Archives for October 2009

The taste of success

So today we learnt that the slogan of our favourite Rwandan beer, Mutzig, is “The Taste of Success” and…..drum roll please…..we finished the basketball court today!!!!!
Yes, after passing thousands of pans of cement down an assembly line of softchoice muzungus and local gashora men (each pan of cement about 30-40 pounds each) we pan by pan filled the entire court! It was a crazy long day starting at 7am and ending when the sun went down. But we had a goal to have it done, and the entire crew wouldn’t give up until we reached it. 
One success is finishing the basketball court, but another success happened in the computer lab today as well. It was the first that that we had kids come into the lab and the teachers starting teaching them how to use the computers. These teachers had never even seen a computer in their lives before last week, and now, after our 1 week with them, they are starting to teach kids. The principal of the school came up to us today and said that he had finished the course schedule for next term….and for the first time ever in Gashora Primary history there is a new class that is being offered next term…..COMPUTER SCIENCE!! So from teaching the teachers, to the teachers now teaching the students, we’ve helped to bridge the digital divide in this small town and hopefull given these kids a leg up for the future.
So talking about success, and the “taste” of it. Today there were a couple moments that defined success for me. The first being when a man from the town came up to us to thank us for what we are doing. He mentioned that he was so impressed that we were “one of them” He said that he appreciated that we were working side by side by them, and were part of their community. We spent over 10hrs in the heat today. Sweating along with them. Singing along with them. Dancing along with them. Getting coverered in cement along with them. Carrying tons and tons of cement with them. Lama one of our local team leaders mentioned that Africa does not need Aid. And what we are doing is “service”. We are working side by side in the same conditions and doing the same work. We are helping the community and not giving them a handout. That is what makes all the difference.
At the end of the day Felciane, one of the local workers turned to me and said “We will never forget you. Please never forget us”. I know that we have had a big impact on their lives, but i don’t think they realize what a big impact they have had on ours.

The Blinding Bush

We learned early on about a very common ‘hedge’ of sorts in Rwanda.  We are told that it is similar to aloe in that if you break the leaf it will spill a milky liquid on you.  This liquid is told to cause blindness if rubbed in your eyes. Yikes!  Therefore, we have taken to calling it the “blinding bush.” You may think this would be very easy to avoid…you’d be wrong though. Unfortunately, our sweaty work days involve a great deal of rubbing our eyes on the inside and outside of our sleeves.  As we bike to and from the worksite each day we ride dangerously close to the B.B.  It is used to line all properties and the edge of the entire road from the hotel to the work sites.  Thankfully, we haven’t had any casualties yet but have noticed that the goats and cows graze heartily on the blinding bush and that clean laundry is often dried upon it.  We have sent a lot of our laundry out though the hotel to be cleaned in town.  It comes back smelling of clean air.  Let’s hope the blinding bush isn’t their method of drying.

Mizungus in the Mist

It is 6:30 at night and we are driving back to Gashora – it is dark and as we drive the people walking along the side of the highway appear out of nowhere. With no street lights driving takes an extra challenge.

We started the morning at 7 am. We had a 15 minute hike up through the villages and farms that led to the Volcano National Park. When we entered the park our guide was joined by several forest rangers with rifles and machetes. One of the guys holding a machete was Simon. It seemed like a good idea to do what Simon said!

Once we entered the park the going got a bit tougher. It was raining quite hard at times and the ground was quite soaked. At times we were almost crawling through the jungle growth. My backpack kept getting caught and the vines were grabbing at my arms. Where were the guys with the machetes?

We hiked for another hour through the park – feet sinking ankle deep in the mud and because we were at 3800 meters elevation the breathing was tougher than normal.

Finally, we reached a small opening where the guides pointed out a large Gorilla dropping. As we made our way through the next few steps we waded hip deep into a field of nettles. I got stung so many times that my legs were on fire! We came around a bush and were 7 meters from a female gorilla! It was amazing to be thinking about getting my camera focused when my brain was shouting ouch as a result of the burning around my knees!

We spent an hour with our family of gorillas. The silverback was named Charles. He was a majestic fellow but looked a bit bedraggled with all the rain. There were two females with young and a young male that we saw. For the most part Charles ignored us but he grunted some warnings that our guides mimicked. We later learned that his grunts were meant to signal to his family that all was ok. The guides grunting back was their way of building trust and agreeing that all is OK.

After taking hundreds of pixtures we had to leave. Charles rolled on his back and lifted his arms. What a stench! It was a strange bitter smell that pushed back the Eucalyptus-like smell the various flowers and bushes combined to create.

Rwanda has the highest population density in Africa – which has pushed the gorillas into the mountains and it means every part of the country is used for agriculture. The land of a tousand hills is beautiful. Hard to imagine a genocide in such a beautiful land.

Working for the Weekend

Greetings from Volcano National Park! On our drive from Gashora to Kigali, we stopped at the Rwanda Genocide Museum. It was a great opportunity to learn more about what happened in 1994, as well as other genocides throughout history. Its truly amazing how much progress Rwanda has made in 15 years. Tomorrow we are trekking looking for the endangered mountain gorillas in Volcano National Park. A great way to spend the weekend after a rewarding week of very hard work.

As the first week came to a close, the team finished laying stones on
the basketball court. The next step is pouring of concrete, and them
the ribbon cutting! The backboards and rims are being restored and
painted. We will begin work on the volleyball court on Monday. We also spent Friday digging trenches for the new Covaga Weaving Cooperative. Its tough work! The computer classes with the teachers at the primary school are going well. The local carpenter is putting the finishing touches on the new desks for the lab. We did have a hiccup with the Internet. MTN came out to do the installation, but despite the site survey, they said it wasn’t worth the expense and hassle for the performance. They recommended using a satellite service, which will hopefully be installed on Monday. Its off to dinner, but the days since the last update have been unforgettable. They people so friendly, the country so beautiful(no garbage anywhere), and the smiles so big.

Thursday in Rwanda

Good evening from Rwanda!  Today was another incredible day in The Land of 1,000 Hills.  We have been in Gashora for 4 days now, but every time we ride into town (twice a day), the kids coming running from their houses to the side of the road yelling “Muzungu!”  In Kinyarwanda, it means white person.  I suspect we have ridden past the same kids several times, but it never gets old for them or us.  5 of us spent the day in the classroom, myself included.  We continued teaching the teachers how to use Word and Excel.  The math teachers and the principal were particularly interested in Excel.  The thought of using “tables” to document students “marks” and to maintain budgets is fascinating to them.  Who would have thought we would be using a true slate chalkboard to demonstrate tables and formulas for Excel.  Oh yea, the teachers don’t speak a lot of English.  Their main language is Kinyarwanda, a few speak French.  It’s difficult teaching technology in English, but when you share a limited common language, it adds another level of excitement!  The other 6 members of the group spent the day at the construction site working on the “foundation” for the basketball court.  We will hopefully mix the concrete tomorrow, meaning the court will be ready for a grand opening next Thursday.  In Africa, pouring the concrete doesn’t mean backing in a big cement truck mixer.  It’s all by hand, every last bit.  It will be a fun and exciting experience! 
The lights in the dining area are starting to flicker, so our time with electricity and Internet is running out.    Till next time!

Wednesday in Rwanda

Well, it is just about time for dinner and our resort has power for us for an hour in the morning and 3 hours every night – wireless internet has been installed here but it only works when there is power so I’ll tap out this note quickly.  They have to run the generator so it makes sense to keep it to a minimum.   Power poles have been installed in the local village and apparently power will be turned on in the next month.  That means hopefully by Christmas. 
Because there is no power at the Gashora School we have had to buy a generator.  It finally arrived today – until now we have been packing up the laptops and bringing them back to the hotel so that we can get a full charge in the evening so that the teachers can be taught during the day.  The internet service provider wouldn’t come until we had power so now we can put the full court press on MTN to get out and get us access.  We have decided to focus our training on the teachers.  If they don’t feel confident then they just won’t use the computers because they don’t want to look stupid in front of the students.  The kids of course will pick up computers quickly because they have no fear.    The teachers are doing quite well and we are looking to pick one who will be our local school champion.

 One of the ladies who went to Ghana with me last year is a teacher volunteering in Rwanda.  We met for coffee and she another teacher friend were astonished that this primary school would end up with computers, internet access and power.  They said that this school would end up being THE place to be.  The school has already decided to open the classroom in the evenings to use as an internet cafe so that they can raise a bit of money to make the whole project more sustainable.

 Jone Panavas, one of the founders of Softchoice has donated the money to allow us to rebuild a basketball court and a volleyball court.  This will end up being the centre of the village for the kids.  Each day 30 or so men show up to volunteer and I can tell you even though we don’t share a common language we have quite a bit of fun!  I guess you can’t order gravel because trucks keep showing up with large stones and the men have to use hammers to break the rocks down to small enough pieces to lay down for the foundation of the court.  It is very hard work.  Today, one of the local guys hit a rock and a piece flew off and cut through his ankle.  It looked quite serious so we did a bit of field first aid and then we put him on the back of my bike and I drove him off to the local health centre.  The conditions there were so dingy but three ragged stitches later The Tiger (that’s what he calls himself!) was bandaged up, drugs in hand and instructions on returning the next day.  It cost me 300 Rwanda Francs…about 60 cents – quite a bargain.

 The people here have so little but they have such grace and such warmth.  They are always ready with a smile.  As we ride our bikes through town kids come running to the road to wave or give us a high five as we drive by.  It is humbling – we are just average people sent here as representatives of our company.  We all love it though – we smile, we say hello we yell out Meriwe (good afternoon), Muraho (how are you?) or any other phrase we have learned – they love it and yell back!

 Have a great Day!