The views expressed in this blog are the author's own and do not reflect those of VSO

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Kwita Izina

And so we came down from the gorilla mountain and the Rwanda Development Board described it thus. "The pearly blue skies, often and intermittently so, turn into silver grey cotton-like boils, and then into ashen silky floating clouds of smoke, kissing the tips and lips of the imposing mountains that lumber in the skies with melody just like frozen music. In the North western Rwanda, the Mountains strewn along with their junior cousins that number in thousand(s) (hills), synergize with nature in a rhythm so inspirational and savoured by Rwandans and visitors alike with quiet satisfaction."
Mum and 2011 twins
Don't unwind your rhythmic synergies just yet; there's more.

"The enveloping canopies, the luxuriant vegetation that drunkenly leer about, the wild perfumes from naturally garnished flowers, carried along by the soft breezes that rustle through branches, give you a hearty appetite to simply either sit or walk and watch nature at its best in harmony. The equation, however, is made complete by the mountain gorillas." I swear by all the latest saints that I have not altered a capital letter, comma, or purple strewn word.
Colourful crowd outside the arena
These cotton-like sky boils, melodious like frozen music, combined with the drunkenly leering foliage and the gorilla sprinkled mountain, had given me a hearty appetite. Unfortunately the apes had eaten all our sandwiches (joking) so it was time to try and see what could be scrounged from the tented enclosures at the Kwita Izina (gorilla naming) ceremony. President Kagame was supposed to be coming and we had been told not to bring mobile phones as they posed a security risk and would be confiscated. However, maybe because the president was replaced by the prime minister or, more likely, because we were muzungus, we weren't even searched as we sauntered past the heavily policed perimeter and into the action. Rwandans, including children, were, however, subject to a thorough frisking.
The pathway reserved for VIPs and muzungus
It was actually quite embarrassing. All the ordinary Rwandans were crammed into the adjacent field enclosures while VIPs, who included any passing muzungu with muddy boots and nettle stings, got the red carpet treatment, strolling regally up the specially pebbled and flower-bedecked pathway. And yes, I did wave to the crowd as if I was Michael Douglas, minus the bushy hair transplant and botox injections but wearing fashionable, plastic over-trousers, a cheap safari hat and clutching my modest camera which I felt entitled to use as frequently as possible given my newly accorded celebrity status. My dark glasses, of course, made up for any sartorial inadequacies.
Police making sure the crowd don't get out of hand
The food seemed to have gone and there were coffee queues the length of Sauchiehall Street so it was back to the stage for the performance of Baby Cool a high octane Ugandan rapper. 'Surreal' (like my bete noire 'icon') is an overused word these days but how else can I describe strolling up to the stage in front of a tightly controlled cordon of severe looking police officers, imagining a new career as an East African roadie, when just a short while before, I had been communing with giant apes in a tranquil national park. Meanwhile the passive audience looked on bemused at the hyperactive antics of this extravert musical performer. Rwandans are a famously reserved people and yet this rapper comes from a country which is only 25 kilometres away on the other side of the border. It might as well be the moon. He attempted to crowd surf running, at one point, from one side of the field to the other to throw himself into the throng and in one case pushing past distinctly uncomfortable looking security guards. This is not the kind of behaviour they are used to at all. All the while he was quipping, 'hey guys, why so many cops, are you expecting a revolution?' Maybe it's a good thing most of the crowd wouldn't understand. Earlier, he had apparently dragged the prime minister on to the stage to get him to dance. I wonder if he will be asked back next year.
Baby Cool crowd surfing
As if this wasn't enough excitement for one day, when we got back to the hotel we were invited to the garden wedding of an obviously well to do Rwandan family. It's a good time of year for marriages now that the long rainy season is officially over. The dances were fun but we ducked off before the speeches began as, based on our one and only previous experience, they do tend to go on a bit.
Wedding dancers with cake in the background
The weekend fun ended with an exploration to find a patch of forest with dragon trees that we had read about in the guidebook. This was nearly our undoing as one of the moto drivers confidently told us that he knew the spot. An hour later we were eight kilometres up a mountainside having negotiated the freakiest road surface and most antiquated bridge system yet encountered in the country. I nearly fell off twice and my thigh muscles were tighter than if I had played a 90-minute football match. And we still had to go all the way down again because, of course, it was the wrong way. Everyone the driver stopped to ask told him to carry on and that we were nearly there. The cliché about rural Africans telling you what you want to hear was certainly borne out in this case. What was amazing, though, was the good-spirited way that the two drivers dealt with the situation, especially the blameless second one. They were in serious danger of writing off, not just us, but the motorbikes as well. Que sera, sera! There is something very healthy about the refusal of people to get angry at such minor (in their terms) inconveniences.
Dragon trees at $40 entrance
As you can see from the photographic evidence we did eventually find the dragon trees only to be told by the guard that we had to pay $40 each to get in and walk around. Best of all, if we were prepared to pay this excessive sum to visit such a small forest area we had to go all the way back to Kinigi, where the Kwita Izina ceremony had been held some 25 kilometres from the woodland, in order to buy the tickets. Is it any wonder, according to the guard, that only about five people a day bother to visit the nature park?
Towards the end of Kwita Izina the crowd only had eyes for the boxes of sticky drinks that were going to be given out

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