Thursday, November 25, 2010

Rwanda and Uganda


In 1994, I had just left high school and had started studying a Marketing Management diploma. Life seemed set and predictable. Some 7000km's due north in the literal heart of Africa, a small country called Rwanda was about to descend into a literal hell on earth.

For 100 days, men became beasts, took up machetes and whatever else they could find and began hacking up friends and family alike. Over one million people were killed in the bloodbath while the rest of the world looked on aimlessly. Loved ones turned on each other and in the days of terror, people were mindlessly killed at a rate faster than that displayed at Auschwitz! Rwanda is an extremely confronting country but that is not what we remember it for...

The people of this scarred land, are for the most part quite reserved and don't seem to display too much emotion. But, give them a smile and you will see a beaming smile being thrown right back at you. This is what we remember this country for, the wonderful smiles that seem to light up the faces of young and old. It was the first time we wished we had open faced helmets, so that the locals were able to see our entire faces and not just our eyes! They are also quite an inquisitive bunch and absolutely love loud motorbikes. We have some videos and photos of crowds gathering around us when we fire Yele up, they go
absolutely mental when they hear the sound of the throaty thumper, smashing stuff!

Rwanda is known as the land of a thousand hills. In between riding through these beautiful hills, we took a detour into the jungle to go and see the mountain gorillas. While a super expensive excursion (thanks Shari for organising the logistics of an international money transfer), it is a once in a lifetime experience and just magical. Sitting with a giant silverback, who resembles more an armoured vehicle than a gorilla, watching over his crew, is quite overwhelming. Equally amusing was our guide's ability to talk gorilla, seriously! I will try and upload this video we have of him, really funny! When he initially told us that he might have to do this from time to time I was like, "yeah here we go". Then we had our first encounter with these juvenile gorillas and he started going "mmmeeeeeemmmmm, mmmmeeeeeeemmmmmm", in a throaty type sound, they stopped and relaxed on cue. Sensational work by him we thought....

This tiny country also has hands down the best riding that we have come across in the whole of Africa. The sealed roads wind through lush terraced farmlands and the corners are endless. When you decide to go off road, again the riding is epic. Karla had to leave Rwanda early as she had to get to Kampala, Uganda for work commitments so I rode from the bottom of the country all the way to the top off road. Each day was hour after hour of standing up on the pegs, watching the gorgeous scenery glide by and letting the bike find her own lines through the ruts and the sand. Brilliant!

Another interesting point of discussion is the people in the orange and pink jumpsuits that we came across several times. Sometimes you might see them working on road works or rebuilding schools or similar. It turns out that orange uniforms are for prisoners who have been through the court system and are serving their sentences and pink uniforms are for those people whose cases are still before the courts. They are all genocidaires. A Gacaca law system was implemented some years after the genocide to speed up putting all of the responsible people through a judiciary system. This is because of the sheer number of people who were involved in commiting these atrocities, they say that it would have taken 110 years to put all of the people incarcerated through a judiciary system! For us, it was quite sickening to see these people walking in the streets, albeit with a guard close by with a machine gun. They would wave to us and whistle at our bike, in normal circumstances we love this and play along and rev the bike, here however, we couldn't look at these people as they were people who had in all likelihood butchered one and perhaps even several people! But the Rwandans favour this system and like to see people responsible brought to account quickly and directly in front of the victims families. Not really sure but what else can you do in a decromatic society? Everyone deserves a fair trial right? Even those who hack people to death with machetes...

I left Rwanda some weeks later and headed towards Kampala to go and catch up with Karla where she was nursing with Hospice Africa Uganda. Upon my arrival, the director of the Hospice, invited us for dinner and asked if I would help out in their IT department for a while. To be honest, I didn't mind and I spent a few weeks helping them out and it was a nice change to hang out in one place, eat cereal for breakfast and have a local coffee shop and bar to frequent way too often. Hospice is quite a remarkable place and they are seen as pioneers of the Hospice movement throughout Africa. Karla loved working with the Ugandan people, offering assistance to those with cancer and HIV and their families. She was able to spend time in the clinic at Hospice, in the local government hospital, but she particularly liked visiting the patients in their own homes. People were so open, warm and friendly and so grateful for the basic nursing care, support and pain relief that Hospice could provide. Enduring their illness without all the creature comforts and expectations, but so often with unparalleled faith and family love. It was inspiring and a privilege for Karla to do what she loves on this side of the world also. We made some great friends and got to see a localised view of Kampala which was great. It was a chaotic, vibrant city full of mud, rubbish and a million matatus that somehow worked very efficiently...helped in part by the crazy boda bodas that could take you from A to B in a matter of minutes. It was also full of matoke, the old green banana, that we grew to love... and our stomachs grew to accomodate.

We also did some white water rafting which was legendary! Karla and I had done some earlier on in Zimbabwe and decided that we would love to do it again so we took a crew of volunteers from Hospice and went down and made a weekend of it. We felt that the volume of water was heavier up here on the Nile, indeed there were some terrifying rapids that had us crapping ourselves silly! I am a sucker for pain so I went back down there the following week and did a three day course in white water kayaking which was a dam site harder than I thought it would be but I enjoyed it immensely.

In amongst all of the fun and activities you will be aware that our passports were misplaced. On the upside of this, whilst we waited, Karla was able was to complete a Course for Health Professionals in Palliative Care with Hospice and I went up to Murchison Falls National Park and did some camping. Uganda is the only place in Africa where you are allowed to take motorbikes into national parks, it was freaky riding around between buffaloes, elephants and giraffes knowing that somewhere close by lions were sitting in waiting. I made doubly sure that I didn't stall the bike and when I came to any muddy sections I made quite sure that I was on the gas and blasting straight through it. If I fell there, I'd certainly be picking the bike up fast!

Anyway, the lesson learnt with the passport fiasco is to always use DHL, never use any other courier company. Making things even more frustrating during this time was the fact that Australia has no representation in Uganda so there was lots of midnight phone calls to the other side of the world. We decided that it would be best for me to use my other passport and then head to Nairobi, Kenya (the next nearest embassy) and try and get some emergency documentation for Karla as she was essentially stuck! So I geared up, said goodbye to my wife and jumped on board Yele heading East to Kenya.

But that's for next time...

Love as always

P and K xxx

Lake Bunyoni, Uganda, I stayed in that little house en route to seeing Karla in Kampala

The lovely twisties of Rwanda

The eternal patchwork terraces of Rwanda

I'd prefer to be on my bike going up here

Lake Kivu Rwanda, the view from my room

Mountain gorilla, Rwanda

A colourful lizard, Rwanda

Our boda boda driver, Kampala, Uganda. These guys can whizz you around the city in a flash, carving through all of the gridlocked cars. We preferred to use our helmets as people are killed on these every day!

Spiced grasshoppers, a specialty at this time of the year in Uganda, they taste great!

Boda boda drivers taking a rest, Kampala, Uganda

Karla with a Ugandan family

Bottles of medicine, Kampala Uganda. The green one is morphine.

A local volunteer at the community outreach clinic, Kampala, Uganda

The pharmacy at the local outreach centre

Community outreach centre

Our guide for our excursion to the gorillas, Rwanda "MMMmeeemmmmmmmm"

Paul with the crowds gathering to see and hear the bike, Rwanda

Local village boys, Rwanda

The cows here have these abnormally large horns, check this guy out!

Matatus in the old taxi park, Kampala, Uganda

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