Cyangugu

Trip Start Mar 31, 2009
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Trip End Apr 22, 2009


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Monday, April 20, 2009

Mr Mundeli arrived at Chez Lando this morning at 7:30 as planned. What wasn't according to plan was that the electronic credit card verification service was working; it hadn't been working for 3 days. I had checked earlier. This is the downside of Chez Lando.  It is inexpensive (though prices are creeping up), clean and pleasant - especially the new rooms, but it's sometimes impossible to pay with a card because the system goes down for days. I've had this happen too many times. So I had to pay in cash for 5 days' worth of room and meals.
 
There are a number of things one doesn't want to run out of in Africa: patience, a sense of humor, gasoline, Imodium, and above all divine protection. Yet another thing is cash. Cash is what helps makes possible solving problems, calming drunk belligerent policemen, taking care of unexpected needs, and making possible emergency getaways. I always try to come home with a reasonable cash reserve just in case something weird and unexpected (the two are not automatically one and the same...) happens at the last moment. This would cut into my reserve. So I redid the math for the upcoming days, and decided everything should still work.
 
Mr. Mundeli had brought Jean-Marie (also Mr. Mundeli's first, Christian, names) the owner-driver of a middle-aged, right-hand drive, Toyota Land Cruiser. Jean-Marie, I found, didn't speak any English and barely any French. Nathan and Moïse were already waiting inside the vehicle. We loaded my luggage and headed for the central post office which is a good place to change money, even early Sunday morning. I changed enough for the trip we were starting, and then we drove to the central bus station where Moïse and Nathan disembarked to catch their transportation to Bujumbura. I had offered to bring them with us to Cyangugu (pronounced Cheean-googoo), from where they could go on to Cibitoke, but they decided to go via Bujumbura.
 
I put $120 dollars worth of diesel in the vehicle, hopefully enough to get us there and back again, and we started out on the road to Butare, the second largest city in Rwanda, located about 150 km to the south. Almost as soon as we left Kigali it started raining; it's the season. The windshield wipers worked reasonably well, but Jean-Marie didn't want to use his defroster. He preferred to wipe the windshield with his hand, which of course I had to do too. About 30 km out of town, we stopped to pick up Mrs. Mundeli and their daughter Lydia. They would ride with us to Butare so as to visit the one-year-old daughter of another Mundeli daughter, Rachel. They haven't been able to see her much. It's a relatively long trip down for them and it costs money.
 
Off we went through the hills and clouds of Rwanda. What with the altitude and temperatures and rain, we were actually in the clouds. Visibility dropped, and I really wished Jean-Marie would use the defroster. I mumbled something in French, and turned it on for him. He turned it off again quite firmly. When I asked why he said the French word for air-conditioning. I couldn't quite make the connection. I let it go again, but when he swerved back and forth while trying to wipe the windshield, I put my proverbial foot down. Mr. Mundeli translated as I explained each step and told him it was possible to run the defroster without the air conditioning running (it is in this vehicle). Insisting that he wait two minutes, I wouldn't let him turn it off, and the windshield cleared, much to my delight. I'm not sure how Jean-Marie felt, but he let it ride. The roads were still potholed, the drop-offs precipitous, the rain blinding at times, but at least we could see.
 
Around 10:00 we arrived in Butare. We dropped the ladies off at Rachel's house, and I waited a quarter of an hour while Mr. Mundeli went in to admire his grand-daughter. Then we started west toward Cyangugu and Bukavu. The road became noticeably worse, the rain came and went. We started climbing as we entered the Myangwe National Forest, our road took us through the middle of it. It is said to be pristine rain/cloud forest that dates from the last Ice Age, which would make it very old - it apparently at least survived the Flood. It was absolutely stunning. We wove along, doing the African pothole-slalom, and worked out way up to 3000 meters - around 10,000 feet altitude. This jungle is famous for its many bird species and for its primates. Several times we saw troupes of Colobus monkeys along the side of the road. I tried to get photos, but by the time we would get close enough, they would melt into the ferns.
 
As we drove along the mountain crest, we came to a sign that marked the water divide. A drop of rain falling on one side of the road would end up in the Nile River, and after a long journey, spill into the Mediterranean. A drop of rain falling a few meters away, on the other side of the road, would flow down the other way, end up in the Congo River, and after a long journey surge into the Atlantic. Small differences in trajectory can take one to wildly different destinations.
 
After much bumping and bouncing and swerving and fist-clenching on handles, and occasional gasping at close calls, we finally saw Lake Kivu through the mountains and trees. We were nearing Cyangugu and the Bukavu region of Congo. This is the war-torn area that again recently suffered from fighting between several groups with UN troops caught in the middle. The fighting happened up around Goma, at the north end of Lake Kivu, but we lost touch with a church family at the south end in the city of Bukavu. I had a report at one time that they were in Goma, which was the target point of a rebel advance. We couldn't reach them for weeks, and feared they were caught in the chaos somehow. We did finally hear from them but didn't get much detail, so I wanted to come visit them to have news and let them know we were thinking of them.
 
Mr. Mundeli called them as we got close, and Mr. and Mrs. Burumé were waiting for us on the Rwandan side of the border crossing as we drove in. The crossing itself was a narrow metal bridge over the river that drains out of Lake Kivu, heading down toward Lake Tanganyika.
 
We found a place where we could talk at the "Home Saint François," a hostel run by an order of nuns. We had a Fanta each and caught up on the news. This was my first time to meet Mrs. Burumé, I had met Mr. Burume several years ago when he came into Rwanda to attend a church service with us. This was the first time ever, I believe, that they'd had a visit in their area. Even Mr. Mundeli had never been here.
 
The Kivu area has been the site of armed classes off and on for decades. This time thankfully the fighting hadn't come to their area. It turned out that our problems communicating with them was just because of long power outages, they hadn't been able to charge their cell phone battery. That was a relief to know.
 
The Burumés have fascinating stories to tell. Mr. Burumé was teaching science in a high school in Eastern Rwanda when we discovered the church through one of its magazines to which one of his students was subscribed. Later after marrying and becoming a member of the Church in Rwanda they had to flee the country when the genocide began in 1994. They heard Tutsis being rounded up and slaughtered in the center of town and sheltered in their home a Tutsi girl who came to them for sanctuary. They were discovered by an Interahamwe militiaman who told them "out of respect for you as a teacher I will not hurt her, but others who come after me will." The RPF forces arrived about then and combat began in the city as the government forces were pushed back. The Tutsi girl decided to head for the rebel side and safety. The Burumés fled east across the border into Tanzania, then made large loop south and west to reach the border with Congo, from where they made their way north to Bukavu.
 
They now have 8 children, ranging in age from two who are in their last years of high school, to the two youngest who haven't started school yet. Mr. Burumé teaches chemistry, but his salary is only barely keeping up with expenses.
 
They mentioned how they had trouble finding a house near the school where their children attend and near his place of work. Several years ago they contacted me asking for advice. I told them we should all pray about it, I would join them and we would ask God to show them what they should do, and provide a solution.  Shortly afterward, they found a house for rent in a perfect spot, but the price was too high for them: $70 a month. (In the Congolese economy, the US dollar has replaced the local currency for many if not most transactions - this is to avoid the inflation and other uncertainties linked to the Congolese Franc). Then they discovered the owner was a former colleague of Mr. Burumé who, when contacted, agreed to rent it to them for $30 a month. But he warned them that the house was up so sale and they would have to move if it sold. They have now been in the house for eight years, it has never sold. Rent went up to $40 a few years after they moved in, but that time they could manage it. Recently the owner said he was raising the rent to $70, what it should have been 8 years ago. That's still less than market value, but more than they can afford at present. I suggested again that we pray about it and see what God will provide. I know they would very much appreciate the prayers of any who would care to join us in asking for divine guidance and help.
 
We moved across the street to the Hotel du Lac where we could have some lunch as we continued to talk. I ordered a beef brochette with friend potatoes, others orders fillet of capitaine (Nile perch). By the time we finished it was nearly 4:30. We walked over to have a look at the border crossing. They said if and when I can come back it would be easy and safe to cross the border because of how many UN troops and aid organizations work there. I had noticed a large tin shelter at the border bearing the letters UNHCR - UN High Commissioner for Refugees. It was there no doubt to process the refugees that fled Congo recently to escape the fighting in the Kivu Region. So I'm sure there is a large UN presence. We'll see next time.
 
We walked them back to the border bridge, after a four-hour visit together: they would arrive home just before dark, which is best. I snapped a photo of them and we said good-bye, and that we would keep in touch via e-mail when possible (seldom) or failing that phone and SMS. It was good to know they and their family were safe and making ends meet - if only barely, but that's the case with virtually the whole continent.
 
We took a few minutes to drive through Cynagugu. It's one of the largest "cities" on the Rwandan map, but it's only a slightly over-grown village.   There were some beautiful view of Lake Kivu and Bukavu beyond. Because of the heavy clouds and rain, the sunset over Lake Kivu was a stunning study in blue.

We then drove back to the "Home Saint François" which seemed clean and safe and only cost about $10 a night for a room with a mosquito net (very much needed). There is cold running water, and a toilet (no toilet seat), so it will do for the night. We finished lunch so late we didn't go back for dinner. We're all three turning in early because tomorrow we'll be up at 3:30 so we can leave by 4:00 to be in Nyungwe National Forest-Park by 6:00. The mosquitoes are out in force, not surprising with all the water around.
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Comments

danielandcindy
danielandcindy on

Good news
It is very good news to hear that the Burumé family is safe and were not so badly affected by the rebel fighting (but were out of communication due to power outages)! I remember the prayer requests for them. What interesting stories they have to share. Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures and may God continue to keep you safe as you travel!

maryhendren
maryhendren on

Hi Joel,
Thanks for the interesting comments and breathtaking photographs. You traveled through some difficult and dangerous country, but incredibly beautiful. I am happy to see the photos of Mr. and Mrs. Burume and to hear that they are safe. What an example they set in living so carefully with eight children. We will pray about their housing situation. Hope the remainder of your trip goes smoothly.

Regards,
Mary

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