Sunday, January 23, 2011

Up Close and Personal

Our trek back to Kigali from the Congo was filled with long talks, beautiful scenery, terrible roads, and intense rain storms...Carl could qualify for NASCAR any day.  The following day we chose to sleep in, catch up on email, blogs and life...a much needed breath.  We also used the time to make calls and schedule our final days in Rwanda--days that would be filled with successful friendraising and connecting with many special friends of Carl's--we were blissfully BUSY.

Before we attacked our to-do list in Kigali, we headed to the Akagera National Park, a wild game reserve about 2 hours outside of Kigali.  We hired a driver and a 4X4 and took off early Monday morning--Carl's experience suggested this would enable us to see the most animals possible before they retreated from the hot sun of the afternoon--this would not be the last time Carl did his impressive National Geographic narrator impression--give him the job!  Again, the trip there was filled with what has become my favorite sights:  beautiful landscapes and busy roadsides filled with the people of Rwanda moving through their routines--Cirrque de Solei would be in awe of what Rwandan's can carry on their heads--and with effortless smiles.

When we arrived at Akagera we checked in at the ranger's station, paid our entrance fees and were introduced to our guide who would be riding with us through the reserve.  Her name was Pannini--I told her her name sounded like a delicious Italian pastry--I think she liked that.  We found out later that she was orphaned during the genocide, has a 3 year old daughter (Christine), who lives in a nursery boarding school and they get to see each other 5 days a month, during Pannini's days off.  This sounds harsh by American standards, but this s actually a good story: She has terrific education and great state job--she simply has to live in the park when working.  This is not to say she doesn't miss her girl terribly--it was clear she does, but what a success story!  Christine is fortunate to have such a mom.

After we were given a basic introduction to the park we set off and not 5 minutes into our trip we came upon a wonderful moment:  a mother giraffe crossed our path (not 20 feet in front of us--awesome!) and following her was her pristine 2 week old baby!  Mom had crossed the road and expected her new child to follow--baby giraffe spent the next 10 minutes negotiating the road crossing--she knew mom wanted her to follow her, but she also saw us gawking at her--after multiple attempts, and a PATIENT mom, she actually galloped across the road and met mom--lesson learned.  It was a real privilege to witness this moment.  The next few hours were filled with many gazelle, impala, buffalo, exotic birds , zebra, hippo (just their ears--too hot to get out of the lake), and baboon.  We were honored to have met the King, boss of all bosses baboon--he sat regally on his hill and allowed us to be in his presence--we watched, bowed and left.  Pride Rock lives!

Children on their way to school during ride to Akagera

An awesome view of Akagera--its a huge park

The baby giraffe--"I don't seeee you..."

I thought this looked like the AFP tree gone Africa
Pannini laying out our journey
Da Boss

Akagera took most of the day.  On our way home we stopped at a special hospital, the Rwinkwavu primary care hospital, a project sponsored by Partners in Health and the Clinton Foundation.  They have made an amazing impact on the health of the region, particularly in the arena of health and nutritional education.  In addition to growing from a small unit of 6 beds to 111 beds with multiple specialty buildings and staff for emergency (they have 3 fully equipped ambulances), maternity and pediatrics, they also have wonderful on site education in agriculture and livestock--they are helping the people in small villages to grow more healthy vegetables, introduce new vegetables and fruits as well as healthier meats to eat.  The head nurse was happy to show Carl and I around.  This was an impressive holistic care environment--taking care of the whole person, the whole village, the whole region during and after the hospital stay--there are over 1,300 counselors who have been trained to travel to the remote villages to teach healthier life styles that will deal with proactive healthcare (malaria, HIV, etc.) as well as long term healthcare (nutrition, hygene, etc.)  It was comforting to see so much being done to directly help those in need for the long term.  

Safe disposal areas for medical waste
Mama pig doing her part
Carl getting lost in the hospitals abundant gardens

We returned home to Kigali hungry from our brush with the wild side.  We ate a great dinner that night at the guest house including our staples:  beans, rice, potatoes and fresh fruit...Rwanda can be a vegetarian's paradise.  I have been militantly taking pictures of our food throughout the trip for my wife (for those of you who don't know, she is a chef, caterer and cafe owner)--on about the 8th day of pictures she said "It looks like you're taking a picture of the same food over and over again."  She's right--this is what Carl and I ordered just about every day:)


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