Wednesday morning we left for Kibogora, a town located deep in the southern province of Rwanda. Our bus left at 7am and we drove for a few hours before a quick bathroom break at the Rwandan equivalent of a truck-driver stop. Alissa and Dave guarded our bags while Hannah and I waited in line for the bathroom. It was surprisingly clean, but almost too clean since the women were in the process of cleaning the stalls for the duration of our visit. My stall had about three inches of soapy water, which was kind of odd, but I suppose my toes appreciated the bath. After this I found some grilled corn for everyone to try and although it was a little dry they all seemed to like the snack. I think Alissa especially enjoyed chucking the finished corn out the window of the moving bus. She managed not to hit anyone and got it all the way across the road and into a ditch- she has quite a talent for the task. This is common bus etiquette by the way, not just Alissa deciding to litter.
The bus ride was pretty uneventful and after about five hours on the twisty road through Nyungwe forest we spilled out into a land of gentle hills covered in beautiful tea plantations with a smattering of tiny worn down villages scattered between the lush fields. We got off the bus in a village named Buhinga and while Alissa and Dave unloaded bags I took off with Hannah to buy our bus tickets for the return trip on Friday morning. In an area where few visitors ride public transport the mamas at the bus station gossip in Kinyarwanda with barely contained glee when foreigners dare to mingle with the local population. My favorite part of this experience is letting them talk for a few minutes and then turning and joining in the conversation that they are having about me- such fun. Anyways, Hannah and I bought the tickets and returned to find Alissa and Dave surrounded by an enormous group of school children who were too shy to speak but able to stare contently with blank faces as we packed up the hospital car that had arrived for us. We drove for about 15-minutes along a newly paved road that hugs the shoreline of lake Kivu and offers breathtaking views of the area. At one point the driver stopped and we thanked him, thinking he was stopping to enable us to photograph the scenery, but he was actually stopping to pick up a friend on the road. A local pastor needed a ride to his church so the poor guy climbed in the back area with our avalanche of bags practically suffocating him- but I guess a free ride is a free ride!
We arrived at the hospital and settled into the guesthouse where we would be staying. Four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a full kitchen, a huge common room with couches, books, and even a piano, and an amazing view of the lake, for $25 a night. On top of this the price included three delicious meals a day and laundry. I was the only one to give a pile of clothes to get washed so perhaps my visitors don’t feel the same sense of desperate desire that I do when I find out that someone else will wash my clothes for me. Two years of hand washing clothes gets old. We had a lazy afternoon of reading and napping, followed by dinner and a night of games. Dave taught us how to play a game called “salad bowl” that was really fun and watching Dave try to act out Snoopy the Dog was perhaps the highlight of the game, rivaled only by his actions to describe Spider Man as he frantically popped out of his seat to dash to the wall to pretend climbing it.
Thursday morning we woke up at about 7:30am to enjoy a breakfast of toast, oatmeal, and fruit salad. We decided that the day’s activity would be a boat ride on lake Kivu so I worked on finding a contact in the area with a boat. Luckily the cleaning lady knew a guard on the compound so she called him and within the hour Tomas was at our door to take us out. We walked through the village for a few minutes and then followed a dirt road that descended down the hill towards the lake. It was a really beautiful walk and my first thought was, “Wow, what an amazing place to spend a vacation.”
As we continued down the steep path my immediate second thought was, “Wow, this is going to really suck on the way back up.” The trail got even steeper as we continued and as an added bonus it was littered with massive globs of cow poop melting in the hot morning sun, some of which ended up in squished in my flip-flop at one point. It was gross. Despite the difficulty of hiking in flip-flops and skirts (Hannah and I missed the memo that a real hike was involved while Dave and Alissa wore matching outfits of blue athletic tops and black bottoms- they tend to match a lot and claim it is an accident but we wonder) it was a nice trip and within 20 minutes we arrived at the edge of the lake. There was no boat at that point so we watched two boys paddling out on an inter tube while Tomas was busy gossiping about us with an old woman who had been napping under a tree. Eventually a tiny wooden canoe appeared and suddenly I was feeling less confident about this whole boat idea. Tomas climbed in first to bail out the inches of water with a small cup and I must say that didn’t really inspire confidence in the boat’s ability to take five people across a lake. We all pilled into the boat and the first wooden bench I sat on tipped back so I fell into the muddy water that covered the floor of the boat, and while I would love to forget that moment Alissa managed to capture the fall on her camera so now I can never live it down. Once we all got situated we headed out with the four of us plus Tomas, another random guy who helped paddle, and a random woman who sat up at the front of the boat.
We made it across the lake and climbed onto shore in order to get into another, slightly larger, wooden canoe. Dave ended up paddling for the entire trip while the three girls lounged on the boat and took pictures. It was quite luxurious. Tomas sung traditional Rwandan chants as he paddled and the water was calm and clear. We saw lots of interesting birds and their innovative nests hidden in the thick brush along the shore. At one point there were some woman praying and singing in a cave carved into the side of a hillside so Tomas docked the boat so we could climb up to the cave and get a glimpse of the inside. Lots of unique experiences! Here are some pictures from the excursion:
After a few hours on the lake we hiked back up to our house and took cold showers to soothe our sweaty and sunburned (Hannah) bodies. We enjoyed a nice lunch together and then had a peaceful afternoon of napping and reading once again. At 5pm the American nurse on the compound, Julie, came to take Dave’s stitches out. The night before leaving for Africa Dave had an unfortunate incident playing softball and ended up with eight stitches above his eyebrow that had to be removed five days later. Luckily we happened to be in Kibogora during that time so Dave was able to have an experienced nurse take out the stitches for free which would not have been the case in Kigali. Alissa was the supportive wife and offered ample amounts of moral support during the brief medical procedure.
In the evening I took them to see the babies in the NICU. Alissa and I went in first and I greeted all the mamas and explained who I was and why I wanted to photograph their babies. My mom has been collecting donations for the NICU and pictures always help persuade people to be a little more generous, especially with adorable preemies. The mamas were very welcoming and we enjoyed visiting the babies. Hannah later retuned with me to see the babies and then we made our way back up to the house for the night to have dinner and play games before bed.
This morning we took a bus back to Kiagli. The driver never stopped once in a place for passengers to get off so while it was slightly annoying but we did make pretty good time. Once in Kigali we found a place to eat lunch and went to the hotel to drop off bags. After a brief rest we took a cab to visit the genocide memorial that is all the way across town only to discover that it was closed for the day. Instead of the memorial I took the group to a fantastic co-op so they could do some shopping for people back home and then we came back to the hotel for the night.
Now it is time for bed and tomorrow we head out East for all sorts of new and exciting adventures!!!