Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Primate Studies Field School has finally begun!!!!! Led by Dieter and Netzin Steklis through the University of Arizona, this month-long program is focused on primate research throughout the country of Rwanda. I could not be more impressed with my professors. They both have worked at Karisoke Research Center studying mountain gorillas in Rwanda and with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. I am so excited for this adventure!

The group!
On July 1st, all the students arrived-- 8 young women. While we waited for everyone's flights to arrive, those of us who were here went to an orphanage for street boys in Kigali called Les Enfants de Dieu. When we arrived, the boys congregated in the small dining hall all sat with eager eyes as we introduced ourselves. There are 106 boys currently at the center, all of whom are originally street boys. Whether they lost their family in the genocide or were orphaned from AIDS or simply lost contact with their families, they all have found a new home at Les Enfants De Dieu. The head boy introduced some of the projects that several of the boys are in charge of (e.g.- sports, health, environment, education, etc.). It was wonderful to see that the orphanage is giving leadership opportunities to these kids.

We split into three teams to spend time with the boys: a drawing group, a sports group, and a team for the younger children. I went off with some of the younger boys to play with beach balls and bubbles. These boys had more attitude than the orphanages I have been to before… some wore the backwards hats and bro tanks. They weren’t necessarily spoiled…I just think that the time they spent on the street has made a permanent mark on them. Their energy was extraordinary and they were so eager to interact with us. I opened up the beach balls and within five minutes of them playing with them, they both had popped and were destroyed. The bubbles I had were used up within a similar amount of time. I liked playing with them and talking to some of the ones who spoke better English. It was eye-opening to hear some of the hardships that these young men have been through. I can scarcely imagine. 

Once the rest of the students had arrived by July 2nd, we began the field school with 4.5 hours of lecture at 8:30 AM. First, Dieter and Netzin did a short orientation. We will be here for the whole month of July, travelling around the country in three national parks- Akagera (an open savanna with baboons and vervet monkeys and galagos), Nyungwe (a deep jungle with chimpanzees and many other small monkeys like colobus, mangabey, mona monkeys), and Volcanoes (the Virunga mountains with mountain gorillas and golden monkeys). We are a research team, not a tourist group, they emphasized. Then, all eight of us students presented 20 minute presentations on aspects of Rwandan culture. Our presentations included a short activity as well. I presented on Rwandan crafts and taught the group how to weave pipe-cleaner baskets. Some topics were: Kinyarwandan, Religion, family, women, Volcanoes National Park, Human-wildlife conflict, and geography. Katie had us do a short celebration dance and Maya had us play mancala. The presentations ended up taking a total of 4 and a half hours! Normally I would get bored after that long of class, but I really enjoyed it.

That afternoon, we all piled into a minibus and went to the Genocide Memorial. The Memorial was very well done, and extremely heartbreaking. We saw the massed graves where more than 250,000 bodies or remains of bodies are buried, with more being added every year. There was a wall of names near the tombs, listing thousands who had died in the genocide. The vast majority of the people who were slaughtered are not even listed because no one was left in their family to record their deaths. The interior of the museum mostly documented the entire events of the genocide in detail through words and pictures. It was interesting to read about how it really happened. It was obvious that it had been coming and there were many warning signs, but no one listened. When the president’s plane was shot down in 1994, the country erupted and more than 1 million people were slaughtered in 100 days. Not only that, people who were not brutally killed were raped, mutilated, and tortured. They had walls full of pictures of people who died and cases filled with skulls and bones… The rooms that told the stories of children who died and how they died was the worst. I can never understand why people would murder their own countrymen simply because of racial differences. The upstairs to the museum had memorials to other genocides, such as Armenia, Cambodia, the Holocaust, the Balkans, and many more. I was completely floored by how recurrent genocides have been over the past century and about how little we hear of them in school. 

The Hotel Des Mille Collines (Hotel Rwanda)
After the Memorial, we went to the Milles Collines-- the hotel that is the subject of the film Hotel Rwanda. Dieter and Netzin told us all stories about their experience with the genocide (they had been studying gorillas at the time). It was intriguing to hear an inside perspective. What a moving day!

On July 3rd, we had another morning filled with lecture. Each of us again had prepared 15 minute presentations on one of the primates we will encounter in the country. I presented on the galagos, or bushbabies. How exhilarating to know we may see and study 12 different species during our time here!!! That afternoon, we went to a craft market to shop and then a cloth market later in the evening. The city was bustling at night. 

Today, we are traveling to Akagera National Park to begin our research. We will be camping in the park for 6 days and studying baboons and vervet monkeys during the day, and galagos at night. I could not be more excited!

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