Thursday, March 28, 2013

Easy Living in Beautiful Rwanda

Write what you see, because what history needs is more first person testimony
– William Safire.

I recently came across this quote while reading a book and have drawn some inspiration from it.  Many people have asked me if after my 18-month adventure through Africa if I will be writing a book.  I am still unconvinced what I am doing is book-worthy, and even less convinced I have the skills to pull it off.  Yes, I do a lot of writing for this blog, but it’s really just a public journal of my observations and ramblings on Africa, done over a few beers and not even proof-read before posting.  I try to format it in a way that it tells a story by the photos alone for those who don’t want to read everything I write, and I certainly understand that.  I enjoy doing it; mostly for myself and for my friends and family, but also because I know I am creating a record of a place and a time.  Especially of a time and a place where change is becoming more rapid and more dramatic.  Yes, it is only one person’s point of view and experience, but as William Safire states, it is beneficial as a historical record.  While I don’t expect academics to be scrambling to my blog for information, I like the idea that it is there and open to use if needed.  With that said, if anyone has questions or comments for me, don’t hesitate to ask, and if anyone is interested in photographic records, I have saved over 17,500 photos so far that I am happy to share!

I’ve been in Rwanda for 20 days now.  When you simply say the word ‘Rwanda’ and what comes to most peoples mind is the 1994 genocide.  To be honest it was the same with me; it’s a tiny country in east Africa and has no connection to me or my life back in America other than hearing a bit about the horrible things that happened 19 years ago.  Like Burundi, I showed up with no idea of what I’d see or do.  And also like Burundi, I’ve been surprised and amazed by the beauty of the country, especially the western side along Lake Kivu, and would rank it as one of the most scenic places I’ve been in all of Africa. 

One of the things most people comment on when arriving in Rwanda and especially in Kigali is how clean and organized it is in comparison to other nations in Africa.  I’ve had the same impression and wrote about it in my last post as a result of simply driving from the border into the capital.  The more walk around, the more I talk to locals and the more I talk to expats here however, the more I begin to see beyond the façade.  The impression I get now is of a nation undergoing a massive transformation and rebound, one that seems more positive than others but at the same time one that basically a one party state with dictator-like control and propped up in large part by foreign funding.  I keep hearing that people are afraid to speak out, and human rights groups say the 2003 and 2010 elections were "marked by increasing political repression and a crackdown on free speech".  I need to be honest and say I haven’t had the time to delve too deeply into the countries politics to say much on the subject, but it is something that has come up a number of times in conversation and something I don’t want to ignore (and must look further into when I get a chance).  I love Africa, I wouldn't be here if I didn’t, but damn the place can make you cynical easily and I’m trying to keep from becoming cynical.  To be skeptical is a good thing, to look at the world critically and to demand proof when a claim is made.  It should be a trait of people worldwide, but the line between skepticism and cynicism can be a fine one and some places can easily push you to the wrong side. 

Anyways, I just had to get that out of the way, let’s talk about what I’m doing out here instead.

(blogger is doing weird things with text sizes right now, it won't let me fix it, sorry about that...)

As always, much of my time traveling is spent wandering through cities and towns to get a feel for life on the street level.  I walked out of St Johns and headed off to explore the city and to eventually find my way to the Kigali Genocide Memorial.  The city is full of moto taxies, and it seemed every 30 seconds one would stop and try to pick me up.  It clearly confused them that a white person would choose to walk somewhere, and they became even more confused when I told them I didn't even know where I was going.  I found something to eat at an Indian run grocery store and resumed my exploration.

Public parks and green spaces are an extreme rarity in Africa, which of course is a major contrast to my hometown of Seattle.  I’ve touched on this before, and I can still picture the parks I came across in Tanga, Tanzania and Bujumbura, Burundi perfectly, because they were such a novelty to me.  This is Green Square Park, a new and still under construction park near the genocide memorial, and I had a quick walk through its lawns and hedges.  It isn’t too interesting in itself, and I was the only person inside the gates, but it did make me happy to see land set aside for public green space.  It may have been empty on this day, but as the city continues to grow and nature loses over in favor of the rapid and dramatic urbanization currently happening in the city, I am sure people will come to appreciate these kinds of spaces more and more.

Just up the hill from the park is the Kigali Genocide Memorial.  The museum itself is extremely well done and was set up by a German organization.  Entrance is free (donations appreciated) but audio tours are exorbitantly expensive ($15 or $20 if I remember correctly).  It walks you through the colonial history of the nation, the resulting Hutu/Tutsi split, the run-up to genocide, the experience and the aftermath.  There are rooms with video testimonials, the clothing of children who were killed, rooms filled with bones of victims and this room of photographs, given by families of those killed. 

Upstairs there is another exhibit showing a history of various genocides around the world, some smaller, some larger, some older and most frighteningly some more recent.  It is a powerful museum that should not be missed if you are passing through Kigali.

Outside of the building there are gardens and mass graves.  Among these concrete tombs in the heart of the city lay the remains of a quarter million victims of the genocide.

After a somber afternoon at the museum, I returned to the coffee shop to use their wifi and ran into a Dutch and Australian couple who were also travelers.  They had gotten a recommendation for somewhere to eat dinner, a Muslim neighborhood in a different part of town. 

After agreeing to the 500 franc fare, I hopped on and was treated to the wildest and most dangerous transport I have ever experienced, and that’s saying something.  Driving full speed between rows of cars stuck in traffic with just inches on each side, blasting down the wrong lane of traffic towards oncoming trucks and slamming on the brakes and screeching to a halt with only inches to spare were par for the course, and of course this is all at night, by headlight.  Once we reached our destination, the driver had a huge satisfied grin on his face and I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t as well.

Forget the dollar menu at McDonald's; this is what a dollar gets you in Rwanda when you go to the local spots. 

We spent a while looking for a place to eat, hoping for some awesome and authentic Arab food being the Muslim neighborhood, but as is typical in Africa there are only about three options.  Here it was chapatti, fries and omelettes, so finding a place with something different (rice and noodles, salad!) took some effort.  The food was good enough however and after going to a local bar nearby (and once again probably being the only foreigners to step food there in ages) we rode back to St Paul's and called it a night.

I wasn’t able to get internet access towards the end of my time in Burundi so I hadn’t been able to set up a CouchSurfing host in Kigali until my third night in town.  I ended connecting with and staying with Ilyana, who grew up in Moscow, lived with a Mormon family in Utah for a year and now lives here in Rwanda and works as an administrator for a property development company.  She happened to be hosting two other surfers at the time but with her nice 4-bedroom house had space and a private room for everyone.  We had dinner (cooked by her live-in cook/cleaner/guard, a common feature in expat homes) together, traded stories and went to bed.

Ilyana was at work, (Work? What’s that?) so I amused myself in the house for a while, ate lunch, also prepared for me, and set off for a long walk around what was clearly a very new and very affluent part of the city. 

Many of the buildings were embassies (I walked past Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Canada, Congo, etc), the headquarters of NGOs, ‘charities’, or hotels, but some many were private homes that would look extravagant even in rich neighborhoods of America. 

From where I was walking, there was literally no end in sight to the orgy of luxury construction taking place all around me.  It was truly stunning to see this kind of development and growth in a nation so recently ravaged by war, but while in part of my mind it gave me a lot of hope for the future of the country, the other side of me could only think about the housing and development bubble and subsequent crash in the United States.  I’m no economist, but I will be shocked if Rwanda can keep this up, especially when as evidenced by the signs all around me (and I mean that literally, every other sign along the road here is indicating which country is paying for what), so much of the money is coming from foreign aid, development and charity.  What happens when these countries back off on the spending?  Time will tell. 

After two and a half hours of walking, I reached Amahoro Stadium, the city’s largest football stadium.  Nearby were a few sports bars, the police barracks and to my surprise a ‘motor vehicle inspection center.’  Given the appalling (but understandable) conditions of some of the vehicles on the roads across Africa, a place like that caught my eye. 

Besides Ilyana, I’d sent out requests to a handful of other CouchSurf hosts in the city (the shotgun method; sent out a few requests, hope one or two respond) and while Ilyana was the first to respond and thus the one I stayed with, Yves did responded a little while later as well.  We met up for dinner near the stadium and over beers and goat meat talked about Rwanda.  Yves is studying tourism and after I joked he was on CS to do field research on white people we had a great evening and he was happy to answer all my stupid questions.

Moto home.

I had another lazy morning and after lunch set out on another of my meandering walks through the city.  This time I headed in a different direction, and wound up in a massive woodworking area.  It is a combination lumber yard and factory, in the heart of the city; with I don’t know how many different covered stalls, building chairs, tables, cabinets, beds, doors, anything from wood, you name it.  I wound up spending a few minutes talking to a man named Paul, who like the rest of the men around first asked what I needed built.  When I told him what I was doing, he seemed to have a difficult time understanding why someone would travel just for the sake of travel.  I think I eventually gave up trying to explain abstract concepts, and finally just said I was a writer and photographer.  Neither of which is really true. 

As I wandered farther afield, I finally found a stretch of what in Africa I am much more familiar with: dirt roads, plain houses, charcoal cooked food and kids playing in the dirt.  And unlike much of Kigali, which seems to have white foreigners crawling all over it, I was such a novelty here that a few kids ran up to touch my skin.  So yah, not all of Kigali is modern, not yet at least.

While on my walk I’d arranged to have dinner with a friend of someone I met way back in Bujumbura and after a few hours of walking I was ready to sit down with a beer, do some people watching, read my book and wait until it was time for my next ‘appointment.’  The young man serving my beer turned out to be a pretty friendly guy and I put down my book to talk with him for a while.  Turns out his name is Erik, he recently finished secondary school and he is studying computers.  Talking with him the one thing that I kept seeing and hearing in him was his optimism.  He obviously was going to have some trouble paying for school in the upcoming terms, but he repeatedly showed an optimism and a long term view of the future and it’s opportunities that was not only echoed by other Rwandans I’ve spoken to, but a positive attitude I actually haven’t found in any other African country so far.  Very interesting.

Through someone I met way back in Bujumbura, I got connected with Kathryn out here in Kigali.  I met Kathryn (left) at her house around 7pm and driving through a classic torrential African rain storm and going in circles trying to find the place, we arrived at Urban, one of Kigalis newest high end hotel/restaurants.  As we arrived at the rooftop restaurant, the design flaws, classic bad construction in African (more on this soon…), were obvious: the heavy rain on the bare tin roof was as loud as a rock concert and you had to shout to make yourself heard over the tremendous noise.  Far worse than that however was the fact the roof leaked like a damn sieve, and not only were we dodging puddles and falling water getting to the table itself, I think we had to check three tables before we found one that was dry and not under a shower heads worth of water coming through the poorly constructed roof.

Dinner itself was nice and actually more reasonably priced than I expected.  I have to admit I felt a little out of place being a longhair without a house or job, surrounded by a surgeon, a highly placed admin, and PhD students, but we had an enjoyable and equitable conversation and it was certainly interesting to hear stories of working in Congo after raids by rebel groups and hearing a bit about the internal politics of international aid groups.

The next day I met Ilyana for lunch where she works, the Kigali City Tower.  KCT is I guess you could say the city’s premier building; and dominates the 3-building skyline of the city’s downtown/business district.  It houses the Rwanda Stock Exchange, a few banks and other large business interests in the country. 

Ilyana and I went to a new restaurant that had just opened that day in the buildings food court, and not only was the food dry and bland, the power went out half way into our lunch (it was raining, power in Africa frequently goes out during rains…. ) because (I’m told) the property owner is too cheap actually provide diesel for the backup generator.  Again, this is the cities premier building and it houses the countries stock exchange….

After lunch and after the power returned, Ilyana gave me a quick tour of the still unfinished movie theater that is above the food court.  When it opens, it will be the first in the country.  I found this a little surprising since Gaborone is almost an equally new city and has multiple theaters by now, but anyways.  If I was new to Africa I would have been shocked by the poor construction, but I am not new to Africa and I’ve seen this kind of shoddy construction in literally every country I’ve encountered.  The multi-plex hadn’t even opened yet, but the hand railings were loose and falling apart, tiles were falling off, I saw cracks in the walls, the screens in the theaters were tearing and more.  But at least the popcorn machine and hot dog warmer were there already.  Seriously. 

In every country I see this, whether it be roads, homes, office buildings, government offices or shopping malls, I hear one word: Chinese, Chinese, Chinese.  Everyone, locals and expats alike, are complaining about the Chinese.  In Zambia the locals call the Chinese ‘bottom feeders,’ in Tanzania they complain that the Chinese built roads fall apart after two years, and here in Rwanda they complain that their buildings are falling apart before they are even finished.  Personally, I don’t want to point fingers, because as they say, it takes two to tango.  Africa, and specifically ‘new money’ Africa, seems to want thing to be big and flashy, but wants this as cheaply as possible.  The problem here is you have to sacrifice quality.  When a company or government is taking bids for a big fancy looking building (it’s so modern looking!) they seem to go with the lowest bid possible, rather than the one that will do quality work, assuming those companies put in a bid in the first place.  The result is inevitable and I’ve seen it again and again.  At the same time, I’ve seen buildings constructed during the colonial era between say, 1910 and 1960, that are used to this day and still holding up despite decades of neglect.  I am sure if people out here wanted to pay for quality, from Chinese firms or from any other nation, they could find it, but it seems like it’s just not happening and I’m sure that people will see and feel the repercussions of this mistake very soon….

After lunch I headed off to the Rwanda Development Board, which houses the tourism office, to find out more information about doing a hike in the Volcanoes National Park and about other outings in the countries other national parks as well.  They have some nice free maps, so that alone is worth the visit, haha.  The result was basically me deciding not to see any of the national parks in the country due to the prices.  I know I’ve done a few expensive things earlier in my trip, such as the 5 day safari of Ol Doinyo Lengai Volcano, Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater which set me back a few hundred bucks, but a year later I’m on a budget.  At the RDB I got the latest price list so let me go over a few items.  If  you want to do a ‘nature walk’ of 0-5km in Nyungwe National park, it costs $40.  If you want to see the chimps, it’s $90, if you want to set up a tent, it is $20 IF you have paid for one of the other tourist activities; otherwise it is $50. To camp, in your own tent.  If you want to see the gorillas in Volcanoes National park, the price is an astronomical $750!!  If you want to do the overnight hike up the Karisimbi, it is $400.  I wanted to climb one of the volcanoes on the Rwanda/Congo border, but even Bisoke costs $75, and this is without transport from the town of Musanze, which can cost another $80 I am told.  So now we are talking $155 for a day hike, and I don’t think I am being cheap and unreasonable when I say that is way too much money.  I even picked up a newspaper (do this when you travel by the way, you can learn a huge amount about a country by reading just one or two editions of the daily paper) that had an article about the tourism industry complaining about the government imposed jump from $500 to $750 for gorilla tracking in Rwanda (hot tip: it is still “only” $500 in Uganda, go there instead of Rwanda, but if you can get into Congo it is only $150 or something…). 

Giving up on the national parks in Rwanda, I walked to the nearby Parliament building just down the road.  I know it was a little bold of me, but I strolled right up to the main gate and asked the AK-47 wielding security guard if I could get inside and have a tour.  Rather quickly, I had three or four guys around me asking what I was doing, why I wanted to see the building and eventually telling me I had to send a letter to the Office-Of-Whatever making a formal request, in order get inside the fence and see the building.  Oh well, I tried. 

When I mentioned that I had been there to another person, I was asked if I’d seen the bullet and rocket scars on the parliament building.  I said yes, I was met with the comment that the government only left that in place to guilt-trip foreign governments into giving Rwanda more aid money, after all, it would only take a few dollars of mortar and paint to fix.  Clearly I’m not the only person dealing with Africa-Induced- Cynicism. 

Feeling like it was time to get out of Kigali; I set off for the bus station the next morning and bought a ticket to Hyue (previously known as Butare) for the following day.  I found a cheap and fairly fast internet café and spent the rest of the morning online.

Another scene of the less developed side of Kigali.

Having seen the Sudan embassy on one of my earlier walks, I set off to inquire about getting a visa for the country.  It was one of the massive, fancy looking new buildings I spoke of earlier, but I wasn’t at all surprised when I went inside and it was nearly empty.  There was a desk with a receptionist, and a waiting room with a few chairs and a coffee table, but no papers laying on the desk, the walls were totally bare other than the typical photo of the president, and the whole place felt rather soulless.   It gave the impression they had either spent all their money on rent and couldn’t afford to furnish the place and really move in, or that they were going to leave any minute and didn’t want to waste an effort in personalizing the place.  After a short wait I was able to speak with someone and she assured me it would be no problem getting a visa, and one that would let me enter by land as well, but being a one-month visa that is activated when it is issued, I should get it in Ethiopia just before entering Sudan.  I hope she is right, but I will only know for sure when I have it in my hand.

That evening I had another CouchSurf host to meet up with for dinner.  This time it was William, a local artist working at Ivuka Art Studio and he wanted to show me where he works and right away I was impressed.  I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but visual art is not something I’ve seen much of during my time in Africa, so to see a studio and gallery like this really stood out to me.  There was a huge amount of work from various local artists and a few pieces I really liked.

William told me a bit about the organization and I spoke with a few of the other artists about their work.  Just before we left the studio, William said he wanted to give me something, and took one of his paintings on canvass off the frame, rolled it up and handed it to me.  I was rather surprised at his gift, but of course I accepted it and will send it home in my next package.  From the studio we took motos into the center of town where we had dinner and a beer while watching the announcement of the new pope on TV and said goodbye.

In the morning I jumped on the bus south to Huye.  I didn’t really know what I was going to do there, but that’s normal.

The roads were good and the scenery was pretty nice as well.  Here you can see some rice paddies in the flat ground, a rarity in this country.

Huye used to be the colonial capital, and today it is home to the national university, the ethnographic museum and the Butare Cathedral.  The cathedral was built by the Belgian colonial administration and finished in 1937; it is the largest in the country. 

The inside, with three large and identical seating areas.

After I went to the market and bought some fruit, I heard the sound of drums and followed them.  What I found was local dance troupe practicing traditional dancing, so I stuck around and watched for a few minutes.  That night I ate bread, avocado, bananas and pineapple for dinner, watched a movie on my laptop and went to sleep.

I didn’t want to hang around Huye, so in the morning I caught a bus to Rusizi/Kamembe, a town on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo and at the south end of Lake Kivu.  The above photo is what nearly all of Rwanda looks like; endless hills, small homes and nearly every piece of land under cultivation.

As the bus headed further west we crossed into Nyungwe National Park.  The rural agriculture gave way to thick and lush forests and for some reason the road became substantially worse…

After about three and a half hours the bus reached Rusizi and I found myself a hotel.  Like most towns around here, Rusizi consists of one paved main road that is the center of life and various houses all over the place, some on dirt roads, others only accessible by foot path.  The location of the town itself is beautiful though, looking over Lake Kivu and DRC right next door.

Carrying meat to the market.

As I was walking around town I met two Americans, Zach and Kris, the first I’d seen in quite a while, and we got lunch together.  After eating, I set off towards the lake trying to find the port and ask about getting a boat to Kibuye.  Not knowing the best way to go, I stopped to ask a man how to get down to the water, he said he would take me there; and that is how I met Innocent (right).  Innocent is currently finishing school and is the pastor of a church in the area. 

Following Innocent down the steep dirt paths between homes, through the trees and towards the port one of the first things I noticed about him was that he is probably the fastest walking African I’ve ever met.  Most people out here take a relaxed pace when getting around, and in Africa it seems no one is ever in a hurry to do anything, but Innocent is different, he walks very quickly and with a purpose.  I did my best to keep up. 

We reached the port and it started to rain, so we ducked into a local restaurant for a soda and he explained some of the African music videos on the TV to me.  When the rain stopped he spoke to a man about the boat and was told it leaves for Kibuye on Tuesday, at about 7am and costs 4,500 francs.  It all sounded good to me, so I planned on taking the boat Tuesday.

After we finished at the port Innocent asked me if I wanted to see the border crossing to the DRC, I said yes and we set off.  As we were walking I looked across the lake at a small peninsula that is on the Congo side and saw a collection of giant mansions.  The country may be in ruin and one of Africa’s biggest failures (and one of colonialism biggest failures as well) but the place is rich in minerals and these are the small handful of people who are reaping the immense profits.  It is a little bit difficult to see in the photo, but most of these ‘homes’ are three and even four stories tall, this is serious money. 

Here is the crossing between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  At the very southern end of Lake Kivu, the Rusizi River makes the border and flows all the way south to Lake Tanganyika.  As soon as I heard this, my first thought was a kayak trip from the north end of Lake Kivu, down the lake, through the river and all the way down Tanganyika… a trip for another time though.  The blue bridge you see there is actually a brand new one, funded by the European Union and currently under construction, though it looks almost complete.  I read the signs for just about every piece of infrastructure I pass, and it still surprises me when I see something actually paid for by the African nations themselves…The current bridge is a rather shoddy looking thing guarded by a few soldiers standing around, and sees a lot of foot and vehicle traffic.

The area around the border is a hive of activity.  Goods from Congo, even simple things like bananas and cassava come to the Rwanda side by the truck load to be sold in markets, but I guess that is what happens when a country as small as Rwanda has nearly 12 million people, you have to import a lot of food.  I noticed some of the women were carrying their heavy loads on their backs, with a strap on their forehead.  It surprised me because I hadn’t seen people carrying things this way in Africa yet and Innocent told me that these were all women from DRC and that was how they carry things in the country.  We took a quick walk around, Innocent stopped to say hello to many people (he seemed to know everyone in the market) and then took motos back up the hill to town where he introduced me to his wife and we parted ways.

It was Friday night and while lying in bed reading I heard a band start up at the bar attached to the hotel.  I was feeling a bit lazy and anti-social for some reason, but I hadn’t seen any live music for a while and it sounded pretty good so I went to check it out.  It was a kind of African jazz/funk thing going on, and was quite good, so I sat down and watched for a little while before turning in for the night.

When I met Kris and Zach earlier, they told me they were staying at a lodge called New Hope and that it was 4000 francs.  Cheaper the place I’d found, I decided to move up the hill to stay there instead.  They are part of a team of about 25 people involved in a 3 year long health study here in Rwanda, the longest ‘deployment’ I’ve ever heard of and they are researchers.  The project is basically to visit towns and villages all across Rwanda and take a baseline of health outcomes, then come back at the end of the three years and take a new measurement in order to determine what kinds of health programs are actually working.  It is a very interesting study for sure, and it will certainly take them many interesting places in the country that few if any other foreigners ever visit.  They are based in Kigali, but the whole team moves around the country while collecting data, so they have to move the office with them.  After chatting with Kris for a while, I spent the rest of the day writing and visiting the internet café.

Rusizi at night from the balcony of New Hope. 

It was Sunday and Innocent had invited me to visit his church where he is the pastor, so I met him in town and we walked about 45 minutes into the surrounding villages.  As we walked, we passed probably six different churches and mosques that were already holding services, and their songs filled the air. 

After walking down a long series of dirt paths and into an increasingly poor and rural area, we arrived at the church, still under construction.  Right now it is only the frame and the roof, but when they have enough money they will build the floor and walls.  I was introduced to a few people, Innocent put on the proper attire for an Anglican pastor and the service began with singing. 

I was told to sit up front, next to Innocent, and he translated the Kinyarwanda into English for me as he went.  Once the opening songs had been sung, I made a short introduction speech, said a few things about myself and what I am doing in Africa and thanked them all for their warm welcome to their church.  After Innocent translated my words into Kinyarwanda, everyone clapped and smiled and thanked me for coming as well.  He read from the prayer book, talked about God’s plan for everyone, and then it was time to sing again.

Singing and drumming.

It is a fairly new church and the congregation is still very small.  One thing I noticed about the people though was that it was almost only women.  There were a few very young boys playing with homemade toys running around during the service, but there were only two or three men attending.  I asked about this and was told that sometimes there are more, but I didn’t really get a satisfying answer.

Towards the end of the ceremony, the singing really picked up and everyone moved into the middle of the church and began dancing.  As the singing and drumming got louder, people moved faster and faster, wide smiles appeared on everyone’s faces.  I jumped right into the middle of it and started dancing as well.

Once the service ended, I shook more hands, thanked people again for having me and we began walking to Innocents home.  It was a lot of fun, the people were great and it was a truly authentic and unique experience, I’m glad I asked him for directions the other day, otherwise this would have never happened!

Lunch at his home was cooked by one of his sisters, and consisted of rice with boiled down greens on top, with a few bananas to finish the meal.  Cheap, simple and satisfying. 

That evening was one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen.  Instead of the sunset just sort of being colors “other there” on the horizon, it was like the entire sky, the entire world, was bathing in changing colors, like you were inside the color itself.  It was psychedelic.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like it in my life, and I stood in awe watching the town and the lake and the sky from the balcony.

Zach and Kris were also there and were also in awe of what was going on.  All three of us just stood watching and taking photos (that will never do it justice) with huge smiles on our faces. 

They needed a break from their long an exhausting work days, so we decided to go out for dinner and drinks on what turned out to be St Paddys day.  The other day when I’d been down at the Congo border with Innocent I’d noticed a bar down there, right on the Rusizi River, with the Congo literally a stone’s throw away.  I suggested we go there and they were very enthusiastic about the idea.

We hopped on moto taxies and were treated to what was probably the most beautiful ride of my life.  With the colors of the sky reflecting off the wet roads, it only reinforced the feeling that we were inside the color itself, and it sent a chill down my spine.

Reaching the lake and looking at the Congo.

As we were walking to the bar we were informed by someone standing at the gate that there was another white person inside already.  Uhhh, ok?  Locals tend to think that all white people out here know each other and are friends, so it’s not uncommon to be informed that there is another mzungu around.  To be fair, when you are out in a place like this and see another foreigner it is rare, you do tend to go up and say hi and have a little chat, so I guess I can understand why they would think we are all friends.  Four white people at once, that was probably a new record for this bar!

The three of us sat down at one of the tables right on the side of the river, ordered some beers and I went over to introduce myself to this white person.  Amazingly not only was she a white person, she was Irish, and it was St Paddy’s day!  She joined our table by the water, and we all sat down to enjoy the evening.  Turns out she quit her job in finance (if I remember correctly… I blame celebrating St Paddy’s day for my foggy memory) and is out here with an Irish development agency that is giving people cows.  They are now trying to start a dairy and she is working as an admin on the project, so that explains that.  Seems like everyone out here is working but me, haha. 

Monday was a hangover day; I watched movies, read my book and drank water.  

In the afternoon however I did leave my room to go say goodbye to Innocent and thank him for his help and hospitality.  I’ve mentioned this before, but I carry some Seattle post cards to write a little thank you note on and give them out to certain people.  I met Innocent at his wife’s workshop where she makes school uniforms to sell and gave them my little gift.  I pointed out the Space Needle, the stadiums, the Sound, Mt Rainier and so on and he was certainly impressed with my city.  I said goodbye, thanked him again and set off for the internet café.

Waiting moto taxies.

So I’d been told that the boat was leaving Tuesday, but for some reason it left on Monday.  Schedules don’t mean so much in Africa.  Now I’d have to take the bus, which I didn’t want to do, but had no choice now.  I went to the bus station, asked about the bus to Kiguye and was told to be there about 5:45am the next morning.

That night was dinner and a movie back in my room; I’d have to get up early the next morning so I had an easy night.  Through CouchSurfing I’d arranged to stay with a Peace Corps volunteer in his village, so I knew I’d have another interesting few days ahead of me.

Up next will be what turned out to be a long and uncomfortable but stunningly beautiful bus ride, my stay with the Matt in his village, staying with Katarina in Kibuye, a health worker at a small rural health outpost I visited, actually catching the boat this time to get the rest of the way up Lake Kivu, staying in Gisenyi and having stunning views of the very active Mount Nyiragongo volcano and eventually crossing into Uganda. 

That’s it for now folks, until next time!