Thursday, May 30, 2013

The place where my dad ran around in diapers!


It's funny how often you are reminded how much your parents rock. They always know what to do in every situation, and know what to say to put things into perspective. For instance, last night talking to my parents made me far less homesick, and put a smile back onto my face, after such a stressful evening being left in Jinja. From across the world they were able to cheer me up in just a few minutes! Parents also think of everything. For example, they packed me a couple of heavy boxes of granola bars, and that was probably the most valuable piece of luggage that I brought! The Clif Bars served as my breakfast before class each morning, and helped me to avoid the hallucinations that often come along with taking one's Malaria pills without food. I wish I had brought more, as they've also been the perfect snack when food is not readily available.

This morning, we woke up at the Backpacker's resort, and I opened my door to find a monkey running across the lawn! It is a really lovely place, overlooking Lake Victoria, and has all of the basic necessities. The facilities were just like the communal bathrooms at most campsites, except there was no hot water. Absolutely no hot water - it was as ice cold as can be! Surprisingly though, aside from the squeals coming from each stall as girls, including myself, tried to wash our hair, the shower was quite refreshing!
 After getting ready, I met the driver, Moses, who was to take me to Kaliro. Jamie wanted to skip the rapids, sleep in, and then meet up for horseback riding in the afternoon, so I went by myself. As I mentioned yesterday, my mom and dad were quite worried about me going by myself, especially since safety is a huge concern out here. I sent them the contact info of both the driver, and Peter at reception, and assured them I'd be extra cautious, and would text them throughout the trip. Peter had recommended this driver personally, and I felt comfortable with him after he greeted me in the morning.

It's now old news, but the drive was gorgeous once again. I understand why they call Uganda the "Pearl of Africa" as it's simply stunning! There was lush greenery on the drive, and through to Kaliro it was tarmac, so very comfortable indeed. There was fresh air blowing through the windows, with the occasional smell of fried chapattis and roasted plantains on the sides of the road. They looked delicious, and I asked Moses if we could stop on the way back to try some!

We arrived in Kaliro far sooner than we had expected, and I immediately got chills. My dad's family was from here, and although I had heard stories and seen a few pictures, it was hard to believe that I was actually there. Kaliro is a small town, with a fairly small central street running through it. The old Jamat Khane has now been converted into a mosque, but it was still pretty magnificent.
My uncle had visited with my grandparents a few years back, so they had sent me some information on where their house and schools were, so that I could visit them while in Kaliro. The house was actually just the second house to the right of the old Khane, and it was still standing! It is quite structurally sound, and is absolutely huge! It's one of the biggest in the town, and has now been converted into three storefronts and two homes at the back!
I approached one of the shopkeepers and told him that this was my grandfather's house, and that my father grew up here. He remembered meeting my grandparents and uncle a few years back, and offered to take me around inside! We walked around, and I tried to picture my dad and his brothers as children, running around the grounds, and how my grandparents must have had their hands full with five young boys in the house!
Around back, I met the shopkeeper's mother, called Muka Mutara Anata. She didn't speak English, but as her son translated for us, I learnt that she remembered all of them! She had lived nearby while they were in this house, and recalled the family living here, immediately naming my grandfather, and his father who had the house built. My great grandfather was apparently known in the town as Bana Dogo, and had a very successful business in Kaliro. She said it was terrible that they had to flee as refugees, and remembered the approximate ages of my dad and uncles when they fled. I took a picture with her, and then as I was leaving, the shopkeeper asked me to give him enough money for a soda. It was a weird request, but I obviously obliged, as he had been so kind to take me inside his home. I sat in the car and just processed the thought that I had just walked around in the place where my dad ran around in diapers so many years ago!
Moses then took me to the school that my dad had attended when he was in Kaliro. The school used to be called C.Parek, but has since been transformed into a teacher's college. Upon entering the administration block, the Vice Principal immediately ushered me into her office, and we chatted for a while. I became really thankful for the "pole pole" lifestyle here, as she simply dropped everything to take me around, just as the Headmaster at Kako Secondary School in Masaka had done the day before!
She apologized that school does not have records from the time it was an elementary school, but did take me to the library to see if perhaps the librarian might know of something.
On our way to the library, she was kind to point out which buildings were from the school's time as C.Parek, and which had been built since then. She was also very excited to hear that I had been teaching in Kigali, and offered me a position at the teacher's college here! I told her that I am not actually a teacher, and have not gone to teacher's college myself, but she was very adamant that I have the skills to succeed, and would be more than welcome to start here. It was very kind of her to offer, and it articulated the tremendous need for qualified teachers in many schools in Africa!
We then drove through the town's main street once more, and started our journey back to Jinja. As promised on the way to Kaliro, Moses stopped on the side of the street at a place which sold "mogo," a personal favourite of mine when we have East African-style barbecues, and something my mom highly recommended I try here if I get a chance! Mogo in English is casava, and at home we prepare it like french fries, sprinkled with salt and chilli pepper. Here, it was a full casava roasted fresh on the side of the road, and when I purchased one, the lady cut it open and salted the middle. She wrapped it up in newspaper and we continued on the road. I tried it after it had cooled down slightly, and let me tell you, the mogo was SO good. I enjoyed it for the rest of the ride home, while ogling at the scenery as per usual.
At the campsite, I met up with Jamie, who had actually gone horseback riding in the morning, as the rapids were apparently too frightening. I was totally fine with this, as it meant we would arrive back in Kampala in time for evening prayers at the beautiful Jamat Khane there! We did a little bit of work at the camp's restaurant, and packed up, ready to go back to Kampala. As soon as we were done packing, it started pouring rain. It was one of the worst storms I've ever seen, but Moses was very comfortable to start our trip to Kampala. There were even some ice pellets hitting the car while we were on the road, but thankfully at that point, Moses pulled off to the side of the road to let the weather calm down slightly.

We arrived in Kampala at a reasonable time, but were absolutely shocked by the rush hour traffic! It was an absolute nightmare, and it took us about an hour to navigate through a small part of the city. I had called Mukhisaheb (the leader of the congregation in Kampala) in the afternoon to let him know I was coming to Kampala in the evening, and he was incredibly kind. He told me to let him know which hotel we were staying at once we arrived, gave me some names of hotels to check out, and then said that he would send a driver from the Kampala JK transport committee to pick me up. Jamie and I decided that we would hang out at the Kampala Serena tonight, getting some work done in the luxurious atmosphere, so we thought that the driver could drop him off to the Serena, while I quickly went to prayers, before getting dropped back off to the Serena. However, plans don't always work out, especially if you don't have reservations at a place to stay! Moses took us to a hotel, which was out of price range, so we ventured back into the traffic, with a mission to arrive at a Lonely Planet-recommended budget hotel, in the city centre. It took us about 25 minutes to drive one block down the road to the hotel, and I saw that Khane time was nearing, so I called Mukhisaheb to let him know I'd be staying there. Moses then dropped us off, and we said goodbye. It seems as though there are many budget travellers in East Africa presently, so the place was completely full. I texted Mukhisaheb, and although he was already at Khane, he assured me that the driver was on his way to pick us up, and that Jamie could come too, and that they would help us find a place to stay after prayers.

We sat at a cafe for a little while before a member of the transport committee, named Shiraz, and the driver, Mohammed, arrived to pick us up. Of course, it took forever to make it through the traffic, and unfortunately by the time we arrived at Khane, the official prayers were over! It was an incredible building though, and Shiraz Uncle urged me to go inside to check it out and say my own silent prayers, before meeting the leaders of the congregation. Mohammed took Jamie to the Khane canteen (it's so cool that this Jamat Khane has a canteen!) and introduced him to some young Ismailis who bought him some food and sat down with him.
I went upstairs and was astonished. First of all, I felt extremely underdressed, as I was wearing my travelling clothes from the day, and we didn't get a chance to dress up as was planned when we arrived in Kampala. Second of all, however, I was astonished at how huge the prayer hall was! The size of the congregation in Kampala, as I later learned, is approximately 2,000. Therefore, the space must accommodate everyone! I said my prayers, and then was ushered up to the front by a volunteer, who said that Mukhianima (the female head of the congregation, and wife of Mukhisaheb) wanted to meet me. Her daughter actually attends my Jamat Khane back home, and although we've never met (as I've been away at school when she's around for school, and she goes away during the breaks when I'm home) she knows my parents very well, who are actually Mukhisaheb/Mukhianima at our congregation in Halton! The Mukhianima in Kampala was therefore very excited to meet me, and she told me to walk around the grounds to see everything inside the gates, and then meet her back upstairs.

The Khane grounds were gorgeous. The main building itself is a masterpiece, built in the 1960's and a pride of the entire city. It is surrounded by numerous adjacent buildings, including a gymnasium, a school for religious classes, a conference centre for institutional work, a canteen, a social hall, and a library! These are all surrounded by a huge garden, with lots of benches and walkways for people to spend time in when they need a break from the hectic nature of the city. I am not going to lie, I'm quite jealous of the members of the congregation here, who get to attend such a wonderful house of prayer on a regular basis! I'm really glad that I was able to come here and see it though. :)
I met Mukhianima upstairs, and she told me that her and Mukhisaheb wanted to take Jamie and I out after their meetings post prayers. Before sending us off with members of the volunteer corps and transport committee to take us to find a hotel, she walked us around the grounds herself, pointing out some of the features of the Khane, and how what various elements are used for. We then made our way to the car, and four volunteers took us around to find a hotel within our price range! It was so very kind of them, and after trying two fully booked hotels, we found one, and they actually bargained for our rooms! They even arranged for a taxi for us for the next morning, when we would be heading to the next town to fly out from Uganda. Everything was all set for us in an instant! We were very grateful to have them all taking such good care of us - again I'm so thankful for that automatic Ismaili bond that we have around the world!

Mukhisaheb then came to meet us, and he and Mukhianima took us to an Indian restaurant that sells famous Pani Puris. I had told Mukhianima that we had been eating a lot of rice and beans all trip, and she wanted to treat us to something very different. We ate so much, and it was all very delicious! We had some lovely conversations, and before leaving, they bought us some sweets, which were also amazing. They then dropped us off to the hotel, and brought a package for me to bring to their daughter in Oakville. I might have to buy an extra suitcase, as I had not packed lightly initially, but with this parcel, my shopping, and the reality that it's always harder to pack as compactly as one does when heading away somewhere, it's going to be super difficult to get all of this home!

It was the least I could do though, as they were such lovely people, taking such great care of us, and demonstrated how fortunate we are to have access to a generous jamat worldwide. What a wonderful day overall: so many new experiences, such wonderfully kind people, and such a lucky opportunity to visit my dad's birthplace!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Guidance from my Grandfather


I woke up this morning with a text message from my mom. I was finally able to send a text over last night, letting my parents know I was okay, after having been without service/internet for the last couple of days. Even though it was extremely late in Toronto, she could sense that I was missing them quite a bit, and we spoke on the phone for a while. Before I left Rwanda, my mom had forwarded me a chapter from the autobiography my grandfather wrote before he passed away. This chapter pertained to their life in Uganda, before they were forced to leave the country as refugees in 1972. I went to bed last night reading through the pages of the book, which will be published next year, and started tearing up. It was wonderful to read about his experiences, to read about my mom's early years, and to read about the wonderful life he started for the family in Masaka. It was as if I was going to use his autobiography to have him guide me through the town, which was quite the emotional thought.

In the morning, there was still no power. I was greeted by a knock on my door, and I opened it to find a staff member holding a large jug of water, for the shower. I talked to Jamie later and found that he didn't want to experiment, but I treated it as an experience, and tried my first bucket shower! :)

We enjoyed a quick breakfast with some fresh fruits, and then managed to bargain for a deal on the hotel room, as we had no power all night. We then met Chris and his family, and set off into the heart of town.

My first destination was the Masaka Jamat Khane (place of worship) where I had been instructed by my aunt to go find a particular gentleman, the Jamat Bhai (caretaker) of the Khane. He had apparently stayed back, and knew my grandparents quite well back in the day, and would be able to show me to their home, and the inside of the prayer hall. Chris told us that he is only familiar with the fields, and is not aware of landmarks in any of the towns, so we asked a Boda Boda driver (the name for motorcycle taxis here) to show us to the mosque built in the 60's. We found an old rundown mosque in the right area of town, but when I walked around and asked for the gentleman, Mr. Nurali Hasham, I was directed to another building up on the hill. We went there, and I knew right away that this was the place. It was a beautiful, HUGE space, obviously built for when there was a large Ismaili congregation in Masaka. As soon as we entered through the gates (which confirmed that this was the Ismaili Centre) we felt immediately at peace. It was a tranquil sanctuary, with gorgeous gardens, and prominently situated on top of the hill. I started tearing up when I saw the prayer hall, and recalled the paragraph in the book where my Nanabapa (mom's father) talked about his involvement in the congregation.
Unfortunately, the assistants notified me that Mr. Hasham was not in town today, and although I obtained his number from them, I was unable to connect with him over the phone. They still took me around, which was very kind, and I had some quiet time to myself to soak it all in. Upstairs in the prayer room, I took out my notebook, and ripped out a piece of paper. I wrote a note to Mr. Hasham, explaining who I am, where I'm from, and added some prayers at the bottom. I kindly asked the assistant to pass on the note to Mr. Hasham, and we went on our way.
Our next stop was what was formerly the Aga Khan School. This was the place where my Nanabapa first started working when he first moved to Masaka from Tanzania, as a teacher of math and religion. They used to live in the faculty residences near campus, and my mom actually attended the adjacent primary school. The Aga Khan Secondary School, where Nanabapa taught, has now been merged with the Masaka Secondary School, but many of the buildings still remain. The headmaster was so kind, immediately reaching out for a special history edition of their school magazine, to show me old pictures of the school. He permitted me to walk around the campus freely, and take as many pictures as I'd like.
Before leaving Masaka, we asked Chris if we could stop at a bank, to withdraw some cash. We were having quite a bit of trouble, and had to go to a few different banks, but this was obviously meant to be. At our second bank stop, I received a phone call from Mr. Hasham! He was in Kampala for the day, and was so sorry that he wasn't in town. He asked me if I could stay until the evening to meet him, as he immediately knew my grandfather when I mentioned his name, and said he had much history to share with me! Since I told him we were on such a tight schedule, he asked me to go back to his home, on the Jamat Khane grounds, and that his assistants would make us breakfast. It was very kind of him, so we made our way back. Jamie and I walked into his home, and were stunned - they had prepared SO much food for us! It was a lovely meal, and we had a chance to chat with the houseboy, who ate with us. He took us to the places around the grounds that Mr. Hasham wanted to ensure we saw before leaving, including the rooftop of his home, with a spectacular view of the entire town behind the Jamat Khane. We also walked around the gardens, and saw the foundation stone, from 1961, a ceremony which my grandfather wrote about briefly in his book. The birds in the gardens were gorgeous, with unique birdsongs that I had not heard previously. I just wanted to sit there for hours in quiet contemplation, processing everything, and imagining my grandparents, my mom, and my two aunts, and their active presence here so many years ago.

After walking through the gardens, we said farewell, and ventured off to Kako Secondary School, about 7km from Masaka, en route to Kampala. Kako S.S. is the high school where my Nanabapa taught at from 1964 until 1972, when all of the Asians had to flee as refugees. His passion was teaching science, and at Kako, he taught grade 11 and 12 Physics and Chem. He also became head of the science department from 1965 to 1972, a position he thrived in. In his book, he wrote about his love of teaching, and how invested he was in his students' success. When we walked in, the secretary immediately ushered us into the Headmaster's office, and asked us to wait for him. As soon as he came in, and I introduced myself, letting him know why I was there, the tears started rolling down my face. I was a bit embarrassed about that, but he was so kind, and grateful that I had come to visit, and touched that I wanted to learn more about my grandfather's past. As I signed the visitor's book, he told me that they are presently trying to compile information on the school's history, to be released at the school's golden jubilee next year. He regretfully informed me that they do not have many records from that time, but are in contact with various sources to find out as much as they can. We talked, and I offered to send over the chapter of Nanabapa's book, in its pre-published stage, for the history compilation. He was extremely grateful, and ensured me that I will receive a complete copy of the school's history document in the mail next year, commemorating the golden jubilee.

He then personally took me around campus, showing me the stunning landscape viewable from the hill it is set upon. He also pointed out the old and new buildings, and talked to me about the school's present state. I was very grateful for him taking the time to escort me around campus, and I told him how much the headmaster at the time in 1972 had helped my mom's family leave safely, by giving Nanabapa a letter for tax clearance and of recommendation, and that I was very grateful for the school's assistance. We exchanged contact information, and after saying goodbye, we left Kako S.S. I was remembering Nanabapa and Mama (my grandmother) lots today, and cried quite often. I am confident though, that he'd be happy to know that I went to visit his place of passionate work.
We left for Kampala, having seen everything except for their old home. When my aunt had visited a few years back, they found that only one wall still stands from the bombings that occurred back then, as it was a house in a very nice area of town. I wouldn't have known which house (wall) it was, but am sure I would've cried some more, so it was probably best I didn't go searching for it!

En route to Kampala was a much smoother ride, on tarmac. I must sound like a broken record, but I assure you, the landscape was stunning! The road was situated in between huge fields, with hills in the far distance. Jamie slept again for the entire ride, but I kept my eyes on the scenery, and the interesting things we'd pass. These included giant cattle, families biking with up to four people on the seat, bananas on trucks ready to be exported, more than I've ever seen, and trading stops with people selling street food at car windows. Chris bought roasted plantains for his kids at one of the trading spots. Immediately after people noticed that he was purchasing something, a number of  men with freshly grilled shish kebabs, roasted corn, popcorn, and roasted fish ran up to the car and presented their items to his window. It all smelt delicious, so next time I will definitely give money to him to get me some too!

About halfway to Kampala, we came to a spot with a ton of tourist busses, and more spruced up shops than the street shops we've been passing. There was a giant line across the road - we were at the equator! We took some classic touristy pics, with one foot on either side of the equator, and had some good laughs about it. The shops were also really great, and I bought a pair of awesome African-printed pants, that I am excited to wear over the course of the next few weeks!
After our equator stop, Chris' baby boy, Anthony, started crying quite a bit. We couldn't get him to stop, but thankfully we weren't too far from their final destination: Kampala! We arrived in the bustling city, and met a tour guide who was going to join us for the last leg of the trip, as he is more familiar with the cities than Chris. He took us to a local restaurant, where we had a traditional Ugandan lunch, with similar items to our SFB upstairs lunch, but packed with much more flavour! It was absolutely delicious, and a great price too! We understood why the place was packed solid, with so many local businessmen and women grabbing a cheap, but hearty meal to get them through the rest of the day.
We then visited the Kisubi Tombs, a UNESCO heritage site, and the site where the last four Kings of Buganda (the name of the empire) are buried. The tomb used to be the largest hut in the world, but was unfortunately burnt down in 2010. Since we couldn't go in, the guide at the tombs gave us a very detailed history of the kingdom, background on each of the four kings, and showed us around the grounds, first dressing me in a traditional African skirt. We learnt a lot on this short trip, and I'm glad we decided to go, even though it's undergoing its reconstruction presently!
We then made our way to St. Paul's Cathedral, one of the largest in Kampala, situated on top of what is called Peace Hill. It was a beautiful church, overlooking the city, with marvellous views from every angle.
After these short two stops, we left Kampala, en route to Jinja! There was a ton of traffic leaving the city, and by the time we reached Jinja, the sun had already set. We decided to stay at a budget place called Nile River Explorers-Backpackers, and it was awesome! The place had tents overlooking Lake Victoria, tents a bit inland, dorms, and traditional hotel-type rooms, it was packed with foreigners, all in town to partake in the wild activities Jinja is famous for. Most people were there to go on white water rafting trips, in the grade five rapids, but others were there to kayak the rapids, boat through the Nile, motorbike around the lake, or even horseback ride. We ordered food, and Chris asked us to call the owner of the van, to confirm that we can keep it for an extra half day, in order to see my dad's birthplace, Kaliro, in the morning, and be dropped back to Kampala in the afternoon. Unfortunately, after an hour of arguing, bargaining and harsh verbal exchanges, we were left in Jinja by ourselves. Chris went with the other tour guide to Kampala, and dropped the van off there, for another driver to take it back to Kabale. We were quite flustered, but thankfully there was wi-fi at the Backpackers resort, so I was able to FaceTime with my parents for quite some time which made me feel much better. In addition, Peter, the receptionist, said that he could get me a driver to take me to Kaliro in the morning, while Jamie white-water rafts on the grade 3 rapids. My parents were quite concerned about me having to go alone, but Peter assured me that the driver was reputable, and he gave me his personal contact info in case anything went wrong. It was extremely kind of him to do this, and I was grateful for the wonderful hospitality at this campsite.

We went to bed with the sounds of monkeys crawling on our rooftops, which was pretty cool, and I just sat in bed for a while, letting the day's events sink in. Certainly an emotional day, but it was quite special, as I really felt that my grandfather was directing me around his town, through his autobiography. A day I will most definitely not forget!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

My encounter with King Kong... Bidding farewell to Rwanda and saying hello to Uganda!


I apologize in advance for the length of this post… We haven't had internet for the past few days, and I'm therefore combining two posts and backdating it to keep on track! :)

My stomach had completely dropped by the time I got up yesterday. I woke up bright and early, and made my way into town to the Tigo headquarters for my final few "on-the-ground" interviews for my research project. An additional piece of work I and a few other students have been tasked with in East Africa, is examining the influence of technology in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. My particular research project is focusing on the Mobile Money Transfer and Payment service, provided by the mobile network operator, Tigo. I have been in regular contact with the Tigo personnel in town, but was directed to meet with a data specialist at HQ on the outskirts in the morning, to which I gratefully obliged! After learning quite a bit about the company's operations, and discovering stats on the adoption and usage of the model, I made my way back into town to meet Jamie at the Bank of Kigali, so that we could withdraw US dollars for the next leg of our adventure.

Of course, what should have only taken us half an hour, took two and a half hours, due to some miscommunication at the reception desk, cards not being recognized, super long lines due to the bank being closed on Sunday, and of course, the leisurely "pole pole" pace of the employees. Nevertheless, we eventually got our money after paying a hefty service charge, and left feeling quite drained. Initially, I was planning on stopping at Nakumatt one last time, to pick up some snacks and two bottles of Coke, as my dad collects coke bottles from around the world, and the two I had initially bought at the beginning of the trip had since been consumed at our home accidentally by the boys while mixing drinks. However, because our driver was already at SFB waiting to take us to Uganda, I had to skip out on the Nakumatt trip. (Sorry Dad - I will try to find the same / even cooler bottles in Uganda this week!)

We rushed back and started packing. One always underestimates the time it'll take to pack, and this was no exception. It's hard to believe how much we settled in over the last four weeks, and although our place became homey, it made for quite the stressful rushed packing experience! After packing, we called our cleaner and paid him for his assistance throughout the four weeks, and then called a few of our friends to say goodbye. It was quite sad to say goodbye to Regis, who has been so good to us throughout the course, and even to Rehema, who has looked out for us and always made sure we felt part of "the crew." They both came by the house and we all promised to stay in touch. We then dropped off our keys to Dr. Murty, so that he could pass them on to Chris.

It's quite unfortunate actually, Chris called us to let us know that he was going to stay in the Northern province with Patrick for a few more days. I'm glad they're having a wonderful time up there, but am sad that we won't get to say goodbye! He will be continuing his research in Kenya, and since he has an extra month here, he figured he might as well make the most out of his time with Patrick in Rwanda! I'm looking forward to seeing his pictures, and left him a nice note before we dropped off the keys.

We then went to the canteen to take some lunch to go, and said our final goodbyes. Some of which included kind goodbye messages from secret and not so secret admirers! After picking up our lunch, we met Chris, our tour guide for the next three days. It's quite the coincidence actually: it's still Jamie, Chris and Salima, although it's a different Chris.
The van was super hot, but thankfully I packed a couple bottles of water to keep me hydrated throughout the journey! I was just stunned by the gorgeous hillsides, so I kept my eyes wide open, but Jamie fell asleep quite quickly, and stayed sleeping for the majority of the ride.
About two and a half hours into the ride, we arrived at the border… I had finally reached Uganda! This was a really special moment, as it's been 41 years since my parents fled Uganda as refugees, and neither has returned since. It was a pretty big moment for me, and I was thinking of my mom and dad as we crossed.
As soon as we crossed the border into Uganda, it started spitting rain. The English nerd inside of me thought it might be some sort of pathetic fallacy of our trip to come, but thankfully there was a beautiful rainbow just a few moments later, welcoming us into the country.

As we drove through Ugandan countrysides, we were surprised to see so many bicycles! Where in Rwanda the majority of vehicles were motorcycles, Uganda is more like the Netherlands, such that everyone rides their bike around! Numerous people were sharing the bikes as well, which helped me to understand the scar on my dad's forehead. He had been riding on the handlebars of my great-uncle's bike when they were kids, and I thought it was just playful mischief. Instead however, it seems as this practice is the norm, and that they were not being mischevious at all!
Once we got into the mountains, en route to the gorilla trekking location, the roads became extremely rough. It took us two hours to drive just 13.6 kilometres! And the entire way was extremely bumpy, giving us our roller coaster fix for the week! It was quite late when we arrived at the lodge, a place called Gorilla Mist Camp. Our guide, Chris, is actually from the village neighbouring the camp, and has spent over a decade working with the gorillas. He was therefore very excited to be taking us to his home, and ensured that we had a pleasant stay. We were welcomed with warm towels and fresh passion fruit juice, before being taken for a briefing over dinner. The site was quite interesting, in that it exuded this kind of wild luxury. The roof of our hut was woven banana leaves, and we had tarps covering the windows, but at the same time, we had running water and two lightbulbs! Chris (Janssen, from home) had taken my flashlight for his weekend adventure, and will keep it for the remainder of his trip, so I had been worried that we would struggle without a torch in the wilderness. However, it was well lit enough to get ready for bed in, and it was a very nice room.

It was quite cold, so high up, so we were pleasantly surprised when one of the hotel assistants mentioned that hot water bottles had been placed in each of our beds to warm us up! It was certainly a nice way to fall asleep, breathing in the crisp fresh air, and cozied up to the warmth of the hot water bottle.

Our wake up call this morning was another pleasant surprise: there was a knock on the door and we were greeted by a staff member who had a tray in his hands, with a coffee flask and two tea cups on top! Ten minutes later, there was another knock on the door, and we were told that our showers were ready. Since we were so high up, they have to heat the water themselves, using firewood! It was a lovely, earthy shower, nice and warm, and the smell of burnt wood was pretty neat.
I took my breakfast to go, and Jamie wolfed his down in less than 45 seconds. Chris, our driver, was extremely impressed, and we started on our way to the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, for our gorilla trekking adventure. Upon arrival, we had a quick briefing, and met the couple who would be joining us on our journey: two elderly Australians, who have been wanting to do this for 20 years! I realized how lucky we were, to have the opportunity to be in East Africa and experience the gorillas, and made a mental note to thank my parents when I speak to them next, for granting me such an opportunity!

We set out on the hike, and spent about an hour trekking through the bush. The terrain was quite rough, but there was quite a bit of elephant damage around, so parts of our hike had a sort of path. I was very thankful that we decided to rent a walking stick for $5 US, as the guide had advised us that it is often beneficial to have a third leg when hiking this terrain. Janelle and David, the couple that came along with us, hired porters as well as walking sticks, also at the advice of the guide. Our guide (who when we asked his name simply responded, "guide") was great. He used his machete to hack away branches as he led us through the jungle, while communicating with the gorilla trackers, who were searching for the gorilla family's location today.
At one point, we were told to stop, and leave our sticks with one of the porters. We were instructed to take out our cameras, turn the flash off, and a couple of steps forward before looking to our right. Just three meters away, was a giant male silverback gorilla! He was sitting peacefully, eating berries, and was actually massive. From there, we saw nine other gorillas from the same family, including the leader, who grunted at us a couple of times, and a little baby, who is only two years old. It was absolutely surreal: it actually looked like humans were simply in hairy gorilla costumes, as their mannerisms were so similar to our own!
The gorillas were very gentle, but magnificent creatures! It was breathtaking to be so close, and I apologize that the pictures don't do them justice. I'm so glad we were able to splurge and take this trek, and I highly recommend the experience for those planning on visiting East Africa! After all, there are only about 700 mountain gorillas left in the world, residing in just two mountain ranges: the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, and the range with three names, shared between Rwanda, Uganda and The Democratic Republic of Congo.
After spending about an hour with the gorillas, we started our trek back to the camp. We learnt that we were actually very luck to have seen them so soon, as they were feeding relatively close. Apparently, some days it takes groups up to three hours across even worse terrain just to reach the family! We saw some interesting bugs along the way, and since my ankles were showing ever so slightly between my socks and pants, the guide recommended that each time I see ants on our hiking route, I run. I would therefore recommend to anyone planning to embark on this adventure in the future, to wear long socks! (And tuck in your pant legs into the socks, no matter how much of a fashion faux pas that might be, as it'll save you from the fear of these safari ants!) One wild bug flew down my shirt, but thankfully I was able to do a little bit of a dance and pick it out before it was able to bite me!

Once we arrived back at the camp, we were presented with our certificates, and proceeded to eat our lunch. They had set up a very overpriced souvenir stand at the base, with some lovely jewelry pieces and wooden gorilla masks. If trekking hadn't been so much, I would have bought something in an instant! Unfortunately, however, we have seen similar pieces for much less, and we therefore left for our hotel without purchasing any of the handicrafts. We quickly packed, checked out, and started the journey to my mother's birthplace, Masaka.

Since Masaka is en route to Kampala, Chris asked us if we could give his kids a ride, to see their aunt in Kampala. We said yes, as there is plenty of room in our van, and we had met the two of them last night, and found them to be well behaved. However, when we stopped in his village, the mother, two kids, and their baby got in! We were a little taken aback, and Jamie took Chris out for a talk. Hopefully Chris will do something for us to help us out with the price for the week!

As we started driving back down the mountain, we found out it is a seven hour drive to Masaka! We were under the impression it was quite shorter, but of course, the roads are quite terrible in the countrysides, and the construction patches do not help! I actually exclaimed my excitement quite loudly with a happy squeal when we finally hit tarmac about two hours in!

The drive was right through the gorgeous, gorgeous countryside of Western Uganda. We were surrounded by mighty mountains, carpeted with lush greenery, and dotted with mountain goats and cattle. The cattle here are plentiful, and the bulls have super long horns. There really is such rich scenery here, some of the most beautiful landscapes I've ever seen. However, on the sides of the roads, are some of the poorest people I've seen. This juxtaposition was a lot to take in, and really made me thankful for everything we have.

About three hours in, before even reaching the first town from the mountains, we discovered that our front left tire was punctured. Chris changed it on the side of the road, and then once we reached the town of Kabale, we had new tires put on each front wheel, and  had the pressure topped up in all of them. This unforeseen incident was not helping our mission to reach Masaka and see it before sunset!
Nevertheless, I continued to enjoy the scenery, and Jamie continued to sleep. One of the highlights was a stunning full rainbow, stretching across three large hills, its ends disappearing into two valleys. Around five hours into the drive, we decided to stop for a bathroom break. Chris took us to a gas station that apparently had bathrooms, but when I opened the door marked "women," I was immediately overwhelmed by the most disgusting smell ever. The bathroom was just a hole in the stained concrete floor, but I really had to go. My apologies for writing about such an unpleasant experience; it was one of the more (unfortunately) memorable moments of the day!

We stopped in Mbarara, about seven hours into the trip, and after looking at the map, we realized it would be still quite some time before we reached Masaka. Jamie was quite frustrated with the entire situation, and made some remarks about the country overall. Even through I've never been here, I do feel connected to the place, and he realized from my stunned reaction that I took offence to the comments. He apologized, and we ate a delicious dinner at a pleasant hotel restaurant. We also tried numerous times to connect to the internet without luck, and therefore started back on the road to Masaka.

We arrived quite late, and stayed in a nice hotel, called Hotel Zebra. There was no power when we arrived, but the staff went out of their way to bring us solar charged bulbs, and ensure that we had a pleasant stay. What a warm welcome into a town that has so much meaning for me! I'm so excited to see the town in the daylight, and really experience the place where my mom spent the first few years of her life! :)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

That sinking feeling... Our final day in Kigali


You know that sinking feeling you used to get when your holidays were over and you had to leave home to move back to school? Sure, you were excited to reunite with friends, but it was always tough to leave home after a wonderful break. I had this feeling all day today. I really do not want to leave! I finally feel connected to the city, to the hills, and to so many people. And I really do not want to say goodbye! I was Skyping with my brother, Malik, today, and he made a good point, that it's far better that I'm leaving wanting more of the city, than if it was the opposite, such that I was ready to get out and had to stay a while longer. He always knows what to say to cheer me up, and I'm glad he put things into perspective for me.

In the morning, I was greeted by a number of geckos on the wall across from my bed, and enjoyed the sun spilling across the room, allowing the geckos to show off their brilliant colours. I completed another physics lecture, quiz, and some more work at home, before deciding I needed to get a fix of Rwandan coffee before leaving this country! The Rwandan coffee is brilliant; it's actually so rich that we don't get it in North America, as according to Anny, it's apparently too strong.

I therefore went to town, and sat in the famous Bourbon Coffee Shop for lunch. I sipped my Rwandan coffee on the terrace, overlooking the hills and just breathing in the peaceful nature of this place. I really love it here, and never would have thought this place could become a home away from home! The atmosphere was quite serene, and I enjoyed the alone time, just absorbed in my thoughts. I was also very productive work-wise, which was great!

Following my lovely afternoon working session, I went to prayers again, and was asked to sing. One of the ladies asked me which ginan (hymn) I was going to sing, and when I told her, she became quiet. She told me that this week marks four years from her husband's passing, and that there are special prayers for the souls who have moved on in the particular piece I had selected to recite. I therefore knew I wanted to do a really great job with the recitation, and really put my heart into it. And I did. I went up to the front, and really felt it as I was singing. Afterwards, so many people came up with the most lovely compliments and kind words, and someone actually said she teared up a bit. I was thankful for the opportunity to lead the congregation in this recitation, and for the appropriateness of the selected piece.

As I started my goodbyes, I became quite sad to be leaving all of these people. Over the last few days attending prayers regularly I've become quite close with a couple of the kids, and other leaders of the congregation. Everyone, over the course of our four weeks here, has been so kind, warm, and welcoming, and all went out of their way to make me feel comfortable in this new city, for which I'm truly grateful. They made me promise that I would come back again one day, and I most certainly hope I can!

Rehman dropped me home, and only after I texted my brother to tell him I was ready to Skype, did I realize I had forgotten my backpack, with my laptop in it, in Rehman's trunk! I didn't want him to rush back, so to pass the time away from work, I walked down the hill from SFB with Jamie, to buy enough airtime for our last day of internet. Our normal guys were not there, as it was so late at night, and therefore we had to go further into the streets. It was quite the sketchy walk through the uneven, dark dirt roads, but the people were still so kind, waving hello to us as we passed. We bought our airtime, and took one last look at the SFB campus at night, with it's brilliant moonlit campus. Once Rehman graciously returned with the bag, Jamie and I booked our flight to Dar es Salaam from Uganda, where we will be heading tomorrow, and we researched things to do while on the touristy portion of our trip. Even though we have to be up at 7:30 tomorrow, I stayed up until 3:30am, just browsing through pages and pages of research on Safaris, tour companies, and lodges.

The sinking feeling has not gone away, but I definitely agree with Malik, that it's good to be leaving on a high note. I will always cherish the memories, the people, and the adventures here. And I look forward to the new adventures commencing tomorrow!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A "me" day


Last night after I went to prayers downtown, I met the boys and some of the young faculty members from SFB and surrounding schools at this remote bar and grill on the outskirts of town. Our friend Rehema had invited us to hang out with all of them for our final Friday night in Kigali, and it turned out that this was a sweet karaoke place! Although I absolutely love to sing, and have been fortunate to have grown up performing with choirs around the world, I get incredibly nervous to sing in the presence of small groups of people I know. It's quite terrible actually: put me on a stage or in a stadium with huge crowds in front of me, and I can release my inner diva, but around friends in a well-lit setting, I'm too shy! Therefore, I've never actually gone to a karaoke place, as I've always been too timid to suggest it when we're going out with friends, and would be too nervous to volunteer to sing!

Nevertheless, I was excited to be there, and it was a really nice, accepting atmosphere. (It was also extremely dark as it was outdoors, and one could hardly see anyone's faces, which was a bonus!) Patrick and Regis joined us as well, and we all submitted song requests for each other. It was a cool system, which I assume is quite standard for karaoke places, but it was such that we'd be eating and chatting, and all of a sudden one of our names would be announced to go on stage. Rehema, Raphael and I sang Maroon 5's This Love early on in the night, and Jamie, Chris and I were called up to sing (yell) Journey's Don't Stop Believing. We were pretty terrible up there, but the three of us had so much fun, and we were totally fine making a fool of ourselves! There were some awesome dance tunes and salsa songs that were sung, and we all enjoyed dancing around our table. Chris even taught all twelve of us at the table one of the Soph dances from Western, and we for the first time all trip, we actually enjoyed the stares from around the restaurant.

Later on in the night, I was called up to sing Adele's Rolling in the Deep. I was so nervous, but thankfully I've sung this song in concert before. The guys reassured me that they were the only people I'd likely ever see again from this bar, and that I should just be confident and give it my all. And I did! It took me a verse to get into it, but after that, my inner diva started to shine through, and it felt great. I think I may officially be a karaoke supporter now… What a fun night with friends!
Today, as per our standard weekend routine, we all slept in. Patrick came by at around 12:30, and he and Chris left for a weekend adventure. I got started on another physics lecture, and Jamie rested some more. In the afternoon, we got ready, and the two of us made our way to town, by moto! My driver was another weaver, darting in, out and around cars, but he was very much in control of the bike, and we saved a lot of money by skipping over a taxicab for today. We had lunch at the Kigali Tower food court, the place in town most closely resembling a Western mall, and I tried the Thali from Khana Khazana, a famous Indian restaurant from across town, which also has a food court establishment in the Tower. It was really delicious, and a nice change from our standard rice and beans meals from on campus.
After lunch, Jamie went home to rest some more, and I treated myself to a manicure at a relatively high end salon. Walking in, I felt like I was stepping into a movie set. This place was bursting with "fabulousness!" So many ladies were sitting on red leather couches lined up around the pink walled salon, waiting for their hair to be done. The three hair stylists were all men, and they were so fast with their hands, weaving braids, flat ironing, and curling women's hair. Dozens of women were getting manicures and pedicures around the shop, and the combination of hair products and heating appliances left a hazy cloud in the air. It really was neat being inside, and my nails look great! For around $7 US, I'd say it was a great experience!
Once my nails were dry, I walked a few blocks to prayers. In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have been walking around town alone, especially since it was dark outside and I got a bit lost on my way. I got a bit of a lecture about safety from my parents when we FaceTimed this evening, but I truthfully did feel safe, especially amidst the soldiers with machine guns at every corner. (I do understand though that Kigali is an anomaly when it comes to safety in East African cities, and I promise I will be safe in the other cities we visit, ensuring that I am with someone at all times!)

Thankfully, I found the Jamat Khane in time for prayers, and enjoyed being welcomed by the familiar faces. Sameer, a member of the congregation who went to school in Toronto but moved back to Kigali a few years back, and his mother, were giving me a ride home, but insisted that I come over for dinner first for some home cooked food. We stopped at Hotel des Mille Collines for some drinks, and the live band was tremendous. We then made our way to their home, where they spoiled me with a wonderful home cooked meal. We had freshly fried samosas and a number of delicious African Indian dishes. We finished off the meal with some Haagen Daaz ice cream, before Sameer dropped me home. During our meal, Sameer explained to me how his mom loves bringing home the students/young professionals from abroad, as she wants to ensure we all feel at home. She chimed in, saying that if her daughter was travelling, she would also appreciate having someone there looking after her, so in essence, she treats us like her daughters. It was really very sweet, and I'm very grateful for their hospitality. Honestly, everyone in Kigali from our community is so generous, and they have all really made me feel at home.

Kigali certainly has become a second home, and I will be sad to leave in just two days time. It has been an amazing experience, and I am so thankful to have met such wonderful people. I will definitely cherish forever the memories from my many adventures here!

Friday, May 24, 2013

The last hurrah


Boy, this is one emotional trip. (Or maybe I'm just becoming more of an emotional person!) But I really am not kidding when I tell you that today was super emotional, and while writing this post, I might get teary eyed.

We went to bed last night at 3am, and our alarms were set for 7:30. We crawled out of bed at 7:45 and quickly showered and got ready for our final day of class at SFB. Today was the big day, with 18 groups of 4-5 students scheduled to present their business ideas, in competition for the cash prizes. Before heading over to the class though, I needed to meet the Rector's assistant, to print out the final certificates. Chris went to start the class, and Jamie came along with me as he wanted to take a detour and get some breakfast before class. Unfortunately though, one thing after another went wrong, and the printing took almost three hours! From the first printer not being able to handle the heavy paper, to the size of the paper being wrong, to seven paper jams in the second printer, to a dull paper cutter used to adjust the paper size, to absent employees with access to certain stamps, cutters and ink, to the pole pole style of the signing officers, it was a draining process. I was a tad upset that I missed all but three of the presentations, and the hard work that the students put into their projects, but I suppose the certificates looked great in the end and it was well worth the wait.

After the final presentations, we sent everyone off for lunch, with about an hour and a half break before the ceremony, which was scheduled to start at 1pm. Before grabbing food for ourselves though, we dashed home to get ready. Earlier in the week, Regis and another one of our students, Beatrice, had approached me asked if I would wear a traditional Rwandan outfit, called a Mushanana, for the ceremony. I was very honoured to be asked, and excited to wear the beautiful outfit! Beatrice tied the fabric around me, a red and white set which they chose for me due to it's Canadian colours, and excitedly brought me outside to show the boys. She doesn't speak very much English, but has the most wonderful smile, and I was so grateful for her to think of me as a sister, dressing me in her traditional attire!
Regis made a point to ensure that I wore black shoes to match my black tank top and black hair. It was quite funny to hear him instruct me on how to match my outfit, and recommend jewellery pieces for me. We were all entertained, and I quickly obliged!

Although I was excited to be wearing the outfit, I almost immediately regretted it after we stepped out of the house. We've sort of gotten used to the staring, but today it was at a whole new level. Everyone not only stared, but pointed, whispered, and took pictures. I almost felt like an imposter, a non-native wearing their traditional clothing, and turned quite red. The same happened at lunch, but then we saw a few of our students while walking to drop off the certificates and their faces lit up. It made me feel so much better, to see how excited and happy they were to see me in their cultural clothing. The cherry on top was when I walked into the classroom as some students were filing in, and they all clapped and cheered loudly for me! It was super sweet of them; I love them all so much.
The ceremony began only 15 minutes late, and was absolutely lovely. Dr. Murty attended the presentation, representing the Rector (a position like our academic chancellor) who is unwell. Regis kicked things off with incredibly kind words, and warm blessings. Christine, one of the students who was also the MC for the ceremony, then introduced each of the three of us to say a few words. This was the part where I kind of choked up unexpectedly, as she was so kind with her introduction, and made me feel like a celebrity! I spoke about how much I have learnt from this experience, from my time in Rwanda, and from each one of them. I told the students how grateful I was for their enthusiastic participation, their eagerness to learn, and for their friendship. Goodbyes are always so hard!

After Chris, Jamie and Dr. Murty each said a few words, we presented the certificates of completion. Of the 90 registered, 50 received the standard certificate, 18 received certificates with distinction, and two received the top contributor awards. There were a lot of pictures taken, and it was great to see how excited everyone was to receive their certificate. We proceeded to present the cash prizes for the top three business ideas, and Chris made them sign his notebook to promise that the money would be used to actually start up their businesses.
We were about to close with a class picture and cutting of the cake, when two students came in with two giant frames. We were so shocked: they had gotten a photo from this morning blown up and framed (after photoshopping Jamie and I in) and also imprinted a photo of the three of us on a banana leaf frame! It was such a kind thought, and we were so humbled! The three of us were in a bit of shock, and I think we were all feeling sad to be bidding farewell to a group of people we've become so close with.
We took a giant class picture, and then distributed the cake, after which everyone sat down again. We were confused, but then one of the students stood up and made a speech on behalf of them all, thanking us once again for coming to SFB and putting in so much time and energy into making the course as beneficial to the students as possible. Regis then concluded the ceremony for real, and a number of students rushed to take pictures with each of us. Two girls actually presented me with a wrapped gift, I was so touched! (I opened the gift at home, and it's a beautiful souvenir banana leaf piece of artwork, along with a wooden necklace and earrings! This was so thoughtful of them, and I will definitely be wearing the pieces as memories of a wonderful time here!)
After all of the pictures, we went home and the boys went to their rooms to rest. I just sat on the couch for a while, reading the course evaluations/feedback forms that were handed in this morning, and internalizing the wonderful ceremony that just finished. From the written portion of the forms, it was wonderful to read how much the students are taking away from the course, and the relevance and real-world application they found in the program. I am so thankful to have had such fantastic students in the class, all eager to apply their learnings and unbelievably appreciative of our time here. I'm also glad we shared our contact information so that we can all keep in touch, and so that I can follow the great places I know they will be going in the business world here in Rwanda and abroad!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The side effects of malaria pills


I checked up on the blog's stats today, and my jaw actually dropped. The stats are extremely broad, but I am shocked to see how many people follow this blog, and I just wanted to thank you all for being part of my journey! Your wonderful comments sent through email, Facebook and Skype have been super kind, and I appreciate everyone taking the time to read about my adventures here. It makes me even more excited to update the blog each day with stories, in my classic rambling fashion!

Last night, Jamie decided he wanted to see a doctor, as he was still feeling a bit lightheaded in the evening. The campus doctor scared us into thinking it might be malaria (as his mosquito net has not been covering his legs, and he gets a number of bites at night) and recommended that Jamie go get some tests at the hospital. Dr. Murty came over immediately and offered to connect Jamie with some of his private doctor friends, but unfortunately none were awake at that time as it was close to midnight. Dr. Murty told us that the man Jamie saw was in fact not a doctor, but rather a technician working the night shift at the campus clinic, and that Jamie's symptoms do not resemble that of malaria. Nevertheless, to be safe, he said he'd take Jamie to see the doctors in the daytime. Today was supposed to be Jamie's final day of teaching, but he decided that he wouldn't be able to focus on the prep, nor execution of the class session, and that it would be better for him to stay sleeping during class. (For the record, Jamie was told in the afternoon today by the doctor that it was most likely just side effects of the malaria pills, which are known to cause vivid dreams, dizziness and insomnia when taken at night, as Jamie has been doing! The doctor still administered the blood tests as per Jamie's request, and assured him that it's highly unlikely that it's actually malaria. He has been a lot better today as well, and much more active and lively, so not to worry!)

With the above as context, we woke up this morning and Chris and I were to take over the class for Jamie. Chris wanted to spend a small portion of the class talking about their one page business plan summaries, which were handed in yesterday, so I was therefore tasked with an impromptu class session for the students' final case. I was quite nervous, as it was my first time even opening the case, and am normally much more prepared with the direction I want to take the class in, and the key learnings that I'd like the students to get out of the class.

Nevertheless, we showed up early, and as Chris left to go print course evaluation sheets, I started talking to the students. I joked around with them, asking if they'd like to teach the session today, and they assured me that I should go ahead with it and it would be a fun class. And it most certainly was! There was some really great contribution, and we dove deep into the issues of the case together. At the end of class, I was humbled when everyone clapped, and extremely touched when they all laughed at my reaction to the clapping, as I really felt the connection to the class. Regis then stood up and explained on behalf of the class how grateful they were for me to accept the challenge in teaching this case without prior notice, and how they appreciated me "working so hard two days in a row." He proceeded to say something in KinyaRwanda, and then the entire class broke into a rhythmic clapping sequence, it was awesome! Little does Regis know that I absolutely love being up at the front of that room, and that it's not work, but rather a tremendous learning experience each time!

Chris and Regis then took some time to go through a role call for attendance, reminding the students of the requirements necessary to obtain a certificate of completion tomorrow. We've found that people have been secretly signing each other in, so this was a bit of an unfortunate note to end the class on, but definitely necessary to avoid disappointment tomorrow. We then passed out the course evaluations/feedback forms, and asked students to hand them back in tomorrow, before answering questions about the logistics for tomorrow's final presentations and celebrations. No one really wanted feedback on their summaries, so since class ended a bit early, a few people stuck around to talk to us. A few students asked for our contact information to stay in touch, and it hit me that we likely won't be seeing all of these wonderful people again. I cannot believe it's our last day tomorrow, and I'm getting emotional just thinking about it. I'm very grateful to have had such an incredible experience, with such incredible people!

In the afternoon, I did quite a bit of work at home. The sun was shining through my windows, and after a quick clean up of the house, I was super productive. I rewarded myself with a taxied trip downtown in the evening to go to prayers once again, and felt great about making the effort to go. They were excited to see me on a day other than Friday, and promptly asked me to lead the singing devotional recitation. I was thrilled to sing in the beautiful prayer hall, and returned home smiling. After a quick dinner at the faculty restaurant, Chris worked on the final logistics for tomorrow's session, while I inputted each of the 70+ students' names into our certificate template for printing tomorrow morning. The three of us then just sat around talking about the most bizarre things, including movie soundtracks, wacky restaurants, and new technologies. It's been a while since we've just sat around for so long talking about things other than our work, and we ended up staying quite late. It was all worth it though, as we enjoyed some delicious coconut biscuits and bonded over wild stories, and it really was a nice end to the day.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Being brown and learning lots


The boys have had a lot of fun all trip teasing me about the attention I receive from Rwandan men. I've mentioned in the blog that I am quite overwhelmed with all of the attention, even though it is flattering I suppose. Yesterday I finally learned why this is the case. Apparently, Bollywood movies are very popular here! At Les Enfants de Dieu yesterday, Rafiki mentioned how funny it is to see Bollywood movies dubbed into the language of KinyaRwanda, and how much Rwandans love to watch the films. He also said that because of this, he and many others have always thought Indians are very beautiful. So, the primary reason for all of the attention is the colour of my skin! Definitely a first for me. :)

Today, I taught my last case of our class. It is a case that I actually had in HBA2 at Ivey, examining Danone's entrance into the Base of the Pyramid market in South Africa, with a custom low cost product called Danimal. I absolutely loved the case as a student, and had so much fun on the other side of the classroom as the professor. I was prancing around the room, quite excited about the case and about the fact that I was able to call on students by their names, instead of just gesturing in their direction when they had their hands up. There was lots of laughter at various moments throughout the class, and I was all smiles. I actually got a bit emotional on the inside when the students all clapped at the end of class; I'm really going to miss this feeling of finishing each case successfully with the students!
We had bid farewell to Alex before going to bed last night, so the house was eerily quiet when Chris and I returned from class. Jamie was still in bed, as he wasn't feeling too great this morning, so it really was a weird vibe in the house when we came home. We're all already missing Alex quite a bit as he spent nine days with us, and became part of the family. Since he's now checking in on the Kenyan campuses, he will still be accessible, so we've assured him that we will be calling him often to update him with our daily rants.

I spent some time in the afternoon completing a Physics unit test, before meeting Chris and Regis for lunch. The upstairs restaurant has these delicious chapattis for quite cheap, and we've talked about bringing jam from our place to eat with them. I was proud of myself for remembering to bring our jar of expensive jam today, and was having a lovely meal, until I noticed halfway through my second chapatti that there was green mould in the jam on my plate! Gross.

After lunch, we did a little bit more work at home, and then made our way across town to the Kigali Genocide Memorial. We were warned by Anny to visit the memorial during our last week in Rwanda, so that we have a positive perception of the country, and it's tremendous development, before learning about the horrifying recent history of the country. I am so glad she recommended this approach, as it really was a tough few hours. There was a lot of information in the indoor exhibits, which paint a very vivid picture of what happened 19 years ago. I was holding in my emotions for the most part, but broke down in the children's room. This room has small profiles of young children, with their favourite foods, sports, pastimes, and then at the bottom of each profile, is a description of how they were killed. The entire memorial museum is a powerful place, built at the site of some of the mass graves from the genocide, where over 250,000 bodies lay. I am very glad we went, and had the chance to spend some time alone in reflection and prayer.
After our visit, we took motos to the city centre. One would think I am now a pro and very comfortable on a moto-taxi, but each time there is a new element of danger and excitement that gets my blood pumping and makes me anxious on the ride. This time, the driver was a weaver, veering in and out of the oncoming traffic lane, and in between cars, taxis and matatus (small busses). He was quite daring with a few of his manoeuvres, but thankfully we made it safe and sound! We arrived in the city centre and got started on our errands. In preparation for Friday's end to the course, we ordered a giant slab cake at a nice bakery, bargained and bought heavy cardstock to print the certificates of completion and distinction for the students, and withdrew the first half of the prize money. We then made our way back to the Blues' cafe, where we had tried to order the Trammezinis last week (Alex's favourite sandwich) and after confirming that they indeed had chicken and the rest of the ingredients, we sat down. The sandwich was incredible! Pressed with grilled chicken, caramelized onions, avocados, melted cheese and delicious herbs, it really was a treat. Thankfully Alex satisfied his craving over the weekend during one of his meetings, and we were able to taste for ourselves the marvel that is this sandwich.
We made our way back home (in a taxi) and got back to work. At 10pm, Innocent, the kind man who is the subject of our case study, came over to be interviewed once more. We talked about his business once again, and addressed some of the holes in our research. He is in the middle of exams, so we were very grateful for him to take time out of his busy schedule and answer all of our questions!

Reflecting on the day overall, it was pretty emotional. Our chapter in Rwanda is coming to an end, and we also learnt so much about a defining chapter in this nation's history. The learnings from both will definitely stay with us forever.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Inspiring visits: a soap factory and a street kid rehabilitation centre


Students at SFB have a habit of taking chairs from classrooms and auditoriums outside to study in the gorgeous gardens around campus. It's awesome to see how studious everyone is, away from their laptops, and fully immersing themselves in their books, and it's also quite the sight to see so many desks in bizarre places around campus. However, exams have picked up this week, which means that more students have taken up this practice. So, when we showed up to class this morning, there were no chairs! We therefore had to move to a smaller classroom across campus, for today's session. Jamie managed the change well and taught an interesting case, based on the Canadian company, Barrick Gold, and its issues surrounding a community near Lake Victoria in Tanzania.
After a quick working session on campus, Aleena's family driver picked up Chris, Jamie and I from campus and took us to their home. I said it yesterday, but I'll say it again: it's so nice to be greeted by their familiar faces, it really does feel like a home away from home! Aleena and Samir then took the three of us into town, to tour the family business. As I wrote in my blog post yesterday, this place is an empire! Sulfo Rwanda Industries are Rwanda's single largest employer, and they have an impressive track record of employee retention, as they are renowned for treating their employees superbly. We had the opportunity to meet with one of the senior managers, who showed us a quick presentation on the company, how Aleena's grandfather literally started with nothing, and how the business has transformed over the last fifty years to become one of the nation's prized homegrown companies. He took us into the plant, and we got to see the entire process flow of the soap bar production, including a massive machine that has been used since the 1970's!
We then made our way into the water filtration and bottling facility, and it was SO COOL. From the little plastic tubes that are heated and blown up into various sizes of water bottles, to the high tech water filtration system, to the roller coaster that the bottles flow through to be filled, capped and labelled, I was in awe. I'm glad we've been drinking Nil all month, as we're now connected to the brand, and it really is of superior quality, surpassing the regulations in place.
After our tour, we picked up Aleena's nieces, and made our way to Les Enfants de Dieu. This was another INCREDIBLE place. It's hard to describe, but essentially, it's an orphanage/rehabilitation centre for street kids. Not only does the facility house and feed the children, teach them life skills and provide them access to education, it teaches them responsibility, in a very unique manner. Les Enfants de Dieu is essentially run by the children themselves! The chief of staff, Rafiki, talked to us about the system that's been in place for about 11 years. Basically, there is a government, comprised of elected "Ministers" aged 15-18 who each run certain aspects of the management of the centre. The Ministers have committees of children and youth underneath them, and together they completely control their department. Ministries include finance, agriculture, recreation and others. Rafiki explained to us the initial hesitation by the staff to adopt the model, but then described how successful it has been for all parties, as it's all a system of control, and responsibility. The centre was started and continues to be run by Aleena's cousin, Faraz, and their grandfather, which made the whole story even cooler for us.
Feeling quite inspired, we made our way home for our evening meeting, and said goodbye to Aleena and Samir. They went out of their way these last few days to make me feel like a part of the family, and I'm so very grateful for their generous nature and friendship. We did some work, and found out our meeting was rescheduled again to tomorrow! A tad frustrated, we decided to go into town to see Patrick playing at the Golden Hills Hotel. The restaurant was poolside and very posh, and he was great! The food was overpriced and not so filling, but other than that, we enjoyed listening to his band play, and had a lovely evening chatting with Alex's other friends who also joined us for dinner.
After Patrick's set, two girls he's been translating for (another one of his many talents) arrived to say hello. They happened to be from Western University as well! They're here working with Western Heads East, and we were surprised to find out that they will be starting up a probiotic yogurt kitchen at Les Enfants de Dieu this summer! It really is such a small world, and we were all excited to share stories of our interactions with the wonderful orphanage.

On our way back, we stopped at Nakumatt to pick up some snacks, and ran into another Western student shopping for groceries! He is here researching neuro-imaging in the hospitals, alongside another science student from Western. We were thrilled to have run into so many Mustangs today, and to learn about the wonderful things our school is doing here in Rwanda!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Refreshing girl time after three weeks with boys


A fraction of our students actually showed up for class this morning. But for those who showed up, they received a special treat: Chris was teaching his own case! Chris started a company this year, through which he learnt a lot, and wrote a case on it, to teach future students about entrepreneurship. The case hasn't been published yet, but we changed up the curriculum a bit, to include it in our class. After all, it is unlikely that he'll ever be able to teach his own case again! More than just being a special moment for Chris, the students also had a chance to give him direct feedback and suggestions for improvement of his back-end operations at home. A neat experience for all!

In the afternoon, Aleena's family invited us all over for lunch. Jamie had to go to town to conduct an interview for his research (we all have individual research projects that we're completing over the course of our travels) and Chris needed to lie down as his stomach has been upset for a few days. Alex was in lengthy faculty meetings all day, so I went to her family home alone. The food was absolutely delicious, and the entire family was together eating on the patio. Since Aleena and Samir are only here for a couple more days, she wanted to buy some presents for friends and family back home, so her aunt took us into town to visit an artisan market. On the way, we stopped by the family business to pick up something for home. My jaw dropped: it is more like an empire! Aleena's grandfather started Sulfo 50 years ago, with next to nothing, and it is now one of the largest CPG companies in Rwanda! I was excited to see that the bottled water we've been drinking all trip is treated, filtered and bottled by Sulfo! Aleena graciously offered to take us to see the factory before they leave, so I'm excited to view the massive company's operations from the inside in the next couple of days!

At the market, we found some more beautiful trinkets to take home. It was fun bargaining with the shopkeepers, and I had forgotten how much I enjoy hanging out with girls! (After three weeks of only hanging out with guys, it was refreshing to spend time with Aleena!)

After the hour or so of retail therapy, we walked back for some tea and snacks back at the family home. I learnt a lot during the conversations at the tea table, and Aleena's grandfather asked me to share bits about my experience and what I think of Kigali thus far. When I responded that I love Kigali, he quickly said he can find me a boyfriend and I can move here permanently! All had a good laugh, but he was pretty serious about it, so I guess I now have a back-up plan! :)

After tea, the driver dropped me back home in time for a meeting with an Entrepreneurship Professor at SFB. I woke up the boys and we were ready to walk across campus, when Regis informed us to bring some small change, as we'd need it for bargaining with the motos. Apparently the professor moved out of campus residences and into a large home outside of town about a year ago, but for some reason we were under the impression he still lived here! I had just seen a moto accident on the way home from Aleena's, so I was feeling quite uneasy about taking one to the outskirts of town, but I faced my fears and took my first moto taxi ride in the city. And for my first ride, I experienced it all! From the traffic in town, to the rocky cobblestone roads, to a dirt road with tons of ditches, it was the real deal. I think I was most tense when the driver decided to tease me and play chicken with the motos approaching us from the opposite direction, especially when we were on a small ridge in between two ditches!

We arrived at the professor's home with windswept hair, and were stunned by the gorgeous view. I understand why he chose to build in such a remote place: the view is absolutely stunning, and it is so serene, far away from the city centre! We arrived by 6pm, and quickly realized that we'd be there for a while, so we promptly postponed our 8pm on-campus meeting to tomorrow.

The professor, Noel, happens to be married to a student from our class, Denise, and they have a beautiful 16 month old son, Bart. Chris told me my "inner mom" kicked in as soon as I had Bart in my arms, and I had a blast playing with him all evening.
Food was served at 8pm, and we stuck around just chatting and enjoying the view until about 11:30. We were ready to moto back, but after getting phone confirmation that five were on their way (for the three of us, as well as Regis, and Denise's brother, Vincent) to take us back to SFB, only three arrived! The area is so remote, and it was quite late, thus it was decided that two mottos were going to have to double. This is illegal, so as if I wasn't already terrified to be on a moto at night for the first time, I was tripling up on a two seater, squished in between the driver and Chris! Thankfully Chris gave me the helmet, and I was able to squeeze the driver's shoulder every time he was being too reckless with his driving. Overall it was a fine ride, even though we were charged double for putting the driver at more of a risk!

Thankfully we made it home safe and sound, and we quickly got ready for bed. I dozed off for a bit while writing this blog post, so hopefully I did the day justice, as it really was another wonderful day!