Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Paul's Country Review: Rwanda

Rwanda is a beautiful country with a very troubled past. The memories of the genocide are still very fresh as the country continues to heal. The overall mood was somber and laughter seemed not to exist. While in a pharmacy getting cough drops and other cold and flu remedies the clerk's math was so off in charging us it was comical and we all laughed, but it felt like an explosion coming from the Rwandans as if they were looking for any way to let it out and for it to be ok to laugh. Really a very sad history and still sad in recovery. I will not go any further into their history, but encourage all to do so because many of us neither remember, understand or have heard of the events surrounding the Rwandan genocide and it should not be so.

I mentioned briefly that we were in search of some cold remedies - why might that be you ask? Well I'll tell you. No one covers their mouth when coughing and sneezing. The height of germ spreading came on the flight from Ethiopia to Rwanda which flew through Entebbe, Uganda. The plane was packed with Muslim Ugandans returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca for the Eid-al-Adha holiday. For those unaware, there was an epidemic scare on the same level as SARS and H1N1 called MERs affecting the Arabian peninsula with severe illness and possible death. As we got seated on the plane we were immediately aware that every single person on the plane was hacking, coughing, wheezing and sneezing. Lucky for us they were more than willing to share it all with us. I thought we were in a field hospital under quarantine and then one gentleman's fashion accessory caught my eye - a hospital bracelet! He had been released, probably so he could make this flight and he was one of the biggest perpetrators of not covering his mouth. I was convinced Christine and I were going to contract this new disease, luckily we each came down with just a cold.

Anyway we arrived in the capital, Kigali and immediately noticed how clean it was. It seemed like everyone had a nice house with a fence and manicured yards. The American (who lives in Kigali) that gave us a ride to our hostel when we arrived (Christine mentioned her) told us that on the last Saturday of every month it is mandatory clean-up day. Shops close and people help clean up their neighborhood, parks and streets and this happens all over the country - a really cool concept.

The main draw here is to go gorilla trekking. You pay someone to take you onto the jungle clad slopes of some active volcano just so you can sit in some gorilla's lap - crazy! It was an absolutely amazing experience to be so close to these gentle giants. They communicate by making sounds in their throats and this tells you if you are welcome, in the way or too close. We actually had to ask for permission to approach, which I thought was pretty cool. Their immense strength was immediately obvious and I quickly decided I would not be showcasing my own "silverback" imitation for fear the alpha would see me as a threat to his supremacy and he beat me to a pulp.

When wandering in the jungle, always be on the look out for bush cookies

"Hm...if this guy gets any closer, I'm going to jam this into his butt hole"

"This is where the law stops and I start - sucker!" --Marion Cobretti

We spent the next couple of days at Lake Kivu, a beautiful lake on the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). 

Island of Dr. Moreau

At this point I had been wearing the same clothes for about 5 days so I spent most of our time in the room because I was dressed in some of Christine's clothes while my one outfit was being washed and was too embarrassed to walk around. She has a pair of pajama pants that are really too big for her so I wore those, but they were a little short so I looked like Huck Finn or Samwise Gamgee. 

I like Christine's clothes - I'm going to wear them more often

Just an extremely frustrating time dealing with Ethiopian Airlines - such incompetence! Fortunately my bag showed up as we were returning to Kigali and disaster averted. Unfortunately for Ethiopian airlines, they have incurred the wrath of Christine for their transgressions! Most contact information for Ethiopian airlines managers has already been changed resulting in Christine's emails coming back undeliverable - she had been corresponding with these people using those very same email addresses that now no longer work - curious.

Graffiti in Kigali - where is Neckface?

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