Sunday, May 29, 2011

Day 1-> Boston, Washington, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda

The time is nine thirty at night laughably early to be ending our first day in a foreign country yet today seems like it began a week ago. I spent much of the day in transit talking to my classmates on this trip who I only knew fleetingly from our interactions on campus. It stuck in my mind how everyone on this trip has such a unique perspective and has so many interesting things about their lives despite that fact that we all go to the same school. There are people in this group personally connected with this genocide, others who have worked on service trips their whole lives, some who just love to see what’s around the next bend and others who are doing a trip like this for their first time. What follows are the highlights as I see them.
 I woke up to a blaring alarm after what seemed like five minutes of sleep. My clock showed 3:30 am and after a moment of confusion I realized that I had to be at the airport in a half an hour to meet the rest of the members of the Hillel service trip and begin my journey to Rwanda. After a quick ride to the airport on an empty highway I arrived at Logan Airport terminal C to catch the United Airlines flight to Dulles. Shortly after my arrival our fearless leader Tali Lieber arrived followed by Dan and Jenny. Dan and Jenny arrived with a carload of shoes in tow. After frantic cramming we were able to condense a month long collection of shoes into a few donation bags and our journey to Africa began. The trip to Dulles was uneventful and we made our connection with time to spare.
 The second leg of the journey was going to be a difficult thirteen hour flight to Ethiopia. A number of us were self proclaimed nervous fliers and I found myself silently hoping for a turbulent free flight for the sake of group morale. Seated in the back of the plane the beginning portion of the flight was a little choppy and I nervously glanced around the plane in an attempt to gauge the mood of the nervous fliers in our group. Luckily after a short while we smoothed out and had no other turbulence problems on the rest of the flight.
Apart from the screaming babies (who always seem to fly to exotic locations, and be seated next to me) and the plastic headphones without any padding, the Air Ethiopia flight was as pleasant a thirteen hour experience as I could have hoped for. A lot of us slept for quite awhile and the TV screens on the back of every seat back helped pass the time. Somehow I ended up with the veggie meal, the bread was a little stale but I was so hungry that I didn’t mind.
I was told that the flight over Ethiopia was gorgeous with a dark desolate landscape giving way to hills and mountains but I was so tired I only woke up when our plane had touched down.
Again we made our connection without any issue and soon after we found ourselves on board a plane that stopped first in Uganda and finally onto Rwanda. As soon as our plane crossed the border into Uganda I noticed a stark contrast between the rugged landscape of Ethiopia and the splendid green of Uganda and Rwanda. Although the flights had been pleasant enough the group heaved a collective sigh of relief when we finally touched down in Kigali after sixteen hours of travel.
After passing through customs we emerged from the airport to meet our contact Ariela Alpert, a Long Term Volunteer International Coordinator at the Agahozo-Shalom village. She helped us load a standard pickup tuck with our donation bags. We had so many gifts and shoes that we needed to lash down the bags to prevent them from falling out of the truck. I can just picture the little pickup rumbling across dirt roads ridiculously overburdened, hopefully the ropes keeping the luggage on board hold.    
We boarded a “Stella” bus and made our way through Kigali. Kigali is a beautiful city, extremely green with very little pollution anywhere. It is also one of the least densely populated cities I have ever seen and it most parts the city seems more like a suburb than the sprawling metropolis which I expected to encounter.
Shortly after leaving the airport we arrived at a small mall to exchange money and buy phones and international calling cards. A group of us who were not purchasing phones (sorry Mom and Dad!) decided to find a café and get a large pot of strong coffee to combat traveler’s fatigue. We sat on a balcony table overlooking a beautiful hill and drank delicious coffee. The coffee had an almost fruity taste with a strong roasted after taste. The delicious aroma and warm caffeinated liquid helped rejuvenate us and great conversation soon followed. I could have stayed in this comfortable café and talked for hours, but after what seemed like way shorter than an hour we were on the move again to our hotel.
When we emerged at our hotel we meet Rachel Olstein Kaplan, Director of Volunteer Service at the village and a sister of Say, one of the girls on our trip. I can’t really recall what we said in the short meeting before we broke up to get settled in but I do remember how awesomely comfortable the bed in my room was. After a quick power nap (an hour and a half) I woke up to the sound of drums coming from outside my window. I found my roommate Dan Katz-Seiger and next door neighbor David Reiff sitting out on the balcony observing a group of Rwandan students playing the drums and dancing in the distance. It was a really surreal experience to wake up from a nap and realize that you are sitting on a balcony in Africa.
Again we piled into our buses, and went to a restaurant about fifteen minutes down the road. The pizza at this place was surprisingly americanized and very good, and the beers were absurdly tall. A few of us shared beers so that we could taste all the Rwandan brewers had to offer. I ordered Turbo dark ale which according to the waiter is a beer for real men.
Tomorrow we are going to the genocide memorial something I am looking forward to intellectually yet cannot help harboring mixed feelings and apprehension about. I am barely able to keep my eyes open as I am finishing these last few sentences so goodnight and more tomorrow.
Nathan Glassman 5/26/11

Beautiful view of Kigali!

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