Friday, March 22, 2013

Simple, Serene

Working evenings and Saturdays, our travel opportunities while in Rwanda have been quite limited. We managed to escape from Kigali’s hustle and bustle (if its road traffic and churches blaring hymns can be considered as such) for roughly an 18-hour getaway to the country’s beautiful Lake Kivu. So, we headed to Kibuye, the cheaper of the two destination options on the shores of the lake, to soak up some R&R.

Not being ones to pass up some exploration outside of Kibuye’s tiny tourist sector, we did amble through the town. We passed those at work and play, local eateries and shops, all as they languished in the mid-morning heat. Children repeatedly approached us, wondering who we were and where we were going. They were heading to markets and churches, uncertain why in the world we were just walking without destination.  

Unintended though it was, we eventually came to a destination of sorts, stumbling upon Kivu's more open, and less scenic, shore.  From this vantage point we were able to catch a glimpse of neighboring Congo (DRC) across the water, hazy and distant. 

We checked out the large lakeside Catholic church and its adjoining genocide memorial. The church itself was so full of a Sunday morning that worshipers were perched along the church walls in an attempt to catch the service, and more seemed to be pouring in by the minute.

But, the town offered little to compete with the tranquility of the town’s smaller stretch of lake. Laced between towering hills, topped with an array of hotels, this sliver of Kivu is a paradise unto itself, and the reason tourists venture to this area.

If Colorado were home to a vast array of tropical plants, it would be Kibuye. From pines with long, drooping needles to massive cactus-esque flora to trees bursting with yellow flowers and eucalyptus filling the air with their fragrances. Birds flit among the trees, lizards precariously climb flower stalks, cows low in the distance, all perfectly accompanying an early morning breakfast with a spectacular view. 

Not a bad escape, no matter how brief. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Weaving by Hand

Handmade, through the work of countless hours, Rwandan baskets are so much more than just utilitarian. Yes, they can store any of a number of food items, and have traditionally been used in exactly that way (as well as in wedding ceremonies and as decorative items). But, with the diversity of color, shape, pattern, and size, each basket is truly a work of art.

Traditionally made from sisal fibers extracted from the leaves of the agave plant, which are then dyed to the desired color, it takes several days for a single basket to be woven (typically by a woman) to completion, depending on the size. Some are large enough to hold a grown man, others small enough to hang on a Christmas tree.

Wide and flat or tall and cone-lidded, these baskets are the definition of precision. The patterns range from basic zigzag to spiral to blossoms sprouting from the base. Even in handicraft centers where their only purpose is to be peddled to tourists, you can see the expert work and immense time and dedication given to each item.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Lift with Your…Neck?

It seems common in a large number of cultures throughout the world to carry things on your head (and ‘things’ in this case is incredibly diverse). As an American, I can honestly say this had never occurred to me as being the most efficient way to bear a load. Sure, as a young child I may have tried to walk across a room with a book balanced on my head, but that’s as far as it went. It certainly didn’t include baskets of fruit, bags of rice, or my mattress.

 But, during our travels, I have seen a great number of objects being carried atop a head. The list includes bags, bushels of plants, plastic tubs full of any number of things, a garden ho, a shovel, the aforementioned mattress (shared between two heads really), as well as a number of backpacks and purses whose straps dangled uselessly.

 Maybe it’s a good way to keep your hands free for waving, shaking, high-fiving, and talking on your phone. I just don’t think I would have the neck strength to carry these things, let alone walk while keeping them balanced.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Ice Cream. Coffee. Dreams.

Rwanda is not a country for ice cream lovers, despite what I would consider (at least in our two months here) weather to warrant some frozen treats. However, for the determined, there is one ice cream shop in the whole of the country. Nearly three hours from the capital of Kigali sits the university town of Butare, home to Inzozi Nziza ice cream shop. Yes, we did travel this far for some ice cream, and you can bet we got a large.

Inzozi Nziza, or Sweet Dreams in Kinyarwanda, is a unique venture. Brain child of a local woman, the shop was backed and opened by Blue Marble Dreams, the non-profit arm of Brooklyn’s Blue Marble Ice Cream. Not only did they have to import a soft serve machine, but there is only one person in the country who can fix it.

Vanilla and chocolate soft serve, topped with nuts, fresh fruit, granola, sprinkles, or raw honey (my personal favorite), the ice cream was as delicious as you would expect.

In addition to selling soft serve, the restaurant serves omelets, sandwiches, pastries, cakes, and fruit juices. It also provides the community the valuable service of training local women to become entrepreneurs, an important skill in a developing country. 

A bit of a trek for ice cream (admittedly, we were seeing a couple of other things as well, we’re not crazy people), but a worthy, delicious project. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


I have a weakness for adorable baby animals. (I mean, really, who doesn’t?) Kittens, in particular, are my kryptonite. They turn me into a cooing, fawning mess. It’s a little pathetic. So, when we rolled into Kigali and were confronted with a litter of kittens in a far-less-than-ideal situation, I knew I was in trouble. And, hence, we ended up with foster kittens abroad, for the second time.

If you’ve ever tried to pet three kittens at once, you know that it is not easy. Our first month in Rwanda was a tumult of fur, purring, and litterbox changing. But, things have slowed down now.

Of the litter of three, we have found happy, loving homes for the two males. Apparently, when you put up an ad for kittens, the males (who you originally didn’t want to part with) will be scooped up within 24 hours, leaving behind one ridiculous female kitten.

For better or worse (temporarily speaking), Lila is my little AfriCat. We spend a great deal of time together, which has made her incredibly attached to me. I think she is just about the most adorable critter ever. She alternates wildly between ball of cuddling, purring love and crazy mini-lion, climbing, chewing on, or trying to maul everything in sight. And some things that aren't in sight at all. And I love it.

* Credit for the word AfriCat goes entirely to Win. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Meaty Morsels

A rose by any other name, etc. etc. Well, the same can be said for meat on a stick. Living in foreign cultures, I have come to truly appreciate meat on a stick as quick, easy, tasty, and typically cheap. Call it a shish kabob, call it a brochette, hell, call it Ralph. It doesn’t matter because it is still delicious.

I have had many varieties of meat on a stick: chicken, pork, beef, fish, hotdog (not sure which category that falls in), elk, ostrich, venison, crocodile. And, thanks to Rwanda, I can now add goat to that ever-growing list.(Seriously, for a former vegetarian of a decade it's a pretty long list.)

As in many developing countries, meat quality here is a complete gamble. Sometimes it’s incredible, other times it is like meat-flavored chewing gum, all fat and tendons, a struggle to choke down. But, with the right spices and sauces, when the quality isn’t horrible, goat’s not half bad. In fact, I have had some that was downright scrumptious. Whoda thunk it?