Friday, June 29, 2012

Lake Kivu

Where am I right now? In Ruhengeri, at the base of the Virunga Volcanoes--home to the mountain gorillas. I will be off into the jungle with my parents to see them for the first time tomorrow! Truly my dream come true. 

They loved the hair

Three days ago, I spent more time in Kigali at the EWB Rwandan Orphans Project orphanage. We played with the kids, did crafts with the kids, saw the new site where the EWB team will build new facilities. 

The past two days I have spent at L'esperance orphanage near the shores of Lake Kivu and about an hour and a half drive from Kibuye. We left Kigali on the 27th of June with a driver, Javin, to make the journey to the east side of Rwanda. We began to climb and climb as the hills increased in slope. The country is beautiful—a mosaic of majestic hills terraced by small cultivated land squares. Although this is said to be the dry season, everything is a deep emerald green and looks as though it may once have been a lush rainforest. However, while this land may be curiously beautiful, every piece of it that I have seen is transformed by humans.  Humans have consumed whatever environment used to be and replaced it with tiers of farmlands and mud shacks. What true Rwanda once looked like, I can only imagine.

The orphanage sits on top of a tall hill overlooking the massive Lake Kivu in a very rural area of Rwanda. Besides the draw of the orphanage, no foreigners ever come to this place. There isn’t even a true town nearby. The hills around the area are still covered in crop fields, but the homes are more scattered. The landscape is spectacular here. I wish I could do it justice, but it is too stunning to describe. 

Lake Kivu
The orphanage
The orphanage manager, Victor, met us as our car pulled into the gates. He was gracious enough to give us a detailed tour of the 126 children orphanage grounds. The orphans live in colorful homes atop a steep hill. The orphanage owns the entire hill that it sits on top of. On that hill, the orphans cultivate mangos, pineapples, and guava plants. Victor told us that the orphanage is the largest exporter of fruit in the entire country. How they can work the fields on such steep slopes is beyond me. Victor is hoping to make the orphanage entirely self-sustaining within the next two years. A true entrepreneur, he has an infinite amount of ideas on how to make the place run and bring in money: from an ecolodge hotel on the lake shore to selling a unique “Lake Kivu” cheese from excess cow milk and exporting dried pineapples to sell at Whole Foods. The orphanage seems to be thriving, at least from a business standpoint. After the tour, we were able to talk with some of the older girls who were doing homework and play with some little ones in the nursery. Once the sun had dropped below the hills, the children began to sing. They sang and danced for us. They seemed so happy...

The pineapple crop on the hill--I picked my very own pineapple
swimming in Lake Kivu
The next morning, Victor took my parents and I on a hike down to the lake shore and then to the town marketplace. It was difficult not to slip in the red African dirt, especially since the area had had a massive rain just three days ago. As we descended, there was a dense stand of eucalyptus forest to our right. You could here the buzz of insects and piecing bird calls from within the thicket. Victor told us that a troop of vervet monkeys roams the forest and can sometimes be seen near the lake shore. We passed some people working on their hillside farms, but compared to the rest of Rwanda, the place seemed abandoned and isolated. As we walked, you could see much of the area- a sweeping landscape with vivid green hills and the smooth blue lake that was so clear, you could see the clouds reflected from above on the surface. It was breathtaking. We reached an open grassy plot of land on the shore of the lake. Minus the sounds of the insects and birds, it was quiet. A welcome respite to crowded Rwanda. Victor almost immediately dove into the lake fully clothed. Our travel books had warned us never to swim in any water for fear of parasites and schistosomiasis infections. Victor assured us it was safe because it was so isolated from human contact. My dad and I decided to brace the swim. I slipped in the water. It was lovely swimming around and looking up at the hills and across the expanse of water into the distance. I hope I don’t regret that swim later!

bath time

We walked along the lake shore through a rice field to the small town center. Victor taught us that “Amakuru” means “how are you” or more literally “are you still alive” and the response is “Nimeza” or “yes.” The town center (was it even a town?) consisted of a little row of shops and restaurants down the street and then an open, flat area where women were sorting clothes and sheets of sorghum seeds were spreading out to dry in the sun. We took four motorcycle taxis ("motos") and jostled our way back up the hills to the orphanage. 

The motos

Making paper boxes

Putting on baby Sharina

That afternoon, my mom and I spent time with several children. We taught some younger ones how to make pipe-cleaner and bead dolls and some of the older ones how to make boxes. The children were so fascinated that we spent almost two hours just doing crafts with them. During the children's dinner time, we walked to the nursery. One of the caretakers was dressing a tiny baby girl named Sharina. I asked if I could hold her and she placed the little one in my arms. She was precious, just several months old. I asked if one of the caretakers would wrap the baby onto my back like an African mother. A lady gathered towels and blankets and had me bend over and placed Sharina onto my back. She wrapped the blankets around the baby and then twisted and tied them several times across my chest so she was secure. Ever since I have been here, I have wanted to carry a baby on my back, and it was so fun! I could here her cooing behind me and her little feet would wiggle. I walked around with her strapped to me for a little as the sun sank below the hills. By the time I walked with her back to the nursery, she was fast asleep.

Notice the feet
Before bed time, the children came to a bonfire in a pit behind the guest house. They raved and chanted and danced around the blazing flames. Like my mom said, the scene could have been from a hundred years ago—tribal ceremonies around the fire. It was slightly chaotic with all the children and the loud chanting and screaming. 

Today has been mostly driving to the Virungas. Now, here I sit waiting for my chance to see the gorillas for the first time... 

She is fast asleep

The baby!!!

1 comment:

  1. YOU WENT SWIMMING!!! AND your mom road on the motorcycle taxi :) craziness. I am so very happy for you that you get to live out this amazing dream of yours and I am not at ALL jealous :) Love you so much beautiful girl! Stay safe and enjoy every single minute of this! xoxox