I’ve just had a 2-hour wrap up meeting with the management team of the village together with Professor Bezy of CMU-R, and despite having not really prepared for it, I felt that I had presented pretty well in terms of delivery as well as content. Apart from throwing in a couple of Kinyarwanda phrases which I was already very familiar with by now, I felt extremely confident in my recommendations, and I could tell that the clients and Professor Bezy were extremely impressed with our work despite the “short” 10 weeks here. On a personal note, I felt that I’ve accomplished much more than what I’ve set out to do from the beginning. I really felt that I’ve made a huge impact, not just to the way they manage their IT stuff here, but also to the kids as their big brother, cousin and mentor.
I definitely ended my stay here on a high note – I’ve had the best weekend here ever with a fair share of luck and adventure. Last Friday, we had a bowling session with the CMU-R freshmen. And then on Saturday, I was planning to head out to Kenya via a 24-hour bus. However, after arriving at Nyabugogo at 9am on Saturday, I found out that the bus already left much earlier at 5am. Thus, I had no choice but to decide if I wanted to lose a day and wait till next morning 5am. In the end, I decided to take the next available 3-hour bus to Kibuye.
Armed with no extra clothes, just a camera, a phone, an iPad and my barely-conversational Kinyarwanda, I headed all the way out to the Western Province. Without a plan, I had no idea how long I’d be staying there, and where I’d be staying for the night. Upon arrival slightly past noon, I trekked all the way towards Lake Kivu couple of miles away where I had my lunch at a hotel facing the beautiful lake. I must be really fortunate to have met Brigitte, a 60-year-old South-African lady travelling alone, and we ended up in a chat. To my amazement, she mentioned that she was heading to Nyungwe Forest the following day. I have always wanted to visit the forest, but due to the problem of transportation (unless I rented a car which will be too costly since I travel alone), I was unable to get there, and was already planning to give it a miss. After lending her my iPad to send a message to her children, I asked her if I could hitch a ride and she agreed! Awesome luck.
After lunch, I decided to head out to explore the town. Within Kibuye, I trekked deep into tall grasses and downhill towards the lake into a village, where I saw the most amazing local kids tending to their cows and enjoying sugarcane by the lake. I stayed the night at some cheap accommodation which was located in a secluded area located at the top of a hill, where I had to trek to in pitch darkness after sunset. I doubt I would have survived that if not for my army training.
Cow boy and his radio
The following day, I headed back to the hotel to meet Brigitte and her tour guide/driver, Joe, and was invited to a (free!) boat ride to check out the islands, which would have cost me 10,000 francs if gone on my own. It was an amazing experience – we saw thousands of bats flying out of trees on Napoleon Island some 20-mins by boat away, and even a blue (balls) monkey and refrigerator built using wood and charcoal on Peace Island afterwards. We also saw many unique plants and animals in the wild on the go. Being a (South-African) tour guide herself, she was sharing with me lots of interesting information about the wildlife. Her tour guide, Joe, too, was extremely knowledgeable, and they kept throwing at each other lots of African-related information, of which I benefited the most.
Bats in Napoleon Island
Following which, we took a 4-hour scenic drive along the Congo-Nile Trail to Nyungwe, which was where I parted with Joe and Brigitte. Nyungwe proved to be a little challenging, because it was mountainous and cold, and I certainly wasn’t prepared for it. Moreover, I wanted to walk the famous Canopy Trail, but the starting point, Uwinko Outlook, turned out to be another 30 km away from the head office. I certainly wasn’t prepared to trek that distance so late into the day, so I decided to find accommodation for the night and worry about the 30 km later. Somehow after a few miles of trekking, I stumbled upon the Nyungwe Forest Lodge, which turned out to be a 5-star hotel built within a tea plantation. I was totally blown away by the lodge by its beauty.
The canopy walk in Nyungwe Forest
After a long internal struggle with myself, I decided to spend some $190 to stay in the forest lodge, despite my miserable $250/month stipend. Well, I was kind of left with the choice of sleeping in the forest, or at the lodge. In fact, I was pretty fortunate already – firstly, it was the last room left, and secondly, I should technically have paid $240 because I was a non-resident, but I happened to meet some Chinese residents whom I spoke to earlier, and managed to book our rooms together which gave me a discount. Even better, they were planning to head to Uwinko the following day, and I managed to hitch a ride in their car. Speaking of the Canopy Trail, despite it being really frightening to be crossing a bridge at some 700m above the canopies beneath us, it was not worth my $60.
Ever since I have done my research on Rwanda, I badly wanted to visit a tea plantation in Gisovu and take photos of workers plucking tea leaves. I thought it would be impossible because there were practically no public transport heading that way, and I’m glad I had the opportunity via my newly-met Chinese pals, whom I managed to convince to drop by the plantation for a visit. It wasn’t too easy taking photos of the locals here; people wanted money to have their photo taken, and I usually have to make friends with them, try to speak their language, convince them I’m a student and have no money, and I mean no harm, before I can take their photo.
Tea plantation worker
Eventually, I also took a ride in their car to a tea factory (which did not grant us a visit because we did not make prior reservations), and then back to Kigali on a 5-hour journey, which would have taken me > 6 hours if I had taken the public transport route. The tricky part was to refund my bus ticket which I had bought earlier prior to meeting them, and somehow I managed to convince the ticket seller to return me my money with my poor knowledge of Kinyarwanda. Indeed, I was really fortunate enough to have met this Chinese group, which also turned out to be reporters and professional photographers, and they taught me how to use my DSLR properly. In return, I taught them how to speak the local language (since they only arrived a few days ago), and helped them translate, whenever necessary.
The Nyungwe forest lodge that I stayed turn out to be pretty awesome though – after all, which I later found out, it was a 5-star hotel. The food was great, the atmosphere was great, and they even had a swimming pool built overlooking the forest. Despite having brought no swimming costume, I decided to head for a soak after sunset for a skinny-dip, when no one would be around. After which, I had my own bath tub which I soaked myself in for 2 hours in hot water while watching the news on large screen TV, something which I have been missing out for weeks. It was an awesome experience, definitely the best way to end my 10 weeks here. Looking back, I’m glad I spent my 10 weeks pretty well – travelling to all provinces, seen everything that I could have in Rwanda (except for the Mountain Gorillas which are too expensive), and have even been to Kampala. Wish I could have taken the chance to see the migration in Kenya though; but I know I’ll be back one day.
Pool in the rain-forest
As I’m starting to pack my bag now preparing to go home, looking back, I’m really glad I chose to come here. I’ve learnt a lot about myself, became more resilient and more confident in my intelligence (I usually feel relatively dumb in CMU with all the very smart people around) and strengths/weaknesses. I have seen and experienced for myself the love and life of Rwandans, their way of life travelling around like a local and shared their visions while living as a minority here. Also, it is always heartwarming to hear from locals, “Wow, you speak Kinyarwanda!” whenever I attempt to greet them in their language and try to strike a conversation with them, and see them becoming extremely friendly to me. It’s like… can you imagine seeing a black person (not being racist here) speaking to you in Chinese (I did meet someone up in Musanze couple of weeks ago who spoke Chinese), and I bet you’d go “wow” too.
So after a whole year of staying abroad in 3 different continents, from Europe to North America to Africa, I am so totally ready to go home. In fact, this is the longest since I’ve been away from home, and I’m already drooling thinking of the food that I’ve been missing, looking forward to gaining back some of the 10 kg I lost here and catching up with my friends. A pity I’d be missing out on the national day parade this year though. The past year moving all around has been one hell of a ride, and in fact, I think I might have scattered parts of my soul and heart in too many parts of the world.