A whole lot of things to say
I don’t really know where to start. So much happens so quickly here and the trip, long as the first week felt, is flying by now.
Yesterday we left Lake Kivu, where we spent two days staying at Kigufi, a retreat run by Catholic nuns. Our group of some 30 people brought a lot of noise along with us, but it’s normally a quiet place were priests go to take their vow of silence.
Still, I don’t think any member of the group was untouched by the tranquility of the place, with its good food, teatime every afternoon and majestic views of mountains across the lake in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Students spent the time working on media projects, which meant we spent the time running from computer to computer working with students to edit audio, pick out photos, cut down video. And of course, it wouldn’t have been complete without two or three minor disasters.
It’s also a time to reflect on the trip, or at least to try, and a time to swim and play a little Frisbee here and there. We even taught a nun to toss the disc, kind of.
To be clear, this place isn’t entirely removed from the rest of Rwanda, or the rest of the trip. Wooden canoes slid by throughout the day, sometimes loaded down by bananas. Elsewhere in the country, we’ve seen those bananas atop the heads of men and women walking along the roads. We could hear shouts from the village across the bay, and see acres of terraced farmland. Within the compound, as seems standard for most rural homes, there’s a plot of farmland and a pen of animals. In the morning we could hear the pigs snorting, and other pens held chickens and rabbits.
Then there’s the power. Fairly regular in Kigali, the power grid is less than reliable outside of the major city. This wreaks havoc on our computers, which never seemed to be fully charged when we needed them to be.
Butare, where we spent five nights, is a much smaller city than Kigali. Power outages were regular and unsurprising, especially paired with the roar of oncoming thunder.
Last Wednesday we went to Inzozi Nzizi, an ice cream shop in town founded by a woman from Brooklyn and run by local women. We stood in line for hours as the lights died and the freezers ground to a halt over and over again, powering on again with a “whoosh” minutes later. All the while, the dark clouds came closer and closer and lightning ran jagged across the sky.
Even during the outages that lasted more than five minutes, our crew was too desperate for dairy products to abandon hope. Though people have cows here and use milk and butter, cheese is rare and ice cream is not generally feasible in a place where many don’t have refrigeration at home.
And believe me: when it did come, that ice cream was fantastic.
I have to admit, though, cheese is what gets me. Until yesterday, when we had cheese and papaya pineapple jam on bread, I hadn’t had cheese since that last dinner in D.C. When I saw the cheese — a gouda sort of thing, with a strong taste of milk straight from the cow — I shrieked, then spent the entire meal in a state of extreme happiness.
To be fair, though, there are lots of things here that make up for the small amounts of cheese. Avocado straight from the tree, passionfruit, mango, banana, tree tomato (a strange fruit, but delicious), fried plantains, beet and cabbage salad. There’s an amazing cooked cabbage and tomato dish that I’ve seen occasionally, and also a dish with greens and peanuts. Most meals contain at least two starches: French fries and rice, rice and pasta, French fries and pasta, green and potato soup.
All in all, this is a good place.