Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On Holidays

My cousin doesn't believe that I'm actually in Rwanda for work, she keeps saying that I am "on holidays"...she has a point. I can't deny that my time here has been filled with wonderful excursions around the country. And a few weekends ago, we went up to Uganda to visit Queen Elizabeth National Park. We stayed at the amazing Katara Lodge, which is perched on a hill overlooking the vast park below.



We were told to not be surprised if woken up in the middle of the night by banging pots and yelling villagers. The elephants in the park sometimes raid the farms below our hotel for sweet potatoes, so the people have to scare them away! Unfortunately, no pillaging elephants came during our stay, but we were able to sleep underneath the stars by wheeling our bed out to the balcony.


Our safari started early in the morning, with the sun peeking through the hazy sky. We didn't get to see any lions that day, but gazelles, buffaloes, and elephants were everywhere.



The landscape was also beautiful...we passed by a volcano lake that has been turned into salt flats. Occasionally, we would pass by farmers bringing their produce (mainly bananas) to market. There are 4 types of bananas grown in this region; two of them can be eaten, while the other two types are used to make banana beer.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Parties Upon Parties

I don't know what I had expected of living in Rwanda, but I certainly did not anticipate how packed my social life would become! Between dinner parties, birthday or going away parties for the rotating ex-pat community, and work-related parties...it has been amazingly busy and fun.

There have also been several embassy sponsored receptions, including an VIP visit from Ambassador Goosby, the head of all U.S. Government international HIV/AIDS efforts. A colleague and I were tasked with welcoming people at the sign-in table, which we didn't mind because we got free food and drinks...along with the opportunity to hobnob with notable leaders within the public health field.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Gorilla Tracking

Everyone asks if it was worth it to spend $500 for 1 hour with the gorillas...and each time I say, yes! The amazing experience was once in a lifetime, almost indescribable.


We started early in the morning, gathering at the Volcanoes National Park lodge before 7am. There are seven habituated gorilla groups allowed for visitation and we had asked to be given the Sabyinyo group since they were known to be the "easiest" family to reach. They usually hang out on the bottom slopes between Mount Sabyinyo and Mount Gahinga. The group also has the largest silver-back (mature adult male), Guhonda.


After a 30-minute horrendously bumpy ride and a 30-minute walk through farm fields, we arrived at a low stone field that surrounds the base of the volcano mountains. We were unceremoniously thrown over and began our tracking of the gorilla family, which was promised to be about a 3-hour round trip - an hour hike in, an hour to observe the gorillas, and another hour to come back.

Unfortunately, cape buffaloes and elephants were hanging around the mountain this morning and had scared away our Sabyinyo family. It was surprising to hear that buffaloes and elephants (that's right, elephants !!!), live on the mountains, traipsing up and down the steep slopes. After 3 hours of waiting for the trackers to find the gorillas, we learned that instead of hiking through the low-lying bamboo forest we would be CLIMBING up the steep face to the top of the mountain. After a two hour scramble through stinging nettles, dense brush, and slippery mud we made it to the top and found the family resting. We were incredibly close to them since we had to keep a 7 meter distance, though as the gorillas started to move around and  babies began to swing around and play we sometimes got much closer. A black-back (young adult male) actually came up and touched one of our group members...just inches in front of me!


After a few minutes of us observing them under the cool forest canopy, the Sabyinyo family started to move down the mountain in search of food. We followed them down into a valley and then up across another hill in search of thistles, one of their favorite foods.


After 6.5 hours, we arrived back at the starting point...the promise of tracking an easy gorilla group clearly did not come to pass. But despite the arduous journey, each moment with the Sabyinyo group was worth it. Their gentleness, power, and beauty caught all of us by surprise. To see the whole album, go here.

Monday, July 5, 2010


This Kinyarwanda word means, "place where you will receive all the love and care a mother would give," and is given to the orphanage founded by Rosamond Carr, an adventurous American who had lived in Rwanda since 1949. I recently read her memoir, Land of a Thousand Hills - My Life in Rwanda, and was moved by her spirit and compassion for the people she lived with.  On our weekend trip to Lake Kivu, we were able to visit the Imbabazi Orphanage and see her beautiful gardens, ivy-covered home, and final resting place.



Lake Kivu is located on the western front of the country, running along the Congolese border. It's a huge lake and very deep, known for containing high levels of methane gas, released underneath from the nearby volcanic chain. There is a tenuous relationship with the methane, which has recently started to be piped out as a source of fuel and energy...but any slight earthquake or landslide could cause the unstable mix of gas and water to erupt and kill inhabitants of the neighboring region!

Nevertheless, we stayed at a cute little hotel right on the lake and enjoyed beautiful meals while watching fisherman paddle by and listening to the sounds of children playing in the water.