Saturday, August 21, 2010

My Parents' Visit! (Part 1)

My parents arrived late on the 3rd, and it was definitely an emotional experience seeing them for the first time in a year! I arrived extra early at the airport after negotiating with a taxi driver at Remera station for a pick up price (that's the best way to do it). I was incredibly anxious while waiting at the airport for them-- every second felt like a minute and every minute felt like a lifetime. I kept checking my phone for the time, bought overpriced (but delicious) ice cream, read crappy tourist pamphlets, played with kids-- anything to keep my hands busy! Then I joined the small but growing gathering of people waiting for the Brussels Airways passengers to get off.

I glimpsed my parents first by cranking my neck over an incredibly tall woman. My mom followed a few minutes later and paused to wave at me excitedly before walking back to the carousel to wait for her luggage. Then there was another grueling 25 minutes of waiting for them to get their luggage so I could finally hug them. I was rather entertained this time though-- by seeing crying babies and kids jumping up and down to greet family members. From the Kinyarwanda I know, I was able to pick up enough comments from my fellow waitees (that's probably not a word) to know that they were equally entertained by the nonstop flow of people. It's actually pretty interesting to observe how different people greet each other when they get off an airplane- sometimes you can guess how long it's been since they've seen each other, or if they're close.

When my parents finally got through, my mom hugged me tighter than ever and became so emotional that there were tears in her eyes. She wasn't completely silent either, which made us a bit of a spectacle--people started turning their heads towards us (Rwanda sometimes seems almost devoid of emotion-- so this kind of reaction stood out even at the airport).

Once we got to the hotel, I stayed in their room a while just to chat and catch up. The next day we went to Mugatare and Rugarama-- the villages on the outskirts of Kigali where I used to live and work. My parents descended the mountain rather easily, and it was really a pleasure for me to see them interact with the kids and go inside my old neighbor's houses. It was like the convergence of two separate worlds, with me as the only connection. I know that sounds cocky. My mom loved playing with the kids and meeting people I used to see every day. My dad was especially interested in seeing the school I used to teach at, but at as I predicted, it was closed due to the holiday. I took a few pictures but deliberately limited my camera usage because I didn't want the neighborhood to feel like I was using them as tourist material. We then took two buses back to where I live/work for our interviews with Zack Baddorf, an RPCV and freelance journalist who was doing a story on how technology has changed the Peace Corps experience. He interviewed my parents and then recorded part of a skype conversation with my friend Danny in the U.S. He was a nice guy and we talked a little about his travels and future plans. Although Zack was doing the interview for Voice of America, NPR also picked up the story. Here are the links to the interview:

Recording from NPR:

Recording of my parents and I (unedited):

The next day I brought my parents to the Peace Corps office where they got to meet the PC staff. It was really cool to have them meet each other, and once again it felt like a convergence of two worlds. I was actually surprised by how eager and enthusiastic the staff was to meet them—I was worried I’d be bothering them during busy work hours! We then headed out to Nyamata to see the church there--- my parents and I both agreed that this would be more personal than going to the museum in Gisozi. The ride there and back was on a small less comfortable bus, which my parents handled really well. My mom didn’t want to see any bodies, so she only went inside the church while my father and I also went out to the back. Unless you go underground, the church doesn’t have any bodies anymore—but it’s full of clothing and belongings. Looking at all of it, it’s hard to believe so many people could fit inside such a crammed space. The church itself was largely kept the way it was after the massacre there in 94, so you can see where grenades were thrown, machetes hacked, and blood dried, all along the walls, ceiling, and floors of the church. Going underground and to the back of the church wasn’t as difficult for me as going to Murambi. Here the skulls and bones are all separated and placed in orderly rows inside glass cases, which made it less visually harsh for me. The most emotional part for me at least, was knowing the horrors of what took place in the space we were standing in.

After returning to Kigali we had dinner with a friend of mine. The place we went to is one I go to often, so not just friends but even the owner of the restaurant came to our table and greeted my parents, which was awesome. The next day my parents met me where I live/work, so they got to meet some of my coworkers and the summer interns. While sitting at Simba waiting for the bus to Musanze (to see the gorillas) we ran into Janelle and Michelle, two PCVs who my parents both really liked. Janelle entertained them by being her usual self and Michelle showed us pictures of Mauritania.

Shortly after getting on the bus to Musanze, I suddenly realized I had forgotten our gorilla permits—which were cumulatively worth $1,250! I freaked out and started cursing (everything you’re not supposed to do) when it just so happened that the man sitting next to my mom introduced himself. He said he was a police chief inspector and he knew someone at Virunga (the bus company). He told me that if I had someone bring the permits to the Virunga station, they could be on the next bus to Musanze and we could pick them up there. I was so incredibly relieved and thankful. I was able to get a hold of one of the interns for NAR who also lived at the house, and he gladly delivered the permits to the Virunga station. 3 hours later I was holding them, and the next morning we were in the mountains on our way to see the Sabyinyo group. Seeing the gorillas was awesome. We got to see a 3 day old baby but spent most of our time watching two young brothers play. The only downside was when one of the gorillas attacked our guide, (started hitting him), to which our guide quickly instructed us to leave.

Afterwards we walked around Musanze a bit but I started feeling sick so I went back to the hotel early. I called the PCMO and he gladly offered to see me the next day. The good that came out of this is that my parents got to meet him, since he hadn’t been at the office the day they visited. It seemed like I had a virus so there wasn’t much to be done, and while my parents gently suggested maybe it wasn’t the best time to travel, I insisted that we go on with our plans of flying to Nairobi followed by a safari tour of Tanzania.