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Brenda’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 12 Jul 2012

Location: Muhanga, etc, Rwanda

MapBrenda

Our gang was up early to catch our bus out to Muhanga. We were met by Costa and his uncle. I’d met his uncle on previous trips, a tiny, adorable, older man, who, in the past, has asked me to be his wife. He likes to hold my hand when we walk and offers to carry my heavy pack. (I don’t let him carry the pack but the hand-holding is OK.) They took us over to meet Costa’s mom, whom I hadn’t met, before meeting up with Costa and working on a mud-brick house for a young man and his family whom Costa was helping. This young man had moved to Muhanga following the genocide as it was too dangerous living near the Congolese border. It took him from 1996 until 2007 to finally acquire his own land and from then until now to have enough saved to start the building.

This building site is in the same area where we had worked before so some of the local villagers recognized me. We jumped right in and had 35 bricks made before we were joined by the American volunteers. It was a hard-work, out there in the sun, but also fun and rewarding. We had originally planned spend a few days doing this but Costa’s flight had been delayed so we were behind schedule. When we finished for the day, the family invited the whole group into the main room of the house. It was a tight squeeze considering there were about 15 of us plus 10 or more of the locals. The home owners had an cute, little, three month old baby that I got to hold…( I was accused by Sheena of hogging the baby.)

Costa’s project “GO Rwanda” supports a group of people living with HIV. They’ve formed a coop and support each other in many ways. (We’ve met and contributed to this group before.) Costa was telling the story of one of the ladies, a tiny, emaciated woman named Epiphany. (She’s sitting on the mat beside me in one of the pictures.) She had been working as a prostitute to raise money to feed her surviving three children. (Two had died.) She’d been living with the guilt of infecting others with HIV and didn’t want to do this anymore. The coop gave her a way to support her children without having to sell her body. Costa told us that when he met her four years before, she looked like she didn’t have long to live and now she’s now strong enough to look after the group’s pigs.

The pig project is new and a way to raise money together and share the profits. I decided to contribute $200 that was donated by Pat Ostler and $100 that was donated by Rylan’s mom, to the project so they could purchase more pigs. The group was very grateful for the donation. Costa announced that because of it, one of the ladies would not have to spend her days at the market selling homemade beer which is a lot of work and brings almost no profit. This resulted in more clapping and cheering. Denise remarked later how amazed she was that one gesture like that can change a life. She said she was so moved that she was in tears.
After a quick lunch, our group, along with Costa, got on a bus that was to take us to Nyanzi. Denise, who many of you have heard of, is in a boarding school there. We have an account that holds her plane fare that will bring her to the US to be with her family but her departure is held us with VISA issues.

This bus trip was one of the ‘typical’ African bus trips we all picture; filled to over-capacity, stopping a million times while everyone gets on and off, shuffling seats and trying to get by each other. It felt like it took forever to get there. We finally arrived at Denise’s school and had a too-short, emotional visit with her. She told me that she thinks her VISA will never come so we’re all praying we’ll hear something soon.

Our bus ride back to Kigali was another nail-biting journey. We watched out driver text and talk on the phone as he navigated the winding roads passing trucks and buses. Denise and I were sitting near the front so had a too-good view and were saying things like, “Well, when it’s our time, I guess it’s our time.” We were a little nervous about getting off the bus into the aggressive crowds at the Kigali bus station after dark, but managed to hail a couple of cabs right away so were thankful. A little bite to eat and some messages to home and were off to bed.