From the initial landing in Kigali, Rwanda, the population density was an immediate contrast to Botswana. Public transport is at a minimum, vehicles are few, and most people get around by walking long distances. Carrying heavy loads on their heads, women in colorful dresses, this is Africa in development.
The homes are made from vertical pieces of tropical hardwood, and horizontal eucalyptus split logs. Wood is still cut the old-fashioned way – who needs a chainsaw when you have a saw this size? As the women and men work in the fields of potatoes, corn, and Pyrethrum flowers, the older children take care of the younger ones.
To the right, Patrick, our trek guide, finds the largest worm I have ever seen in my life. What kind of fish could you catch with this bait?
As the story in Botswana was about preservation of endangered animals, there is a similar narrative regarding the famous Mountain Gorillas who became known through the research by Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey. With the full support of the Rwandan government, a nature preserve has been created and a 52 mile stone wall 6 feet in height built around the reserve to delineate boundaries. Soldiers guard the few remaining gorillas and trackers keep an eye on them. A medical staff is on call 24/7 to provide emergency medical support for injured or sick animals. We were instructed to get no closer than 20 feet, but what do you do when an adolescent gorilla walks past you and grabs your leg, as if to acknowledge another creature friend?
The total number has increased in the past few years to a total of 880 in 19 groups that are tracked and monitored for safety and health. We drove an hour from Mountain View Lodge in the north of Rwanda (2 ½ hours from the capital Kigali) parked our vehicle, and then walked another two hours through a small village, agricultural fields, and finally on a small winding trail that cut through bamboo forests, up to 9300 feet in altitude. We were rewarded by spending an hour with 16 gorillas as they munched bamboo, pulled plants and ate roots, groomed each other, and played. We were challenged by the dominant Silverback male as he stood and beat his chest for a brief but frightening 15 seconds. He then promptly lay down and went to sleep, having communicated to his companions that he was providing leadership and safety for them.
The other story about Rwanda is about a country that has gone through a horrific period 20 years ago that tore apart society and ravaged families and the economy. This is what we often think about when the word “Rwanda” is mentioned. Our guide was a beautiful young woman of 22 years old – Nadine – who was two years old at the time of the genocide. There is a photo of her hiding in a large church in Kigali where almost 2000 were killed in ethnic violence. Look carefully at the photo above to the right and you can see her to the far left of the line of children, in a white blouse and blue skirt. Within a couple of days, most of the children in this photograph had been killed. Nadine escaped by hiding in a corner under debris until the killers had passed, not noticing her. Altogether, close to one million lives were taken during this dark period in the country’s history. Through reconciliation and a turn to the future, Rwanda is focused on developing into a modern country and providing education for its youth. Many of the scenes in the country reflect the beauty of the people and their work ethic in rebuilding the nation and families.