Sunday, June 15, 2014

Days 12-18

Sorry that I have not gotten my blogs written in a timely manner.  Michael uses his i-phone, but I need to use my laptop.  Some hotels did not have good lighting and I could not see well at night.  In the last 3 nights, I had no wi-fi.  Michael could write while we were in the restaurants (most of them had wi-fi).  So anyway…


Day 12: Monkeys

Today was Colobus monkey tracking.  We headed for Nyungwe National Park (1 ½ hour drive), where, at the information station, we met our guide, Daniel.  We then drove a short way to where the monkeys were this day. It was perhaps a simple hike, but the immediate way down for only a few yards was quite vertical.  I opted to stay at the top and view the Colobus monkeys through binoculars.  They crossed over the same path, one after the other (now and again) for about ½ hour.  At the top, I also saw Lhoest (mountain) monkeys.  After about two hours, the group came back and we drove back to the information center for lunch – burgers and fries (though not quite the same as what Americans are used to).  After lunch, the rest of the group hiked down to the canopy walk, while I remained at the top enjoying the vast view.  It was rather quiet while they were gone, but as soon as they returned, so did a good number of mountain monkeys – fun to watch.  We then drove back to our guesthouse and enjoyed a buffet dinner.


Day 13: A long dirt road

We left the Nyungwe National Park region for Kibuye.  The entire drive took 6 ½ hours, almost all on rutty dirt roads.  We stopped along the way to visit the Bisesero Genocide Memorial.  It lies on a hill and the guide, through translation of Alex (our one driver), told us about the symbolism involved in the memorial.  At the entrance, there is a circle of 9 spears, symbolizing both the resistance and the nine communities that came up this hill to look for protection.  It sounded like warriors in the past had also protected the area with spears.  We could not visit the top because it was not yet completed, but the guide (she told us that she was the only genocide survivor from her immediate family; she lived elsewhere when the genocide took place, but she was later sent to work at this memorial; apparently many survivors work at the memorials and museums) noted that as one walks up, the path area becomes narrower, symbolizing that as time passed, there were fewer survivors.  Below the entrance is a structure that currently holds skulls and large bones, which will eventually be put to rest at the top of the memorial.  We heard again about the failures of the French troops.  Through translation, the story was a bit unclear, but we understood that French troops arrived on the hill and called the Tutsis out of hiding.  The French soldiers said that they could not take the Tutsis now but would be back in 3 days.  In those three days, most of the Tutsis were slaughtered.  The thought seemed to be that the French, in a sense, helped give up the Tutsis to the Hutu killers.


Although the drive was BUMBY, it was beautiful.  Rwanda is perhaps the most beautiful country I have ever seen…including America.  Everything is green and growing.  The 1000 hills are filled with terrace farming of a variety of crops.  BUT, I still hold PA as my beautiful home, especially NE-Central PA…Berwick!


Day 14:

The morning began with a boat ride to an island in Lake Kivu.  I opted for an extra hour sleep…mostly because I am not very comfortable in little boats.  I can swim, but I thought the boat might be rocky and that would make me queasy.  We drove to Gisenyi (on bumpy roads again) where we checked into the beautiful “Paradis Hotel.”  In the early evening, we went to the Gisenyi market.  The large market was filled with people selling all kinds of goods – from dresses and shoes to fruit and fish.  I had taken a light-colored blue jean skirt with me…decided that I did not want to wear it.  I looked around the market and found a heavier women sitting with a young woman.  I pulled out the skirt from my pack back and gave it to the older woman.  I smiled, nodded toward the skirt…indicated that she had a nice smile…and that I wanted her to have the skirt.  She seemed very pleased.  We walked down the street to a craft shop…the others shopped and shopped.  I walked back, bought a container of yogurt and talked with a Benedictine nun waiting for a motorcycle to pick her up and take her home (a few miles).  We talked a bit about the genocide and forgiveness.  She pointed out that not all have forgiven in the same manner, that it takes longer for some to be able to forgive.


The bed in this hotel was quite nice; the room reminded of Gilligan’s Island…lots of bamboo furnishings, including the bed.



Day 15: Rosamond Halsey Carr’s home

The morning began again with a boat ride on Lake Kivu (which I only observed from “Paradis.”)  The boat was returning as a man brought my requested breakfast – hard-boiled eggs and bananas.  We left Gisenyi again on dirt roads.  We stopped for a marvelous visit of Rosamund Carr’s house and what had been the Imbabazi orphanage.  You can read much about this famous woman.  Short story is that she was the first white woman to come and live in Rwanda.  She had married a big game hunter in NY and moved to Congo.  She ultimately divorced him and moved to Rwanda, setting up a plantation.  The plantation grew the flowers used in making permethren as well as flowers that were sold to hotels.  In 1994 (genocide), authorities forced her to leave her plantation for safety.  She returned in a few months to find her house ransacked.  She realized that she could do much good by turning the plantation into an orphanage.  The orphanage continued even after Roz’s death in 2006, but it closed in 2013 when the President of Rwanda called for the closing of orphanages.  The twenty or so remaining children were placed with families and the Foundation continues to follow them and help them.  Roz wrote a book (Land of Thousand Hills: My Life in Rwanda) with her niece Ann Howard Halsey (who lives in Downingtown, PA).  While there, the Director of the Foundation, Graham, showed us around and explained the history of the place and what they grew there and grow now.  By the end of the year, they plan to open a preschool (ages 4-6) for those who live in the area.  I called Ann before our trip and she put me in touch with Amanda, a woman who is helping to set up the preschool.  Amanda and her Mom (in the USA) bought many things for the preschool.  Amanda’s Mom sent them to me and I was able to pack all of the books, foam letters, colored pencils… in one large piece of luggage.  We left all of that there today.  Even the “Thomas the Tank Engine” book that made sounds was still in working order (after longs flights and crossing bumpy roads).


In the afternoon we visited a local village.  We watched very spirited dancing and we danced with the villagers. The village held 11 family with 50+ people…lots of children.  There was an amusing 2-year-old who HAD RHYTHM.  The adults were dancing and the children stood off to the side…accept for this little guy.  He was dancing!!!  He came closer to us in our chairs and eventually came up to me and wanted to take my hands…so we danced in place.  As he got comfortable, he wanted to climb up on me.  Well, those who know me well know that that was not going to happen.  So I let him step in my boot and lifted him off the ground and we kept dancing in place.  We gave the group some money when we left and I gave one of the best dancers my blue jean hat.


Later, we arrived in Ruhengeri and unloaded our luggage into the Amahoro Guest House.  We went to a nice restaurant for dinner and as we were waiting (one waits long for meals here…up to an hour), Michael saw an e-mail he received from the American Embassy in Kigali.  It noted fighting between the Congolese Army and the Rwandan Army.  Aaron found info on his phone and talked to our drivers – apparently no problem.    



Day 16:

Early this morning, the rest of the group went tracking for Golden monkeys.  When they returned, they told me that the monkeys were within a few feet of them.  (I was not ready for another hike and I wanted to get some rest. I have 6 more weeks away from home and I want to remain healthy.)  In the early afternoon, we drove to the region of the twin lakes of Bulera and Ruhondo.  We took a small boat (actually not a problem for me at all…moved quickly through the water) across a part of the lake to our lunch spot.  The fresh tilapia form the lake was delicious.


On the way back to the guesthouse, we stopped briefly at the Musanze Memorial Site: 402 victims of the genocide buried here (“decent burial”)


After lunch, we visited Red Rocks, a cultural visit.  We again watched basket making and shopped for baskets.  But before that, we help make banana beer.  For about 20 minutes, we peeled bananas and put them in a hollowed out log.  Then the local women added sorghum grass; they mixed and mixed until it looked like what my dog would spit up after eating grass.  It got frothy.  They were getting the juice out of the bananas.  They began to move the frothy mess to the sides and in the middle was banana juice.  They ladled it out and put it through a strainer…gave it to us to drink.  I had only a sip.  I am so cautious when I am away from home.  What if I am allergic to sorghum and don’t know it?  The ladies then pulled out previously made banana beer and offered us some of that.  The people there were especially friendly (Harriet!) and we enjoyed the visit.



Day 17:

This morning, we got up early to visit the Buhanga “Eco Park.”  Locals consider it a sacred forest.  No one is to take anything from the forest; those who do have a bit of bad luck.  It was quite beautiful with a variety of trees with vines…and moss.


I am writing this on day 18 and I honestly cannot remember what we did yesterday afternoon



Day 18: Back to Kigali

We arrived back in Kigali at lunchtime today.  After lunch, Omar took Michael and I to see the Nyanza (just outside Kigali) Genocide Memorial and Museum.  The museum was not open…perhaps because it was Sunday.  We did view the mass graves, and names of the murdered.  Prior to arriving there, we had passed the ETO school where over two thousand Tutsis had taken refuge in 1994, protected by UN forces.  When UN forces left, Hutus marched the “refugee” Tutsis up the road to Nyanza, where the Hutus massacred the Tutsis.  We then drove back to the Kigali Genocide Museum because I wanted to see if I could get a banner to take home to WCU HGS (Holocaust Genocide Studies).  There are similar banners all over Rwanda to remind people that it is the 20th anniversary of the 1994 genocide.  They banners have sponsor names on the bottom…like banks, businesses…  Many note “Remember, Unite, Renew.”  I expect to get a banner before I fly out on Day 19.


Michael, Omar and I then met up with the rest of the group…shopping at a special cooperative crafts location.   


Last night in Rwanda…my thoughts: I have heard that this is a country that can “get under one’s skin.”  A number of people feel a specialness in Rwanda that draws them back often.  I did not find that.  It is a beautiful country with wonderful, hardworking, spiritual people.  Yet, the country is too slow moving for me.  It is an excellent place to visit in studying genocide.  Scholars have debated the “uniqueness” of the Nazi genocide of the Jews.  There is no doubt in my mind that there is a uniqueness in the Rwanda genocide…unique in the way the aftermath has been handled.  I am curious to see what the next ten years brings in Rwanda.  If there are HaGs (Holocaust and Genocide grad students at WCU) that want to visit here, I am ready to come back and show them what I have seen and experienced.  It has been QUITE SPECIAL.


Signing off as I head to Germany and Poland - BLG      

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Day 11: A Day of Rest for me

Day 11: A day of rest for me

The group left at 8 a.m. for a nature walk to a waterfall and then the canopy walk.  They call it a “walk,” but it was to be similar to yesterday and I knew that my body wanted a break.  I slept in and then walked up for the buffet lunch.  I ate with three women who were part of a medical team, here in the region to teach about aspects of needed medicine: pregnancy, delivery babies…  The group was from a Louisville, KY and the nearby regions.  It seemed that these individuals have done this before in other parts of the world.


The guesthouse lies near Lake Kivu, a large lake from which our side, we can see Congo.  It is beautiful.  At lunch, I could sit outside with a view of the lake.  We will be following the lake when we leave this place in two days.


Have I mentioned food?  I have eaten mostly rice and beans, with some soup, French fries, some beef, some chicken, plantains, carrots, string beans, bananas… I make sure to eat what I know should not cause me any digestive distress.  I have been drinking Coca-Cola most of my adult life, but I have never seen someone open a bottle of coke with another bottle of coke.  They do not have screw top bottles here.  

As I finish this set of blogs, I am sitting in my small living room listening to Les Mis on my portable CD player.  Now, I need to walk to the students’ porch to get into the internet to upload these.  I hope that you are enjoying reading my blogs – I think of those of you I know.

Day 10: An early rise

Day 10: An early rise

We left at 5 a.m., driving about 1-1 ½ hours to the hiking site.  We had a guide and seven trackers with us throughout the morning.  Naturally, I could not keep up with the main group.  Emil remained patiently with me as I slowly descended the trails.  The only thing that I could think the entire first hour was, “Oh, the more we go down, the more I have to come up later.”  At one point, I stopped and asked if we were going to continue to descend and the answer was “yes.”  I noted my concern for the hike back up the mountain.  The guide, Christian, was with us at that point and he suggest that I continue with Emil down for about 20 more minutes to a bench.  He said the chimpanzees might move back in that direction.  I agreed.  We got to the bench and rested.  I could listen to the sounds, view the trees,…take in the forest.  Christian (a “Tutsi” that lived in the Congo during the genocide; noted that had he lived in Rwanda, “I would not be here today.”) came back and suggested that we continue, as there was one chimpanzee that had remained in a tree from the time the main group saw him.  So, we continued for another twenty minutes or so and came to the chimpanzee.  We moved down off the trail to see him in the tree.  We sat and watch him for a while.  We (and he) heard the call of chimpanzees a distance away; he responded to their call and then he moved.  We moved to watch him.  He walked on the trail, defecated, and moved back into the trees to forage.  We continued to watch him eat until he dropped below our sight.  THEN, we began the hike up the mountain.  It was not that my knees or feet hurt; it was simply difficult on my lungs.  The higher altitude was a factor in catching one’s breath;  I have not hiked since perhaps 2003 and I simply found it tiring.  Soon the main group was with us in the ascent and everyone went at my pace, taking photos along the way.  It was a fun and beautiful day (and I could not have done it without Emil); I enjoyed seeing the male chimp in his environment; the tree were beautiful; there were many lovely butterflies as I have never seen; the sounds of the birds were spirit lifting.  We rested for the rest of the day, although I heard Emanuel run by my hut looking for a soccer ball…he was playing with locals/guests.

Day 9: Vervet Monkeys

Day 9: Vervet Monkeys

This morning, we packed to leave for the Gisakura Guest House.  Before traveling to our next accommodations, we spent the morning at the university.  Dr. Rundus set up an exercise for us to do with the monkeys.  He explained how we would begin with an “ethogram,” a list of activities of the monkeys.  We observed for about 15 minutes, constructing our ethograms: a list that included grooming, playing, feeding, foraging, grouping, lounging, scanning, sitting, vocalizing, dominating,…  We each then tried to follow one monkey and watch for one type of general activity (foraging/eating, violent behavior, filial behavior) – an “all-occurring sample.”  We learned that these monkeys had group relationships that differed from chimpanzees…that we would see the next day.  


When we left the university, we stopped for some shopping at a co-op and then had lunch.  I purchased a picture frame made of bark.  I will put a photograph of our group in it.  We had a long drive (3-4 hours in the later afternoon) in which we stopped once to for everyone to take photos.


Our accommodations for the next 4 nights are quite different from the first 8 nights.  (Students, I am switching tenses at times, but again, this is not a formal paper)  I am in a large circular cottage/hut, with a cone-shaped thatched roof.  There are two bedrooms, a small sitting room, and a bathroom.  Four of the students were quite excited with their accommodations – two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a large, lovely sitting room.  They were told that the president stays there.  It is the only place on this campus that has wi-fi.  They have found guests sitting on their front porch.       


Day 8: National University of Rwanda

Back in school…?

We began the day by visiting with National University of Rwanda students in a biology classroom.  Many of these students were seniors, still on campus because they were finishing their “memoirs.”  The memoir is similar to a senior thesis project, a study that they have prepared, which also shows their conclusions.  There were perhaps 20-25 students who spoke with us…more than 1/3 women.  It was a give and take session of questions going both ways.  As time passed, the number of Rwanda students winnowed…they needed to get back to their memoirs.  Five or six of the students walked with us (about a ½ mile down the road) to a nearby restaurant and we shared lunch.  I spent my time with a young man named Enock.  I was very impressed with him.  We spoke back forth on the walk and some during lunch.  His parents are deceased.  He has an elderly grandmother in her 90s and two young siblings.  Next year, Enock will graduate and will have to take a low paying job to help his family before he can really move on with his individual direction.  He has a few goals already in mind: Enock wants to teach English; he wants to help the less fortunate find jobs…  He has a strong sense of duty and faith…a very impressive man.


Michael met a genocide survivor among the students. 


In the afternoon, we stayed at the university observing the vervet monkeys that hang around on the campus.  It was our first monkeys!  We watched as they played, foraged, and groomed, and we learned how to recognize quickly the males and females.  As the monkeys moved away from us, we continued to walk through the arboretum.  The species of trees were marked; we saw varieties of eucalyptus as well as bamboo…and many other types of trees.  We planned to visit the university the next day to continue observation of the vervet monkeys. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Day 7

Many of you have heard of Lourdes and Fatima,… These are places of Marian Apparitions.  Mary, the Mother of Christ, is believed to have appeared to people in these places.  In each situation, the Catholic Church had to investigate and substantiate the claims of the visionaries.  In all of Africa, there is one place where the Catholic Church has documented apparitions of Mary – here in Rwanda.   Today, we visited (made a pilgrimage) to the shrine of our Lady of Kibeho.  Three young women experienced these apparitions in the 1980s.  In these apparitions, Mary is said to have encouraged the people…and wept for what she saw.  Many see this as a prophecy of the genocide that followed in the subsequent decade.  Whether one believes or not, the Catholic Church is important in Rwanda and this is a site of international pilgrimage.  Father Mark and a sister spoke to us for a brief time in the priest’s office.  Fr. Mark noted that, in 1994, many people were killed in the neighboring parish.


The ride to the shrine in Kibeho was a bumpy one – dirt road for over an hour each way.


In the afternoon, we returned to the National Museum of Butare to witness a group of African dancers (they dance through Rwanda and have been to France).  When they finished, they came to each us to come down and dance as well. 


Tomorrow, we visit professors and students at the National University of Rwanda.




Day 6 - Images of Genocide

I would call this “genocide” day.  We visited the Murambi Memorial.  Murambi had been a school, and over 25,000 Tutsis were murdered there in the 1994 genocide. The “school” lies on hill surrounded by other hills; this is an important point to the story.  Tutsis were encourage to go to the school as a place of safety, but in reality, the killers planned to “concentrate” the Tutsis in the school.  If any Tutsi tried to flee that hill, Hutus on the surrounding hills could see them and go after them.


We started with the memorial museum, museum material that both reinforced what we learned at earlier sites and added to our knowledge.  Our guides then led us to a place of covered mass graves, noting that bodies continue to be found (often in remote areas).  Bodied can easily be added to the concrete-covered mass graves.


[Skip the following paragraph if you do not want to read about the bodies we saw in the schoolrooms!]


The guides then to us to the classrooms; but, these were no longer classrooms.  The rooms held the bodies of many victims.  The bodies lay on (perhaps) 24-inch high wide wooden shelves/benches.  These are the actually bodies of the murdered people.  They have been covered with lime…apparently to preserve them.  YOU cannot imagine.  We saw a body with an outreaching arm…another body with a mouth wide open…eyes open…smashed skulls…pieces of clothing sticking out…some with hair on the skulls.  The smell in each small room was overpowering…I believe it was the lime.  One after the other…many classrooms of bodies…


I believe that students of genocide must see this particular site (and the Nyamata Church).  


Outside, as we passed from room to room (one room had only babies and children), we could hear the people talking from around the nearby hills.  When a dear one dies, some might wonder how/why the world goes on with no one noticing.  (Thinking of you, R) Here, as these bodies lie in these schoolrooms, life in Rwanda goes on.  I believe that these victims of the genocide would be happy that their fellow Rwandans have been able to unify.


Our main guide (I will call him “D”) told us that he is one of two survivors from his family.  He was 19 years old at the time.  The time was tense and many had spent time on the hills watching to see if something was going to happen.  “D” went home to have lunch; he went out to the porch to see his father.  At that moment, armed men came and shot his father (while “D” was directly next to his father).  “D” ran into the home to tell his family and then ran away from the home…up a hill.  A younger brother followed him, but the younger had to go in a different direction when men shot at him.  “D” spent time hiding in a marsh; he eventfully decided to leave the marsh.  He ended with a group of people hiding on a hill and then found his brother.  The rest of his family had been murdered.  This happened in Nyamata.  One thing that I noticed “D” said more than once was, “That was my decision.”  He may have felt some survivor guilt, but a young man of 19…well, he wanted to survive.


“D” also showed us the outside mass graves (under grass and soil).  He showed us the barracks occupied by French soldiers during the genocide, and he noted how the soldiers played volleyball over the (already) mass grave.  I asked him how the Rwandan people feel about the French today.  His answer was quite thoughtful!  He noted that Rwandans cannot blame all French, that it was only a number of Frenchmen there in Rwanda and their leaders that could have done something…but did nothing.  He also said that the French took the black box of the downed presidents’ plane (recall that the genocide started immediately after the airplane carrying the president of Rwanda and the president of Burundi crashed in April 1994.)  “D” said that Rwandans simply want the truth.  Rwandans are moving forward and they want all the facts of the genocide…there is nothing to hide.  So, why does France hold onto that black box? he asked.  I noticed in one of the Rwanda newspapers that a city in France had planned on holding a memorial service in April this year to commemorate the genocide, but it cancelled it when leaders did not like that President Kagame (of Rwanda) noted that the French should have done more in 1994.


In the afternoon, we visited the National Museum of Butare.  We saw many traditional items used by the earlier Rwandan people.  We visited another royal family hut (this was an original) and did some shopping of traditional woven handicrafts.