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We’re Going Back to Rwanda, That’s for Sure!
Thursday, 10 May 2012 Written by Tomislav i Ksenija Pesek

GorillasWe wanted to come to Rwanda to see the gorillas, but it was hard to find any information about travelling to this African country. We saw a television show about Franciscans in Rwanda and found an article about fra Ivica on the Internet. That’s how we met ‘Our Man in Africa’, fra Ivica Perić. To the first email we sent to him asking for assistance in our coming to Rwanda he immediately replied and invited us to come to visit him.

We saw fra Ivica for the first time in Vienna at the promotion of the ‘Our Man in Africa’ (Croatian: ‘Naš čo’ek u Africi’), a book that tells a story about his life and missionary work. He made a huge impression on us.

We are doctors by profession and so we offered him help with the procurement of medications and sanitation supplies, and fra Ivica just humbly asked for vitamins and adhesive bandages for the children in the vocational school. We showed the email to colleagues at work and all of them brought in some vitamins and food.

We arrived in Africa with 100 kilograms of vitamins and children’s food. At the Kigali Airport we barely fit ourselves and our baggage in the ‘Dragon.’ We’ll tell you about it later...

The village of Kivumu, where fra Ivica lives, is situated on a plateau, surrounded by hills, and reminds us of our Croatian Zagorje region. The hospitability of our hosts and the pleasant countryside made us feel like at home. As a part of the mission, there is a primary and a vocational school, and in the latter students study to become builders, carpenters, tailors; there is a knitting (by machines) group, and there is even a computer room that has Internet connection. It’s all very nicely arranged, except there were no kids around because they were on holidays.

But even during school break we found children in the computer room, surfing the Internet, just as they do back home in Croatia. As we were leaving the computer room, our ears caught familiar chords of an untuned piano. We took a peak through the window and we saw two boys playing. When they noticed us, they seemed to begin competing between themselves, trying to play the piano louder and better.

On Easter the church was filled with hundreds of kids who remained completely calm and attentive during the entire service. We have never seen so many kids gathered at one place. And all those children were busy looking at us with their big eyes and smiling! We did a little bit of video recording and took a couple of photos, and then showed that to them. It really cheered them up. They were clean and neat, just like everyone else who had been in the church that day. All in all, it was very nice to attend the Holy Mass.

The whole village is very clean, and that goes for the clinic and the dispensary we have visited, as well. The dispensary is furnished very modestly; one room has around ten beds. There are separate rooms for men and women. There is even a room for children and their mothers. We saw a counselling room for pregnant women, as well as a delivery room and a room for new mothers and newborns. The clinic and the dispensary are organized very well, but they have a shortage of medications and equipment. The nurses do everything by themselves.

Our accommodation was comfortable: we had a room and a bathroom with hot water – 4 stars. The food is very good: the cook earned 5 stars. One sleeps well at night, and in the morning we woke up to the sound of birds’ singing.

Our travels around Rwanda began in the ‘Dragon,’ a 19-year-old Toyota Starlet. The older it gets, that car seems to become better. You have to see the roads it drove on to appreciate it even more.

We headed for a town called Ruhengeri. The road was broad and paved, not a single pothole, but on the other hand, always winding and always going downhill or uphill. We arrived at a hotel which was modest but clean. We ate supper and slept there. Next morning we saw the gorillas – an unforgettable experience. We then headed toward Lake Kivu and near the Congolese border we spent the night in a little town called Gisenyi. The view from the hotel encompassed the town, the lake and the beautiful countryside, as well as the city of Goma in Congo.

Upon our return to Kivumu we took a walk through the village and saw an old woman who, according to her own words, is more than 100 years old. She’s very thin, friendly and laughs all the time. She was grateful for the candy we gave her; she took pleasure in it like a child...

Kids were showing up around every corner, from every house, every shrub. They would get a ‘bonbon’ or two, thank us and then leave, only to be replaced by others who wanted their share of bonbons. We also visited the town of Butare. It’s attractive and somehow seems to be built to suit people more.

We paid a visit to Brother Innocent at the local Franciscan friary, which is exceptionally neat, and the lunch was delicious. We saw the university that was founded by the Dominicans, the ethnological museum and the seat of the Rwandan kings.

During the whole morning it rained cats and dogs, so there were not many people on the streets. But as the rain began to let up, we saw more and more of them. On our way back, in a couple of places it still rained hard, but we somehow got the feeling that people cared less and less. We visited the place not far from Kivumu where Pope John Paul II celebrated mass together with around a million people in 1994.

On one occasion, after breakfast we took a walk of about 5 kilometres across the hills, with Paulo as our guide who explained everything to us. From one of the peaks we had a beautiful view of the surrounding countryside, and after the rain you could even clearly see the volcanic mountains in the distance. On that hill there used to be a sanctuary in which their king used to pray.

We went to the ‘Rwandan Riviera’ on the shores of Lake Kivu, to the town of Kibuye… We had lunch on a restaurant terrace that had a view of the beautiful sand beach and the bathers on it. We didn’t go for a swim because that really isn’t one of our passions. We found a comfortable hotel with a nice view of the lake and the islets. We enjoyed the view and the birds’ singing till sunset.

The next day, on our way back, we found out what the rainy season meant in Rwanda. Heaven and earth were joined together. It was once again raining cats and dogs. But our ‘Dragon’ didn’t mind at all. At that moment I wondered what it would be like to look for the gorillas in such weather, but we have to do it – for Ksenija’s sake – and we did pay for it.

It rained during the entire last day of our stay in Rwanda, so we had plenty of time to pack our things. We hope that it was not our last visit to Rwanda and fra Ivica. We had a great time and we also have a lot more to see.

What can we say about fra Ivica Perić, the man we have known for the last three months through the Internet and cell-phones? We have only seen him twice so far, and he treated us like we have known each other a hundred years, like closest of kin. So many pleasant conversations and hours of pleasant company went by in a second...

Translated by Branimir Mlakić
Edited by: Valerie Kae Ken

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