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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Rwanda trip journal, Part 3

5000 litre rainwater harvest tank Kibuye, Rwanda


This was our recreation day. The hygiene team wanted to see the two churches where we installed the rain harvest systems and then we went to the local market where the ladies bought skirts and I got a cute little dress for Avery, my daughter. I know it is nothing my wife would select, but there wasn’t much of a selection and it was only 3000 RF ( Rwandan Francs ) which is about $3.80 .

Then we took a small boat over to Bat Island, where as the name implies, there are millions of large bats. We hiked for five minutes into the interior and when our guide gave the signal we started clapping which woke the bats up and sent them into a panic flight. There were cows there; a herd of about seven. They were the healthiest cows I have seen so far. Then we went to “ Peace “ island where there is a little shack that sells cold cokes and fries. Pete and I brought travel fishing poles and cast a few times to say we have been fishing in Africa.

There are only little 4” long sardine looking fish called sombasas. I guess there is a massive methane deposit under the lake, so it is pretty much a dead lake. I heard that occasionally gas vents and people along the shore have been killed by the fumes, which is comforting as we are staying in rooms maybe two thousand feet from the shore. We met a boat load of teenage girls on Peace Island who are here from San Diego helping a pastor build a clinic.
Sambasa Boats at Amahoro Island
Tonight we will all go to a different hotel where a celebration feast is planned. Our rooms have no power or water today so I am eager for a shower and hope the power is on again soon as all my batteries are almost drained. Now, for a little shuteye before diner…
I woke up totally disorientated at sundown thinking it was sunrise and that I had missed diner. The place we went to had a buffet prepared with the usual fruits, pasta and potatoes but there was the added treat of tender beef in pepper sauce and banana bread for desert. It was outstanding.
Tomorrow we all split up and go to various churches in teams of two as guest pastors. Those who know me will be laughing out loud at that notion, but I guess it is part of the job. I will speak for a few minutes about the clean water project we are doing and Pete will handle the religious stuff. It’s difficult for me to talk out loud about that stuff. It is not a question of believing in God or not, but for me it is a personal and private thing.
For the first time I get the sense of the trip winding down. I mentioned that to the other team and they don’t feel that as they have three days of work left. I need about two hours for some detail work and testing at our two locations.

Tomorrow the plan is to go out with a local pastor to visit some other churches that may be potential locations for other systems to be installed by other teams. I love getting out into the country away from the urban area of Kibuye.


Speaking in the church was no big deal. I just reprised the post I made to the blog. There were some other muzumkoos from Pennsylvania and that took some of the pressure off me and Pete.  The pastor and his people seemed genuinely grateful for the catchment ( I am finally getting used to that term ). Then we went to the pastor’s home and unloaded some of our gift items. I have found that it does no good whatsoever for us to say to these people, “ we are coming to visit, please do not prepare any food as we know it is a big deal and we don’t need that. “ Everywhere we go they have sodas and food, even if that means they ask others from their village to bring items like potatoes and beans for them to prepare. The first pastor’s house was Pastor Valance, and he runs the church where we installed the first system. He seemed embarrassed that he had only room temperature sodas and no flushing toilets.
Then Pete and I took Jasquec and our driver to the Bethany for some cold drinks and wifi. We finished the day by visiting a man’s home named Augustine. I guess he is on staff at Saddleback as a master trainer. This was maybe thirty minutes outside town. It was almost dark when we got there and he had us walk ten minutes to a field where he showed us the location where he wants to build his church.

He had been having services there in a tarp structure but I guess the government doesn’t allow that so his flock of fifty meet on Sundays in his home. He asked us to pray for his church to have the funds to build and so we did there in the dark under strange stars and a crescent moon with the crescent in a place I normally don’t see it. The Big Dipper is upside down here.
I hope to return someday to install a catchment system on his church and hope that he gets it built.
Magical moment in a field.
I cannot say that I will ever be able to return here but I will definitely stay involved with the McBrides and assist in preparing other teams to go out and do the same stuff. Larry mentioned that he and I may return in the near future to prep the ground for other teams. That will not happen unless the church or another generous donor like Karen funds it. I guess there has been no work done while I have been gone and the situation financially will be grim when I return. The main thing has been that my career, which has up until this trip seemed like a meaningless waste of life, now has a meaning like I never could have imagined. This water stuff actually saves lives. The villagers around Augustine’s house in the field where he wants to build a church gathered around and when they were told that we are the folks that help provide the wells, the chlorinators and now the rainwater harvesting, they all cheered and wanted to touch us. This is powerful stuff. I feel that I am meant to be here.
These people astonish me; from Larry, Pete and Joel to the Africans. You can’t help but love the Rwandans and you have to try really hard to have them not love you more. When you are a person that does not have access to running's like I had never seen genuine gratitude before. They were so thankful.

Today is the first day that I feel kind of oogy. I have no energy; it's like I have weights strapped to my arms. I hope it is just that the week finally caught up to me. I know I was bitten by mosquitoes last night as they woke me up, but that shouldn't be a big deal. I slept through breakfast. We went deep into the country to survey two churches that are potential locations for future rainwater harvesting projects. They really need the help. Both locations have roof areas of about 2400 square feet.

Using conservative numbers based on forty inches of rain a year the roofs on those churches would yield well over 62,000 gallons of water a year. RAINFALL DATA FROM HERE.  The high altitude of Rwanda provides the country with a pleasant tropical highland climate, with a mean daily temperature range of less than 2° C (4° F ). Temperatures vary considerably from region to region because of the variations in altitude. At Kigali, on the central plateau, the average temperature is 21° C (70° F ). Rainfall is heaviest in the southwest and lightest in the east. A long rainy season lasts from February to May and a short one from November through December. At Gisovu, in the west, near Kibuye, annual rainfall averages 160 cm (63 in); at Gabiro, in the northeast, 78 cm (31 in); and at Butare, in the south, 115 cm (45 in). I will save the rest of the technical data for part 2 but as I stated another place on my blog they will have more rain than their ability to store it.

Now I wait patiently for my cheese burger ( which was very good ). Then Peter and I went to the market to buy our wives some African skirts. There was a man walking around with a machete, which makes both me and our interpreter nervous; too many images of bad people with sharp blades are stuck in our minds.
We did another house visit in the evening. Although we insisted that they not serve us diner there was again a full spread. It is fascinating to get inside the houses of the Rwandan people. The gratitude they have for the simple little gifts we bring is genuine.


Today we wrapped up some misc. loose ends on the two churches where we installed the rainwater harvesting systems. We were expecting to go out scouting for more locations but the pastor was busy and as is often the case in Rwanda the plans we make get changed. Not much going on today. We are hanging again at the Bethany waiting for cheeseburgers.
View from the Centre Bethany
After lunch we visited two houses, I guess they are CPT, which I think stands for cleanwater peace trainer. The first lady had one of the Sawyer filters and in the three months that she has been using it to clean her city supplied water ( which must be boiled or filtered in order to be safe to drink ) her kids have stopped having stomach issues. The second home didn’t have the filter yet, but she was educated in hygiene and she was shown to us as a model of what the education does. She was tops in a field of fifteen homes. To get the honors they have to have a small vegetable garden, a covered latrine and a tippy-tap. Jasque said her kitchen set up was far better than what he had as a child. Imagine perpetual camping with no toilet paper, just grass. The houses around hers were what you’d imagine as sort of a worst case scenario, in terms of trash and general filth. Some of the neighbors kids were over during our visit and the difference between her children ( the one who had received the hygiene training ) and the neighbors was like night and day. Her child was clean, had clean clothes and was not coughing and did not have a runny noes.

WEDNESDAY-The last working day in Kibuye
I went with just three Rwandans to survey three potential locations for future projects. That was interesting. You can’t help but feel like an important person as the gifts of clean water we bring are hugely important to the Rwandans. We went to a  huge outdoor market in the town of Rugenbara ( safe to assume  I got the spelling wrong ) were there must have been 20,000 people. I bought a traditional Rwandan knife for $0.15.  There was a mild blowing child stampede at our last stop. It was surreal.

 I got a last look at one of our project sites and it was 100%, with the lock box for the tank valve, the sawyer filters inside the church and the happy children. Jasque and I took a moto-taxi ( motorcycle ) to the Bethany. That place has become a special place to me, right by the water of Lake Kivu.
We met for diner back here at Saint Maries and Pastor Augustine had nice little gifts for Joel, Pete and I. As I sit trying to document my last few thoughts on this place the Catholic girls are singing a sweet sounding song at the school below…
This has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Tomorrow we return to the capital of Kigali for shopping for gifts and a final celebration diner. Friday we will get up at five a.m. and drive two and a half hours to an animal sanctuary were we might get a chance to see some wildlife. There really are no wild creatures here where we are, except for birds. Whatever there was didn’t survive the genocide when people fled to the forests to escape the killers.

We went for our last walk in kibuye in the morning before packing up to leave. Larry is able to win over most of the people we encounter on the road as he speaks enough of the language to communicate greetings and answer some questions. He said to an old man in kinyanrwandan “ be strong old man “ and some ladies walking next to us said to him in their language  “ you said everything but good morning! ” to which he replied, “ I am sorry. Good morning old man. Be strong. “ Just that fast he made friends with everybody. They respect him. That makes him more effective.
I tried to drink in everything with my eyes one last time as we walked and I felt a little sad that my time there was ending. I don’t know yet if I ever will be able to return but I can say that I fell in love with both the people and the countryside. We got to do things no tourists ever do; go into villages far away from hotels and meet as friends in people’s houses. We were welcomed as honored guests and they served us food and cold sodas even though for them such things come at great expense to them.
On the way back to Kigali we stopped at a beautiful waterfall and some boys came out. Instead of begging they broke into a song. One played some sort of homemade violin and they sang first in English and then in their own tongue. Once again I was charmed and entranced. I couldn’t help but reach for a coin as everybody snapped pictures and the boy made the coin disappear in a flash so that none of his friends even realized I had given him money. They also received toothbrushes from one of the members of the hygiene team.
There was one more stop, at a genocide memorial at the Catholic church where the walls were pushed in by a bulldozer. I think I must save that tale for the end as we were guided this time into the memorial by a father who had lost all nine children in the war. It was a moving, powerful experience and I caught something a little spooky on my camera.
We arrived in Kigali late in the afternoon and Larry arranged a treat at an all-you-can-eat buffet in an upscale place across the street from the place known in pop culture as the Hotel Rwanda. When we first arrived in Rwanda Kigali seemed so exotic. After our ten days in the quiet and small lakeside town of Kibuye the capitol just seemed dirty and hectic. The infrastructure is…lacking. The sewer system is challenged.  Pete and I shared a room and we were both out shortly after the lights went out for our four hours of rest before the last official day in Africa.
We were up at 4:45 a.m. and out the door. The safari truck was waiting and part of our group piled in for a two hour ride to Akagera National Park.  It was a real treat to see exotic game; cape buffalo, several types of antelope, hippos, zebras, monkeys, baboons and giraffe in their natural habitat. If somebody had said to me a year ago that I would be in a photo with a giraffe in Africa I would have said they were crazy. My friends will probably accuse me of using photoshop to drop myself into the picture.
On the way back to Kigali I stayed awake while the rest of the team on our safari slept. I wanted to look at every shack, every terraced hillside and every person with an impossible load balanced on their head one last time.  Our guide on the game drive, as they call them, lost his daughter in the genocide. He didn’t want to talk about it on the way out. He said to us, “ we want to look forward, not back, “ as we drove. But after hanging out all day we invited him to share a lunch with us at the lodge. We told him a little about what we had been doing in Rwanda and he opened up. He said that he had spent five years looking for his daughter, brother and parents after the genocide. Apparently he found the people directly responsible for their deaths. He said they told him, “ you will never find them. We threw them into the river and they are probably buried in Uganda. “
We finally got back to the hotel and cleaned up and did our final packing.
Those who have encouraged me to go are waiting for the answer to the question; did I find God in Rwanda?
I would say that I was never as lost as they thought. My issue has always been with men who put themselves between other men and God like the politicians disguised as preachers and other power hungry fools trying to define something that is undefinable.  The world is still poisoned and full of them. I write of the child molester protectors, the sham television evangelists and the type of people like the so called Christian priests and nuns who not only did nothing to stop the genocide but actually participated in the mass murder. I still believe that all religions bring one closer to God and that it is men who try to interfere it that journey by trying to judge other people.
I saw love of God and a positive power in the people of Rwanda like I have never seen before. I remember that night when we stood in that field that pastor Augustine wants to build a church on; we made a circle and joined hands with a group of children in the middle and we asked that he be successful in the quest to build his church. It gave me goosebumps
Did I feel the power of God?
Like a lightning bolt.
There was a powerful current of spiritual energy that surrounded us. Their conditions and their ability to be warm and loving and happy anyway made all my problems at home inconsequential for a while. We were working with people with scars from weapons used against them on their bodies and people who wore emotional scars from having lost in some cases, their entire families. These things do not make my own struggles less real, but they did demonstrate that the life you have, including the hardships and struggles, is a beautiful thing.
The Cass family can be proud of the fact that they made possible clean water for hundreds of people. I am still dealing with strange feelings. You get this strange feeling of guilt about everything we have. I felt like I was getting too much credit for making the gutter installation part happen. As we walked up to the door of Larry and Caroyn McBridge two nights after I returned for the debriefing and to see they next team off I was explaining to my wife how everything felt too easy and I wanted to get them to stop treating me like some sort of returning hero. We walked in and there was a standing O for me. It was really, really awkward. But of course, it is nice to be appreciated.

Suddenly all those people at peacewater, whom I had met before yet felt distance, seemed familiar to me. We had all shared an experience; we had went to Rwanda and been ruined. Gloriously ruined. And when I walked in for the debriefing it was like I knew everybody.

Gloriously ruined is the term for having your world view shattered. It is what happens when you are able to help somebody in a meaningful way and you ask nothing in return. It is how you feel when you go into a Walmart and what had been junky stuff before now seems like abundance and amazing quality.

A special thanks again to my wife and all those who made this trip possible.
Next up; The How to Install Rainwater Harvesting Systems in the Third World guide, er...manual. Whatever.

I am finally getting used to my new title; rainwater catchment specialist. I think when I have an office again someday the sign on the door will say something like, " structural drainage engineer . "

 Part one and two of this series on Rwanda can be found here.
Gazillions of photos are linked to in a slide show below;