Sunday, 15 April 2012

First Steps

We flew into the heart of East Africa at daybreak, watching Lake Victoria endlessly unfold into the beautiful sunrise. The sky becomes overwhelmingly large and vast as you move towards the equator. We stepped off the plane just after 7am local time, eyes feasting on lush green foliage all around and ochre-coloured soil. The airport was sleepy and quiet, but we immediately encountered the smiling faces of the customs officials who were playing with a boy from our flight, a slightly more laid back approach to the "Do Not Step Beyond This Line" one encounters in London airports.

Elena and Ally, who are presently volunteers at Les Enfants De Dieu, picked us up in the centre's truck along with the driver, Jean-Baptiste. We were pretty wiped out after our 18-hour journey via Doha. Qatar Airlines provided a wonderful service offering us brilliant films to watch throughout the journey (we even shed a few tears) and lovely food. For once, Bret's extra long legs had plenty of room.

Mosquito net courtesy of Elena.

We ventured out onto the streets of central Kigali on day one to get some food and exchange money. My first stab at bargaining went well and Bret's $7 T-shirt (the latest design by our friend Kash, delivered just in time for our departure – thank you Swiss Post!), was a hit with the guys at the foreign exchange shop. Next time, Bret is supposed to wear an $8 tee.

Money exchanged, we did some shopping, checked out the sites and got stared at a lot. We were not phased though – thanks to Elena's cultural awareness emails. White people (mizungus) get stared at a lot and provide an endless source of entertainment to the locals. We just used our secret weapon and smiled back at everyone who cast their gaze upon us. It worked.

Local mini-buses have been quite an experience for us. The concept of personal space does not exist when there are more customers than seats. You just squeeze in, and then you squeeze in some more. Most buses have seen better days but they are frequent and cheap, so no reason to complain. The bus conductor yells all the time trying to get people to board as the bus rolls along. Buses stop anywhere, so you never know how long exactly it will take to get to a place. The radio is usually blasting some cool music which only adds to the richness of it all. Despite the crampness, it is a surprisingly pleasant way to travel. People laugh, smile and shake hands. We obviously get more attention than others, but it is all positive.

A new mural by Ivuka Arts

Visiting the boys and the centre on day two was exciting. It was great to see the places from Bret's film in person. So many faces were familiar! BUT all the new names made my head spin a little.

We arrived during Genocide Remembrance Week, therefore a lot of the boys who are usually away in secondary school, came back to the centre for a two-week break. This gave Bret a chance to dance with the boys again. He was thrilled to see they have just as much enthusiasm for breaking as they did during his last visit. Kicking a football around naturally becomes a dancing circle.

Bret reunites with Didier on the dance floor.

Elena and Ally gave us a tour of the facilities and their two big projects – the library and the storeroom. They have done so much amazing work. We were impressed but also a little intimidated. We have big shoes to fill, but will do our best to finish the remaining work in order to get the new library opened as soon as possible. There are 3365 books in the library, lots of games and art supplies, all of which we want to make available to the boys. We also need to educate the boys about how to use everything and be responsible for the items they borrow. We hope the library will be a great place for them to learn, study, play games and draw.

Elena and Ally explain intricacies of inventory.
There is talk of a book club, centre newsletter, hip hop club and much more so please stay tuned for more posts.

1 comment:

  1. Paul Eggleston Brown17 April 2012 at 03:27

    Cant wait to get over there!!
    The work you guys are doing is tremendous
    See you all soon