A Busy Weekend.

This last weekend was perhaps one of the best times I’ve had here, and it ended on one of the worst and saddest possible notes. A full post on Sunday night’s events will go up soon. Most of this is a post typed up as an e-mail draft throughout the weekend, my opinion of the weekend’s end has definitely shifted due to recent events.

Friday night started poorly, as my laptop charger literally exploded on me, and I started a four-day, $60 effort to get it fixed. I went to Brian and Susan’s house for a barbecue where I helped Brian with the cooking a little bit (and by “helped with cooking” I mean we used plates to fan the heck out of the coals) and hung out with them and Lisa and Alison. Some other guests were there but they generally weren’t that cool. I also got to meet Lisa’s friend Ilaria who came up from Kampala. All in all it was a lot of fun getting a chance just to hang out with friends.

I spent Saturday with Lisa, Ilaria, and Alison, and we met an American named Ben who was sharing the Sankofa balcony with us. Alison had tracked down her favorite local spirit – a brand of vodka that comes in a plastic bag. Needless to say, bags were being emptied into fantas all day (I naturally sipped at virgin cokes). Eventually, we ended up back at Lisa’s place drinking the night away while playing a new card game called shithead. It was a lot of fun, but I’m definitely not good at it (or at thinking proper) and was the four-time gracious loser.

Sunday was a nice adventure as I spent the day walking around town with Lisa and Ilaria before going with Alison back to Lisa’s and hanging out. We spent a lot of time talking about the whole process of going home and about development in general; it was really nice to talk to people and really get an idea of what people were thinking, even if my perspective was very different from their 12-18 month stays in-country. We went to dinner at Whiskers (and I’ve officially been to all 5 restaurants!) and watched the World Cup match there. All in all the weekend was a lot of fun and I’m glad I got to hang out with a great group of people and really got to talk about all sorts of things.

As the night wound down Lisa, Ilaria, and I quickly got news of the bombings in Kampala and tried to get ahold of as many people as possible. While Lisa and Ilaria made a few calls, I got ahold of Morris and George, but couldn’t get ahold of Tony. Brian and Susan had been the ones that informed us, so we knew that they were safe.

Back in Lira

So, all of my posts from Adventure Week have been posted, many with pictures!  I’m back and settled in Lira for now.  Things at work are unfortunately right where I left them – with nothing to do.  The passed week was a really busy whirlwind, but I really enjoyed it despite several parts of it going wrong.  All told, I spent 7 days in 5 cities in 2 countries.  I spent way more money than I anticipated and the trip lasted moved one or two days later than it meant to. I also got to meet up with all three of my friends in Kampala, got to meet Jacob and see the IC office in Gulu, visited two genocide memorials in Kigali, hung out with Alison in two cities, met a group of cool Americans, saw fireworks.  I also rode in two company cars, one private hire taxi, four buses, about a dozen matatus and two dozen bodas, along with two dugout canoes and a speedboat.  I spent four nights in hotels, two on buses, and one in a friend’s room.

For the visually inclined, here’s a map of my travel!  As a caption I decided to sum up my trip via links to older blog posts, which is completely unnecessary.  This is much more for me to put things in order, but you can enjoy the map if you’d like!

A ( behind the H) – Lira town, Uganda. Started Adventure Week with a ride in the ACF car with Maxwell.

B – Gulu town, Uganda.  Hung out in a cafe and met Jacob the first night, and visited the IC office and had lunch with Alison.

C (behind the G) – Kampala, Uganda.  Literally sat in a bus station for three hours, and then was off again.

D – Katuna, Kabale District, Uganda & Gatuna, Rwanda.  Spent a long time going through immigration.

E – Kigali, Rwanda.  The first day was mostly going to banks and checking into a hotel. The second day was a national holiday, but the third I turned into an intense memorial day.

F – Lake Bunyonyi & Kabale town, Kabale district, Uganda.  After a boda-bus-boda-speedboat connection, I spent a day at Lake Bunyonyi canoeing and lounging about.

G – Kampala, Uganda.  Spent a little over 24 hours in the capital meeting friends and celebrating the 4th of July.


Typed on the evening of the 5th back home in Lira.

Yesterday was a busy, busy day.  I tried to see everyone I could, which resulted in saying hi to George when I woke up before flying across the city to Nando’s, a food court I had never visited while in the city before.  After having a bite to eat, I walked to Garden City – a big shopping mall, and called Tony on my way to meet up.  Wandered a little bit before meeting up with Tony for a drink.  Tony is one of the Rough Cut boys from Invisible Children, and I hadn’t seen him since he came to ASU as a part of the Legacy Tour last fall, so it was really nice to catch up.

From there I got a call from Alison, who also happened to be in the city, and Tony and I went to a cafe next to Nakumatt to meet her and her friends (a group of girls from Jefferson University who were staying with the same mutual friend as Alison).  From there I made my way back across town to Wandegeya and met up with Morris for a bit.  All in all a very back-and-forth day but I’m so glad I got to see everyone – the only people I didn’t get to see were the NACWOLA group in Nsambya but I will do that before I leave!

In the evening I joined up with Alison, Ross (her friend in Kampala), Tina, Anne, Shari (Jefferson group), and a girl named Kristin from Minnesota (all staying with Ross) and made our way to the American Recreation Association for the 4th of July party.  We laid a blanket out on the lawn and saw some local tribal drummers which was pretty cool.  After that we grabbed a bite to eat – and that was small boiled hot dogs which was a little disappointing.  Regardless, I still had three hotdogs and my fair share of soda.  Then there was a presentation by a crew of children, presumably of expats.  Not only did they do the Virginia Reel (a variation of the square dance, apparently) and sing “God Bless America,” but they also recited their oath and their code.  It was surreal.  The fact that the oath included a praise to “our lord and savior” didn’t help.  It seemed really out of place.  Afterwards they brought out the expected giant American flag cake, which turned out to be less than savory according to Anne but I didn’t have any. That said, I had a lot of fun hanging out with the girls (Ross inexplicably vanished and then would return with a drink and then vanish again) and getting to know everyone.  Kristin was doing a data study on (i think) meningitis.  The girls from Jefferson were working on a project (Rotary-funded!) to bring motorcycle ambulances to a small village in the country.  And after some so-so performances, a group of local dancers and drummers came out and put on a really good show.  My camera was dying I was able to get a few gems:

Finally, the big show!  At 8 o’clock (which seemed early to me but it was definitely dark enough) the fireworks started firing.  I was pleasantly surprised at how long the show lasted and how big some of the firework displays were.  I used up my camera in the final minutes of the show:

My friends, enamored by fireworks!

The gals: Shari, Tina, Kristin, Alison, Anne

The Lake

Typed on the 4th of July at Nando’s in Kampala.

Friday night I rolled into Kabale later than anticipated.  Because of the lateness, things got a little expensive: I took a boda across and out of town and then up and around some mountains (cold, cold wind!) before getting to Rutinda, the lakeside area.  I got to the Byoona Amagara dock and called the hotel at which I had reserved a room.  Due to the late hour I had to pay for a speedboat to come get me, which sucked and ended up almost doubling my bill :(

But!  The ride to the island was so, so neat.  It was a cold night (most nights are cold since it’s so high up) but I could see so, so many stars in the sky and I could make out the shapes of different islands as we skipped by on the water. It was really a neat sight.  That night I just settled into my room (a big dormitory of 12 beds, but I was the only visitor in the room) and tried to use my computer for a bit (no electricity) before going to bed.  But I woke up to quite the view: This lake (and specifically this hotel) had been recommended by too many people for me to resist it.  Heidi said it was the one place I had to go. Alison said it was her favorite spot in the country.  Erik just came back and said it was really nice.  So, I made it.  After failing to communicate with the outside world (computer died, phone was out of airtime, and the hotel’s internet sucked), I hired a canoe and threw caution to the wind.  I knew that A. I had not canoed since like five or six years ago in Durango, 2. I had not brought sunscreen and the sun might kill me on the lake, and III. The winds had caused some movement in the water that I might not handle.  That said, I spent a little bit of time rowing in circles and corkscrews before trying to paddle my way around.  Here are some pictures of one of the prettiest places I’ve seen in a long time:

I finally set my sights on a particular goal: Akampene Island.  Looking at the map, it was about 1.5km for a straight and narrow pilot, and I definitely was not one.  Plus, once I started really getting the hang of things and making some headway, I emerged from the cover of Bwama Island (the biggest island on the lake) and got stalled by winds and waves.  I struggled for a good two hours to get as close to the island as possible and got this picture before letting the current take me eastward.  This is Akampene Island.

Punishment Island, with its one tree.

It blends in with the background a little, but it’s just a patch of grass with one tree on it.  It was where the locals sent the unmarried pregnant girls.  It’s got one tree and looks to be a pretty lonely punishment. Just halfway out, I was getting pretty sunburned.  I ended up wrapping my washcloth around whichever arm was more in the sun as I rowed, and as I moved into my fifth hour on the water I booked it to the hotel.  As I arrived a group of four were getting lunch while I checked out.  After resting a bit, I grabbed all of my bags and headed right back out on the water where one of the hotel staff and I rowed back to Rutinda.

At the dock I met a TON of people arriving for the weekend, I guess I missed a very packed hotel!  Headed back to Kabale and walked around town a bit.  I tried to find a bus, but the soonest one to Kampala originating in Kabale wasn’t for until 11pm (5 hours away) so I decided to flag down a bus from Rwanda.  Grabbed a quick bite to eat before standing by the junction and I found a guy who called a Kampala-bound bus driver and made sure there was a seat.  In the end, I left 4 hours earlier and saved 5000 shillings so it was a victory.  Ill-planned, though, I arrived in Kampala at 5 in the morning and snuck into George’s place and, back in the city, took a nap until sunrise.


Typed on the 2nd of July at Bourbon Coffee Shop (with the internet down).

So, today was a day that I had been anticipating for, well for a few years now. I had in mind two goals, two places I wanted to go. First was the Kigali Memorial Center, the city’s memorial of the 1994 genocide and an exhibit about other genocides in history. It was really interesting and really informative, which is what I expected. The exhibits were split into Rwanda before, during, and after the genocide and addressed issues like ethnic divisions and justice after the war. Here are some pictures from the memorial.

But the thing that loomed ahead was the memorial I had wanted to see since I first read about the incident a couple of years ago. The church in Nyamata.  In early April of 1994, when the genocide first began after the President’s plane was shot down, thousands of Tutsis fled to the church in Nyamata.  They were safe for a couple of days before the Interahamwe militia broke down the gates and lobbed grenades at the church before using guns and machetes to kill those inside.  I’ve heard figures of up to 10,000 victims.  It’s something difficult to imagine, and seeing the memorial was something that really struck a chord.

So after a half hour matatu-ride and a short trip on a bicycle, I got to the church. It was a simply brick building with a serene lawn, with everything draped in purple and white flags. I walked in and immediately was taken aback by the pews. Each pew in the church was covered in piles of clothes – the clothes of the victims. The clothes were also scattered all over the floor throughout the church.

From here I went into the vault immediately under the church. Here there was a three-tier shelf that laid it all out for me. The very bottom was a casket draped in white cloth. Above that was a shelf with row after row of skulls. In the center were some bracelets and identification cards (each of which said “Tutsi” on it). The top tier, just about at eye level, was a pile of bones – femurs to scapulas to ribs, laid bare. I knew the memorial was displayed like this, but I was still a little on the defensive, and when I saw that someone had scribbled a name onto one of the skulls I got weepy. After reflecting for a bit I got out of the church.

After walking out of the church I faced the most daunting task – the mass grave behind the church. First, there was a grave for an Italian humanitarian worker beside the church – she had warned about the impending genocide and called on people to intervene before she was killed. Behind the church were two large slabs of stone marking the grave. Each one had a staircase that led underground to the tombs. Inside were stacks of caskets (each with the bodies of far more than one victim), shelves lined with hundreds of skulls and bones, and dozens of purple and white flags. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but you at least know what you’ll see.

Needless to say, it’s a powerful statement, seeing these reminders of the genocide.  It is such a different idea of remembrance that we have at home, and it’s such a different way of addressing an issue like this. It definitely brings out emotion, and if you’re like me it just makes you think that the event this church represents isn’t a solitary event. This happened all over the country in 1994, and things like it have happened around the globe in the passed century. Seeing the memorial was something I had to do, and I think it’s something that will stick with me for a long, long time.

Winding Down

So, I have a lot to post about, I know.  My week-long hiatus has been a busy one and only periodically had decent internet, but I’ve accumulated a fair number of posts that need some pictures.  On my last day in Kigali I saw some pretty eye-opening things, Lake Bunyonyi was really pretty, and I got to celebrate the 4th with a lawnful of Americans.

All in all, it’s been good.  I got to meet a lot of people and see a lot of things.  I’ve spent over 500,000 Shillings – but I blame Rwanda and modes of transportation for that bit.  I’ve also spent about 32 hours on buses and 2 hours in an NGO vehicle (going to add a good 5 or so to that figure today).  I’ve spent four nights sleeping in hotels, two nights sleeping on buses, and one night sleeping in George’s bed.  I’ve been on too many bodas to remember, and a handful of matatus to boot.  But!  The Lira>Gulu>Kampala>Kigali>Nyamata>Kigali>Lake Bunyonyi>Kabale>Kampala>Lira sequence has almost run its course.

Hopefully I’ll toss up a few blog posts soon enough and you can look at pictures.  Happy Fourth of July to all you American readers out there! And happy 4-5/7/10 to everyone else.

Rwanda: Take Two

So, today was my second try and doing things in Rwanda, and it turned out to fail just as much as yesterday did.

Yesterday, I was delayed several hours and planned poorly in regards to money.  Today, well I planned poorly in regards to today being National Day.

My plans for today included a post office, two hotels, a couple of matatu rides and two memorials.  I did almost none of these things.  After stopping off at Bourbon Coffee Shop for some internet and eggs, I headed to the post office.  First of all, the post office is no longer there even though my map is relatively new.  Second of all, the post office – had it been there – was closed for National Day.  So, giving up on mailing things, I walked down the street to see if a well-regarded bookstore, the Libaire Caritas, was where it should be.  It was, but it wasn’t open.

Not to be bested by a public holiday, I set out to… wander.  I was going through the sort of second-guessing bad-thoughts about what could’ve been had I left Gulu earlier or taken a different bus from Kampala, but after some moping I sucked it up and went to a tourism center to ask if the Kigali Genocide Memorial would be open on a public holiday.  The tourism guy told me it was definitely closed, but said if I wanted to try I could go and monetarily persuade them to let me in.  Tried, but never even got around to it before being told to come back tomorrow.  Bummed, I thought about the odds of the Nyamata or Natarama church memorials being open and instead decided to visit the Hotel des Mille Collines (of Hotel Rwanda and An Ordinary Man fame).  After sipping an expensive soda at a really fancy hotel, I talked to one of the clerks who told me the churches might be open since they were out of town.

So, I set off to check in at a hotel and drop some weight off before heading out to Nyamata.  I had originally been unsure about how many nights I’d be in Kigali, and when I decided on staying another night I thought I’d try the Hotel Kigali instead of the Auberge les Caverne (where I stayed last night) because it seemed just as nice but a lot cheaper.  Except it didn’t exist anywhere along the road it was supposed to be on.  Defeated, I headed back to Auberge…. which was full.  I ended up finding accommodations at the Hotel Garden City, which cost even more than Auberge – ironic. no?  After checking in I pretty much collapsed on my bed and fell asleep after about 5 hours of walking with two bags on my shoulders.  Woke up annoyed by my nap, but determined to make it to Nyamata.

I was determined and juzzed for the trip, and booked it to the bus park at Nyabugogo.  Arrived, tracked down the matatu I needed, and got in.  It was less than half-empty (see that pessimism there?).  So I waited and waited.  While waiting, I started playing out numbers in my head.  It was almost 5.  It takes 30 minutes or so to get to Nyamata.  I didn’t know how frequently buses went from Nyamata to Kigali.  I didn’t even know if the church was open.  After racking my brain of scenarios that included waiting for a matatu in an unfamiliar town where nobody speaks English after dark, I lost my mojo and bailed.  Went to a fancy restaurant run by a Belgian expat and then booked it over here to the coffee shop.

Tomorrow has been planned thus: Breakfast.  Bank.  Kigali Memorial.  Bus to Nyamata or Natarama.  See chosen church memorial.  Bus back to Kigali.  Lunch at New Cactus.  Bus to Uganda.  I sure hope it all works out.  At least I got to sip a coke at the Mille Collines today.


Typed the 25th of June at Sankofa.

Today I went out to Ogur Sub-County.  Ogur is a small village north of Lira a ways. The road is narrow and bumpy to say the least, and it takes about 40 minutes on a motorcycle. And by the way, travel in Uganda means you get dirty.  Just check this handkerchief out- the left side is after the ride there and the right is after the ride back. Nasty.

The reason we were in Ogur was because NACWOLA facilitates community dialogs on different topics.  This discussion was about the local council court and whether or not it allowed women to access justice.  The room was pretty full and predominantly men (much to Jeoffrey’s dismay).  First, we introduced the topic and split the room into groups – those were thought the court was doing its job and those that thought it withheld women’s rights (it’s worth noting that all of the women present were in the latter).  One group left to deliberate in another room while one remained.  After some chatting and going over points, they reconvened and engaged in a loose version of a debate.  Basically, one person from Group A spoke and Group B could respond, and then Group B spoke and Group A could respond.  About an hour into it, a guy from Radio Unity began recording using a tape recorder and got a good sum of the debate recorded – it will be played on the radio as part of an informational talk show sort of thing which is pretty cool.

Unfortunately for me, the entire four hours of debate was in Luo, but Stephen explained the gist afterwards, although this is just a smattering of details:

  • If a man dies, any land he owns goes to his parents, regardless of the wife. Widows were complaining that not only is this wrong, but that the local court will not hear claims to get the land back.
  • Some men argued that women were gaining ground in the public sphere and cited the example of a woman who recently made a power grab and ousted a MP.
  • Some argued that women were enjoying a freer justice system, but several on the other side countered that free in rights didn’t matter if it wasn’t affordable financially.
  • In the home, many women argued, they were overworked and still denied representation. If something went wrong in the home, it was seen as the woman’s fault since it was in her domain even if it was a result of the man’s decision-making.
  • The legality of polygamy in the face of a prohibition on polyandry gained mention.
  • In the education system, boys are often given priority at full schools based on the notion that the girls will grow up to work in the house anyways.
  • The marriage of a couple’s daughter is arranged completely by the father – from deciding on a dowry to deciding on the right man.  The mother has no say in this and some were complaining that courts would not hear motions to have a stake in these decisions.

The Land of a Thousand Hills

So, after sitting on a still bus for about 2 hours and then riding from Gulu to Kampala in 5 and then sitting at the Jaguar bus station for 4, I made my way to Kigali!  I signed up for the 1am bus and there was also a 3am bus, and I ended up leaving at 2 so I don’t know if mine was late or if it didn’t exist and I took the 3 early?  Whatever.

The bus rolled out of Kampala and I fell asleep soon after.  I woke up around 4.30 in the morning to a really cold wind.  Apparently my window had a chunk missing from it, and wind was whipping in at me.  After freezing for a while, I grabbed both of my bags and my second shirt and tried to keep myself as warm as possible.  Starting then I had a very on-and-off sleep schedule until we got to the border.

The border crossing went like this: everyone got off and went to check out of Uganda. Then everyone walked a ways to the Rwandan immigration office to get stamped. The bus arrived after getting checked, then unloaded everything to get inspected. Then we all got back on, bus reloaded, and we were on our way.  I continued to sleep on-and-off, until I realized that the bus had broken down. We were at some obscure intersection in northern Rwanda for at least an hour I think, and then suddenly we started moving without any announcement so I don’t know.  When we finally arrived at the bus park one of the staff apologized to me for it being late.

From there I embarked on a trip oddly reminiscent of that Monday in Kampala.  Apparently, even the main branch of the Banque de Kigali doesn’t take traveler’s checks.  I was hoping to finish mine off on this trip, so I didn’t bring as much cash as I had planned on having.  In the end I withdrew some from my debit card which was kinda lame, but now I have some Rwandan franks to run around with for a couple of days.  Rounded out the evening getting a bite to eat and some internet from Bourbon’s Coffee Shop at the Union Trade Center.  From there I booked a room at the Auberge le Caverne, a hotel tucked away on a major road.  The room’s okay – has good points (two beds and a table, with a 3-channel TV, and breakfast is included!) and some bad (smelly bathroom and some more bugs than I’d like).

Tomorrow I’m going to do as much as I can and then I’m trying to decide if I’ll hurry back to Uganda then or spend another night in town here.  The to-do list isn’t that long, but I really want to see the genocide memorial in Kigali and maybe try to see the ones in Nyamata or Natarama.  Other than that there are some little things to do but I’m not sure if it’s enough to warrant another day or not, plus I don’t know when the buses leave for Kabale or Kisoro.  Things to look into, for sure!

Bleats and Clucks

Typed on June 23rd at home.  Pictures uploaded on June 29th at Kope Cafe in Gulu, the Jaguar Bus Station in Kampala, and Bourbon Coffee Shop in Kigali.  These pictures have traveled!

So, I thought I’d share some animals with you.  Rambo, who I thought was named Rumble but I’m getting used to the accents, has since left the house when Erik moved to the ACF house for his work.  But the compound is still alive with animals and I thought I’d share them with you.  First, is Amacha – our lovely little goat.  She’s pretty adorable and gentle, but she’s on a leash because she likes to eat flowers more than she likes to eat grass.  Also she tried to eat my pants the other day.

Our other companions in the compound are chickens.  The rooster is named Martin and one hen is named Annett, after Martin and Annett since they provided the first two birds. Another hen is named Adelheid after Monica’s mom (Martin is her dad’s name so it’s a two-for-one name), this hen’s busy sitting on eggs and I don’t see her too much.  The brown one is named Bora Bora after the village it came from.  And last but not least is the Other One.  This one looks like Annett and before they named her people got confused so she just evolved into the Other One.

Bora Bora, Martin, Annett, and the Other One

UPDATE: While waiting for good enough internet to post pictures on here, Adelheid has emerged with four chicks!  They are oh so adorable and they chirp a lot.  Unfortunately, after just two days of wandering the compound, the little white one was kidnapped by a bird of prey.  Hopefully the others stay safe, and I’ll keep you updated on the growing up process.

Adelheid and her chicks!