guest post: greer’s african adventure

Living and working in a culture and country completely different from your own is such a great privilege — one that comes with daily surprises, challenges, and new experiences. What I love and appreciate most about living abroad is the perspective that it allows me to gain on my own country and culture. But even more exciting is sharing that experience with others, and seeing the scents, sights, and feelings that leave an impression on them, how they view the similarities and differences, and how these differ and compare with my own experiences and feelings.

Toward the end of my time in Rwanda, I had the great pleasure and privilege of introducing my mom (Greer) and her four cousins, Andrea, Cheryl, Scott, and Joanne, to the places, people, cuisine, and culture I spent the last nine months exploring and absorbing. In particular, it was especially exciting and special to share this world that I love so much with my mom, who has always fully supported my wandering ways and desire to work in development and human rights despite it being something she might not have thought about otherwise.

Eager to appease my blog audience in the most lazy of ways, I encouraged my visitors to write a guest post of their experiences. My mom took me up on it and wrote this excellent blog post … hope you enjoy Africa through her eyes as much as I did : )

Also note: her words are unedited, though I added a few additions in italics. Also also, I am not responsible for her obscenities (and I am my mother’s child … 🙂 )

Since returning from Africa some 20 days ago, I’ve been asked by many about our travels through Rwanda and Tanzania. We (Andrea, Scott and Joanne, Cheryl and I) spent 17 days touring two countries of this large continent. The pictures that we took (over 5,000 collectively) really tell the story, but to share some of our experiences, I’m going to refer to a list provided to us on our first morning, by Bonnie.

The ‘TO DO’ list was designed to keep us busy on our trip, and to challenge us to heighten our observation and communication skills. The following are the 20 items, and what I did to meet the requirements of the TO DO list. 

1. Take a picture of an overloaded vehicle – moto, car, bus, boat, bike or cow! This was an easy task. The transportation system in Rwanda in particular is a series of either well maintained paved roads or roads that resembled farm laneways – nothing in between the two extremes. On the paved roads, drivers travelled quickly across the mountainous terrain, often passing other vehicles on the corners, seemingly without fear of colliding, using the vehicles gentle horns to warn other of our approach. Sitting in the front rows of busses was somewhat nerve racking, as there were many times it seemed an accident would be inevitable, but somehow the bus driver would pull in in the nick of time! The reason why we would pass on curves is because there were many trucks overloaded with various cargo. My favorite were trucks carrying the most colourful mattresses I’ve ever seen. Picture the Grinch on his travel back to Whoville with the sleigh overloaded with Christmas presents.

2. Feed a banana to a monkey. One leg of our trip included a boat tour on Lake Kivu, departing from Kibuye to Gisenyi. We had a short stop on Peace Island to eat a bag lunch that Bonnie had prepared. The island does not have any residents but is home to one Black-Faced Vervet Monkey. The monkey welcomed visitors as it presented him with an opportunity to get some tasty crumbs. Bonnie had packed bananas (was this pre-meditated?), so our opportunity to feed the monkey presented itself! The most striking feature of this species of monkey is the genetalia, having a powder blue scrotum and a bright red penis. Hard not to nickname him Blue Balls!

3. Learn to say “Hello, how are you?” and “I am fine” in Kinyarwanda – and put it to use. We did learn a few Kinyarwanda phrases, and when put to use, the result would be a beautiful smile from the natives of Rwanda. Communication wasn’t difficult, but we did have to become creative to communicate with the people of Rwanda. Many people speak passable to fluent French in addition to Kinyarwanda. This was very useful for me and forced me to brush off my French speaking skills so I could converse with people on the many bus rides through Rwanda. In Kinyarwanda Hello is “muraho”. How are you is “amakoru”. I am fine is “ni meza”. We would get mixed up between “muraho” and “murakoze” – which means thank you!

4. Learn the meaning of “inshuti” or “rafiki” and make one! The people of Rwanda are industrious, always working at something. Most of the countryside is used for agricultural purposes, mostly for individual plots on which they would grow cassava (a potato-like root vegetable that grows anywhere) and other various beans, banana trees, grass for their cows, among other vegetation. They are almost always prepared to chat. On one bus trip I sat beside a young man (well actually, not that young – he has a daughter getting married in Canada this summer) who is an agronomist – someone who helps guide and/or oversea farming co-operatives. We talked for 3 hours on the bus ride from Gisenyi to Kigali. I had made a friend!! BTW, inshuti or rafiki are the Kinyarwanda and Swahili words for friend ☺

5. Get at least one “African Massage” Initially I was excited to think that our trip might include a day at a spa! Little did I know that an ‘African massage’ is a reference to the bumpy rides on a rough roads or coble stoned roads! We had many ‘African massages’ along our travels – the road to the Serengeti being among one of the most teeth chattering varieties!

6. Find out what Rwanda’s national tagline is On my holidays I read Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire’s book “Shake Hands with the Devil”. In an early chapter he talks about his first visit to Rwanda in 1993, noting the ‘gentle green valleys and mist-capped hills’. The national tagline? Land of a Thousand Hills!

7. Try street food in Tanzania or Rwanda. Well that’s one I didn’t try. On our long trip from Gisenyi to Kigali, the bus stopped in a small town. Bonnie exited the bus and came back with some skewered goat meat for she and Andrea. I ate a granola bar, unsure if I would actually like grilled goat meat! She would have … tastes just like beef!

8. Learn to spell your name in Kiswahili. Kiswahili is the official language of Tanzania. I did ask on a couple of occasions for help to tackle this task, and in the end resorted to Google Translation only to find out that it is spelled G-R-E-E-R. It was a trick question! Hehehe

9. Snap a photo with you and a giraffe. Well, there are two ways to do this – take one on a safari with a giraffe in the background, or as I did with Cousin Andrea, take a picture with a wooden giraffe. We did this in Muhunga on the way back from a day in a cooperative called Azizi Life (Precious Life). We stopped at a grocery store to buy water (yes, water). The grocery store was also a hardware store, a gift shop, and a liquor store. We took the opportunity to take the picture unsure whether we would see a giraffe on our safari trip. In fact a giraffe was the first animal we spotted on safari – at the side of the road, within 20 feet of our vehicle!

10. Try the strangest thing you can find at Forodhani Gardens. Forodhani Gardens is supposed to be the best place for eating out in Stone Town – an open-air street food market held in the waterfront after sunset. According to The Rough Guide to Tanzania, you can find a variety and quality of food to put many a five-star hotel to shame. The guide also suggests not ordering seafood when it is off season, and to ask for the ‘special price, my friend’. I can attest to the magical twilight atmosphere, but again I was apprehensive to try the skewered meat piled high at each vendor’s table, reheated once you settled on an appropriate price.

11. Report an interesting fact about a place you have visited. Did you know that Lake Kivu has a natural phenominan that results in a huge methane gas explosion every couple hundred years? Apparently some explosions are so big that they results in mass extinctions every few thousand years. I’d call it a methane gas ‘release’ rather than explosion, but the effect is the same … plants, animals, humans in the vicinity are wiped out when it occurs!

12. Eat a serving of ugali, nsima, posho, or fufu. Not sure if we ate any of these things – the only translation I can find for any of these words is for ugali which is porridge made from cassava flour. What I do know is that they eat a lot of starchy type foods. We did in fact eat ugali — served up with grilled whole tilapia and a tomato sauce. Yum!

13. Try 8 different types of beer from at least 4 different African countries. Not as difficult to achieve as it sounds. Remember that Rwanda and Tanzania are small countries surrounded by 4 other countries, in the mid-east section of Africa. We had Turbo King from Nigeria, Serengeti from Tanzania, Ndovu from Tanzania, Kilimanjaro from Tanzania, Banana Beer from Tanzania, Primus from Congo, Mutzig from Rwanda, Skol from Rwanda, Tusker from Kenya, Amstel from Netherlands. Well, the Netherlands isn’t in Africa, but the beer was!!

14. Swim in the Indian Ocean. Easy. We stayed at a hotel called Blue Oyster located in Jambiani on the island of Zanzibar. The island is located off the east coast of Africa, on the strait of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean. There is a tide in this beautiful aqua blue water. The swim was like being in a warm salt water bathtub! We had a ‘sand ball’ fight in the ocean – no real winners in this contest.

15. Take a classic family vacation photo. On the first morning in Rwanda, Bonnie presented us with tops that she had made by inmates in the jail down the street from her apartment in Muhunga. The tops were made of the same fabric but different styles for each of us. We were to wear these tops to take the classic family picture – the first was taken that day, and the best picture was on the beach in Zanzibar with the beautiful Indian Ocean in the background. When we wore the tops during our tour, people would point and call us “umuzungu” which means “white person”. They got a kick out of our matching tops and muzungus wearing African prints!

16. Bring home a sassy lion for me. There were several versions of lions presented to Bonnie – everything from pictures to wooden carved lions to painted lions and keychain lions. I purchased a silver bracelet with several lions joined together (I think she liked my sassy lions the best!) Was definitely looking for a real sassy lion — no real winners in this contest ; )

17. Learn a word or phrase of your choice from a local in Kinyarwanda or Kiswahili and teach it to the group. Cold Cold Beer – byeri gufaka gufaka. It sounds like all we did was drink beer. We didn’t – really – it’s just that the beer is usually not cold. The only warm beer I’m somewhat accustomed to is warm Labatt 50 on crop tours ☺

18. Find out the origins of the name “Tanzania”. A name derived from the union of Mainland Tanganyika and the Islands of Zanzibar which together form the United Republic of Tanzania. This country is home to Mount Killimanjaro and has roots in the spice and slave trades.

19. Send the person to your left a silly postcard and see who makes it home first. We had to figure out who was sitting where on that first morning to make sure that we sent the postcard to the correct person. Bonnie was sitting to my left – I mailed a card from Tanzania on June 2, 2014 – it arrived home on June 13, 2014 – the day before Bonnie arrived home. So far I have not received my postcard (Scott – did you forget something?)

20. Find one similarity and one difference between Canada, Tanzania and Rwanda. This was a bit of a challenge, and generated much discussion on our final night in Africa. We ate at an Indian restaurant, and recalled all of the wonderful experiences we’d had over the 2 ½ week vacation. Differences: food, music, currency (Francs in Rwanda and Shillings in Tanzania), landscape, transportation. Similarities: Rwanda has two official languages and one of them is French, agriculture, farmers markets, beer. I’m sure if the six of us (5 plus Bonnie) were to gather to reflect further on our great adventure, we could come up with an extensive list of similarities and differences – I look forward to that opportunity at our next Family Reunion.

Of course there was a bonus question which was Get a marriage proposal and pictures with your potential suitor. Well, I didn’t have much luck with the bonus question – I think because Bonnie always introduced me as her mother to which the response was always OHHHHH MAMAAAAA. Bonnie seemed to attract marriage proposals on a daily basis. The clear winner on this challenge was Andrea who received a couple of proposals, but one official when she kneeled to receive a marriage proposal from one of the waiters at Paradise Island in Gisenyi – and we did get pictures!

There are so many wonderful memories from our two and a half weeks African trip. But best of all was exploring a new country under the guidance of our tour director (Bonnie) with great travel companions (FAMILY)! Truly a trip to remember!


2 thoughts on “guest post: greer’s african adventure

  1. Greer, you forgot to mention the tattoo you got! Visible in the family pic. We rock in those shirts! Miss you all…Joanne. Xoxo


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