Today was my second gorilla trek. We were very fortunate to have two extra gorilla permits so we thought it might be time to give back to a couple of the people who are doing great things here in Rwanda. Many of the people who take time to come here, do it out of the kindness of their own hearts and don’t make or have the money to go see the gorillas while they are here. One of the kindest and most open hearted of these volunteers is Devon Kuntzman.
Devon is here doing something amazing. She has left her life in Ohio behind to help out orphans. She works for Imbabzi Orphanage, dedicating her life to help some of the orphans of the genocide. Started in the aftermath of the genocide, Roz Carr came back to Rwanda at the age of 82. She had been the last American to leave, and returned as soon as she could. IN 1994,82 years young, she adopted 400 children and opened her orphanage in the shadow of the Virunga volcanoes. Sadly she died in 2006 but her legacy lives on, currently 110 orphans are living at Imbabazi, supported by their own flower farms, bee projects and help from people like Devon.
Devon truly is a deserving sole.
Our second brave adventurer is my permanent tour guide this week, Valerie van Wassenaer. Val has come up a few times this week as she has taken tons of time out of her schedule to help us get cultural reference shots for the film. Val also works very hard with the Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village. Val helped us out so much this week, it was the least we could do.
So we banded together at 5Am with my friend and permanent driver Alex. Today was incredible, the sky was crystal clear, not a rain cloud in sight. This was good omens for what was to come. The hike was by far one of the easiest we have ever done. Todays guide is one of the senior guides for the park. Beck, and he was accompanied by an intern from the local university eco-tourism program.
Today we were visiting Agashya group. Each group is named for it’s silverback. Agashya is a very busy silverback and has by far the largest brood of babies. No one can resist babies! Val quickly pulled some strings and called in some favours to bully our way in to the favorite group of both tourists and the vets at MGVP.
We reached the group very quickly as once again they are down off the mountain munching on bamboo. Bamboo is full of water and alcohol when it is in shoots, so the gorillas are usually a bit drunk and lethargic. A perfect time to watch them play. We came upon the boss, surrounded by family. He is very calm and orderly, very calmly letting us stand right in the midst of his playing brood. He dutifully posed for us, and once again I thank Jeff, steve and AFC for giving this videographer the opportunity of a lifetime. Before we knew it we were surrounded by playing children. It had rained hard last night, and there was mud. Mud and children make for an awesome playpen.
To our amazement, under his mothers watchful eyes, one started playing the drums on his mud pile, soon two were banging rhythmically . This game went on until one of the adolescents decided he didn’t like the tune and put a stop to the game… undaunted, the baby waited for his pushy brother to leave.. and went back to slappin’ the mud.
We pushed deeper in to the bamboo and I had the chance to observe a very tiny baby on her mothers back. There is just something special about babies. The hour was over so fast, none of us could believe it. It really felt like we had just arrived.
I am once again stunned and full of warmth for these creatures. They are touching and enlightening. I am so happy to have shared the experience with a couple of karmically awesome new friends. I wish you could have all been there. THere is nothing as moving as seeing these, life filled, personalities in the fur.
(On a side note, my photos and videos came in scientifically handy today. Jan noticed some sort of fungus on the babies nose and needed a copy to closer study, and Martha Robbins had never seen the drumming on mud before… and I thought she had seen everything!)
The car ride home was full of happiness. The truck broke down and Alex fixed it with a bit of rope (things like this happen here). The pause did nothing to slow down time or dumb down our elation. The smell of wild creatures is still in my nose and happiness is still in my heart.
When I arrived home at MGVP, Jan had another thing she wanted me to check out. The vets and locals in an effort to save the forest have created a sawdust briquette program. The local cooking fuel here is charcoal, it is the smell that fills the city when meal time rolls around. ( i tried to describe it when i first got here, green and rich) Unfortunately, 40% of the wood ( or thereabouts) is illegally scavenged from the park. To stop that, the vets had to change how the locals cooked their food. They needed an alternate fuel, and stoves to cook with. With the help of a forward thinking family, it is all starting to happen.
Mao is very proud of his business. He wants to preserve the park, and it shows. His sister owns the business and they already employ five people and families are starting to adopt the new cooking method. He showed us how simple the press was, and how he could produce the wooden clocks with simple sawdust, paper and water ( and the help of a bit of manpower).
To encourage slow to change local people to change after thousands of years of charcoal burning, each family who buys a big bag of briquettes is given a free stove. The system has been adopted by a large group of families and his delivery list is growing.
So this is my last day here in Musanze. Tomorrow we rush off to Kenya for the next leg in our African adventure. Stay tuned as there were great things happening on Mikeno this week, but I will let Jeff and Stephen relay the story. My story here is far from over. In a short week the warm, wonderful people here have made me welcome. The misunderstanding that has come from years of negative media is not warranted. Come here, meet the people, live a while. Rwanda is wonderful.
June asked me if I would be sad to leave. I am, deeply. At the same time, I know more adventure lies ahead.