Jean-Claude – ‘Batman!’
November 5, 2010

There is a lovely circular walk which follows Kibuye’s one –way system and affords beautiful views across Lake Kivu.

As is always the case in Rwanda there is a never-ending stream of people walking at the side of the road. I always go out of my way to greet them in Kinyarwanda and in most cases they respond with a smile, pleased that a muzungu has made the effort to use their language.

However at Lake Kivu, an area that has received a lot of international aid, there seems to be an expectation, perhaps born of this, that muzungu equals money. I was regularly approached by children and women holding their hands out and saying, “Give me money/argent/ amafaranga,” (just to cover all bases!)

I was also approached, in a friendly and polite way, by a number of young men offering boat excursions on the lake. Given that it is low season, they are trying to scrape a living at the moment and eventually I relented and agreed a deal with Jean-Claude.

His wooden boat with a canopy and bench seating for 30 odd people was moored near the Golfe Eden Rock, an up market hotel where I’d stopped off for breakfast overlooking the lake. It had an outboard, oars in case of an emergency, and most importantly life jackets.

I agreed what I thought was a one hour  jaunt on the lake passing close to  two nearby islands; Napoleon’s Island, so named because its shape resembles his hat, and Amahoro (Peace Island).  I was the only passenger so 20,000 RWF (£20) for a personalised tour seemed a decent enough deal.

It was bright and pleasantly warm as we set course for Napoleon’s hat, which as is always the case was further than it looked. It was close on an hour by the time we arrived at the base of the island where to my surprise Jean-Claude tied up the boat and indicated that I should get off.

I had not been expecting to land on the island and could have done without the steep ascent towards its summit, clambering over rocks, following little more than a precipitous goat track. After climbing for half an hour or so, in what was now quite hot sunshine, we approached the top and Jean-Claude signalled for me to stop.

The reason for all this effort was revealed as he picked up a few large rocks and hurled them down into a wooded area clinging to the slope. Thousands of fruit bats ascended, forming a huge black cloud of fluttering wings against a bright blue sky.

Jean-Claude smiled and proudly announced, “Bats, you take photograph!”  After throwing a few more rocks to maximise the effect, we began to work our way back down towards the boat, which eventually spluttered into life,  and we set off across the short distance to Peace Island.

Again I wasn’t expecting to stop, but as JC cut the engine and we coasted towards a landing stage he informed me, “You can get everything here, Fanta, beer, whatever you like!”

After our exertions climbing Napoleon’s hat the sound of a beer was pretty tempting. I invited JC to join me in sitting under a parasol on a small stretch of sand where we were served from a timber built bar/restaurant by the owner, Augustine.  

Jean-Claude was largely French-speaking and his English was just enough to get by whereas Augustine prided himself on his English and was keen to impress. As we drank our Mützig (iconje cyane – very cold) I asked him if he could give me a definitive version of ‘cheers’ in Kinyarwanda.

He scuttled off and returned with a piece of green paper, torn from his receipt book, on which was carefully and boldly written : ‘Kubuzima bwanyu, A votre santé (French), Anjoy yourself.’    

As I was settling the bill Augustine proudly presented his visitors’ book and asked me to sign. I can assure you not too many Englishmen have penned an elegy to the Pleasure Island Beach Bar, in the middle of Lake Kivu!    

My one hour boat trip with Jean-Claude had now extended to a little over three hours and there was just time for one more adventure!

With the mooring spot at the Golfe Eden Rock within sight, but still several hundred yards distant, the outboard coughed its last –  we were out of fuel. I readied myself for paddling the rest of the way but fortunately there was enough current for us to slowly drift towards a couple of boats that were moored at a nearer part of the shoreline, where JC was handed a plastic container with enough fuel to get us safely ashore.

Lake Kivu – A Creation Myth & Cautionary Tale
November 5, 2010

Long ago, back in the mists of time, the area which is now covered by Lake Kivu was a hot, dry grassy plain where the people toiled to scratch a living from the scorched earth.

One kind-hearted man helped his older neighbours to farm the land and harvest their crops. This was much to the annoyance of his wife who scolded him for spending so much time filling the grain stores of others at the expense of their own.

However Imana (the creator) had observed the man’s deeds of kindness and rewarded him with a cow that not only yielded milk but also millet, beans and peas! As this was a very special cow, and one that might be coveted by others, the man had to milk it in secrecy and tell no one.

His wife wasn’t sure where the increased amount of produce came from but scolded her husband a little less.  

One day the man was called away from the land to do some work at the court of the Mwami (King). He was anxious about his cow and spoke to Imana who said he could now reveal the secret to his wife so that she could milk the cow while he was away, but in no circumstances should she tell anyone else.

With her husband out of the way his wife invited a young man to her house where she fed him on the fine produce provided by the cow. He couldn’t believe that such a poor piece of land could yield so much and set about using all kinds of devious questioning and persuasion to uncover the secret.

Eventually the woman weakened and milked the cow in front of him. The young man couldn’t believe his eyes and immediately ran to tell his neighbours that there was no need for them to toil away on the land anymore as the secret cow would produce enough for everyone.

Imana heard of this and was annoyed that the woman had not been able to keep the secret. He prepared a punishment.

Before retiring at night it was customary for the woman to go out into the fields and relieve herself. On the next occasion that she squatted down the flow from her bladder was unstoppable. It flowed relentlessly flooding her home, field and the surrounding land. It became so deep that it covered the trees and the woman herself disappeared below the surface and drowned.   

When the sun rose the next morning it illuminated the shining surface of Lake Kivu as we see it today.

When the woman’s husband returned from his work at the Mwami’s court he found a lake, brim full with fish and water birds, gently lapping at the edge of his now fertile fields.

The cow had disappeared but a huge pile of millet, peas and beans were left behind which the man planted and thereafter the newly irrigated land always yielded a rich crop.

Imana was pleased for the man and smiled. He had also had the last laugh as far as the wife was concerned, he’d certainly taken the p—-!

‘Home St Jean’
November 5, 2010

For the last two nights I have been staying at the small town of Kibuye on the banks of Lake Kivu.

Kibuye is about half way down the eastern side of this ‘inland sea’ which runs for almost 100km along the Congolese border. It is the most easily accessible lakeside town from the capital city of Kigali, about three hours by mini-bus.

The first hour of the journey is relatively gentle but the two-hour stretch from Gitarama is something of a slalom course cutting through hillsides and teetering around precipitous valley sides. Despite that it is a well made and maintained road and a tribute to the engineering skills of the Chinese who built it.

When I arrived at the bus depot, looking a bit green about the gills as if I’d just come off a fairground waltzer, I was approached by a moto driver who was not at all phased by transporting my suitcase as well as me complete with rucksack up the steep hill to my lodgings.

I have been staying in what the Bradt guide-book describes as ‘the cheapest accommodation in Kibuye.’ It is called the Home St Jean; a Catholic guesthouse perched on a hill-top at the edge of town which enjoys panoramic views of the surrounding lake.

It has recently been renovated and my comfortable en-suite accommodation (with a very good hot shower) opens on to a shared terrace directly above a beautifully kept hillside garden with a steep path down to a small lakeside beach. All of this for 15,000 RWF (£15.00) per night!

I have been awoken each morning by the first rays of the rising sun dancing on the water and the echoing voices of singing fisherman as they paddle across the lake.

Apparently Home St Jean ‘took a battering’ during the genocide. I’m not quite sure what that entailed but certainly the Genocide Memorial Church, which shares the same promontory a few hundred yards back up the track was the scene of a terrible three-hour killing spree, by a mob fuelled on banana beer and armed with grenades, in which 11,400 Tutsis died.

It seems incomprehensible that Kibuye, with its idyllic, tranquil lakeside location and picture postcard vistas, was the scene of the most comprehensive slaughter of Tutsis in the whole of Rwanda.

There had been a relatively high proportion of Tutsis, about 20% of the local population, totalling around 60,000. When the French arrived, after the genocide, they estimated that 90% of the Tutsi population had been wiped out leaving few witnesses to the crime.

The Genocide Memorial Church remained a broken and desolate reminder of these events for a number of years but has now been lovingly restored, with bright new stained glass, mosaics and wall hangings and once again each Sunday it is filled with the joyful sound of worship.

It still amazes me that so many people have managed to cling on to their faith in the aftermath of such carnage.