Day 5: GORILLAS!

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There is a very special feeling that comes upon you when you are in the close presence of a wild animal, particularly one that can be very dangerous.  A buffalo, an elephant, a leopard—they all have a designated radius surrounding them, and to enter into that space forces a choice on the animal: to accept or to reject.  It is an experience of inevitable fear, but also of awe and of wonder, and if allowed into this sacred proximity it is an experience of overwhelming gratitude for having been accepted, even chosen.

After about 3 hours of hiking up beautifully terraced hillsides and into dark bamboo forests, we stopped, and our guide whispered something and gestured in the direction of a small bush right in front of us.  I peered over the greenery and my heart startled at the large black shape just two meters away.  I was definitely within that “sacred proximity”!  But to be in the presence of Mountain Gorillas is an experience completely unique in this world: it is utterly beyond that feeling I described in the first paragraph.  My heart soon felt overwhelmed with joy, peace, and mostly wonder at the realization that this Gentle Giant had indeed accepted us.

Today, we spent an hour with the Susa group of gorillas.  This is currently the largest group in the park, with over 40 members, including three silverbacks, a handful of blackbacks, a nursing female, and a set of young twins that never stopped wrestling each other and romping around in the bushes.  One of the cheeky adolescents was walking past, nonchalantly veered off the trail towards me, and stretched out his back leg to kick me as we went by, just barely brushing the hair on my arm with his toes.

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Today I experienced a sort of wonder that no camera can capture.  I hope this feeling in my heart will not wane, but if it must, than at least slowly.

Happy Birthday Dad!  Thanks for the best graduation present ever!!!

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[For more pictures, please visit my photography website here.]

 

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Day 4: Kigali-Kinigi

It is the night before the BIG day, and the long journey to get here has brought the excitement and expectation to a peak.  After no less than 78 hours since departing from Arusha, 5 buses, a handful of taxis, and an exhilarating motorcycle (“moto” as they call them here) ride with our full packs on our backs, we finally arrived here at Kinigi Guesthouse, the launching point of our Gorilla Trek in the morning.

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Arusha feels a world away.  At Musanze and Kinigi bus stands we had much difficulty communicating, as people responded to both our English and our Swahili with blank stares, and our hand gestures were only returned by Chinyrwanda, a language entirely incomprehensible to our ears (which, by the way, is a feeling neither of us are used to, living in Tanzania with a handle on both Swahili and Maasai).  This morning we finally realized that Rwanda is in a different time zone than Tanzania.  For about 44 hours we were an hour early everywhere we went (also a feeling we are not used to).  We’ve seen the terrain change from the dry and flat expanses of Tanzania to the wet and green mountains of Rwanda.  Our bus this morning followed steep ridges and windy rivers until, rounding a corner, we got our first breathtaking view of the volcanoes.  The seemingly endless hills gave way to a surprisingly level landscape, like a giant carpet highlighting the volcanoes’ magnificence.  They are steep and jagged, enwrapped in clouds, fitting perfectly the King Kong African jungle stereotype.  The five freestanding volcanoes form a gentle arc, so that here in Kinigi it is as if they are surrounding us.  Day4-3 Day4-4 Day4-5 Day4-7

Kids wave frantically at the cars driving by with “wazungu” (white people) in them.  They chase the car.  They laugh.  Such innocence. Here are a few pictures of these beautiful young faces.

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Day 3: Kigali

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Today, we picked up our permits to go see the Gorillas, we ate Ethiopian food, we did some shopping, and some bird watching too.  But it was a very heavy day, one difficult to put into words.  Below, I want to share three things: something I wrote in my journal in the morning, a Bible verse, and something I wrote in my journal at night.

“Today, we will go to the Holocaust Museum here in Kigali.  We will witness one of the greatest genocides this world has ever known.  Help me, Lord.  Help me to dare to see.  But also to never let go of your promise.  “The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make the deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord” (Isaiah 51:3).  You are the God of restoration.  And I believe you are already growing a garden out of this blood-soaked land.”

-written on the morning of Sept. 24.

“Therefore, please here this, you afflicted, who are drunk, but not with wine: Thus says your Lord, even your God who contends for His people, ‘Behold I have taken out of your hand the cup of reeling, the chalice of My anger; you will never drink it again.’”

-Isaiah 51:21

Love, my dear love
Show yourself to be
That more excellent way
Answer the machete slashes
Across the faces
The fingers cut off
The churches full of corpses
Answer the innocents
The little one
Slashed to death
While still in her
Mother’s embrace
Patrick, who was
A quiet boy, but good
And loved to ride
His bicycle
Answer the child’s sweater
With sleeves cut off
Doubtless the thin arms
They housed as well
Answer the child whose
Hopes dare rise every time
He finds himself in a
Busy marketplace: 
“Will I see a brother of mine?”
Answer too this child’s
Raw statement of fact:
“My parents, I will never see again.
But the people who killed them
I see everyday.”
Love! Oh my dear love!
Answer the hatred
The explosion of evil
You seemed to not answer
When the pressure was building
Hatred was spawning hatred
And where were you?
And what were you producing?
You seemed to not answer
In the eruption
Had you but said a word
Could not this land have
Been spared the blood
Of a million lives?
And you seem to not be
Answering now, when
—though things appear to be
Booming, thriving, in the mend—
There is not yet resolution
Much less reconciliation
Love, my dear love,
Show yourself to be
That more excellent way

-written the night after visiting the Genocide Memorial, not really knowing what else to say.

Day 2: Kahama-Kigali

There is an excitement to travel, but there comes a point after days of travel when a weariness sets in.  I don’t mean when you get physically tired, that can happen within hours.  But it is when the place you have left is over 24 hours of monotonous travel behind you and the place you are going is still many hours ahead.  It is a weariness of the soul.  It is a deep longing—a homesickness.  It is a discontentment with the constant motion and it is an intense desire for that moment of having arrived.  The hours of travel sand away the shell to reveal a deep homesickness that is in the depths of us all: we don’t belong here.  We don’t belong in constant travel.  We belong at an arriving place, a home, a ceasing of all this monotonous motion.  Yet the painful irony of it all is that the heaven we long for (for heaven is indeed the ultimate arriving place) is still many hours ahead and to reach it requires more of the harsh grind of travel. But one day, we will arrive.  And I have hope that my heart will not yet be sanded away entirely, that at the core, it will yet beat on, that it will be alive and well to finally grasp that which it has traveled this long way to attain.  And then, it will have arrived.

-written on Sept. 23 on a coaster between Kahama and Rusumo

Fortunately, the thrill of newness wiped away my soul’s weariness.  Rusomo, the border between Tanzania and Rwanda, was our official entrance into the land of a thousand hills, a roaring waterfall welcoming us to a green and wet land.  As I rested my head against the window, I watched scenes go by that made me feel that I might be somewhere in Asia: luscious valleys of rice paddies, banana orchards covering entire hillsides, and terracing that created an attractive patchwork of arable soil on the undulating terrain.

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Day 1: Arusha-Kahama

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A ten-hour bus ride in Tanzania is a memorable experience.  At 5:30 this morning Dad and I arrive at the Arusha central bus station, which is already bustlingwith brokers pining for your attention, shouts, bright lights, and engines rumbling.  We give the conductor of “Mohamed Classic” our tickets, settle our bottoms onto bare-thin upholstery stretched over too little cushion, and hesitate to rest our heads on the cracked and worn oily naugahyde headrests.  I have a window seat: I get to listen to the rattle of the pane of glass that rests loosely in its aluminum groove.  Above the window is a shoelace-like string drooping with the weight of hastily-sewn curtains, now fraying at the edges.  Loose wires run along the carpeted ceiling and along the overhead luggage compartments to a series of wood boxes that blare distorted Swahili rhythms.  I notice that many of the seats show signs of welding modification and repair.  But I’m more concerned with the welding on the ceiling and on the floor that fastens two steel poles in the middle of the aisle way.  Extra support?

At precisely 6 o’clock the bus rumbles to a start and the driver begins to pull out of the station.  The level of commotion goes throughthe roof.  The wave of passengers that had crowded into the bus just minutes earlier are still standing in the aisle, making their way to their seats with the rock and sway of the bus.  People are jumping into the open door of the moving vehicle.  Others bang on the side of the bus and yell.  From within, a few rows back from us, comes an intense shouting: “Driver! Driver!  Stop! My friend stepped out for a minute to buy something.  Just wait a minute!”  The driver stops for nothing.  The man calls his friend and yells at him over the phone for all to hear: “Where are you?  Where are you?  We’re leaving.  Get on a motorcycle-taxi and catch up to us!  Hurry up!  Hurry up!”  The crisis becomes a communal one as the entire bus is caught up in the suspense: will he make it or be left behind?  After 20 minutes the bust stops and a man steps into the bus to the relief and laughter not only of his friend, but of the entire bus.  Communal crisis had become communal celebration.

Eventually, we settle into the rhythm of travel, like that moment in a musical jam session when the groove sinks deep down into your bones.  Every few hours we come across a weigh station and get a few seconds to stretch our legs.  Occasionally the driver risks a dangerously close overtake and you hold your breath.  But you take it back in with a gasp when a man in the front of the bus erupts in evil laugher; these periodic outbursts become part of the rhythm.  The cute baby across the aisle gets past around the bus, spreading its contagious smile with it. The new scenery is fascinating: the rock and sand of Singida, the mango trees leaving Nzega, and the gold mine in Kahama.  A ten-hour bus ride in Tanzania is a memorable experience.

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