Sunday, April 15, 2007

The boring bits

Just in case you think I'm always dashing off on exciting adventures, I should report that yesterday morning (Saturday!) I spent a solid three hours in the office filing papers, while my local colleagues took a much-needed computer class in the room next door. When I first began here a year ago I inherited a cupboard jammed full with a mess of papers, the result of a hasty evacution in mid-2004, followed by two years of management by people who didn't pay much attention to minor administrative details such as filing documents. I've been gradually sorting through all these papers (truly, an enormous pile!) piece by piece during the past year. Yesterday I finally sorted, trashed, and filed the last remaining pile. A whole new section of desk has now opened up. Being in the sorting mood, I then went home and spent an hour or so sorting out papers there! My one adventure this weekend: driving to the office this morning (Sunday) the roads were quite deserted so I took the opportunity to speed up the rocky, gouged track in third gear, bouncing from side to side all the way. And some people have to go to special tracks and rent all-terrain tricycles to have that much fun!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Blogging en Afrique!

When I have the time, I really enjoy reading blogs by other people working in Africa. I've added a few of them to my Links list (right hand side of the screen). A terrifically well written and amusing article on mobile phones in this part of the world can be found at Reality Check. The author, Barry, is a colleague who does consulting work for War Child Canada. On the Kivu Express, written by my friend Pierre who just arrived here from Montreal a couple of weeks ago, you'll find an interesting and informative description of Bukavu - there are more photos, too! Two of my favourite blogs are Breaking Hearts in the Heart of Darkness and Conrad's Ex-Girlfriend, both written by a young American woman who manages to be very funny when writing about all the craziness that goes on out here. Happy reading!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Easter Weekend

Finally I made it across the lake by boat to Goma! I've been wanting to make this trip for a while, and it was worth the wait. We had perfect weather both on the trip out on Saturday and for the return on Monday morning. Below are a few of the photos that I took along the way.

Just a reminder - Bukavu and Goma sit on opposite ends of Lake Kivu, the sixth largest lake in Africa. The lake also forms the border between large sections of Rwanda and the DR Congo. The scenery all along the lake is spectacular: islands, traditional life-styles, fishing boats, hills and mountains...

We travelled by modern, speedy, 20-seater motor boat. It was a three-hour trip each way. Others on the lake travel at a slower pace. When I saw this large boat full of passengers I couldn't figure out the means of propulsion. I assume the occupants are from the island of Ijwi - a large island that sits in the middle of the lake, closer to Bukavu than Goma.

Here we are, speeding towards Goma, with the Nyirangogo volcano in the background. The volcano erupted in early 2002 causing a humanitarian emergency in Goma, which had already seen far more than it's share of refugees following the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda.

The streets of Goma are still filled with scattered lava rocks which flowed through the town, burning buildings, down to the lake. The place is a mess! While there is plenty of cash circulating around town, thanks to all the mining activities - with some fabulous houses as evidence - no taxes are paid and no money goes into public services. The hospital is one I'd definitely rather not end up in; there is little infrastructure; intermittent electricity; no street lights, and sticky water pumped up from the lake. Even so, in places I was reminded strongly of the Kona side of the Big Island of Hawaii thanks to all the bouganvillea, lava rock walls, cinder tracks between houses in the back lanes, and the hot sun.

On the way back we saw plenty more fishing boats, like this pirogue near Bukavu:

And here we are approaching Bukavu once again - the calm waters protected by the surrounding islands, unlike Goma where the lake is almost like the sea.

While I've been uploading these photos I was also checking the web for more information about the volcano. It appears that I'm not the only one who isn't sure about the spelling: I found items under both "Nyirangogo" and "Nyiragongo". Wikipedia has interesting details for anyone who's interested in more information.

Dowry in Rwanda
I didn't get time to post earlier, but towards the end of March I went up to Kigali by car (a five hour drive each way) to attend the dowry ceremony of two friends in Rwanda. We were, again, blessed with gorgeous weather, and I thoroughly enjoyed the drive each way through the green hills and the Nyungwe forest - thankfully in an office vehicle as we were also picking up visitors from our HQ. Dowry in Rwanda is paid by the man to his prospective bride's family. Many women see it as an indication of their value to society and have no interest in changing this element of their culture. Traditionally the dowry is paid in cows, though nowadays for people living in the city cash is more useful. When a cow is given, the first calf born would traditionally be given back to the young married couple. I attended a dowry ceremony a while back where a young cow was indeed presented at the ceremony.

The ceremony usually lasts several hours and takes place at the home of the woman's family. Each side is represented by older male relatives. The young man arrives, accompanied by a supportive group of friends and relatives. The older men do the negotiating. It's somewhat like a set theatre piece, where everyone knows the outcome, but they still go through their roles. Generally the man's side requests the woman's hand in marriage; the first reply is why this one? Maybe you've made a mistake? She has sisters who are still unmarried...after an appropriate response, the next problem is that she isn't available, she's gone off to Paris to visit an uncle, to Brussels for studies, or something similar. After further discussions, some other member of the woman's family may say something complimentary about the young man to show that he's acceptable; others may object; in the end another person will say they've just had news that the woman has arrived at the airport...(she's waiting in the house all the while). Once they've finally agreed to accept the young man, the male representatives will go off "to inspect the cows" (usually a quick walk around the block!); and finally the young woman appears, accompanied by female family members and traditional dancers.

A final word before I dash out the door for dinner with friends: thank you to Elisa, and everyone else who posts comments! It's great to hear from people, and your comments really encourage me to post more often! Ciao for now!