Rwanda: Murakoze

It’s difficult to consider how quickly our trip to Rwanda crept up on us amid the hectic and stressful school life at home. This left the slightly unnerving feeling that I had underprepared for a week rural Africa. Yet, if Rwanda has taught me one thing it is that life doesn’t need to be stressful and mastering the art of ‘just being’ has been added to my to – do list. We can certainly learn from Rwandans in that respect. Fortunately, Justina, the colleague I was lucky enough to live this with, was also quite keen on the Africa approach to life.

Our 2am arrival in Kigali, and Africa, was a confusing one. We had expected our motel host to be there on our arrival. Having not yet become accustomed to ‘Rwanda time’ we decided to get a taxi to the motel instead,  conceding that he had forgotten our arrangement.  When we did arrive at the hostel via a long bumpy dirt track we met by a suprised receptionist who informed us that John was now waiting for us at the airport. We all had a laugh about it in the morning.
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Once the sun had risen we were able to see Kigali in all its glory. I was overwhelmed by my own ignorance: presuming that all of East Africa would be a sandy yellow. Rwanda is somewhat more fortunate that other African nations since it has a bit of a tropical climate where the ground is fertile and the skies regularly open. This creates a very green and abundantly healthy landscape.

Kigali, as a capital city, does not possess all the beauty of other regions within the country. But it offered us a good basis from which to start.
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We began by walking into the centre to obtain permits for our Gorilla trekking at the weekend and instantly regretted forgetting to apply sun cream. We then navigated our own way to the Genocide Museum with a few hic – ups with our bearings on route.
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Attending the Genocide museum was a shocking but essential way to introduce us to Rwanda. The Genocide, like all others, appears beyond human capability and it was hard to comprehend the scale murder in the country only 20 years ago.
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The genocide can be regarded as the last act of Old Rwanda and what we have seen since is the New Rwanda with its growing prosperity under the leadership of Paul Kagame. Rwandan people are not keen to talk about the genocide and are very interested in where Rwanda is going next. There are lots of positive things happening here.
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We walked back to the motel for the evening and took in the sights and sounds of African life which had been alien to us both up until now.

We then got a taste of traditional rwandan food. We made a habit of trying something new wherever we went.
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The next day we were back on the move and headed north to Musanze where we set up base in preparation for out trek to track gorillas the following day.
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It just so happened that the hotel we stayed in was where Diane Fossey stayed during her time in Musanze. The hotel left the room as it was when she was there.
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We attempted the art of ‘just being’ during the afternoon and enjoyed a few Rwandan beers and the football before retiring for our trek early in the morning.
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The next morning we were picked up in a jeep and driven towards the national park where the Gorillas were to be found. As we waited at the foot of the mountain we were greeted by murakoze sounds of African drumming and dancing which instantly lifted out morning blues.
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We were joined by our guide and a Croatian doctor as we began our ascent up the side of the mountain. No mountain gorillas have ever survived in captivity because of their lack of immunity to diseases closer to sea level. For that reason I will only ever be able to see a mountain gorilla in Rwanda, Congo or Uganda. This made it a truly once in a lifetime opportunity.
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Our climb up the mountain soon caused a few puffs as we tried to cope with a combination of altitude and heat.
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During the trek, our guide spotted a small chameleon in the bushes. We all got a chance to hold him as he tried to sus us out with his beady eyes.

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As we entered the greater vegetation up high we were joined by a few trackers who would help us find the family of gorillas we were looking for. The tracker explained how we could locate the Gorillas using poo. The example in the picture was supposidly a day old as it was dry but still maintained it’s original colour.
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We eventually came to a stop beside the area where the Gorillas were thought to be. We were then instructed to leave our sticks behind as some of the older gorillas have memories of poachers armed with spears and we may have provoked them.
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We hacked through some of the dense vegetation before finding our first gorilla: a mother with her new born baby. All 3 of us were completely taken a back by how close we were to a wild gorilla but remained vigilant for any change in her behaviour. Stunning.
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Close by was the rest of her family. Happily resting, grooming and eating. It was spectacular to be so close to them all. I don’t really think I can express it in words so I’ve added a few pictures instead:
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Within the family there were a few good stories. One of them was the presence of Maggie. She was the oldest gorilla in the family which meant she was one of the Gorillas researched by Diane Fossey before she died. This made her extra special.
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We also met the most volatile of the Gorillas: the second silver back. He is not the alpha male and therefore has no women. This makes him moody angry and lonely. We saw all of these emotions in our time with him.
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Finally there was the alpha male, referred to as ‘the president’. He has the biggest back and hands I’ve ever seen. He didn’t like us very much and had his head in his hands most of the time whilst his infant son groomed him.
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We needed to leave before out staying our welcome.

It was then a case of retracing our steps before a shirt trip back by jeep to Musanze.
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We were back by early afternoon but it felt apt to reward ourselves with a beer, the arsenal game and some goat.
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The next morning we woke up ready for another adventure. We were greeted almost immediately after waking up by an enthusiastic gentlemen wearing a tie and a fantastic smile. This was Bernard, our host school’s head teacher.

After a quick breakfast we jumped in the car with Bernard and headed East towards our school in Runaba, Burera district. On the way we passed some amazing sights including the Lake Burera. Bernard was kind enough to stop the car to let us take some pictures.
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Once we arrived in Runaba (following a pit stop for a fanta) we unloaded the car before meeting Christopher and Christophe for a beer in the local village. During this time we discussed a lot of things.

One of my contact lenses fell out during a conversation and it provoked hysteria amongst our Rwandan friends who had never seen such a thing. They stared in wonder at the tiny lense that fell out of my eye and were in awe at Western technology.

Conversation then turned to politics and we were fascinated to find out that the ‘one cow per family’ policy had been administered throughout the country. Every family is entitled to a cow but no one is allowed to sell it. The benefits of this on families is amazing. Everyone seems to adore Paul Kagame as president for what he has done since the genocide.
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We spent the rest of the afternoon taking in our surroundings and familiarising ourselves with the priests that we would be living with for the remainder of the week.

We woke up very early the next morning to attend service at the parish before school. We were surprised to see so many children at the service at 6:30 am. The view from beyond the church was great.
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We were then ready to start work. We were to spend the week working our way up through the school. Bernard initially called a staff meeting in one of the classrooms where Justina and I were required to introduce ourselves before hearing introductions from the rest of the staff.

We then headed to the Primary 1 classes who were having their first ever day at school. What became immediately obvious was the lack of space in the classes to cater for so any children. Some small benches had 8 children sat on them.

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Following our stint with the little ones it was time to introduce ourselves to the children at break time. It was clear that the children were glad of our presence and we found ourselves followed like the pied piper wherever we went.
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Our school had raised money for the Rwandan children and with that money we bought basketballs for the children and paint to renovate their blackboards. We saw an immediate impact of both of these things and the staff were incredibly grateful for our school’s gifts.
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Over the next few days we observed, taught and learnt in the classes around the school. We were both amazed with the amount of English being spoken a day taught but equally amazed with the children’s positive outlook on life.
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Over the course of the week it really dawned on us how much the fortune of our children at home is taken for granted. They have access to countless games and resources, the children at Runaba do not. They have access to running water, the children at Runaba do not. They have books and Internet to research, the children at Runaba do not. We couldn’t help but feel that our children need reminding of this.

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Throughout the week we introduced the children to new experiences. We showed them what bubbles are:
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We showed them baloons:
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They got introduced to soft toys for the first time:
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A child in my class in England even very kindly supplied the children in Rwanda with Loom Bands…which they loved:
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Despite all of this, we had objectives to fill and we worked hard to awknowledge the extent that the school had responded and acted upon previous visits.

We were spending as much time with the priests as we were with the children and over the course of week we became very good friends with them. I even ended up playing in a basketball match with one of them. I established that I am not a good player….which was apparent when school children laughed at my failings.

Every night we ate with the priests and prayed with them. They are given the finest food in the village, which we ate with some guilt. They helped us with our french and added humour to every meal. It has to be said that they like a beer or two too.

It’s hard to put the whole week into a few paragraphs but I’m also aware of my tendency to waffle. For that reason it has to be said that it was a reluctant good bye at the end of the week.with the priests. As part of our ceremony we drank a bottle of whisky. It seemed an apt way to part.
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Before we left Runaba altogether we were to complete our mission by delivering a meeting with the senior teachers of fee school. We sat in a small conference room in the village of Rusumo and drank beer sith our rice whilst exchanging ideas of where to take our partnership next. It was great to be heard and have an opportunity to discuss what we had seen. I think the teachers enjoyed themselves too (especially as hey got to ride us on their motorbikes).

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We had time for one final visit to a maze factory before returning to the priests house for a final rest before our return to Kigali in the morning

All in all I don’t think I can do this week justice without writing a book. For this reason I am hoping that the pictures can do most of the talking.

In essence, the partnership between my school and Runaba should go from Strength to strength because they have as much to offer us as we do to them.

Murakoze Rwanda.

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