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A day and a half. I had a day and a half to interview a whole village.  There is so much going on at the Tayna Nature Reserve in the DR Congo that I could spend an eternity discovering all the different ways each individual helped out.  In essence, the reserve was created by the coming together of people dedicated to the success of the project; therefore, not one person could be overlooked when talking about its creation and expansion.

 

 

Guillaume  Kambale Kioma, Program Director for Research at Tayna Nature Reserve (TNR), worked alongside the TNR Program Coordinator Pierre Kakule Vwirisihikya at the Virunga National Park many years ago.  For ten years, Guillaume and Pierre worked through dangerous circumstances.  The Park is a battle ground between rebel groups, charcoal dealers and poachers.  Despite constant threat, Guillaume and Pierre stayed on often without pay.  When Pierre began the Tayna Nature Reserve Project with DFGFI, Guillaume immediately joined in.  “It is better to do community reserves because the population benefits,” he says, “People are less likely to attack the community based reserves because they have a vested interest in it.”  In contrast to his previous job, his post as Program Director of Research would require no guns.  Because the DR Congo is such a mountainous place, the Tayna Reserve survives largely undisturbed by the civil war waging to the south.  Tayna has grown so much in the past years that it now encompasses 90,000 hectares with four stations around the park for the trackers. 

 

 

While all the villages are committed to helping to making the reserve work, funds are always the main problem.  The trackers need brick houses because the current ones are made of mud and they do not have any electricity or potable water at all the stations.  They are also in need of more technical staff and more men in the field.

 

 

The feeling of community is overwhelming.  Everyone is dedicated to the success of the reserve.  I know that this month everyone is going to be working extra hard… the road needs to be repaired!

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300 orphans

Unbeknownst to the rest of the world, over 300 orphans in the middle of the Democratic Republic of Congo were singing and dancing to their hearts content.  The sound was deafening and amazingly infatuating.  All I wanted to do was dance with them until the day was out.  “We say welcome to you. We say welcome to Tayna Reserve! We are happy, happy! We are happy, happy, happy, happy happy!” They sang to us in almost perfect unison.  One blow of the whistle: tweet “Ready!” tweet “Ready!” tweet “Ready! Ready! Ready! For conservation!” they all yelled their school motto excitedly.

 

 

 

The Muyisa Primary school is one of the many results of the Tayna Nature Reserve.  The school is funded by the entire community through the reserve with the help of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.  Each one of these students is an orphan of either war or AIDS.  They come from far and wide with some kids walking some 5km to school each day over mountainous terrain.  When they arrive they each pile into their classes.  There are around 60 kids all sharing a class where they learn about such subjects as math, French, English, science, geography, religion, culture and, of course, conservation.

 

 

The school master and English teacher Kakule Nguru is very proud of his job.  The school was founded in 2005 and he took the position in 2007.  His biggest worry is that next year will mark the first graduates and they will need a secondary school.  “The people will help build the school but they are poor,” he says.  When something needs to be built in the community, every family helps out but the meagre funds they are able to pool often does not meet allow them to achieve their goals.  That is where DFGFI comes in. However, even with DFGFI’s help, there is often not enough.  There is also a need for an orphanage where the orphans can stay.  While the children are provided a meal and are cleaned when they get there, they are not always well cared for at their foster homes. “You can never truly be an orphan here; there is always some relative who will take them in but they are not cared for and as you can see they are very dirty,” he says.

 

 

With another beat of the drum, the children are dancing again and Nguru joins in.  It is very evident that he cares a great deal about these kids.  To be quite honest, being around them, it is quite hard not to.

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Golden Monkey Trek

Me and a Golden Monkey

Finally, I get to go in the field, as a tourist mind you but in the field all the same.  Today I went in the field with Deogratias Tuyisingize who is in charge of the Golden Monkey Reseach project to see his Golden Monkeys.  Despite going on a tourist permit, this is the same group of monkeys that are used for research and Deo is familiar with all the monkeys in the group.

 

I got at 5:30am this morning so I could take a proper shower.  I don’t what the point of me missing sleep for that was; it’s not like the monkeys cared.  Anyway, I met Deo at the office so we could drive to the tourism office so I could hand in my permit.  These permits are quite pricey, the golden Monkey being one of the cheapest at $100.  It is also the busy season for tourists and there are at least 50 or so milling about waiting for their briefing.  I am the only person going on the Golden Monkey trek today which is a relief.  The monkeys are hard to photograph and it proves to be even more difficult when jostling for room. 

 

Espoir Muramira

 

My guide for the trek is Espoir Muramira.  He is a friendly guy who seems to really like his job and talking with tourists.  After a quick review of very important facts about the Golden Monkeys, such as they have golden colouring to them, we headed off to Sabinyo Mountain.  The group of monkeys we were about to see is called the Kabatwa group and normally only has one male out of the group’s 80 members.

 

Golden Monkey on the park wall

 

I was surprised how easy it was to get to them.  We did an easy climb through farmers’ field until we hit the park border.  They motioned to me that we were at the Golden Monkeys.  I couldn’t believe it, there on the wall was a Golden Monkey.  The farmers and monkeys seem to be living right on top of each other! The park truly is too small for the animals it protects. I could stand outside, without a permit and watch the monkeys jump from tree to tree; then again, I wouldn’t get very good pictures.

 Deo trains the trackers

Deo catches a butterfly

There are already trackers at the site and they stop taking their data once they see me.  Because these monkeys are used for both tourism and research, every now and then, the poor trackers have to stop their job and wait for the eager Muzungus to take their photos.  The behaviour of the monkeys is affected by a stranger’s presence so even though I am only one person, they cannot use any data while I’m here.  These trackers are the only conservation group where there are both people from the Rwanda Office of National Parks and Tourism and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.  As you can imagine, researchers and the tourist office often have different ideas about how the park should be managed.

Golden Monkey 

 

The monkeys live inside the bamboo zone of the park.  Barely much more is heard but the bamboo rustling and the sound of them breaking off new shoots to eat.  The monkeys are lively creatures and jump from tree to tree.  They are moving all around us and I have to move often to be able to see them.

 

Golden Monkey 

In order to get a good picture of the golden monkeys, you have to be patient.  The whole group travels from one place to another.  Often, the male will call his members back to him.  Once you find a spot where they have to jump from one tree to another, you stay there and wait.  Now this is not an easy thing to do with a puny camera like mine.  You really need to have a fast camera to get the real spectacular shots.

 

 Deo and a golden monkey

 

The only other time I’ve been surrounded by monkeys like this is by a bunch of howler monkeys. These two experiences are completely different.  The howler monkeys have this habit of… howling and can be heard from quite far off.  You expect to face with a horrible den of monsters.  This is not a very encouraging thing when you have just decided to walk off into the forest in the evening like I had decided to do.  They also did not enjoy my presence: they started to throw things. They also decided to try to pee on me: they succeeded.  Golden monkeys, on the other hand, could care less if I had been there or not.  They hardly made a peep and would go to the edge of the trees completely exposing themselves.  The only time they felt the need to hide was when they to sense I was about to take a picture of them.  I imagine them telling each other how they can fool the tourists: “Hey, Mary! Watch me go over to that branch and pose.  I’m going to mess with this girl.”  Then they would calmly climb out in the open.  As I reached for my camera, they would immediately jump back. They’re sneaky buggers.

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A Trek through the Hills

 

Today, Simon Childs from DFGFI, Claire, Tierra, Mike Cranfield who is in charge over at the Mountain Gorilla Veterinarian Project, Dr Denise who is volunteering with the local clinic and me decided to trek up some of the many hills of Rwanda to see if we could find a waterfall that is renowned for being spectacular.

 

We started our journey by clamouring into the MGVP truck and setting off in the direction we hoped would get us to where we wanted to go.  Heaving from one side to another, we drove along the treacherous dirt roads that weaved along cliff edges.  After about an hour of driving, our truck just couldn’t go any further.  This was due to the 5 meter gap that barred the way.  This gap could only be crossed by a 2 meter wide wood bridge that didn’t look like it could hold the hefty load that was our truck.

 

Despite not remembering this obstacle the last time Mike saw the waterfall, we plough on by foot.  White people in town always attract attention; white people on a rural trail in the middle of nowhere attract a mob.  We were quickly surrounded with children and adults alike asking us the few phrases they know in English.  “What is… your name, the time, your job, your church?”

 

Mike, coming from the English part of Canada, often likes to make jabs at the fact that I come from the French side.  These jokes are harmless but the stuff that makes some French Canadians steam at the ears and go on tirades about the oppressive English.  However, on this occasion, he thought that perhaps my French may come in handy.  He instructs me to ask a few people if they might know anything about a waterfall nearby.  When I asked people if they speak French they almost always answered with an enthusiastic “Oui!” but only to receive blank stares when I asked about a waterfall.  I further explained that it was water that drips from the mountain with mike doing hand motions behind me that were meant to represent water falling down.  This inevitably got someone to start to show off his own dance moves once he saw Mike carrying on.  Hilltop farmers apparently do not feel the need to discuss about Descartes and croissants in French.

 

Despite not knowing where we were going, we happily trekked on through the mountain roads and enjoyed the scenery that being on a hill between two lakes provides.  As the sun begins to set, we were presented with a stunning view.  Tragically, as has always been my experience, photos just never do a landscape justice.  Obviously looking out of place, a very nice priest stops to ask us if we are lost.  His French is impeccable and he tells me very kindly that we have gone the wrong way to see the waterfall we seek.  After thanking him, we start to head back, not because we finally got confirmation of what we suspected to be true already but because the idea of a cold beer at this point was much too tempting.

 

When we get back to the truck after a gruelling uphill walk, we realize there is still one obstacle left on our journey: the trail we drove in on is only just wide enough to hold our truck.  At this point, kids are swarming around our truck and in an act of excitement; one kid completely breaks off our rear view mirror… on the driver’s side.  With a sigh, Mike takes the mirror and begins the difficult task of trying to navigate the rocky road in reverse.  We finally get to a fork in the road and turn the truck around.  After getting all the kids off our truck, we head off to the Virunga Lodge which sits atop the hill a little ways off.  The pricy lodge is absolutely stunning and the perfect place to have a beer and relax after a long day.  The price of the beer on the other hand is astronomical which is why everyone is relieved that Mike had offered to pay for all our drinks for leading us all in the wrong direction.  As the sun continues to set, we marvel at the view.  Mike, reflecting back on the day, tells us: “That waterfall is really beautiful though if you do get to see it.”  Waterfall or no, the day was really something in itself.

 

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