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My First Week in Africa
Thursday, 23 February 2012 Written by Žana Hrkać

My First Week in AfricaFor years I've listened to stories about missionaries and admired their decision to dedicate their lives to the unselfish service of others and those in need. I decided to visit one of the African missions and to finally see what I have always admired. I hope I will be able to convey a bit of my enthusiasm to you, too...

Every minute of my stay in the Kivumu mission in Rwanda has meant joy to me. I’m an infinitely fortunate and rich person, having friends like these!

I made the decision to pay fra Ivica a visit during our meeting in Bosnia, the first one after many years of not having seen each other. The great advantage I had was the huge support I’d been offered by my sisters and parents.  They realized that I was going to Kivumu despite their show of concern.

I didn’t plan my trip in great detail, because – as usual – I thought I had enough time before leaving, and the time flew by and didn’t wait for me. I chose the easier, although slightly more expensive, option to fly to Kivumu with the least number of connecting flights (Zagreb – Brussels – Kigali, return).

Brussels – a metropolis, the center of Europe, and for me – the first surprise. You see, at the airport I was greeted by fra Ivica’s relative, Milica! My joy had already begun with this meeting.

Since I had plenty of time until my next flight, to Kigali, Milica took me downtown to the ‘Grand place’ to see the old town and, of course, the inevitable ‘Maneken Pis’ (the peeing boy, ha, ha, ha).

I was expecting to see a statue the size, well, at least half of me. But I was shocked to see a tiny figurine, and it took me a lot of effort to capture it on my camera‼! It was even more amusing to observe all those tourists who, of course like me, were expecting a large statue and only got a – shock! There you have it, my trip started on a cheerful note.

The flight to Kigali was perfect. We landed at 8 PM local time (they are in the same time zone like us, but they don’t have daylight saving).

I was greeted by fra Ivica’s guests: the Bosnian Provincial fra Lovro Gavran, fra Tomo Anđić, fra Ilija Krezo, Antonija Knežević and Krešimir Raguž. Oh, the joy!

On the road to Kivumu we had a flat tire. We exited the car to assess the damage. Picture this: I’m thrilled to be in Africa, so I search my bag looking for my camera in order to take a photo of all those boys who gathered around our car in no time. I didn’t realize how dangerous that was. Fra Ivica and Krešo immediately told me: ‘No pictures!!

You see, our tire was punctured in one of the worst, most dangerous parts of Kigali. Both fra Ivica, who has lived in Africa for more than 20 years, and Krešo, who travelled all around the world, were more than worried for us. But it all ended well, and we continued our journey to the village...of course, laughing.

The accommodation was missionary, the cuisine was local – boiled vegetables from the garden were a rule, and I was very happy for it. The most important thing was that I slept like I was home, and it was like that during my entire stay.

First Sunday: festivities. After the Holy mass, which lasted for several hours, there was a gathering of the parish youth. I cannot describe what I felt watching all those things the young people performed with traditional dancing, and I was also fascinated by the costumes they wore.

Even if I’d practiced dancing for years, I wouldn’t have such graceful moves! It’s the rhythm of Africa!!

Monday: sleeping a bit longer, and then visiting the neighboring places. We went to the place called Nazareth, where Pope John Paul II celebrated Holy Mass before the horrible genocide which happened in Rwanda in 1994. The purpose of the place was to create a living space for orphans (around 1,200 children); there were a lot of those during the post-war period. But, as we found out, the compound was occupied by only about 150 children.

The local language is very difficult. I was trying hard to learn how to say ‘thanks’ – ‘murakoze’. Then the Provincial told me: “You’ll remember it if you associate the word with something. And, there, you have the river Mura and ‘koza’ (a goat in Croatian). A piece of cake!“.

Of course, when I woke up in the morning I couldn’t remember what the river in question was...

On Tuesday we celebrated Mass in memory of the murdered fra Vjeko Ćurić. After the mass we were supposed to take an organized trip to Kigali. And that’s when the commotion started, because the list of the students who were to go with us to Kigali was somehow ‘misplaced.’ So, instead of the 40-something chosen students, a lot more of them tried to board the bus. Luckily, fra Ivica solved the problem very swiftly, in his own way, and I doubt that there was anyone willing to oppose him then and there.

The ride to Kigali takes around half an hour. The roadside itself is packed with pedestrians, cyclists (who are simultaneously taxi drivers), broken vehicles, and also police.

Upon arriving in Kigali we went to the place where fra Vjeko died, and in a silent procession we headed toward a church. Fra Vjeko left a huge mark behind him, indeed. Everyone remembers him with great respect, especially those he helped. After the mass in Kigali we took some refreshments, and then returned to Kivumu.

Since fra Ivica was busy tending to the guests, I tried to kill some time by taking photos of the surroundings and the local people. The children were always ready for ‘photo’ and, as soon as they spot you, dozens show up around you.

After the guests had left we went to Lake Kivu in western Rwanda. With us was Nenad Amanović, the coach of the national women’s and men’s basketball teams of Rwanda. The trip to the lake took us over numerous hills, and the countryside was enchanting. We stopped on one of the bridges and got a real – concert!

Several boys saw us and came running to play something for us. The instrument they were playing resembled a violin, but it is in fact a plain plastic bottle on which they had attached a “bow,” while they play it with the “arrow”!

Although Rwanda has a lot of rivers, they are useless because of the composition of the soil, which makes them very muddy.

Under the floor of Lake Kivu there are large amounts of gas, and it was one of the rare clear lakes. The hotel room was worse than the missionary accommodation, but if I am to believe fra Ivica the accommodation in most of the hotels is nothing special. To my surprise, there were foreigners in the hotel.

If you have decided to go to Rwanda, make sure you arm yourselves with patience. That especially applies to restaurants.

When you go to a restaurant to eat something, you will most certainly spend several hours there, because at least an hour will pass just between your order and the food actually being served. And that’s when the restaurant is not crowded and if you’re lucky! In all other cases you are going to wait much, much longer.  And they take it easy, no worrying! And every, honestly, every time they always forget something. After a certain time that too becomes normal too.

Translated by: Branimir Mlakić
Edited by: Valerie Kae Ken

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