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!
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.
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.
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