Friday, March 29, 2013

Muzungus in Uganda!

Gulu, Uganda

Uganda has been full of some amazing tourist experiences! I wish I could write them out for you, but for some things pictures are just better. So here is a photographic journal of our adventures in Uganda!

On our second day in Uganda we crossed the equator!! Turns out the equator is a line painted across a road surrounded by cows. Who knew??

Then we crossed the Nile!!

And fed some crazy baboons who lie in wait and mob buses for their bananas. I am really not exaggerating that much. 

Then after a couple of days in Gulu we went for a field trip out to this amazing rocky outcrop in the middle of the Savanah, which stretched out forever. It was one of the most beautiful places I've ever been: the most spectacular thing I have seen in Africa! We spent the morning scrambling around the rocks, guided by the local king: Chief Jeremiah.

Gulu has been a lovely break from the comparatively large and busy Kigali. I enjoyed wandering the dusty streets in search of food – Indian, Ethiopian, Ugandan, even Pizza -- Gulu is home of the best food I've eaten in months. We learned a lot about Uganda's recent struggles with the LRA and went to the headquarters of the now somewhat infamous 'Invisible Children'. If you are looking for a place to put your money I would still not necessarily recommend them, but they are not the bumbling imperialist fools I have heard them described as either.

Look for a post on the ultimate tourist destination, SAFARI, soon!  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Pied Piper of Refugee Children

Hello from Uganda! 

The beautiful mountains of Uganda, close to Rwandan boarder

I've been here a week with the whole group, with another week of mad adventuring to go before returning to Kigali. I will post about some of the awesome touristy things we have done soon. But on our first day in Uganda we went to visit Nakivale Refugee Settlement, a sprawling home of 70,00, more of a rural town than a camp. We drove through drizzling skys and rutted, muddy roads which pitched our bus at startling angles to the town, between rows of vegetable stalls and huts of scrap wood and UN-provided tarps.  

We got to meet with Rwandan refugees, and hear for the first time the voices in the shadows of the current regime. We heard of midnight disappearances, short jail sentences from which husbands and brothers never return, wives and children that had been killed in revenge for the genocide. It is the darkness of the sparkling story of resurrection we hear over and over, the sacrifices this government claims for the sake of stability, which the refugees claim is for the sake of power only. The truth is a shifty thing. I am convinced everything I have heard in this country has some truth to it, but many lies as well. Do I live in a democracy or dictatorship? Yes and yes. Is Rwanda a miracle of development or a festering of old hatreds? Yes and yes. But I begin to see the connections and what I think may be the turth behind the state. It is far cleverer than I could have ever guessed without living here. Nothing is simple. Nothing is only what it looks on the surface.

After the unsettling talk we wandered the camp with a Rwandan guide. At least, that is how it began but quickly my guides became the hoards of children who followed giggling and calling 'Muzunguu!” A brave little girl with six fingers in a torn purple velvet dress held my hand for an hour. She was quickly joined by at least a dozen children who held onto my fingers and wrists and elbows, and we moved like a massive shambling beast giggling madly whenever we looked at each other. 

This camp affirmed so much for me. In a town of 70,000 who had all suffered immensely there was not a single psychologist or program for addressing trauma. I want more than anything to work on trauma healing with refugees, and this day confirmed this completely. If I could move there tomorrow I would – though I will have to wait years until I've gathered enough skills to be genuinely useful. Now more than ever I know the path my life should take. 
The super amazing kids at the camp. The girl to my right reaching for the camera was my best friend for the day. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

10 Reasons I love Kigali

I have now officially been in Rwanda for over a month, and Kigali feels more like home with every day that passes. I keep imagining myself years from now. I wanted to celebrate this feeling of home by sharing my joys of Rwanda with you, rather than the bones and sorrows.

In no particular order: 10 of my loves of Rwanda

  1. Transport

    I have a strange love of the rickety, overcrowded transportation system of Kigali. Crammed buses and ever present moto-taxis make the whole city available for a few cents. While buses challenge Western notions of personal space (like, the idea we should have some) and are occasionally a horrifying testament to the general lack of deodorant in this country, I have found I really enjoy the people watching on them as I sit next to university students, business men, mums with their babies, teens absorbed by cell phones: its a view into Rwanda.

  1. Markets
The truth is I love the adventure of labyrinthine, dim markets of thousands of oddly specific stalls (Need Katchup? Go two aisles to the right for the condiment sales-man) more than the sterility of our grocery stores. It's not as easy, but it turns shopping from a chore to scavenger hunt, and buying from a meaningless interchange of money to a conversation and depending on the extent of the bargaining: a game.

  1. Colors
From orange sunrises, misty gray/green evenings, to the explosions of vibrancy from women's traditional skirts, to the inevitable buildings painted as advertising for competing cell phone companies, everywhere I am surrounded by color.
Traditional dresses at a concert

  1. Beauty
I have found Kigali to be one the most beautiful non-European capitol city I have been in. Not for the architecture, which consists of basic concrete and 'developing-country-blue' glass, but for the mountains, which make every street a vista. I feel I can see forever from wherever I am. That I walk to school across the top of the earth. At night the hills speckled with streetlights look like waves of stars. 

  1. My Host family
Of course, I cannot leave out my vibrant, silly, wonderful host family. I spend my time at home with my host siblings: singing, playing cards, or watching bizarre movies (everything from allegorical christian horror films to 40 year old Kung Fu movies in the original racist accents).

Me and Mugisha (left) Christine, a family friend (middle) and Peace (right) 

  1. Kids
As a Muzungu in Rwanda, I am instantly loved by every child ever. I don't quite know why, but my foreignness warrants high fives, jumping up and down, and excited calls of 'How are youuuuuu?!?!?'. It also sometime warrants demands to 'give me money!', but this makes angry at the misguided whites who treat children like beggars, not the kids themselves. 

  1. Fruit
I can't even begin to tell you how good the fruit is here. I gorge myself on mangoes, passion-fruit, avacados and bananas at every opportunity.

Several kilos, and just a couple of dollars, worth of fruit. 

  1. 'Ailmentations'
While I may have mentioned the tragedy of Rwanda's potato-cuisine before, I do really love the little convenience stores that dot the city selling cookies, 'amandazi' doughnuts, samosas, chapatis, and fruit. I am always hungry here, so snacking is critical.

  1. Unpredictability
One of the greatest adventures of traveling is the break from routine. I am happiest when I can relax enough to be amused by the dubious coughing and rattling of my bus, suddenly canceled meetings, instantaneous hail storms, or power outages that leave us giggling by candlelight. The only unpredictability I cannot stand is that of my greatest addiction: the internet.

  1. Appreciation 
Travel teaches you more about yourself than anything else. Looking around every day I am reminded of how much I have and how lucky I am to have it. Though I am living out of two suitcases, I still have more possessions than even well-off Rwandans. My western privilege is disconcerting, but precious. And getting to truly know that is another privilege in itself. I am grateful every day for being here For getting to struggle with the depth of human darkness, but at the same time having the honor to witness the extremes of our resilience.