Andrew Ng's Blog
August 27, 2007 – 'There are places I remember…'
I’m using high-speed wireless Internet, watching a hockey game and drinking 2% milk in my living room.
It feels good to be home! But even though I’m back in Canada, I know Rwanda will never be too far away. My Atraco FC hat is on the other couch; the Pringle-esque chips, Jackers, will make a good afternoon snack and this sweet banana loaf is making a great breakfast.
And of course, there are the memories:
Bustling Kigali. Peaceful Butare. Scenic Gisenyi.
Winding drives through the countryside. Zipping trips downtown on motos. Fighting for seats on the bus during rush hour. Bouncing around in the back of the ORINFOR truck. Walking uphill and downhill.
La Fiesta. Papyrus. Bourbon Coffee. Eating goat brochette and heavenly French fries. Orange Fanta. Basic cake. Mary’s donuts. Mutzig and birth defect gin. Fruit salad. And the miracle cure.
“Eating” cows. Shelley’s Rwandan Card Game (SRCG). Scats. KBC. Shopping at Nyabugogo. Partying on the beach. Safari in Akagera. Football at Amahoro. Long jump in Kibuye. White water rafting on the Nile. Gorillas in the mist.
Boiling water. Sleeping under a net. And with the light on in Tabasco. Taking pills. Carrying backpacks on your head. Singing Journey. Shaking hands. Changing underwear out of courtesy. Peeing in a hole. Chachi dancing.
Days at Rwanda Television. Press conferences. Cow ceremonies. Oven donation. Press conferences. Seminars. Meetings. Mass weddings. Press conferences!
Muzungu! Chinois… Ni hao! UMVA! SSSST! OOOPSSSS! HOO-WEE! REMERA! REMERA! REMERA! BurrRRR-rRROwwWW! Ehh, ehh, ehh!
Mama Thompson. Papa Zehr. Two-Cows Everson. Babydoll. The Ultimate Bug Squad. The Old Married Couple. The Dixie Chicks. The Suicide Group!? ATRACO FC!
Muraho. Mwaramutse. Amakuru? Ni meza! Murakoze cyane. Nakibazo!
Give us a twirl! That’s what she said. “Oh, Ng…” Check my pockets! I love NUNS! You have a big butt hole. What happens in Rwanda stays in Rwanda.
What happens in Rwanda stays for life.
August 23, 2007 – ‘What else should I be… all apologies…’
If you’re in the middle of an argument with someone, you should definitely have a cow.
At TVR, we received an invitation to attend a cow-giving ceremony. The seven cows were gifts from the South African embassy and they came attached with a message of reconciliation, peace and unity – three vital issues the government of Rwanda has pushed since the genocide.
What better way to show peace than with cows? They’re peaceful animals. They have plenty of benefits. I went to another cow-related event today and the executive director of “Send a Cow” in Rwanda explained how great they are to spur an agricultural economy:
- They produce milk, which farmers can use for themselves or sell.
- Farmers have to grow crops for the cows to eat and I suppose any excess can also be sold.
- Cows poo and pee a lot, which means farmers can harvest that manure and make a pretty mean heap of compost.
The original cow-giving ceremony I was talking about also came with the most powerful lesson in reconciliation I have ever learned. At about the time we arrived, two men got up and made speeches about their experiences during the genocide.
The first man lived in the area at the time but was chased out by genocidaires. He was hunted, and he hid with his neighbours in order to survive the murderers.
The second man was one such murderer – the hunter. He plead guilty to being a perpetrator in the genocide and served a prison term. After going through the gacaca court, he found himself back in the community he lived in before. The same community he terrorized in 1994.
Now, these two men were standing and living side by side. They held hands, they hugged and they smiled as if they’ve been friends since kindergarten. It’s hard to imagine someone could forgive someone else for murdering and trying to murder.
Some people think the whole reconciliation thing can’t possibly work. How do you forgive a killer? Rwanda is a very religious country. If any place could overcome those difficulties, it would be here.
And if it can be done here, then I hope I can do it in Canada. Bad stuff will happen and it’ll hurt for a while but when you really think about it, it’s just spoiled milk.
August 22, 2007 - 'Let’s dance! Let’s shout! Shake your body down to the ground!'
So, our beloved Atraco FC won a huge game in very dramatic fashion against the top team in the league, APR FC (Armeé Patriotique Rwanda).
It was dramatic in every sense of the word. Atraco are in the running to win the Primus League championship if they can run the table and win their final three games. Going into this match, they were back in third, I think six points behind APR. Any coach would say, "Every game is important" but I put a lot on this one since a loss for Atraco would mean no chance at the championship. Obviously, a win here meant everything.
Once again, we found ourselves among the singing, dancing, whistling and drumming of the green and yellow cloaked Atraco fans. Once again, it was just Section 7 that had any Atraco fans. Everyone else was cheering for APR.
This time, I had my own Atraco hat and right away, the muzungus were stirring up a commotion. Actually, they were already going nuts after they saw us get out of the taxi.
The first half was pretty ho-hum. The teams traded chances but nothing came that close except for some shots that sailed harmlessly over the goals. By halftime, it looked like every fan at Amahoro Stadium was bored and asleep. Not too much dancing and shouting anymore.
When the second half was close to starting again, the rally monkeys must've come out because Section 7 was getting up, ready for more dancing and shouting. Halfway through, APR scored the first goal, apparently a header play set up between a set of twins.
I think we were too busy drumming, clapping and singing to know what happened. I had no idea how it went in. I just noticed everybody else was screaming now and the guys in white were running around the field while the guys in yellow stood around dejected.
But the difference between this game and the other game I went to (in which Atraco lost 2-0) was that the fans didn't stop making noise. They kept up the cheering and singing throughout the whole goal celebration. It paid off as just a minute later, the APR goalie screwed up his punch-out and an Atraco forward smashed the ball into the open net.
I don't think I can describe how crazy it was after that goal. The singing got louder, the dancing got livelier and I was definitely more into it now, cheering, hugging the other fans and even getting lifted into the air by a guy wearing a yellow and green Blue Blazer-like mask.
The wildness kept going. I had no idea how much time was left in the game. Eventually, in the 93rd minute, a couple Atraco players broke out on a counterattack and finished a fancy 3-on-1 passing play to put them in the lead. And of course, we went crazy again. You get the idea. There was singing and dancing and cheering. Just a few minutes later, the ref blew the final whistle and it was over. And there was more cheering and dancing and celebrating.
All in all, it was a great day. A huge come from behind win for our favourite football team, two goals (Kristen and Garrett had been to two games and Atraco were shut out both times), more pictures, and tons of fun. Atraco FC are now closer to winning the league and if they were playing any more games in Kigali, I might have decided to delay my flight home.
August 19, 2007 — 'I wanna know... Have you ever seen the rain?'
Dry season? Yeah right.
When it rains in Rwanda, it pours. I didn't think I would experience it. I was told May to August is dry season. It never rains. And even if it did, it would be just a bit. So, I don't have any clothes that would appropriate for the rain. I figured if it did rain, it wouldn't really be rain. Just a small sprinkle.
I was wrong. For four days in a row last week, it rained. Correction - it poured. On Wednesday, I was out in Kibuye. It rained there while Team ORINFOR was enjoying some food and drink after the basketball and soccer games. It didn't seem like a huge rainfall.
Back in Kigali, Kristen and Andrea were having a splendid time trying to get home. I didn't think it was that bad in Kibuye but apparently it was really bad in Kigali. Kristen was soaked as soon as she stepped off the bus. Andrea had to take off her shoes to walk outside because her soles turn into skates when it's raining.
It rained heavily again Thursday night, spoiling our plans to go to Bourbon Coffee. Instead, we sat around wondering what people do during the rainy season. How can outdoor markets open? Who would want to take a moto? Do they still go out and sweep the streets?
Friday night, Kristen and I were playing basketball while lightning flashed in the distance. I read somewhere that Rwanda is considered the thunderstorm capital of the world. Not hard when there's rain 7 out of 12 months of the year.
This time I beat the rain and made it to Bourbon for some Net surfing time. As my luck would have it, the connection didn't work until about an hour before closing time. When they dimmed the lights as a signal for me to leave, it was again pouring like the hills of Rwanda depended on it.
To have some fun, I decided to go out and run around in the rain.
Now, I've seen how some locals react to rain. On the way home from Kampala, the bus made a bathroom stop. While I stood around and waited for people to finish, the skies opened up. Even though it was just a bit, I found it funny to see everybody run as fast as they could for cover. It rains for months at a time in Uganda and Rwanda but a short shower still has them scurrying for shelter. I, on the other hand, casually walked back to the bus, not caring if I got wet.
So, I must've looked like a maniac to the few Rwandans waiting for taxis outside the mall. Why is this Chinois purposely running through the rain just to get wet? That doesn't make sense. But to them, I bet it's not more unusual than rain in August.
August 17, 2007 - "Might as well jump. Jump!"
I'm crazy competitive and I savour being the best at something.
Honestly, it doesn't happen as often as I'd like so I cherish my victories. For this reason, I was very upset about the outcome of the Team ORINFOR's (Office Rwandaise d'Information) basketball game. Not only did we lose, it was under very strange circumstances. I still don't know what happened.
I was also really upset that I travelled three hours to Kibuye (very nice place BTW) with these employees from TVR and Radio Rwanda only to play a total of two minutes. I hate sitting on the sidelines. And I hate it even more when I see one of my teammates completely tired, not moving, not playing defence, not passing, always shooting, and refuses to get off. So we lost.
But as I entered the soccer field to see the rest of the ORINFOR guys play soccer, I couldn't help but smile when I saw some kids doing long jump nearby. Once I saw it, I knew I had to do it.
After dropping my stuff and tying up my shorts, I lined up behind the other participants. They weren't running from very far and I knew if I was going to impress anybody, I'd need more of a runway. When they saw that this Chinois wanted a turn, they lined up the runway to watch me go. And I built up the excitement by slowly backing up, making a parting the Red Sea motion with my hands.
I took off. Just like my high school days, I was at full speed as I hit the line, took off perfectly from my left foot and flew right by the candy wrapper marking the longest distance so far.
Everybody cheered. The children gathered around me, smiling like they really enjoyed it and looking for a handshake or a high five. I motioned, "One more time?" and went back to the start.
This time wasn't as good as I took off on my right foot instead (which is actually my wrong foot), did the same fly through the air but came down on my right side too. I should add that this was all done on grass and not sand. But I did it as if I were jumping in sand. So I plopped right into it. The result was a pretty nasty grass burn on my leg.
In the end though, everybody still cheered and wanted more. Unfortunately, whoever was doing this thing picked up the rope line and left. The basketball thing was really frustrating but the whole long jump thing made it all better. It feels good to be king for a day.
August 14, 2007 – ‘Ain't nobody dope as me; I'm just so fresh, so clean...’
I knew, coming to Africa, that one day I'd have problems with either the electricity or the water. We run out of cash power every week but we quickly enter a new one and we're good to go again. We've avoided water problems for a good two months but, of course, that luck didn't last.
Kristen and I just finished playing basketball on a dusty outdoor court. I was tired, sweaty and dusty, and really looking forward to a shower.
Here begins the longest journey I've ever taken just to clean myself.
I gather my clothes and towel and take it to the bathroom I always use. I turn the taps in the shower. Water trickles out. I turn them all the way until I practically unscrew the whole knob. Still nothing more.
We'd been having a problem with the water pressure for a week in that shower but this one takes the cake.
Luckily there are other showers in the house. Andrea's bedroom has a bathroom attached to it and the water pressure there was working fine. So I go over there to try it out. I turn it on, hot and cold. There's pressure, but the water wasn't heating up. I look over at the outlet and see that it's plugged in so I should eventually get hot water.
Confident in that, I go back to the other bathroom, get my clothes, towels and bathing supplies, return to Andrea's bathroom and get ready.
I turn the water on. Nothing. No pressure. Oh, the pursuit of cleanliness!
Now I think about my options. I noticed La Fiesta had a bathtub in one of their bathrooms. How cool would it be to bathe at a restaurant? I could skip showering altogether. I was a mess though, with the sweat and the dust. I wouldn't be able to sleep like that.
Then I remember. We have another house down the street! After thinking about how I'd explain it to the single media trainer living there, I gather all my things again and walk down the hill to the "VIP house."
I say hello to the guard and at the same time, I find out there's nobody home. OK, I'll just go in and use the shower, go home and nobody will know.
After wandering around the house, looking for the bathrooms, I decide to tell the guard that just in case Lauren does return, there's an intern using the shower.
So after getting undressed and turning on the water, I'm unfortunately met with another dilemma. This water isn't heating up either. I get in the tub to see if I could handle taking a cold shower. I couldn't. So I turn it off, get out, wrap my towel around me and go to the bathroom on the other side of the house to see if that one warms up.
To my relief, it does! I go back to the other bathroom, get all my stuff, and I'm finally taking a shower. This was a nice one. But in the end, after finally getting myself cleaned up, I had to sweat a little to climb the hill back to my house.
(Since this episode, the plumber came and fixed the water. Showers are once again enjoyable)
August 13, 2007 — ‘Yeah, they were all yellow…’
Yesterday, I went to my first ever pro soccer match. Today, I'm wearing an Atraco FC hat.
Garrett and Kristen went the week before and fell in love with Atraco FC. Since then, we've adopted their yellow, green and white team colours. But after seeing them play Rayon Sport and learning a bit about the teams, I've decided to support Atraco to the end and follow them even from home.
This was actually an important match for the standings. Rayon had just leap-frogged Atraco into second place after winning last week. When they went last week, the stadium was pretty empty except for the loud Atraco fans that absorbed Kristen and Garrett.
This time was completely different. Amahoro Stadium was about 80% full. One section of Atraco fans and the rest were the blue-coated Rayon fans. It turns out Rayon is a very historic team that's been around for more than 20 years.
On the other hand, this is Atraco's first year in Rwanda's top soccer league. And you can call this a sort of Cinderella story. Being near the top of the standings in their rookie year is pretty remarkable. I would say that about any new team in any league. So they have a really small following compared to Rayon. I met a good crowd of fans at the Nyabugogo taxi park, a big stop for Atraco mini-buses.
They seem to like having muzungus with them. When we arrived, they crowded us, wanting pictures and handshakes. Garrett and Kristen got hats last week. I got draped in a white, green and yellow robe.
I've only seen Atraco play once and they didn't score a goal. They lost 2-0. I don't know any of the players and almost none of the history of the team. But when they lost, it was so dampening on my spirits. Garrett wondered about this all night. He's not a fan of pro sports at home but he can't get over how upset he was that Atraco lost.
There's something about the united spirit sports create that I can't get enough of. When the game ended, there were thousands of Rayon fans celebrating and dozens of Atraco fans mourning. Garrett pondered, what if we could create that same energy for humanity, for justice, for peace?
He's right. I said that's what the Olympic movement is doing. But I think he meant that the focus wouldn't be on sport and competition.
August 8, 2007 – 'There’s a kind of hush... all over the world tonight'
The motto for TVR should be: “If it bleeds, it will never lead.”
Rwanda Television is a state-run station. The news rarely covers sensational stories of explosions, disasters and other North American style events. News values are completely different from what we’re used to in Canada.
In Rwanda, the news mandate (as Kristen and I were told) is development, reconciliation and other peaceful things. That’s why most of the stories they cover are conferences, meetings, seminars and anything that has people talking about good things happening for Rwanda.
But being a state-run television station, there are some things that they don’t like to mention on the air. Today, I had my first encounter with self-censorship.
The story takes a while to explain. Rwanda recently joined the East African Community (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi) and now, a group representing private businesses in those countries wants Rwandan businesses to join their cause. The man presenting the benefits did so with enthusiasm. Look how great this will be for Rwanda!
But any journalist knows things like this can’t possibly be that perfect and someone somewhere will have concerns. Sure enough, a journalist from Radio Flash voiced some concerns about security and corruption in the other countries. I mentioned this in my original script but when I showed Faruk, he quickly told me that that part had to change.
“This is Africa. We just don’t talk about it.” They hesitate to say anything that could upset their neighbours. And then the discussion began on the importance of presenting the other side and questioning things that seem too good to be true. People have opinions and they should be heard.
Eventually we did find a way to mention the lingering problems in those countries without specifically saying which countries (just as I did here).
Maybe this is the first bit of my training rubbing off on Rwandan journalists.
August 6, 2007 – 'Don’t go chasin’ waterfalls…'
The defining moment of my trip to Uganda: CRASH! SPLASH! Gurgle… GASP! SPLASH! “Thank you, Mr. Kayaker!”
Since Meagan and I are already the Ultimate Bug Squad and certified gorilla trekkers, we figured why not have one more grand adventure before our time in Africa is up?
Here’s a quick account of the craziest thing I’ve ever done: white water rafting on the Nile.
The water was calm in the morning. The first half hour was spent learning commands from our guide, Roberto. We practiced boat flipping, swimming in rapids, and not panicking. This all came in handy at the end of the day.
All was good going into the afternoon. We passed two class 5 rapids without flipping or falling in (FYI, class 6 rapids are for very experienced kayakers only). The only mishap was when we hit a wave awkwardly during a class 3 and Meagan and I fell in. It wasn’t too serious as a kayaker quickly picked me up and I was back on the raft.
After lunch though, “there be a storm a-brewing, my friend.” Thunderclouds chased us as we worked toward a class 5 called “Big Brother.” We stopped to see what was coming up - very fast water, and a possible drop down a 2-metre waterfall.
We pushed through, getting stuck on some rocks. We jumped and paddled forward going right in. The water crashed. We were still up. Another wave crashed and we were veering left. We made it down Big Brother and avoided the waterfall!
It rained hard during the afternoon. We kept paddling, singing to forget the cold. It wasn’t pleasant but it made the water warm and I enjoyed a nice swim in the Nile.
Just one big rapid left. This one was bad. Actually it was called “The Bad Place.” The Bad Place was a dangerous class 6 that was right next to the final class 5, “50/50.” We had a 50/50 chance of flipping or not. The Bad Place was so bad that we had to get off our rafts and portage to a safer spot. It didn’t help us much.
We backed in, and turned around. Roberto yelled at us to paddle forward. We yelled back that we were going straight into the most gigantic of waves. We started turning a little and I thought we would be fine.
Then it hit us.
The wave completely flipped the boat. I was underwater for at least 15 seconds, holding my breath. Just as I was letting go, my head found the surface. I looked around for the raft but couldn’t see it. Instead, I had to take another gasp of air as another wave took me in. I kicked to get free but stopped after my foot hit a rock. A few seconds after that, I popped up again and a kayaker was there to rescue me.
My raft was gone. I was separated from my crew and I finished the trip with a different guide. My hands and left foot were bleeding but I made it. Somehow, I still had a paddle. Two other boats reached the finish before the rest of my group finally arrived together.
I wasn’t too scared as I tumbled around in the water. It was what I heard afterward that had me freaked out about it all night. Roberto was apparently shaken up with what happened. I think it could have been a lot worse.
So while Meagan and I were lying on our bed at the Shangri-La Hotel, still feeling the gentle rocking of the Nile River, we replayed the moment of that wave flipping our raft over and over in our heads. I had trouble falling asleep. It was an incredible experience and I loved (almost) every moment. But maybe the Nile River isn’t the best place for a first time rafter.
July 26, 2007 – 'Woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head…'
It takes a day in the life of a TVR reporter to realize how difficult things can be in Rwanda. The amazing thing is that none of the reporters seem like they find their jobs difficult.
On my first day at work, I was sent out very early with Alice (the reporter) and Nepo (the cameraman) to an announcement at a hospital. The whole thing was in Kinyarwanda but I know the point was that the Rwanda Revenue Authority was handing the hospital a cheque to help the vast number of poor patients who wait for reception everyday.
I should explain. For the longest time, healthcare was probably the biggest worry on the minds of Canadians. Now it’s the environment. But during that time, everybody was hollering at the government to do something about patient wait times.
After going to this hospital, I can easily say that Canadians don’t know anything about wait times. A big complaint in Canada was how long people had to wait for things like cancer screenings, MRI tests, ultrasounds and reconstructive surgery. At this hospital, an enormous group of women and their children were already there, waiting for basic treatment. The child was probably sick and the mother probably wanted some advice on how to take care of him. But from what I saw, it didn’t look like anybody was getting in any time soon.
It was 10:00 a.m. and the patients had taken up every sitting space available to them. And there were still more standing around, sitting on the grass and huddled around the reception desk to find a way in. Anyway, the 2 million franc donation is quite a blessing to this hospital, which I was told was the most popular hospital in Kigali for the poor.
Back to the TVR newsroom now. It’s amazing how they can operate with what they have. The newsroom isn’t much bigger than my bedroom in Ottawa, consisting of a table, a couple chairs and only one computer. They write all of their scripts by hand, three times for three different languages. The one computer doesn’t have an Internet connection. The only thing I’ve seen them use it for is to write the list of who’s covering what and the lineups for the newscasts. Fortunately, they have several editing suites with the same top level software we use in Canada.
Somehow, they put it together. It’s not amazing, but I guess it works to them.
Somehow, almost everybody I see in Kigali is happy, even though at the same time, they tell me they would love to see Canada.
Somehow, there’s barely a hint of conflict after genocide tore the country apart.
And somehow, Canadians find some way to complain about all the little (and I mean LITTLE) inconveniences they run into at home.
Whoever reads this, please, please, PLEASE think about the next time you find something wrong with your life. I bet it’s not as bad as you think.
July 25, 2007 – Male bonding
“What’s goalball?” I asked.
That’s how I started my first day of work at Rwanda Television. We were sitting in the newsroom reading the New Times while waiting for business to pick up and I came across a game called goalball in the sports section. Faruk answered my question.
Leave it to sports talk to help me create a relationship with someone. Plus he is one of the better English speakers there.
I’m sure goalball is rather foreign to Canada. It’s a game for the blind. Six players per team face off against their opponents on a court like a volleyball court. The attacking team rolls the ball towards their opponents, hoping to get it through all of their players to the goal behind them. The defending team does whatever they can to stop the ball. I presume this includes everything from sticking out a foot to throwing the whole body in the way.
Now remember – the players are all blind. Here’s what makes this game interesting. Obviously, they can’t see the ball. But the ball makes some kind of noise as it rolls around so the players can hear roughly where the ball is. I find this totally fascinating and I wonder if this has found its way to Canada. I would love to watch it but I think I’ll pass on trying.
Another game for the disabled Faruk told me is called seatball. This one is like volleyball except none of the players have legs! I can’t imagine how difficult this makes the game but apparently, they’re still able to pull of powerful spikes just like an able-bodied volleyball player. The net is also lowered for them so that the game can actually work. This is another one I’d love to see.
This is probably the farthest male bonding over sports can go. Soccer is king in Rwanda. They follow the European leagues religiously, just like how Canadians would follow the NHL. Even the buses are painted with soccer-themed images. Ottawa fans thought they were madly supportive of the Senators during their Stanley Cup run but I never saw a single OC Transpo bus with Daniel Alfredsson’s face on it.
July 24, 2007 – Licensed to thrill
My Ontario driver’s license is about to expire in August. Since I’m in Rwanda this summer, there’s no way for me to complete all the tests before the time is up and I’ll have to start at the beginning again with that laughable G1 written test.
But even if I won’t be able to drive at home for a while doesn’t mean I can’t find an alternative here in Rwanda. Everybody drives standard here, which can be complicated for an inexperienced driver. And even more complicated given all the hills and twists. Yes, I’m 21 and I’m an inexperienced driver.
Fortunately, cars aren’t the only vehicles that spurt up and down the streets here. There are motos – those crazy motorcycle taxis that we love to take. I ride motos quite often since it’s cheap, fast and thrilling. But I never thought about being in the driver’s seat for a change.
Until a couple days ago…
Andrea got the crazy idea to find the moto training place, put up some money to whoever is there and take a spin on a moto. Kristen and I, equally crazy and probably too bored, decided to come along. So, we took the bus to Nyamirambo until we got to a large dirt soccer pitch. Some moto drivers were hanging out there and quickly noticed us approaching them.
Andrea started the talking. We simply asked if we could drive their motos around for a bit. We knew we’d have to pay but I was shocked at what the man said: 100 francs. That’s only 20 cents American for a spin around the field! I was definitely on board.
Andrea went first, having some issues with getting it started. While she was slowly inching away, I found another driver. I got on but I revved the throttle the wrong way, sending the engine into some wild overdrive. I was afraid I broke the man’s motorcycle. After fixing it, he showed me the right way. I climbed on and revved. Felt good. I was having some trouble communicating with him. He tried directing me in Kinyarwanda, but I obviously didn’t understand.
Anyway, I finally got things going and zoomed up the field. Andrea was about halfway around, going very slowly. I easily caught up to her since I would guess I was going about 30km/h. I screamed, “YEEHAW!” as I raced by. What a thrill! I had to do it again so I handed over another 100 francs and went for a second go.
Now the truth is I don’t have an official moto driver license. But I do hope to go back and get a better lesson. I joked about dropping my journalism career for the simple life of a moto driver in Rwanda. I guess that’s the kind of hold these things have on me.
July 23, 2007 – Been there, done that, got the T-shirt
So I bought the T-shirt the day after but it doesn’t change the fact that I am now a certified gorilla trekker. Not just any trekker though. I visited the Susa group, which is supposedly the most difficult to reach. It wasn’t as hard as people played it up to be. Meagan, Kristen and I started climbing the volcano at about 9:00 a.m. and reached the gorillas in about two hours.
The Susa group is more spectacular than just the search for them. This group features more than 30 mountain gorillas, with at least three adult males (silverbacks) and the famous newborn twins (very rare to have both survive). We didn’t actually plan to do this trek but our driver, Alphonse, got the receptionist to put us in this group. We’re glad he did.
The first section of the hike through the hillside farms took an hour. When we reached the entrance of the forest, we took a break so we could be briefed about what to do in front of the gorillas and other precautionary things. Then, we climbed – through the forest, into the bushes, hacking through trees, slipping on broken branches, avoiding nasty sting nettles. After an hour of that, we stopped. There was some rustling in the trees made by a black furry object. We found them.
We dropped our bags and followed the guide through the brush again. The path opened up and we saw them. Two gorillas rolling around, play fighting. They roared and tackled each other, then stopped, sat still as if they were bored of it, then did it again. Deeper into the bushes were more - knocking over trees, eating the leaves and rolling around. It would take forever to describe everything I saw. I’m sure everybody who does this would agree. The only way to find out is to do it yourself.
I didn’t see all 35 gorillas but it was still amazing. I saw the twins. I saw the chief. He walked by me, close enough for me to reach out and touch him (of course, I didn’t). I even got a glimpse of a couple mating until the chief came and broke it up. And I almost got hit by a tree that a gorilla was pulling down. It was awesome.
The trek was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. A 400-word blog obviously doesn’t say enough. I’ll be telling people about the adventure for the rest of my life.
July 20, 2007 — Aggressive hospitality
There’s this funny thing people think about Canadians: that we’re really nice and polite people. There’s some truth to that. But however nice we think we are, it doesn’t even compare to the people in Rwanda. Though they start off staring at me, a quick wave or “Muraho” and they’ll smile, greet back, ask how I am and even shake hands. Children come running at me, screaming at the sight of a muzungu and fight over who gets to hold my hand. They’ll also scream “Bonjour!” from across the road and up a cliff when they see us.
Rwandans show such immense hospitality that I’d feel guilty for not accepting their offers. Last night, a man who was at the Internet café with me shone a light at the stairs so I could get down to the street safely. The café’s closing was kind of strange too. Around 8:15, all the lights just went out. The computers were still on though so I sat there in the dark, quickly saying bye to some friends. I took that as a sign the place was closing.
Anyway, the man who lit the path for me also offered me a drive home. Home was kind of out of the way for him but he said he’d drop me off nearby. I hesitated to think about it. If I got dropped off at the Papyrus restaurant, it would still be a 20 minute walk in the dark and I wouldn’t be sure where to go anyway. So I thanked him for the offer but said I’ll just take a moto to get directly home. He said OK and I started walking away.
Just a couple minutes later, he pulled up beside me and offered again. He really wanted to help so I agreed. After a stop at his office to grab his laptop, we got going towards home. We chatted about what I’m doing in Rwanda, and why I chose to come here. He eventually stopped by a spot where I could get a cheap moto ride home. He also gave me his contact information to possibly link up a volunteering opportunity. I think he was interested in me being a journalist and having the ability to do public relations work.
It’s important to be weary of offers from strangers when travelling but sometimes taking chances pays off. Rwanda is full of remarkably nice people. I never get tired of shaking hands and talking to them.
July 10, 2007 – 'Rwanda was dead…'
We visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre a couple days ago and it’s really hard to put into words what the experience was like. I guess I could start by saying it was appropriate. I learned more from touring the centre than from trying to read Wikipedia articles or travel guides. The genocide was massive. I don’t think many people in Canada understand what happened. I honestly didn’t know the magnitude of the genocide until I visited memorial centre.
Everything they had on display was incredibly powerful and moving. They didn’t hide anything, displaying rather gruesome pictures and videos. And bones. Like I said, it’s appropriate because there’s really no other way to show just how devastating the genocide was. I appreciated the way they the story was told. And the children’s memorial really put everything in perspective with descriptions of each child, their likes and behaviours and finally, their cause of death. It was so personal and so frank that I wasn’t comfortable making jokes or laughing on the way home. I appreciate how they referred to the events as happening to “us” or done by “we.” So personal.
I also appreciate how the centre also recognizes other genocides in this world’s history. If this centre is supposed to educate visitors about these tragedies, I think this is the best way to do it. Make it frank, and don’t hold back. These events are terrible. Show it like it is and hopefully, people will understand enough to never do it again.
“When they said, ‘never again’ after the Holocaust, did they mean it for some people and not for others?”
July 9, 2007 – Adjusting to Rwandan Life
I arrived in Kigali five days ago and adjusting to life away from the comforts of Canada has been rather easy for me. I’m sure having my luggage lost somewhere helped. I didn’t have a change of clothes until about 4 p.m. the next day. I had to borrow soap, shampoo and a towel from the girls and I brushed my teeth with my finger. Then I went to bed under a mosquito net and had dogs howling outside for most of the night. That’s pretty uncomfortable for a Canadian.
Other than that, I am completely fascinated by life here. I love the fact that the locals like to stare at us “muzungus” (foreigners). It’s fun to be the centre of attention! A new country means new language, new mannerisms, new foods and new experiences. I’ve picked up many of the important words and phrases like hello, how are you and thank you. Driving to the house in a taxi, we passed a pickup truck piled with sacks and people sitting on them. It made me smile to see how life is so different here yet so amazing. I would never see that at home.
What else would I never see at home? People pushing and shoving to get on the bus. Of course, buses here are actually like vans and there’s always a rush to get one of those limited seats. I didn’t get a sense of how crazy it is until we tried to take one home during rush hour. We pushed against the doors before the bus even came to a stop. And once the door opened, it was a shoving contest to get in. Meagan warned us but I had no idea the old ladies would also push and shove. Being a polite Canadian I let one woman on before me and I would get on after her. But everybody behind her tried to push so I pushed back. Yes, I had to push old ladies out of the way. Very un-Canadian. But that’s the way of life here. I almost lost a sandal in the process. The final situation had three Canadians packed tight in a bus full of Rwandans. It doesn’t really get better than that.