Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Welcome to the Jungle

(Pictured Here: The Jungle! [Picture added to blog entry on 11/19/2009])
I have a couple pieces of information to pass along, then I would like to talk about my three hours in an African Jungle (in Southwestern Rwanda).

Piece: I met with the Peace Corps Rwanda Training Director this week. He calculates that my language skills are considered 'middle intermediate'. I need to be at 'high intermediate' (one level up) in about five weeks in order to be sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer and begin my project. Neither of us thinks this is going to be a problem, so we agreed that I should shoot to obtain the level of 'high advanced' before training is complete. He also thinks that I am having no problems assimilating to the culture; I agree. Good stuff; very encouraging.

Piece: Speaking of beginning my assignment, I find out where I am going to be placed and what I will be doing at my site on Friday. Needless to say, I am very excited. I don't have much information about this now, BUT I find out on Friday and they send me out to the site next week...for the whole week. At site I will meet my new coworkers, find out where I am going to live, and get a tour of the 'umudugudu' (village). Again, I am very excited.

Piece: I visited an HIV and AIDS health clinic today. The clinic, though small in size, provides a multitude of services for its patients. The site provides professional therapy, prevention and education programming, and it even has a testing laboratory. This clinic is right down the street from the health clinic I visited last week. Please keep the staff and patients of these clinics in your thoughts and prayers.

Piece: I also visited an orphanage today. Much like the community health clinic and the HIV and AIDS health clinic I visited, the orphanage is a great facility full of caring staff. HOWEVER, just like the clinics, the staff of the orphanage is very small in number. There are six orphanages in Rwanda that are run by a specific order of nuns. There may be more facilities, but I was only told of these six; each of these facilities accomodates over 100 children. There are obviously more orphans than that in the country; I have already met a few on the street. Please keep the staff and children of these facilities in your thoughts and prayers.

The Jungle: In a word...beautiful...

...the second most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life. Yeah, and I almost didn't even go. Hahahaha. The night before was our mid-service training party. It took place in the form of a talent show. What did I do for my talent? Malcolm, another trainee, and I decided to do some spoken word...'Def Poetry Jam' style. We had to follow this AMAZING song and dance show some other trainees organized. Seriously, they were awesome. Our act was not meant to be a follower to that, more of an opener. At any rate, we performed, it went well, and it turned out to be a laaaaaate night at the bar for everyone.

Anway, I woke up the next morning to knocking at my door. It was Brandon, another trainee.
'Emmett, get up. It's time to go to the jungle.'
Hahahaha. I was funny to me. I was REALLY going to an African jungle today. Anyway, I got up, dressed, ate a quick breakfast, and met everyone at the bus.

As soon as the bus started moving I immediately thanked myself for responding to Brandon's knock and forcing myself to get up. The bus ride to the national park was two hours. It was a beautiful drive AND Kate (thanks, Kate) let me listen to her IPod all the way there. I hadn't heard American music for more than five minutes at a time since I have been to Rwanda. It was awesome...I pretty much listened to 'Say It Ain't So' by Weezer for like an hour. Hahaha. I reflected...almost cried...good song...good memories.

So we showed up to the park and I could tell right away that we were no longer driving through the country side, but that we were driving in the jungle. The road in the jungle was paved and gave great evidence that man existed, but the view told a different story; specifically, the view stated that man was no longer in charge once he left the road.

We exited the bus and paid our fees. It took a little while to get things started, but we soon met with our guide. He gave us a brief overview about the flora and fauna of the jungle, then we set off. (There were just over twenty of us; we were worried that we would scare everything off...we soon learned that this was not the case.)

The guide was a tall, dark skinned man. He spoke English very well, but with a notable African accent.
'We take the main road to the trail. On the trail we see the Colobus monkeys.'
His voice was deep. He wore black boots and a dark green uniform, just as dark as the jungle itself. We began walking on the main, paved road. A few minutes after being on the road we ran into our first African creature; specifically, an earthworm over one foot long. I got a picture to prove it. It had rained earlier in the day and had forced the worm out of the ground. Luckily it survived the long stretch of road and we were able to witness this jungle creature on our journey.

Anyway, taking pictures of the worm took us a little while. We did it until the guide was getting noticably anxious; he wanted to move up the road, which meant it was time to continue. We kept walking up the main road, stopping briefly to take pictures of the jungle and the mist that covered it. This mist is no joke, is very real and very thick.

The view was awesome. In fact, at one point the guide pointed out that we could see Lake Kivu from where we were standing; it was just past the mist covered hill to our right. Could a more general statement ever be made in 'the land of 1,000 hills'...I don't know? Anyway, we looked past the mist covered forest and saw the glimmer of a vast body of water...Lake Kivu...past Lake Kivu, we saw the DRC...that's right...Congo. I didn't realize that we had gone that far West to get to the park, but we did.

At any rate, we continue walking for about 20 minutes or so and we start asking ourselves:
'Okay, where is this 'trail'? When do we actually get to go into the jungle?'
I tried to stay as close to the guide as possible. He kept talking to someone through his walkie-talkie in Kinyarwandan and I was trying to pick a few things up...just a few words to figure out what was going on without having to actually ask him. Just as I was about to ask him where the trail was located, another guide came out of the jungle onto the main road. Seriously, he came out of nowhere. The jungle moved a bit and then he appeared; it was pretty cool.

As he came from the jungle, I noticed that he was wearing the same uniform as our guide. So I put two and two together...this guy was on the other end of our guide's walkie-talkie. He was sent into the jungle earlier in the day to find us a Colobus monkey family to observe; machete in hand, this new guide waved us over.
'Here is the trail.'

Hahahahaha. There was no trail in the 'formal' sense of the word. This new guide was our trail. A more correct statement would be that he was our 'trail-maker'. I thought to myself, 'AWESOME. This is really happening. Welcome to the Jungle.'

I hate to leave you all at this point in the story, but I have to go eat dinner and I am running out of time. I have so much more to tell you all about...and not just about the jungle. Please do keep commenting on my entries. Let me know what you would like to learn and I'll pull my notes together to create and/or expand upon some more Cultural Notes. The conclusion of 'Welcome to the Jungle' is coming soon. Until then...'Amahoro' (Peace).


  1. did the monkeys have thumbs, Emmett? did they? I had to give you some crap for the monkey thing, but I wont anymore. It sounds really awesome. And as for Say it aint so ... well now you know how I felt. Don't die in the jungle.

  2. That sounds amazing! I'm in the process of writing a response to your facebook message, but, rest assured that I will write soon.

    Best of luck with working on the language proficiency!!

  3. at some point, i would love to see a photo blog with captions.