Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Field Hospital In Haiti

This is where I have worked for 2 months. 
This is what I have been a part of.
This helps me remember why I am here.
Please check out this link on Youtube.

Poems and Proverbs

A friend of mine wrote a poem for me based
on my favorite African proverb.
I think it is beautiful and I wanted to share.  

In African rain, on barren plain, a single seed was sown,
A score ago, this plateau bestowed, a tree growing alone.
Strong and tall, from summer to fall, leaves of noble green
Change to golds as weather colds, as if to crown a Queen.
As years pass, this oaken lass, outlasts drought and storm -
An endless exchange of season's change into another form.

But then one day, a seed fell astray, and buried in the earth
Out of the norm, with resilient form, a second tree was birth
In the cascade, of the older tree's shade, advantageously,
Side by side, the sapling hides, and will raise up cautiously.
These two trees, hardened by breeze and by bending wind
Will forever last, as time shall pass, lest their roots rescind.

Standing there, this branching pair, they overlook all of life
Able to see, the scrutiny, of the world's strides and strife
With thickened skin, and resolve within, growing up and old
The bigger tree, told her baby, as other's soul's were sold:
"In life you'll find, the very best time, to plant a tree, I vow
Was years ago, but please know, the second best is now."

Now that I've heard, the spoken word, of that taller tree,
I'm finally aware, that growing there, are my mom and me.

Alex Ottenstein

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Other Side Of Haiti

I had worked, collectively, over 2 months in Haiti.
I had never left the city of Port-au-Prince. 
I had never taken a day off.  Until Wednesday, when I finally did.  
And this is where I went.
 Two days at the beach.  No one asking me questions.
No one wanting me to fix the problem.
 Just me, and the sand, and the ocean.  That's it.
 There is still beauty in this country. 
Wahoo Bay, Haiti
June 2010

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Beautiful Girls!!!

Just a few of the beautiful girls I have been 
fortunate to be surrounded by.

The smiles are irresistible!!!

Little beauties everywhere.
Project Medishare Field Hospital
Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Saturday, May 1, 2010


I have a little secret I would like to admit.  Something a lot of people don't know about me - I often sleep in my car.  Yep, I admit it.  Sometimes, to fill in the accommodation gaps of the travel life, I have to sleep in my car.  This isn't really as bad as it may sound.  I have a really cute car.  It is a red Subaru hatchback.  So, plenty of room to sleep in back.  (This is, in fact, why I bought the car - because I could sleep in the back).  I also sleep in some pretty amazing places.  I always sleep at a campground.  Sometimes it might be overlooking the ocean, sometimes it might be deep in a mountain valley. 

It also is not as glamorous as it may sound.  No matter where I am, I am still sleeping in my car.  Often on these nights when I have to sleep in my car thoughts start running through my head.  Often these thoughts are about how "normal" 43 year old women do not sleep in the back of their car on a regular basis.  And I start to feel like something must be wrong with me. 

Then I wake up in the morning and I remember that "normal" 43 year old women don't get to wake up to the sound of the ocean, or the smell of pine, or the sun rising over the mountains.  And I also remember that any 43 year old woman can be "normal" but not many of them can sleep in the back of their car in pursuit of something different.

I am writing this from the airport.  On my way to Haiti.  This is why I sleep in my car.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Road Less Traveled

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
 - Robert Frost -

I have always loved airports. 
Ever since I was a child - always. 
We did not have much reason to go to the airport when I was little.  But when we did, I remember, I got this feeling that I still get to this day anytime I am around an airport.  I did not know back then what that feeling was, but now I do.  It is the feeling of being alive.  It is the feeling of excitement, of wonder, of imagination, of dreams, of things yet to be discovered.
I love to wander around the airport.  Any airport, anywhere in the world.  I love to watch all the planes taking off and landing.  I love to see where all the planes are headed.  I love to look at the people.  What do the people look like that are going to Prague?  or Cairo?  Do they live here, or do they live there?  I make up brief little stories in my head.  Those people are Grandma and Grandpa coming from the Old World to visit all of their loved ones who have now moved to the New.  That guy over there, he has got to be some sort of foriegn correspondent for CNN - his life must be so exciting.  Pretty much where ever they are going, if I have not been, I wish I were going too. 
When I was a child and we would pass by our little Lansing airport, I would get that feeling of excitement and I of course had no idea that feeling would end up being the compass that guides my life.  That little girl, way back when, could not know what was to come.  She did not know that she would take the road less traveled by.  And that, for her, it would make all the difference.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


One of these days,
I'm gonna sit down
and write a long letter
To all the good friends I've known
And I'm gonna try
And thank them all
for the good times together.
Though so apart we've grown.

- Neil Young -

Tonight I am thinking about friends.  The quote above is the first verse to a Neil Young song.  Many years back, a year or so after I started living this different life of the road, my awesome friend Jason made me a mixed tape for the road. (So we all know it must have been a while back because, yes, it was a cassette tape).  "One of these days" was the first song on the tape.  I got choked up every time I listened to it.  It is about, I imagine, his life on the road and the great people he has met who have touched his life.  Even though he will probably never get around to writing that letter, those people still mean a lot to him.
In this strange life of travel we meet people and for a time, sometimes days, sometimes years, we form a connection with that person.  But then inevitably we move on to another destination.  And it is hard.  I never get used to saying good bye.  Except for a few family members and a few core friends, once I move on I know the friendship will change and often times we will eventually lose touch.  But they will still always be in my mind somewhere and I know that the moments that we had together were very real.  And sometimes I miss them and those moments.  I have traveled to and lived in so many different places that sometimes I feel that my life is very fragmented.  I feel like I have many different lives.  Sometimes my heart longs for Alaska so much that it actually is painful.  Sometimes I wish I could instantly transport myself back to someplace in Africa.  Sometimes I hear a song and it reminds me of some perfect moment I had out at sea and I just wish so much that I could really describe it to someone.  But I know there are very few people who will really get what I am talking about.  
The other night one of the neighbors had an evening gathering.  I could here everyone talking and laughing and for a while I felt really lonely.  Sometimes I will see someone on Facebook with their group of friends, doing some cool thing, and I am envious because I wish I had a group of friends all in one place.  One of the lines in this same song is "My friends are scattered".  I so relate to this line.  Because of this life I have chosen and created for myself, my friends are scattered.  We don't all get together to go out to the desert for the weekend or just to hang out on Friday night.  And that is one thing that is sometimes hard about this life I have created.
Please don't get me wrong.  I know I am such a lucky person.  I have many friends all over the world that I keep in touch with on a regular basis.  And I am also so fortunate to have a handful of good friends and family that I know would be there for me through anything.  But sometimes I just wish I could sit down and have a cup of coffee with them, face to face.
And tonight I am also thinking about one very amazing friend in particular.  On his path of life he has just found out that a great big mountain has been plopped down right in front of him.  And now he will have to climb that mountain, there is no way around it.  But I know he is strong.  I know he will make it to the top to see the amazing view.  This is how I envision it.  He will make it to the top of this mountain he has conquered, he will catch his breath, then - he will just keep walking.  But the next section of the trail will be just a little bit different for him.  After his long struggle up the mountain he will have so much appreciation for the ease of the trail ahead of him and the amazing vista he gets to now look at all along the way.
His name is Richard and he is in Australia.  If you met him there is no way you would not think he was great.  To anyone who reads this I just ask that you pause for a moment, first to send every ounce of positive vibes his way that you can muster, and second just to be thankful for all that you have in your life.  
Thanks for taking the time.
If you have the chance please listen to "One of These Days" by Neil Young.  It is really such a great song.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


This picture was taken on Sunday and it is of me in front of Notre Dame.
I don't have much time left on the computer. I have spent the last 4 days just wandering around Paris. I have loved every second of it. It has been very cold but mostly perfect for wandering. I do not know why but this seem like the perfect wrap to a perfect adventure. Sometimes I believe I live somewhat of a charmed life. Or maybe I just have moments of it. But somehow when I set out on an adventure such as the one I have just taken, somehow I end up having such an amazing experience that I have to believe there was help along the way.
It has been amazing to wander the city. I think it has given me time to go into my head a bit and absorb my time away. I do not know what happens after I go home or where the road will take me. I feel different somehow. Maybe that will all change after I am home for a bit but I hope not.
I have greatly appreciated everyones comments of encouragement along the way. Although I am headed home i do plan to blog more on my adventure because there were some important moments I did not put down yet.

Monday, January 11, 2010

This Is Africa

The very first thing I will say about Uganda is internet is way more difficult than I found it in Rwanda. But, I guess, this is Africa. Kampala is drastically different then my soft, comfy life was way back in Rwanda. Kampala is how you envision an African city. It is jam packed with people on the street especially down in the old part of the city. The streets are narrow and packed with people, vendors, food stands. Taxis, mini van taxis, boda motorcycles almost running me down every time I step off the curb (if there happens to be a curb). The streets are clogged with vehicles and traffic is often at a standstill. The air is filthy with fumes. When walking people practically trample me and I am constantly clutching my bag close to me. But I honestly have to say I love every bit of the energy of the African city life.
When I arrived, I believe it was four nights ago now, I went straight to Backpacker's Hostel, which was the closest hostel. The room I got felt like a prison cell. It wasn't really a room but more of a partitioned off space. There was blood smeared all over the walls from people smashing bugs all over them. If felt just disgusting and filthy, but it was really cheap. I was determined I was going to find a new place the next day. The place was also filled with the very ratty type of backpacker, which I had decided that at this point I was just a bit above all that. But by the time I woke up the next day, after a 10 hour bus ride the day before, I just could not bring myself to pack it up and move again. At breakfast I was looking around at all the ratty looking backpackers and decided maybe I needed to get over myself and these were probably the real travelers with some pretty interesting stories to tell. And the room was just so cheap so I stayed another night. By the next day I decided I could not longer stand my prison cell and it was also just way too loud. So I decided to bump up to the next price category and moved to a room outside. It was as if I had moved up about 5 rungs on the social ladder. My room is big and clean and it faces the yard where all the tent campers are. I also have a little patio to sit on. All this for around $9 more than I had been paying. I have also decided I now love my little home away from home in Kampala. It is on the outskirts of the city so after a day of loud chaos in the city it is a great place to come home to. Everyone knows my name now and it is just a cool place to hang out.
I have not been doing too much beyond just hanging out around Kampala. Found an awesome coffee shop called 1000 cups of coffee and love to hang out there.
My first full day here I went to Sanyu Babies Home. It is a Christian based place that takes in abandoned babies from around the city. The babies are anywhere from 1 day to 3 years old. They have a very good rate of adoption so most of the babies are eventually adopted out. They can hold up to 50 babies and at this time they have about 32 I think it was. They really promote people coming in for the day to see their operation. After the tour and they determine you are not a whack job you are open to just wander around and play with the babies. They are always understaffed so they appreciate all the help they can get. If you want to help feed and bathe the babies they will definitely let you help. The different age ranges are separated by rooms like 0-6 months in one room and so on. My friend, Goodman, took me there at around 3pm and we did not end up leaving until after 7 or so, or at least until we got the little ones to sleep.
When I very first arrived we went into the 0-6 month old room. Almost all the other babies were out in the courtyard playing with people but for some reason one of the babies, Emmanuel was still in his crib. So we picked him up and carried him around with us on our tour. The whole 4 hours I pretty much never ended up leaving the little babies room. After a time they brought one of the littlest ones back to his crib. His name was Edward and he could not have been more than 2 months old. Then they brought in a little "girl" in a frilly pink dress and put it in it's crib. Turns out "her" name was Joshua. I could never figure out why they had him in a frilly pink dress. I guess this was all they had? Anyway baby Joshua was sick and had a fever. I tried to feed him but he just did not want to eat. He just wanted to lay on me so I just held him. My buddy Goodman held Emmanuel until he went to sleep and I ended up holding Edward and then Joshua until they went to sleep. Those little babies just hold right on when being held. There is no way, with what little help they have there, that those babies get held enough. After it was finally dark and the babies were finally asleep we slipped their mosquito nets over their beds and snuck out. I can honestly say that was one of the best and most gratifying afternoons I have spent in a very long time.
My time to leave Africa is coming up way too quickly. I already get choked up when I think about going to the airport. I feel like I have been here such a long time that I almost feel like part of this place now. My other life seems like so long ago that it does not seem real anymore.
Goodman, the young guy who took me to the babies home, was actually my seat mate on the bus from Kigali. That is a long bus ride so you have LOTS of time to talk. We got into a long discussion about my travels and my feelings about Africa. I told him about many of my experiences, about how beautiful the children are, about the orphanage, about the wonderful widow ladies I met in Kigali who are trying to develop their business of sewing batik. He listened and then asked me a question I had just asked myself the night before. He said that it was great that I felt all of this now but how will I feel about it after I go home. I tried to answer but then I got so choked up that I had to stop. He asked me why I was bothered and I said that I had just been thinking about it the night before and I guess I was afraid of losing the feelings that I had now. I feel so strongly about all of these people I have met. Right when I met the sewing ladies or the kids at the orphanage I felt so strongly passionate about them and their stories. And I guess I was crying because I was so afraid that this will all change when I go home, that they will become just a memory and at some point it will all seem like it never really happened at all.
Africa has been one of the hardest, scariest things I have ever done. I have been sick. I have been desperately lonely. I have been scared. At times I have been terrified. I have been sick of being hot, sweaty, dirty, thirsty, hungry. I have taken terrifying bus rides, crammed in, jammed against others where I could barely move a leg or arm for hours. I have slept in rooms that were so hot I felt like I could not breath. I have walked around in a country that is constantly at the brink of war and filled with UN security just trying to keep the peace. I would not trade one moment of any of this because through it all, during every second of it I can say I have never felt so truly alive. I always know I am alive here, alive and really living my life. I do not always feel this way at home and sometimes I go for long periods of time without having this feeling. So I guess that day on the bus I was also crying because I believe this is what life is truly suppose to be, many moments of feeling really alive.
I told him to shut up because he was making me cry. Then we both just started cracking up and we could not stop laughing. So this is Africa. I laugh a lot and I cry a lot but at least I know I am alive.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Gorillas, Gorillas, Gorillas!!!

Finally!! Gorillas! Part of the reason I was waiting was because I took more video that day than pictures and I really wanted to post video along with the clip. However, that seems to be down the yet a little further in the learning curve. Most of my shots were really crap but I did fortunately get some of Michelle's images, which I also can not figure out how to post. So these seem to be my best two images. They are of the silverback of the group that we saw.
The gorillas are highly protected here so there are only 6 or 7 families that are allowed to be tracked. The rest they just leave alone, which I highly agree with. The family we tracked is called the Amohoro family (not sure how the gorillas decided on this, tried to ask but could not decipher the answer. In Kinyarwandan, the local language, Amohoro means "Peace". There were about 18 gorillas in this particular family. I know we did not see all of them and with them moving around it was hard to tell but my guess is that we saw about 9 or 10 of them.
It took us about an hour and a half of hiking to find the group. It was a pretty grueling hike. It was raining and the trails are extremely muddy and very steep. I had kind of wondered if it was stupid to be hauling my hiking boots all around Africa but this day I did not regret having them. We were constantly sinking in mud and sliding down hills. Not many people are allowed back here so the trails are also very narrow. And to add to the final excitement the trails are also covered with stinging nettle which can get through just about anything. I had on a pair of thick cotton pants and my rain pants and they were still stinging my legs a bit. The worst part was when my hand accidently brushed against it. It still burned and was swollen even the next day. Some people even fell in the nettles (not me thank god) and Michelle got one smack on her eyelid. Fun for everyone!!!!
But, TOTALLY worth every step!!!! The gorillas were amazing. We are aloud to be around them for one hour but it honestly seemed like 20 minutes. The very first one of the family we came upon was the Silverback himself. Because it was so rainy they really weren't very active. Apparently animals don't dig the rain too much either. We were maybe only 20 or 30 feet from him. He was just sitting grooming himself. He could total crush a human but he really did not care that we were there and barely even looked at us. We could see a few on the hill top another 200 feet away.
Gorillas love to munch on bamboo so that is where they mostly hang out. We hiked down into this area where the bamboo plants were so tall we were completely covered. Basically at this point we were inside there house. You could never really tell where they were going to come out of the bamboo so everytime we heard a crack people would turn around to make sure they were not unexpectedly coming out behind us.
The guide had warned us that one of the teenage blackbacks liked to "play" with the humans and would try to get close so we really had to make and effort to stay back from him. I was knealing down in front of the group trying to get some video of him since he seemed to be the most active of them all. Our guide grabbed me and kept telling me to stand up. As I stood up the guide stepped in front of me and pushed me back (he was so close in front of me he was actually standing on my foot). Just then the blackback charged us. The guides started making noised to tell him to get back. (The guides have to go through extensive training and part of that training is learning certain noises to communicate with the gorillas). I was so stunned and mesmerized I did not move. And I really did not have time to be scared.
As we moved farther into their house we finally saw the baby. OMG!!! cutest thing I have ever seen. I think I may have gotten some good video of him so I can't wait to show it.
After what seemed like no time at all it was time to hike out. Thank god we had a few porters with us to help. We would have all been sliding down on our butts if it was not for these guys.
The gorilla trekking is by far the most expensive thing I have done in Africa but totally worth every penny.
P.S. I have posted more pictures on early blog entries if you want to scroll through and take a look. Not as orderly as I would like but one step at a time.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sunday - Laundry and such

Sundays are for relaxing and I have done just that. I woke up this morning and did a little reading in the Rwanda tour guide that Michelle had left behind for me. A lot of the tour guides mention a few charitable organizations but this guide in particular talked about a few more than the "Lonely Planet" does. So I had an idea. Much of my interest in Africa, other that the amazing wild life, is what is going on for development. What are people doing to help and make a difference. I have already, without even giving it much effort, talked to so many people that are doing interesting things here with charities and NGOs. So I decided to put out a bigger effort to seek out these organizations. I will try, on the days I am not traveling, to visit at least one organization a day while I am still in Africa. I just want to see what people are doing and talk to them. Of course there are so many orphanages but there are also people developing really unique programs. My friend Michelle, while in Kigali, met with a woman who was developing a program in which they were going around to hospitals and such and teaching yoga classes for rape victims. My friend Greg told me about a program, also here in town, that a Canadian woman is running. She is helping many of the widows of the genocide to learn how to make and then market batik.
I am crazy about Batik. Batik is a cloth which traditionally uses a manual wax-resist dyeing technique. It is popular in many parts of the world. The patterns produced are very beautiful. I have already bought a few pieces of fabric while I was out in Musanze. However, most of the batik you find now around this part of Africa are sent in from DRC or even China. So it would be very cool to get some fabric that I know is made locally and helps to support these women at the same time.
So this is my goal for tomorrow. I will give this Canadian woman a call in the morning and see if I can come visit. I will also be hitting the local craft market to see what cool things I can pick up. (Oh, yes, I will also be searching for a suitcase because my world of possessions is expanding quickly)
I am pretty excited about my new idea. I know some of these organizations may be disappointing and a waste of money but I think some of them will be very interesting and worth my time.
I have also decided to spend at least an extra day in Kigali beyond what I had planned. Compared to most African cities Kigali is very clean, safe, and orderly, and I am getting spoiled by this. The internet connections are generally very good here. And I would really like to spend a little time reorganizing my blog and hopefully figuring out how to get pictures on. No promises but we shall see.
I will also start my list of travel commandments and things I have learned.
1. Never, never leave home without your good camera. Most places it is worth the risk of having. The pictures you get will be worth the effort and risk. (also bring a point and shoot for video and the few situations where you don't feel comfortable carrying the big camera)
2. Mostly carry small size gig cards like 2 or 4 gig. This way you will quickly fill them up and switch out to new ones. If your camera gets ripped off (or in some cases confiscated for taking pictures where you are not suppose to, which is almost everywhere in some countries) you won't lose the bulk of your pictures.
3. Notebook - essential for blogging and keeping pictures organized. Most of the computers here, even in the city, are very old and outdated. But you can almost always find a decent wireless connection. Again, never leave home without one.
4. Bring things you really like to wear and don't be afraid to dress a little nicer, even just going out to the market, than maybe you would at home. I hate most of the clothes I brought and have ended up buying a few things here. Most of the clothes I brought were the REI travel type clothes and they look stupid. People everywhere treat you differently when you look a little nicer and not so much like a tourist. And really you just feel better about yourself when you have on nice pants, a cute top, and a cute pair of earrings.
5. Bring at least one really nice outfit. You always think "I am just backpacking, I won't go anyplace nice". But you will. There will be a party or New Years Eve or someone will invite you to the nice restaurant in town.
6. Always bring your lipgloss. Lipstick or lipgloss always makes you look a little more put together. I did not bring the one from home that I like because I paid $20 for it and I was so afraid of getting ripped off. All I brought was mascara which does not have the same effect.

This is just a start to the rule book. Will add more everyday - really just to remind myself for next time.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Genocide Sucks!!!

I will make this post kind of short because honestly I can not take dwelling on the genocide anymore. I spent most of my afternoon at the world renowned genocide memorial in Kigali. They are kind in that they save us from too much gruesome depiction of things but they still make their point. They give a great explanation of the lead up to the genocide and how things could have been prevented. The upstairs is dedicated to previous genocides such as Namibia, Cambodia, the Balkans, and of course the Holocaust. Of course every time the world says "Never again" but for some reason we human beings can't seem to learn the lesson.
The very last section of the memorial is dedicated to the children of the Rwandan genocide. There are life size pictures of them on the wall, big, happy smiles on their faces. It lists individual details about them such as their favorite song or favorite food. Then at the end it says specifically how they died. Most were chopped up by machetes or bludgeoned to death. One little girl had her eye stabbed out, and a lucky few were just plain shot. It pretty much destroys you to see it.
There is so much poor governance, manipulation and repression of people, and just plain horrors occurring all over Africa. I am coming away right now feeling that for the most part it is hopeless. People have always committed atrocities on one another so why does anyone think we can change it? I am sure with some time away from it all I will take on a new, more hopeful perspective but I just don't feel that way now.
There was another genocide memorial I was going to go to while still in Rwanda. It is a church just out of town where lots of people were massacred. Remnants of clothing and blood stains are still there and the guy who does the tour is a survivor who was a child at the time and I guess he gives the gruesome details. I am 86ing this plan.
Tomorrow I think I will go to the market and have fun bargaining with the Rwandan women trying to buy batik fabric from them. They usually like to joke around with the Muzungu girls at the market and make fun of me, and they usually encourage me to play with their babies and kids. The market is usually hectic but fun and I have not yet been to the Kigali market.
Over and out til tomorrow.

Hangin' In Kigali

I know I said I would talk about the gorillas and I swear I will get to it. Today is a hang out day in Kigali. Most of the days I have spent here in the city have been around a holiday so it has been crazy and hectic. Today is finally just a calm day around the city. A nice day to walk around and see some things I think. I know for sure I will try to go to the genocide memorial today. Other than the gorilla trekking it is the other absolute traveling to Rwanda. I am also hoping to do just a lot of reading, blogging, and coffeeing today.
Michelle, my sort of travel companion for the last week, had to depart for Kampala this morning. She is headed back to the states in a few days. We have been together for most of the last week and have shared a lot so she will be missed. But I did come here to go it on my own and that is what feels right. Funny she and I parted ways at the exact same table where I had met her. And I did go buy the book today that I had first struck up a conversation with her about. English books are pricey here but I really had to have the book. It is all about the President of Rwanda, Paul Kigame. He is considered by some to be very revolutionary in his ideas. Of course others hate him but you can't deny his successes when you see how far this country has come in just 10 or 15 short years.
I am off to walk and see what I see. Will blog more later.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Finish The Story!!!!

I don't know why this one day is taking so long to get out. That was really almost a week ago but I hate to leave days out.
ANYWAY!! The path we walked down was beautiful. Rwanda is known as "Land of a Thousand Hills" and that it is. It really is a beautiful landscape. Rolling green hills with huge banana leaf trees everywhere. We were walking down a long hilly slope for the whole walk so I could see out over the landscape. It rains a lot here right now so there is always mist rising from the lush green hills. The foliage was beautiful but the living is tough in the countryside. These people are pretty poor so all the homes are just small shacks or mud huts. A lot of these people farm for a living so I see lots of woman walking to town with sacks of potatoes on their heads or whatever they can take into town to try to sell. Lots of people carrying buckets or large plastic containers full of water to and from their homes. I have no idea how far they have to go to get the water. Or lots of people carrying bundles of wood on their heads that they have foraged and collected for their homes. I saw one little boy busily carrying some sort of mud back and forth making bricks. It is really a tough existence amongst the poor hear. I would never be tough enough to live the way they do.
Hassan is in his early 20's and I asked him a lot about his life here. I hesitate to ask people if they were here during the genocide but he seemed pretty open so I asked him if it would be ok to ask questions about that time and he is glad that I am even curious. Hassan has always lived around the town of Musanze which somehow miraculously did not see much killing during those days. He said most of the Tutsi tribe (the ones who were being killed) lived outside of town so that is where most of the massacres in this area happened. I asked him if he was Hutu or Tutsi and he said he really did not know because his family was such a mix of both. If he had to he would not know which tribe to claim.
We finally made it back down to the main road to continue our walk to the orphanage. Although this is a main paved road I really did not see any cars. Quite a few bikes and tons of people walking and maybe a bus but that was it. Again, EVERYONE looks at me as we pass. I am glad I am with Hassan. It is obvious some of the guys aren't too happy to see a Muzungu and they look pretty mean. They say stuff I can't understand but Hassan has such an easy manner that he is able to handle them.
A car pulled up beside us and it was moving pretty slow. I did not want to look over but finally I did. To my surprise it was Michelle, the girl I had met the day before in Kigali. She had decided to go ahead and come out to Musanze and see if she could change the day of her gorilla permit. Once she got into town she found Greg, the guy who had arranged my permit. He told her I was out on this walk and found someone to bring her out to meet up with me. I was elated to see her.
Michelle is worse with the kids than I am so by this time we were just taking forever stopping and playing with the kids along the way. At one point we once again has a whole entourage of kids walking behind us and even a few adults. I commented that it was going to be hard to go back home and not be so popular. She said "Yeah, it's like were Madonna". I totally cracked up because it is was exactly like the pictures you see of Madonna strolling around Africa.
The cutest thing happened as we were walking. This little girl came out from her house to see the Muzungu walking by. She must have been only 3 or 4. She was up on a hillside in a cute little dress surrounded by all these pretty little yellow flowers. She took one look at Michelle and it was as if she had just spotted her long lost best friend. She ran down the hill towards us then spread open her arms and ran up to Michelle and wrapped her arms around Michelle's legs and just kept hugging her. I would have given anything to have gotten this on video.
Finally we get to the orphanage. There are around 20 children who live here. Greg sends all the tourists there way that he can in hopes of getting people more interested in making donations. And it is really just a good thing for tourists to see. All the kids came running down the path totally excited to see visitors. They were awesome. They love visitors and they immediately grabbed our hands to take us the rest of the way down the path.
We only had time to spend about an hour with the kids but it really was great. Same thing with the picture taking, they just go crazy for it. I was trying to capture Michelle on video taking pictures of the kids and their reactions. Then I showed the kids of them on video and they just went into hysterics. They were just shrieking and laughing. It was the cutest, funniest thing I have ever seen.
The kids are all taught to participate in the running of things at the orphanage. They have chickens and goats for milk and food. They had a big garden out back that they get a lot of their food from. As orphanages go it did seem like a pretty decent place. The kids all seemed pretty happy. We met the house mama who runs things. She was a widow who just wanted to take care of the kids. She did not speak any English but she did seem like she really cared for the kids. The goal is to eventually place all of these kids with widows which they seem to be pretty successful at. There are lots of widows and children without parents from the genocide so this is a really good program.
Finally we had to leave and it was painful. I waited until we got out of the gate and then I started crying. There is a lot of pain in this country that is just under the surface. I knew about the genocide before coming here. Being here I have learned much more about it, heard and read more of the stories. And, of course, being here makes it much more of a reality. It is no longer someplace over there. It happened right here just 15 years ago and it was some of the most horrible things humans can do to each other. And then of course to see these beautiful little beings who don't have a home. It is really just too much sometimes.
We had taken so much time to get to the orphanage and it was getting late in the day. So, as they had predicted, I was too tired to walk back into town. So we flagged down some boda-bodas for the ride back.
Michelle was now also staying at my guest house so I was not alone and that was nice.
Finally I will get to gorilla tracking on my next entry.
Happy New Year from Rwanda!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Musanze, Part Deux

OK so I think I left off at the beginning of my day tour of Musanze. Musanze is out by Volcanoes National Park. I found out it is actually quite a big town but it really had the feel of a smaller town. I could really walk anywhere which was nice. When I was back in Tanzania many places were not particularly safe for a woman to walk alone so to start walking again felt great. Greg and Hussan had warned me the day tour would consist of a lot of walking but I just brushed them off. How hard could it be. Did they take me for some whimpy American girl. They had told me I we would eventually end the day at an orphanage pretty far out of town and that if I was tired coming back they could get a car or we could get boda bodas. (The boda boda is a very popular and much cheaper form of transport here. It is a motorcycle and is much cheaper than a taxi. Some places they are kind of dangerous. I read that in Kampala supposedly 5 people die a day in boda boda accidents. My first day in Kigali I really wanted to take one but was scared. So finally I made myself get on one but I told him to drive slow. Now I have taken so many that I am all about the boda boda. They are much safer here in Rwanda and really quite fun). Anyway, I scoffed at them thinking I could not make the walk back. Whatever!!!
So Hassan and I set out for our walk out of town to the orphanage. ( I want to point out that this is how so many things go here. I walk out of my room thinking I am going for coffee and end up being gone almost all day)
When we started out we were kind of on a very rough little tow rut type road that is very common here then it really just ended up being a walking path. This is really what most everyone uses here. Since many many people do not have cars there are really no need for roads on the outskirts of town, so just walking paths everywhere.
I guess this is a good time to talk about the "Muzungu". Muzungu basically means "white person". And a white person walking around here hears it all the time. I find this funny because they think it is no big deal but if I walked around my country saying "black person, black person", or "asian person, asian person" I am thining it would not go over so well. That said, it is really just part of the deal here. Here in Kigali it is not so much because you see a lot of white folk here but once you get into the smaller towns not so much. I mean I definitely see white people everyday but for some reason I still seem to be a novelty to people. Sometimes it starts to grate on my nerves when I here the adults talking about me. At my lower points I would really like to tell them how ignorant they are being but this would perhaps not make me so popular here. But it is the kids that say it most and from them it is really just kind of funny and cute. I get all kinds of reactions from kids here. Some are saying "muzungu" and they want money. Some of the little kids react the way they do with Santa Claus, from far away I am pretty cool but when I try to get close they go into hysterics trying to get away from the scary looking white person. Most of the kids though are just curious and want to joke around with me and touch me. Once they work up the nerve they really like to touch me and when they get really courageous they might grab my hand and walk with me. Most of the kids are really awesome. Many on the outskirts of town of really filthy, some with snotty noses and such, but they really are so much fun. It is hard to communicate with them but it is still really easy to play with them and make them laugh.
So, back to the day tour. We ended up on one of these foot paths way out on the outskirts of town. Kids would see me from there house and start yelling "muzungu, muzungu" and they almost always come running out.
The kids here, for the most part, LOVE to have their picture. The average person here in the countryside would never have access to a camera so it is such a novelty for the kids. And with the age of digital it is great because the kids get such a kick out of seeing their picture.
So this whole footpath expedition should have maybe taken 45 minutes or so to get back to the main road but we really took forever because I kept stopping and playing with the kids. And the kids don't just come out and then leave. They totally stay with us walking down the path. By the time we were about a half an hour in to this we had an entourage of about 10 - 15 kids. One of the little boys did not want me to touch him so I kept playfully grabbing at him then this turned into a game with all the kids. One of the little girls finally got courageous and just grabbed my hand and walked with me. All the while I kept stopping to take various pictures of them then they just mob me and the camera to get a look at the pictures and then they just crack up. Over and over again. I could really go on with this for hours and it would never get old to them. Finally the kids had come so far with me from where they started I was getting a little worried that their parents might be upset so Hassan had to coax them into turning back.