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Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

I’ve been home in Montreal for a week now and have finally settled back into the rhythm of things. Simple things like supermarkets and the metro are very odd to me. However, I’ve been so well treated at DFGFI that I feel this culture shock would be much bigger otherwise.

My last day in Rwanda was just as memorable as my past two months doing this internship. I was informed last minute that the Rwandan Office of Tourism and National Parks had found an open spot on one of the gorilla treks for the morning of my departure. Some would say that deciding to climb a volcano a few hours before boarding a plane is just a bit too rushed, flaky even. Others, however, would point out that passing up an opportunity to see the rare Mountain Gorillas that can only be found in the area I’ve been working in for the past two months would be just plain foolish. I agree.

I woke up at before dawn in order to make sure that everything I had was packed and ready to go for when I got back from my trek so I could make a mad dash to Kigali to catch my plane. I had been told that if I was going to slam down the serious cash to see the gorillas ($500!), that I should try to go see the Susa group that is the longest trek but the largest group. Alas, I didn’t have enough time to spend trekking all the way up the Karisimbi volcano and so I settled on a steeper but shorter hike up to the Amahoro group.

After a long drive along the usual rock strewn roads that my driver jokingly dubed “an African massage,” we arrived at the bottom of the Bisoke volcano. The trek was long, the group had moved further up the volcano to the dismay of the other tourists. The altitude is just a bit too tough for some people and when you are not young and spry, the climb can be a killer. I’ve been living in Ruhengeri for two months now and have no longer fallen victim to loud panting after climbing up a small hill.

The guide and I were a bit ahead of the group when we finally arrived at a massive crater half-way up the Bisoke volcano. Our guide began to make vocalizations to announce our arrival and that we meant to harm. “rrraaa-hummm, rrraaa-hummm.” All of a sudden, there was a huge amount of rustling in the trees next to us. The guide and I were suddenly face to face with a 600 pound gorilla. The silverback had come to say hi. Directly behind us was a sudden drop into the crater; squeezing my hand, the guide and I made ourselves as small as possible as the big guy brushed by us. After what seemed like an eternity, he went off in another direction to see what our next move would be.

With my heart racing, I was excited to see the rest of the group. Not far off, we could hear more rustling in the trees. Above us, another male gorilla climbed into one of the trees and started to peel the bark and chow down. Soon, a few young ones came round to see what all the commotion was about. Once they realized it was just some bald albinos come to stand and stare at them again, they went back to wrestling each other. I can’t imagine what they think of us. What strange behaviour for an animal to do nothing but stare at them with seemingly no purpose whatsoever? I know one thing for sure, these gorillas blew me away and I could have spent ages up there on that volcano with them Every thing they did mesmerized me. When I caught a glimpse of the recently newborn baby, I was absolutely elated. When they broke out in screams bickering over food, my adrenaline began pumping. Every second was amazing. If I had left Rwanda without having been able to experience this moment I would have been kicking myself forever.

Rwanda, I will miss you. I have come to love you and all the people within. I’ll be back to see these gorillas again.

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Arriving in DRC

My first day in the Congo was a day of sitting in various seats while the world moved around me.  I’m not sure why travelling makes people so tired and cranky.  People sit in a chair all day most of the time anyway either in front of a computer or a T.V. Got up early in the morning so I could be fresh and prepared for when Dr. Alecia Lily came by to pick me up.  She is the Vice-President of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and the President of Africa Programs.  However, it turns out that getting up early was a bit optimistic since when the car finally did come round to pick me up it was over three hours late.  When travelling to other countries, I am always aware of the stark contrast between concepts of time.  North America is obsessed with punctuality and getting things done on time.  I have a particularly jumpy personality and so even I am too punctual for most people in Canada.  I have a knack for showing up to things way too early because I am always convinced that the bus into downtown Montreal will never show up and this is most often the case.  Just a side note for anyone interested, I have a deep loathing for the Société de Transport de Montréal.  At any rate, I have no reason to complain about people elsewhere being on Africa time.  Because the DR Congo is not a place for tourists, it’s pretty lucky that Alecia is allowing me to tag along while she visits the programs going on at the Tayna Nature Reserve.

 

 

Getting to Tayna takes time.  It’s about an hour’s drive to the Congolese border from Ruhengeri and about another hour just purchasing the visa and getting through immigration.  Once on the other side, you are in Goma which is a bustling city eclipsed by a volcano and sitting prettily next to Lake Kivu.  There are whole sectors of the city sitting atop black volcanic rock left over from the last time the lava flowed through a few years ago.  The thing that stands out the most in Goma is the sheer amount of UN forces stationed there.  Everywhere you look there is a jumble of blue turbans from the Sikh division of the peacekeepers who are being trucked around the various parts of the city.  While waiting for the car to bring me to the airport, I sat outside my hotel watching peacekeeper after peacekeeper jog by for their morning exercise.  Because of the insecurity occurring within and around the Virunga National Park, the next part of our journey was by plane.  A few hours later we arrived in Butembo where we all piled into a truck to drive the rest of the way.  Now by the time we got to this step, the sun had gone done and this made for an interesting journey.  To say the road was in disrepair is to put it lightly.  There were some holes in the road that were half the size of our vehicle.  Without any seatbelts or even proper seats, we were heaved from one side to the other for the next four hours.

 

 

Looking out the windows was certainly enough to concern anyone not used to the wilderness.  All you could see beside the blackness is the density of the trees.  We were truly in the deepest darkest Africa.  All of a sudden a light was seen in the darkness.  Then the soft sound of drums could be heard in the distance.  As the sound grew louder, voices could be heard as well.  Upon rounding a corner, we saw them: a group of dancers moving to the beat of the drums.  They had apparently been dancing all day waiting for our arrival.

 

After some supper, I settled right into bed.  I had arrived in the unknown.  I eagerly awaited the morning sun.

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It’s about time

OK, OK. So I guess I should post something about my little trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Here is a very large article for your reading pleasure.  I know you all read these top to bottom and then go off and research exra information about it all… right?

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Delay

Ok, well I was waiting for some clearance on these but I leave Rwanda in a week!  So I’m going to post and then make changes as they are suggested to me.  Enjoy!

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I’m back from a whirlwind week in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  I’ll tell you all about it soon but I still need to catch you up on the stuff that’s been happening prior to the internet being struck by lightning and exploding incident.  Some exciting stuff, I assure you.

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When coming to Rwanda, I had many ideas of what I might encounter; fellow bloggers was not one of them.  Two friends, one who had been living in Rwanda for the past two years and one who is a lifelong Rwandan have recently left for the United States.  Both have blogs.

 

  Jean Pierre Nshimyimana is the water and sanitation consultant at Karisoke and was the first person I met when I came to Ruhengeri.  Fluent in French, English and Kinyarwandan, he is something of the unofficial translator for us Muzungus and has been my guide around the Bisate Clinic and Water tanks around the Volcanoes National Park.  He has just landed in Boston where he will be studying at MIT.  You can follow along with him as he discovers fire hydrants, sprinkler systems and American cuisine.  The latter is something he is so dreading that he has decided that the only way to survive it is to become vegetarian and avoid any greasy food.

 

 

Sean Clauson has been living in Rwanda for the past two years documenting on film his sister’s amazing work on the Bisate and Shingiro clinics.  You can read backwards to realize just how far these little clinics have come since they have been rehabilitated.  He too has just left for the US where he will be editing all 500 hours of his footage and attempt to make them into something coherent.

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So I can’t really post anything about the programs here for now but I can (I think) post maybe about how well I’m being treated.  I’ve got to post something because I’ve noticed that the number of people reading this has dwindled from around 50 or so to about 5. I assume those 5 consist of my mom, my roomate, and the people at Karisoke who are interested to see if I posted anything about them yet.  If you’re really wondering what I’ve been up to or just plain hate to read or are a big fan of travel slideshow reels, you just need to look at my Flickr Page to see what pretty pictures I’ve taken recently. But then again, you wouldn’t be able to read any of my witty banter.

the researchers' houseAnyway, I’ve been living at one of the Karisoke houses that are the home to the non-rwandan part of the staff. For the moment, I live with Veronica Vecellio and Simon Childs. Veronica is the program coordinator of the gorilla research program and the house is essentially her home. She’s very kind to me and has been someone I look towards when I have a problem. Simon is a smart-alec British guy who’s in charge of the confiscated gorillas program. He pretty much hangs out with orphan gorillas all day. He’s the man to talk to if you want to go out and have a “night on the town” or else known as going to have a beer at the Muhabura hotel. Weekday nights are exciting here in Ruhengeri.

Karisoke Research Center

The rest of my time is spent at the office where I sit in the lobby with my computer or have interviews with the staff. You’ll hear all about them when the interviews are put up.

my office

Luckily enough there have been two other volunteers who are in Ruhengeri during the exact same time as me. Tierra and Clare are two Americans who are working with the Mountain Gorilla Veterinarian Project and they only live a block away.  Having people to share the experience who are both new as you are and the same age helps tremendously. Being the only young white girl around creates quite a stir and having other girls around certainly helps deflect at least some of the attention.

Clare sorting through years of MGVP gossip

However, my main source of company and who isn’t busy at any point in time is Miss. Goma, the house cat.  I’ve never met a lazier cat in my life but it suits me just fine because she does nothing else but lie around in my lap all day.

Goma

Well, now  you know how hard my life is. It’s been a struggle being taken care of so well but I think I’ll survive.

My backyard at night

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