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Chapter 22: Nyungwe National Park, Forest, & Lodge

posted May 19, 2010, 6:43 AM by Diana Perdue   [ updated May 20, 2010, 7:15 AM ]

On Saturday, May 8th (Happy Birthday Carrie!!), we left Butare and drove to Nyungwe National Park.  WOW!!


So, you faithful readers out there may remember how much I loved Lake Kivu (and want a summer home there) – well, let me tell you, there is competition for that place of esteem now that I’ve visited Nyungwe.  First of all, the forest itself is just so DIFFERENT… I know that’s an inadequate description but it’s the most accurate word I could think of. The whole time I was driving through this awesome place I kept thinking I would see a Velociraptor or some similar creature a la Jurassic Park… it was just so primeval!  Here is a picture of the forest and another of the huge valley (where one can imagine the forest elephants once roamed in numbers… alas, they are all gone now:  killed by poachers).





The road from Butare to Nyungwe was good, at first.  Gradually though, you really got the feeling that the forest itself was fighting to take back the land from the road.  There were huge holes, large rocks, and worrisome mudslides to dodge all along the way.  Here’s a typical scene along the road.



Nyungwe is a high altitude rainforest (receives over 6.5 feet of annual rainfall… 2000 mm and is almost 2 miles high… 2950 m) – also known as a montane forest – that, because of its tropical location, is often called a cloud forest.  The forest is home to several species of primates including the black and white Colobus monkey, the chimpanzee, L'Hoest's Monkey, and the rarely seen owl-faced monkey.  I was fortunate and saw three of the four (no chimp’s on this trip).  This L’Hoest’s monkey (also known as a mountain monkey) was just sitting by the side of the road when we drove by – I think s/he has an injured arm.



Saturday afternoon, once we’d checked into the lodge (which I will discuss at length in a moment), we trekked into the forest with Vedaste, our guide, in search of the black and white Colobus monkeys.  We found a troupe of about 30 in the trees just a short walk into the forest!  Unfortunately, it was getting late and becoming dark (we just finished our hike before the heavens opened and torrential rain began) so the pictures aren’t fabulous.  However, I did my best.  First, our group (well, except for me who’s taking the picture):  this is Gilbert (the fabulous guy who welcomed us & took care of us at the lodge), Eddie, and Vedaste.  Next, a couple of pictures of the famed monkeys themselves.  Vedaste told us that the Colobus monkey has few predators but that one of them is the chimpanzee!  Apparently, chimps and baboons are the only monkeys who eat meat.  He also told us that the grooming rituals (like the shot of the three in a tree) are one of the main reasons why this type of monkey does not fight each other.






Here’s some more detail about the forest primates:


“The thirteen primate species which occur in Nyungwe represent something like 20-25% of the total number in Africa, a phenomenal figure which in east Africa is comparable only to Uganda’s Kibale forest. Further more, several of these primates are listed as vulnerable or endangered on the IUCN red list, and Nyungwe is almost is almost certainly the main stronghold for at least two of them.
The most celebrated of Nyungwe’s primates is the Ruwenzori colobus a race of the more wide spread Angola colobus which is restricted to the Albertine Rift. The Ruwenzori colobus is highly arboreal and acrobatic leaf-eater, easily distinguished from any other primate found in Nyungwe by its contrasting black over all colour and snow-white whiskers, shoulders and tail tip. Although all colobus monkeys are very sociable, the ones in Nyungwe are unique in so far as they typically move in troops of several hundred animals. A semi-habituated troop of 400, resident in the forest around the campsite, is though to be the largest troop of arboreal primates anywhere in Africa- else where in the world, only the Chinese golden monkey moves in groups of a comparable number. Most of the other monkeys in Nyungwe are guenons, the collective name for the taxonomically confusing cercopithecus genus. 
Other types of monkeys in Nyungwe National Park are the L’Hoest’s monkey, Silver monkey, golden monkey, Owl faced monkey, red tailed monkey, Dent’s Mona monkey, crowned monkey, Vervet monkey, and Olive baboon which is a savanna monkey that is occasionally seen along the road through Nyungwe, Grey-cheeked mangabey is an arboreal monkey of the forest interior.”  (Source: http://aboutrwanda.com/national-park-safaris/nyungwe-park-safari.html


Let me back up to our arrival at the lodge itself.  Allow me to preface by stating that this place is unbelievably expensive (even by USA standards)… I’ve mentioned before that hotels (and practically everything) are expensive in Rwanda; however, this place outdoes them all.  The normal rate is $600 per night single occupancy and $400 per night double occupancy.  This includes everything except certain high-end drinks – as well it should for that price!  I was able to negotiate with Jean Luc (yes, I kept wanting to quote “make it so” when I spoke with him) to get the double rate even though we both had our own villa.  (Thanks for that, Jean Luc!)  So, the expectation level was HIGH and I, personally, was convinced that in the end, I would decide it wasn’t worth the cost.  However, I must admit here and publicly, that I was wrong:  ten minutes after our arrival I’d decided it was worth every penny and the more time went by, the more convinced I became!  One other side note:  investment opportunities abound in Rwanda – something the Chinese and Indians have taken full advantage of and, apparently, the Emirates as Dubai World is who owns the lodge, the tea plantation, and the newly renovated lodge at Akagera.


We drove all the way through the national park and, not long after exiting and not long before the border to Burundi, turned on a small road that wound through a huge tea plantation (the Gisakura Tea Estate). 



Then, after about 10 minutes driving through the most luscious scenery ever, we crested a hill and saw a sign and gate that announced our arrival at Nyungwe Forest Lodge (located in the middle of aforementioned tea plantation).  The guard let us through and we drove up to the main part of the lodge (which houses the reception area, the gift shop, the common living rooms, the dining rooms, and the outdoor patios complete with fireplaces).  Immediately, Gilbert greeted me by name and said, “Dr. Diana I was expecting you this morning!”  (It was about 2 pm when we arrived.)  I laughed and told him that yes, we’d planned to arrive earlier but the drive took us longer than expected (due both to the rainstorms we encountered along the way and my propensity to stop every few minutes and take pictures).  Gilbert gave us a brief history of the place (it has only been open one month and, that Mother’s Day weekend, we were the only guests!) and then introduced us to some of the staff as we walked past the water-lined entranceway.  First, we met Martin who greeted us with hot towels to cleanse us from our long journey.  Next came Malik, the lodge manager, who offered us skewers of fruit and took our request for coffee.  Finally, we were seated in a simply stunning lounge area where Carine brought us French press coffee, hot milk, and sugar in the raw.  The décor is just breath-taking, a balanced combination of modern luxury and traditional Rwandan art and materials.  There were baskets, screens, pottery, Imigongo (a particularly interesting local art form made from cow dung) paintings (something Eric, mentioned in the last chapter, is learning to make by the way!), and a Rwandan-themed chess set – yes, I have pictures of all of these, but you must arrange to see me when I’m home as I can’t possibly put them all on my blog! *smile* Gilbert came over with our keys then told us he would transport both us and our luggage to our villas via golf cart whenever we were done with our coffee and wanted to go.  Now, how’s THAT for a reception?!?  But, as usual, my words can only paint half the picture.  Let me show you the magnificence.  First, a bit more about the fascinating history of Imigongo:


“At the beginning of the 19th century, Prince Kakira, the son of the King of Gisaka, lived in the Province of Kibungo, known today as Eastern Province. It was then and there that he invented the art of decorating houses. He began to paint geometric motifs directly onto the walls, using different natural colors, such as black, white, and burgundy. 

A crafts cooperative named after Prince Kakira exists in Rwanda today. This cooperative was inspired by the art of the prince, adapting his mural paintings and motifs to create the decorative “IMIGONGO” paintings, which are painted on wooden plates of different sizes. The cooperative still uses natural materials for the paintings, such as, for example, cow dung, which forms the structure and relief of the paintings. Red color is made from natural soil, white color from kaolin. Ocher is gained from clay, while the shining black color is based on the ashes of banana peels, mixed with the sap of the aloe plant as well as with the fruits of the solanum aculeastrum plant.

Today, the paintings created by the members of the KAKIRA cooperative are well and widely known. They are very much in demand, as they constitute unique and typically Rwandan works of art.” Source:http://www.virtualmarket.importshop-berlin.de/index.php5?id=1215576&Action=showProduct  




            The main part of the lodge.                                     The pool by the entrance walkway.





A chandelier made of tea strainers.


One of the lounge areas.                                             




Our villas (building on the right).                                                The infinity pool.



Let me remind all of you who are drooling all over your computer screens right now that you’ve not even seen the villa yet!!  It gets better!  So, after relaxing for a few moments (and me taking pictures like mad), we climb into the golf cart and are escorted to our villas.  Mine was #9 and Gilbert took me through personally to show me all the amenities including: 






The bathroom and …                                              the view of the bedroom from the bathroom.





    My welcome and snack.                                                  The view from the balcony.


Seeing the welcome snack makes me remember I haven’t even talked about the unbelievable food yet!  The chef, Bachu, was literally at our beck and call (remember that we were the only guests at the time) and prepared for us the most delicious and artful food I’ve had since arriving in the country.  I didn’t obsessively take pictures of the food (too busy eating it); however, someone else has so here you go: link to food pictures (oh, a word of caution though, this guy didn’t resize his pictures as I have so it may take a bit to load them).  Our waitress, Carine, was fantastic (and unbelievably beautiful) – she was gracious enough to pose with me.



As if all this decadence and beauty wasn’t enough, we took the experience a bit further by signing up for a fabulous 2-hour treatment at the spa that included a hot stone massage.  The spa manager, Naiomi, catered to our every need.  Meet her!



After the spa treatment and a fantastic dinner, I climbed into the most comfortable bed and slept soundly until PAST daylight!  Now, you faithful readers will recognize this as the accomplishment that it is what with the streaming sunlight and enthusiastic (read “loud”) birds that begin the day at dawn.  However, the blackout shades and good insulation in my villa allowed me to sleep until the decadent time of 7:45 am!  (Those of you who know me well are currently pulling yourselves off the floor at the very thought of me being up and functioning at any time pre-10 am – however, trust me, it is not my choice!  This country is not conducive to my sleep habits! Ha ha!)  Anyway, I get up and go outside on the balcony because I just have a feeling that I should see monkeys at this time of day.  Especially after reading about the various types of monkeys in the forest (25% of all African species reside here… that’s a HUGE amount!) and seeing the phrase “rarely-seen” to describe the owl-faced monkey, I awake feeling particularly lucky (thanks Mary Chapin Carpenter!). 



At first, I see nothing but the clouds sitting atop the trees (aka cloud forest, see picture), lots of “Tarzan vines”, and approximately a zillion birds (ok, my estimate might be a tad high, it was early and I hadn’t had coffee yet).  I’m content to just sit and watch the forest unfold before me and contemplate how blessed I am at that moment to be there, enjoying this awesome spectacle.  Then, I hear a light crashing sound in the trees off to my right.  I see movement in the branches but still can’t quite see anything.  Finally, I become aware of a troop (yes, a whole cartload!  A barrel of monkeys!  See link below as I’m not making up these plural forms!) of owl-faced monkeys moving across the forest right in front of my balcony.  It was amazing!  I think the monkeys were as fascinated by me as I was by them as several of them stopped on a tree limb right above my head and just stared at me as if to ask, “What kind of new monkey are you?”  I, of course, was snapping pictures like mad, for once infuriated at my up-‘til-then-brilliant camera because it kept thinking, because I was taking these pictures out from under the balcony roof, that the lighting was different than it was – as a result, many of the pictures came out too dark.  However, with the power of digital comes sheer numbers so I just kept taking pictures and, fortunately, a few of them came out ok.  With no further adieu, I give you the elusive and rarely-seen but viewed by me, owl-faced (or Hamlyn's) monkey).  Enjoy!








Aren’t they just beautiful?  *sigh*  Wish you could all have been there to see it… it was just magical. 


After that, I got in my absolutely blissful shower (with water pressure to rival the USA, a rain shower head, AND a separate hand-held sprayer) then put on the plush Nyungwe robe that hung just outside the door waiting for me.  I slipped on the also-provided white slippers and padded to the vanity where, to be frank, just like Whitney, I felt like a million-dollar bill!  By the way, those of you who are bath-takers rather than shower-takers, do not feel left out: the bathtub is simply incredible!  When you turn on the water, it flows from the center of the back of the tub in a lovely arc-shaped spray, and, like the shower, there is also a separate hand-held sprayer useful for hair-washing (or, in my case, rinsing the mud off the ol’ Solomon shoes).  There is a pic of the tub here (scroll down a bit to see it). 


Finally, dressed and caffeine-deprived, I join up with Eddie and we make our way to the dining room.   Once there, we see Carine and Martin and they guide us to our very own private dining space on the veranda, overlooking the mountains and the tea plantation.  It’s a stunning morning and the breakfast was comparable.  We ordered French toast with Rwandan honey and Canadian bacon, had (several) pots of French press coffee, and, while waiting on the entrée, partook of fresh fruit, home-made granola, and freshly-baked breads and pastries.  Absolutely, without a doubt, one of the most amazing dining experiences I’ve ever had!  Reluctantly, after breakfast, we went back to our villas to pack.  We got on the road around noon and drove back through the tea plantation, back through the forest, and on to Kigali.  Here is a picture I took on the way out of the tea plantation and one of a woman I saw walking by.






There you have it my dear readers!  The full account of my awesome weekend in Nyungwe!  Upcoming chapters (unless something else comes up to replace them) will include more pictures from Akagera (I’ve been there four times now), Lake Kivu (been there two times now), and my visit with Lynette (including our trip to see the gorillas on May 22nd!).  Stay tuned!

living in Rwanda

Chapter 21: NUR and Butare

posted May 15, 2010, 12:36 AM by Diana Perdue

Last Friday, 7 May (Happy Birthday Lynette!!), I joined Eddie, Charles (who works in Eddie’s office & is simply WONDERFUL), and Joan for a trip to Butare and the National University of Rwanda (NUR)


Eddie, of course, you’ve “met” (at least virtually).  Here is Charles… 


Let me reiterate, for the record, how wonderful a man he is!  Honestly, were it not for him and Eugenie (mentioned in Chapter 19), Eddie’s office would simply fall apart – now this is no reflection on Eddie, because she is REALLY good at her job – it is just a fact.  One thing I have learned during my time here in Rwanda is that, much like the USA, it really helps to “know someone” when you’re trying to accomplish a task.  Between Eugenie and Charles, they know everybody in the whole country!! :-)


Joan, I mentioned in the last chapter, was invited to come to Rwanda to speak to various entrepreneur groups.  She is originally from Waco, TX (but, she says, don’t hold that against her!) and has a beautiful place (I’ve seen the pictures) in Colorado, but currently lives in Canada.  Meet Joan:


She started an online business that is very interesting:  it allows people (even those who do not read, either in English or Spanish) to develop and implement a career / business plan.  Anyway, she is very fun (and an avid photographer) so we hit it off right away. 



Joan spoke to the students and staff at NUR about starting businesses (above is an “action shot”).  I had the opportunity to listen to some of the ideas presented by the students (and even friended some on Facebook!) and they were impressive!  One of the students won an opportunity to begin his own business to help women become more empowered.  To read more about it (and “vote” for him via making a donation), click here.  As another example, meet Christian who has an idea for starting a Rwandan version of PayPal:


During most of Joan’s presentation, I met with Roger (the Director of Open & Distance Learning at NUR).  I’d met Roger some weeks ago during some of the meetings (Open Learning Rwanda, OLR, and Digital Opportunity Trust, DOT) I’d been involved with in my role as Director of E-Learning at KIST.  Roger introduced me to Bonifis (the Director of Academic Quality) and we brainstormed about one of my ideas regarding technology and education in Rwanda.  As most of you know, I have been rather discouraged with the lack of progress in establishing a true E-Learning center at KIST, a result of poor Internet availability, reliability, and capacity.  As a result, I’ve asked myself, ‘what technology IS working in Rwanda right now?”  The answer is twofold:  cell phones and radio. 


In previous chapters I’ve mentioned the cool, creative, and effective ways that mobile phones are used here in Rwanda (for example, the SMS from Immigration telling me I had to pay an additional fee for my Rwandan visa) and the tremendous prevalence and impact of radio (for example, a huge negative impact of radio was its role in the genocide – something that has contributed to wonderful new radio stations like Voice of Hope that learned from that horror and decided to ensure that, in the future, there would always be a counterpoint to hate messages).  So one idea I had was to begin an educational program in cooperation with one of the University radio stations (NUR has one) in which they would download a podcast on some useful topic (say learning English or creating a budget or basic heath) then play that podcast on the radio on a particular day and time, say Wednesday’s at 6 p.m., so everyone could benefit from the information. I thought that the University could contact their students regarding these podcasts (or any other useful informational programming, say about time tables or exams) via an SMS reminder on the day of the broadcast. [Any NGO’s reading this blog who find this interesting, please contact me!]


Both my discussions with the NUR faculty and Joan’s presentation to the NUR students & staff were very successful so we all left campus with a sense of accomplishment.  We were joined by Eric, another Fulbright scholar (at NUR, in English) and had a lovely lunch in Butare.  Meet Eric:



Eric has also been blogging since he’s been in Rwanda – click here to read some of his thoughts and experiences.  I can especially recommend the story about the trash in the backyard (“he has hole!”) as it’s hysterical yet somehow typical of life here… :-)


After lunch we (Charles, Eddie, Joan, and myself – Eric had to meet with students) went to visit both the National Museum of Rwanda and the King’s Palace.  How cool!!  The National Museum was very informative – the mathematician (and teacher) in me could not help but be inspired by the geometry of various things (ceiling of the King’s Palace – shown in picture below – basket designs, wall panels, etc.) as well as the fascinating tidbits like the notion of baskets being used as a unit of measure (uh, no, that second picture wasn’t taken from inside the museum… that’s not allowed you know…).





One of the best things I got to see were the traditional houses made entirely from weaving the local flora (including sisal, banana, ficus, papyrus, etc.).   Like Emeril, I wish you had “smell-o-vision” on this blog so you could inhale the wonderful scent when you enter these huts… it’s the best aromatherapy ever!  Here is a small house in the museum:



Now, by small I simply mean like a studio-apartment size (not miniature replica) – you can go inside (must remove shoes first) and there’s plenty of room to walk around.  I would have shot some video but the inside was too dark for my camera (would have needed a real video camera with light for that).  I DID take pictures though so here you will see the inside of the hut and how the bedroom area is separated from the living area using wall panels (sort of like Shoji screens) – a small one of which I have purchased and will attempt to bring home with me, the “bedroom” with the sleeping mats surrounded by the baskets (in which would be stored “midnight snack” ingredients like water and food), and the ceiling (again with the cool geometry!). 







The King’s Palace was also incredible.  It consists of a set of the traditional houses as well as the “new” King’s house (which houses a museum of sorts).  The traditional houses include the King’s Palace (the original) and houses for the various people – for example, the King had official tasters for both milk and beer.  Yep, you better believe I was asking how I sign up to be the official beer taster for the King! Ha ha!  This is a picture of the original King’s Palace – again, just to give an idea of scale, the fence surrounding the house is approximately 6.5 or 7 feet tall.




The inside of the King’s palace hut was 20-times bigger and better than the one in the museum.  For example, here are pictures of the screens that separated the various rooms and the King’s bed with baskets.





Not everything was as grand as the screens and the truly King-sized bed though… for example, this is the King’s throne!  In case it’s hard to tell because I didn’t take a picture of it with a ruler or something else to tell scale, this little throne is about a foot tall!  Of course, when everyone else is sitting or lying flat on the mats on the floor, I guess that’s tall enough! Ha ha!



Here is our whole crew in front of the King’s palace:




Finally, here are a few of the “fun shots”.  One is of me and Joan in the beer taster’s hut (you can tell the bed is MUCH smaller than the King’s) and the other is of Eddie in front of the milk taster’s hut (she’s holding a wooden milk jug).




This picture is Joan impersonating the beer taster.  That gourd is called a “calabash”.  The other pic is an artistic arrangement of tools needed by the beer taster.





The “new” King’s palace is also very impressive, but for different reasons than the entirely-woven original King’s palace.  Here is a picture of it, along with one of the many guards.





There were students all around on the day we visited.  Apparently, at one point they were late because this was the scene going down the hill by the palace and the other picture is just the lovely framed view from the palace balcony.





The inside of the new King’s palace was very interesting – there was a lot of original furniture, cool art (and geometry), and interesting pictures.  The fireplaces were also amazing!  This one has a wonderful Esher-like tessellation that reminded me of Meldon’s (one of my former students at VSU) Geometer’s Sketchpad lab assignment!  Take a look (oh, and try to ignore the ugly green chairs!).



Well, there you go dear readers!  My visit to Butare including NUR, the National Museum of Rwanda, and the King’s Palace!  Hope you enjoyed it!  Next chapter is all about Nyungwe National Forest and the incredible Nyungwe Forest Lodge! :-) 

Chapter 20: Gahaya Links

posted May 13, 2010, 3:45 AM by Diana Perdue   [ updated May 13, 2010, 4:04 AM ]

I am going to TRY to make this chapter a bit shorter as I’ve got about 10 things to write about and can’t spend as much time on each one or I’ll still be writing by the time I’m back in the US!  So, for that reason the next few chapters won’t be perfectly chronological:  the reality is that I visited the National University of Rwanda (NUR) and Butare (which included visits to the National Museum of Rwanda and the King’s Palace), then went to Nyungwe National Forest (and Lodge), and then went to Gahaya Links; however, I’m writing about Gahaya Links first because (a) I’m hoping the story will be shorter (b) the story is really important and I didn’t want to wait to tell it and (c) there are fewer pictures (and only two short videos) so it doesn’t take as long to be ready to post.  Therefore, my dear readers, I hope you don’t mind the slight out-of-orderness of the next few chapters (and please know that I’m writing as fast as I can!) ha ha!  :-)


Yesterday (10 May 2010) I got to go on an Embassy-arranged shopping trip!  Now, before you get all excited and think, “man, those Fulbrighters have it made!” let me ‘splain:  the shopping trip wasn’t arranged for me. It was arranged for one of the speakers Eddie had in town for some entrepreneur programs.  Her name is Joan and we became fast friends (you’ll see pictures of us in the King’s bed in the palace in the next chapter… no, not like THAT!  We were just illustrating how big the bed was!).  Anyway, Joan was scheduled to meet Joy, the CEO of Gahaya Links, a wonderful basket-making enterprise that is part of a women’s cooperative effort in Rwanda.  I got to tag along just by being at the right place at the right time (and having wonderful people like Eddie & Joan).  Meet Joy everyone!



Gahaya Links is AMAZING!!  First of all, I could easily have spent hundreds of dollars on all the wonderful stuff they have for sale (had it not been for the small detail of how to get all that stuff home again, that is!) – fear not, I did get a few things though!  Second, it is so cool to see all of these people (both women and men, but mostly women) working in some really fabulous crafts like:  basket weaving, paper bead creation, and purse / bag creation.  Third, at the luncheon (again, not for me, for Joan) I got to meet the country director of Women for Women International in Rwanda (her name is Berra) and heard such impressive stories about the women their cooperative program have impacted and helped.  It really was a fantastic experience!  This is what it looked like activity-wise in the “studio” part of the business:








I know that you can get a sense of the busy-ness from these pictures, but I also shot some video of the artists in action.  Here are the links on YouTube:


Video 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rklRv-dFsP4


Video 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOyG9zaJjuY


Please note that there is no dialog with these videos because (as maybe you can faintly in the background), Joan was speaking to the group while I was shooting.  


Joy and her sister, Janet, (who was in the States when we visited) started this business and it’s such a success story.   They were named as prestigious Africa Price Laureates in 2008 – during the acceptance speech, Janet said, “I met with them, and I said to them: ‘Don't we breathe the same air? Speak the same language? Don't we all love our children? Let us just weave, and try to put the past behind us.” to describe how she got all the women to work together regardless of whether they were Hutu or Tutsi.  While we were at Gahaya Links, Joy told us that they are currently working on (1) bracelets for Oprah (2) bags for Kate Spade and (3) a big order for Macy’s!  Yep, those of you who want your very own products from Joy and her women (and men), here’s what you need to look for in Macy’s and here’s the Oprah design:




This is one of the bags being woven and an ‘action shot’ of basket weaving:





and, finally, some of the finished products themselves:






More about Gahaya Links:


80 Percent Angel Video 9: Weaving a Basket of Savings

“Cut the Sisal. Strip the leaf down the middle. Then scrape the chlorophyll filled exterior with a blunt knife. Dye each of the fibers before wrapping a sweet grass core with a thousand stitches. (Produced & Directed by: Parker Snyder Music & Photography by: Kasia Romanska Translation by: Gabriel Gahima Videography by: Marcin Jaroszewicz Narrative by: Tupochele Mtila In Support: Lori & Andy Stuart) Welcome to the life of a rural woman enrolled in the Gitarama Basket Weavers Association. With each basket you sell, you'll save a dollar and with each dollar saved, you're one step closer to sending your child to school. What's life like without the Association? More than likely, you'll wake each day before the sun to turn the earth with a metal hoe. But you'll earn no income and what food you're able to grow you'll feed to your family. You'll barter the excess for salt, soap and oil. For the first time in their lives, women trained by the Gahaya Links earn an income. Joy Ndungutse and her sister Janet returned from exile in Uganda to help the rural women of their home country Rwanda. They know the life well. Their own mother was a rural farmer like many of the women they serve. For Promoting Savings among the associations by tasking them to create a savings scheme, Janet Ndungutse has been named a Caring Habits Social Mentor. Like the Yellow Weaver birds of Africa, the women are learning to construct a basket of savings, safe from the ruin of men.”

Chapter 19: Becky’s Visit!

posted May 4, 2010, 7:50 AM by Diana Perdue   [ updated May 5, 2010, 1:03 AM ]

This week (of Apr 26) has been so much fun!!  Becky came to visit me!  As many of you know, Becky and I taught together at VSU for years (until she left me and went off to Longwood), then, apparently simultaneously, we both went through a mid-life crisis that involved running off to Africa.  I chose the Fulbright program for my short-term (6-months) solution and she chose the Peace Corps for her long-term (2-years) solution.  She is located in Kenya now and teaches secondary school in a village close to Malindi (on the coast of the Indian Ocean).  You can read more about her life and adventures at her blog if you haven’t already.  Becky arrived a little after midnight on Monday, er Tuesday, and I picked her up at the airport in Lucky Too then brought her on to Paradise.  You can imagine how she felt about Eddie’s place after seeing the pic’s and reading the description of her house & bathroom facilities on her blog!  We stayed up until well after 2 am talking and feeling like little girls at a slumber party in the guestroom.


On Tuesday we went to the ORTPN center (which is where you go to get permits to see the gorillas – something I’m doing on May 22nd with Lynette, who’s coming to visit me later this month) and arranged a bus tour of the city of Kigali.   It was very cool!  We enjoyed it despite the fact that it rained on our heads most of the day.  Here we are in a dry moment (though you can see I’m still a bit, shall we say, damp!) with the city of Kigali in the background.



The tour started on KIST’s campus at the memorial for the Belgians who were killed at the beginning of the genocide.  In my previous chapters, I’ve written about KIST and my work there, but I may not have mentioned that the campus itself was the site of the main military training grounds and barracks during “the war” (as Rwandans refer to the genocide).  It is surreal and thought provoking that the place where the military were trained to kill 100 Tutsis in 20 minutes is now the place where young people are taught that they are all Rwandans (along with science & technology).  Anyway, our tour began at the memorial for the 10 Belgian peacekeepers who bravely fought to protect the Prime Minister – this incident is viewed by many as the beginning of the genocide, or at least the beginning of outside awareness and interest – you can read the details here.  Here are the names of the people who were killed:



A good bit of the tour focused on the genocide as we visited both this memorial and the Kigali Memorial Center as well.  Mathematically, the genocide is astonishing:  approximately one million people were killed in a period of 100 days.  This works out to about 7 people killed every minute for over fourteen weeks in a row.  Admittedly, killing seven people in 60 seconds is not hard to do if one uses guns, especially automatic or semi-automatic weapons; however, it becomes even more difficult to conceive when you consider that most the weapons of the genocide were machetes and clubs. 



The Belgian memorial consists of the building where the men were killed, a small museum, and ten stone columns.  You can still see the holes made by bullets and grenades in the building shown above left.  There are 10 stone columns, one for each peacekeeper who was murdered, shown above right.  On the back of each are the man’s initials; on the front is a series of carvings to designate his age.  The small lines represent one year, while the thicker lines represent ten years.  For example, here is the back of Christophe Renwa’s memorial and the front shows that he was 26 years old (his column is the one on the left).





The next stop on the tour was the Kigali Memorial Center (which, I know, I already wrote about from my first visit there).  This time I saw some things I missed the first time, one of which was the in-progress wall of names.  I can only imagine how difficult it must be for this country to try to identify the remains of over a quarter of a million people.  As you can see from the picture, they still have a long ways to go.  


Just to put a little scale to the picture of the names, I’ll mention that each “square” consists of 10 names and each column has (at present) 7 squares.  Here is a close-up of one square so you can see what I mean.  Can you see the four rivets that define the square that starts with J. Baptiste Nisingizwe and ends with Emmanuel Niyomugaba?


It was even harder to go through the genocide museum the second time so I actually went outside and waited for my group.  Gratefully, God must have realized my difficulty and sent me a sign:  this was the view from the memorial when I came outside.




The rest of our tour involved seeing other parts of the city (including the location of the soon-to-be-built amusement park, the professional golf course, and the impressive Rwanda Development Board building) – unfortunately, the weather prohibited me getting much by way of pictures so I’m afraid you’ll just have to plan a visit here yourself! :-)

Tuesday night was great fun:  Adrienne and Bill (aka “the Wootters”) – whose blog (which has additional, more detailed, information on the Memorial Month of April) you may have read from my previous chapters – having brought technology galore with them, came over to Paradise and we had our very own “movie night” a la Heaven.  Eddie, being the fantastic hostess that she is, allowed us free reign in the TV room.  That meant we removed the paintings from the wall, moved the couch, and set up the projector on the coffee table.  It was just like a fabulous cozy theatre:  Adrienne’s mini speakers provided surround-sound and we all enjoyed Chinese take-out before watching Jamie Foxx’s brilliant performance in “Ray”.  All of us decided we must purchase Ray Charles music immediately after seeing the film! 


Wednesday was a relaxing day with Becky and I taking advantage of the DSTV (satellite TV) in Paradise and watching old episodes of “Whose Line is it Anyway?”  We laughed so hard we cried!  I also took Becky for a grand tour of my cell and downtown Kigali, complete with visits to my favorite grocery store, Frulep, and the “African Wal-Mart”:  Nakumatt.  Wednesday night we had dinner at the Serena Hotel (the hotel ranked #1 out of all 21 hotels in Kigali – before you book your room though you might want to know that prices start at $289 / night) as (a) it was Mongolian BBQ night and (b) it was Carl’s birthday – a friend of Eddie’s from the Embassy who graciously let us crash his b-day party.  We sat by the pool, the food was fabulous (though expensive:  $50 each), there was a band and a full moon – what more can you ask for?  I know the picture doesn’t do it justice, but it’s the best I could do.





Thursday was decision-day:  as it was our last full day before Becky left on Friday afternoon, we could either “go somewhere” touristy (which, constricted as we were by the one day time limit, basically meant a visit to Akagera to see the animals) or join Eddie and Eugenie (her wonderful assistant and the woman who basically makes the Fulbright program function in Rwanda) on a trip to visit nursing and teacher training colleges.  Of course Becky and I chose the path of most geekness!  The trip had a specific purpose (at least to the PD office):  to check out various places that might host an American from a new Fulbright program (located in a sort of middle spot in between Peace Corps and Fulbright Scholar).  This new program is for recent graduates (Bachelor’s) with basically no experience but who have classroom knowledge and desire. They will serve as co-teachers (of English) alongside a local faculty member at some institution of higher learning.  As I think I’ve already mentioned in previous chapters, the entire country has recently made the “switch” from French to English (read more about that here) so, of course, the local teachers welcome any native English speaker to help them accomplish that lofty goal.


So, we were off to visit two places outside of Kigali:  the Rwamagana School of Nursing and Midwifery (a Catholic-run institution) and one of the Colleges of Education (a government-run institution). 


Note 1: “Currently, Rwanda has three pre-service teacher training institutions namely; Teacher Training Colleges (TTCs) which train primary school teachers, Colleges of Education (CoEs) which trains lower secondary teachers and the Kigali Institute of Education (KIE) which trains upper secondary teachers.” (Source: http://allafrica.com/stories/201003090056.html)


Note 2:  You can read more about the Rwandan educational system here.


Our group consisted of John (the embassy driver), Eddie & Eugenie (representing the “real” part of the group), Kathy (another Fulbrighter, in English), Becky, and me.   It was great!  First of all, Becky got to see some of the Rwandan countryside (and I got more pictures) and secondly, it was my first time to see schools outside of Kigali.  So, before I discuss the schools themselves, let me share with you some of my favorite shot-through-the-windshield pictures of street scenes that I took along the way. I’m getting pretty good at these kind of shots (taken through the windshield of a vehicle traveling at speed down the road) – don’t you think?










At the nursing school we were all very impressed, not just with the facilities, but also with the staff and students.  Here is a picture of Epiphine, the principal, happily looking at one of the books that Eddie had brought as a gift.


We met Josephine, one of the English teachers at the school and learned that they have over 130 students training to be nurses and midwives.  We also learned that they have agreements set up with the local hospitals to provide internships and field visits to their students so, when they graduate, they already have actual clinical experience.  Here is Josephine with Eugenie in the background:


We also took a tour of campus.  The classrooms were clean and well equipped; the students were extremely friendly and spoke very good English (we crashed a class and had a mini conversation with the students in an anatomy and physiology course); and there was both a computer lab and also a library – we all agreed that the Catholics had done a fantastic job!  In fact, Kathy and I both half-joked that the facilities there were better than what we had at KIE. :-)  Here’s a picture of the classrooms and one of the library.





Now, before you get all excited and decide you (a) want to become Catholic and (b) want to be a nurse or midwife in Rwanda, let me also remind you that (1) we’re still in Africa (2) there is still that interesting dichotomy between modern and primitive.  Let me illustrate.  So you remember that the purpose of these visits was to determine if the schools were capable of hosting an American, right?  Obviously, the work environment looks great, but what about housing?  As you faithful readers from the beginning chapters will recall, housing is a big problem in this country (especially when seeking housing for us picky Americans who want stuff like water – hot even – electricity, and furniture).  So, Eddie, being the thorough PAO that she is, brought up the question of where this American would live.  The principal handed us off to one of her helpful staff who led us to the house where the faculty live.  Let’s just say that my cell was looking mighty good after I saw the nursing housing!


To be fair, it was a nice building and the set-up was ok:  two adjoining apartments that shared a kitchen-type space and each had a bedroom and living room space.  Down the hall a bit was another room that had four doors:  two for each apartment.  One door was the toilet and the other was the shower.  However, to call it spartan maybe gave it too much credit as there was just a bed in the bedroom and nothing in the living room or kitchen (unless you count a concrete shelf and a faucet with no taps).  The best part was the “kitchen” (and yes, I’m using that term loosely!) – we happened to be there around lunchtime (the staff are responsible for their own cooking) so let me just describe in pictures rather than words. 






Yep, there you have it!  No (electric) stove, no refrigerator, no table, nothing!  What was really funny is that Becky got all excited and said that’s the kind of stoves used in her village in Kenya – she was happy that I took a picture because she didn’t have one!  (So, there you go, Becky, those pictures are for you!!)  Our group had a small discussion and decided that, with some modifications (a stove and fridge), it would be an acceptable place for a young American (perhaps especially if already used to dorm-life!).  It’s funny how, after seeing a particularly impressive aspect of a school or place, you are still forcibly reminded that Rwandans do not live at all like Americans do.  I mean, intellectually, I know that around 4% of the country has electricity (and probably only a slightly amount has running water) and that most Rwandans eat only one meal a day; however, it’s visits like this that really make me KNOW it. 

(“The problem is most acute in sub-Saharan Africa, with several entire nations there effectively nonelectrified. In 11 countries, all in Africa, more than 90 percent of people go without electricity. In six of these -- Burundi, Chad, Central African Republic, Liberia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone -- 3 to 5 percent of people can readily obtain electric power.”  Source: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=electricity-gap-developing-countries-energy-wood-charcoal)

(Rwanda “… is one of the poorest nations in the world. Eighty-five percent of the population survives on less than $2 per day.”  Source: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4800031)


(More stat’s on Rwanda can be found here.)


After we left the nursing school, we went to Jambo Beach for lunch.  This was a lovely little café on the shore of Lake Muhazi.  The picture on the left shows the view from our table and the one on the right is a pair of Pied Kingfishers who live and fish on the lake.





Here is another picture of the lake, this time with some guys (fishermen, perhaps?) in a boat.




Our lunch was simple (goat kebabs and frits) but good and, as also happens when camping, everything tastes better when eaten outdoors and accompanied by a fabulous view.  Here’s a picture of stylish Eugenie at our table and one of Becky and me with the lake as a backdrop.







Our second visit was to the College of Education run by the rector, a lovely man named Cassian.  He actually joined us for lunch at Jambo Beach and shared some interesting information about the local area.  First, he told us that President Kagame has a summer home on the lake.  Next, he pointed across the lake to a bunch of cattle that were grazing and told us that the former Minister of Education owned them and that land.  Apparently, that particular minister had been recently arrested (perhaps related to the “no corruption” campaign that Kagame is famous for) but that was not the topic of conversation that Cassian brought up.  Instead, it was the cattle.  As you may know if you’ve read any of the history of the two major groups in Rwanda (Tutsi and Hutu), the primary distinction between the two designations originally revolved around farming versus cattle:  If one owned less than 10 head of cattle, then one was a Hutu; of one owned more than 10 head of cattle, one was a Tutsi.  The original (oldest breed) Rwandan cattle, I learned that day from Cassian, have distinctive large white horns (unlike the brown horns I’d seen on the cattle we saw on Lake Kivu) and, apparently, are the “best” (sort of like the Kobe beef of Rwanda).  I managed to get a picture where you can see the horns rather well… as you can see, they are indeed impressive!!



Here is a picture of Cassian in his office with Eddie and Eugenie, excited about the gifts they brought:


We also got a tour of his campus, met some of the faculty and students, and saw the housing accommodations.  The campus and classroom facilities are nice (though not as nice as the Catholics) and, as you see from the pictures below, they also have a computer lab (along with classrooms, library, etc.); however, unlike the nursing school, their computers are not actually installed (or connected to the internet).  In addition, they also have a problem with providing food for the students and faculty.  Here is a picture of their “kitchen”, housed in a small building made of tin roofing sheets.






The students seem pretty typical for Rwanda:  friendly, happy, slightly older (late 20’s / early 30’s), mostly male, and well dressed. 




Cassian wanted a picture of the whole group (us plus several members of his faculty and staff) in “the garden” so, as self-appointed photographer, I obliged!




Thursday night Becky and I joined Faustin and his wife, Fortunée for dinner at Chez Lando (you may remember that hotel as the place I stayed my first night in Kigali and mentioned in Chapter 2).   Dinner was wonderful and the company was fantastic.  Becky impressed everyone by having a conversation in Kiswahili with our waiter (you go Becky!) and we toasted the future “Dr Faustin” as I had just completed reviewing his doctoral dissertation as an external examiner (a positive review, I might add). Fortunée had a camera and was not afraid to use it!  As a result, we have pictures!  Here you go everyone!  I think you can tell that we had a blast! :-)









Alas, Friday came too quickly and, as much as I tried, Becky wouldn’t agree to stay longer.  She kept saying stuff about having to get back to her students or some such nonsense… *grin* – anyway, Eddie and I took her to the airport on Friday afternoon and said goodbye.  So, there you have it, dear readers: my week with my dear friend!  Hope you enjoyed it!

Chapter 18: Kibuye & Lake Kivu!!

posted Apr 18, 2010, 6:44 AM by Diana Perdue   [ updated Apr 18, 2010, 7:22 AM ]

So this weekend (Apr 10 – 11) we loaded up Lucky Too and headed west along the road that heads to the border (with the DRC that is) to travel to the lakeside town of Kibuye.  WOW!  Can I just say, I LOVE Lake Kivu


The drive was fun, filled with amazing views, and the road was pretty good.  It took about 2.5 hrs to get there.  Originally, we were going to stay at the Bethanie Hotel; however, we took the lake road and went right (when, apparently, we should have gone left) and ended up on the “other side” at Holiday Hotel.  A very nice guy (didn’t get his name) pointed across the water when we asked where Bethanie was, and then proceeded to ask us why we didn’t stay there.  After looking around, we couldn’t think of a good reason; so, that’s where we stayed:  in separate little “huts” right on the water.  Here’s a picture of our lodging:


Each hut consisted of basically two rooms: a bedroom and a bathroom.   The truly wonderful and convenient thing was that the bathroom was configured in such a way that you could sit on the toilet and brush your teeth… LOL!  Nope, I’m not kidding!  Hotels are not cheap here in Rwanda, and this is especially the case when you’re right on the water.  Our huts were about $80 each but that did include breakfast (more about that in a bit).  However, THIS was the view I woke up to on Sunday morning: (priceless)




But let me go back to Saturday afternoon when we arrived.  After registering and paying for our rooms, we basically sat by the water and watched this tremendous storm roll in.  I took a video of it so you don’t have to visualize.  The link on YouTube is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agA99XfCmTQ


We contacted the front desk and arranged for a boat to take us across the lake to Hotel Bethanie for dinner (we decided the restaurant at Holiday wasn’t quite up to the task).  Although the boat was a little rickety, it was a fabulous ride:  smooth water at dusk, temperature cooled from the just-passed storm, and breath-taking views in every direction.  Our boat driver was Andrew and was very nice.  Dinner was, uh, interesting.  :-)  Let’s just say, especially at the Bethanie, you need patience if you’re planning to have a meal there.  The Brandt guidebook says this about another restaurant in Kibuye, but it applies to the Bethanie as well:  “… but be warned that the service is on the slow side, and nobody seems overly concerned about serving the meal you actually order.” (pg. 163). True… so true! LOL!


{Side note:  the Brandt website had this link to more pictures of Rwanda – since I can only include so many in my blog, here’s more for those of you who aren’t getting your “fix”! http://www.flickr.com/photos/duplisea/sets/72157612455673814/show/}


So, we ordered drinks and, approximately 20 minutes later some arrived.  Then we attempted to order dinner though it was challenging since (a) the menu was all in French (b) the waitress only spoke French and Kinyarwanda (c) my iPod touch app with basic French phrases did not include a major section on food items (which is what was required).  Anyway, I order an intriguing item titled “sizzling beef”, attempted to ascertain what vegetables might occur with said beef and was unsuccessful and gave up, deciding instead to just tempt fate and wait to see what would arrive.  Some hour or so later, when faint with hunger and half-drunk from the Primus (as they did not have Coke Light or Coke Zero – Rwandan versions of Diet Coke), food arrived!  My dinner was fabulous!  It was a fajita-like dish in that it was served on a cast-iron, cow-shaped platter, sizzling like mad (as advertised), and included hunks of beef, peppers, onions, lentils, and possibly other items I couldn’t identify in the dim outside lighting.  Whatever it was, it was delicious!  The beef was a tad chewy, but it’s amazing how much one can overlook when one is hungry!


Now if it was just the boat ride and the food, perhaps the meal would be classified as a “good” experience; however, when one factors in the views, then it’s gotta get a “spectacular” rating.  First, we had the lake… at sunset.  But, in addition, we had the volcano!  Yes, folks, I had dinner in Africa and watched a volcano, um, glowing?  :-)  Unfortunately, it was a bit too dark (and my zoom a bit too inadequate) for a volcano picture.  I did get some of the sunset though… enjoy!


I don’t claim to be a volcanologist (nor ‘vulcanologist’ as I’d originally typed! LOL!  Apparently, I’m missing my Trek here in Rwanda!  “Live long and prosper!”) but it seems that I was viewing the smoldering (currently erupting but not violently) Nyamulagira volcano which neighbors the Nyiragongo volcano in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  That volcano (<-- pictures at this link) erupted quite violently in January 2002:  click here to read all the details.   Click here to read more about the volcano I got to see “glowing” in the distance during dinner.


Not only are the volcanoes amazing and the town of Kibuye interesting (and has quite a history both as a beach / resort town and in relation to the genocide), but also the lake itself is fascinating.  For one thing, it’s one of the deepest in the world (ranked 15th) at over a quarter-mile (1,500 feet) and for another it’s one of only three “exploding lakes” in the world (due, it seems to the large deposits of methane gas that lie just under the water).   Although there is significant risk to try to harvest this gas, it seems the potential energy has made it worth it.  Here’s an article discussing the recent plan for Lake Kivu as an energy source.


A ride back across the river in the dark (thank goodness I was prepared w/ my mini flashlight when we arrived at the makeshift dock) and a night sleeping soundly with all windows open to the breezes and sound of the water lapping the shore was how Saturday ended.  Sunday morning, as already mentioned, brought amazing just-washed views of the lake and countryside and I got up, thrilled to be in such a beautiful place on such a glorious day.  Then, I went into my teeny, tiny bathroom and turned on the water for a shower.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the water pressure rivaled that of the U.S. and was not, as seems typical to this point, gravity-powered.  Then I turned the lever to the “red” side to get some warm water into the mix.  That’s when nothing came out at all.  Being an expert now on Rwandan water, shower fixtures, and hot water tanks, I first look to see if the hot water tank is plugged into the electrical outlet.  It was.  Then, being a tad grumpy, I decide that I must seek outside assistance b/c the tank itself was nowhere to be seen.  So, I throw on some clothes and head out in search of both breakfast and someone to assist with hot water. 


Ah, breakfast.  So, for those of you who know me well (or even at all), you know I’m really not a morning person.  You also know that the only thing, in my opinion, that makes a day worth starting before noon is coffee – lots of it and with both milk and sugar.  This is especially true if I’ve not had a shower.  So, we arrive at the “restaurant” (I do use the term loosely. It’s a collection of tables with chairs and the food, what there is of it, arrives from somewhere far, far away.) and I order coffee (with milk and sugar).  I am happy, despite being unshowered, because there is this amazing view of the lake, the morning is bright and sunny, and a whole day of adventure lies ahead.  Plus, I am eagerly expecting a big pot of the wonderful Rwandan coffee I’m now so addicted to.  After 18 years, 9 months, 5 days, 1 hour, and 45 minutes, the waiter comes back with two stainless steel thermoses, a giant bowl of sugar, and a pitcher with hot milk.  Smiling, I start pouring the “coffee” (yes, it’s in quotes for a reason):  the first thing I notice is that it’s the same color as the milk; the next thing I notice is that there is only a “hint” of coffee flavor… nothing close to the robust jolt I’m used to from Café de Maraba (my favorite Rwandan brand of coffee).  Oh, no, this won’t do.  This won’t do at all!   I flag over the waiter and request “more coffee” (thinking, errantly, that they had just put in too much milk and that was the cause for the diluted-so-as-to-be-pointless result).  He looks confused at the request (again with the lack of French phrases on my part… damn the American educational system with its blatant disregard for bilingual importance!) but dutifully leaves.  At this point, I admit it, I am a bit, shall we say, testy.  After awhile, our waiter comes back and happily puts a little metal container (sort of like a sugar bowl with a hinged lid) in front of me along with a small spoon.  Now it’s my turn to look confused.   I lift the lid and see, to my horror, Nescafe instant coffee!!! * insert collective gasp from the audience here *  Yes, folks, in a country where the coffee is amazing, outstanding, groans-of-pleasure inducing the locals prefer the instant crap from the US!  Isn’t that crazy??  I try to make the best of it – add some more instant crap, mix in some more sugar, add a little milk – but it’s just no use.  I give up an order a cold Cola Coca to go with my ham omelet (which, by the way, was excellent) and the freshly baked bread that accompanied it.  In addition, perhaps seeing my depressed state after the coffee fiasco, the waiter also brought out this interesting spread for the bread.  It was a vanilla / chocolate swirled concoction of sweetness and deliciousness that almost, just almost, made me want to forgive them for having instant coffee. 


During breakfast we discuss the plans for the day.  Andrew, the boat guy, had told us about other things we might want to do on the return trip to the hotel the night before.  One of the things he mentioned was a ride to Napoleon Island (named because it looks like Napoleon’s hat) to see the “millions of birds” and take pictures.  He also said that, for the same fee (about $65) we could make a stop at Amahoro Island (amahoro is Kinyarwandan for “peace”) where we could perhaps see monkeys and have lunch.  All of those things sounded wonderful so we called him (we got his cell number the day before) and made arrangements that he’d come pick us up at 10 am.  In the meantime, I’d gone in search of someone to discuss hot water.  None of my hand gestures, mimicking showering motions, or spoken requests seemed to register with the guy I found so, in the end, I took him to my room, turned on the cold water (made him feel it), then turned the lever to the hot side to demonstrate it going away.  He promptly turned it back the other way and water happened again.  After a bit more demonstrating, he figured out I wanted hot water and lead me out back of the hut where he simply turned the knob located at the bottom of the water tank. *sigh*  Anyway, the good news was I had a lovely hot shower (and, possibly, have truly become and expert and will just know, in the future, to walk around whatever building I’m in and begin randomly turning knobs).  ha ha! 


At 10 o’clock we’re waiting by the dock and Andrew appears in his boat.



The ride to Napoleon Island is about 40 minutes of pure bliss.  Here’s a little taste of what I saw via pictures.



And, to give you the full picture, here’s a short video of the ride that I posted to YouTube:



We arrive at Napoleon Island and disembark to begin the short trek to see the “birds”.  I keep asking what type of birds these are but Andrew doesn’t seem to know.  On the way, though, he tells us that there are 5 million of them on this island (and that they don’t occur, at least not in these numbers, on any of the other islands).  I find this fascinating.   Once we arrive at the particular spot on the trail though, I understand.  The “birds” that Andrew have been telling us about are, in actuality, fruit bats!  And there are, indeed, millions of them!  Once again, I give you visuals:






To get the real sense of how many bats there were though, you need to see them in action.  Here you go: (link to YouTube video)



The bats were the main attraction on that particular island but it was also interesting for another couple of reasons.  First, Andrew informed us that several of the islands on the lake were used for grazing purposes (as in, for cattle).  When I inquired how the cows got to the island he told me they swam!  Apparently, its sort of like the wild horses at Chincoteague where the cowboys herd all the cattle into the lake then swim them over to the island.  They stay for several weeks, and then swim to the next.  I desperately wanted “action shots”, however, all I saw was two cowboys sleeping under a tree and cows grazing happily on the island.  (I figure you’ve all seen cows so I didn’t include pic’s here… however, if you’re dying to see them, just drop me an email and I’ll post them later.)  The second interesting, though much more sobering, item was a personal tale related by Andrew.  He told us that, during the genocide, while he and his family were trying to escape to the Congo, they stayed a night or two on Napoleon Island (in fact, that’s when he first saw the bats, though he mentioned they were not as plentiful then as they are now).  I get the impression that there are many such stories from this area (Kibuye was a Tutsi stronghold and the site of mass murder during the war) and, perhaps, the lake itself was a major means of escape to nearby Congo.  That may also be the reason that the name of the little island located approximately halfway from Rwanda to the Congo is Amahoro (Peace). 


The little oasis that is Amahoro Island was just fantastic.  It seemed like a little slice of heaven right in the middle of the lake.  There were tables & chairs, a small café, hammocks, swings, a small area to swim, and a mini marina for boats.  Here is a picture of the view from where we had lunch along with one of Eddie enjoying the swing:



Lunch was another example of the need for patience, but, honestly, between the views of the lake and the lively game of beach volleyball that was going on right by our table, I didn’t mind the long wait for the food.  The meal was a simple one of sambaza (a little fried fish dish… sort of like the fish-version of popcorn shrimp) and the ever-present fries but it was great b/c that type of little minnow is one of the main catches on Lake Kivu (along with tilapia) so it was unbelievably fresh.  I’m not much of a fish person but I could get used to those… especially served with a cold Primus!  (The Primus brewery, by the way, is also located on Lake Kivu.  It’s one of the businesses interested in the methane energy idea.)  During lunch I watched the lively beach volleyball game and learned that one of the star players happened to be Andrew’s brother, Jackson.  (I know, right, Andrew and Jackson!  I jokingly asked if he had other brothers like  Thomas and Jefferson but he didn’t get the joke.  In fact, it was when I asked about other siblings that I learned that some of his family (perhaps two other brothers) were killed during the genocide.  He told me it was just he and his brother and one sister left.)  Anyway, I learn that Jackson is pretty much the star of the family as he was on the Rwandan Olympic Team!  Yep, folks, while here in Africa I’ve officially met a local hero.  Jackson’s very sweet and was extremely obliging when I asked for pictures.  So, here you go everyone:  some pictures of me and the Olympic swimmer from Rwanda (one of only two Olympians from the whole country)!




Isn’t he just a sweetheart??  :-)


A few more pictures just so you can get a “feel” of the whole lake thing. 




The return trip was a tad more exciting (waves and all).  Here’s the link:



There you have it everyone!  My fantastic weekend at the lake!  After we got back from the boat ride on Sunday we drove back to Kigali.  Believe me when I tell you, I hated to say goodbye and have high hopes I’ll get to return before I go back to the U.S.

Chapter 17: Visit from Home and Reflections on Genocide Memorial Week

posted Apr 12, 2010, 9:38 AM by Diana Perdue   [ updated Apr 12, 2010, 9:55 AM ]

Hello my dear readers!  First, let me apologize for “slacking off” (as some of you have put it) on my blogging duties lately.  I have an excuse, however:  Toni came to visit me!  :-)

Toni in Kigali:

For those of you who know her, you realize what a big deal this is as she swore she’d never go to Africa.  As she puts it, “I can’t understand you white people’s obsession with the Dark Continent.”  Ha ha!  Anyway, she finally gave in and made the 16 hr flight, endured the 6 hr time difference, and came to see me!  We had a lovely visit (she was here about two weeks).  The first night we stayed in my “cell” (as I lovingly refer to my room in the guesthouse at KIST) and it was all good ‘til morning when Toni wanted to take a shower.  Having read my blog, she knew the drill so turned on the water and waited.  After 20 minutes it was still cold so she made an executive decision to take a shower anyway (it was already hot in the cell).  She gets in and soaps up.  Precisely then the water slows to a trickle (measured as 4 drops per minute) and stops altogether.  She just looked at the showerhead and laughed.  I said, “Want to go to Eddie’s tonight?” and, expectantly, she answered in the affirmative.  So, the rest of the time, thanks to Eddie’s hospitality once again, we stayed in Paradise (as I’ve now named Eddie’s house).   I might mention that, initially, Eddie wasn’t at her house (she had a week-long training in Frankfurt then took 2 weeks vacation to spend in both Germany and Romania, her next post); however, Teresa was.  Now those of you who checked out my earlier links (and who are friends on FB), already know about Teresa, but for the rest of you:  she’s a retired English teacher who now travels all over (she lives in FL) doing media “stuff” (workshops, training, etc.).  She was in Kigali with IREX for 3 weeks doing that and Eddie had offered her house during that time.  (She and Eddie knew each other from Eddie’s last post in Honduras.)  Anyway, the three of us had a blast in Paradise (and, to continue the theme, we went to Heaven as well…)! :-)


Here’s a picture that Teresa took of Toni and I at New Cactus:  (amazingly, now that the rainy season has officially started, it’s gotten quite cool at night, hence the jackets)

Here’s a picture that I took of Teresa showing off her fancy doggie bag of leftovers:


During the time Toni was here we went to see Shutter Island at Heaven (w/ Teresa)… very strange movie!  To add to the excitement, there was a tremendous rainstorm in the middle of the movie so all the Heaven staff were scrambling to bring the tables and chairs under the roof (it’s an open-air type restaurant).  Once again, they brought blankets for everyone as the temperature dropped significantly during the storm.  We also went shopping at Caplaki (an acronym for Cooperative Des Artistes Plasticien Des Kigali) which is an artists cooperative that has about 35 little stalls filled to the brim with wonderful stuff to buy.  I can’t mention right now everything that we purchased because many of them are gifts, but suffice it to say, much like when I went shopping in Swaziland, the sellers now know me by sight and are quite pleased to see me! Ha ha!  Not to brag, but I also feel my bargaining skills are improving… while I was in the midst of a rather intense “negotiation” Toni informed me that the episode was being watched intently by a couple of young women from the US who told her, “wow, she’s good… can she come shopping with us?” :-) (That said, I still spent a small fortune but it was fun!)


We also took a trip outside of Kigali.  We originally wanted to go to Kibuye, on Lake Kivu, however, we got a rather late start that morning so we only made it a bit past Gitarama instead.  It was a lovely trip and we saw lots of interesting things despite the rather rainy weather we had the whole day (this was Palm Sunday, by the way).  One of those things was an amazing scene of “market day”:  these pictures don’t really do it justice, but they’re all I was able to get (by stopping in the middle of the road and shooting out the window, I might add!).  Note how everyone is very aware that they are being photographed in the second shot; it didn’t take long for them to notice three umuzungu in a car!



The scenery on the drive was just indescribable:  the best I can do is to show a few pictures.







April is the memorial month for the genocide that occurred in Rwanda 16 years ago and the week of April 5th is the specific memorial week during which there is no school, many businesses are closed, and various services and commemorations are held.  As you know from my previous chapters, I’ve visited the Genocide Memorial Museum in Kigali already and was very moved by the experience.  This link (http://www.museum.gov.rw/2_museums/kigali/kigali_memorial/pages/page_intro.htm) has a virtual tour of the museum if you want to experience a little of what I did.  Inside, one of the most beautiful and haunting images was that of the stained glass titled “Descent into Genocide”: http://www.museum.gov.rw/2_museums/kigali/kigali_memorial/images/images/DSC02710.jpg


It has been rather sobering to be here in the country during this time.  It’s especially difficult because, now that I’ve been here awhile, I’ve met many people and all of them have stories about “the war” (as Rwandan’s refer to the genocide).  I’ve met a woman who had to hide in the woods for months not knowing whether her husband was dead or alive (happy ending, he was alive and they were reunited after it was all over).  I’ve met a man who lost everyone (wife and three children, both parents).  I’ve met young people who lost brothers and sisters, parents, aunts and uncles.  It’s just more than one can bear if you think about it too much; however, thinking about it / reflecting on it is exactly the theme of this month.  There are events throughout the whole month, but especially during the memorial week.  What follows are some examples of what is happening, what is being reported in the news, and other information regarding how Rwanda is still dealing with the aftermath of this tragedy.   The first example is a series of movies that are being shown at the Serena Hotel – I realize you guys can’t come to the hotel and see them, but many of these movies are available to rent so for those of you who want to know more, here are some ideas.  The second example is the stories from the Rwanda News Agency (RNA) for April 7th that focus on the genocide, the memorial week / month, or Rwanda’s current President, Paul Kagame.


Example 1







 Through eyewitness accounts and gripping footage, acclaimed director Eric Kabera takes the viewer on an emotional journey into the 1994 Rwandan genocide, its survivors, and the memorials created in the victims' honor. The film focuses on the personal accounts of men and women who watch over the sacred burial sites keeping the memories alive for future generations.

Produced By Eric Kabera 54Mins


(b) 100 DAYS

 Two Rwandan teenage lovers from Tutsi families have their hopes and dreams destroyed as rage and violence pours across the country during the genocide of 1994, with Rwandan turning against his Rwandan neighbor. 100 DAYS is a docudrama that succeeds in revealing the horror of the atrocities committed by Hutu militia against the Tutsi tribe and moderate Hutu by focusing on the story of two young lovers.

Produced By Eric Kabera 96Mins



This movie focuses on life in five key locations where these atrocities were perpetrated-an ore mine, sugarcane field, fishing lake, a cattle slaughter house and farms where life continues over grounds stained by violence and brutality.



We are all Rwandans recounts the heroism of the students in Nyange who refused to split up according to their ethnic group; as a result, they were all killed.

By Debs Paterson-Gardner in collaboration with the Rwanda Cinema Centre

Produced By Ayuub Kasasa 25Mins



 Une Lettre D'Amour" was a film which impressed many with its timeliness and the importance of its message. Set in the present, it follows the burgeoning love affair between Marta, 21, a Tutsi who lost her family during the genocide, and Rukundo, 27, a Hutu with family members serving jail sentences for participating in the genocide.



The movie follows the hallowing struggle for survival of a Tutsi woman during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Much to his credit, first-time writer director Philippe van  Leeuw has imagined the un imaginable in stark an brutal terms, delivering what amounts to an artful slasher film with Rwandan pop singer Ruth Nirere in an astonishingly physical turn as a house maid hiding in the jungle and barely eluding her Hutu attackers. Directed by Philippe van Leeuw. 98min


Example 2


Links and Stories:


Tiny Little Side Note: 

One other blog I’ve discovered (I don’t know this person, but he has interesting information and good pictures of Rwanda / Kigali, and, he knows Shirley… my friend from KIE previously mentioned in my blog): http://www.edwardguthmann.com/?page_id=533 

Next blog is going to be all about Lake Kivu!  I made it there this past weekend and it was AMAZING!  Stay tuned! :-)

Chapter 16: Rwandan Life (food, clothes, & cleanliness)

posted Mar 25, 2010, 2:35 AM by Diana Perdue

Some of you have asked questions about the food (what I eat, what the locals eat, etc.), the clothes (what my students wear), and other related life questions (like about cleanliness).  So, in this chapter, I’m going to try to answer those questions and give some more descriptions / observations.  Plus, just for an extra-added bonus, I’m going to throw in some random observations & comments.  Hope you enjoy!


I have been to several places to eat in Kigali including Heaven, New Cactus, Stella’s, Papyrus, Karibu, Aroma’s, Banana Leaf Café, Space Joint, along with restaurants in hotels like Leico and Serena.  Of these, probably only Karibu, Stella’s, and Space Joint qualify as local establishments; the rest cater to the ex pat set.  The food varies widely.  At the local places, the food is almost always an African buffet.  Adrienne has described the food very well (and in a lot of detail) on her blog, so I’ll just summarize here:  French fries, rice, beans, plantains, cassava, some type of meat (in a stew-like dish), some type of sauce (usually tomato-based), and (for an extra charge) fish.  You can take as much as you want of everything except the meat (and that is portioned out very sparingly) and it costs around 1,000 Rfw (about $2).  Most locals eat only one meal a day so it’s not unusual to see people (usually men) with plates piled very high.  At the non-buffet places, I’ve had some amazing food (and, often, at pretty extravagant prices – tonight’s meal, for example, was about $27).  Dishes I’ve had:

  • At Heaven:  Heaven burger on homemade bun with Rwandan gouda cheese & grilled onions (with fries, of course)
  • At New Cactus:  breaded chicken scallopini (almost schnitzel-like) with amazing sautéed potations & onions
  • At Serena:  spaghetti Bolognese
  • At Banana Leaf Café:  goat kabobs with all the fixin’s
  • At Heaven (tonight, actually):  ginger beef with potato croquettes and broccoli
  • At Papyrus:  stuffed ravioli (though they are famous for their brick-oven pizza)

Most of the time, your choices from the menu are meat and potato type dishes, though there are a variety of veggies including carrots (in lots of things, including the Bolognese sauce), green beans, potatoes (always), onions, green peppers, cauliflower, eggplant, and various types of squash (zucchini, etc.) – the last three are not on my all-time fav’s so I tend to just get the fries if that’s my option.


Clothing is a very interesting subject, and a surprising one.  When you consider that most people here (even in the capital city) have no running water and electricity that’s “iffy” at best (and very expensive) if at all, then it’s even more shocking when you notice the clothing.  It’s always spotlessly clean (which I cannot understand given all the red dirt) and pressed.  I mean, I have access to Eddie’s western washer and dryer and I still only manage to stay clean for 5 minutes once I venture outside… never fails, I step in some puddle or rub against something and, wham, red dirt stain!  Yet I see these people who manage to have perfectly white shirts on (at the end of the day no less) and there’s nary a spot on them!  How do they do that I ask you??  No one looks like a slouch or a bum here (unless they’re from the US).  Now that’s not to say that these people are spending lots of money on their clothes; they’re not.  When you look closely, you’ll see a tattered hem, a worn place, a ragged sleeve, etc. because there is just no such thing as getting tired of your clothes and selling or donating them (like we do in the US) or, even, getting rid of something b/c it no longer fits (my students, for example, just tighten their belt more and wear the pants anyway).  People wear their clothes until they disintegrate.  However, despite the signs of wear and tear, everyone here always looks their best – always! 


Here’s a fun picture I took of one of the KIST students… do you notice his backpack?  Yes, that’s Obama’s face smiling at you! :-)


For the men, you will see pressed trousers and dress shoes along with an oxford-type shirt (often long-sleeved which, again, I cannot comprehend given the 85-degree weather and the 100% humidity), a tie, and a suit jacket.  For the women it will vary between western-type dress (like a pantsuit) and a more traditional African outfit (which, usually, consists of a long skirt or dress made out of a very colorful African-print waxed cotton material that you can buy by the meter at the market then have made into tailored outfits for really great prices) complete with the headscarf (unless, of course, she’s carrying something on her head, which happens quite often) and even high heels!  Again, when you consider that most roads are not paved and have holes you can lose a limb in, the existence of heels just astounds me!  Of course, you will also see that same outfit with sandals or even flip-flops as well.  Somehow they pull it off though and still manage to look dressy.  The kids who attend school are all in look-alike uniforms; the one’s who aren’t are in typical outfits (pants and shirts, shorts and shirts, or skirts and shirts) but are often barefoot.  What’s hysterical to me is that, on days when I am actually melting due to heat and humidity, I see people here in sweaters, wool scarves, down jackets, and hoodies!  I mean, come on, the LOW is like 65 degrees F!  It reminds me of Florida (you know, when people get out the fleece because the temp drops below 70).  Ha ha!


Here’s a picture of a typical woman carrying stuff on her head and dressed in a fairly common outfit:


I mentioned that the African print fabric is easily obtained and fairly inexpensive.  I’ve actually had two outfits made so far (pants and shirt) – for the pants I used solid-color material (who knows what fabric, some kind of cotton blend I think) and for the shirts I used African print.  Total cost (for all material and paying the tailor, Maman Fillette) for both outfits was around $80.  Can’t beat that for tailored clothes! Here’s a picture of Maman Fillette and one of my shirts:



Cleanliness is another interesting subject.  As already mentioned, the clothing is always spotless and pressed; however, personal cleanliness is another matter entirely.  That’s not to say people here look dirty; they don’t.  However, you do definitely notice the body odor, especially in crowded areas (like a huge classroom with 250 students and few windows).  Having had my own personal experiences with water and showers and trying to be clean here, though, I completely understand – there were many days that sort of “rinsing off” had to do (despite spending the whole day sweating like a pig).  Even the days when I got a shower (with warm water even), it’s not the same as at home.  For one thing, although, for example at the guesthouse at KIST, there are 10 bathrooms and a kitchen, as well as several outside faucets, there is only enough water pressure to let ONE run at a time.  This means that your shower is gravity-powered at best (you know, the kind where, if it weren’t for gravity, you wouldn’t get wet?) – in other words, you have to actually scrub and work to get clean not just rely on the power-wash system like we can do at home.  Here’s my typical morning routine at my cell:  (just to give you an idea) – oh, and if this is too much “sharing” just let me know and I’ll avoid this level of detail in the future!  One more note:  routine is significantly different if staying at Eddie’s!


  • Wake up at approximately 4:15 am because of the call to prayer chanting (over megaphones and loudspeakers no less) heard from the two nearby mosques (the guesthouse is between two so we often hear the chanting tag-team or even in tandem).  Try, unsuccessfully, to go back to sleep.  Listen to the cleaning ladies wash the concrete floors inside and outside the guesthouse – this starts around 5:30 or so (interesting collection of sounds from sloshing:  pouring the water from the bucket onto the concrete to a rhythmic slapping / dragging:  from the towel thrown over the end of a long-handled squeegee type thing).  Finally give up about 6am and climb out of the mosquito net and start the day.
  • Happily make coffee and get milk for said coffee (yes, I purchased both a coffeemaker and a mini-fridge for just this purpose) and have my “usual” breakfast of pineapple yogurt (really good, but crazy-expensive compared to home… about $2.50 each), a few mini-bananas (this morning, mine came from Eddie’s own banana tree!), and one of these cool waffle-things that Frulep (one of my favorite grocery stores) sells.  They look like a mini waffle but are packed like a Pop Tart (though not as fancy) and are a bit sweeter.  Oh, and the coffee is fantastic – Rwandan coffee rivals Juan Valdez and his Colombian stuff anytime!
  • Turn on Channel 1 (as that’s the only channel there is) and listen to the news in Kinyarwanda, French, and, finally, English.  Simultaneously with b-fast and TV, go into bathroom and turn on the hot water and wait patiently.
  • After about 10-15 minutes, go check the water and see if it’s getting warm yet.  If lucky and water is warm, get into bathtub and try to fit 5’7” body under the hand-held showerhead that’s fastened to the wall for a person 4’ tall.  (Yes, I can unfasten it and do after the initial rinsing.)
  • Get wet and lather up body, shampoo hair.  Grab shower and, holding showerhead parallel to floor to increase effect of gravity, hope for enough pressure to actually move soap off skin.  After approximately 4 minutes, notice water pressure reducing to a trickle, then finally nothing.  (Realize, cursing, that the cleaning ladies are probably filling a bucket outside at this precise moment in time.)  Stand, slightly wet and very soapy, for about 5 to 7 minutes and hope, watching showerhead expectantly for something to come out of it. 
  • Sing “hallelujah” (or similar) when water starts up again.  Finish rinsing and turn off water.  Get out, dry off, and dress for the day!  Realize, about 1 minute into dressing process that sweat is already happening due to level of humidity. 


Well, there you have it folks: my opinions / observations on food, clothes, & cleanliness.  Let me know if there’s more you want to know!   In closing, I’ll just mention a few more “miscellaneous” things that I find interesting or amusing:


  • While riding around with Banner (the taxi guy), I observed that there are no mailboxes:  not in front of houses and not in front of businesses; none anywhere.  I asked Banner about this, specifically how they get notifications (for example, from the government about when to pay their taxes or bills from companies).  He told me that yes, you could get mail (via the postal service), but only if you have a post office box and go there and get it (no delivery happens here like at home) – I got the impression from how he explained this that it never happens and that none of the locals have a box at the post office.  Otherwise, you receive everything via text message!  I got a little taste of this myself when I received a text from 123 (Immigration) telling me that my visa was going to be delayed until I came and paid the 40,000 Rfr fee (about $80) and submitted the receipt.  Banner also told me that, for some companies and services, for example, water, that they will come to your house and deliver the bill.  Then, it’s up to you to get to wherever and pay it (in person and in cash).  No one mails payments anywhere and no one uses checks or credit cards.  Everything, EVERY thing, is done in cash!
  • This brings up another interesting thing: the money itself.  In Rwanda francs the highest denomination bill is 5,000.  Now, that seems like a big bill to us in the US I know since we really don’t have one bigger than 100 (at least not that’s in regular circulation).  However, consider if you had to pay for your car or house in cash and the highest bill was $100!  Well, that’s sort of like what happens here.  The highest bill is 5,000 Rfr (or about $10).  So, for example, when I cash a $500 check at the Embassy (since their exchange rate is the best in town), I walk out with about 285,000 Rfr!  (Yeah, that’s a stack of about 57 bills!)  Hard to fit that into a money clip, let me tell you!  I’ve found a solution though… big blue rubber band from a bunch of asparagus (yep, I brought it from home – was using it to corral some of my electronic cables but have since made it into my Rfw money holder).  I find myself humming “I wanna be rich” from Calloway quite a lot here… that or “money, money, money, money…money!” (you know, from The Apprentice).  Hee hee!
  • From the dinner conversation at Stella’s, I also noticed that Rwandans have interesting ways of saying things.  For example, both Vedaste and Faustin were commenting that they had to stay out later that evening because both of their wives were also out.  We (T and I) asked what they meant.  They explained that it was “very bad” if the husband came home before the wife.  It was bad because the wives weren’t there, at home, waiting to ‘receive’ the husbands and they would have to be there by themselves.  They went on to explain that the husbands are sad if they get home first and must wait until their wives come home and the ‘set is complete’. 
  • One link I forgot from Chapter 14 was to Becky’s blog – she’s a good friend of mine who’s currently serving as a Peace Corp volunteer in Kenya.  We’re hoping to meet up in Africa in April!  Here’s her blog: http://lilnel.blogspot.com/

Chapter 15: My Weekend

posted Mar 22, 2010, 3:11 PM by Diana Perdue   [ updated Mar 23, 2010, 12:51 AM ]

Those of you who are my friends on Facebook already know that my colleague (Faustin) and my department head (Vedaste) from KIE were planning to take me “out for fun” this past Friday night.  Let me share a bit of the backstory on how this trip came to be.  First, I’ll mention that, at the departmental “shindig” that I was invited to several weeks ago, it was a running joke between me, Kathy (the other Fulbrighter at KIE, she’s in English but was an “honorary” math person for the evening), and Faustin that Vedaste and his colleagues (at the table next to ours) was going to win the prize for drinking. At one point, I counted thirty-two beer bottles present on their table – did I mention that there were three people at the table?  It was Vedaste and two other faculty members in the department, both Russians.  Vedaste was in Russia for 13 yrs and speaks fluently (as well as, obviously, being able to hold his alcohol!).   He’s a very fun guy who loves to laugh – here’s a pic of him “in the street” as we waited for F to park the car:

Last week I’d mentioned to Faustin (who, by the way, does not drink nearly like Vedaste but is still a very fun guy), that we needed to go out and have fun, especially since my new position at KIST has meant I’ve not gotten to spend as much time with them as I’d like.  He agreed and said he would “organize” it and let me know.  So, at the beginning of this week I got this text message from him (by the way, texting is a way of life here in Rwanda as it’s cheaper than a call), “4 d fun of Friday, r us allowed to go anywhere.  we are proposing to go out of kigali (60km).”  Now, if that’s not an interesting and enticing text, I don’t know what is! LOL!  Needless to say, I wrote back and said that, sure, I was allowed and let’s go.  They were both very mysterious and refused to give me any details.  I asked if there was room for one more and, when they answered in the affirmative, I invited Teresa along to join in the adventure.  The plan was that Faustin and Vedaste would pick us up at Eddie’s house (as that is where Teresa is staying now – in “my” room, I might add! :-) ha ha!) at 4:45 pm – originally, they wanted to leave at 4 but Teresa had to work and wouldn’t be back that early. 


Anyway, so T and I are at Eddie’s and it’s 4:45.  I send a text; no response.  It’s 5:15 and I call F’s number; I get the French woman (as I refer to her:  it’s the recording you get when someone has “switched off” their phone – as I don’t speak French, I’m not sure exactly what she’s saying but, in essence, it’s probably along the lines of “the person you are dialing is not available…” or some such).  I send a text to V at 5:45; no response.  T and I start making “plan B” plans as it looks like the night is a bust.  Then, when we’d just about given up hope, I get a text from V at 6:02pm that reads, “we are coming now”.  A few minutes later, they are outside the gate to pick us up.  Introductions are made and we all set off.  On the way, they explain that they had originally thought they’d be free after 4pm but, at the last minute, there was a meeting at KIE from some group from Japan discussing the merits of lesson study.  So, they had both just gotten off work when they texted us.  Then they reveal that, had we been able to leave earlier as planned, they’d wanted to take us “toward Burundi” about an hour to go “to the lake” where we could have “had a nice dinner and drink while watching the lake”.  Needless to say, I was depressed at the missed opportunity but we made plans to try it again another weekend.  Their plan B was to take us to a local restaurant / bar called “Stella’s VIP” in Remera (same part of town where KIE is). 


What we (T and I) didn’t know was that it was also graduation weekend and the town was crazy!  People, cars, motorcycles, etc. were everywhere and it was chaos when we got to the part of town where Stella’s was – here’s a shot of what it was like trying to find a place to park:

The place was nice (though dark – they really don’t believe in lighting here…) and we had a traditional, though fancy, meal of fried chicken (but not like KFC, more like grilled over really hot coals so it’s crispy), salad (which was a collection of raw onions), and “frits” (aka French fries).  Teresa describes the chicken and the “ambience” of the place on her blog so I won’t repeat here (her link was the second one listed in my last chapter).  Here’s a pic she took of our group: (ya like my new shirt?  *smile*)

The dinner conversation was fabulous – T wanted to know about two things: first, the non-wordle but verbal (yeah, I made that term up, you know for sounds in a language that aren’t words but are yet verbal?  Kind of like when some one “mmmm hmmm”’s you as you ask them if they’re paying attention?) language that Rwandans use, especially when they’re on the phone; and second, how to swear in Kinyarwanda.  LOL.  Yep, I like her a lot!  Anyway, it was fantastic…. I can’t possibly do it justice and I wasn’t smart enough to video it all but let’s just say that (1) we all laughed so much it hurt (2) T and I feel like now we can hold our own in telephone non-wordles with the locals (3) T and I learned some great hand gestures to go with these sounds and (4) we both now feel we could express our displeasure quite emphatically in Kinyarwanda.  * cackle *


So, that was Friday night.  Saturday, as you know from my previous blog entry, I spent pretty much the whole day just trying to upload my commute video to YouTube.  Sad, but true – between figuring out where my camera saves video files (talk about folders within folders!) and how to convert it to something that iMovie likes and how to make it smaller than the original size of 875 MB (yeah, that involved buying software off the web so 3 hrs and $35 later I could accomplish it), and uploading it to YouTube (the original size told me it would take approximately 26 hrs to upload; the reduced size took 3), it took the whole day to accomplish this one task.  Despite the effort, I think it was worth it.  I appreciate all of you who’ve commented on it!   Just in case you missed it, here’s the link again: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_8y1CUNteQ.


Finally this brings me to Sunday. The plan was that the Wootters (see the first link for Adrienne’s blog from my last chapter) and Teresa would join me in the trip to Akagera Game Park.  Since I was the only one of the four who’d been before, I got to play “tour guide” as well as chauffeur.  We packed the cooler and a picnic lunch and set off in “Lucky Too” (as we’ve now named Eddie’s car) at the crack of dawn (well, at least it felt that way to me).  The drive was uneventful for me; however, my passengers did seem a tad nervous at a few points – possibly related to passing other vehicles or something, I’m just not sure.  *grin* Once we got to the park, we were fortunate enough to get Christopher as our guide and set off in search of wildlife.  It was a bit of a slow start as we didn’t see much of anything for a while; however, that definitely changed before our day was done!  It was awesome!!  Christopher was amazing and found all the animals.  Here’s an “action shot” of him scoping out where we’ll go next:


Here is our group with Lake Ihema behind us (Teresa, me, Adrienne, & Bill), and a picture of the fantastic view (aren’t those clouds just grand?):



 During this trip, I got to see animals that I didn’t see before:  topi (a cool two-tone antelope-type critter), vervet monkeys, warthogs, and a monitor lizard (having an “Animal Face Off” moment w/ a bird no less)!  Here are some pic’s to give you the basic idea. 


Topi – note the cool markings in the ears.     


Vervet monkeys – note the blue balls… :-)   


Warthogs – Christopher kept saying, “Hakuna Matata” when he saw them! ha ha!         



Monitor lizard –  with very angry bird.     



But that’s not even all!  I got to see the baboons at the watering hole, like this guy:     



and in trees:

I learned why you should never leave the doors or windows open in your car: (don’t worry Eddie!) *smile*


I saw some of the dangerous side of local flora:

 and I saw more weaver bird nests (including an inside view) – isn’t that amazing?  It’s like wall-to-wall carpeting in there!    



I saw these amazing geese and fish eagles and more giraffes and zebras!    



Did I say before that these are Masai giraffe?



I also got a few more pictures of “life”. Here is one of the local fishermen who live / work by Lake Ihema in a “cooperative” (that, by the way, is only men – none of their wives come to live with them).  In the door on the left (by the yellow water can) you can see the smoke from the fire where he is grilling the day’s catch (tilapia).  You can also see the radio on his lap.  Radio is THE means of communication here in Rwanda – read more about radio stations on Teresa’s blog.


On the way out of Akagera, I took this picture of village life:


The little girl in pink in the lower left of the picture (with her brother) was so cute and just posed for me.  Note the wash hanging out to dry and the small black shapes you see below that are the family’s goats.  The structure you see (made out of handmade bricks of the red dirt) is both house and stable as everyone lives there. 


Finally, on the way home we saw this (picture taken through the windshield at close to dark so sorry for the quality):

Just in case you can’t quite make out what’s happening here, let me ‘splain.  We are behind a big truck filled with long-horn cattle.  If you find the white marked cow in the center of the truck and move your eye slightly to the right and up you will see a guy who’s having the roughest ride ever… (yep, it made my passengers much more appreciative as they realized they could have it much worse than being at my mercy in Lucky Too!)  LOL!  Well, everyone, I hope you enjoyed the second trip to the park as much as I did and had fun reading about my weekend.  Next time I will write and answer some questions you’ve asked about food, clothes, and cleanliness. :-) 

P.S. Thank's to all of you who have made such glowing compliments about my photographs.  If any of you "know someone" at National Geographic, please pass on my name and some of my work as I'd love a new career! :-)

Chapter 14: Video of My Commute and Some Links

posted Mar 20, 2010, 3:48 AM by Diana Perdue

So, yesterday (March 19th), I had the urge to video my drive from KIST to Eddie’s house.  I’ve spent the day uploading it to YouTube and now, finally, it’s ready to be seen!  Here it is everyone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_8y1CUNteQ.  Enjoy!  (Note:  just finished uploading it at about 1pm my time so, if you are very quick to try this link, it might still be “processing”… just give it a few minutes and try again.)


Also, here are some links to other blogs and interesting sites:

Chapter 13: Akagera Game Park (Giraffes and Dik-Dik’s and Hippos, oh my!)

posted Mar 15, 2010, 2:34 AM by Diana Perdue   [ updated Mar 15, 2010, 3:05 AM ]

Last weekend I went on my first venture outside the capital:  to Akagera National Forest.  The area is named for the Akagera River that runs along Rwanda’s eastern boundary.  What made it even more exciting was that I got to drive!  Eddie and I were in her vehicle (a Hyundai Tucson with the aforementioned diplomatic plates) and Barbara and Amy were in “Lucky” (Barbara’s monster jeep-ish vehicle).  We followed them on the roughly two-hour drive from Kigali to Akagera.  As you already know from the lodging chapters, Eddie is the PAO (Public Affairs Officer) for the Embassy.  Barbara is the CMO (Chief Medical Officer) for the Embassy in Rwanda and Amy is the CMO for the Embassy in neighboring Uganda.  Barbara is a wonderful cook and prepared a gourmet picnic lunch for all of us and both she and Amy seem to be birding experts as they seemed to know every bird we saw in the park (and we saw lots!).  Here’s just one:

It’s some kind of crested crane (ask Barbara or Amy and they can tell you the real name! LOL!)


The drive was fairly easy, with most of it on good paved road.  From Kigali we headed northeast and were, when we were in the park, as close as we could get to Tanzania without actually crossing the border.  In fact, here’s a picture from our picnic spot. 

This is the view from our shelter (where we had lunch) and across the lake (this is Lake Ihema) is Tanzania.  Lake Ihema, by the way, was named because of the tents from Henry Stanley and his expedition (“ihema” is tent in Kinyarwanda).  So, yeah, it’s basically ‘Lake Tent’! Ha ha!  Here’s the gang (well, except for me as I was taking the picture), from left to right is Barbara, Amy, and Eddie:


The last several miles were on a dirt road that lead through typical country villages.  It was wild.  I felt like I was in a parade!  Everyone (especially children) came running and waved and smiled.  It was really nice to feel that adored from complete strangers!  Obviously, seeing cars was a treat and, probably, seeing “muzungu” (foreigners, especially white) was a bigger treat.  Here’s a picture of a fairly well to do home in one of the villages:


Once we got through the village, here was the grand entrance to the park: (that’s Lucky ahead on the road)


And here is a shot of Christopher, our very knowledgeable guide: (being contemplative at the campfire which was burning at the picnic site when we got there)


When you arrive at the park you first go to the office and sign in and pay the fee (around $30).  The admission price includes your tour guide who rides with you (in your own vehicle).  We all got into Lucky for this and Barbara drove throughout the park; I had shotgun.  [Next weekend, however, I’m going back and this time I’m driving through the park!  *big grin*]  It was amazing!!  We saw so many wonderful animals and it was just so different seeing them in the wild rather than in a zoo. 


I’ll give you the summary in pictures:  we saw giraffes, zebras, cape buffalos, impala, baboons, and hippos, among others.  Enjoy!















Having two medical officers in the car with you can be a bit disconcerting.  At one point Barbara was quizzing Christopher about the Tsetse Fly (you know, the one that causes African Sleeping Sickness, among other things).  She knew about how, for it to bite a human, it has to prepare the place on the skin by using a saw-like apparatus to create the incision point but she wasn’t sure what they looked like (or if they were in that area).  Christopher, always helpful, actually catches one that flew into Lucky (as it was hot we had all the windows down) and I, always ready, got the action shot.  Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the critter to look out for:


That sort of red thing sticking up at the top is the “saw”, I think.  Interestingly, Christopher didn’t kill it; instead, he pulled the wings off of it and threw it out the window.  He told us that the wings would grow back in a few weeks.  This is SO much better than the Discovery Channel! :-)


Oh, speaking of the Discovery Channel (or Animal Planet or similar), I almost forgot one of the coolest things and I saw it within moments of being within the park.  There is this tree right by the park office that has all these Weaver Birds crazily working on their nests.  This bird is so cool.  Get this ladies, the MALE weaver bird is the one working like a dog, er, bird, to build the nest.  It’s this huge pimp-my-nest kind of competition in which the female birds decide upon their mate by checking out who built the best crib.  Here’s a shot of the guy I’d pick if I were a female weaver bird. 

He was amazing!  In mid-air they weave these grasses into this gourd-shaped nest.  Some had fallen to the ground and we inspected the weaving job.  It was so tightly done that I believe the inside would actually be watertight.  They were also so LOUD while they worked!  I guess it was stuff like, “man, this woman better appreciate this nest” and “my nest looks better than yours” and “dude, you got some grass I can borrow?”  hee hee!


Last but not least I’ll mention that the park also has a very nice hotel / resort on the premises.  We (Eddie & I) went there for a coke before we drove back; Barbara and Amy went on ahead.  This place rocked!  First of all, you can’t beat the views.  Second, it was very modern and nice.  Third, there was a troupe of baboons right in the parking lot on the way in!  Here’s a view of part of the resort as the big storm was rolling in:


This was taken from the veranda outside the restaurant where we had our drinks.  I had Coca Cola Zero and Eddie had coffee.  We also had “chips” (aka French fries).  Did I mention that Rwandans have chips at every meal, no matter what you order?  Yep, French fries with your omelet, French fries with your pasta, French fries with your goat kabobs (had those at New Cactus restaurant the other night, excellent!), etc.  Anyway, if you love your fries, come to Rwanda!


Well, dear readers, that’s a wrap for now.  I will mention that yes, we were caught in that storm you see coming over the lake in the picture above.  It was fun driving those miles back on that dirt road!  Luckily, Eddie has “people” (aka her gardener) who washed the car after we got back!  Oh, and one final comment regarding this blog’s title.  The Dik-Dik is a type of antelope, like the Impala, but way smaller.  I think I saw some in the park (they are very small, like dog-size) but it was hard to see in the tall grasses and I didn’t get a picture because they are very skittish.  Anyway, I just finished reading, “Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik” (very good read, by the way) and just wanted to have it in my title as well! ;-)  Not sure what I’m going to write about next… requests?

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