Tuesday, August 23, 2016

August 19: A morning at the Genocide Memorial

Today we went to the Kigali Genocide Memorial. It has been created as a place of memory, a place of learning, and place of peace and respect.

Luinda Bleackley
DWC volunteer
Rwanda, August 2016

Monday, August 22, 2016

August 20: Akagera National Park

Safari day!

Impressions of blue sky, red dirt hills, a dirt track through the scrubby forest - red dusty roads, baboons walking around like they owned the place, little wart hogs scampering with tails held high. 

And then giraffes - an undulating walk, so slow and immense. Hippos in the water, the mother pushing her baby away from us, protective.

A moon, big and round, blessing the land. An openness, spaciousness, rightness to the feel here. Warm air, oh it is so relaxing to be in this temperature zone, feeling held by the warmth of the air. What on earth are we Canadians doing, contracting with the cold, bracing ourselves against the chill?

Park lodge on the crest of the ridge - a long view down to the lake, kilometres away, stretching out of view to the right and the left. Oh what a place! 

Luinda Bleackley
DWC volunteer
Rwanda, August 2016

Friday, August 19, 2016

August 17, Day 5: Dinner with Coop boys

Overall the team is doing well. 

The work is hard labour in the heat, and by the end of the day everyone is looking like various versions of "bagged". The group spirit on the project site is good. There's good cooperation between the local young men, hired to do the heavy lifting, and the international team. Wednesday, the mood was easy and relaxed, as everyone had found their pace, and gotten familiar with the project and the site. 

There was a big dinner Wednesday night and all the young men from the carpentry coop were invited (37 of them!). By "big dinner" I mean it was the largest pot of spaghetti that I have ever seen. There was drumming and dancing, and there was back-and-forth between our younger team members and the coop guys: singing, dancing and amazing break-dance and acrobatics.

The difficulties these young men have faced is hard to comprehend. Their personal stories reach right inside and shape me somehow.

It is unclear whether this fence we're building will even be allowed by the neighbourhood. The Ineza land is a big patch of open space that is used as a major walkway with trails. They are going to limit access to the land, leaving a perimeter pathway. Today, one side the fence could not be worked on. It's just like running a small business: real world challenges come up that need to solved.

There are so many things that work differently here, or don't work the way we're used to. I came here thinking I had an open mind. I have been surprised to find I *do* have opinions - I'm full of attitude! So it is interesting to watch myself: a thought arises "I would do that differently". Then I just get to sit with my discomfort, try to lessen the grip of the feeling that I am right, and try to soften my position and move from separateness to a feeling that we're all in this together.

Enough for now.  Dinner is at 7. We get rice, fried potatoes, steamed vegetables in a light sauce, some kind of meat in a sauce (chicken or beef or fish), and maybe fried plantain or some other veggie.  There's cut up fruit for dessert. There is endless yummy papaya and fresh sweet pineapple. The avocados are ripe - with a tinge of sweetness. Not transported a long distance, they are... well I don't even know how to describe them. They're flavourful and good and... well, you just want to eat more of them!

Friday we go to the genocide museum, then the market, and then pile into jeeps and drive 2 hours to Akagera National Park for the weekend.

Luinda Bleackley
DWC volunteer
Rwanda, August 2016

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

August 15: Day 3

Starting to make concrete and keeping the fence posts vertical.

There was a keenness on the job site this morning. "Is it time to start mixing the cement?" But the voice of experience said it was more important to make sure the posts were straight and at an even height so that the fence itself would be level and straight. Of course, each of the post holes was a different depth.

Meanwhile, the young men have been carting wheel barrow loads of concrete ingredients. First sand, then gravel, then cement. It's all mixed by the shovel full until all the components are evenly distributed. Next come the buckets of water, gradually added, with vigorous mixing by the shovel load. The women on the project who have mixed cement in other projects are disappointed at the size of the mix-pile ("too many wheel barrow loads, we can't mix a pile that big and heavy"), whereas the young men bring their shovels and muscles and go at it with gusto.

Painting the fence posts with rust resistant paint is an ongoing project.  More fence posts keep being created at the back of the house and brought round to the painting area.

Lorne went with Elizabeth to buy more construction supplies.  The construction market is a combination of small shops selling new materials and a large area of recycled materials and lumber.  The small shops might specialize, such as the tile shop, or they might be a general store with everything you might need. Each shop is tucked into a narrow long shop layout. All prices are negotiable here. If you look like a local, you get one price; if you look like a foreigner, you get a higher price.

Fanta to go:
I went for short stroll from our hotel (Ninzi Hill Hotel). There was a large sign "Wine & More Supermarket". I was curious what might be in the supermarket. While trying to find it, I checked out two small grocery stores. These are small store fronts, deep and narrow, carrying a mixture of convenience foods (read imported) and basic staples ( bread, milk, eggs). I bought a Fanta and was surprised it was only 300 Rwandan francs. That's about 40 cents in Canadian funds. Then the clerk told me I had to drink it in the store. If I wanted to take it "to go" it would cost 800 Rwandan francs. So I stayed in the tiny shop and slowly sipped my cold lemon Fanta while looking over all the goods.  While I was reading product labels (goods from UAE, Netherlands, Rwanda, Italy) a fellow came in and bought a pop. He poured it into his own water bottle. Ah, that's how it's done!

Weather Report:
When we arrived, the weather forecast was sunny with clouds until September 1st.  Michael, our team leader, assured us it doesn't rain in the dry season.  Well, today it rained with a thunder storm during the afternoon.  It continued to rain all night.  It's the second night in a row it has rained.  The frogs were chirping in the middle of the night in the fresh cool drizzle.

Luinda Bleackley
DWC volunteer
Rwanda, August 2016

Monday, August 15, 2016

August 14, Day 2: First we measure, then we dig

The team is pretty excited to be starting the project.  Elizabeth, host partner, gave us a tour of the property.  They have 2 acres on a slope, with a view of the valley bottom and the downtown rising up across the valley basin.  The new development plan for this area of the city will turn the valley bottom into a green space with a lake.  Half of the property is included in the new green space zoning.

Grace Rwanda is the Canadian-based ngo and its sister organization in Rwanda is Ineza Foundation. Ineza Foundation will be able to create a garden for growing food on the property, and plans to plant trees and flowering shrubs in the green space zoning.  Currently there is one house on the acreage.  Elizabeth and her  husband  Paul, have painted the house and cleaned the random trash from the land. 

The vision is to create a green Eco-lodge for paying guests, and to use this revenue to support the operations of the not-for-profit society.  Grace Rwanda has been creating libraries in the rural communities.  The longer term goal of the Ineza Foundation is to build a skills training centre on the property for children & youth and women.  They are also passionate about promoting literacy.

Our DWC team is the first team to come and participate in building the vision.

Our task during our stay is to start building the perimeter fence.  This may sound like an odd place to start, but every building here has a wall around it.  In general it is for security; but in this case it is also to keep the property from being used as the local trash deposit.  There are places to take one's local trash, and for a small fee get rid of it, but this neighbourhood doesn't have extra cash.

A neighbour's goat on the property.

We are working with a group of local youth on the construction.  

With the construction know-how of some of the DWC volunteers combined with the vigorous efforts of the local young men, there is a happy hum of work progressing. 

 Al is making sure the fence will be 6 feet from the neighbour's wall.

Setting up the fence post holes is a three step process. First, we measure the proposed location of the wall/fence.  It is 6 feet from an existing neighbours wall, leaving a corridor for people to walk between properties.  Tape measures, spikes and string are used to lay down the line of the new fence.  Second step is to approximately level the ground, so the bottom of the fence will be parallel to the sort-of-smoothed ground. Third, the holes for the fence posts are dug: at even intervals and to a sort-of-uniform depth. The dirt is rock hard and pick axes are needed to break into the hard pan.

While this is going on, Elizabeth and a few volunteers went to the hardware store to buy welding rods, anti-corrosion paint for the steel posts, and metal-cutting saw blades.  

By afternoon everyone has found their rhythm: measuring the line of the fence, levelling the ground, digging holes, painting fence posts, checking out the donated sewing machines and teaching the young men basic sewing, or cleaning up the upper yard with local children, all amongst a lot of laughter and joking.  There is liveliness and good will everywhere.  The hosts, Elizabeth and Paul, are doing everything to make this a well supported, productive volunteer experience.

Luinda Bleackley
DWC volunteer
Rwanda, August 2016

August 13: Arrival and exploration in Kigali

Arriving at the airport last night, I was enveloped by the soft warm air; a feeling of gentleness as soon as I stepped off the plane. As we drove to the hotel, the first smells I noted were the fragrances of wood smoke and charcoal fires.
The hotel is small (16 rooms) and the staff are helpful and quiet. The rooms have 12-foot ceilings and the wardrobe scents the room with cedar.

During the course of the day I have heard Rwandan, English and French. It is a joy to be in a trilingual society - I get a little thrill hearing the interplay of languages and how the conversations can switch language from sentence to sentence.

I listened to the 'dawn chorus' in a drowsy state this morning and was jolted awake with an unfamiliar undulating bird call. "Oh! I'm in Africa!"

The team went to the former presidential palace. A guide showed us around and explained some of the history. Team leader Michael had been filling us in on Rwandan history in the bus ride to the palace (which took longer than expected as we went through a security check and disembarked the bus while a dog sniffed all our back packs). The grounds were clearly designed to impress, and even in this dry season with the greens turned brown and the buildings needing refurbishing, there was a feeling of spaciousness and prestige.

One of the events of the genocide that has been allowed to remain as a reminder is the crashed presidential plane. The genocide started when the plane was shot down. It landed right in his garden, next to his presidential palace!  A garden wall has been built around a large space that has the remaining (aging) plane wreckage, left where it came down. Crested cranes wander the garden. They are being rehabilitated from domestic ownership and, if able, are released back into the wild in Akagera National Park. We heard stories of plots, of subterfuge and saw the security measures of a leader afraid of assassination in his own home. While the place is calm now, the history of malice lingers.

Kigali is wonderful to drive around in. Correction, it is wonderful to be driven around in Kigali: the roads flow up and down and curve around. Well paved, clean swept, with no trash anywhere, it is cleaner than any of the cities we team members live in. Lots of people are walking - it is a common way to get around. Motorcycles weave in and out of lanes, ignoring lane boundaries, or hug the right hand side of a lane so that a car and a motorcycle share a lane.

We had a local lunch in a tiki-style restaurant, and then a Congolese dinner. Rice, fish, chicken, cassava leaves (akin to spinach), cassava buns (big soft gooey staple), cooked vegetables, sweet grilled plantain, boiled bananas (I thought I was eating potatoes) - all tasty.

The team visited the local 'boys' (young men, really) who are going to be working with us on the building project. They told some of their stories. We're looking forward to getting to know them better during the project.

Luinda Bleackley, 
DWC team member
Rwanda, August 2016

Friday, February 21, 2014

February 21: Saying goodbye

Today was a very satisfying but difficult day. We went to visit the Gashora Girls Academy in the morning and walked around their campus. We rode bicycle taxis on the way there. What a blast that was! The guys peddled us for such a long ways that we felt bad for them.

We next went to visit the Gashora Medical Centre and donated toothbrushes, glasses and miscellaneous items.

After that visit, we all met at the Covaga to visit all of the workers and weavers to say our goodbyes. I read them a poem I'd written about our trip and the men and women gave speeches and sang songs. Many smiles and tears.

 Later we had lunch back at the hotel so we could give gifts and clothes to the men and women of the Covaga. Again, more goodbyes and more tears. We took the bus back to Kigali for dinner.

Some pictures of the bike rides and celebrations:

We finished the day off with a fantastic dinner at Heaven Restaurant in Kigali. Three course meal with wine. It was a great dinner to finish off the trip. I especially want to thank Tricia and Sandra for making this trip so special. Your humour and enthusiasm made this adventure so much more than I had ever imagined.

Tomorrow we will spend the day in Kigali exploring before our flights home. We're sooo not looking forward to this.

Thanks to everyone for your comments and I hope that you've enjoyed these little notes from my trip. Rwanda is truly an amazing place, and the people are even more amazing. If you ever get the chance to come here, I promise you that you won't be disappointed.

"I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do." ~ Helen Keller 

Todd Drake
DWC Volunteer Participant
Rwanda, February 2014

Thursday, February 20, 2014

February 20: Last day on the project & baskets made with love

It was another fantastic day today. I received an email for a former Developing World Connections participant who visited Rwanda last summer. He asked if I could find a woman he had met on his last visit. So, when I reached the Covaga center I put the word out. A couple hours later, Vistina and her beautiful daughter, Fillette, showed up to find me. She remembered Rowan and was so happy to hear from him. Rowan, if you're reading this, you made her cry. She made you a basket, which I will bring home for you, and said to send her love. She came back a few hours later with a basket which she made for me as well.

After we finished work we ALL went out for some beers! A lot of singing, dancing and laughter was had by all. We all became so close over the past two weeks it's hard to fathom. Truly a remarkable time.

Right now we're all sitting around a fire talking about our visit here. I wrote a verse that our team will present to all tomorrow to thank them for the love and hospitality.

Below are a few pictures of the building we finished and the friends who helped:

Todd Drake
DWC Volunteer Participant
Rwanda, February 2014

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

February 19: Food and water in Rwanda

You've probably heard me talk about the food here in Rwanda in my previous blogs. I asked one of the locals if they eat the same things that we've been eating. I was told that they're not a cuisine culture. They don't eat to enjoy their food, they eat to survive. They often only eat one meal a day, so when they do eat it's mostly very high in carbohydrates. The only spices I've seen here are salt, and once in a while, there's this small bottle of hot sauce. You only need a few drops of this liquid fire on your entire plate. Plantains, rice, beans and potatoes are their main staples.

Water is very important here as well. You can see people every day collecting water from lakes or filling stations. They fill old plastic paint containers and tie them to their bikes (if they have them) or carry them home. Very rarely you may see a huge black holding container outside of larger businesses that collect rain water from the eves. These are extremely expensive.

This week we ran out of water and had to hire a guy with a bike to bring us water. He charged $100 Francs for each container and he could carry 6 on his bike at a time. This took him about 2 hours for each trip. He would come back sweating like crazy! We asked if he was tired and hot and he just smiled and said, "No, it's my job." He made 4 trips for us. He made $24,000 francs that day. He was soooo happy!

So to put that into perspective, beer here costs about $700 francs, which is approximately $1 Canadian dollar. The masons who work on the building with us (below mixing cement on the ground) make about $3 CAN per day.

The Rwandans are extremely proud and hopeful. They waste nothing. We think nothing of letting our water run while brushing our teeth or throw away so much food. There are some many things that we take for granted in our every day lives.

Sandra is reading a book with the kids at the center as we take a break.

We've been here in Rwanda for almost 2 weeks now, working along side the locals in long hot days.  They will greet us each day with a huge smile, a hand shake or hug.  Not once have I heard a harsh word on anger amongst anyone.  If anyone gets the opportunity to experience this amazing place I would strongly recommend it. It will change you forever.

Todd Drake
DWC Volunteer Participant
Rwanda, February 2014

February 19: An overcast but productive workday

It was an overcast day today, but we were thankful for that since we needed to paint the outside windows of the kitchen center. We got a lot done in spite of us needing to share paint, paint brushes, ladders, stools and rags. We need to finish up tomorrow as Friday we're planning to drop our donations at the school and medical center.

The weather here is much like Kamloops in the summer. Hot and dry. It is weird looking at the sun in the middle of the day though because it's directly above usage there's almost no shadow. The mosquitoes aren't very bad either. I find them worse when I go camping back home.

I could kill for a BBQ steak right about now though! Oh - and a drink with ice in it! :-)

Todd Drake
DWC Volunteer Participant
Rwanda, February 2014