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.

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! 

Monday Update

Today the team’s work over the past year finally got to the action in Africa stage! We had some meetings with the local mayor, with the Gashora Primary School Principal and with the Gashora Woman’s Cooperative.   When we arrived at the Gashora Primary School the roar that went up from the classrooms was incredible!  We felt like rock stars.  And then, the kids all came rushing out of their classrooms to swarm us!  This is an experience that can’t be explained.

 We started work on the Basketball and the Volleyball Courts! The first stage was to rip up the existing brick structure. We had many local boys and men to help us in the morning but when we came back after lunch it was just the 5 of our guys and a few 10 year olds. After about an hour 10-12 women came along and formed a line to pass the broken bricks! It was efficient and a good lesson for us on teamwork.

The rest of the team spent the afternoon sorting through the many donations – getting all of the medical supplies together, all of the sporting goods together and getting our laptops loaded with Microsoft Office. Thanks to everyone who donated items – they will be much appreciated!

It is 6:30 in the evening here and it has been dark for an hour already. The power went out a while ago and I am typing this update in the dark. We are so lucky! We get three meals a day, running water, the occasional hot shower, electricity, a bed and a roof over our heads. This puts us at a living standard with the top few percent of people in Rwanda. We take so much for granted in North America!

Tomorrow will be time in the classroom with the teachers and more construction. The Information Technology Teacher in our school has never used a computer so our work is cut out for us!

Till the next update!