Africans stink. Not inherently, they just don’t shower very often. I’ve noticed this unpleasant reality before but was reminded again of their acute body odor on the 3 hour bus ride from Kigali to Gisenyi. Curvy roads with crazy drivers, closed windows, and lots of people crammed into a bus are not a good combination for my stomach. Thankfully I made it to Gisenyi with my breakfast in tact.
Gisenyi is awesome, by far my favorite city I’ve been to. It’s right on the huge Lake Kivu and only a couple hundred meters away from Goma, DRC. Supposedly you look across at night and see Mount Nyiragongo glowing with its constant flow of lava. We sat for a couple hours on the beach drinking beer and eating barbeque, shooting the breeze and enjoying the scenery. I have to come back.
So basically I spent the day talking about a stove project with the co-founder of the outdoor gear company Marmot. He got out of the business a long time ago and started various other companies as well, so I made sure I listened to any advice or lessons he could give. He describes himself as a serial entrepreneur and after doing a lot of research on stoves, decided to sell everything, move to Rwanda and start this stove company. It’s cool seeing people who decide that money alone isn’t worth the time and effort. They combine business with a social mission to create something truly powerful that can change lives.
Tomorrow I head to Burundi, the country tied with the DRC for poorest in the world. Bujumbura is only 6 hours from Kigali and I wanted to see the countryside so I hired a driver to take me there. I’m stoked, but definitely know that Burundi will be a challenge. If I thought Rwanda was undeveloped, disorganized, poor etc. I’m sure Burundi will be more intense in every aspect. One of the things about living in Africa is that you become desensitized to poverty and injustice around you. After all, it’s everywhere. But as a fellow human being, I want to make sure the plight of real people struggling to survive moves me personally. At the same time, instead of becoming depressed or hopeless, I want to think of solutions to the problem. Ultimately, my time here is wasted if the things I see don’t make me say, “How can I change them?”
I had more African experiences yesterday. After doing another focus group in the morning, I walked around the surrounding villages conducting surveys. In addition to my translator, the pastor, several kids, and the whole focus group wanted to tag along. We are trying to research local cooking habits, fuel use, water sanitation etc. to best cater to peoples’ needs. The surveys are a bit tedious to be honest, but knowing that they’re providing important information for improving Rwandans’ lives helps.
Now for the story. I was doing my first survey of the day at a woman’s home. We were sitting outside, her open fire cooking food in another hut. The survey includes a question that says, “Do you ever experience coughing from smoke inhalation?” As I asked that, a wave of killer smoke wafted over the group and everyone began coughing uncontrollably. I had my answer. It turns out the woman’s kids had placed chili peppers in the fire and we were breathing spicy smoke! I’ve never experienced a respiratory sensation quite like it.
As we were walking to another home, a big thunderstorm rolled over the mountains. We made it inside just before big drops of rain started falling on the tin roof. The deafening sound of pounding rain made the survey challenging but definitely more awesome. Walking back in the rain on muddy footpaths, soaking in the bright green tropical vegetation, black volcanic soil and huge Mount Muhabura, I was once again reminded that I am in Africa. I need to enjoy every moment as it comes because God has blessed me in providing this opportunity to learn, experience and grown together with His people here.
Today I drove to Ruhengeri in Northern Rwanda to do some focus groups and surveys on wood stoves. I now see why they call it the land of a thousand hills. It’s beautiful. Bright green terraced hills dominate the entire drive. The whole journey only took an hour and a half but we managed to cross half the country. Ruhengeri is known for mountain gorillas. I briefly considered booking a tour on Saturday until I found out it costs $500. Owch, maybe another time.
Today was a fantastic success. When we arrived at Mama Kaday’s home where we did the focus group, she quickly informed me that in Rwanda, guests must be fed before doing anything else. I can live with that. After eating breakfast, we talked about the stoves, cooked the food, talked some more, and had another incredible meal. We only cooked rice and cabbage on the stoves but Mama Kaday made potatoes, chicken, beef, kale, beans and bananas. I was blown away by her hospitality.
I saw the funniest thing today. Mama Kaday is the wife of a pastor so they have a church and a preschool on their property. The preschool has 250 kids in it, who as you can imagine are all fascinated by white people. When we arrived, most kids did what normal kids do and got out of the way of the oncoming car. However, the cutest fat 2 year-old I have ever seen is on the road ahead of us and starts running as fast as his chubby legs will carry him. He’s literally going two miles an hour and we’re gaining on him fast. Finally we stop at the church and my sprinting buddy walks up to me and hugs my leg. I was touched. Then of course I got mobbed by African preschoolers because everyone wanted to hug the muzungu’s legs. It’s definitely an experience I will never forget. I wanted to put up a picture of my fat friend but Rwandan internet is being slow. Maybe on facebook.