field in probably fifteen years, and I didn’t know that I missed the smell of late afternoon summer corn until I was suddenly flooded with memories. Corn is corn (or, well, maize), and the smell of middle-of-the-city Kigali corn brought me right back to the Maine cornfields of my youth.

When I was nearly to where I thought I ought to be (it turns out that the building I selected on the horizon was the right one!), a man pulled over and said “are you going to the hash?” I suppose a white gal in running clothes was a dead giveaway. I don’t normally hop into the cars of strangers, but this man was wearing a hash house harriers t-shirt and I was beginning to wonder how I’d find where I was supposed to go, so he came at just the right time.

The Kigali Hash House Harriers are a friendly bunch. I’ve been wanting to do HHH for several years since it combines two of my loves (drinking and running), but it just hasn’t worked out. I especially love the objectives of the original HHH in 1938:

  • To promote physical fitness among our members
  • To get rid of weekend hangovers
  • To acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer
  • To persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel

Of course back in that day only men were allowed, but now the groups are happily coed. I only snapped one photo last night, but it captures a happy moment. Halfway through the run the group stopped at a bar for a beer (obvi).IMG_0135But I must say that there is also a crude edge to HHH. Either you drink up in the allocated time, or you choose between chugging your beer or dumping it over your head. I unfortunately was a bit slow drinking my beer at this bar pit stop, so I found myself being circled as I chugged my beer (side note: I do NOT chug beer. I’m a lady, not a frat boy). In this case, however, I quickly downed my beer as the crew stood around me and sang a little chant that I won’t type out here (my parents read this blog!!!).

After the run, we ended up at a bar called Cool Garden (not so ironically, it really was a cool garden). Since this was my first HHH, I had to get in the middle of the circle of runners and answer random questions about myself and then chug a beer. Being the center of attention is my least favorite pastime – which is why I’ve avoided HHH in the past – but sometimes you just have to face your fear and meet new people and be ok with trying something new.

Thank goodness I did, because I discovered that the group was SO nice. My newfound friends invited me to go out to Sundowner at 10pm that evening. 10pm is usually my bedtime, but I’m so glad I broke my rule and went out. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have danced with these fun Rwandan kids until >2am (and they really were kids… 22 max).

Walking across Kigali, running around Kigali, participating in my first Hash, and then dancing all night with a mix of expats and locals was an incredible way to celebrate the Fourth. Unique, but incredible. And definitely a good alternative to a bbq back home with friends.

I hope you had an equally lovely holiday.

wishes…

I want two things for my birthday this year:

  1. See chimpanzees in the wild
  2. Play mini golf with friends

How insane is it that my first wish is easier to attain than the second? I’m on the search for a mini golf place in Kigali, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist. But plus one for chimpanzees, right? It is going to be a very Jane Goodall birthday. Did I ever tell you that I met her – twice? She is cooler than you think she is (if that is possible), and she can legit whoop and holler like a real live chimpanzee. I’ve seen it.

While I was wallowing in the disappointment of a mini golf-free 33, I walked the 3.5km to Rz Manna, an A+ bakery with some of the best iced coffee I’ve had in quite some time.

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After I ordered my tiny pastry and giant coffee, I walked to a little table towards the back. Low and behold I ran into my friend Christine, who is one of the five people that I know in Kigali. Small world, right? She asked me what I had planned for the day, and I admitted that I have zero plans until Tuesday, because that’s what happens when you move halfway across the world, amiright?

Thank goodness I didn’t have plans, because just a couple hours later I found myself smack dab in the middle of Cynthia Rupari’s store, getting measured for a dress made out of African fabric. Next week I’ll go for a final fitting, and then I’ll have a unique one-of-a-kind piece for my closet. If you know me at all, you know that I am not fashionable and I despise shopping, but I admit it feels super special to pick a fabric, design the shape of your dress, and have someone make it for you with their own two hands. Thank you, Cynthia!!

My colleague Linda sees my reserved fashion sense as a challenge to overcome, and she swears to me: “girl I’m gonna get you in some color.” Mom, I know you’ll be pleased.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m pretty in love with Rwanda and I don’t want to leave in three months. When I get back to DC I’ll give it the ol’ college try. But if it doesn’t work out? I’m quitting my job and moving to Kigali to be a business owner.

I’m going to open a mini golf course. With a bar (of course).

lake kivu

First, let me apologize for being the world’s most lackadaisical blogger. I left you hanging on a rather negative post, and I truly apologize. I’ve been busy at work, and busy in my personal time, and this is the first time I’ve actually sat down at home since…. Wednesday? But I digress – excuses be gone!

We’re also definitely without power right now, so I’ll try to crank this post out before my battery dies.

This weekend I went to Kibuye, which is a gorgeous town on Lake Kivu.

But I can’t really start talking about Kibuye until I mention the drive there. My friend Scott and I met up at the bus station, and I absolutely failed all of you by not taking a photo of the joyful bit of chaos that is the Nyabugogo Bus Station. I was so exuberant to be leaving Kigali for the first time – and overwhelmed with trying to buy a ticket for a bus that left in ten minutes – that I didn’t even pause to capture a visual keepsake to share with you. After buying a ticket, boarding a bus (more like a passenger van than a bus), and then being shuttled off that bus and onto another one, we were on our way.

The drive from Kigali to Kibuye is one of the most beautiful I have ever experienced. The hills keep rolling around in front of you, the crops growing on the side of the mountains are stunning, people are walking everywhere, and I think I’ll pay for a driver next time just so I can stop and take pictures. This part of the world is absolutely gorgeous. Three hours on the bus was more than enough, though, and I was happy to arrive in Kibuye.

Kibuye – a small town on the eastern edge of Lake Kivu – is as lovely as the drive to get there. We stayed in Home Saint Jean, a hotel/hostel that was comfortably cheap. The first night a private room wasn’t available, so I stayed in the dorm for $4. The second night I decided to massively upgrade and pay $8 for a private room and a sink (shared bathrooms). Best of all, the hotel is on a ridge overlooking the lake, so it felt like a resort…. except for the constant construction. Seriously, if they weren’t renovating (and waking up the world at 6:30 every am), I would head out there every weekend.

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Now do you believe me? For $4 a night this can be you!

Friday night we hung out in the bar/restaurant area of the hotel and OD’d on Dolly Parton. Seriously, Rwandans LOVE their country music. I’m not complaining!!

Leaving the big city to watch the sun set over the lake? Yes, please! IMG_0060 IMG_0062 IMG_1806

But by far the COOLEST thing we did all weekend was watch some cows swim from one island to the next. The cows live on an island in Lake Kivu with a cowboy (as he is called), and during the dry season (aka right now – this is the beginning of the dry season) the cows swim to another island to graze. Number one, I didn’t know cows could swim. And B, what?!?! But y’all, they really do.

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I have a video of them swimming from one island to the next. I’m unable to upload it here, but happy to email it to you if you’d like.

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IMG_1866IMG_1880You too can see cows swim! My friend Scott – co-founder of Vayando – sets up experiences for tourists that allow you to meet with an entrepreneur in the country you’re visiting and speak with them about their daily life. I think we all want to have an authentic experience with a local when we travel, and Vayando helps facilitate that. Right now they’re only in Costa Rica and Rwanda, but their goal is to set up experiences in 100 countries. Cool, right?

My next Vayando experience will definitely be night fishing on Lake Kivu. We intended to do that on a boat like this….

IMG_1907…..But instead we went out with a giant group of people to meet the cowboy again and help milk the cows.

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Before I left Kibuye, I decided to spend Sunday morning walking around the little town. With each step I took, another child joined the parade behind me. When I made eye contact with the children, they shyly looked away. They wanted to practice their English, and I wanted to practice my Kinyarwanda, so these little ones and I hit it off right away. Eventually I turned around to head back, and we said our goodbyes. Church had just let out as I walked back through town, and the streets filled with women dressed in the most beautifully vibrant fabric. Families laughed and walked slowly through the streets, reveling in the rest that comes on a Sunday.

Up ahead of me I saw a woman walking hand in hand with her son. He was only a couple of years old – no higher than my knee – and he was walking with a red lollipop. I was only 10 feet behind mother and son when he turned around. When he saw me, his face transformed into the definition of joy. With a giant smile, he spread his arms wide and screamed – MZUNGU!!!!!!!!!!!!!! – as he ran towards me. He ran into me, hugged my legs, and ran triumphantly back to his mother. I have never seen anyone so happy to see me in my life.

{Mzungu means “white person” and nearly every child yells out “mzungu!” as I pass. It isn’t derogatory; it is a statement of fact. And though I’d rather blend in to my surroundings, these kids fill me with a special kind of joy. The kind of joy that makes me tolerate “mzungu” with a smile.}

Leaving Kibuye after this unexpectedly perfect weekend was a little difficult. I put my belongings on my back and slowly walked away from Home Saint Jean and back into town to catch the bus. After buying my $3 ticket, I jammed myself into the crowded bus on Sunday afternoon with other travelers headed back to the capitol after a weekend at home. A man listened to a mostly-static radio station for hours (earbuds, man!); I felt for the women nursing their children on the hot and crowded bus; and a woman and child argued with the driver when he wouldn’t let them bring their chicken on board.

Maybe in the States I would have been irritated by my lack of personal space. But I looked around at the people sharing a crowded three hour bus ride with me – people I never would have met if Providence didn’t align herself just so – and I felt so blessed.

How lucky I am, to be in JUST this place.

I am SO happy here. I click with people in Rwanda like I haven’t been able to in DC, and my life is full to the brim. Here, I belong. Here, I am so so happy.

 

 

disappointment

This morning I got some bad news at work, and I was crushed. Crushed really is the most appropriate word for the disappointment that immediately follows expectant jubilance. The pit of my stomach suddenly felt so hollow, my lungs suddenly resisted inflating. Everything that was once full suddenly became empty… Perhaps this seems dramatic, but after soldiering on over the past couple of years and smiling in the face of tiny disappointment after tiny disappointment, this one big disappointment was too much.

Disappointment is such a bitter emotion, especially when your disappointment is in yourself.

As you may imagine, I’ve been thinking a lot today about how people bounce back after sadness and bad days and disappointing news. It seems like there are two types of people in this world:

  • those that fight to change their situation
  • those that accept their situation and adapt

I am very firmly in the latter group. Unfortunately my own personal Serenity Prayer ends after the first line and I don’t yet have ‘the courage to change the things I can’ OR ‘the wisdom to know the difference.’ I envy those that fight to change what happened and retaliate and complain to the appropriate people and make action steps to right the very horrible wrong. But I am not one of those people – I don’t revel in my successes or my failures for too awfully long.

The good thing about getting thrown off my path is that it forces me to walk back to my path. And before walking back to my path, I kind of have to look around and see where I am. Now that I’ve started to adapt to my disappointment and am 73% uncrushed, I can see where I may perhaps have been on the wrong path.

Somehow, I became stagnant in the security of a good enough life.

Bitter questions that had been rolling around in the recesses of my mind suddenly became the only ones I could think about this morning: Am I good enough? Am I ‘less than’ in the way that I was just quantitatively proven to be? Every day, when I show up and work hard and care deeply and smile when sad and find solutions when against a brick wall, am I doing the right thing?

And even though these questions seem so sad and counterproductive, I think they are GOOD. For me they are very good. Even though I am still sad and am now 78% uncrushed (because just writing all of this down is helping so so so much), now I can ask the better questions. What am I doing with my life? Do I want to go back to what I left in the US and pick up where I left off? What do I want to take from my experience in Rwanda so that I can build a life that is more fulfilling and more meaningful? What do I want to give to Rwanda? What will I do differently tomorrow? What will I do differently next week?

I have to end this post without a tidy summary. Too many questions are swirling around in my head to write a conclusion that packages this post with a neat little bow. But despite the misery and despite the doubt, sometimes isn’t the questioning the best part?

And even if it isn’t, at least I can look forward to the sun rising over Kigali and bringing light to all of these thousand hills, much as it did yesterday, and the day before that. And the sun rising in the east and lighting up just one more day is enough for me. How lucky I am for that.

Be well, friends. And Ijoro Rwiza. (‘Have a good night’ in Kinyarwanda)

Dana (but sadly not Barley) in Kigali