Though our numbers have diminished, greetings to those of you who are still staying tuned! We hope the rest of the group has returned safely and is managing to defeat their inevitable jet lag. We miss you!
Saturday we took a trip to Lake Kivu – I had been eager to visit the beach town of Gisenyi, on the northern border of the lake in the west of the country, since reading about it months ago and was thrilled to have the opportunity to go. But as I have found again and again in our outings here, I cannot sufficiently describe the day without mentioning the journey itself. The drive to Gisenyi involved three hours of switch back mountain roads, but the time passed as it would if I was watching a beautifully performed play – I was completely absorbed in the scenery and engaged in people-watching the entire time. Just outside of Kigali, the van began to climb quickly into high altitudes, and the early morning mist gave the valleys a surreal and magical sheen. It was hard to know which way to look; stunning views often stretched before and to either side of us, and we had to crane our necks quickly from right to left to keep up with which side offered the most to look at at any given moment. In Rwanda, President Kagame has set up monthly community service days, of which Saturday was one, when people are expected to stay in their villages and help with community projects. (Can you imagine what we could accomplish if we had such a thing in New York?!) As a result, there were few cars on the road but many cyclists and pedestrians carting wood, water, and plants for the cows to eat, as one local woman explained to me during our breakfast stop overlooking yet another spectacular valley. From time to time we were stopped momentarily at police check points, to ensure that we were not slacking our community service obligations. (Once it was clear we were a van of “Muzungus”, or Westerners, we were quickly waved onward!) We passed by rice paddies, tea crops, sugarcane, sorghum, cabbage fields. For one half-hour stretch we found ourselves in brick-building territory; mud bricks drying in clusters every few yards, next to streams and waterways. As we moved farther north, rich red soil gave way to dark volcanic earth – we were nearing the lake, at about 4,600 feet above sea level. Our driver took us to an upscale hotel where we enjoyed a luxurious poolside coffee, and then we went exploring, finding palm tree-lined roads, palm fronds thick with agitated, screeching bats, rowdy swimmers splashing about in the lake, more upscale hotels, and water as far as the eye could see. After a lengthy lunch, we popped back in the van to drive through a nearby port village. We saw and got a good whiff of the local Primus beer brewery, viewed some spectacular hand-made fishing canoes docked in the water, and stopped for a photo-op overlooking the lake. A serious-looking boy with a bandanna and a stick looked on, seemingly the king of his hill.
After a bumpy ride home, and many thanks to our kind and patient driver, we were ready to indulge a bit at a local Italian restaurant with a view of the city. The extra time we’ve spent here in Rwanda has been well worth it and has given us a wider and clearer view of all this country has to offer. It’s beginning to get in my bones, and I hope the beauty will remain in my mind’s eye when I return to the urban bustle of NYC.