June 2013

Last Sunday we arrived after a VERY cold and VERY bumpy overnight bus into the beautiful country of Rwanda. The country has the apt title of the “land of a thousand hills” and as we drove into Kigali it became obvious why. The landscape is absolutely beautiful filled with rolling mountains and deep lush valleys. Now this is all well and beautiful but it is also a pain in the ass to have to walk up all of these hills. You are also always walking uphill, never down. The team all checked into our hostel that morning and we set off to explore the city. In the afternoon we all went to the main genocide memorial museum which I personally was very interested in seeing. There was a lot of information and the memorial gave not only a good overview of the Rwanda Genocide but also other genocides around the world that have occurred.
The next day we took about a 20 minute drive out of the city to a town called Kimiroko where we spent the next three days and nights. In groups of two we stayed with host families to b able to really have an authentic cultural immersion experience. This community was built after the genocide for widows so there are 140 government built homes who have widows and their families living in them. The lady in my house was a sweet old lady who spoke no english or french named Dafrose but she was SO lovely. Her daughter who was about thirty lived there, as well as her two nieces who were in their late twenties. The daughters and nieces spoke french so that was good as my roommate Nicole went to French Immersion so she could translate for me although I was surprised to find myslef understanding a lot of it. One of the nieces was 12 during the genocide and lost all of her brothers and parents and so she refers to Dafrose as mom. Another niece Victoire, was four at the time and lost her one year old sister. All of their families are buried in the mass graves at the kigali memorial we first visited. Its crazy going from reading and learning about all of this in school to actually meeting people who have lived through this history. Its also so hard to believe that this happened here only 19 years ago. Rwanda is the most calm and orderly city and bears no signs of the chaos and violence that was evident less than 20 years ago. The Rwandan people have really worked towards an era of self- resilience and have made a concerted effort to forgive in order to end the cycle of violence that would continue if they held onto grudges and anger. I can’t imagine forigving, let alone living side by side the people who killed your family, yet this is a reality for so many of the people who live here. It was truly an honour to be welcomed so graciously into these people’s homes and it was a privilege to hear some of their stories.
After our three days in Kimironko we headed back to Kigali for two days of city exploring. The first morning I went to Nyamata which has a church memorial and is only about half an hour outside of town. At the beginning of the genocide churches were thought to be safe spaces but many priests turned on their own congregations and made deals with the rebels. So this church held about 10,00 Tutsi’s, and moderate Hutu’s who were all slaughtered. The church still holds all of the clothes of the victims and they line the pews giving a very real look into just how many lives were lost within those walls. In the church cellars there are caskets holding remains, and shelves where you can see the skulls and bones of victims. It doesn’t seem real that those were people not too long ago.
After a few days of being surrounded by the tragic stories of Rwanda’s past I was ready to see something different. When people think of Rwanda they only think of the genocide but there is so much more to this beautiful county and so on Friday Leah and and I took off on a bus to Virunga to explore one of Rwanda’s ( and the worlds) most famous and amazing specimens; the mountain gorillas. There are only about 850 mountain gorillas left in the world and they live within the mountains of The DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda. These countries, especially Rwanda are working hard on conservation efforts to protect these amazing creatures and a huge part of their funding to do this comes from the tourism industry and the gorilla treks they provide which is what Leah and I bought permits for. After a peaceful night in a guest house in town we got up bright and early at 5:30 ready to see some gorillas. After arriving at HeadQuarters we were all spilt into different groups who would track different families. Leah and I were in a group of eight who would track the Agaisha family who has 27 members. We set off into the park and up the mountain and about half an hour in we saw a gorilla and I can honestly tell you it was one of the most exciting experiences of my life. A few minutes later we found the whole family which included a very large silverback male, a few mature females, a few very playful juveniles, and the most adorable three month old baby. We were about four feet away from the gorillas at all times although you’d often be crouched down taking a picture of one gorilla and see another walk casually past you. At one point a juvenile walked right by my feet, looked up at me, hit my leg and then continued on walking. I could almost cry at that point I was so happy. We got to stay with the group for an hour as anything longer than that would disturb their day which would be unfair. I recommend doing a gorilla trek to anyone who has the opportunity as it is amazing to be so close to these amazing animals who only differ in 3% DNA with us.
Leah and I headed back to Kigali where I have spent the past two days lazing around the city- checking out markets and enjoying the city. Kigali could easily be a city within Europe or North America as it is so developed and kept ridiculously clean. Last night I even went to the movies and saw The Great Gatsby ( it was amazing) which was a very cool experience.
Our time of independent travel has started and so tomorrow morning I am off on a early flight back to Nairobi and then will hop onto a bus towards the Swahili coast where I plan to spend the week lounging on beaches and exploring different markets.
I hope everyone at home is enjoying their summers! I miss you all and can’t wait to hug each of ya!

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We left kisumu Kenya on May 30th after a beautiful 10 days there where we were able to partner with the amazing Young County Change Makers. On Thursday night we enjoyed a lovely send off meal of pizza and beer ( so y’all know I was happy) and then boarded the night bus to Jinja, Uganda. We arrived in Jinja at about 4:30am but our pick up wasn’t until 6 am so we all snuggled in, used our packs as pillows and napped until the bus came. We got to our site at around seven and were all able to grab about an hour of sleep. That was the first actual bed any of us had seen in ten days so we were all pretty excited.
After our short lived loved affair with our new beds we were woken up to get ready for river rafting!! After getting all ready we all headed down to the base camp to start! Our raft guides name was Jack and he was from NZ and filled with jokes- some I appreciated, some (when he would tug at my leg in the water pretending to be a snake) I didn’t. All in all though rafting was maybe the coolest thing I have ever done. Right off the bat we went over a three meter waterfall and paddled our way out of it successfully. Our raft didn’t flip once and I managed not to fall out the entire day! I’m so thankful I didn’t because if you have seen me tubing you know I hate falling off because getting back on is torture- well this was ten times worse. And with one weak arm I was just an overall dead fish trying to get back into the raft. I did jump out a few times to cool off and swim in the Nile ( I SWAM IN THE NILE) but thankfully Meg could pull me back up by my life jacket every time. THANKS MEG.
We spent the full day rafting and were overjoyed to get back to hot showers and a hot supper. I continued my quest of trying different African Beers and after deciding I wasn’t a fan of the local Ugandan Nile Special, moved onto the South African Castle Light which I highly recommend. Between the day of rafting and the Castle Lights I slept like a baby that night.
The next morning was another early one as we had a full day ahead. The day started with bungee jumping which unfortunately didn’t work out for me. Rafting aggravated my elbow a little bit ( so worth it) so I didn’t want to make it worse with a free fall- but I was able to watch lots of the other girls do it which was awesome. After the jumps we all got onto another bus to visit Kampala the capital city. Kampala is CRAZY- So many people on such congested streets- so naturally I chose for that to be the site of my first piki ride ( motorbike). After holding on for dear life I finally arrived at my destination for the day.; The Gaddafi Mosque which is the second largest mosque in Africa and holds absolutely beautiful views of Kampala. We got all dressed up in traditional burkas and chadors ( mine was bedazzled naturally) which was hilarious to see. I don’t think the Muslim dress suited any of us. But the mosque was beautiful and I learned a lot about Islam so all in all my day in Kampala was great.
I spent less than 48 hours in Uganda but it was time well spent for sure.

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