Mzungus in the Mist

(written Monday, June 20th)

This weekend was the most spontaneous journey that the grow team has embarked on so far. I should mention before I begin this story that the girls and I have been bummed since the beginning of the trip about not being able to take a tour to see the gorillas in the volcanoes of northern Rwanda. The tour is simply too expensive, so we had been hoping for an alternative that would be equally as fun…and hopefully have something to do with gorillas! When a local friend mentioned to us that the annual ceremony for the naming of the new baby gorillas was taking place on Saturday in the northern city of Rhuengeri at the foot of the volcanoes, we jumped at the opportunity.

On Friday, we were given the number of a woman who works in the office that orchestrates the gorilla tours, and inquired about tickets to this event. She explained to us that the tickets for the event were free and still available, but that they had to be picked up in Kigali (Rwanda’s capital city…. which is inconveniently two hours away) the same day. Since we were unable to pick up the tickets on such short notice, Vincent was kind enough to enlist the help of a friend in Kigali who picked up the tickets and put them on the next bus to Butare. We were informed that the tickets would arrive at 8pm on Friday night for us to pick up. Mission Accomplished!! Well….almost.

The ceremony was set to begin at 9am on Saturday morning, meaning the GROW team would have to travel nearly 6 hours to reach Rhuengeri. We originally wanted to leave Friday evening, but couldn’t due to prior engagements. Because public transit buses don’t leave until at least 6am, we needed to find a ride that could take us to Kigali at 4am Saturday morning to catch the 6am bus from Kigali to Rhuengeri. Luckily as Vincent was running around figuring out the ticket situation Alyssa and Alphonse found a taxi driver who was willing to pick us up at 3:50 am! Running on less than four hours of sleep, the girls and I piled into this tiny taxi car and headed to Kigali.

Upon arrival in Kigali, we were kicked off our 6am bus (our reserved tickets couldn’t be located), and hopped on the 6:30 bus to Rhuengeri. Not sure what to expect (but hoping we could see baby gorillas…), we arrived in the northern province just as the ceremony started. Hundreds and hundreds of local Rwandans showed up for the ceremony, along with tons of tourists, international donors, and dignitaries. We sat under a huge white tent, and watched several dance and musical performances!

When it was time for the baby gorillas to be named, one GROW trip member asked how in the world the babies could be separated from their mothers for the ceremony. And that’s when we realized…there’s no way we were going to see baby gorillas! Sure enough, twenty-one Rwandan children dressed in gorilla costumes came out on a platform on all fours. They represented the twenty-one new baby gorillas that were to be named. So basically, we spent hours organizing the details and traveling across the entire country of Rwanda, anticipating seeing a glimpse of real baby gorillas….and instead were greeted by fake gorillas. We couldn’t help but laugh at ourselves!

The trip was not a waste by any means, because we really experienced an amazing part of Rwandan culture, saw cool performances, visited a new city, and even met the Prime Minister of Rwanda as we left the ceremony! The trip home was a tad more challenging due to severe sleep deprivation and a 45-minute detour down an extremely dusty and unpaved road that nearly caused me to have a heart attack. BUT, we made it back to Butare!

The rest of the weekend was really exciting as well. Our third maternal health education session took place on Sunday afternoon, with over 60 women from local villages arriving to hear about nutrition requirements during pregnancy. We also conducted our first preliminary survey with 10 women about basic health and hygiene habits. As the sessions continue, we’ve been gradually bonding with the women, despite the language barrier. They always arrive with big smiles, adorable babies, and an undeniable desire to learn all they can from the teaching sessions. They continue to amaze me every week, and I look forward to spending time with them!

Tomorrow marks the one-month mark since our arrival in Rwanda, and the adventures and experiences so far have surpassed my expectations. I couldn’t have chosen four better girls to be on this amazing journey with. I can’t wait to see what the next four weeks brings! Xoxo, MJ

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