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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Rwanda trip journal, part 1

 The gist is we are using donations to fund rainwater harvesting on churches in Rwanda and part of my role is to help put together a training manual that others can use and hopefully other teams doing similar work will find this useful. These first parts contains the story. A future post will have the technical information on how to install rainwater systems in the third world. Rainwater harvesting combined with Sawyer filters brings clean drinkable water.
My role is the “ rain water catchment specialist “, which is a fancy way of saying I am a gutter guy. I have been doing this for almost 26 years and have done just about everything a person could possibly do with that. I had often wished my life had been spent doing something else as gutters are not that glamorous. But you know what? It could be that all along this was my purpose and that all those years of hard work were not as meaningless as they sometimes felt.
I never imagined I would be here, or that something as mundane as rain gutters could benefit people in such a fundamental way as providing them drinking water. The catchment ( gutters ) combined with the other technology like the filtration means that some will not have to go to the ditch as I see them do now and fill their jugs. The team members Pete and Joel are awesome. There is no friction whatsoever. Larry is here guiding the way and his job is complicated. Makes mine look like child’s play. Perhaps that’s why he refers to us as his children.
This is a wonderful experience and if you ever get a chance to come here, do it.
More to come when I can.

LAX May 26th
En route to Kigali Rwanda aboard a 757. First to Washington D.C., then to Brussels and then an overnight flight to Kigali Rwanda. We will spend Saturday in Kigali getting our supplies and funds converted. Then we take a 3 hour drive to the city of Kibuye where we will work.

On board are the other members of my team Joel and Pete and another team of four. I am nervous about the twenty hours of flight and my ability to let go of life back home. I miss the wife and kids already. I am hoping that my own, and the teams goals are achieved.

Washington D.C. May 26th
Pete and I almost missed the flight. First they said we had 45 minutes so we grabbed some food, but on international flights I guess they depart when the bulk of the passengers are on board and we made it to the gate about two minutes before they closed the door.
We are now over the Atlantic. This flight seems like it has been going on four six hours but it has only been two. The wife was concerned that I might have some reaction to the sudden detox, and I was too, but not much. I am a creature of habit and I had let some habits get the better of me. I am taking some vitamins and herbs to help with depression. Yes. It’s been four years now since the great recession started and I feel exhausted from the stress. It is a weird place to be; wife, kids, house; but hardly any income. Ah well. The bond between my wife and kids has actually gotten stronger. I kept looking at her expecting her to have had enough and up and bail, but she is actually proving daily that I made a good choice in a wife. Part of what I am doing is trying to force a change in myself and my ways of thinking. She and those two precious kids of mine deserve it.
It was so strange to leave D.C. in the afternoon, see it get dark for two hours out the window and then have the dawn sky rise. It doesn’t feel like we have been up all night, but I at least have not slept for more than one hour. I believe we are somewhere over England now. I can only see a red dawn and a thick layer of clouds. I had requested a window seat but on both planes so far we have all had aisle seats. That was a good lesson for a long flight and here is the first example of the trip of Larry McBrides experience; it is way better to have an aisle seat. You have better leg room and it is easy to get up and walk around. I just listened to some dramatic music for five minutes on the airplane headphones and was hooked until the singing started; I can’t understand whatever it is. The same thing with the cabin announcements from the pilot. Everything is said in English, French and Dutch.
So far I have a bit of a tummy ache and I feel three stages past tired, but I still can’t get any rest as just when I begin to nod off somebody in our aisle of five seats needs to get up. The plane has two seats on each side and a row of five in the middle. We are sitting next to a father and son who appear to be from Africa as they are the best dressed on the plane. Pete explained it best; all that they have is their clothes. Most do not have cars or property so they dress very formally and keep themselves very nice. The dad has a three piece suit on. You just don’t see that a lot.

Now I try and sleep again. We are one hour from our second stop in Brussels , looks like maybe over Ireland based on the map on the seat in front of me.

45 minutes from Kigali
That was the best airplane food I have ever had. The American airline companies should take a lesson from Brussels air. There was a delicious pasta salad with some sort of turkey sandwich that tasted amazing. The food on United was flavorless microwaved glop. I would love to be able to spend a day sightseeing. The buildings and farms all look so quaint.

I lucked into a window seat on the flight to Kigali and I have spent the time awake with my nose to the window. I could not see any of the towns that show on the plane map, but I could see the Nile river, and huge flows of volcanic rock poking out from sand dunes. What appears to be single lane roads lead for hundreds of miles away from the water. I couldn’t help but think of the conflicts in Libya and Yemen as we flew over. In the minds eye I imagined tracer rounds shooting up at us, or perhaps a guided missile but that world is far below and they are oblivious to us.

I can feel my work issues fading. I don’t think I will have any room in my brain for the troubles that have been bogging me down at home. The people I am traveling with are awesome. There is not a hint of discomfort I feel with any of them. Now the sun is setting and it is getting dark. Not a single light can be seen on the ground.
We are now 33 minutes from meeting Larry at the airport.
First night in Rwanda

We were greeted at the airport by Larry. He seemed glad to have some company. I could only see the few miles that led from the airport. There are police in yellow vests and radios everywhere and about every quarter mile there is a soldier with an AK-47. It is all very surreal. The soldiers look spiffy in their black berets, but there is a hardness, a humorlessness to them. I hope to get a picture with one. You get the sense that if the country suddenly went insane again there is not much you could do besides hide. There are many little salons and shops and bars. If one had to party there is ample opportunity. The hotel where we are staying is sort of a church too. Not really clear on that.

There are beautiful new buildings being built within a stones throw of shacks with no power, as far as I can see. The main form of theft deterrence is shards of glass set into the mortar on top of all the brick walls.

Most places have walls, as if the memory of the roving bands of blood thirsty militias are not so distant. There are cell phones everywhere. Walking at night was strange. Joel was carrying about 14k in U.S. dollars and the other team about the same. I guess crime isn’t much of an issue. The black case Joel was carrying had our project funds.

Tomorrow we wake up and go for a walk as the city is shut down until noon for community service. I guess people have a choice on that one weekend a month; you either clean up something, help build something or you stay out of site. Joel was supposed to come here last year but that trip was cancelled because there was an election going on and the main opposition dude was found sans head, and there was concern that the madness would return. I guess there are free elections, as long as you vote for the guy they want you too. The people here express faith and love for their president. I wish it were like that where I live. I have little doubt that if somebody tried to assassinate the president hell would be unleashed again. We had a nice diner a few hundred feet from where we are staying.

There was beef, fish, rice and potatoes. I guess many Rwandans only eat meat on religious holidays, perhaps 2-3 times per month. Obesity is a non-issue, all the men are stick thin and there are large boned tough looking girls but they don’t have the luxury of gluttony. The place we ate had a full bar and wireless internet. It was spotless and the decorations were a casual African cool.

Beat. Shower and sleepy time. I am happy there is security glass on the walls where we are staying.

Kibuye, Day One
We started today with the best coffee I have ever had and then walked up to the “ Hotel Rwanda “ which is actually named something else.

It was a beautiful place with a full bar and huge swimming pool. There are no signs of the war. As we were loading the bags cars rounded the corner with lights flashing and men with guns. They must have been doing fifty down the street and we all scrambled to get the doors shut on the vehicles as the driver said, because who it was was the president of Rwanda. I guess they drive like maniacs to make a smaller target. Then we went to the market in Kigali to exchange money and get water and anything else that had been forgotten, i.e. I forgot shampoo and Pete forgot toothpaste. When we pulled up to the car a mother nursing a baby came up and, it was an instinctual reaction, I handed her my bag of trail mix and some change. Biggest mistake thus far of the trip; within seconds a half dozen mothers with nursing babies surrounded the car, pointing to their children and then to their own stomachs. Then a boy about five came up and shook his stump of an arm at us and said he was very hungry. So, the ladies had to sit and try to ignore the mothers as they stood inches from the car, staring and pointing to their babies while Larry and company exchanged about 14k in American hundred dollar bills into Rwandan francs. The market had all you could need and even had a machete section.

Somewhat disturbing, seeing a stack of the long curved blades. I may actually buy one as they were only $3.00.

Then we went to the genocide museum.

It was a respectful and somber place. That day happened to be the national day of mourning so there were many fresh displays of flowers and, a crowd carried in a small box of just recovered bones to be interned with the other 275,000 or so human beings placed on a space no bigger ours and our neighbors house and yards combined.

I guess they are still finding bodies all over. The family was about fifty or so members dressed in beautiful African best; traditional robes and elaborate head pieces on some of the ladies. Apparently they go to the perpetrators and offer them money to reveal where their relatives were killed. Sometimes the bodies can be recovered.

The pictures at the museum were much more hardcore than anything you’d ever find on the internet. Children with machete hacks in their skull that somehow survived by being left for dead and pulled from the piles of their mothers and fathers by the rare heroes of the carnage, piles of horrifically chopped bodies, some with outstretched hands with deep slices in their palms that were obviously defensive wounds and the unbelievable remains of decaying bodies that were left for months to rot, heaped in piles inside churches.

I have now seen true hell on Earth and the remains of unimaginable carnage with my own eyes. I think I have seen one person that looked over forty. That entire generation almost, is gone. I thought the pictures of the faces, the clothes of the victims and the room of remains was bad, but what really kicked me in the groin was when I went to see The Wall Of Names; of the 275,000 bodies there, I saw a list of maybe a thousand or so names. The rest of the wall was blank.

The death toll had to be much higher, because many latrines and pit toilets were filled with bodies, or had live people thrown in them, and then rocks tossed in until they stopped screaming, and it is unlikely that they could have recovered them all. Some families were chained together and buried alive. It makes me sad to think of all the people, the good people like our interpreter and good friend Jasque who is a Rwandan presidential scholar, or C.W.I's ( stands for clean water initiative ) in country person named Jados who were murdered for a stupid and pointless reason.
The initial method that the scum French used to determine who was Hutu and who was Tutsi was simple; if you had over ten cows you were considered a Tutsi and your name was put on a list. I really have no words to describe my feelings for the Catholics and the other so called pastors who participated in the slaughter. The French will forever be tainted in my mind.

The second memorial we stopped at was a former catholic church site where an unknown number of people were entombed. About a thousand Tutsi and moderate Hutus were inside the church when the pastor demanded that all the Hutus leave. Some of the Hutus were married to Tutsis or were friends and neighbors and they refused to budge so the pastor hired a man with a bulldozer, who didn’t want to knock down the walls until the pastor assured him that a replacement would be built, and then he knocked the walls down in on the thousand victims and ran his tractor over the rubble until they were all dead.
The man had no problem with the killing, he just didn’t want to ruin his church. The school building still stands with the long empty rows of seats. I looked through the glass and imagined the echoes of the children.

The drive to Kibuye was not like I imagined as all along the way there were people. I don’t think we went more than two minutes without seeing a person and the majority carried the old diesel fuel cans that many use to carry water. There was a man with a wooden bicycle, many women with high loads balanced on their heads and lots of children.

I have a private room with a view of the lake but no internet. We will be here for almost two weeks so I am fully unpacked and appreciating the privacy. Now my eyes blur and fatigue overwhelms me. The only toys I have seen are metal rings which the boys push along with a stick. I see boys four or five years old working in the fields, carrying water and forced to beg, yet they greet us with big waves and warm smiles. It is hard to believe what evil these beautiful people committed; the crime just doesn’t match the happy faces we see everywhere.
Tomorrow we scout our locations and go to church.


Ya, wow. It is hard to describe today.

The church service was a powerful experience. To see people living in such poverty, yet filled with such joy. They first look at us with wonder, like, who are these people and why are they here. We walked in like rock stars and when we were introduced there was a respectful round of applause. Then it came time for us to speak and Larry whipped them into a fever within about one minute.

Joel got up to speak and it was not quite the same effect. Pete and I just waved from the podium when it was our turn. The sound of the singing was…beautiful. They danced and clapped like nothing you can even imagine. The pastor beat a metal drum. The olfactory senses were assaulted as it was a packed house with no electricity and few windows. I would not want to be in there come summer time.
One of the old women sitting close to us ( center left, below and left of the guy

with the cabbage in the white shirt ) had a large scar on the side of her head from a machete wound. We had a translator ( who will visit us when he returns to California ) who tried to keep us informed about what the songs were saying; “ don’t give up, no matter how hard life is you must keep trying…”. Afterwords we visited the pastor at his home. No power. No plumbing.

I can see that Peacewater has some huge challenges. So far there are no churches that are able to buy into their own rainwater catchment systems. When you are person who attends a mud church with log rafter beams and pays tithing with husks of corn or a few lemons and your children have scabbies and live in rags it is easier to understand why they wouldn’t be able to contribute financially. Some of these churches have no roofs.

NEXT: The work week in Africa.