Saturday, May 31, 2014

Day 3: Umuganda & Kigali Genocide Memorial

Jetlag is awful! I went to bed last night around midnight and woke up wide awake at 1am. After forcing myself to go back to sleep I managed about 3 more hours of sleep. So today was a constant effort to stay awake. We got up and had some breakfast and then walked about 10 minutes to a suburb of Kigali to participate in that community's umuganda project. Umuganda is a mainly mandatory (those with money can buy their way out of it) monthly community service. Citizens cut grass, sweep roads, pick up trash, build various things,  etc. So we met up with a group of locals and they gave us machetes, a hoe, and something called a kopa kopa and is used for cutting grass by hand and cutting back large plants. Umuganda lasts around 3 hours, or 4 in our case. All of us chipped in and helped clear the side of a road so that the grass was very short etc. Then we walked up an incredibly steep hill that had us all panting for breath where we cleared the entire side of a road. It was a lot of hard work. Apparently most western tourists do not participate in this event, and neither do foreigners that work in the country. So the people of the village were very surprised to see a large group of white people coming to help. We met so many nice people, but it was amusing to be hacking away at some bushes in the 80 degree hot sun and turn around and see 20 townspeople staring at you. When they realized that you noticed they would jump and laugh a little. It didn't bother me at all, once they got to know each of us they were very interested in what we do and what it is like for us in America, etc. We made several friends during the service and the town hall meeting afterwards. Following the community service everyone there gathered on the hillside and they had a town meeting where they discussed a variety of topics from paying taxes, reinforcing the idea that there are no tribes in Rwanda anymore, and even discussing a guy that is having many women live in his house and they sneak out at night, and what should be done about it. It was very interesting to witness. Some of the people sitting with us were nice enough to translate what was going on so we could follow along. 

After umuganda we went to the hotel for a shower and some lunch. After we did that Dr. Rundus was lucky enough for his missing baggage to arrive on a flight into Kigali, after the company had no idea where they could be. He was very happy to have clean clothes for the first time in multiple days. 

Following lunch we went and visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial & Museum. It was a really interesting setup. Outside you can see mass graves that hold the bodies of about 250,000 victims from the Kigali area. There was also a number of special gardens, each symbolizing a different thing. One was for the early days of Rwanda when times were peaceful before colonization, the next was the divide created between the groups by colonization, and the next was reconciliation after the genocide. It was a very interesting display and it used a lot of symbolism to help show, through plants and landscaping, what happened to Rwandan society. From there you go inside where the exhibit takes you step by step through the escalation of persecution and into the genocide and beyond. There is even a very touching section on children victims that we, unfortunately, had to rush through as they were closing. All in all it was a very wonderfully done memorial and the other students on the trip were able to get an idea about the events leading up to, and during, the genocide. Well that is all for today. I'm so tired I'm about to pass out... hopefully it lasts 8 hours this time!!!!

Listening to the English Audio Tour

A series of mass graves where victims have been reburied properly. 3 Tiered levels of multiple mass graves to fit all 250,000+  Kigali victims

A window to see how the bodies are place inside, there is space in this grave for more bodies when they are accidentally discovered 20 years later.

The wall of the dead, listing the names of every known person that is buried in the mass graves. Many were buried, but never identified. 

A kind of eternal flame in memory of those lost.

Faces of the victims

Stained glass of depicting the start of the genocide

A lock from the 1994 Genocide

Stained class depicting the aftermath of the genocide

Friday, May 30, 2014

Rwanda's Natural History & A Day in Kigali

Hi all! So today was amazing. We got up and had an amazing breakfast. Bread, eggs, coffee, and the freshest tropical fruits you could ever taste. After breakfast we got around and headed to the Rwanda Natural History Museum. The museum is comprised of a few rooms of an old house. It had a section on evolution in Rwanda, Sections on the different national parks, a section on the volcanoes, a section on the rocks and minerals, a section on the history in Rwanda, an outside area with lots of indigenous snakes, many poisonous, that you could see in boxes. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take pictures of any of the things inside, or in the outside snake area. In the back of the property was a little wall and an amazing view of Kigali. You could hear the people talking in a blurred mumble and at one point we heard a Muslim call to prayer ringing out from a distant hilltop. We were able to take some pictures in this area. There was even an avocado tree next to a bunch of banana trees, it is a little mind boggling!

After the museum we drove to a nice buffet to get lunch. We had a variety of local foods like fried plantains, rice, spiced beef, and I even ate goat! And of course more of the awesome fruits like the "tree tomato" which is the greatest fruit I've ever tasted and can't describe. After lunch we went across the street to the Hotel des Mille Collines, which you may remember from the movie Hotel Rwanda. At this hotel the manager took in about 1,200 Rwandan refugees who were fleeing from the genocide and almost certain death. We got to go inside and see the lobby and the pool that served as the only source of drinking water when the military cut off the water to the hotel. It was amazing to see the place I've read so much about, and a place that one man was able to save so many.

After that we spent hours walking around Kigali, going into shops, seeing the non-tourist areas, and talking with some of the locals. It was great getting to see the city. It is very different to see all of the people on the street look at you as you walk by. It is a total reverse of what it is like to be an American, and I kind of like it. I think it provides you with a different perspective. After a very long walk we went to get dinner and then back to our rooms. Tomorrow will be full of all sorts of stuff and I can't wait to tell you all about it. Below are a couple of pictures I thought you might enjoy. Currently I can't upload to facebook all of my pictures, but hopefully soon.

Welcome to Rwanda Bilboard

Signs are all over Kigali for the 20 year anniversary of the Genocide. Many events have, and will, take place to remember those lost in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide

Natural Museum Sign

Stacked a mile high they are off to deliver some mattresses! Downtown Kigali marketplace.

Sitting outside the Natural History museum overlooking Kigali.

Sign at the gate of the Hotel Des Mille Collines. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A New Day, A New Continent. Travel & First views of Rwanda

So this will be a very very short blog post since I'm insanely tired. It is 11pm here in Kigali. So I made it! Most of our group was upgraded to first class due to overbooking and we had a blast! So the first flight was about 12 hours and was late, so after sitting around for 12 hours we had to sprint across DOHA to get to our next plane, which was also late. Long story short, the total trip with layovers was about 24 hours. Then we had to go exchange money, get sim cards (which they are having troubles activating) and then dinner. Rwanda is AMAZING! I've only seen a bit of it, but words cannot describe what it looks like. Tomorrow we will go to a museum....and something else (Jet Lag Brain) so I'll update you all on how that goes!! I've attached a couple pictures so you can see a few I took today.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Best Laid Plans ... Packing and the Things You Forget

Hey everyone! Well I leave in about a day and some change! I can't believe it has come up so fast. It seems like just a few days ago I started making lists of everything I'd need. Anyway... I flew from Detroit to Wilmington yesterday and on Wednesday I'll fly out of Philly. So after weeks of prepping and buying a ridiculous amount of first aid supplies and OTC medications just in case... inevitably I forgot a few things back in Michigan. So I was sitting at the airport and realized I forgot my hat, the one I  bought for the trip. Luckily it has the tags and is on its way back to Amazon for a refund. Then when I got on the plane it was chilly and I realized that I had forgotten to pack a fleece for the cooler nights! Then... this morning I unpacked and repacked my bag to make sure I had everything... and I realized I forgot to pack my super fancy waterproof boots I bought last year to brave the flooded sidewalks in West Chester! So today was spent running around like crazy and buying replacement items. I have new waterproof boot/shoe things that seem comfy and I'm trying to break it. I got a new hat and a thin hoodie to keep me warm in the evening. Overall, not the end of the world, but it is just a little reminder that you can make all the lists you want, it doesn't mean you will remember the basics! So I've attached a picture of my new shoe/boots and a picture of everything I packed in space saver bags for my main piece of luggage (not including my toiletry bag... or my carryon that is full of tech stuff and prescription meds! Now I'm off for a walk with my friend to try and break the shoes in some!!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Quick Shout Out

Hey everyone! Well I'm just a few weeks out from Rwanda, and I graduate on Monday!! I just wanted to share a link with you all. Dr. Gaydosh, one of my faculty members, will be going on the trip to Rwanda as well and she has decided to blog about it. I think it will be really interesting to see a student's perspective vs. a faculty's perspective. She just created the blog today, and will add more later. Go check it out and follow us both as we travel around Rwanda!!!

If you can't find this post as time goes on you can find a link on the right navigation pane. I added it to help you find your way!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Stocking Up and Shipping Out

Hey everyone! So it has been a little bit since my last blog post. I've been busy with trying to finish off my papers, so I'll be brief. It is about that time for me to get my last round of shots, probably in the upcoming week before I graduate and move back to Michigan. I will need to get three more vaccines for now, and then another one or two shots when I return. I filled my anti-Malaria medication prescription yesterday and have that ready to go. I ordered my first pair of "armachillo" shirt and pants from the Duluth Trading Company. My friend Jennie recommended that I try them because she had seen a commercial for them. They are supposed to keep you extra cool, which would be nice. Also, you can wash them each night and they are dry by morning! So lets hope those work out. Other than that I'm building up my wish list on Amazon of supplies to purchase so I am prepared. The scariest is probably the needle and suture kit I'm supposed to bring. With lacking medical facilities I'm supposed to bring this with me so if I need stitches, injections, or blood draws, I'm guaranteed a clean needle. I guess that is something you don't think about as an American. Here is a link to my wish list in case anyone is curious about the things I plan on buying for the trip. Feel free to comment below and let me know if there is something you think I've forgotten!  P.S. I also found out that internet will be even more limited than I had previously hoped. I will be taking my phone with me and I'll put a Rwandan SIM card in it. Hopefully that will allow me to use the app on my phone to post text only blog posts. If not, I will write up a blog post for each day I'm there into word documents and post them as I get access to the internet. One student said it took him an afternoon to upload an excel spreadsheet when he was there last!