Oct 132012

The day a male chimpanzee, reclining at his ease high up on a cushion of leaves, thoughtfully turned his head and stared straight back at us gawpers on the ground. We had trekked a little way into the Nyungwe Forest early in the morning to see them. We had originally planned to see the gorillas but it has become much too expensive for us. Anyway,chimps are much more intelligent and in fact are very close genetically to humans. We had an hour watching them feed on wild figs and all the time they were perfectly aware of our presence. As the troop climbed down from the tree and set off,their whooping cries sounded like a goodbye.

We had to endure a cramped 7 hour drive both ways on twisting mountain roads to get to this national park but we all agreed it was worth it.

On the way back we nearly had an horrific accident. Drivers have to keep their eyes out for pedestrians rather than cars on these roads. Our driver was careful and alert but as we came down a hill, there in the middle of the road was a toddler on her own. He hooted loudly rather than his usual warning beep and braked, of course. But the brakes failed and we skidded past her by the merest yards, coming to a halt only with the handbrake. The child was fine.

We were in a rural village, stuck on the verge while everyone gathered to stare ( which isn’t rude in Rwanda)and we all assumed we would be there for a long time. Within minutes a mechanic on a moto arrived, tools in hand, and with an interested audience of advisers, fixed the brakes.

The day the Peace co-operative decided to show me how Rwandans cook. This involved building a fire pit from rocks, a long discussion about the menu, shopping down the lane from the woman who sells carrots, but nothing else, and then from the store in a front room, much joking and talk about what is the best way and finally a huge feast of vegetables, nut sauce, rice, and maize bread in the pan. Quite a crowd had gathered to watch and there was a plateful for them all.

The day we watched soap being made from scratch by a mixed group working as a team, sharing the heavy work in turn. Huge pans of boiled oil and acid dissolved in water had to be stirred with massive wooden paddles for what seemed like hours before being combined, dyed blue and poured into a mould to dry. We bought some of course.

The day the combined membership of the women’s co- operatives decided to come to do our gardening. The volunteer house is a bungalow with garden on four sides. Thirty of them arrived, most of them on foot having walked long distances because we are in the centre of Gisenyi town and they live in the hills,carrying hoes and spades plus several babies. They inspected the ground, made a collective decision and proceeded to dig and plant three plots, for onions, carrots and spinach. Before they would consent to come indoors for Fantas, bananas and African bread rollS, they did our washing, scrubbing even the shoes in bowl after bowl of cold water and suds till the line and the bushes were hung with colour.

Not only did they dance for us after eating, with an intense energy despite all the work they had done, speeches followed. Christine spoke of their gratitude to us, but most importantly she also talked about how their lives have been improved since the volunteering programme started only three years ago.

In his response speech Brian said how he and I have been impressed by these courageous and inspiring women. And we have.

Both of us feel that the generosity we have been shown is far greater than we have earned.


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