Posts tagged ‘travels’

May 5, 2019

Unplanned Visit to Canada

My Grandpa passed away at the beginning of the month and I wasn’t sure at first if I would be able to travel home to go to the funeral. Friends of ours generously lent us money for a plane ticket for me to travel back. We bought the ticket and then a few hours later Othy drove me to the airport and I boarded a plane! Crazy! I arranged to stay at the DeWalle’s place for the first night because they live near the airport and were also planning to go to the funeral. It felt like I was in a dream to be welcomed by Jeff and Katelynn and then arrive at their house where Dianne had tea and cake ready. Since it wasn’t that late yet, we had some time to catch up a bit before we all turned in.

The next morning we got up bright and early, shared a dutch breakfast (something Dianne likes to do for company and it was oh so good!) and then headed to Niagara. I had a nice time sitting in the back chatting with Katelynn’s young daughter. Since we made good time, they dropped me off at my parents place in Beamsville. A few minutes later our family left to meet the rest of the extended family at church where we would drive together to the cemetery for the internment. Afterwards we returned to the church for the memorial service. Near the end of the service I joined the Lammers cousins in singing a song called “Who you say I am” by Hillsong. There was a luncheon following the service and it was good to connect with family even though it was short.

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Mom’s siblings

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Somehow we all got the memo…

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Cousins!

I stayed with my parents until Thursday and then headed to Toronto in the afternoon. Mom dropped me off at the Burlington Go station just like old times! I planned to attend my old Grace Gathering that evening which is still held at my old digs where Susan still lives! So I walked around the neighbourhood for a while going to some of my favourite shops, and then when I knew Susan would be home I walked in without knocking and surprised her sooo good because she didn’t know I would be there! I was able to congratulate Susan and Andrew on their engagement in person. Soon everyone else arrived and it almost felt like I had never left. It was interesting that almost at this exact time last year I was introducing everyone to Othy and saying goodbye. I stayed that night with Jess and Jeff.

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The following day I met Lucy from Adam House for a meeting at the city and then dropped into my office. The team was away on lunch when I arrived, but I called them and was able to join them. I was thankful to be able to put in some face time at work and meet the new staff who I didn’t know yet. At the end of the workday I walked to Vikkie’s new place to spend Friday evening with her. We ate leftover Japanese curry for dinner and caught up on lost time chatting and watching episodes of Once Upon A Time! We slept in and had a very lazy Saturday morning. In the early afternoon I left to go visit my friend Pamela who lives in Etobicoke. It took an hour and a half to get there by transit, but I was enjoying taking it again and having time to do nothing. I spent a few hours visiting with Pamela and then started my journey back before it got dark. I spent the next few nights back at Jess and Jeff’s place. I spent that particularly evening working on getting the blog post finished about the elections and the ebola. I was proud of myself for finally sitting down and getting it done!

I went to Grace Toronto the next morning. Since Jess and Jeff had to go early to help set up and lead worship, I went and spent some time at the nearby Tim Hortons and enjoyed a Canadian Maple donut… had to fit that in at some point! It was such a joy to be back at Grace and worship with so many familiar faces and songs. I joined a group for lunch after church that included Tim, Joe, Robb, and Rosemarie. I got to learn the wonderful news that both Tim and Joe are engaged! It was a very wet and windy day and so I headed back to Jess and Jeff’s after that. Later Jess and Jeff returned and we spent a nice evening together. They taught me how to play Cribbage.

On Monday I stayed at home and did some work and made arrangements to visit with three friends from my small group. They all came at different times and was so nice to catch up with them. Victoria and Season came by at different times in the afternoon and then Sarah came for dinner. On Tuesday through Thursday I spent full days at the office and also moved back to Vikkie’s place to have more time with her and because she lives not far from my work. On Tuesday Rolf took our whole team out for lunch at Terroni’s. It made me feel so appreciated and it was a great opportunity to catch up more with the group. On Tuesday evening Susan had me over for dinner and we had a wonderful time catching up. Then on Wednesday evening Vikkie invited Rachel to come to her place and hang out with us. I offered to make dinner and made a tasty lentil curry soup. I am sad I am not going to get to go on another Adirondacks adventure or camping trip with these two ladies for a while!

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On Thursday I took an extended lunch from work to meet my friend Petra for lunch in China Town. Later that day our work team piled into Rolf’s car and he took us to his place for drinks and to see how the renovations were going. I didn’t stay long because I had plans to go to a special evening prayer service at Grace Toronto. Unfortunately I got turned around and took the streetcar West instead of East which made me late for the service, but what I did get to see and participate in was beautiful. It was wonderful to see that Susan had fulfilled her dream of starting a choir at Grace! Afterwards I got to surprise many Grace downtown friends and catch up until we were almost the last people left in the church! I miss these amazing people! Since it was Good Friday the following day, Vikkie and I stayed up late watching a few more Once Upon a Time episodes!

Jen generously picked me up on Friday morning because I had accumulated too much stuff that I had purchased to take back with me. It was another rainy day. Before arriving at her and Chris’s place we stopped and picked up decaf lattés… gotta love sista time! Jen and I talked and talked and watched some episodes of Merlin with Natasha. I got to see more of their dog Bandit who is a very skinny but very tall greyhound. I also got to walk him the next morning since I was the first one up. We had a lazy morning and then our parents came by and we went out to the Lancaster Smokehouse for an early dinner. Mom and I shared a tasty three meat platter and between the two of us we still didn’t finish it! I ordered onion rings that were more like donuts! Mom, Dad and I headed home directly from the restaurant. Jen and Chris were planning to come to our parents for dinner on Sunday, but I wanted to go early so that I could go to the easter service at my parents church.

It was just Mom and I at church the next morning because Dad had to work. I enjoyed talking to old acquaintances and friends after the service. Al, Jen, Chris, and Natasha came by later in the afternoon and we hung out and then had lasagna for dinner (my mom spoils me….). We played one game of wizard and then it was already time for them to go because they had a long drive home. I spent the rest of my days in Canada at my parents house. I did work most days and then visited a few other people including Bob and Jane, Bob and Della, and Ingrid. Al came by to visit one last time on Thursday night and took me out to one of her favourite restaurants in St. Catharines. We ate a series of tapas including oysters, shrimp tacos, salmon tartar on deep-fried avocado, and liver brulé – all delicious!

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That same evening, a friend of Othy’s dropped off a keyboard that he had found for a good deal on Craig’s List. It is an old beast complete with floppie disk and is bigger than I thought it would be. It was going to be an interesting challenge to bring back. I started packing the easy stuff that evening so that all that would be left to pack the next morning would be the hard stuff. Fortunately all of my other things fit into a single suitcase. Mom was a packing superhero as always. The next morning she went out and bought bubble wrap and found some cardboard boxes in the garage to wrap the keyboard in. We finished with time to spare! On the way to the airport we stopped in at Al’s work and she helped us to saran wrap the box. It will be worth all the trouble to be able to play the keyboard and hear Othy play! Finally we were at the airport and Mom stuck with me until we dropped off my checked bags and then it was time to say farewell to her too. I am thankful that I had this opportunity to reconnect with friends and family after being away for a year. It was a long flight home to Uganda and I didn’t arrive until midnight the following night. Othy was already away for his work in Congo, but I was warmly welcomed at the airport by our brother Obady.

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December 5, 2018

Kigali

Our final stop on our journey was Kigali where we decided to stay for two nights as we traveled back to Kampala from Bukavu. Because I had such a negative experience on the night bus on the way to Goma, we decided to take day buses and take the opportunity to enjoy the scenery. Early on Monday morning we left Bukavu by moto, crossed the border, and then took another moto to the bus station in Rwanda. We took a smaller bus called Omega Express. There are two possible routes to get to Kigali: one that goes through the Nyungwe Forest, a mountainous rainforest, or along Lake Kivu. Our bus went through the forest and the views were stunning. There was one moment I found stunning where we were passing tea plantations but approaching the forest. Another moment we were on a road that was high up on the mountain and there was a view down into the rainforest below that looked so incredibly deep.

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We spent two nights in Kagali: one at Yambi Guesthouse and another at Auberge Beausejour that was recommended by Mark and Karen. On our free day we had plans to meet up with Othy’s old school friend. On our way to meeting her we walked to the Convention Centre which was a building I wanted to check out. Again I was caught off guard by the cleanliness and orderly construction of roads, sidewalks and retaining walls. The convention centre’s dome could be seen from a distance. The landscaping around the building was nicely done. There is also a hotel beside it that has a playful facade that reminded me of basket weaving. A covered walkway offers relief from the sun and rain for people walking from the parking lot. This building is definitely not very approachable on foot from the street as we had to walk all the way around to the back to enter. We went inside the lobby areas but couldn’t find anyone to ask to show us the main auditorium. Overall it is a nicely designed building.

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Next we took motos and went to a restaurant called the Rotisserie where we were meeting up with the friend. We waited for half an hour and she did not arrive. Unfortunately we did not have data and the restaurant did not have wifi to communicate with her. We decided to walk to a cafe called Shokola that shares a building with the Kigali Public Library. It is also a nicely done building. The levels of the library are situated around a generous atrium. It looks like the roof used to be glass but then they boarded it up with wood because of the heat. The cafe is on the third floor and accessed by an exterior stair (I think it could have been nicer for it to have a closer physical or visual connection to the library). To our dismay the cafe did not have working wifi either and so we were unable to meet Othy’s friend. We stayed a while there and then decided to go back to the hotel. On our way back we stopped at an art gallery called Inema Arts Center. We saw some beautiful pieces by local artists, some that I have included below. We spent a lazy evening at the hotel watching a movie! The following morning we woke up early to catch a 6am bus to Kampala. It was so early the hotel couldn’t have breakfast for us and so they gave us some fruit, bread and eggs the night before. The driver we arranged for to take us to the station was late and so we took motos instead. It was a fun ride because the roads are so smooth and it was still dark. This marked the end of our honeymoon and it was time to try and get settled back into something of a routine in Kampala.

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December 4, 2018

Around Bukavu

While most of our friends left Bukavu the day after the wedding, Othy and I decided to take one more day to explore the city since neither of us had been there before. Mark and Karen surprised us with a delicious Sunday morning pancake breakfast, complete with locally grown strawberries and close to real tasting maple syrup that they make with maple extract (this is a Canadian saying this). While we enjoyed breakfast they gave us some tips on places to visit. Othy asked me what I wanted to visit first, and I chose ITFM (Institut Technique Fundi Maendeleo) because we weren’t sure what the weather was going to be like and the school offers one of the best views of Bukavu. We hired motos and began the winding journey up the hill. At a certain point the paved road ended and the dirt road was extremely muddy. My driver in particular was having trouble getting through it (Othy told me later it was because he was short) and I wondered if we would fall. Thankfully we did not, though the drivers wanted to charge us more because of it! The motos in Bukavu actually put tarps on the back of their bikes to prevent mud from flinging up and hitting their passengers. We walked through the ITFM campus and were shown around by the guy we met at the gate. Then we exited by the gate that faced the edge of the hill, and found the view that we had heard about. It was beautiful! Bukavu has such a unique landscape with the changes in elevation, the lake with islands in the distance, and several peninsulas, one of them taking the iconic shape of a boot. But with the change in elevation and rains are dangers of erosion and mudslides. Just across the road from the campus, the earth was a large eroded area that in only a few more years might actually reach the edge of the campus and the buildings there! Kids were playing there and standing on the edge of it and even climbing up it!

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The same moto drivers waited for us and we asked them to take us to the boot that I described above. On the way down the hill we passed houses that were built rather precariously on the hillside. We passed by the main roundabout Place de l’Independence. We also passed another roundabout with one of the traffic lights invented by Congolese female engineer Thérèse Izay and manufactured by Women’s Technology, although this one is not in the shape of a humanoid like the one I saw in Kinshasa and Goma. Once at the boot the drivers stopped at a parcel with a large tent. We asked the person at the gate if we could see the place, and upon entering we discovered it was an event space. They were in the middle of preparing for an event, and Othy ran into an old acquaintance! The tent faces the water and offers a beautiful view back to the city.

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Our third destination of the morning was to visit a hotel called Orchids that is supposed to be another beautiful spot in Bukavu. We first went to the restaurant and took tea, and then went for a walk to explore the gardens. It was an absolutely stunning combination of gardens, architecture, and another amazing view of the lake and Bukavu. The path meandered its way down to the water and there was something beautiful to see around every corner. The gardens were well landscaped and included many different species of orchid. I loved the simplicity of the clean white-walled buildings with rich wood windows and doors. There were a few larger buildings and then some smaller private cottages. Finally we reached the water where there was a swimming area and sitting area. I noticed that this was the place that Jess and Matt had gone to take their wedding photos because of one photo that they had posted standing on a pier by the lake.

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This time we decided to walk back to the apartment since it was only a few kilometers away. We rested for a short time and then went out again, this time to visit another school called ISP Bukavu (Institut Supérieur Pédagogique). The university has been around for a long time and is where some of the leadership at UCBC attended. Upon approaching the gate we discovered that we couldn’t go and see the campus for the sole reason that I was wearing pants! From the gate we could get a glimpse of the building blocks which have an interesting form. We walked for a bit from there, thinking that we might find a place to get some lunch, when Blaise called and we arranged to meet him at a restaurant called Le Gourmet. He didn’t make it in the end, but a friend of Othy’s called Beni joined us and we had a nice time hanging out. It was coming towards late afternoon and we had talked about the idea of going to Mark and Karen’s church called Le Phare (the Lighthouse) that starts at 4:30. Surprisingly Beni also attends this church and offered to take us there since it was only a short walk away. At this point it was only raining lightly and so we went for it. The service was on the top floor of a newly constructed building and so had a very raw atmosphere. I felt refreshed and challenged by the worship and the message.

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After the service I had made arrangements for us to visit Dachiku, a friend from UCBC and sister to another friend Butoto (we had seen him last in Kinshasa and now he is in Europe). Beni offered to come with us since it was dark and the road to Dachiku’s place is very muddy. Dachiku came and met us at the Eglise Ararati and from there walked to her house. We had to use the flashlights on our phones because the power was off across the city. What a strange feeling to be in such a big city and yet so dark. We went down some narrow steps that opened to what in the the daytime would be a view over the city. Their house was built into the side of the hill. It was so good to see Dachiku again as I was just getting to know her better during my time in Beni before the Ebola outbreak began. I think their family was also happy to meet members from the UCBC community where two of their siblings/children had gone to study. Dachiku and her siblings offered us some whole milk and bread (the milk was like yogurt). As we chatted, more of their family arrived until her parents and all of her siblings were there to greet us (they have a big family)! Othy sent Bututo a picture on Whatsapp and he was so pleasantly surprised! It was getting later and so we soon had to go. The family generously arranged for a driver to take us back since transit at night in Bukavu is difficult. What a full and interesting day it had been!

November 24, 2018

Mugote Ferry

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And we were off! We quickly started exploring the boat and found an observation area at the front of the first class lounge and then some stairs that led to a platform on top of that where the captain’s cabin is located. The boat was spewing out some pretty nasty black smoke that clouded the view from behind. From the lake the volcano had an even larger presence and steam could be seen coming off of it! The view of the surrounding landscape was stunning. We stayed inside for the first while and had some tea, and when my tracker showed that we were approaching the islands, we went out again. The view of the islands was particularly breathtaking. From that point on we spent most of our time out on the deck taking in everything.

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I loved the layers of the foothills and mountains that follow the lake.

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I would like to blow this up into a big artwork! I love that the water and sky almost merges and the delicate texture of the water and clouds.

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When we were about halfway through our journey we decided to explore the highest deck since there were no signs preventing us from going up there. We decided to go and ask if we could see the cockpit and ended up having a nice conversation with the captain. He had been piloting boats for 29 years. He pointed out Idjwi to us which is 70km long and the second largest inland island in Africa. We also passed a tiny well-groomed island that he explained belongs to a wealthy man from Goma. It made me think of Ontario cottage country! We also passed a very small shallow island that had nothing but goats there. The captain explained that people bring them there to graze. No need for ropes or fences there! I enjoyed using my zoom lens to pick out interesting buildings and boats near the shore. One of the sub-captains pulled out chairs for us and so we had a nice private shaded spot to sit and enjoy the rest of the journey.

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I would love to make this into a large artwork too. I love how geometrical it is.

We had good weather for most of the journey but the sky started getting dark as we approached Bukavu. We were excited to see the city from a distance but it was shrouded in cloud for quite a while. Eventually a pretty amazing view opened up as we got closer, and thankfully it was only raining lightly. It was a much more dynamic city to see from the lake than Goma because the city is built on the side of foothills. The boat pulled into the dock and we waited for most people to disembark before we followed. Matt’s brother Blaise was there to pick us up. It was so good to see him! I was excited and ready to experience my sixth Congolese city!

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November 24, 2018

Goma Visit

We took a an overnight bus called Trinity Express to get to Goma. It was a smooth ride with the only downside (yet significant) being that they played music for the whole ride. I wanted to survey the bus to see how many people were actually enjoying it. Even with earplugs I could still hear and did not sleep a wink. Both border crossings (Uganda Rwanda and then Rwanda Congo) were smooth and Othy’s brother Fabrice came and picked us up along with his friend Marie. They took us to a guesthouse called Bungwe where we rested until the early evening. Bungwe was affordable but had it’s little quirks. Half of it was a guesthouse and then at the very end of the property there is a 6 storey hotel under construction that doesn’t match the rest of the atmosphere. We were on the first floor of the hotel and the first room we were in had a broken shower drain and was very dark because it faced a retaining wall. We then moved into another room facing the garden that had more light. The rooms were poorly designed but one redeeming factor was cool sheets! It is too bad that a building that is brand new already has so many problems. That is why design is always a good investment! Fabrice picked us up at 4pm and took us to visit Othy’s sister-in-law (also Marie). I got to meet Othy’s newborn nephew Johan who was precious to behold! I suppose that I can start calling him my nephew! From there we went to visit Othy’s friends Marie and Anatol and their family.

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One of the main intersections with Mount Nyiragongo in the distance

The following day we went to the harbour to inquire after ferry tickets to Bukavu. We were planning to take a boat called Emmanuel but found out they don’t make the trip on Fridays and so instead bought first class tickets for the Mugote Ferry for $26 each. We then went back to the guesthouse for a few hours and then left again to visit other family and friends including Vital, an friend of Othy and his family since he was a kid. Vital and his wife gave me a beautiful yellow kitenge fabric that had verses about shining light. How appropriate since the song “Shine Jesus Shine” has been often on my mind as a prayer for Congo. On our final day in Goma we took the morning slow and then revisited Anatole and Marie and then Othy’s sister in law Marie. Later in the evening we met up with Othy’s friend Maurice who took us to dinner. When we were leaving the restaurant I asked if we could try to find a good place to see the glowing crater of the volcano. Maurice took us to a road that heads toward Varunga, but because it was cloudy we couldn’t see anything. Perhaps I will get a view of the crater next time! The following morning we took bodas very early to the harbour. It was crowded and chaotic and so I was glad we had our tickets already! To my surprise, first class was a room on the upper level of the boat full of sofas and arm chairs. We were off!

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A view towards the harbour

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My first impressions of Goma is that it is a city full of walls. It makes sense because Goma has experienced more insecurity than most cities in Congo. Although the city is on the side of beautiful Lake Kivu, there are very few perspectives to the lake because of all the walls surrounding the lakefront properties. The two areas where it is possible to see the lake is at the public beach and the harbour. An ever present landmark in the city is the volcano. If it is not shrouded in cloud, in the day steam can often be seen rising off of it and at night a mysterious red glow. The Nyiragongo volcano last erupted in 2002 and the lava flow went through and destroyed 15% of the city. A lot of that hardened lava has now been incorporated into the architecture, especially the walls. Despite all the walls, the people in Goma have the same Congolese generosity and hospitality, and neighbours seem to look after one another. I was glad to stay a little longer in Goma this time and be welcomed by family and friends.

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A soccer field we drove through that was very muddy after rain

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A typical Goma street facing Mount Nyiragongo

November 21, 2018

Safari with Family

Finally the day of the much-awaited safari arrived! Othy and I were up really early because we had plans to go to town to say goodbye to several of Othy’s family members before coming back to meet the drivers and pick everyone up. We had to leave Bwerenga so early that we discovered we were locked in and had to find away to break ourselves out (and fortunately there was a way)! We met the drivers in Bwebajja at 9am and then drove with one van to pick up Ron and Ingred at Nyange resort, pick up Othy and my things from Bwerenga, back to Bwebajja to pick up my family with Vikkie and Jeff, and finally we were off in both vehicles into Kampala to pick up Serges, Hortense, and Wivine. We did not get out of Kampala until after noon! The drive was long but smooth. We took the route through the park to get to the lodge because it is shorter and then we could take a small detour to see Murchison Falls. The roads were bad though and so our time estimates were off and we didn’t have time. We finally arrived at the ferry crossing at 6:30 and waited for thirty minutes to take the last ferry across at 7pm. We got to see the sun set over the nile as we waited. Once across it took another hour to get to the lodge. I had made arrangements for us to stay at Heritage Safari Lodge. I did quite a bit of research early on to find a mid-level priced lodging that could host so many people and have ensuite bathrooms (because another lower-cost option is to stay in safari tents!). We all found our rooms, and then came back to a nice open-air dining area for dinner. We were all pretty tired and so turned in right after dinner. We also had plans to get up very early the next morning for a game drive.

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Van 1!

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Van 2!

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By 6:30 we were all ready to go on our morning game drive. It was beautiful seeing the sun rise as we drove. One of the first animals we were surprised by was an elephant that was close beside the road. Unfortunately it mostly wanted to show us its rear end. Our second major sighting was of a leopard. We would not have seen it if not for our main driver Frank who stopped the van, pulled out his binoculars, and then pointed it out to us. It was very far away but with a zoom lens it was possible to see it quite clearly. I was amazed that Frank had noticed the leopard while driving! Vikkie managed to capture the image of it below! It probably sensed our presence because after a few moments it got up and moved down from the tree out of sight. I have gone on two other safaris, one at Queen Elizabeth, and one here at Murchison, and this was the first time I had seen a leopard. We continued driving and began to get all excited as we saw giraffes from a distance, but soon that became old news as we saw several close up. I think that these will forever be one of my favourite animals! Othy and Jeff took a selfie with one, joking that it did not want to smile for the photo. We also saw many beautiful birds along the way. I particularly liked the white ones that sit on the back of the herds of buffalo, but also small red ones that we saw now and then. We approached an area on Lake Albert that serves as a rest stop for groups on game drives. There were a lot of animals there as well including a wild hog and a grey crowned crane, the national bird of Uganda. We could also hear more hippos in the distance. We headed back to the ferry crossing at 11am. A group of men were playing some traditional music on stringed instruments. The next item on our itinerary was to go see Murchison Falls that the park is named after.

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Photo by Vikkie Chen

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Photo by Vikkie Chen

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The ride to the falls took an hour because the road wasn’t great. It was worth it though to see the powerful falls. At this point all of the water of the Nile is squeezed though a narrow opening. We learned from Frank that the block of concrete was an attempt at building a footbridge that lasted only a few months before it was washed out. There was a path were you could walk and see the falls from different vantage points. In some areas it was practically raining! We couldn’t stay too long at the falls because we had plans to take a nile boat cruise that leaves at 2pm. So we drove back to the ferry landing where the boat tours also embark from.

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We took a boat tour offered by the Ugandan Wildlife Authority. It was a relaxing ride though next time I would choose either a pontoon boat or a private tour on a small motor boat because our boat was often too big to get close to shore to see wildlife. We passed a heard of elephants that we could barely see with the naked eye but unfortunately couldn’t get any closer. I still got a pretty good photo with my zoom lens though! I also used my camera like binoculars! On the way there were some beautiful sandy cliffs with hundreds of holes where birds had dug nests. From downstream the falls look like a delicate white hourglass and don’t reveal much of its power that we saw hours before. The boat anchored for a short time to a rock and they allowed some passengers to climb on the rock and take photos with the falls in the background. Al took one of her epic jump shots after which the boat crew said no more jumping allowed! I think my family was glad they came on the cruise, even if it meant not having time for a proper lunch. We made it back to the ferry landing where our drivers were waiting for us. It was 5pm and we were going to do one last game drive before going back to the lodge. Frank said that Murchison Falls is a very forgiving park in that if you don’t see certain wildlife in the morning, you will likely get to see it on the evening game drive. Before departing we decided to gather to take a group photo. It took a while to get everyone in one place and while we were waiting, a baboon climbed into one of the vans and later into the other one! Our drivers quickly chased it away and we had to laugh!

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The White Nile

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The bold culprit!

We switched vans this time so that the other group could benefit from Frank’s knowledge. It wasn’t very comfortable, but we decided to sit on the rack behind the pop-up roof to enjoy the view. We saw more animals as the sun started to set. Frank’s prediction of seeing what we had not yet seen came true. We saw another group of elephants in the distance, and at dusk we arrived where there were several other vans viewing a group of two female lions and three cubs. It was amazing to see! Another beautiful sight was a line of giraffes, all walking in the same direction with the sun setting behind them. Because we had gone on a detour to see the lions we were running a bit late getting out of the park and had to speed up. There were several vans in front of us heading out as well and one of them broke down on the narrow road and we all got stuck waiting behind them! Fortunately they fixed it somehow and we managed to continue on our way. We stopped two other times on the way for two other surprises. The first was a group of elephants that crossed the road in front of us, just before all light was gone. They were so incredibly close and large! Vikkie tried to get a photo, but only managed to capture a blurry face with glowing eyes! We joked that she should put the photo on Facebook and have people guess what they thought it was! The next time we stopped was for a male lion that crossed the road, but unfortunately only the group in the first van saw it. What an amazing day it had been! It felt like three days packed into one! We arrived at the lodge closer to 9pm this time and dinner was ready for us.

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Hartebeest that Frank called the stupidest antelope because it can forget that it is being chased by a predator

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Photo by Vikkie Chen

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The following morning we hit the road at 8:30am and this time took the route around the park. It was nice to leave a little later so that we could see what Heritage Safari Lodge looks like in the daylight. The lodge is composed of a cluster of self-contained cottages that are built using traditional methods. In fact, on the journey back we passed by several villages that were constructed in a similar way. We had several stops to make on the way back. We first dropped off Serges, Hortense, and Wivine, then went to the cafe across from Mikindye Country Club to pick up the rest of the garments from the seamstress. After that we split ways and Othy went with one driver to pick up my everyone’s things that we had stored at his brother’s place, while we went directly to a restaurant in Entebbe called Anna’s Corner. It was nice to be able to eat together and do some rearranging of luggage before taking everyone to the airport. It was bittersweet to say goodbye. On one hand I was sad they were leaving and on the other hand was glad that all the planning and responsibility was over and that Othy and I could enjoy being with just the two of us for the rest of our honeymoon.

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Heritage Safari Lodge – Photo by Vikkie Chen

 

October 14, 2018

Wedding Venue Tourism

In mid September I spent several days searching for a wedding venue around Kampala. To make it more fun I treated myself like a tourist who was going around to discover beautiful places around Kampala. I found some really nice spots! On a Wednesday on the way to the grocery store I visited Lindsay Cottage in Lubowa. The place felt a bit tired, but the garden and pool held potential with the right decor and lighting. I liked that it was private and snug.

The following Saturday I made a day out of visiting as many places as I could. In the morning I met a contact of someone who works at EMI who took me to a property on lake Victoria that is owned by a landscape design firm. It was beautiful though the place was remote, unfinished, and had no experience hosting big events.

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I took a matatu to the bypass and hired a boda to take me to a place called Speke Resort. This place is a wedding venue machine hosting around 200 weddings each year! It has several lawns to choose from and a few lake-front wedding areas. It was fun to be there on a Saturday because several weddings were getting set up as I was walking around. The generic lawns didn’t really interest me very much and unfortunately the lake front areas were already booked up. There was however one lake front garden that was rarely used because it was too far away from the washrooms and therefore required portable toilets for events. I thought it was beautiful and also liked that it was a bit out of the way and so felt less commercial.

Next I took a matatu to downtown and a boda to Emerald Hotel. It is a three star hotel with one interior banquet hall and two gardens. This was the most affordable venue I had seen yet but unlike the other places does not offer complete escape from the hustle and bustle of Kampala.

Last of the day I went up to Makerere University to visit St. Francis Chapel. I tried calling ahead to see if I could meet with someone to talk about venue availability and prices, but nobody answered. I still wanted to see the campus and so decided to walk around on my own. St. Francis Chapel is a beautiful church though would feel too big for a wedding of only 100 people. I thought that the lawn beside the church held a lot of potential because it was nicely framed by the church and another nice building and offered a view over the city. A wedding had just finished at the church and I noticed that the party was headed to a nearby student centre. It is a round building with a lot of windows. I managed to get a peak at the reception inside and it was a nice space! I also enjoyed seeing a few other nicely designed buildings on campus. I came across a beautiful courtyard that I thought could be a nice spot for wedding photos. I met a student on campus called Papa Tom who offered to help me inquire after the venue. He let me know later that the place was all booked up.

Although I had more places on my list to visit, they were too far away and the day was almost over. The search could really be endless and so it would be better to make a decision from the few venues that I had seen. There was one more venue that I had arranged to see the following Monday. It was a lead I had received from a girl who I met on Saturday morning while stopping in to visit Jess and the interns before heading out to the lake-front property. Ironically this venue was another lakefront property but the difference was that the venue incorporated the services of a wedding planner. The venue is called Estate E’Bwerenga and is a beautiful and peaceful property on Lake Victoria with a nicely designed four-bedroom house. Although it was the most expensive option, I liked that it had areas that would serve well for the religious ceremony and the reception, and that it was a package deal where the planner is familiar with the site and can bring together all of the necessary vendors.

In the end we chose to go with the last venue. Even though it was a lot of traveling around and inquiring, I enjoyed the process of seeing some beautiful destinations in and around Kampala.

September 6, 2018

Lola ya Bonobo

On the last Sunday and last full day in Kinshasa, we went with a group of friends to a large Catholic church, and then afterwards drove out of town to visit Lola ya Bonobo, a sanctuary for orphaned Bonobos, one of the few great ape species. The drive was quite nice and offered a perspective of the outskirts of the city. The joke of the drive was that Othy asked at one point whether he had to go left or right (though it was more like left or straight), and his friend responded with “On continue” or “We continue” in English. From then on we kept joking around with the phrase. The last few kilometers to the sanctuary were on dirt roads. We stopped at a roadside market near our destination where we bought some tasty fruit called Mangosteen (this is the English term). It was so deliciously sweet and juicy!

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Once at the sanctuary we got our tickets for $5 each inside a little gift shop. I’m not sure if I got a break because we explained that Othy and I are engaged or if the clerk was just pulling our strings that there was an international and a local price. We sat down in the welcome pavilion and got a very quick introduction about the Bonobo before proceeding on the tour. Bonobos are a great ape species in the genus “Pan” that are closely related to the Chimpanzee and are the closest relative to human beings. They are only found in the DRC. The differences between Chimpanzees and Bonobos are that Chimpanzees are larger and more aggressive and male-dominated, while Bonobos are slightly smaller, more peaceful, and female-dominated. They live in small communities that are slightly matriarchal. Females only give birth about once every 5 years because they spend 4 years nursing their infants. They are endangered due to the destruction of their habitats and poaching for bushmeat.The Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary is 75 acres and has 60 bonobos. They save orphaned infant bonobos often found in markets, nurse and rehabilitate them into the protected Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary, and then sometimes release them into another site in the wild called Ekolo ya Bonobo.

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We were taken on a walking tour around the sanctuary with a group of 20-30 people to see the bonobos from various vantage points. It was very cool to see the bonobos up close, though it was unfortunate to have a substantial fence in between. Although bonobos are peaceable among themselves, I imagine that the large groups of visitors that come through can be overwhelming and likely stimulates some aggression. At one of the viewing areas there were two bonobos dragging tree branches. One of them threw dirt at us and I got some in my eye (that will forever be a first)! I was glad that I wore good shows because the walk was 3km and there were some areas where we had to climb and descend some hills. I enjoyed being in nature and having an opportunity to do some walking since most of my movements within Kinshasa were in a car.

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The last stop on our tour was to see the nursery for infant bonobos. It was in an inclosed area with a playground for the bonobos and a few small trampolines behind a glass viewing area. Our tour-guide explained to us that each baby bonobo is assigned to a human Mama who interacts with them and feeds them by bottle for five years until they are introduced into the protected bonobo community. What a strange and interesting job that would be! Three bonobos have been born in the “wild”, which shows that the project to rehabilitate the orphaned bonobos is succeeding.

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At the end of the walk there was a river with a small waterfall that leads to a beach picnic area. There was a little island in the river with bamboo table and chairs and a bamboo bridge accessing it. It was a beautiful spot surrounded by palms, grasses, and bamboo shoots. We stayed there for a bit and took some photos together. I loved seeing things built from local materials. After leaving the sanctuary we had lunch at a restaurant that had a beach and picnic pavilions on the other side of the river. Unfortunately because of poor communication we ordered two very overpriced meals of tilapia and fries that were definitely not worth the money! I advise anyone else visiting here to bring a picnic lunch instead! Overall it was an enjoyable day in great company! I was glad to have the chance to visit Kinshasa and meet some of Othy’s friends and colleagues who welcomed me so warmly.

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September 4, 2018

Journey to Kinshasa

Othy and my journey to Kinshasa was an adventure from the very start. Our flight was with Kenya Airways with a stopover in Nairobi. Upon arriving in Nairobi we learned that our connecting flight had been delayed 12 hours for no legitimate reason and instead of the flight departing at noon it would depart at midnight! I couldn’t help but chuckle at the large crowd of frustrated and animated Congolese people surrounding the Kenya airways help desk. They were frustrated for good reason because their flight was probably selected as the one to cancel because the airline would not be obliged to put the passengers on other flights because there were no other flights going to Kinshasa. Othy and I didn’t feel like hanging around the airport for that long and so we inquired about a hotel room. First we had to wait for a form to fill out, and then we had to go into the line for getting the Visa, but no wait… we had to go back and get that form signed, but no wait… the person who was supposed to sign it had disappeared somewhere. He finally showed up again and signed our forms, we waited in line again for the visa, we waited in the baggage claim as they sorted out the hotel details, and then waited again for a bus that would bring us there. What a process! They took us to a hotel called the Tamarind Tree. Our rooms were not ready and so they showed us to the restaurant where we partook of a buffet lunch. The hotel had good food and a nice atmosphere. Finally we were able to check into our rooms. It was a nicely designed suite and so I enjoyed taking a nap, taking a shower, drinking tea, and watching a TV episode to pass the time. We had dinner at the hotel and then at 8pm we caught the shuttle bus back to the airport. We arrived in Kinshasa at 3am only to discover that almost everyone’s bags did not arrive, even though they had twelve hours to make sure they got to the right place! Othy’s friend was there to pick us up and bring us to his place where we would be staying. Few! What a journey!

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First time flying together!

I could not see much of Kinshasa by night and so the next day I got to wake up and discover my surroundings. In the late morning we drove together into the city center. Othy’s friend lives in a neighbourhood called Kingabwa which is a nice spot because it is away from the city center and yet not too far. The first thing to take note of is the traffic. Most of the cars on the road are taxi cars and vans that are painted bright yellow. They stop for people everywhere and so are often the cause of traffic jams. I also learned that they are called “Esprit du Mort” or “Spirit of Death”, likely because of how old and broken down they are, how crazy they drive, and how full many people pack into them. There are also some newer larger buses that were introduced later and were given the name “Esprit de Vie”, “Spirit of Life”. The second thing to take note of is that there is garbage everywhere. It is clear that there is no city infrastructure in place to handle all of the plastic bags, bottles, and steel cans that have been introduced by mostly imported products. The downtown has many interesting buildings that look well designed, though many of them look ruddy from lack of maintenance. Some of the design elements that are common are horizontal and vertical shading, using balconies as a way to offer play and variance in the facade, curves that follow street curves or corners, and interesting uses of concrete which seems to be the most common building material.

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On Monday we went to the office of Othy’s colleague where we did work for most of the day. We also walked to the Kenya Airways office to submit letters of complaint and ask about how to locate our bags (we didn’t want to have to go to the airport until we had confirmation that they were there). The following day we went to the South African visa application center and then to the airport to get our bags. The journey there revealed just how crazy the traffic is in this city! The road to the airport is four lanes wide on each side. Traffic jams are mostly caused by the taxis who stop anywhere, often in clusters, or attempt to do U-turns to go back the other way. Pedestrians criss cross the eight lanes of traffic; large pedestrian bridges were constructed about a year ago, but remain unused. Young men often step up on the back bumpers of the taxis for a ride or sit/surf on top of them. The stretch of road between the downtown and the N’djili airport is the main artery for the part of the city where more than three quarters of the population lives, primarily urban poor who inhabit a vast area of precarious dwellings. It took about an hour to get to the airport. Apparently before the road was widened it could take up to six hours! The airport was also chaotic but somehow our bags were there after arriving on the previous day’s flight! I was so thankful and happy to be able to finally change my clothes! On Wednesday Othy’s mentor offered to take us around to see a few things in the city. He took us to a housing development that seemed to be struggling. The houses were okay but I didn’t think they were worth the money that they were asking. It seemed like it would have been better if they had found a way to target a lower income bracket with denser, more affordable units. After that we visited several buildings in the downtown including a mall. I was feeling light-headed because it was 3pm and I hadn’t eaten lunch, and so we sat down on a terrace in a large atrium and had pieces of cake and Maltinas. From there we went to the main market. It was a maze of stalls and tables selling anything and everything. The place was bustling and I had to concentrate on not losing Othy’s mentor who was leading us. A large part of the market was beneath umbrella-type concrete canopies but also extended beyond them under colourful tarps and umbrellas. At one point there was a vehicle playing Congolese music and everyone around us knew the song and were singing along!


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The following days fell into a rhythm of work some days at the office and other days at the house. I was glad to be able to take time to focus on E4C and IRI work after being distracted during the last week in Beni and then being on the road. For lunch when at the office we had takeout a few times, and walked to two nearby fast-food restaurants. At the house I reheated leftovers a few times. In Kinshasa food is almost the same price as in Toronto. Most things are imported and so the food is not fresh like in North Kivu. Othy’s friend’s girlfriend generously cooked for us many times, and often we would come home at 6 or 7pm and there would be a meal waiting on the table. Near the end of our second week there, Othy’s mentor took us on another small trip, this time to visit a garbage dump that had failed, and a logging port. The “Centre d’Enfouissement Techniques des Dechets” or “Technical Centre of Landfill Waste” is a project that the EU had invested in, but after a time operations stopped and the equipment was pillaged and is now just sitting there and rusting. It was sad to see. This is one example of many large projects in Congo with foreign investment that have failed. The logging port was another site to see. The logs were gigantic and sitting in large piles. The port is on the Congo river and so we walked down to see the water. The trees are brought here on long metal boats and transferred to shore with pulleys. It made me sad to think that these trees are likely coming from unregulated or illegal forestry. I couldn’t help but think of an article I had read recently from Global Witness called Total Systems Failure about how the government is looking the other way while companies, many of them international, are logging illegally and committing social and environmental abuses.

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I discovered during this time in Kinshasa that this city is where all of the challenges that the country faces can be seen in high definition. It also seems that many people are either powerless to make change or have given up in trying. One Congolese person said to me that the hearts of the Kinois (Congolese in Kinshasa) have been replaced with a mechanical survival mechanism that is pumping blood but has no feeling. I was definitely overwhelmed by everything that I saw. We got on the topic when Othy and I were eating lunch with a friend of ours from Beni who was also in Kinshasa for a short time. How can you not be paralyzed by the overwhelming weight of problems and need? The answer is to start small, do the small things that you can, and over time it will grow and maybe even inspire others. I am not sure yet what my contribution will be if we end up settling here in the long term, but a lot of ideas were beginning to brew in my mind about how to turn waste into construction materials, how to build more with the sand that is the main type of soil here, and what kind of funding/construction mechanisms could be used for upgrading precarious dwellings. Despite all of the many challenges I have presented here, one redeeming aspect of the city is how friendly and welcoming the people are. I felt well received by all of Othy’s friends and colleagues. Another positive aspect about Kinshasa is that it is close to some beautiful natural places. In the next post I will write about two such places that we visited on the two Sundays during my stay. I think that I saw a good amount for only a two week visit!

July 1, 2018

Goma in Passing

I did not get to see much of Goma because I arrived after dark (around 9pm) and left early the next morning at 6am. My small experience was of the Maji Matulivu Guesthouse (meaning “still waters” in Swahili) that is situated on the edge of Lake Kivu. The guesthouse is beautiful but had a feeling of melancholy because there was hardly anyone there. I had missed dinner but fortunately found the cook and was given a plate of cold leftovers. While I was eating, an older European woman poked her head into the kitchen and we chatted for a bit. She had lived in South Kivu for a long time and was just passing through. I went to bed early because the lights in the living area were already off and I also had to wake up early the next morning. I had trouble getting to sleep however, because someone in the room next to me started singing opera between 10-11pm. I was a bit annoyed by it but somehow it added to the poetic intrigue of this place! The next morning I woke up to the beautiful view of lake Kivu and got to see the changing colours of the clouds as the sun began to rise. My driver came to pick me up, we picked up Jon (I saw Archip in passing on the way there and rolled down my window to shake his hand in greeting!), and then we headed to the airport. The process of checking in was a bit confusing because we had to pay two different taxes each in different locations. I was thankful to travel with Jon because he had an idea of the process. We were flying with UNHAS who allow 20kg of weight with any extra weight costing $1.5 per kg. I had to leave my guitar and my second suitcase with a colleague in Goma to be sent on a different flight a few days later. The plane was the smallest I have been on. We stopped in Bunia and had to get off the plane, go through a security point, to get back on the plane after they finished refuelling. Finally we arrived in Beni and my good friend Lauren was there to welcome us! It felt so strange and yet so good to be back!

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