Worst Blogger Ever.

I’ve truly been the worst blogger ever. I haven’t posted anything since arriving in Namibia…three weeks ago! This trip has been such a whirlwind that I can’t believe it’s almost over. It’s been one of the best experiences of my life and I promise I’ll share more details on it later.

In my defense, there’s been sparse and slow Internet, class, work, busy schedules, and too many cool things to do! I’ve seen giraffes, seals, lions, cheetahs, rhinos, elephants, (and a few too many reptiles and insects for my liking). We’ve traveled hundreds of miles and stayed in nine different locations.

For those of you wanting to know what’s happened during the last three weeks, jump to the TAMU Study Abroad blog, www.alecabroad.com, for the class blog. I’ll update mine over the next week or so…

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Final thoughts and days: Rwanda

The last two weeks of my time in Rwanda went by extremely fast. I suddenly felt the pressure to do EVERYTHING before I left. It was a busy time, but so much fun. Some of the highlights…

I’ve met several groups of volunteers from different organizations, so I’ve been able to meet with them, hang out, and just have a lot of fun getting to know them.

 

One group was here to work at the orphanage outside of Gisenyi. It was so much fun to play with the little kids and hold the babies, but also heartbreaking to see how many children were there. The conditions were decent and there’s a steady stream of volunteers and Rwandan “mamas” there everyday. The mamas are local women who volunteer there everyday, many are older women with no children at home anymore. We also visited one in the hospital. He’s tiny for being eight months old because he has HIV and was not being treated properly. The poor fella is tiny, but adorable when he smiled

 

 

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We visited several of the genocide memorials too. There are three lare ones: Kigali Memorial, Nymate Church and . I didn’t get to visit the third, but being at two of them was incredibly moving. The genocide is unbelievable and heartbreaking. The memorials had clothing, pictures, names, and remains of victims. Seeing those visuals just really made the events hit home. I’m really having trouble putting the emotions of it into words.

I did get to do more fun things to end my trip though! There’s shopping, good restaurants, coffee shops, and I met with several different groups of people that I’ve met while being here. Kigali is crawling with muzungus, some just tourists, many volunteers, a decent expat community too. There’s one bar/restaurant/dance club that all the muzungus flock to (and many Rwandans too) called Papyrus. Had a great time there and ended up staying out until morning! It was a great way to end the trip though!

I feel like I did so much during my six weeks, but at the same time I feel like I’ve just touched the surface. This trip to Rwanda has been truly life changing. I was not expecting to fall in love with Rwanda and by dying to return, but I am.

The people and the culture of Rwanda is spectacular. The landscape is gorgeous. Pictures do not do this country justice. And the history of the country and the progress they have made in the past 20 years is inspiring for development efforts.

This trip changed me. It opened my eyes to a whole different world. I have a better appreciation for the amenities of living in the US, but I have a greater appreciation for the simple things and what is truly important in life and what is frivolous.

I have worked firsthand with NGOs, agribusinesses, institutions, and farmers. I have learned about new opportunities for development work, the impact, and the benefit. It has solidified my choice in career paths and what I want to do with my life.

I met incredible people – locals, volunteers and expats. It was great to see these passionate and intelligent people trying to make a difference in the world.

This trip was something special.

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A few more details

Just thought I’d fill in some of the blanks and answer some of the questions I’ve been asked lately…. Sorry I neglected to explain earlier!

Connectivity: Cell phones are everywhere! I had a Rwandan cell phone too…although acquiring the phone was an adventure in which I confused about six Rwandans, two motos and three stores…but I got it! All phones are on prepaid plans, using phone cards. Internet is also done differently – through individual USB sticks. For me to get my phone, phone cards and USB wifi cost me around $30 for my entire stay here. Love it. In case you’re in Rwanda and want to call me, my new number is 0789218255.

Food: The food is not particularly crazy here. There’s a lot of rice and beans served with everything, cooked vegetables (mainly carrots, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes), and a little protein. That pretty much makes up most of our dinners. I will emphasize that tomatoes, tomato paste, carrots, and potatoes are EVERYWHERE and in every meal!

The fruit here is fabulous. The best, most mouthwatering pineapple, passion fruit, and gigantic avocados.

Music: LOVE the African pop/rap music here. There’s a big competition in Rwanda called Guma Guma Superstar. Twelve artists tour the country together and people text vote for their favorite. The winner will be flown to the US to record an album with a US music star. (I think last year Akon was the US artist.) Popular artists are Knoles, P Squared, Urban Boyz.

And Whitney Houston songs are played on the daily. No questions asked.

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Is this real life?

One year ago today, Aimee and I were on our flight to Europe. We backpacked our way through seven or eight countries for more than five weeks. A year later, I’m at the halfway point of my African summer. Is this really my life?!

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This has been one heck of a year. I graduated college, backpacked through Europe, moved to Texas, started graduate school, and am now in Africa…and that’s just touching the surface of what has happened this year! It’s been stressful, crazy, and amazing. And I wouldn’t change a thing about it. This year has helped me to realize the important things in life and the important people that I am blessed to have supporting me.

During last weekend’s moto adventure to the Catholic church, I had to pinch myself to make sure this was really my life. This country is so beautiful and so wonderful and has such a tragic history. I am so blessed to have the opportunity to be here, learning, studying, and exploring.

I have less than two weeks left in Rwanda and I know that I’ve only scraped the surface of things to do and try and learn about in this country. I honestly wish I wasn’t leaving so soon! It really didn’t even seen like a possibility that this is how I would feel five weeks into my stay. I definitely thought I’d be starting a countdown back to the USA, but not even close!

My parents gave us opportunities to travel throughout our childhood and now I’ve definitely got the travel bug. I enjoy learning, seeing new things, and making new mistakes. I fell into this career path by accident, but I’m certainly glad it happened.

Just my thoughts for the day…now I’m celebrating the Fourth of July in Rwanda. Enjoy it back in the USA 🙂

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Two motos, a priest and a cave

It sounds like the beginning to a lame joke, but the joke was on me because that was my Sunday.

Recently, I met some girls in town that are volunteers at a local orphanage. One of them, Victoria, and I decided to get out of Gisenyi for the day and explore.

Our Rubavu district tourist map said there were caves in Busasamana to explore and a local travel guide agreed. So we set out to find the caves.

After negotiating with the motos, taxis, and minibuses for the best deal, we hopped on the back of two motos and were off! Pretty quickly, our nice paved road disappeared and dirt and rocks took its place.

We drove for about an hour, on an uphill dirt path (my legs were very sore from it!) through local villages that probably hadn’t seen a muzungu in years, if ever. I knew our plan would be slightly derailed when our motos needed us to pull out our map and started asking the locals….oh no.

All of the sudden, a beautiful church appeared…umm that’s not a cave?! Not only that, mass had just finished, so Victoria and I drove into the church lot as more than 100 Rwandans gawked. We were sitting on our motos dying of laughter….unfortunately, so much that I didn’t get a picture of the scene. Before we knew it, the priest was greeting us and inviting us inside for a Fanta. Who can say no to a priest?!

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So off the motos we got and joined Father Victor and altar boy Jean Marie for Fanta inside the church. The nuns made an appearance as well.

We discussed Rwanda, the church, and the mysterious caves we were in search of, but not before they asked me to join the church, stay in Rwanda, and become a nun! Sorry Father, never going to happen!

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The Father passed us along to another man who walked us through some fields and the cave. While he showed us a cave, it was certainly not the ones advertised! I’m pretty brave, but I will not do an army crawl for an hour to get to another village! Yikes.

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Off we went on our motos again. We drove through a different village and everyone kept shouting Katie, Katie and running after me….hmmm, all muzungus with brown hair look alike, right? 🙂

The drive back was beautiful as usual. The hills, fields, clouds, and people of this country still take my breath away and make me so grateful for getting to experience it.

While we didn’t get to explore the caves, we had one hell of a Sunday! 

Motos and Muzungu

I feel like I haven’t blogged in a while! I don’t really have a set routine here, so I can’t exactly keep track of the days…ooops. Honestly, I do spend a good amount of time on my laptop. It’s not because I’m being boring – I have work to do! I’m currently still employed as a Graduate Research/Teaching Assistant at TAMU, so I have assignments/papers to write for that, my thesis that needs to be written, and the SC Johnson case study that helped finance my trip here. I’m keeping busy, but at least I have a nice patio and table to call my office 🙂

Motos are everywhere. Every street corner, popular area etc have at least three waiting. All I have to do is wave a hand or go “ssssssss” and they will all come zooming! Gisenyi is not a huge town, but it’s rocky and hilly, so taking a moto around town is very handy. They cost 300 RWF to get anywhere in town and around 700-1000 to get to the outskirts of town (1USD=645 RWF)…pretty good deal!

The moto drivers are crazy – they weave around cars, drive within inches of pedestrians, and go speeding up and down the rocky hills! But it’s an adventure! Yesterday, we took a moto ride to the outskirts of town to grab a drink (but the real reason was the because it’s a beautiful ride to that bar!). I took a video of part of the drive…notice we had to swerve to avoid hitting the goats in the road :0 (having trouble uploading the video, maybe that will be on facebook)

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Another thing here is the word “muzungu”, which means white person. I hear it everywhere. People stare, call out muzungu, little kids try to speak English, shake hands etc. It’s not meant to be insulting or a slur, just merely an observation. I had a group of kids shout “muzungu goodbye!” at me for an hour straight one day. The guy I was with explained that I was probably the only white person they’d see for a year, so yea, they were excited. They also love having their picture taken…super adorable.

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New experiences every day, it’s definitely keeping me entertained. I can’t believe I’ve been here for more than three weeks!

Beautiful Rwanda

I have been absolutely astounded at how beautiful this country is. I did not have many expectations or did extensive research on what Rwanda is actually like before I came here. So it has been a pleasant surprise! In some ways, it reminds me of Vietnam (for those of you who have traveled there, it may paint a little better picture)…only better and cleaner.

Crops

Rwanda is named the land of 1,000 hills and it is so true. We had a three-hour drive from Kigali to Gisenyi and it was up and down, winding around mountains and hills. Amazingly, we were on a nice paved road for the whole drive! Everywhere we looked there were hills and even volcanoes.

Rwanda has the highest population density of any country in Africa. This means that there are people everywhere and the agriculture is everywhere. The hills and high population pose a unique challenge for agriculture and not a foot of ground goes unused. There are goats and sheep ties on the sides of every road eating grass and crops growing everywhere. This makes for some pretty interesting drives!

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For our coffee mill visit, we had an hour drive through some fairly remote areas. No paved roads, which were very narrow, and lots of small houses dotted the area. But it was breathtaking. We were going up and down the mountainside with Lake Kivu right next to us. The lake is very clear and well kept too. Rwanda has two heavy rainy seasons every year, so there are many springs and small waterfalls along the way.

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Can’t wait to explore more of the country! (Bonus points to whomever knows what crop is growing in the first picture…)

Lake Kivu

Snapshot of Europe

I’m completed embarrassed that it has taken me almost a full year to post pictures and stories about my trip to Europe! I’m very busy and in heavy procrastination mode, so naturally this is the time I chose to write about Europe!

July 2012, Aimee and I headed to Europe for five weeks of backpacking. With having done barely any research and made very few plans this trip was bound to be an adventure! Here’s what our route looked like: Ireland -> England -> Czech Republic -> Germany -> France -> Belgium -> The Netherlands -> USA.

This trip feels like it was ages ago and I don’t want to bore with too many details, so here are some of the points that I remember the most:

1. Aimee cannot understand anyone that speaks with an accent (meaning I was in charge of asking for directions and help).

2. Nutella is the best food ever and goes well with everything.

3. Paris subways stop running at 1am and it’s extremely easy to get lost underground. The police will promptly yell at you to leave when wandering around trying to get out.

4. Everything in Ireland is cheap and amazing! Watch out for biting ponies though.

5. On Wizz! Airlines, people will literally race to the plane from the gate…run fast or they will take all the good seats!

6. Speculoos. Greatest thing ever. Especially in ice cream.

7. Drinking and eating fries with fun toppings in Brussels city center is the best way to end a trip.

8. Being in Amsterdam during Gay Pride weekend makes the people watching exponentially greater.

9. Every city has some huge tower, monument, or church that is famous and you must climb. Kept us in great shape.

10. “Friends” is watched and understood in every country. Quoting Friends is a universal language.

11. Trains are great…except when a four hour ride turns into eight and you can’t understand what’s happening because the announcements are in German.

12. Sleeping in airports is totally acceptable. Just find a nice corner and use your bags as pillows.

Overall, this was an amazing trip and I’m so blessed that Aimee and I were able to have this experience.ImageImageImageImage

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