Monday, March 14, 2011

Team Rwanda checking in; Day 7

At the half-way mark, the Rwanda team is in good spirits! After a marvelous first week, we spent Friday evening recounting events and developing our “week 1” hypothesis. Between our group members, we have traveled by car over 1000 kilometers to the corners of Rwanda and visited representatives from each of CRS’ project divisions. Our meetings have spanned from one-on-ones with co-operative directors and the National University of Rwanda’s Dean, to group meetings with villages of over 300 people who participate in the SILC program. Our first week introductions have led to several exciting ideas about direction for CRS and its programs. We are going to continue testing and improving those rough ideas as we continue meetings next week. But it’s the weekend, so enough about “work.”

After developing our first week hypothesis, we treated ourselves to dinner at one of Kigali’s finest Asian restaurants called “Zen.” We have all been delighted by the number and variety of places to spend our student loans (or sign-on bonuses - for some of us). The restaurant scene is wonderfully established and we have had several meals that would rival even the best dining in the States. We have also visited Bourbon Coffee probably half-a-dozen times for much needed caffeine boosts. Along the way, we have dropped in on Nakumatt (chain of super-markets) three or four times for house-hold necessities. To say we are roughing it would be a stretch.

We will be spending this weekend out of Kigali to visit the volcano park and wild gorilla reserve in Northern Rwanda. As this is being drafted (Saturday morning), our team is humming along the North-South highway route with our trusted driver Robert at the wheel. Our destination is near Musanze, one of the northern-most cities in Rwanda in the high mountains near the beautiful five volcano region. Musanze is much higher altitude than Kigali, and we continue to climb higher and higher into the mountains, while watching thousands of hectors of corn and banana trees pass. About every minute Robert taps his horn to alert pedestrians along the way that we are coming and they should move. This is important because there are pedestrians EVERYWHERE. Our team continues to marvel at the sheer density of Rwanda’s human population. Even in the high mountains far between cities, there is a constant string of neat, rectangular houses and constant foot traffic along the roadside. Each home is accompanied by clean, swept, red clay yards, children playing, plots of subsistence vegetables and droves of locals carrying goods along the shoulder of the road. These beautiful sites accent the rich vegetation and breath-taking mountainous landscape (pictures to follow).

As we travel north and anticipate the exciting visit to the mountain gorillas, our conversation is always drawn back to the events of our stay. On Friday night we spoke to a young Rwandan business man. He told us that of his original clan of 500, only 50 remained alive after 1994. His family fled to Uganda during the genocides, and he only recently returned to his native land. And despite that horrifying context, his fervor and excitement glowed in his eyes as he talked about business and opportunity in Rwanda. As for the future of Rwanda, his words have stuck with us, “everything you see here has happened in the last ten years,” he said “now give us ten more years and just see what we can do.”

It’s time to wrap this up and go see some gorillas, but we want to leave a few thoughts of our first-week, specifically about the people of Rwanda. In the past week, we have been privileged to meet one of the world’s more industrious, welcoming and beautiful people. We are pressed to find barely a foot of the country that is not cultivated, planted and growing crops. Roadways are clean and smooth. Homes are spotless and sturdy. And everywhere we go, we are greeted with warm smiles and strong hand shakes. Anyone who believes Africa is “stuck” in a hopeless cycle hasn’t visited Rwanda yet.

From a happy, healthy, and excited team in Rwanda – happy weekend everyone!

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