Leaving Gisenyi

 Posted by Sarah & Brian at 5:09 am  Rwanda
Oct 172012

We were sorry to be leaving our placement for a last weekend in Kigali and then on to Uganda. The guide book describes Gisenyi as a ‘faded resort town’ but that is not how we will remember it. It does have a beautiful shore line on Lake Kivu with a beach, shady walks and an area where it is safe for locals to swim and play. It has several large hotels although there is only one, with a pool, its own stretch of beach and prices to match, that ever seemed full. It was a volunteer treat to pay for a Saturday there using the pool and the waiter service. But as one new volunteer said on his first visit there, the contrast with the rest of the district is like ‘day and night’. A guest in that hotel, who only travelled outside in a jeep as many do, would no doubt have a different perspective on Gisenyi from ours.

Walk away from the shore and you are in a poor town but one with greenery everywhere, lots of public planting, shrubs, trees, banks of lilies and other flowers, a town where friendly open people are keen to meet and help you. The characteristic greeting here is an open hand raised and enthusiastically given to you in a warm grasp.

If you could wave a magic wand or had huge amounts of money to invest,so that you could smooth out the rocky roads and pathways of the town, then you could lift your eyes from the constant hazards and see a pleasant place with hills surrounding it and wide streets.

Many young women wear jeans and everyone has a tee shirt from the jumble of European second hand clothes in the central market, but the women mostly wear brightly coloured wraps which serve many useful purposes, apron, head gear, baby blanket and more. On Sundays everyone dresses up in their very best for church. It is a relaxed outgoing event very unlike a Protestant Sunday. Some of the volunteers gatecrashed a service, were given the best seats, personal translators and invited to join the choirs in singing and dancing.

Gisenyi is also remarkably clean and free of rubbish and litter. We discovered why on our drive back from the chimp excursion.The driver explained he would have to stop to buy petrol in plastic bottles as the petrol station was likely to be closed on this the last Saturday of the month. This Is when all citizens have a day off, there is no public transport, only vital services are maintained and everyone joins in cleaning public places and helping with projects for the poor.

On our last morning, as we were starting the strenuous walk to the bus station, Janet co- ordinator for the Gender Based Violence co- op, arrived in haste to say goodbye. She walked with me up the road, hand and arm clasped in a gesture of friendship.Once we started the inevitable muddle about tickets, she tok my bag, got onto the bus and guarded good seats for us until we were ready. Then we were ready to hug, and wave and promise that if we ever can manage it, we will be back.


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