El Camino de la Muerte

In order to do this post I have to go back a bit. At this moment I am in India, having arrived here from China this morning. But for now I have to go back to Rwanda. Back to a sleepless night in Kigali soon after having returned there from Gisenyi close to the DRC border with Rwanda. I had been working in the remote rural area around Lake Kivu for days and was relieved to be back at the hotel which had begun to feel like a home from home. It was around midnight when I suddenly realised that I had, at dawn of the same day, breezily wished my son (via Skype) a fun time on his excursion along Bolivia’s infamous Death Road. It began to dawn on me that I had been so preoccupied with my own work that I had failed to do much research on where my son was headed. The little I had done, had shown some kid riding through a forest on a mountain bike. But now I had some time, it was late, I was having difficulty sleeping so I clicked onto my laptop and no sooner had I entered Death Road into google, my heart began to beat a little faster. Apart from the alarming images brought swiftly to my attention, I raced through scary statistics and then read about racketeering tour guides who made trail blazing, gung-ho, death defying young tourists sign insurance documents that took their money and alleviated them of any responsibility lest they arrive back in a coffin. The info sent shivers down my spine as I concurrently went into panic mode. I had chirpily said ‘darling just send me a message that you’re alive’. At 1 am I checked the time difference and by my reckoning Gabriel had either fallen off a long edged cliff or he had miraculously finished ‘la ruta’. I frantically began to try and reach him – email, viber, Skype, Facebook. By 2am I was in full meltdown mode,  hyperventilating under my mosquito net and berating myself for being a wholly irresponsible mother. At 3am I sat bolt upright as I heard the gentle ping of some cyberspace communication. “Alive” read the Skype message. Feeling a flood of relief, I dialled through. “You shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet”, Gabriel said, an audible hint of irritation in his voice, “to be fair, it’s not that dangerous – mainly Israelis die there – it’s something to do with them and their state of mind when they come out of the army. I think they just love the edgy nature/cheap everything after years in the military.”

When I could finally and gratefully allow myself to sink into the arms of Morpheus, my last wakeful thought was a half conscious one about why I had not tried to stop him in this tracks. “Aren’t we such globetrotters”, we had joked some days ago, reminding ourselves how exotic it was that we were both on the equator  in far flung destinations.

What I didn’t know at that point was that I had, only days previously, been on the first of my many ‘Death Road’ experiences myself . In the high mountains above Northern Rwanda overlooking Congo we had traversed dirt roads that twisted round the peaks, avoiding large and smaller pot holes and creeping close to the edge devoid of balustrades. I dared not look down as the jeep arched at a crazy angle. I tried to hide my anxiety as I joked with the driver about precious cargo on board, my subtle hint at safeguarding my survival. I had the statistic in my head about Suzuki 4×4 jeeps being the make of car most likely to overturn.  On one lunch break in Musanze Pierre ordered a Guiness and coke. “At lunchtime?” I enquired judgementally given that we still had an afternoon’s hard graft ahead. “Yes”, he replied “if you’re gonna have a car accident it’s better to be drunk and loose – apparently drunk people have less serious injuries because they’re relaxed….better order another one.”

In China our FXB host, Bruce Lee met us at Xi Chang airport in a pick up truck. The sky was grey and a drizzle of rain persisted. Mr. Hu was our driver. A chain smoking social worker turned driver. Or it might have been the other way around. Driver turned social worker. Anyhow, that day he was our driver. Mr. Hu and Bruce Lee had constructed a tarpaulin across all the bags on the back of the truck. We knew we had a three hour drive ahead of us that would get us to Bu Tuo. But there was no way of anticipating the state of the road. What followed eclipsed any road experience ever experienced or undertaken. Three hours of dirt road, a genuine pot hole madness. Three hours of banging, jarring movement in a machine that threw you from side to side, up and down, side to side and up and down again, repeatedly. At one point the car handle came off in Pierre’s hand. He had been holding on so tightly in some vain attempt to hold stasis, that he had managed to dislodge it. Mr. Hu bombed the pick up truck over the endlessly uneven dirt road surface at an impressive speed as we climbed the cloudy mountain peaks taking us to levels of higher altitude. The temperature dropped. We left the humidity of Cheng Du far behind. The most terrifying moment came on the return trip back down to Xi Chang from Bu Tuo when we were about to turn a corner. A giant sized lorry was attempting to do the same thing, as was another truck. The margins were tiny and the drop immense. I am not sure how I held my nerve. Many many sharp intakes of breath as vehicles  overtook on hairpin bends, and blind corners. No barriers. No seat belts. Steep drops. Potholes. Dirt roads. Beeping horns. Speed. Here in India and it is an all too familiar story. India comes a close second to Afghanistan in the car fatality table. There are no rules of the road. The honk of a horn is meant to alert you to the fact that you are about to be overtaken, or plain run over. I leave Puducherry (latterly known as Pondocherry), which means New Town, and is part of Tamil Nadu, later this morning. I will travel the wild  and famous East Coast road along the Bay of Bengal back to Chennai. Tomorrow I will board a flight to Calcutta and then one to Imphal, capital of the state of Manipur, close to Bangladesh. Vuyaraj (which means Prince) who is my superb FXB colleague here, has informed me that along the East Coast Road around ten to fifteen people perish per day in accidents – not surprising with the speed, the overtaking, the amount of scooters, bicycles, motorbike riders sans helmets, and cattle carts- all jostling for space on the road. Also, he tells me, “you will have another testing road experience while in Imphal”.

Life in the fast lane ain’t for the faint hearted.

My addendum to this post is this – these are the lengths that  FXB takes to get to the people that it supports and that is why it is such an amazing organisation and if any of you readers want to support it, I would urge you to do so.

Also…the images here are taken on iPhone – a record of the journey – they bear no relation to the images I am making for the FXB exhibition at the OXO Gallery opening on the 13th August 2014.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yungas_Road

Lorry pile up on Camino de la Muerte

Lorry pile up on Camino de la Muerte

 

http://www.virtualtourist.com/hotels/Africa/Rwanda/Prefecture_de_Kigali/Kigali-2190176/Hotels_and_Accommodations-Kigali-Iris_Guesthouse-BR-1.html

 

 

Mr. Hu covers the gear with a tarpaulin  at the back of the pick up.

Mr. Hu covers the gear with a tarpaulin at the back of the pick up.

 

Bruce Lee struggles with my long bag at Xi Chang airport.

Bruce Lee struggles with my long bag at Xi Chang airport.

 

Good luck symbol for China drivers - the red ribbon, Cheng Du.

Good luck symbol for China drivers – the red ribbon,
Cheng Du.

 

Mountain break with Mr Hu  en route from Xi Chang to Bu Tuo, China.

Mountain break with Mr Hu
en route from Xi Chang to Bu Tuo, China.

My battered Hasselblad pictured in the wing mirror

My battered Hasselblad pictured in the wing mirror

Burundi on my mind

 

I’m back in London but Burundi is on my mind. I keep going back to the border crossing experience, the edginess that the country has over Rwanda, the noisy generator that kept breaking down. And Andrew, the South African who was in the bar drinking heavily and who incessantly called out for the waiter, he must have named, during the opening game of the World Cup. “Rubbish”, he would shout out, “Rubbish” what’s heppening men?” in between swigs of Red Bull, Heineken and a fondle of the prostitute in a tight fitting outfit on his right arm. I longed to ask him what he did for a living. I overheard him say ” I love money too much”. In a way it was best to try and conjure up his occupation in life – a mercenary, a drug dealer, a pimp perhaps. Later that night and I mean later, like 4 am…I could hear him on the balcony facing the reception that overlooked the secure car park where our Suzuki 4×4 was stationed. “Yeeeeeep. Yeeeeep. ” he would utter, in an almost comatose drunken stupor. Amazing that he was still standing – the Red Bull had obviously done the trick. It  was interesting to notice that the following evening it was as if he’d  had some personality change. The Andrew personality of the first night had mysteriously vanished. It was as if he’d been lobotomised.  The Andrew of  night two and night three were unrecognisable in comparison to the Andrew of night one – a shadow of his former self really.  He no longer even shouted out for ‘Rubbish’.

Crossing over from Rwanda into Burundi was a fairly easy experience. The money exchange guy at the border swopped American dollars for the softest, most well handled notes I have ever had the pleasure of touching. They felt like gentle cotton cloth ; the print showed the wide-eyed President Pierre Nkurunziza with a slim moustache who stared out fixing you with his doe-eyed gaze. The only surprise I got after my passport had been checked and stamped at the Rwandan exit post, was the Muzungu I bumped into as I turned to leave, the sight of another White person now quite unfamiliar to me.

I never quite got used to the sight of camouflaged army patrolmen with guns alongside the roads that hugged the mountain that snaked down towards Bujumbura. Neither on the way there nor on the way back.

Upon my return my neighbour sent me this link with this message, “I hope you did not jog in Burundi.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-27818254 What I did know is that while I was there, I heard reports of increased tension between Rwanda and Congo, which had resulted in some border  ‘skirmishes’. All the FXB staff members pooh-poohed the very idea of any real problem.  Listening to another news report I listened to an item about  fighting between a Ugandan rebel army and Congolese troops in the National Park. All in all the atmosphere is one of calm – but  there is a sense that troops on the ground are a necessary thing. Back in Bujumbura  I ask our brilliant translator Paul Sindi  if we could look for the Peace and Love bar which Tim Franks, the BBC correspondent had found. I so wanted to find the bar where the correspondent had ‘thrown some shapes’. We asked many people but found no Peace and Love. Though I did find this quite cool little youtube video on my return   ▶ L’Avenir – Live buzz – Peace and love : Burundi – YouTube

( contd below)

Notebook on my bed beside my mosquito net at Credo Hotel Butare Rwanda

Notebook on my bed beside my mosquito net at Credo Hotel Butare Rwanda

 

It’s the food ordering that had been quite the challenge. The Splendid Hotel in Giterama, the Best View Hotel in Musanze, the Credo Hotel in Butare would wrestle for first prize in a bad service merit award.  Pointing at a photograph of a hamburger Pierre thought he was safe to order until a ham and cheese white bread sandwich arrived instead. The  order of a simple toasted cheese served to push him over the edge. Pierre  waited for an hour,  and  watched me happily chomp through my three course set menu ,when finally a toastie did arrive. Smiling and ravenous Pierre bit into it. I saw his expression darken as he seemed to angrily prize the toasted sandwich apart – “that’s the final straw”, he muttered through gritted teeth, as he revealed the fried egg, not the cheese, that he had so eagerly anticipated,  in-between the two slices of tasteless white toast. Just to add insult to injury Pierre mentioned that his view at the Best View Hotel was of the Best View Hotel sign. At the Credo Hotel I asked for ‘just vegetables, please’ and was surprised when a plate of beef cubes alongside the vegetables arrived.  I suggested to  the waiter, whom we had nicknamed Manuel, that he may have been mistaken. He smiled benignly and stared blankly as I passed ‘le boeuf’ to Pierre. The menu suggested that we may want a ‘warm entry’  as opposed to a ‘cold entry’ which was also on offer. What I loved was the Tilapia fish from Lake Victoria and the Mukeke ,a delicious meaty fish from the deepest lake in the world, Lake Tanganyika.

As we drove past the Auberge Kayanza on our way out over the mountains back towards Kigali, I thought about our first meal at the ‘Inn’ in Burundi. Paul Sindi, Damascene and Pierre were silently sitting around the lunch table picking their teeth with toothpicks as is customary after a meal in East Africa. Johnny Cash was playing on the radio. “Is it getting better or do you feel the same? will it make it easier on you now if you’ve got someone to blame…you said one love one life….we get to share/ it leaves you baby if you don’t care for it/ did I disappoint you/or leave a bad taste in your mouth/we get to carry each other/have you come here for forgiveness?”….I was sad to leave Burundi feeling like the time there had been too short.I was just getting to appreciate the chaos, the untidiness and the filth (a contrast to Rwanda’s orderliness and cleanliness), the road insanity as a no traffic light policy presides, the men with their shiny brightly coloured smart shirts with their accessories of the wild sunglasses, the beautiful women side saddled on the bicycle taxis. I sighted one young woman who could have been signed up as a new super model in an instant. Paul said ‘you find her beautiful ?’ “yes I said, she’s exquisite…on a par with Iman, Alek Wek or Naomi Campbell”. “Oh he said she would have no admirers here , she is way too thin.”

“Oh you are so thin”, my friend Jac, said throwing her arms around me with a worried look on her face,as I arrived back in London. I think back to the days when Robbie Tshabalala called me ‘mafuta’ (fattie) and I think about the beautiful young woman sitting side saddle on the bicycle as she disappeared into a line of traffic in Bujumbura.

 

 

Sad looking Gorilla advertises Rwandan finest tea

Sad looking Gorilla advertises Rwandan finest tea

 

Dusk walker, Buterere Village, Burundi

Dusk walker, Buterere Village, Burundi

Lone walker

Lone walker

 

Bujumbura, Lake Tanganyika

Bujumbura, Lake Tanganyika

Polaroid frame we made for the rice workers who allowed me to  photograph them in Bujumbura

Polaroid frame we made for the rice workers who allowed me to photograph them in Bujumbura

 

Sounds in the Surrounds, East Africa

Banana plantation Rwamagana district Rwanda

Banana plantation
Rwamagana district Rwanda

 

Waking up every morning since arriving in Africa, I have been aware that it’s as if my every sense, my soul, my body knows it’s presently residing in the continent of my birth. For me that acute sense is all in the sound and the light. It’s in the early hours of morning when a strangely familiar yet unfamiliar language is being spoken on the street, or the birdcall from the myriads of species can be heard. As the dawn breaks it is the unmistakeable African light drawn from a southern sun that envelops me and welcomes me home. I mean that in the generic sense, of course. South Africa is a long way from Uganda, Rwanda or Burundi but still, there it all is – in my childhood home my bedroom backed onto the kitchen and I would hear Muriel Matanda, our servant (yes that was and still is, the ‘normal’ gig in South Africa), singing quietly or chatting earnestly to her husband, Norman, in Xhosa. Here on the street it is the jabbering of Kinyarwanda that I hear when I am waking.  Back then Muriel taught me lullabies and even the ‘click song’. At one of her concerts Miriam Makeba disdainfully announced before singing it, that  “the Colonisers of our country call this next song the click song”.  In fact the real Xhosa title of the song is Qongqothwane and it has a lot to do with a beetle going up a steep hill and that the beetle is in fact the witchdoctor. Today I can still recall every word and I can do the clicks too.  As a name drop aside, I was once photographing Stevie Wonder and I audaciously sang ‘the click song’ to him. He listened intently and smiling, politely said “ I must talk to my people about that”.  I think more than failing to impress, my endeavours left him bemused. In Apartheid South Africa, in White schools Afrikaans and English were compulsory but Xhosa, Venda, Sotho or Zulu were not taught – an insanity given the population statistics  but sadly understandable given the paranoid, Lager mentality of the profoundly unjust Apartheid state. Here Kinyarwanda is often mixed in with the language of their colonisers. Many Rwandans have French names. Alphonse, Celeste, Damascene, Christine, Trephine, Florence to name but a few. The merging of the two languages is rather beautiful in the sound.

The cacophony of sounds in town in East Africa are many; the lowing of cattle, the beeping horns, birds and crickets chirping, the sound of a community going about their busy business. Surprisingly the one bird I hear is the Piet My Vrou. That is the name I knew from South Africa. Literally translated it would mean ‘Pete, my wife’ which of course makes no sense at all. Nonetheless it was comforting to hear the familiar call of the  red chested cuckoo here in Rwanda. Apparently the bird migrates from the Sahara all the way to South Africa. The other bird identified by my FXB host, Damascene as the ‘corbeau’ is the black and white coloured crow which gives out a loud squawk more than a chirp.The car horn here is less of the aggressive kind and more of an alert – a gentle reminder that you had better get out the road, or a subtle announcement that the driver will soon be overtaking. Added to the ‘noise list’ in Butare and Gitarama is the very loud call of the imam at 4am – a seemingly extended version just before morning light breaks. In Kigali and in Nyamagabe district near Butare, the other more surreal sound is the cackling of the fruit bats. They seem to converge on one or two very tall trees and hang like over ripe, oversized dates, and in the daytime they are highly visible. Pierre suggested they sound like hyenas and I tend to agree with him.

I had two disturbing sightings of chickens -two dozen of them being transported upside down, strapped by their claws to a bicycle. Normally one would hear loud clucking coming from indignant roosters but these were silent, as if muted by their outrageous situation.

Yesterday we descended into a low lying valley – the hike was a long one but what a treat once we got to our intended destination, a potato plantation run by a cooperative that FXB support. Adjacent to the valley a river runs. The water sweeps around to find a pine forest and then waterfalls itself down a mountain on the other side. Paul Sineikubwabo, my translator,  told me he does a lot of walking in his spare time. On hearing the water trickling he said, “ Oh I love the music of water, it was very quiet, he said, and then I heard the music of water, like whispering or murmuring”.  That reminded me of the sound of tall grass swishing as I walked through it and across the well-trodden paths of the Valley floor…not dissimilar to the sound of ruddy sorghum stalks in the wind.

Today I danced with the women of two cooperatives we visited in the Huye district. When we arrived , the women had finished working in the banana fields and had spontaneously broken out into song and dance on the uneven dusty ground on a sloped hillside. The voices  were excited, happy – a clapping and a whooping accompanied the dance. Later a group meeting ended with the same ritual.

The last sound I would like to write about is the incessant music sound I can hear right now at the Credo Hotel in Butare. Butare used to be the capital of Rwanda. The last king of Rwanda, King V of Rwanda  lived here. He is now in exile in the US , apparently you can find him in a low rent housing complex near the intersection between route 66 and State Route 655  still answering to his adopted name there ‘ the King of Africa’– his palace is now a school or a training centre.  Most academics gravitate towards this town because there is an established university here. The bar downstairs has music blaring day and night – it’s either French rap or music from Congo, Rwanda or Burundi.

So, in my sleepless state I have been writing, editing, captioning images and sometimes reading my book. The sound that keeps me awake is a mix of the music, the imam’s call to prayer, the sonic click of the bats,bird call and general people-traffic noise. When I worked as a press photographer in Johannesburg years ago my colleague Robbie Tshabalala used to say to me I was too sensitive to noise and sounds. He nicknamed me ‘Mafuta’ which means Fattie or plump one. “ Mafuta you need to come to the township more often, these White suburbs are so quiet”. And there you have it, all these years on and I am still extremely noise sensitive. I would rather call it ‘sound sensitive’.

*******

Addendum:  I thought I had posted this days ago from Rwanda only to discover now on my return to the UK, that I had been let down by the bad internet connection there.

Last week a friend of mine sent me this beautiful poem which I thought I would share as it seems so apposite to what I am experiencing here.

Why do I write today?

The beauty of
the terrible faces
of our nonentites
stirs me to it:

colored women
day workers—
old and experienced—
returning home at dusk
in cast off clothing
faces like
old Florentine oak.

Also

the set pieces
of your faces stir me—
leading citizens—
but not
in the same way.

William Carlos Williams

FXB Beneficiary Felix Twagirimana and chickens turkeys owned by family Muhanga district Rwanda

FXB Beneficiary Felix Twagirimana and chickens turkeys owned by family Muhanga district Rwanda

Emmanuel with plastic hand made football. At  Bwirika school where there are 3 rooms for 300 pupils. FXB have helped build classrooms there. Muhanga district, Rwanda

Emmanuel with plastic hand made football. At Bwirika school where there are 3 rooms for 300 pupils. FXB have helped build classrooms there. Muhanga district, Rwanda

 

 John Dushmimana,with his albino rabbits, Nyanza district Rwanda

John Dushmimana,with his albino rabbits, Nyanza district Rwanda

 

 

Mob hug after dancing with the women in the banana plantation with FXB Cooperative, Huye district, Rwanda

Mob hug after dancing with the women in the banana plantation with FXB Cooperative, Huye district, Rwanda

 

Roads less travelled; East to West Rwanda

This is such a random way to start this blog but there have been a number of things that have bugged me since I last posted here.

  1. In my last post I shifted from “We went …..” to “I went…” –   unforgiveable in any editors  eye. Excuse me but I may do it again in this and other posts too.
  2. I wrote:  “This therefore is a good spot to salute the many mothers and their sons.” Later I realized I should have written “…to salute the many mothers and their good sons”. What would be the point of saluting a bad man, I say.

Then there are the omissions. I meant to report that it costs the foreign visitor $500 – $750 to take a trip to visit the Gorillas.  And since we’re on the concept of visitor or in local term  ‘muzungu’. Wherever I have traveled in the last many days, I have been greeted by the shouts and shrieks of ‘muzungu’. If you look up the meaning of the term in the Urban dictionary it says : a term used in Africa for “White Person”. Literally translated it means “someone who roams around aimlessly”. The word comes from Swahili and came to be applied to the whites of East Africa because they were always encountered as visiting colonial officials, tourists or traders.

I also meant to tell the story of the samosa seller in Kampala who gave me two dozen eggs even though I was flying to Kigali the following morning. I can’t take them, please feed your children, I implored. Of course it is an insult to decline a gift, plus she may be offered a blessing in return for having given the gift in the first place. She insisted that her hungry looking children were indeed well fed, so the eggs  accompanied us back to Kampala and went on, I hope, to be cooked in the homes of the FXB staff.

And now ..back to Kigali …

Leaving Kigali was like going into the great unknown. Last Saturday morning after Damascene had done his compulsory national duty, we left for Rwamagana – a word that took several practice sessions, in a kind of mouth fumbling manoeuvre . (Kinyarwanda is the local dialect – not an easy language I am told.) The weekend plan was to work in the Eastern Province of Rwanda, visiting the FXB beneficiaries there. Damascene steered the 4×4 right towards Tanzania. If we had turned left we’d have headed towards Uganda. Driving in Rwanda is a nail biting experience. Ever present on the side of the highway are banana bearers, water carriers, bicycle riders laden with produce of all descriptions, women with babies on their backs, as well as jay walking pedestrians.

Damascene Ndayisaba is a large character in every respect. At our motel, St Agnes, on the morning after we arrived, we were ready for a full days work. Damascene announced “ We must take a good breakfast”. My usual breakfast since our arrival in Africa has been bananas, pineapple and some Ikinyomoro (tomato fruit). Ikinyomoro looks like a mix between a pomegranate and a tomato. It’s tricky to penetrate but once sectioned it is satisfying in it’s tart flavour. We were told ‘it is good for the blood’. But now in front of us was a steaming bowl of beef consommé, a sort of soup. In fact it’s called  Katoga, which consists of meat, peas, vegetables, tomatoes. Damascene refers to it as his ‘African breakfast’. Alongside it was some stale white bread. The other side order was a bunch of bananas.  This was our breakfast. Later on in the day Damascene insisted we try tripe – innards of goat cooked into finely cubed brochettes (skewers) that seem very popular here.  He was not too fussed when neither Pierre, my assistant, nor I fancied the tripe after a mouthful or two. He threw back his head and laughed heartily recounting a story about when he was attending an Aids conference. “A South African woman colleague of mine was given a vegetarian meal. I could not believe it. She started crying.  She said, I am a Zulu and I need meat”. He delivered a mighty roar of laughter again.

Meat in the rural areas is a great delicacy. The average family probably consumes meat maybe twice a month,if lucky. Livestock is a highly prized possession. Maize is the main nutrient here, as are vegetables such as yams, potatoes, plantain as well as sugar cane, and bananas. That’s because they grow everywhere. I have seen poverty on such a scale in the past ten days. One single mother in the Eastern province proudly showed me her pigpen and then her house with two small bedrooms. Each had a bed raised high off the ground adorned with a mosquito net. The key point though is that the two beds housed the entire family- eight children and the mother. How did they sleep ? How did it work ? Top to toe, on top of each other, in shifts…the mother said it was fine. The only clue to the fact that there was indeed some difficulty is that two of the children appeared to have some contagious looking skin condition. I think the pigs had a better deal.

Its hard to describe the many many people we have passed lugging loads, bearing heavy burdens on bicycles, on their heads, gathering water, men, women, children alike…it’s the rhythm of daily survival that is most noticeable here and indeed awe inspiring. We returned to Kigali on Sunday night – to the Iris Guesthouse , our home from home and decided to venture around the corner to a highly recommended Indian restaurant. En route in the dark street, Pierre and I paused to observe the fast flying fruit bats that seem to be virtually as big as Egyptian geese. As we stood listening to their sonic shrieks  a man with a gun, waved us on. When a man with a gun tells you to go, you go. In all fairness he was guarding the back entrance of the Presidential grounds and clearly doing a good job – seeing off two muzungus who were indeed ‘wandering aimlessly’ !

It’s here that I might mention the clear favoritism that is happening in the male-female department. Without wanting to sound embittered, or hacked off it is fair to say that every time we have arrived at a hotel, Pierre has been handed the keys to the better room. The room with the walk in shower, the room with the pink duvet cover neatly folded, the room without a broken shower, the larger room. I almost believed him when he told me, upon our arrival at the Peace Land Hotel in Gisenyi, Northern Province on Monday, that his room had a Jacuzzi. I noticed on the local news earlier today that there is a big national debate going down on gender equality at the moment. Rwanda has an excellent record as it has a female majority in Parliament, so I won’t point any fingers here!

Gisenyi overlooks Lake Kivu which is stunningly beautiful. Pierre called it the Monte Carlo of Rwanda. The beaches line the lake coastline – a staggering amount of cranes, bats, heron, and other bird species lounge in the foliage – palms, banana trees and other beautiful vegetation that surround the water. Emmanuel Habyarimana, our charming FXB host took us on a tour. I have a surprise for you, he said, as we drove slowly past the beaches. Turning a corner the Democratic Republic of Congo border post was right ahead of us. We parked up. I got out of the car and took some ‘snaps’ . A border patrol officer immediately came up to me and insisted I delete every image. He watched as I did so. Although intimidated somehow I managed to salvage the iPhone images.

Our host and driver the next few days was Alphonse  Ndereyimana who works for the FXB office in Goma. He took us out for dinner for next two nights and drove us from Gisenyi to Musenze and drove us back to Kigali today so we have had lots of time to talk. His stories are fairly harrowing.  Under a perfect night sky, sitting in an idyllic hotel pool bar setting, not far from Goma he recounted how seventy five members of his close family were killed in the Genocide. All his uncles, his aunts, his cousins. I want at least five children”, he said – he is getting married on the 12th July. “ I want them all to be male, you know why?” he asked, “So they can regenerate my family”. He witnessed horrific acts of brutality. The next night at an even more perfect setting – a lakeside restaurant further along Lake Kivu he described how the assailants came to the villages and how they would disable their victims first, machetes in hand. He put his hand up in the air and whooshed it down showing the thrust of the implement. The story that changed the look in his eye was how, aged eight, running hand in hand with his brother, away from their attackers, they invited a fellow boy, a neighbour, to run and hide with them. The boy refused and took a left turn. Alphonse and his brother managed to evade the men and hide but they bore witness to the boy going like a lamb to the slaughter – machete straight to the Achilles heel. “Then he could’nt run,” he added dourly.

Goma today is peaceful, though utterly lawless sounding. Alphonse crosses the border daily. “Because I can’t sleep when I am in Goma”, he says. “They have everything – money, minerals,but they are always fighting – it’s mismanagement”.  There are so many rebel groups trying to get a piece of something. It’s a tragic situation.

We are back in Kigali now, back at the Iris Guesthouse and it feels good. I think of Innocent (yes that is his name) who has been my translator for the past few days. I think of his phone ringing high up in the mountains overlooking Gisenyi,  Goma and Lake Kivu. And I think of that ringtone with it’s strange voice announcing loudly  “Praise the Lord. Hallelujah.Praise the Lord. Hallelujah”.

 

 

 

Red dust kicked up by passing car showers  banana bearers , Eastern Province, Rwanda

Red dust kicked up by passing car showers banana bearers , Eastern Province, Rwanda

 

A young boy chases the car as we leave Kabashara, the mountain village overlooking Lake Kivu, Goma and Gisenyi

A young boy chases the car as we leave Kabashara, the mountain village overlooking Lake Kivu, Goma and Gisenyi

FXB beneficiary in her mushroom growing room, outside Kigali

FXB beneficiary in her mushroom growing room, outside Kigali

 

Mountain village outside Kigali, FXB cooperative member accompanies me down the mountain as I leave.

Mountain village outside Kigali, FXB cooperative member accompanies me down the mountain as I leave.

Faraha in banana plantation, outside Kigali

Faraha in his banana plantation, outside Kigali

Sunset on Lake Kivu

Sunset on Lake Kivu

swimmers Lake Kivu

Swimmers Lake Kivu with tree full of cranes in the background

Bag full of carrots being taken to the river to be washed. Musanze District, North West Rwanda

Bag full of carrots being taken to the river to be washed. Musanze District, North West Rwanda

 

 

Damascene in Musanze

Damascene in Musanze

FXB staff guide us into Musanze and through some of the villages

FXB staff guide us into Musanze and through some of the villages

 

Obama in Musanze

Obama in Musanze