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Lions and Giraffes in Akagera
Monday, 02 April 2012 Written by Žana Hrkać

Lions and Giraffes in AkageraIt was Friday. I got up before sunrise; I made the day’s first coffee, and went to wake up fra Ivica, and then also Višnja. African mornings are mystical; the song of the birds is the most beautiful music, and the sunrise cannot be described by words.

A minibus, which we hired the day before, arrived in front of the house. Together, with a select number of teachers, the cook, Oswaldi, as well as his assistant, we would be going to the National Park, In Kigali we would also pick up Nenad Amanović, the coach of the Rwandan Women’s National Basketball Team.

On the way to the Park we stopped to buy a couple of things. Višnja bought three types of biscuits, Nenad bought Snickers chocolate bars, and I – of course – applied for the position of...taster! Although it would perhaps have been better that I hadn’t...

I should mention here that my job in Croatia involves sweets, and so, then and there, I had an irresistible urge to taste everything that had been bought. Therefore, the tasting results were as follows: Biscuits, hmmm... I ate them, but if they were really a Belgian import: Belgians, shame on you! They didn’t even approximate how they were supposed to taste (this, of course, compared to the sort I had tasted before – the ones with butter). The chocolate bar had holes in it and has also gone somewhat white. The whitening I can explain, but the holes were not OK! My assumption was that it took a very long time for it to arrive from the factory, so it couldn’t possibly retain the original look. Well… fine… I did taste it, and I even ate several pieces.

Busy tasting the sweets, we didn’t even notice that we were in a town called Kayonza, and that at the very turn toward the National Park we were passing a banana market! Before we managed to grab our cameras, the driver had already made the turn and rushed on at full speed! Although it wasn’t documented photographically, I assure you that all the crowds of people and the liveliness in the market was a fantastic sight.

The next segment of the road took us along Lake Muhazi and then some rice plantations. When we drove off the main road, we were met by a dirt track and smiling kids waving their hands at us. Bumping on the dirt road, we arrived at the northern entrance to the Akagera National Park.

Foreigners pay one price, and the locals pay another. You also have to sign two registration forms and indicate that you would be exiting via the same entrance, all for security reasons. The day was very sultry. Fra Ivica had warned us that, on one part of the road, we would have “difficulties” with horse-flies. We did survive it, though it was “a bitter and bloody struggle.“

Every now and then we tried to persuade the driver to stop the minibus for a moment in order to take a photo or two. After a while and to our delight, he finally realized that he should stop every time we wanted to photograph something. And then he really took his time...

My wish was... well... to photograph a lion... if there were any lions. So at one particular time I stopped the driver, all happy because I’d spotted a lion lying in the distance! But… ha ha... it wasn’t a lion at all, it was a termite mound which looked like a lion’s mane from the distance… Well, we all make mistakes, some of us more than others... ha ha ha!

The drive through the park itself was more than fun! We saw zebras, antelopes, buffalos, and even playful swallows… And, of course, once more it was me who raised the alarm, for in the distance I had spotted giraffes! No one was convinced, except Višnja. At my demands to stop, everyone just waved their hands in disbelief. After that “lion” episode of mine, giraffe sightings may well have been a mirage.

But this time I was right!! At the far end of the plain, there were real giraffes standing! And it was a herd of thirteen of them! They were grazing on the grass and looked at us, somewhat interested. An incredible view! We exited the van and approached them to about ten meters away. Amazing! I will never be able to look at these animals in a Zoo through the same eyes I was seeing them here. Some of our fellow travellers were quite frightened, so they were outside the van just long enough for the photos to be taken and immediately rushed back inside. Then we found a nice shady spot and had lunch in the open air. All we lacked was a small blanket to make it a real safari picnic! It is really hard to describe it all with words.

On our way back to Kivumu, we visited the new Salesian Provincial Seat in Kigali and spent some time with the Salesian priests, don Danko Litrić, who has been living in Rwanda for 31 years and was born in Omiš, Croatia, and don Sebastijan Marković, who has been living in Rwanda for 28 years and was born in Brčko, Bosnia. In the compound there is also a secondary school that has been run by Salesians for years. During the conversation with our hosts, I found out that there also used to be a factory employing 200 workers in the compound, and that they used to cover almost all their expenses by producing and selling finished products. Unfortunately, it had to be shut down because the government had raised the taxes and the production wasn’t profitable any more. Things are always like that in Rwanda...

All in all, the hardest thing for me was to pack my stuff for my return home. I postponed that inglorious task for Saturday, of course expecting a miracle to happen which would allow me to spend an extra day or two in Africa. However, miracles, unfortunately, seem to avoid me and always happen to someone else. In Rwanda at that time of year, it was pleasantly warm and dry, whereas in Croatia there was real winter chaos taking place with huge amounts of snow falling. Moreover, I hadn’t worn a watch during my time in Africa, and now I would have to return to the harsh reality of being restricted by time. And everyone in Rwanda was always smiling, and I would have to go back to gloomy, sad, and even worried faces… I could go on like this forever... It’s a completely different sphere of life.

It was only when I arrived in Brussels that I realized that I was far away from Africa. For me, every day of my short stay in Rwanda was filled with joy and happiness, and also a new life experience. I cannot possibly compare my life with what I have seen. I am grateful for where I was born, what I have and what I can have. But every time I look at the photos and videos taken in Africa, I think: “My Africa“!

The one thing I am sure about is that I am certainly going to try to go back. So until then...

Translated by: Branimir Mlakić
Edited by: Valerie Kae Ken

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