Africa 2016 - Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania travel blog

We will write about our gorilla tracking experience tomorrow. For a preview of a few photos taken by Jocelyn, see our Facebook pages. I am regaining my strength, but now John is sick.

Musings on traveling in Rwanda

Notes from Lois: Seeing all the people on the streets as we drive by has given me time to think about the dramatic differences between my life and that of the people in this community of northern Rwanda, and for that matter, a good portion of the world's population. They have so little and I have so much, and I can't help but feel guilty about it. I was lucky to be born in the USA, and to have been able to reap the benefits of that citizenship. I do not know any Americans that have to haul water to their homes (except those unfortunate residents of Flint, Michigan), and we all have access to electricity and generally decent medical care. Unless we have a failure in our infrastructure, I don't think about heating my house. Most of the US population is educated enough so that family sizes are small, and few people are subsistence farmers. Here in Rwanda the average number of children in families is 5, which is down from 7 a generation ago. Part of the problem is that a large portion of the population is Roman Catholic. The legal marriage age is 21.

People have to pay for their own health insurance, and the government will pay for only one year before saying, "You're on your own". Even though public education is free, the schooling goes for only ½ day since there isn't enough room for all the kids in the classrooms. We've seen lots of small children (age 4 or 5) walking down the road by themselves, with no adult in sight. Occasionally an older sibling is there for safety.

I feel guilty because I see men (only men) on bicycles that we would throw out, whereas I own three bikes, and all are in excellent repair, and in fact look shiny and new (thanks to my wonderful bike mechanic hubby John). I own several pairs of skis, not to mention more than enough clothes, and the ability to keep them clean and in good condition. I have canoes and kayaks, and the leisure time to play with them. I am able to travel, not just locally, but to an exotic locale like this one. My home is not lavish, but it would be considered a mansion by people in third world countries. The residents of this area are in magnificent shape, not because they work out, but because their daily lives constitute a workout. People are friendly and welcoming to tourists (we stand out a LOT). The tourism in this area brings in a ton of money. We can pay for anything in US dollars.

Everyone here has gorgeous skin - smooth and black, and shiny white teeth. Only the rich need dental care (according to Sura), since they eat too many sweets. Almost everyone, (men, women and children) have closely cropped hair – apparently if they let it grow longer than ¼ inch or so, it becomes tangled. It is expensive to go to a salon, though we have seen a few women with long braided styles. The shaved look is really quite attractive, and much more convenient for carrying goods on top of your head.

I have not seen many old people, since it's a hard life. Also, nobody wears eyeglasses – obviously a luxury that is not in the country's budget – I can't imagine that everyone has perfect vision. I asked a shopkeeper about that today; he said they don't need glasses because they don't read much. I didn't argue, though I did explain to him what my eyeglasses do for me, and Jocelyn mentioned that she had been wearing glasses since the age of two!

Children here do not have toys, except perhaps a stick and old bike rim for rolling. I am hoping to visit a school since I've brought a big bag of pens that I would like to distribute to a teacher. We have been instructed not to give things directly to children, since it encourages begging. The main occupations I have observed in this area are agriculture (with only hand tools), tourism support, handicrafts, bike repair and taxi service by bike or motorbike.

Similar to some other places we have traveled; we have occasionally encountered children asking us for money, though they would surely be punished if their parents knew that they were doing so. Kids do learn English at school, but we have not met many who want to practice it with us. No-one is starving, and the people seem happy. But I still feel guilty.

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