Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Fishing Story

I knew that Friday would be an interesting day from the moment I heard chanting voices as I walked down the dirt path on my way to work.
“Do you hear that?” I asked Claire.
“Yeah. Is it coming from the center?”
And sure enough, from our vantage point on the top of the hill we could see a crowd gathering at the fence near the fishpond.
“Looks like they started fishing already.”

We continued down the hill and across the road. Locals had stopped their morning routines to come watch the action. When we came close enough, I could see our boys covered in mud, digging through what appeared to be silt on the ground. When they saw us, they proudly presented their trophies: fish who were still wiggling their tails as they struggled to get free.

Some nice tilapia.

It was organized chaos on the bank of the fishpond. Boys were grabbing fish out of a net that had just been dragged aground, tossing them into barrels, taking them out of the barrels, gutting them and leaving the entrails on the ground, and weighing them. Charles (EDD agronomist, who traveled to Burundi with us) had a book where he was keeping track of the kilograms of fish collected.

Getting ready for round 2

We arrived just in time to see the final pass across the pond with the net. A few boys jumped in the pond to pull the far end of the net across. Once it was fully submerged, the groups of boys on either side of the end began to chant again, pulling the net in unison across the pond. When they reached the bank, other boys helped to pull it ashore. Amongst the muck and grass that had tangled in the net were a few fish flopping around freely.

Claire vs. Mr. Fish. He wriggled free a second later.

Hardy and I. That fishing lesson at summer camp years ago prepared me well.

The fishpond is one of the ways the center generates income. Two or three times a year, they harvest the fish and then sell them to local buyers. The pond contains tilapia and a type of catfish. In all, the boys collected 60 kilograms of fish that day which was a bit less than projected. Projects such as this are very important as the center strives to become self-sufficient. Right now, they rely heavily on donations and in times of economic crisis it’s difficult to obtain donors. 

Too small. Throw them back!

Thank Heaven!

Thank Heaven!

Claire and I were determined to have our own Thanksgiving. Our original thought was to cook it on our own since Rwandans do not celebrate Thanksgiving. A few things got in our way:
  1. We could not find Turkey at the store, so we would have had to substitute chicken
  2. Our stove has one temperature and we have no idea what that is. We’ve successfully made banana bread before, but cooking a chicken would have been a whole new beast.
  3. Neither one of us has cooked a whole turkey/chicken on our own before.
  4. We found out that a local restaurant was serving a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

 All these factors combined led us to the decision that we would celebrate Thanksgiving at a restaurant in Kigali. This was THE BEST DECISION we’ve made in awhile. The restaurant we went to is called Heaven and it definitely lives up to its name. The restaurant is situated on top of a hill close to the city center and has a covered deck, which allows you to see Kigali from above. Created by California couple that expatriated to Rwanda, Heaven uses local ingredients to create simple yet flavorful foods. Heaven is also socially responsible and was created to help train Rwandans in the hospitality business. They support local farmers, suppliers, artists, and act as a center for vocational training. It has become a regular haunt for westerners who live in Kigali, including Claire and I. This was my third time and I was not disappointed.

Pumpkin Soup

Turkey, stuffing, honey glazed carrots, sweet potatoes, and spinach

Pumpkin pie, but not as good as Memere's

This was my first Thanksgiving away from home. Although I am sad that I could not celebrate with the rest of my family, I am happy I could spend it with my friend Claire, eating good food and enjoying the view of the city from Heaven.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fun Fact #2

Lake Tanganyika (the lake we visited in Bujumbura) is the second deepest freshwater lake in the world, second only to Lake Baikal in Serbia. At its deepest point, it measures a depth of 4,820 feet. The lake spans four different countries including Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, and Zambia.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bujumbura, Burundi

Burundi is one of Rwanda’s neighbor countries and it’s roughly a 7-hour bus ride south from Kigali. Claire and I woke up very early Friday morning to meet our friend Charles, who works at EDD, to catch a bus to Burundi. We thought that arriving at the bus station half an hour ahead of time would be enough to ensure us good seats (this entire continent is in a perpetual state of lateness so “on time” can mean anywhere from 20 minutes to hours later). However, it appears that buses to Burundi are the exception.

We got stuck with aisle seats. When I say aisle seats, I’m sure you are picturing something reminiscent of an aisle seat on an airplane. This is not what I mean. Buses in Africa are ALWAYS packed to capacity (I’ve been packed into a minibus with 22 other people before) so they’ve invented these seats that fold up when people need to get out and fold down when people need to sit. Since the bus is my main mode of transportation here, I can say that the vast majority of these types of seats are broken. Either the seat itself is lopsided or the seat back flops around. So for 7 hours, we sat on the bus, trying to get some sleep in between the unintentional elbows we received from the people sitting next to us.

We finally arrived in the capital Bujumbura late in the afternoon. The heat was a bit overwhelming and a drastic change from the cool weather of Kigali. Claire and I were in desperate need to a good nights sleep. We had nearly pulled an all-nighter hanging out with our friends Pervez, Kate, and Bret from Catalyst Rwanda because we didn’t want to say goodbye and were running on 2 hours of sleep. As I tried to fall asleep, I could swear I heard people talking with British accents.

The next morning the British accents were gone and I was feeling much better. We wandered around the city, finding a market where I bought Obama strawberry flavored gum. After this first purchase, Claire and I were on the hunt for Obama gear and Bujumbura did not disappoint. There is a company named Obama Vodka based in Burundi, which packages vodka in tiny plastic pouches. It was definitely one of the best discoveries we found. We spent the rest of the day walking around the lake where we spotted a hippo eating some grasses near the road. On Sunday, we visited Saga Plage on Lake Tanganyika. The waves and the white sand beach made it feel like we were on the coast.

Charles, Claire, and I at Lake Tanganyika

Charles and I

The crew on the beach

I feel as if Burundi is a raw place compared to Rwanda, but they are so closely tied together. The wounds of war and political tensions are fresh and there is still a battle for security and stability within the country. Hutus and Tutsis have been battling for power ever since the Belgians left, staging coups, assassinations, and civil war. Although Rwanda is infamous for the 1994 genocide, many people forget that the President of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira, was in the plane that was shot down on April 6th, 1994. This crash sparked the systematic killing of Tutsis in both Rwanda and Burundi. In Rwanda, the killing has stopped. In Burundi, people still feel as if they have a score to settle. Attacks have continued, even as recently as September of this year. It’s examples such as this that make me marvel at Rwanda’s reconciliation process. Seventeen years after the genocide, Rwanda remains a peaceful country while neighboring Burundi continues to fight a never-ending battle.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Live 2 Break

These past two weeks have been very chaotic and unusual, but they have probably been the most fun I’ve had in a long time. As I have mentioned before, the center welcomed a group called Catalyst Rwanda two weeks ago who put on a break dance workshop for the boys. Three members of the group, Kate, Bret, and Pervez, lived with Claire and I. We had so much fun hanging out with each other and I was so sad to say goodbye on Friday.

The boys learning a freeze

Kate helping Dariya

Everyone involved with Catalyst Rwanda has made more of an impact on the center than anyone thought possible. The boys at Les Enfants de Dieu take their studies very seriously, but I have never seen them display more focus and intensity than they did over these past two weeks. They practiced constantly, awaited the next lesson eagerly, and refused to take their “Live 2 Break” shirts off until Joseanne (member of EDD staff) insisted that they wash them.

Pervez demonstrating the Superman stance

Sam breaking it, Bret and Nicola behind

On Thursday, EDD put on a “Jam”, a chance for the boys to dance and show off their new moves. It was one big party where the boys never stopped smiling. Nothing can top happy kids, good friends, and a bit of dancing. I might even seek out a breaking class when I'm back home...

Pervez and Claire

The Jam started with some traditional dance

As a side note, check out this amazing video shot by Kate and starring Pervez and Bret at the Kimirannko Market in Kigali. If you look close when the camera pans, you'll see Claire and myself (the two white people). We took the gang shopping for some African fabrics and this is what happened:

A trip to Kimiranko market with Pervez and Bret - Catalyst Rwanda from Catalyst Rwanda on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

New Friends, New Moves

The center has had two groups visit us in the past week: People to People International and Catalyst Rwanda. Here are some photos of what we've been up to!

Eric mastering a new move

Pervez of Catalyst Rwanda and the boys

Drumming for People to People

Gifts from People to People

No idea...

Sporting the new "Live 2 Break" shirt
Getting ready for traditional dancing

Learning some hip-hop moves

Dariya in her traditional outfit

Kate busting some moves with the boys

All 126 learning to break at the same time!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Catalyst Rwanda

I have mentioned many times over that the boys of the center love hip-hop. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear music blasting from the stereo or see a group of boys working on their latest choreography. This week, a group called Catalyst Rwanda arrived at the center, bringing 130 T-shirts and their love of hip-hop and break dancing to share with the boys. This project has almost been a year in the making, starting with an old acquaintance of Rafiki’s who works as a cultural producer in the United Kingdom. Together, they hatched a dream to give the boys the opportunity to learn how to dance.

The boys showing the group their moves

ALL of the boys sporting their new "Live 2 Break" shirts

Yesterday, I witnessed 126 dreams come true. The boys spent the day practicing their dances to show this group their best moves. Everyone was introduced, the boys performed what they had prepared (donning neon green vests that appeared out of nowhere) and the boys eagerly awaited an example of what they would be learning over the next ten days. Brett, a filmmaker but also a breaker himself, gave the boys a few of his moves. What happened next was utter pandemonium. The boys, who had been sitting, jumped out of their seats and climbed on top of one another to get a better view. In the process of it all, a bench collapsed, but the boys could care less. They continued to hoot and yell in excitement. It was better than Christmas.

Pervez dancing for the boys

Catalyst Rwanda has their own blog, which they will be updating here in Rwanda. Check it out:

You can also follow Catalyst Rwanda on Facebook

Stay tuned for more updates!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fun Fact #1

I have been learning many interesting tidbits about Rwanda during my stay here and have decided to share them with you through a weekly fun fact segment in my blog! Here’s the first one:

According to the Rwandan National Museum in Butare, Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa with 283 people per square kilometer. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Nyungwe Rainforest

This weekend, Claire, her dad and I decided to conquer the Nyungwe rainforest in southern Rwanda. We left for Butare on Friday, stopping at the National Museum to catch up on the history of Rwanda. We spent one night in Butare and then we were off into the mountains.

I immediately recognized the road we took because I had ridden a coffee bike along it just two years before with my fellow Harwood students. The road led us through small villages, dependent on coffee and tea cultivation. As we drove, we saw women with huge baskets upon their heads packed with tea leaves. Children on the side of the road yelled “abazungu!” which translates to “white people!” As we drove higher and higher into the mountains, it became clear that we were distancing ourselves from the hustle and bustle of Kigali. Villages became smaller, fields became vaster, and the mountains became larger. Soon, tea fields dominated the landscape. Tea bushes are thick and low to the ground. They were planted in large swaths so closely together that I still don’t understand how it’s physically possible to walk in between the rows to pick the leaves. For two nights, we stayed at a guesthouse on a tea plantation, which was affiliated with the Kitabi College of Conservation and Environmental Management. It was a beautiful area just outside the Nyunguwe National Park entrance. 

Tea fields below our accommodations

Picking some tea

Driving through tea country

During the weekend, we took two hikes. The first one was less than two hours and only skirted the main road. The second was what I would consider a real hike. We started at the far entrance of the park and walked through the tea fields to find the trail. Our guide led the way, pointing out certain plants, trees (especially the oldest tree in the world, the Fern Tree), and animals along the way. As we hiked further into the forest, we could hear the rushing of water growing louder. Two hours into our hike, we descended, working our way down switchbacks until we came upon our destination: a gigantic waterfall. Our guide stopped to explain that the water would eventually feed into the Congo River. We were already soaked from the mist, but we weren’t done yet. Our guide continued to lead us closer to the waterfall up slippery rocks until we were right in front of it. It was absolutely amazing!

On our hike!

The view from a clearing on the trail

Claire's dad and the legendary Fern Tree

The path leading up to the waterfall.
Please note the railing/ladder to the left above our guide.

The waterfall

Me in front of the waterfall!

We also saw monkeys! As we drove through Nyungwe on our way to our second hike, we saw a few monkeys hanging out on the side of the road. As we continued, we began seeing more and more. Claire, who is a monkey expert, identified them as we went, including the identification of an Owl-faced monkey. We later told our guide what we had seen and he was shocked. He told us that there were only 8 Owl-faced monkeys reported to be in Nyungwe and it is extremely rare to come across one!

A mountain monkey

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Day 2 in the Field: Contrasts

Today was my second day in the field since I’ve arrived in Rwanda. Throughout this month, the social workers will be visiting many of the boys’ homes because 30 will be reintegrated in December.

Reintegration is just another part of how the center works. Many of the boys have at least one surviving parent. The ultimate goal of the center is to prepare the boys to transition back into their normal life and become contributing members of their family and society. Many of the boys who leave the center become leaders of their family, using the knowledge and skills EDD has taught them. The center will continue to pay school fees until the boy completes secondary school and also provides the family with financial assistance if needed. Before each boy in reintegrated, the social worker makes one final visit to the family to make sure they are prepared to receive the boy.

Out of the four home visits (Eugene, Innocent, Fils, and Jean Paul) we did today, two stuck with me the most. The first one was Fils’ family. Fils is a boy who was very reserved when I first met him. Although it may seem that he is indifferent to what is going on around him, I soon learned that his mind and heart travelled beyond the center’s walls to a small mud hut on the outskirts of Gisozi, a region in Kigali. His mother lives there, a small frail woman with a tired face, but a kind smile. She has suffered a bout with tuberculosis that has rendered her incapable of doing any physical labor. Because of this, she is currently unemployed. This makes it extremely difficult to feed and take care of her three children who live with her. Although she owns her small house, they must use the neighbor’s toilet.

As I sat in one of the small dark rooms of the hut, fanning flies away from my face and admiring the posters of the Holy Family, Paul Kagame, and a potty training toilet advertisement, it was clear to me why Fils seems so distant and preoccupied. In one month, he will be reintegrated with his family. He will join his mother, his brother, and his sisters in this hut. He will become the leader of the family, shouldering many responsibilities at only the age of 15. These are responsibilities I haven’t even faced at the age of 20. His mother said she was very eager to receive him. It will be a much-needed relief to have someone to help share the stress of life.

After we said goodbye to Fils’ mother and his siblings, we jumped back into the truck and continued to Jean Paul’s home, about fifteen minutes down the road. Jean Paul’s house sits just below the road. It’s a strong, cinder-block house with cement floors, a tin roof, and many windows which let the sunlight pour in. Jean Paul welcomed us all into the living room, furnished with plush couches and a coffee table. A few family photos and classroom posters outlining the alphabet, numbers, and parts of the body decorated the walls. His sisters were well dressed and both were enrolled in school.

I couldn’t help but compare the lives of these two boys who lived less than 15 minutes apart. Jean Paul and Fils both decided to leave their homes and live on the street at some point in their life. In one month, they will be returning to very different circumstances. The fate of Fils’ family rests on his small shoulders, while Jean Paul will just focus on finishing his schooling.

This contrast reins true throughout the country and probably all of Africa. African-suburbias, for those who can afford it, are popping up all around Kigali, flanked by mud huts and slum-like conditions. New buildings, hotels, and businesses are under construction in the capital city. Kigali is a wealthy region of Rwanda. Many things have changed since my last visit two years ago. But if you were to venture outside the city, many live in the most desperate of conditions. There is a complete lack of infrastructure and resources being allocated to these areas. Perhaps they are forgotten. It’s a difficult contrast for me to accept and I don’t know if I ever want to. 

Home visit from earlier in the day: Eugene and his father

Earlier: Adorable children at Innocent's house

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Olé, Olé, Oléeeeee!

Today, Claire and I traveled with the boys to a big football game (that’s soccer if you’re American) against SOS Children’s Village International. It was definitely an exciting occasion as the boys were able to break out their team uniforms and cleats. Once they were all packed into a mini-bus, we were on our way.

The EDD Team and I 

Les Enfants de Dieu were the champions, winning the match 3-0. Both sides put forth a great effort, but our boys dominated for most of the game. Not even a sudden downpour of rain could dampen their spirits. Soaking wet and tired, we all piled back in the van and headed back to the center.

A boy playing a vuvuzela made it feel like it was the World Cup!

My favorite part of the day was definitely the ride back. We had more than 22 people in a mini-bus (normal capacity 15) and we were stuck in the middle of rush-hour traffic in Kigali. No problem! We passed the time cheering and singing. I will never forget singing the Olé, cheer as my boys waved their jerseys out the window and clapped their hands. It felt as if they had won the World Cup.