Wednesday, February 15, 2018
Today we packed up and drove to the Guerilla Guardian Village to spend the day and night.
The drive took about an hour as we drove up and down the hills of Rwanda watching people walk to their destination. There were lots of women dressed in traditional and colorful dresses. Some held their belongings in their arms, while others carried their effects on their heads. I marveled at the ability to balance light to heavy objects on the head without stumbling and dropping their goods. Then there are the mums with their little ones on their backs.
While here I watched a young mum put her baby on her back. The baby knew to hang on tight as their mum wrapped the cloth around her baby and tied the cloth in front. No need for expensive western store-bought baby harnesses. That’s the impractical, costly , and extravagant mom’s method. These mums are thrifty. They are expert mums who know just how to carry their sweet little cargo comfortably for both them and the child.
If it’s too sunny, dusty or raining, the mums cover the wee ones with an additional cloth sheltering their babies from the elements. Other mums have older children who tag along by their side. The disciplined children seem to intuit the dangers walking along the roadside. Not once have I seen a child step out into the road. Their mums have nurtured and taught them well. Safety is foremost. The entire parade seems choreographed with precision and ease.
Coming from a lazy comfort filled America, it’s a marvel to watch. If only I were that fit and savvy. However, I know I wouldn’t last a week on that trek. I’d lose my concentration as I daydreamed and get hit by the cars that are speeding up and down the hills as they pass each slower vehicle even in what should be a double lined, no passing zone. Even the drivers can talk, chew gum, watch out for others on the road while they drive fast and furious through the hills. As I sit securely belted to my passenger seat, I hold my now empty plastic water bottle. A loud crunch sound indicates my reactions to what I am experiencing. However, my driver, Edwin is not at all distracted or rattled by my noises.
There were lots of people walking the hills to and from home as well as to and from the small towns. During the week, early in the morning and mid-afternoon, you watch all the uniformed school children going to school and then walking home. They look beautiful in their crisp uniforms. Many eagerly wave as we pass by. I love waving to them because the reception is a huge smile with twinkling eyes and a gingerly wave. Most white people seen here are tourists hurrying to get to their destination and too preoccupied to watch the beautiful parade of humans walking along the side of every road. The children especially fill my heart up. They’re so full of life and childhood curiosity. However, again, they watch their peas and cues on the road. No dangerous play is done.
Also traveling the hills are young men who are bringing their family’s produce to market in large white bleached corn husk weaved bags. The bags look extremely sturdy. They have to be. Their cargo is bulky and heavy.
The bicyclists carry the bags bungied or tied to their bicycles. While going uphill, they must get off their bikes and push them up the hill. Sometimes the load is too heavy for one male. It’s not uncommon to see two males pushing the same load. I watch them strain effortlessly. They’ve done this so many times, which their bodies are tight and fit as they exert enough strength without over-exertion. I can’t imagine trying this feat on my own. I’d move two steps and drop to the ground.
Rwandans and Ugandans are a hardy bunch. They never take life for granted but treat each day as a gift and cherish each moment of it. Unlike Americans, they’re not contemplating what goodies they can buy next. Every possession they have is respected and well cared for.
As we proceeded and I observed I realized the footwear of the people walking is not expensive or made for trekking. No expensive hiking boots or smart “Just Do It” Nike shoes made for walking. Instead, their shoes are humble, everyday cloth shoes or leather sandals. Their footwear is practical yet modest. Every aspect of life here is well thought out with thrift always at the center of everything they do. I think of my closet at home, loaded to the hilt with my many pairs of Bucketfeet, sandals, flip-flops, a few higher healed wedge shoes and now expensive walking shoes as well as my newest addition of expensive hiking boots. Many of my shoes are worn only occasionally. My home, America, is a wasteful country, and I am a classic product of that waste.
As we finally drive a flat, straight road, we enter the city that sits at the bottom of the hills where guerillas live, and cattle graze. The city bustles with people who are always walking. Frequently I see a man or young boy who is leading, from behind, his family cows, goats or sheep in an organized, straight line through the streets on their way back home. The animals and overseer gracefully flow through the traffic with ease. Even the animals are trained dancers of the streets.
Now we begin to see the motorbike crowd. As in the city of Kigali, here they are just as crazy weaving in and out of traffic, eager to get to their destination to drop off their passenger, and, if that young man uses his bike as a taxi, he’s eager to pick up another paying passenger. To the untrained eye, the streets seem to be mass chaotic. However, soon this Western, no-nothing person realizes that I’m watching a choreographed chaotic procession. There’s a waltz going on through the streets of the cities, large towns as well as small towns to include up and down all the hills. Music could easily be added to the waltz as no one would miss a step.
Soon we arrive at our destination as Edwin parks his SUV and we collect our smaller odds and ends, get out and begin to walk. Edwin instructs me to leave all my big stuff in the vehicle. The village men will come to fetch them to place them in our perspective single unit huts.
The village is where the once poachers now earn a good and legal living reenacting their ancestral culture and trades. As a visitor walks through the entrance of the village that person is greeted with traditional clothed males as they dance, call out and sing just as they did when friendly neighbors arrived in villages where a celebration was about to proceed. In the group, there are stand out personalities who dominate the experience. Front and center is an older Twa man, traditionally short in stature, Kaziboneye, who leads the dance. The younger, taller males pay deference to him. He is, after all, an elder who knows the traditions.
Kaziboneye’s age lends authenticity to his song, dance, and antics. He heard the passed down stories from his grandfather, father, uncles as well as from his grandmum, mum, and aunts. The dance, song, and antics are full of energy and passion. After all, they are descendants of a culture rich in a passion for life.
If one of the guests, through eye contact or lips turning up in the curve of a smile, Kaziboneye immediately recognizes the viewer's pleasure as he puts more of his personality into his dance, calls, and gestures. This tiny man with so much energy and the ability to jump high, confirms to this observer that Kaziboneye absolutely loves his life as a gorilla guardian.
The Twa are the indigenous forest dwellers of Rwanda; the people of small stature called Pigmies. They lived in absolute harmony with the nature that surrounded them. They killed only what they needed to exist and thrive. They killed with honor and respectful dignity for those who give their lives so the Twa may live. The Twa loved the forest with its canopy and open meadows where the sun would shine, and the stars would greet them in the night. For centuries, the Twa lived as one with the forest, animals, insects sky and earth. They lived in harmony with their entire environment. The Twa lived not as the owners but as participants in this beautiful dance with nature. However, because they were forest dwellers and didn’t own a thing, they became the underdog people as they were pushed from their forest homes by Tutsi who needed land for their cows and the Hutu who needed land to sow their seeds for their farms. In modern times, before and after the Genocide the Twa saw a need to begin taking rather than coexisting. Pushed from their ancestral forests, they still needed to feed themselves and their families. So, when approached by someone who had an order for a baby guerilla, they rationalized that for several dollars they could work less for more. They soon got caught up in the horrendous modern thievery business of poaching. This “criminal” act is how Edwin and the Forest people turned poachers collided with one another.
Edwin was a trained park ranger. His charge was to protect the gorillas, so they could continue to exist and thrive. The gorillas were part of a larger National Government conservation project that seeks to preserve the forest and the animals for the profitable end of tourism. It was Edwin who volunteered to pose as the person who wanted to purchase this infant for adoption to another person. The poachers were caught and were headed for prison when Edwin with his big heart and even bigger conscience decided there was more to this story than met the human eye. So, he began to explore what that something more was.
One day, Edwin hopped into his car and drove to the village where the poachers lived. He wanted to know why the poachers poached. When Edwin arrived at the village, he sat down with a short village elder named Kaziboneye. Edwin asked, “Why do you poach?” Kaziboneye didn’t seem to understand the term poaching. He was old and long used to living in the wild with the wild. If he killed an elephant, it wasn’t for profit. Profit was a selfish, lazy, modern phenomenon. It was not the Twa way. The Twa loved the forest and considered themselves a respectful part of that forest. However, the actual act of kidnapping the young gorilla was indeed poaching. Regardless of the reason, the modern world and especially the “law” recognizes that act as nothing less than a crime. Edwin found himself stuck in the middle. Caught between a beautiful long coexistent culture and a greedy modern-day culture that encourages crime, Edwin felt the terrible plight yet dilemma of these simple people. As Kaziboney gestured to the children playing close by, he asked Edwin, if he had the same enormous responsibility to do what needed to be done to ensure a healthy, wellbeing future for his children, what would he do?
Edwin left the village knowing he needed to decide who he would help? Would he take the easy route of acting ranger and allow these young “poachers” to be taken away from their families and people to serve prison time for what they did? Or, would he do something different, something that would come from what he considered his profound yet learned empathy.
From the beginning of Edwin’s life, he intimately knew hardship. He knew the hard choices. He knew the pain of living in a greedy world whose people never stopped to examine their intent, but only saw the pot of gold at the end of every rainbow they conjured up. It was time to prove that he was his mother’s child and his father’s son. It was time to stand as a man, and the choice he would make would define him for the rest of his life.
Edwin was indeed the son of Jolly, and Titien Mpama, for Edwin chose the more difficult yet honorable choice of helping these people to learn how to earn their living via legal means. Thus, Edwin became a hero to the gorillas as he saved and had returned to his mountain family the tiny baby gorilla with the big dark brown eyes who stared at him from the bottom of the bleached, maze woven white sack. He rescued this little being from a life of pain, loneliness, and misery as the intended destination was to become a toy for some wealthy individual with selfish desires. He returned the gorilla to the loving, nurturing life with his mum, dad, and clan. Also, Edwin became the hero to the Twa.
Edwin felt the compassion and empathy for this simple, yet displaced people. So he emptied his modest savings account and gave the riches from it to the poachers and their village. Edwin purchased seeds for planting so the Twa could learn the art of agriculture.
Also, Edwin, utilizing his law degree skills, managed to convince the law to let the two poachers go as he promised they would never commit a crime again. He personally accepted responsibility for these men. Edwin subsequentially left the country as he headed back to school.
Edwin was in the midst of earning his Masters Degree. So he confidently left the Twa village and headed to the United Kingdom where he attended the University of Kent in Canterbury. Edwin knew in his heart that making the commitment to taking responsibility for the two designated criminal poachers was a risk without disappointment. He knew intuitively that he had reached the understanding of the Twa. They would never poach again. They wouldn’t need to. Instead, they would learn what they needed to in order to provide their families with a healthy, but, more importantly, legal means of producing a living.
When Edwin returned to Rwanda, he immediately visited the Twa and their village. His heart was filled with joy. A miracle had happened during his six-month absence. Not only was the village able to feed themselves, but they were harvesting enough crops to sell on the market. He left a tragedy and returned to a bounty of vegetables, fruit and a rich, self-sufficient people.
Edwin’s studies concentrated on Tourism and Conservation but leaned more toward the conservation end. After all, he had real-life experience. It made sense that he would evolve toward conservation for not only the animals but the people of his country he loves with all his heart. It was that decision that inspired Edwin to establish the Gorilla Guardian Village and his Eco-Tours company that specializes in offering the tourism industry that once-in-a-lifetime experience of trekking up through the hills to be with the mountain gorillas.
Edwin’s village brings in not only individual people looking for something more to take home with them, but the village attracts large groups of people who come to experience history. Those looking for a deeper experience pay to stay in the village in one of the beautifully charming grass-roofed huts with their tribal markings. Inside is a warm and inviting environment.
The evening air in the area of the gorillas and the Gorilla Guardian Village is crisp and quite cool at night.
While outdoors, when you look up at the night sky, you are absolutely dazzled by all the bright stars and planets. As Carl Sagan would say, “Billions and billions.” Those of us who live in the “modern” world where artificial lighting dominates the night never realize what we are missing when we look up at the night sky. If we see the moon and a few stars, we think we are seeing something spectacular. However, that’s not true. When in an area where human-made lighting is at a minimum or even non-existent when you look up, you realize the intensity of standing on Mother Earth with your feet planted to the ground by gravity. You are no longer looking at stars. You are looking at the universe with its billions and billions of stars, planets, and constellations. During that moment you realize what Carl Sagan meant when he said, “See that tiny blue dot off in the distance? That’s Earth, the only home we have.”
Yes, as I stood securely planted on the earth and looked up at the depth and endless universe, I felt small and insignificant. This is indeed our home. It’s the only home we have, yet, most of us don’t appreciate it as much as we should. Most of us take our tiny blue dot for granted. That is the err of the human way, an err that is costing us and so many other “fellow” inhabitants problems. That err could, in the end, create the Sixth Massive Extinction of species including our own clumsy, arrogant, selfish, greedy species.
My first night staying at the village was an incredible treat. My afternoon began with the dancing and singing. Then I was taken around to meet the people. Edwin took me to a small three sided-structure, where the village history was posted. After reading the back and right-side wall, I walked over to the left side wall and began reading. Edwin interrupted by asking me if I recognized the writing. I read more closely. It was a paragraph I rewrote from Edwin’s notes; and, it was poetic indeed.
When I go back and read things I’ve written, I am amazed, and my breath is momentarily taken away. I so never take myself or my abilities for granted. Instead, I bask in the realization of my constant growth and discovery of new talents hidden inside of me waiting for the right moment to show themselves to me and the world. We all have hidden talents waiting to be released. We simply have to open ourselves to everything we encounter and walk through every door which opens for us. We do because on the other side of that door could be a new world just waiting for us to discover.
In a phone conversation I had with my husband, Bob, the other night he expressed his joy that I am here and on this portion of my journey. He said, you know, Maribeth, most people your age (70), would pass on an opportunity like this. Instead, they’d want to simply kick back and relax the rest of their lives; but, not you. You embrace every opportunity with gusto. I’m paraphrasing a bit, but this is the gist of what he said to me.
If we don’t embrace every opportunity, we will never know the riches that wait for us on the other side of that door. As long as I live I will never pass up an opportunity. I love the lessons I learn from being willing to take that risk, because I know, ninety-nine times out of ten, the risk is well worth it. Good, bad, or indifferent, I learn a valuable lesson. Sometimes that lesson isn’t realized immediately, but once it is, I realize how precious that lesson is to my entire life.
Next, I visited with a man named Barora Leonidas. He’s the man Edwin refers to as the elephant man. It was short, wrinkled and elderly Barora whom Edwin asked the question that changed Edwin’s life forever and brought him to this present place in his history. Barora was the elder Edwin asked why do you poach?
Barora taught me how to shoot an arrow using a hand-made bow and arrow. It took me four tries, but with Brora’s help, I hit my target on my fifth try. Barora was thrilled as he congratulated me. We formed a special bond in a matter of a few minutes and it was all around a culture that I have only now experienced, a culture that belongs to all of us so many millenniums ago.
Later, I sat with the women who weave baskets, trays, and trivets. they sell these artful pieces for a small profit. For people like myself who understand the cost of art feel the cost is a small amount paid for the pleasure of owning a beautiful piece of art. These objects are things of beauty. They make lovely gifts for friends, relatives and for you to take home as an artful reminder of your amazing journey through heaven. As you treat yourself to a piece of old-world art, you are also supporting these women who bring you that old-world art to enjoy and marvel at the skill that goes into making one.
I noticed a woman who loves the color purple. Ingabire Olivewore (I learned her name later) wore a purple hair wrap as she was weaving a purple trivet. I thought of my sister Gail, who also loves all things purple. Thus, I was drawn to this beautiful Ingabire with her contagious smile. I told her that my sister is her sister. We connected in a special way as she invited me to sit on a small hand-made wooden stool. There she instructed me how to continue the weaving of this trivet. I purchased the trivet for Gail with love made by her Rwandan sister, Ingabire, and her biological sister (me) as well.
Later in the afternoon, we were treated to a traditional dinner. As we ate, we were serenaded by Kabatsi Felicien who played a hand-made string instrument and sang his stories. I was struck by the sound of Kabatsi’s voice and the emotion I garnered from his words. For me, it was like listening to the poet-storyteller who first inspired me to change. That man was Bob Dylan. Now I was being inspired to change again but in a far more profound way. My African Bob Dylan I now know as Kabatsi. With his graveled voice Kabatsi sang for at least an hour.
Soon we moved from the dining hut to an adjacent hut where a large group of the people gathered as they sang and danced. The hut was dark with the only light coming from the fire lit in the floor pit. It was mesmerizing. Several times, I was inspired to stand and dance with them. We all bonded even more. I was home in the origins of my ancient ancestors where we were one and the same. Magic filled the room as we danced and they sang and on a center stool told their individual stories. My day and evening was a marvel and I felt my being grow even wiser than before my visit. However, the night had more to offer.
It was time to turn in. As I walked into my small hut I saw my bags at the back of the hut. I changed, then turned down the bed and climbed in. It was chilly as the cold sheets met my skin. To my surprise, my body discovered three full hot-water bottles. I grabbed one and held it to my side as I did the second bottle to my other side. My cold toes felt the warmth of the third hot-water bottle. I was in my favorite element. I was now toasty warm as I fell asleep and dreamed of long-lost ancestors and the animals who lived around them. I slept like a baby and woke only to the light of day.
I dressed and walked outside where Edwin and his business associate, Bob Geldoff, who came to stay the night as well were already up and dressed. It was a beautiful day as Edwin pointed to the peak of one of the massive volcano mountains surrounding the area. A table had been carried to the outdoors where we now stood. We were served breakfast as we talked.
My diet while in Rwanda and Uganda has been a mostly vegan one. We dine on eggs from the locals who keep hens while all the roosters run around and call out their familiar calls. The porridge is a natural grain also grown locally. The tiny bananas from the thousands of banana fields the local's plant are sweet and the sugar is all-natural brown sugar or you can also use locally harvested honey. The drink of the morning is not coffee. Instead, it's African black tea with fresh whole cow milk added to it. I've fallen in love with this tea. One night at a local restaurant, when I requested tea, the server asked if I wanted English or African tea. I answered, "African, of course. I also want the milk mixed in." The server smiled an approving smile. Most American or European whites would have asked for English tea.
The lunches and evening meals are mostly vegetable and bean based. One of the staples is plantain, a member of the banana family. The texture is like a potato. It's wonderful, especially with brownish beans with their natural juice ladled on as a type of gravy. Locally grown potatoes are also often served. Greens mixed with a little tomato as well as sweet plantains sauteed in a brown sugar base reminds me of the Cuban sweet plantains I fell in love with when I used to travel to the Miami area. Pineapple and other fruits are also locally grown and served. No one uses salt here. It's offered, however, you won't see a person madly shaking salt over his or her food. If there are spices added, they are all natural, locally grown spices. The food is wonderful and satisfying. Meat is also eaten here but not as a main course as it is in the States. Where we add vegetables to a meat dish, meat is a side item here. Goat is also eaten. There are lots of goats and sheep raised here. However, meat is not at all dominant. I've been happy eating the vegetables. It's what I've been pushing myself toward, so I've been a happy camper at every meal.
Instead of calling mother, mom, here they call her mum. I love that term because it sounds so much softer and heartfelt.
I just learned why Edwin’s last name is different from his mum and dad. Sabuhoro is the surname of his grandfather. Children traditionally take the name of their grandfather vs. their father.
Zaziboneye, the elephant man is nicknamed that because he is the one Edwin asked why do you poach. As Zaziboneye expressed his confusion between his traditional culture and the term poaching, he used the elephant as his example of how his people lived in harmony with the environment.
I will miss Africa, Rwanda and the Gorilla Guardian Village and all my new family when I leave. Of all the continents, Africa has been the only continent that has called to my heart and soul. As I write this I can hear the melody and words of the Toto song, Africa. If there is a life after death, I hope it is in Africa where I can return to enjoy the people and animals I feel most related to.