Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving in Rwanda!

Rwanda doesn't recognize Thanksgiving obviously but that's no reason not to celebrate it ourselves!
It was a beautiful Thursday morning, around oh... 900, at the Peace Corps office in Kigali. The forecasts called for deliciousness and after weeks of planning and anticipation, the cooking of a grand Thanksgiving dinner was underway. With 15 kilos of potatoes, a freshly slaughtered turkey that was at one time lost on a bus somewhere in Rwanda, sweet potatoes and plenteous amounts of other ingredients... the Peace Corps volunteers joined forces. Tom, armed only with pineapple and series of secret ingredients made "cranberry sauce" without the help of cranberries. We were concerned but our faith in him never wavered. What eventually ensued was around 25 people taking copious amounts of food to the face. Turkey! Salad! Stuffing! Mashed Potatoes! Gravy! Hummus! Pita! Sweet Potatoes with marshmallows! Green Beans! Cake! Pie! Wine! Beer! All this without a single domestic dispute... and on time! Perhaps one of the best Thanksgivings ever. Words can't describe how full we were... well maybe. But the Romans still would have been jealous. I guess what I am saying is... Life is good.
How can one not speak about war, poverty, and inequality when people who suffer from these afflictions don't have a voice to speak?
~Isabel Allende (Chilean author, 1942- )

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Gisenyi, Rwanda

This last weekend I went to Gisenyi, which is about a 4 hr. bus ride, with my friends Emmett and Malcolm. Gisenyi is located on the northern end of Lake Kivu, which is divided between the DRC and Rwanda. The area was incredibly beautiful and mountainous. On the way we passed Musanze, which is located at the foot of the Virunga (Volcano) National Park. Through a thick fog we were able to catch a nice glimpse of these volcanoes but I can’t possibly convey the feelings it invokes or even simply give you the chills that went up my spine. I’m no Hemingway. On the other hand, the terrain is quite unforgiving. People live on the side of mountains that seem physically impossible to live on let alone farm on! People must have the physical acuity of a mountain goat. The slightest mistake would send you plummeting down in a way that only Homer from “The Simpsons” could comprehend. It looked like a completely different country than the one that I have intimately known for the past 9 months.
The first thing we saw in Gisenyi was an acrobatics group practicing on the beach of Kivu. If you haven’t seen African acrobatics before, you are missing out. Second was the frontier of the infamous and mysterious DRC but I dared not set foot there. Not until after my Peace Corps service that is. Third was a hot spring. It wasn’t developed for bathing but could potentially make a good tourist destination if people chose to make it one. We walked around a small peninsula and returned to town for lunch. For lunch I had fried sambaza! Mmmm… Mmmm…. Sambaza is a tiny fish about 2 1/2 inches long and is fried (whole) in a light batter and served with a delicious sauce. Birajyoshye! (Delicious!) We had some beers and returned to our cheap yet pleasant hotel room exhausted and satisfied. The next day we made our long journey back to our sites with a newfound deference for the northern province.
I know I said that I wouldn’t do this but I can’t in good conscience leave out the amount of human suffering I witnessed in Gisenyi. I was surprised to find that this more touristy town showed more signs of poverty than Rwamagana which has practically no tourist attraction at all. Beggars were all but few. From my short time there, children seemed to show more signs of malnourishment than other areas that I have seen in Rwanda.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Congo Wars

If anyone wants to learn more about this region in the world, I just finished a book by Thomas Turner called The Congo Wars: Conflict, Myth and Reality. It is dense with information on the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) which is deeply entangled with Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. It's pure information but very accurate and thorough. Although unknown to most people, the war in the DRC is the second deadliest war in history with about 5.4 million casualties, nearly half of them under the age of 5 since 1998 when the war began. Only the holocaust was deadlier. Why they don't teach you this in school is beyond me. I know you think my posts are depressing. I don't mean them to be. But I feel that I have a duty to tell you the good and the ugly. Perhaps I will try to show more good in the next post.