Although I’m writing this from a windowless room in a hostel in downtown Kampala, it was mere hours ago that Kristen and I were lounging in the huge, ridiculously luxurious hotel room that she received as part of a conference she attended, put on by the Canadian Consulate. She was contacted last week and asked whether she would be willing to be a “warden” for Luweero, which basically entails forwarding on safety messages sent to her by the Consulate. Quite an easy job considering that most of the time the only other Canadians in the area are ones living in the volunteer house with her. Regardless, she happily signed on, and last night we checked in to her complimentary suite at the Serena Hotel in Kampala. The first thing we saw upon entering the lobby was a book on the reception desk called “Leading Hotels of the World”; certainly an indication of how far from our usual dorm room accommodations this was. After being led to our room, we spent quite a while just oohing and aahing over the furniture, guest services, and all the fancy touches. Eventually, we managed to sort ourselves out for dinner, and headed down to one of the many restaurants located in the hotel. Kristen received free buffets for all her meals, compliments of the Canadian government, so while she enjoyed the massive selection of food available to her, I ordered a delicious stir fry. Once we were sufficiently stuffed, we headed back to our room and took advantage of the abundant hot water and (for Kristen) first opportunity in many months to relax in a bathtub. We spent the rest of the evening catching up on news on one of the two flat screen televisions in our room, and eventually made our way to bed just before midnight.
Hard to believe, but this past weekend was my last one in Uganda. To commemorate the occasion, Kristen and I took a trip to Jinja that we had been talking about doing for months. We’d been interested in taking a boda trip somewhere, and once we found out that there was a “shortcut” to Jinja that avoided going through Kampala and involved travelling along backroads, we were sold. Yosam, one of our regular boda drivers, was a natural choice for who to call – he’s been one of the highlights of my time in Africa – always friendly and entertaining, and we trust him. After working out the departure and payment details, Yosam and his brother, Patrick, arrived outside our house, ready for the 100km trip to Jinja on Friday morning. Apart from one flat tire shortly into our adventure, we made it without any problems, and treated Yosam and Patrick to lunch at the Nile River Explorers Camp. Kristyn, the other Shanti volunteer, opted to take matatus to Jinja instead of joining us on the bodas, and so met up with us shortly after we arrived. It was a beautiful way to get to a beautiful spot in Uganda, and certainly only added to my desire to get my motorcycle license when I return to Canada.
Last weekend, since I was heading to Entebbe anyways to pick up a new Shanti volunteer, I decided it would be an opportune time to call up Kristen’s hairdresser, Richard, and have him put braids in my hair, similar to the ones that Kristen had when I first arrived in Uganda. After a few crossed wires as to where exactly the appointment was taking place, I managed to meet up with him, and we headed to a store near the taxi park to purchase the extensions that would be braided into my real hair. With many bags of hair in hand, we took a boda to a salon in town and started the incredibly time-consuming process of plaiting. Each braid was done using only a few strands of my own hair, which were then woven with the extensions to create a braid that goes nearly a foot past my shoulder – far longer than my hair has been for many years.
Despite the fact that we’ve been back from Rwanda for nearly two weeks, it’s only now that I’ve managed to get my head around writing about our visit to the Kigali Memorial Centre. Since Kristen had gone there during her first trip to Rwanda earlier in the year, and Sune had already boarded a bus to Tanzania, it was just Ido, Jessica, and I who took bodas to the genocide memorial on Monday morning. The three of us ended up purchasing the audio tour, which provided more information about each area and exhibit that we travelled through. The tour began with the memorial gardens outside the main building, each designed to represent particular elements of Rwandan society prior to, during, and following the genocide. It was quite jarring to be confronted by the contrast between the blooming flowers and greenery of the gardens and then the mass graves and wall of names located in the same area. All told, the gardens hold the remains of more than 250,000 victims. The scale of loss that the country suffered in 100 days is practically incomprehensible, especially considering that the bodies located at the Kigali site account for only a quarter of the total estimated Tutsis and moderate Hutus that were killed in 1994.
Although our plan originally had been to take a bus from Rwanda back to Kampala on Sunday, the delays with visas meant that there was no way for us to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre before Monday. Since it was important to us to be able to go there during our time in Rwanda, we decided to take a night bus back to Kampala on Monday instead. The extra day allowed us the opportunity to take a day trip to Kabuye, another lakeside town about two and a half hours outside Kigali. Sune, a Danish traveller who was a few months into a year and a half of travel, had plans to head onto Tanzania and so wasn’t able to come, but the other four of us boarded a bus Sunday morning and endured a very windy trip through hilly countryside. As had happened to Kristen on previous bus trips on Rwandan roads, the person next to her wasn’t such a fan of the twists and turns and ended up vomiting on the floor of the bus. Needless to say, we were very happy to reach our destination shortly after that.
My apologies for the silence on the blogging front. After spending a completely fantastic week and a half in Kabale, Kisoro, and Rwanda, Kristen and I returned home to no power (still), no internet, and, as of today, no water. Seems that the water tank for our house is completely empty – dry season has certainly arrived! Needless to say, this trifecta has thrown a few wrenches in our work here.
It’s hard to believe it was over a week ago, but last Tuesday, after spending most of the morning recuperating from our hike the previous day, Kristen and I took bodas to the border and went through the rigmarole of exiting Uganda. Rwanda recently started imposing $50 visa fees for Canadians (previously it had been free for us to enter the country), which meant that we needed to complete an online visa application form before arriving at the border. The website had not been working for most of the previous week, though I’d been lucky enough to have been able to submit my form during a small window when the site would open on our slow internet connection here. Kristen, however, as well as a group of three other travellers we met while at Lake Bunyonyi for Christmas, had not yet gotten a response from the Rwandan authorities, and so were all turned away when they tried to enter the country. While they spent another night in Kisoro fruitlessly trying to get a hold of someone in immigration, I made my way from the border to Gisenyi, a beautiful town on Lake Kivu, just a few kilometres from the DRC. Vanessa, one of the previous Shanti volunteers who had travelled to Rwanda during her time here, had left very detailed information about her trip so it was a breeze for me to figure out which buses to take and how to find the cheap accommodation in town. I spent a quiet day and a half in Gisenyi, exploring around the town, walking by the lake and getting to see the the border with some tour guides I acquired along the way. Kristen and Jessica, Sune and Ido arrived late on Wednesday night, after finally getting some good luck in the form of a man who phoned immigration for them and talked with the official there until he agreed to issue the visas.