Saturday, June 30, 2007

New friends in Kigali

This morning, I sauntered down through the garden to the complimentary breakfast of fruit, bread, eggs, and coffee. As I sat there sipping my coffee and reading about Kigali in my guidebook, a trio of Europeans walked in—two older gentlemen and a young lady, They were laughing and talking in English quite loudly, and I could tell from their somewhat-shabby style of dress that they were volunteers. As they ate, they talked about their upcoming trip to trek gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park in a few weeks. This is something I desperately want to do, so I walked up and introduced myself and joined their conversation. To my dismay, they told me that the Park fee had doubled just in the last month to $500—plus you must find two nights of accommodations and hire a jeep to take you on the mountain. This is wayyy out of my budget, but I listened dreamily as the woman, Katherine, described the trek. You four-wheel for a couple hours down a bumpy road and then get out and hike through the rain forest. She said you see loads of gorillas and they are often as close as 5 feet away, communicating with you through gestures and often showing off with various acrobatic feats. It sounds incredible!

The three Europeans were from Ireland, England, and Sweden, and are volunteers in an organization called VSO, which appears to be a sort of European Peace Corps. They were very kind and gave me all sorts of travel advice such as when and how much to tip, how to get around the country, and most importantly, NOT to carry the shoulder bag I have been using because it is practically begging for theft. All three had gotten mugged at some point. We hit it off extremely well. They were passing through Kigali to go a fellow volunteer’s party in Northern Rwanda, and they offered to take me into the city and show me around before they had to catch their bus.

There are three general modes of transit to get to the city—vans (buses) are the cheapest at only about 20 cents with about 14 passengers packed in. This was how I got around everywhere in South Africa and Swaziland last summer. Private taxis are the most expensive at about 4 dollars. To my delight, we jumped on the back of motorcycle taxis (which cost about a buck-fifty.) I had never been on a motorcycle before and as terrifying as it was, I loved it! I’m definitely going to copy my friend Ginger and find a boyfriend with a motorcycle when I get back to the states. That narrows the choice at W&L to zero, but I absolutely insist. We were given helmets and the volunteers assured me they were very safe, but for the most part, the taxi drove right in the center of the two-lane road, zipping between both lines of moving cars! I clung on for dear life! Once in the city center, we shopped around a bit and they pointed out important things like the Post Office, the internet café, and the fancy grocery store. I bought some gifties and cool little cloth pouch that I can store my valuables in and wear diagonally across my chest as they recommended. As I walked with them to the bus station, we exchanged numbers and they invited me to stay with them for a weekend sometime. I completely forget where they said they live, but it sounds like an adventure. We tentatively planned a white-water rafting trip on the Nile River in Uganda, which apparently is really cheap. Katherine had been before and said it was a must-do but she would never go again…hmmm.

After leaving them, I chugged a bottle of water and jumped on a motorcycle to head back to the Beausejour. Its pretty hot during the day and is also a very nice way of cooling off. I’m now sitting in the middle of the beautiful exotic flower garden out back, writing this entry. There are little striped lizards darting all over the place, and I feel quite peaceful and happy. I think blogging is a disease. I’ve written more voluntarily in the past four days than I ever have before and I’ve even begun to process thoughts like blog entries. It really is ridiculous and I bet I will have written an entire book by the time the summer is over. It gets dark here early, and as a single traveler, there really isn’t much else to do at night. Thank god for my trashy romance novel!

Safe in Kigali!

Here in Rwanda at last! As the small commuter plane dipped below the cloud-line, I leaned over the window seat and craned my neck to catch a glimpse of the rolling hills below. Almost all of the land seems to be farmed, and from the sky, it looks like a green madras Hobbit shire. Rwanda truly is the ‘land of a thousand hills.’ As beautiful as the vista was, it was chilling to think, as we landed, that the genocide was started 13 years ago by the president’s plane being shot from the sky on this very strip of air.

I was greeted at the airport by a young man named Leonce—who is a trusted taxi driver/friend of Robin and John, and his friend, Denison. Leonce spoke English, but Denison only spoke French, so I was finally forced to pull out some of my third-grade reading level French and stumble through the traditional greetings. We changed some money, put some minutes on my SIM card, and headed over to the hotel I’ll be staying in while in Kigali—Beausejour. Once again, I have nice single room with a self-contained bathroom and a double bed. There’s also a mosquito net, to my extreme relief! After settling in, I wandered up to the desk to chat with the nice guy behind it about where I should walk for dinner. He only speaks Kinyarwanda and French, so there was a lot of comic gesturing. He finally got the directions across, and as I turned to leave, I remembered that I wanted to find a book to read at night. I flapped my hands like an open book and said, “Je voudrais chercher un livre.” His eyes lit up in comprehension and he fumbled behind the desk and pulled out one of the most raunchy American romance novels I’ve ever seen. It’s titled “In the Whispers of the Night” and I think it’s so hilarious, I’m definitely going to read it!

I walked up the road about a ways to an Italian restaurant called the Sole Luna. I chose a two-top table on the patio (one of the weirdest things about travelling alone is all the solitary dining) and ordered a goat cheese and tomato pizza and a glass of my favorite juice—passion fruit. I’m staying on the out-skirts of Kigali, high up on a hill, and I sat with my candle-lit dinner and watched the last rays of sun light slink from the city below.

Kigali is a very clean and safe city—much more so than Nairobi, Jo’burg, and Arusha. Even though it was dark, I felt very peaceful and safe on my walk home (a luxury I’ve never felt in any of the other cities—day or night.)

The Maasai People

The Africa of Conrad and Hemingway would have us believe that the continent is a wide expanse of wind-swept savannas, grazing beasts, and indigenous tribes living in grass huts. This is a European glorification—a preservationist way of thinking that holds little future or hope for the African people, who have seen their standards of living actually decrease in recent decades, even as more tourism and foreign investment pour into their countries. Reality paints a different picture of bustling cities, beeping cell phones, spiraling unemployment and poverty, and some of the sharpest inequalities in the world.

But life for the Maasai people appears to have resisted all Western encroachment, and they are truly a fascinating tribe of cattle and goat herders. They live in the greater Arusha area in the bush in family units of huts called bomas surrounded by spiky wooden fences. They wear brilliant red cloth wraps, which I’ve been told is a color that repels lions (but I have to wonder about bull buffalo), and the men stretch their earlobes to great sizes and tattoo their cheeks. The women wear many strings of white beads through their ears. All Maasai people carry sharp wooden spears to defend themselves from wild animals and each other. Historically, they are a fierce, warring people, but I doubt that is still the case.

The Maasai are permitted to live in Ngorongoro Conservation Area precisely because they pose no threat what-so-ever to the wild animals besides self defense. They subsist entirely off their cattle and goats, eating only meat and drinking only blood and milk. When they bleed a cow, they do not kill it, but chink its neck in an apparently painless process (though I can’t imagine how) and catch the blood in a leather drinking pouch. They then seal the hole up with some mud. Cows are sacred to them and they never eat meat and blood on the same day because it would be disrespectful. Recently, times have changed a little and some Maasai women buy fruits and vegetables for their families at town markets.

The Maasai measure wealth in children and cows, and actually, are a very wealthy people. We drove past one particularly large boma and Francis told us that a well-respected traditional healer lived there with his ten wives and herd of 200 cattle. Maasai come from all over to see him and pay for his services with cattle. Francis estimated that his herd of cattle was worth approximately 5 new Land Rovers!

The Maasai are also famous for their circumcision ceremonies. Female circumcision was outlawed by the Tanzanian government only 4 years ago, and is now punished by a minimum jail sentence of 15 years for the parents of the girl. Male circumcision continues. A boy is taken into the bush around the age of 14 and is circumcised by machete. If he so much as cries out, his family is spit upon and shamed for a period of two years until the incident is considered forgotten.

I couldn’t get many pictures because it is considered disrespectful, but driving through the bush and seeing wild animals and a small boy with a spear in the same sight-frame was truly incredible! Apparently, there is a white woman who renounced her European life-style, married a Maasai, and lives as one of them. I’m told she has written a book and a movie on her is coming out in the states this summer. That is something I definitely want to see when I get back!


The next morning we rose early (no such thing as sleeping late in Africa) and piled into two safari vehicles for a week amongst the animals. We booked our tour through a company based in Arusha called Sunny Safaris and they were wonderful. Six to a Land Cruiser, we each had a window seat and the top opened up so we could stand up and ogle as we drove. We dubbed our vehicles Team A and Team B (I was in A, of course) haha. And developed a significant amount of competitive spirit as the week progressed. Francis was the driver for the A Team and accordingly, he was definitely the cooler cat.

We were hitting up the cluster of game parks in Tanzania called the northern circuit—arguably some of the most well-known in Africa. These included Tarangire National Park, the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Wildlife Conservation, and Lake Manyara National Park.

Our first day was in Tarangire—famous for its elephant herds and numerous baobab trees. Sure enough, we saw loads of both. It’s funny to reflect on our changing tolerance as the week went by. At our first sighting of gazelle, we implored Francis to stop the car and we spent about 5 minutes snapping pictures and marveling at the beast. By the last day, we had seen thousands of gazelle and impala and were not the least bit phased by their presence. We had eyes only for the big cats and predators. Some of us developed a strong interest in exotic bird species after the sighting of so many large animals had exhausted their mystique. My favorites were the lilac-breasted roller and the grey-headed Kingfisher. At camp that night, a local trio of boys gave an incredibly impressive acrobatic and bongo drum-playing performance.
The next day we drove straight through a portion of Ngorongoro to the Serengeti. It was in this brief section of Ngorongoro that I saw my favorite sight of the trip—the fascinating Maasai people. The Serengeti is an enormous expanse of savanna—the kind one would picture when thinking of Africa. This is where the great migration of wildebeest occurs each year and we saw herds with thousands of them! They are really dumb creatures and it’s hilarious to watch them get scared because if one takes off running, they ALL follow suit. And they run in single-file lines so you’ll see a massive line of wildebeests running for absolutely no reason. Almost equally numerous where the zebras, and they are generally mixed in with the herds of wildebeest.

Our first day in the Serengeti, we saw eight lions, two cheetahs and a leopard. This is almost unheard of! One of the lions was in a tree, which is apparently a completely new evolution in this region of Africa. It used to be that trees were only the domain of leopards and if they could drag their prey up into the tree, they were safe from competing carnivorous cats. This is no longer the case, and apparently, the first sighting of tree-climbing lions was in Lake Manyara National Park a few years ago (another park we visited). In total, we spent two nights and three days in the Serengeti and saw pretty much everything you could hope for on safari.

The highlight for me was when we saw a lioness and her two cubs at very close range. I had already exhausted both batteries of my camcorder on less interesting footage, but I managed to get a 30 second video of her playfully biting and batting at her cubs as they crawled all over her on my digital camera. The mating hippos were a slightly more traumatizing, but fascinating sighting. Hippos are the most dangerous animal to humans in all of Africa. We came across this one hippo pool with probably over a hundred beasts in it. Most of the time, you couldn’t tell how big they were because you could only see the tops of their backs and their eyes above the water, but once and a while, a couple would briefly fight each other, launching their massive bodies straight out of the water to clash with the other and snapping their huge, sparsely-toothed jaws. It was terrifying. At one point, two of the biggest hippos were mating and another male came over to challenge the first, mid-mount. They had a pretty ferocious battle, and once again, I was sadly out of battery juice. We also saw a cool sort of hippo initiation or rite-of-passage…we think. A very small (comparatively, of course) baby hippo climbed out of the water and approached a crocodile lying on the beach. The baby hippo seemed to freeze up about ten feet from the croc, looking back and forth from the croc to the pool of hippos—who interestingly enough, had all turned to watch. After about 5 minutes, two slightly larger (lets say teen-age) hippos climbed out of the water and nudged the baby forward with their snouts. It progressed hesitantly forward until the croc suddenly scampered off and the baby hippo splashed back into the water…very odd.

Our forth day, we drove to the Ngorongoro crater. The park was named Ngorongoro by the Maasai, because that is the sound that the clay bells that they attach to their cattle make as they walk. The crater was formed 2 million years ago by the collapse of a huge volcano. It is seventeen km across in every direction and most of the wildlife is trapped inside its steep walls. You can find pretty much every animal except for the giraffe because they cannot walk down the steep decline to get inside. The Park is well known for the 20 or so rhinos it has—rhinos are extremely rare in Tanzania. We only saw one from very far off. The highlight was definitely a lion kill of a zebra and I got great footage of the lioness dragging the carcass around. We also saw loads of spotted hyenas, which is rare because like lions and cheetahs, they are nocturnal and usually just sleep in the tall grass during the day.

I’ve been on safari before—a five-day trip in Kruger National Park in South Africa, but this was entirely a different experience. For starters, Kruger is much more touristy, with loads of vehicles, better roads, and even man-made watering holes to facilitate wildlife viewing. But the biggest difference is that in Kruger, each camp ground is behind huge electric fences so you are protected at night. There are no such fences in Tanzania (nor are there fences surrounding any of the parks!) I found this to be a bit worrisome at night—especially when I had to go to the bathroom. We were told to not keep food of any kind in our tents or it would attract animals. We were also told to not wear scent of any kind, which made using shampoo at the two camp sites that had showers, very nerve wracking. At night we could hear the howls of hyenas and the snorts of wildebeests, among other things, and it was often hard for me to fall asleep. On the second to last night, I had to pee pretty badly so I opened the window of my tent to peer outside and I saw the enormous head of a cape buffalo right in front of me. They are really aggressive animals and it was pretty terrifying!

Our last day was spent in Lake Manyara National Park—famous for its massive flocks of flamingos and tree-climbing lions. I think this park was my favorite because of its dense rain forest and exotic trees. Didn’t see any more lions, but we saw a ton of hippos and birds. All in all, it was a pretty amazing week and I feel guilty that I got to enjoy it instead of my nature-loving sister, Stella. Biscuit, I promise I’ll take you some day!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Safari Team A



First off, I want to dissolve all misconceptions that I am some sort of extreme sports enthusiast. As cool as that would be, I’m pretty much the opposite. I love the outdoors—love camping, hiking, kayaking, etc, but most importantly, I love to be within my comfort zone. That generally includes a cooked meal and a hot shower. Except for the shower bit, Kilimanjaro was within that comfort zone…for the most part. For starters, you have to be at least ten years old to climb the mountain. Didn’t see any of the cheeky rascals up there, but the realization that some pre-teen was probably bouncing up the mountain definitely helped me suck it up and trudge on when the going got tough. Secondly, you only carry a day pack on your back. In order to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, you must register with a certified company. There is a certain ratio of guides and porters to climbers that must be maintained. In our case, it was twelve of us climbers, 6 guides, and 30 porters. It’s pretty ridiculous when you think about it, but tourism is huge in Tanzania and that’s just the way it’s done. Plus the dangers of altitude sickness are very real and severe. Even with the ten-year-olds and the light packs, climbing Kilimanjaro was the hardest challenge I’ve ever faced.

Our group decided to take the 8-day Machame route. This is a bit longer than most, but we wanted the greatest odds of summiting—which at that altitude means more time to acclimatize. The first day, we woke early from the Marangu Hotel, met our guides and porters and got briefed on the dangers of the mountain and the hippie mantra—leave only footprints- take only pictures- dig-a-hole-for-your-poo yada yada. Next, we piled into two huge trucks for the bumpy 5-hour drive to the Kilimanjaro National Park gate. The road conditions were the worst I’ve ever seen and the whole ride I was terrified that the truck would flip over and fall off the edge of the cliff. It was really exciting to see the mammoth snow-capped Kilimanjaro looming from the sky line, and I took a lot of incredibly blurry, horrible pictures trying to capture the vista from the window of the truck. We were supposed to spend the first day hiking though the rain forest at the base of the mountain, but when we arrived at the park gate, we were told that the road to the start of the rainforest trail was completely washed out and we would have to find another route. So we drove an hour further and hiked about three hours to our first camp site on the Shira Plateau—Shira I. When we arrived at camp, the porters had already pitched our tents and were cooking a hot meal. Life is rough.

Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro is not technically difficult so you don’t need special shoes or climbing gear. The biggest danger is AMS or Acute Mountain Sickness. AMS can strike anyone and has nothing to do with how physically fit you are or how many times you have already climbed to high altitude. In fact, it generally occurs in younger, physically fit persons. Going into the hike, I believed that at the first onset of a headache, one would be suffering from AMS and the only solution is to immediately turn around and decrease altitude. Our pre-hike briefing at the Marangu Hotel dispelled that misconception. We were told that at one time or another, we would all most likely have an intense head ache and stomach pains. Many of us would throw up. The real danger (and one the guides are trained to recognize) comes when people begin to lose proper functioning and coordination and sort of act like they are drunk. I saw one person in this state and it was very disturbing. Even more deadly, is when fluid builds up in the lungs and people show no symptoms at all except for a raspy cough. The guides can also recognize this and know to immediately get you off the mountain. Other symptoms of altitude include loss of appetite, inability to sleep, slowness of breath (sometimes with ten seconds between breaths when you are sleeping!) and extreme fatigue. Personally, I got just about all of them short of having AMS. There were times when I had a splitting head-ache, I threw up once, I had to force myself to eat at every meal, and I panted like a dog with pretty much every step. It was great fun!

At such high altitudes, it’s vital to keep hydrated, so we had soup with every meal and were instructed to drink at least 4 cups of tea at each sitting. This is all in addition to the three-four liters of water we were each drinking per day. High altitude is also a diuretic, so basically, we had to pee every hour or so. This was hell at night when temperatures were well below freezing. We were told by the adorable, British owner of the Hotel that our urine must be ‘clear and copious’ at all times [you must read in a British accent.] We thought that was hilarious and kept on inquiring after one another’s bodily functions.

Our second day, we hiked about 2,000 meters and then returned to low altitude at Shira I to camp again. The third day, we gained altitude in a six-hour hike and slept higher at Shira II. At night, we would all linger in the mess tent after dinner and play games of mafia, zoo, and cards. I pretty much knew no one going into the trip, but the group dynamic was perfect and I couldn’t have asked for better travel companions!

The forth day was my favorite. One of the most extraordinary things about Kilimanjaro is its incredible ecological diversity. The mountain is like its own country in terms of sustaining every sort of flora and fauna imaginable. We started off the morning from Shira II on a dusty, rocky incline of volcanic ash that looked very much like the surface of the moon. There were almost no plants and it was incredibly barren. After 5 hours, we stopped for lunch at Lava Tower, a huge spiky outthrust of rock caused by seismic shifts millions of years ago. Not far from the tower were the remains of a campsite where two climbers had been crushed by falling rocks in 2004. We were at about 4,500 meters or 13,500 feet. To put this in perspective, the highest mountain in Virginia is around 4,300 feet. Kilimanjaro is 19,600 or so feel altogether. It was here that we really began feeling the effects of the altitude. I started to get a headache and very breathless with every step. Luckily, from there we descended about two thousand meters into the Barranco Valley to camp for the night. My symptoms declined with each step I took and the physical relief coincided with the visual gratification of the changing terrain from dusty moon to fertile-lush. Icy streams fed by the glaciers nourish this valley as well as a constant presence of mist and there we found the most incredible plant life. Vibrant bushes of flowers, towering palm-like trees that looked like they were stolen from a page of a Dr. Seuss book, spiky cacti and lush ferns were everywhere. At Barranco campsite, we were just above the clouds and all you could see for miles and miles were puffy white cotton balls and the peak of Mount Meru (Kili’s smaller sister) rising from the mist. It was absolutely breath-taking. The night sky was equally beautiful and just as we were leaving the mess tent at around 9:00, the clouds below parted to reveal the twinkling lights of the town of Moshi. It looked as if the starry sky was mirrored in a reflecting pool and I got the sensation that I was halfway between heaven and earth.

The fifth day was shorter and more challenging than the previous four. We woke early, ate and packed our bags lightly (meaning the porters had more to carry ) and headed east across the valley to a seemingly sheer rock wall. For the next hour and a half, we pulled our bodies up the steep rock face and it wasn’t until I lay panting at the top and watched the porters climb nimbly past balancing huge loads on their heads that I realized how unimpressive we were. We then hiked about two hours to Barafu Camp, entering a moon-like terrain once again. At Barafu, we camped in the crevices of a rock cliff. Going to the bathroom was a pretty dangerous affair. We reached camp around 1:00, ate lunch, and then had about 8 hours to relax before we began the final ascent. All of us were pretty nervous at this point and it was already pretty freaking cold. My fleece had been stolen in the Nairobi airport, but Kerry lent me one of his for the summit. I also had a parka, gortex gloves and liner gloves and hand warmers, a balaclava, a snow beanie, three pairs of pants, and four layers of shirts. Even with all that, I was cold. I couldn’t sleep and there wasn’t much to do in the down time except lighten your pack, sterilize three liters of water, make sure you had enough warm clothes, and put fresh batteries in your head lamp. Many of us had brought along chocolate bars that we broke into small pieces in our pockets for extra energy. They were quite frozen and very hard to crack. I was incredibly lucky that Nick Gorham (second year med school student) was on the trip because he masterfully wrapped my blisters each day so I hardly felt them.

We rose at 11:00 and met in the mess tent for tea and biscuits. At midnight, we lined up and began the final ascent. At this altitude, we only had about 50 percent of the oxygen at sea-level and my body was definitely registering that reality. We walked ‘pole pole’ [slowly, slowly in Swahili] and I mean that in every sense of the word. It was all I could do to lift one foot at a time and place it heel-toe above the other. I was panting so hard I thought all my careful efforts to hydrate would escape from my mouth as water vapor but I simply couldn’t get enough air from breathing in through my nose like we were supposed to. It was a six hour hike to Stella’s Point and my resolve nearly cracked about twenty times. The head guide, Geoffrey, observed I was struggling and took my pack from me. After four hours, two of our number had to turn back. One guy was really sick and a girl was unbearably cold. I’m glad I didn’t know they were turning around at the time because I would have certainly gone with them. Geoffrey pretty much got me through the climb. I walked directly behind him and placed every step exactly where he did (I felt like the squire in Good King Wenceslas). He had high spirits and was actually singing as we walked. His body blocked a lot of the whipping wind from me. It was a very mental climb, but his presence was a sort of force-field of strength. The final hour was the hardest—especially since the first rays of sunlight framed the remaining ascent like a great, looming shadow above us. At this point, we were walking on frozen loose soil called scree sp? and it felt like we were walking straight up. I closed my eyes at several points and stumbled along monotonously.

When we reached Stella’s point, the sun was just rising and I had such a rush of emotions that I started crying. The tears froze as they fell from my cheeks and as I hugged my fellow hikers, I realized that many were doing the same thing. I have some pretty funny camcorder footage of the sun rise. I’m so overcome in the shot that the camera is shaking in silent sobs and you can’t really see anything at all. Despite my happiness, I was feeling pretty rotten at this point and we still had about an hour long hike to the real summit, Uhuru Peak. I really didn’t feel like continuing but I was too cold to wait alone, I really wanted to walk on the glacier, and I wanted to get the cool certificate that says you made it all the way, so I trudged along after everybody. The guides walked about 10 feel below us on the glacier to try to catch people if they slipped. The side was so steep, it sort of seemed like we’d both by screwed if I fell, but it was a little comforting. It was here that we saw the man suffering from AMS. He was falling all over the place and couldn’t even walk. His friends were practically dragging him across the ice to get down and I rather perversely got it all on video. We had all these grandiose plans of doing a mooning shot on the summit and spelling out various inside jokes with our bodies, but we were all so sick and cold, that it was all we could stand to snap a picture and turn around immediately. Some routes have you camp in the summit crater and I really don’t understand how that’s physically possible. The next nine hours were a blur as we descended rapidly down the scree (you slid 5 feet down the loose soil with every step and if my feet weren’t so miserably painful, it would have been quite fun). We stopped at Barafu Camp for lunch and a quick rest and then continued for three hours down a steep descent. By the time we reached camp at 6:00, my body was completely rejecting me and we were at a lower altitude than we’d been for the entire week. We had summitted and descended 10,000 feet in one day! Needless to say, I slept like a log that night.

The next morning, we only had a three-hour hike down to the park gate. We drove back to the Marangu Hotel and took our first showers in 8 days. We joined the porters and guides on the back lawn for heartfelt goodbyes and beers. I developed a deep respect for Geoffrey over the week and as we parted, I gave him my winter coat for his son. Without a fleece and a coat for the rest of the winter here, it may have been a dumb move, but it felt great to do it and I’m sure I can buy a cheap one somewhere in Kigali. Later that night, we put on our gators and headlamps at the hotel bar and dubbed the mixer “Porter Bros and Kili Hoes—Bro’in out on Chilimanjaro” in true W&L fashion.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tribunal Observation #2

Today was my second day of observing the tribunal and it was considerably more interesting than the first. I wasn't able to get a write-up of the case I sat in on, but I heard a testimony from a witness that was extremely difficult to listen to. Security for the witnesses is a big issue here because Rwanda is a very small country and there are strong feelings and stigmas attached to participating in the ICT-R. The witness today was blocked from view to protect his anonymity and he was given a pseudonym. In Kinyarwanda, he described the roadblocks that dotted the country during the genocide. He told how in many cases, mere students were commanded to man these checkpoints. Every Rwandan at this time was made to carry an ID card identifying him or her as either Hutu or Tutsi. If the students apprehended a Tutsi, they would beat the person and run to get older members of the interahamwe to come and kill them. I later asked Bishop John if reliving the history of the genocide day after day in the court was painful for him. He nodded but added that in order to do his job, he has learned to shut out the horrific details as he translates, leaving all behind the gates of the UN building when he goes home to his family at night.

The witness described two cases in particular. One involved a Tutsi man who was a judge and who was well-respected in his community. He was lucky to have Hutu facial features and when the killings began in his town, he was at first passed over, but soon, local militias began coming to his home and threatening him. He knew a Hutu minister who he had grown up with and who he had once done a big favor for, so he obtained a Hutu ID card and left his town to find the minister. He got though five road blocks with the fake ID and finally reached the house of the preacher, which was located near a school of some sort. When the minister saw him, he refused to shelter him and turned him away. Desperate, the man came back a second time and the minister grew annoyed and yelled out that he was a Tutsi. The children attacked and beat him and the judge was shot shortly thereafter.

The second case the witness described involved a young woman and her son. They had been in hiding for over a month when the Hutu propaganda radio station that had been inciting so much of the violence and killings issued a fake announcement that the killings had stopped and Tutsis were finally safe to come out of hiding. The woman fell victim to the trap and emerged from her hiding place with her son, and they were both promptly killed.

The witness recounted how in the years following the genocide, they would exhume some of the mass grave sites and if they could identify the bodies, they would read the names over the radio so the families of the victims could come bury their dead. He described how they would wait for five or six days, but often no one one was left.

At the end of his testimony, the witness described how scared he was for his safety and the safety of his family. All of his testimony was top secret--his identity was never revealed and no one is supposed to even know he is in Arusha. About a month ago, however, a man came to his door and state that he was from the ICT-R and wanted to get a full statement on all that he knew about the genocide. The witness knew this was a lie because he had already given the tribunal a full statement and he is now worried that the wrong people back in Rwanda know that he has been aiding the investigation.

After the testimony, I wandered around the streets of Arusha to clear my head. I ducked into a CD shop and bought a rather touristy album with some popular Swahili songs and one song about Kilimanjaro that I really wanted. I also purchased the Bongo Flavor album (top of the charts here in Tanzania). I paid a ridiculous price for the two CDs which I won't admit here because it's too embarrassing, but I had a really good time jamming with the guys in the store. At first, they were treating me a little too much like the somewhat lost American tourist that I am so I pulled out my bag of tricks and started beat-boxing to one of the reggae songs. I learned to beat-box though years of being in an a Capella group, but I have always wondered when/if the skill would ever come in handy. The guys were floored and called others in from the street to come hear. It was really fun and I stayed for about an hour. On my way back to the hotel, I made my favorite purchase so far here in Tanzania. I found a man with a basket full of rubber stamps on the side of the road, wheedling away with a knife. He was custom-making the stamp designs, and incidentally, I have been looking for a stamp for the Rwanda library for a long time. I picked out an oval shape, wrote my message-Rwanda School Project Library-- on a piece of paper, and laid down a small down payment. When I returned two hours later, he had made the coolest stamp ever and had even etched a perfect little book pictogram in the center. I am thrilled! Tomorrow, I fly to Kigali...I still need to figure out how to get the 50 km to the airport.

Tribunal Observation #1

I had the most wonderful evening with Bishop John Shumbusho and his family last night. A friend of my mother, Egide Karuranga, who is a professor at Virginia State University and who survived the Rwandan genocide by taking refuge in the Mille Colligne (Hotel Rwanda) with his family, put me in touch with Bishop John, who is a close friend of his from Rwanda.

I called Bishop John on my second day in Arusha and he graciously came to pick me up from the Naaz Hotel and take me to the tribunal. After checking my camera and passport at the gate, I was admitted inside and he showed me around to the three court chambers that were in session. Bishop John heads up the interpretation and translation division for the Kinyarwanda language. From what I gather, the court is conducted in three main languages--English, French, and Kinyarwanda. There are three judges in a given case, who sit at the center of the chamber wearing red, black, and white silk robes. The defendants and their army of UN-appointed attorneys sit to the left of the judges and the prosecution sits to the right. A few of the attorneys wear powdered wigs, which I think is hilarious. There is a line of transcribers up front and interpreters in small rooms on the flanks. The witness sits before the judges, front and center. All the proceedings are behind a thick, sound-proof wall of glass. The general public is permitted to sit in front of the glass and tune into the language of their choosing on a wireless headset.

After I was situated, Bishop John left after inviting me to dinner that evening. All three courts were in recess when I arrived, so I had to wait about 45 minutes. It was plenty of time to read up on the particular cases I would be observing. The tribunal has been in operation since 1997, but it has only passed verdict on 33 of the 70 persons on trial so far. Many of the individual cases take 5 or so years and 18 of the indicted persons are still at large--either dead or evading arrest. The tribunal is scheduled to wrap up by 2009 and those persons not yet apprehended will be transferred to national jurisdictions.

I'm not sure what I expected, but what I actually observed was a lot of technical stand-still and bureaucratic congestion. In the first court room, after a 15-minute break dragged into an hour, the court returned to an hour-and-a-half long debate about the French translation of a witnesses testimony. The defense thought the word choice of the translation between the minutes of 13:42 and 14:50 were unfairly biased against the defendant and wanted them stricken from the record...or something. Between yawns, I watched in amusement as the translator was brought before the court to explain every nuance of his interpretation.

This "Butare" trial has been going on since 2001. It is particularly interesting as the massacres in Butare started later than those in the rest of the country. According to the indictments, Butare served as a haven for refugees fleeing from the massacres in their own regions. Those seeking refuge in Butare thought they would be safe for several reasons. Historically, the substantial Tutsi minority population had lived in harmony with the local Hutu population. Also, the MRND party played a lesser role in Butare and as a result, the interahamwe organizational structure was less extensive and its membership was smaller. Further, the prefet of Butare was the only prefet of Tutsi descent in the country and he openly opposed the massacres in his prefecture. As Rwandas military and civilian leaders became aware of the situation, Prefet Habyalimana was removed from office and killed, and the massacres in Butare started shortly after the swearing in of the new prefet. The "Butare" case is a joint trial of six accused. All allegedly incited ethnic hatred and violence, trained and distributed weapons, set up roadblocks, abducted Tutsi refugees, and organized and ordered rapes and massacres in the Butare prefecture. Although nothing was unfolding before me in the case, it was a very chilling sensation to be sitting across the glass from such merciless men (and one woman) and to feel them returning my stare.

After waiting though the translation dispute in the hopes that the witness's testimony would resume, I was disappointed when the judge adjourned the session for a two-hour lunch break. I cannot imagine how much this tribunal is costing in legal fees!

Bishop John picked me up at 7:30 that evening from the Naaz Hotel. He is wealthy by any standard and had a lovely, gated home. Both he and his wife are ministers at a large Pentecostal church in Arusha that he showed me on our way over. They have five children and also host a woman named Claudine and her two adorable daughters. Another man they call 'uncle' but who is not related was present. I was very touched by the warmth and generosity they showed me. We sat down to an incredible spread of African dishes and enjoyed a lengthy meal with lively conversation and belly-aching bouts of laughter. I sat between Bishop John and his nineteen-year-old daughter who attends high school in the states. She is just starting her college search and I told her all about Washington and Lee and urged her to apply. I was very impressed with the language knowledge of the family. They are very well-educated and all can speak Kinyarwanda, English, French, and Swahili. Even the two-and-a-half year old was multi-lingual! After dinner, we took a lot of pictures together and Bishop John and his wife drove me home.

Meeting the Shumbushos further confirms my deep respect for African hospitality. It seems everyone I meet goes out of their way to accommodate me and has made quite an impression. Of course, this does not apply to the street where beggars and cat-callers are everywhere and VERY invasive. I met a young woman hiking on Kilimanjaro who had her backpack cut off her back in broad daylight in Arusha. A mob of children had approached her, each seizing a strap and slicing it off her. She was cut pretty badly in four places and had to get stitches. It was a very sobering story and as a woman travelling alone, I've learned to reign in my facial expressions and curtly say "no". Even so, I am followed pretty much everywhere I go by a hoard of begging children and venders.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Habari ya asubuhi!

Good morning to you in swahili (which by the way is a made up language to facilitate trade on the East African coast). I am back in Arusha after 8 days on Kilimanjaro and 6 on safari. Feeling weary, wizened, finally washed, and very much in love with everything Tanzanian. The rest of my comrades in the W&L Outing Club are mid-flight to Amsterdam right now and it feels a little eerie to be finally on my own. I'm staying at the Naaz Hotel, and though my gut clinched when they dropped me off at its grimy facade, an alley opened up to a beautiful little courtyard and I'm staying in a chic room with a tile floor, a self-contained hot shower, and a double bed--couldnt be much better after 15 days camping in the bush! It's currently 3:00 am and I'm awake because I've just spoken with my parents (the seven hour time difference is a bit taxing) and also because something has been biting me all night. I've just smothered myself in deet for the second time and I have so much on my mind, I think I'll spend an hour or so blogging and swatting mosquitoes before I drift off. Haven't found wireless in Arusha yet, but I have the laptop I purchased for the library and will transcribe word for word at the internet cafe tomorrow, if need be.

I've pushed my flight to Kigali, Rwanda back to the 29th so I can attend hearings of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICT-R) for a few days. As amazing as these past two weeks have been, the politics geek inside me has been clamoring for this part of my journey. The ICT-R is charged with bringing the main perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide to trial, and I've been engrossed with the reconciliation process in my studies this past year. After having spent a summer in South Africa, I am interested in comparing the levels of reconciliation the two countries have achieved for myself. Both atrocities occurred/ended in 1994 and both countries have been widely praised for their progress in the past thirteen years, but there are fundamental differences in the way they have gone about the peace-making process.

South Africa underwent a peaceful transition from the Afrikaner-led National Party to the majority black African National Congress (ANC)under the remarkable leadership of individuals like Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu. The church played a prominent role in the reconciliatory process and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established to help the South African people confront their painful past,and in many cases, grant amnesty to the perpetrators in exchange for a full disclosure. The entire proceedings were organized and held within South Africa, and I'm curious to know whether the particular combination of elements that seem to have worked so well in SA are unique to its space and time, or whether they can be applied in similar reconciliation processes.

Rwanda's situation is a bit different. The genocide was far more horrific--killing approx 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in just under 90 days. Neither is the history of the ethnic conflict within Rwanda cut-and-dry. Under Belgian colonization, the minority Tutsis were placed in power and repressed the majority Hutus. After independence, the process was reversed and the Hutus repressed the Tutsis. Rwanda is overwhelmingly Catholic, but many bishops were connected to the government and were implicated in the genocide. For that reason, it is impossible to hold the reconciliation process through a filter of Christian faith and forgiveness. Equally impossible would be jailing half of the country's population. So instead of Rwanda dealing with its country's painful past internally, the UN set up a Tribunal in neighboring neutral Tanzania (similar in many ways to the ICT-Yugoslavia). It is here in Arusha that the masterminds of the genocide are being tried. Meanwhile, there is a second set of proceedings within Rwanda called Gacaca hearings, where the individual killers are being held accountable. There was a severe shortage of judges in the country following the genocide (I read somewhere that it was only 12 but dont quote me :) so local community members who are highly esteemed are elected as honorary judges and are trained for the proceedings. Community members are required to attend these hearings, I believe, and I hope that I can also observe some while I am in Rwanda. In short, Rwanda lacked the important variables such as strong leaders and religious faith that made the reconciliation process after apartheid such an organic success in South Africa. I look forward to speaking to Rwandans about their views and observing the state of harmony myself.

I have to run because Bishop John Shumbusho (the lead interpretor at the Tribunal) has invited me to dinner with his family. I promise to write all about Kili, the safari, and my favorite part of Tanzania so far--the incredible Maasai people tomorrow!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Here at last! I arrived at the Kilimanjaro Airport at 9:00 and a nice man named John was waiting at the gate holding a sign that said "Sally Gibson." I was so happy to be here finally that I gave him a huge hug. The most magnificent thing I've seen so far was the icy top of Kilimanjaro as we flew past--just even with the plane. I haven’t caught a second glimpse of the peak yet from the ground, but high above the cloud line, it was perfectly clear and beautiful. John and I had an hour or so drive to the Marangu Hotel at the base of Kilimanjaro so I got to find out a lot about the local environment and the chagga people. He stopped to show me a gigantic baobab tree [adansonia digitata] that is thousands of years old, and also to point out that the smaller mountains surrounding Kilimanjaro are being massively exploited by the local people for their light but durable volcanic rock. Everywhere we looked, he pointed out that the houses were made from such bricks, and indeed, in some cases a whole third of the mountain was sliced up and eroding. It was a sad sight but the poverty in the area is equally devastating.

When I got to the Marangu Hotel, Kerry Scott (W&L 77') and owner of the Narrow Gate trekking company was waiting for me. I checked into my safari-style room, took a luxurious and indulgent bath (first in four days, yuck!) and met him outside in the garden for a drink. The rest of the group from W&L who are hiking Kilimanjaro with us will arrive tonight and we leave first thing in the morning. Kerry and I decided to hike up to the town to search for internet and see a bit of the area. Because we were unfamiliar with the town and the landscape, Abdul, a young man who will also be one of the guides on the hike, came with us. My decision to wear flip-flops began to haunt me a couple kilometers up the dusty, rocky road. And as luck would have it, the town's power went out right as we reached the shop with internet, so we decided to hike to the waterfalls and chagga village instead.

The falls were absolutely gorgeous! They are fed by the melting snow and glacier from the top of Kilimanjaro. Abdul and I hopped out on the rocks to the middle of the pool under the falls and felt the icy spray from the pounding water mist over us. There's an ancient chagga legend about a women who had a pre-marital affair with a young man. When she found out she was pregnant, she threw herself off the top of the falls rather than face certain death for her actions. A stone statue of the woman stands rigid against the rushing water at the top of the ledge.

Afterward, we trekked through a banana grove on a smooth mud trail to the village. Abdul explained that there are 4 kinds of banana trees here--ones for eating, ones for making beer, ones for cooking, and ones for drying and grinding into flour. [I’m actually sitting in an internet cafe in Moshi right now next to a farmer who has been telling me all the ways in which the plant is used. He just told me there are 36 species of banana!] We also saw pineapples, avocados, mango trees, maize, lime trees, wild Kilimanjaro coffee plants, and papaya trees--it is such rich and fertile land. Abdul's mother picks, dries, and roasts the wild Kili coffee and he is going to sell me a kilo of her coffee tomorrow. We collected a small following of children as we walked. I have a natural (and sometimes untimely) urge to pick small children up when I see them, and they were so adorable that I had to fight it fiercely! Luckily, I had my camcorder with me and got lots of footage of jambo [hello] exchanges with the children.

We hiked back to the hotel, ordered lunch and Kilimanjaro beer, and talked about Africa's history. Kerry did several tours of duty in Africa--Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Liberia, so he told many interesting stories. Now we're off back to the airport to pick the others up. Tonight we get briefed by our guides on the safety and dangers of the mountain, and tomorrow we leave on our 8-day trek up Kilimanjaro!

Monday, June 11, 2007

What doesnt kill you makes you stronger

...said the nice Kenyan man standing in front of me at the Kenyan Airways line last night. I arrived in Nairobi last night to the news that (contrary to British Airway's assurances) I was not booked on any connecting flight to Kilimanjaro and there wouldnt be an available one for at least another day. I pestered the poor people behind the desk intil 1:00 am and made them pay for my 4 by 6 sleeping cubicle at gate 4 (that would have cost me $40 for 4 hours!) I woke at 5:30 to try again, and apparently I am now on the next flight in half an hour, but I wont believe anything until we are in the air. I'm in good spirits, however, and the thought of stepping off the plane and seeing Kilimanjaro rising into the clouds makes this hellish experience worth it...sorta. :)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Interesting experiences abound when you’re bound for Africa…

Before I left Charlottesville, to quell everyone’s anxieties about my safety as a woman traveling alone in Africa, I stopped by the local sketchy gun shop on 29-North to pick up some pepper spray (you know…normal). I had no idea before I stepped through the iron-barred doorway that I was in for a treat! A large toothless man behind the counter immediately took interest in my travel situation. His concern for my safety started off as endearing and dissolved pretty rapidly into disconcerting. Partly to humor him, and partly out of amusement and interest, I endured a 30-minute self-defense lesson on “how to cut and how to kill” with a knife. I stood there in the middle of the gun shop, flipping a switch-blade and slicing it through the air—first, to cut the assailing arm, and second, if the attacker persisted, to slice the throat. I nodded comprehension as he explained why serrated edges are better –they don’t just cut cleanly, they rip the skin. To his disappointment, I didn’t purchase a switch-blade. Instead, I left the shop with my pepper spray—reflecting on what I had just witnessed. For him, Africa is still the ‘heart of darkness’—a dangerous, dirty place that he wouldn’t conceive of visiting. Perhaps I’m naïve to think I can travel safely with just my wits and my spray, but I am certainly not going into this preparing for murder.

Day #2

...Still here. I have re-booked on a 6:55 pm flight to London, then to Nairobi (where I'll have a 12-hour overnight in the airport!) and then on to Kilimanjaro on Tuesday morning.

I'm spending my down time reading up on some of the current events in the East African region. According to this article, 52% of Rwandans live on less than $1/day and 84% live on less than $2/day (UNDP Report 2006). As a politics/Shepherd student at W&L, I read these sorts of staggering statistics all the time, but as I prepare to board a plane to Africa, they take on a new meaning. Why is it that we care the most about tragedies closest to home? How can Paris Hilton make the headlines with a tantrum when there's a genocide going on in Darfur? How is it possible that speaking the word 'Darfur' feels like a cliché, much like "eat your vegetables--there are starving children in India"? Do humans only have so much capacity to care? These are all questions I know I will struggle with as I travel and live among the communities and cultures encapsulated in the above statistic. I feel a little absurd with my over-stuffed packs and carry-on containing a laptop computer, a camcorder, and a digital camera. Yes, most of the bag's contents will remain at the Rwandan school and library, but who am I to have such things and why do I think I need them? Perhaps the greatest frustration of all will be trying to explain what I've seen and felt to my family and friends--who are just as removed from the numbers as I am now. Videos and picture can only partially convey the experience. I feel so incredibly lucky to have such an opportunity. Now, if only I can catch a plane out of here!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Technical Problems

...with the plane. That is what they told us at the terminal over 5 hours ago as we waited for BA Flight 216 to board. I'm currently in a Hyatt near Dulles (courtesy of British Airways) and have managed to only get 6 miles further from Africa in the past 6 hours. It feels like a particularly fitting start to a very one-day-at-a-time sort of journey. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the last air-conditioned queen-sized bed I'll sleep in all summer.