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Published: June 27th 2011
The whirlwind final leg of the India/Africa tour is over. 10 days in India and 10 days in Africa (with a bit of a detour to Dubai) was not nearly enough but I've wetted my appetite nicely for India and coming back to Uganda is like shaking hands with an old friend. I never thought that I would ever visit Africa on a more regular basis than Kits Beach but there ya go.
This trip was actually "work" but only technically. Actually, I'm not getting paid so much in cash but in passport stamps which is really the best currency ever. On my epic '09 Africa trip, I was lucky enough to meet a group of awesome individuals that I ended up travelling with for 3 weeks on some of the most amazing adventures that I could never have anticipated. Jamie was one the 4 amigos that I cavorted through the continent with and he became a good friend of mine. Jamie had just concluded a student trip with students from the University of Denver where he worked as an adjunct professor and we bonded over many Nile Beers, our shared love for Africa and the desire to bring more
people to Africa. This trip was really about planning for an upcoming joint venture of ours which will bring university students from both Colorado and Vancouver on a trip that would hopefully be an extension of the high school trip of 2008 and a continuation of Jamie's ongoing summer field schools. In any event, a great opportunity to blend my love for Africa, development and education.
After our sojourn through India, I was very excited to be back in Africa though our time was very limited. We spent a few days in Kampala meeting with "Come Let's Dance" the NGO that we would work with and is headed by a brilliantly strong woman who has given her life to developing a holistic program designed to give opportunities to many of the "street kids" of Kampala who would ordinarily find themselves without any of the comforts or opportunities that we in the west take for granted.
Our secondary task was a bit more mundane. We were to supervise the shipment of a "smart board" donated by a Denver philanthropist to a school in Rwanda. The problem when we arrived, there was not trace or record of where this bloody
board was. It SHOULD have been in transit from Mombai where it was shipped to. However, the paper trail was cold but we hoped for the best and proceeded to Rwanda where we stayed in Ruhengeri, in the northwest corner of the country and is a regular base camp for eager gorilla trekkers in the Parc de Volcans. Still no smart board. Shocking.
Along the way with a local friend as an escort we crossed over to Goma in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Probably not a smart idea. Goma has been ground zero for many catastrophic conflicts, both international and civil. The border town that Goma shares with Rwanda is Gisenyi, described by the Lonely Planet as "the French Riviera of East Africa", refers to the summer homes of the rich and powerful which line the shores of Lake Kivu. If Gisenyi is San Diego, then Goma really is Tijuana. Actually, Tijuana would be a grotesque compliment for Goma. Apart from being ground zero for one of the most destructive wars in modern history, Goma was also recently buried by a volcano. The lava flow went through the heart of Goma before reaching the border with
Rwanda and making a sharp right before pouring into the Lake leaving Gisenyi unscathed. Wow, when Rwanda has better luck than Goma... Only 5 days before we left another of the volcanoes surrounding Goma erupted but luckily did not threatened the city this time.
Goma is a pretty sad place. I had read volumes about Goma and being an bit of a development junkie, I was intrigued by the fact that it was so pivotal in the region and now is home to over 18000 UN Peacekeepers making it the world's largest UN mission. I had meant to visit in 2009 but after speaking with a Peacekeeper on vacation in Uganda, opted not to. At the time, they had just finished rescuing other ridiculous tourists who had gotten themselves kidnapped after watching the rest of their bus shot or mutilated. Not a good time. Now it was marginally better but still a very dangerous neighbourhood. I left my money (save for $20 stuffed in a sock) and crossed over with our escort while ducking ever so slightly as we passed through town. We got out on the outskirts to walk along a lava flow as children looked on with
confused expressions and curiosity. We deemed it too unsafe to walk freely through the main town. The UN tanks topped with machine gun turrets that patrolled the city confirmed our hesitancy. We visited our escort's office and shopped for masks before a brief wander through a quiet neighbourhood before it was back to Rwanda. Good times!
On to Burundi! What could possibly go wrong?
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