I am grateful to experience the wonder of Rwandan nature. My efforts to describe my experience with Rwandan nature inevitably fall short because the depth of beauty cannot be captured with words. Nonetheless, I will do my best through words and photographs.
**Nyungwe National Park/Colobus Monkey Trekking**
After a 6-hour drive up the hills of Southwest Rwanda (shout out to our driver Noel), we arrived to Nyungwe National Park, one of Africa's oldest (rain)forests. We spent a night in a hotel with an amazing view (see below) and, of course, amazing food and would begin our monkey trek the following morning bright and early (6:30-7 a.m.).
The following day we ate a quick and tasty breakfast and headed to the park. After registration with the park rangers, we sprayed mosquito repellant and were instructed to tuck our pants into our socks to prevent any critters from getting into our clothes. Next, we climbed back on the bus with our guide/park ranger to head to the 'entrance' where we would meet 2 other rangers who would help us track the Colobus monkeys.
Sidenote on Colobus Monkeys: Colobus monkeys are primates that are native to Africa. The word "colobus" in greek means "docked," which describes their genetically stumped thumb. They live in dense rainforests and are important to the ecosystem for (plant) seed dispersal via "sloppy eating habits" and typical digestion. Colobus monkey's greatest predators are humyns that kill the monkeys for meat and destroy rainforest habitats for logging and land development. Can we, as humyns, do better to save the monkeys, ourselves, and the Earth?
As we entered the forest, a sense of humility quickly jolted through me. The rainforest was DENSE and ALIVE. It seemed that with every step, you felt the life underneath and around you. If it were not for the rangers and their machetes creating paths in real time, we would have easily been lost in the rainforest. It was captivating to watch the communication between the Rwandan rangers that used sounds between each other (and sometimes a quick cell phone call to each other) to track the location of the monkeys. We were told at different moments to be still, while the rangers went ahead of us to locate the monkeys.
The rangers helped locate the monkeys, but I had the sense that it was the monkeys who allowed themselves to be found for us to see them. When the rangers pointed out the monkeys, we actually heard them (interesting screeching sounds) before any of us saw them. I think this was the monkeys way of letting fellow monkeys know that humyns were approaching.
After a while we spotted several monkeys, who eventually began to surround our group. It was beautiful, we came to check out the monkeys, but we were being checked out too. We took many pictures, but after a while noticed that the monkeys started dropping shelled fruits (see picture below) and poop, which I knew meant they wanted privacy! In other words, it was time to go!
As we trekked out of the rainforest, I left the rainforest with a renewed respect for nature itself and the consciousness that animals possess. They are 'smarter' than us humyns in ways that we do not always acknowledge (until you're in their home). Moreover, I continued to reflecting to myself...what kind of strength did it take for thousands of Rwandans to flee death by genocide in these rainforests? and survive to tell their stories?...
**Akagera National Park**
During the last few days of our trip, we traveled to Northeastern Rwanda to the Akagera National Park for a 2-day safari trip. The journey to Akagera took about 2-hours and was beautiful. The rural communities, also known as villages, have a beauty and pulse to them that, in my experience, Western media has never portrayed in an empowering way. I will never forget the beauty and energy in these communities. Again, pictures and video do not capture everything, but I think you can get a sense of what I am talking about below.
During the 2-day safari, it was evident, again, that we were the visitors. Akagera is about 463 square miles and has a variety of habitats including savannahs, mountains, and swamps. During the journey we saw many animals including: gazelle, antelope, hippopotami, zebras, baboons, impalas, water buffalo, giraffe, and several other animals that I had never heard of! Oh and the biggest, fattest, persistent, intelligent mosquitos that I've ever seen haha!
Eric was our driver and tour guide. He knows seemingly everything about Akagera and is one hell of a driver. There was a moment during the trek when a HUGE buffalo did not seem so happy to see us, as we were to see it. Next, we watched the buffalo began to charge our 'safari mobile' Everyone was scared, BUT Eric. He helped get us out of dodge! How many friends with nerves of steel do you have?
I left Akagera with a lot of dust in my sinuses and an appreciation for the vast life forms on our planet. There is so much wisdom that these animals use each day to survive and I am thankful to be able to witness their life in person.
How did we get to the place as humyns where we forget the beauty and life in other species on this gravitational ball called Earth?
Before I arrived to Rwanda, I knew the food would be tasty, especially growing up in a Nigerian household, but given my new journey into plant-based eating I was skeptical about my options for food. Nonetheless, I kept an open mind...
I was pleasantly shocked by the tastes of Rwanda.
Rwanda's soil is highly fertile and provides the country with locally grown (i.e. FRESH) coffee, tea, sweet potatoes, beans, corn, peas, millet, plantains, cassava, and fruit. The typical Rwandan diet is high in vegetable and low in meat. In other words, I was in veggie heaven during my trip to Rwanda. For the milk drinkers, Rwanda has high quality, fresh milk! Ask fellow villager Willie, who would earn the name "milk man" for the quantity of consumptions during the trip.
I can easily say that I did not have a 'bad' meal in Rwanda and everything that I ate was flavorful. Actually, the best meal I ate during the trip was made in the Azizi village (beans, avocado, and yam) and had NO SEASONING. Rwanda introduced me to what REAL food tastes like and I will never forget. To be honest, I was tempted to make this blog solely dedicated to food. Maybe on the next trip...
My favorite foods were served often (almost at every meal) and consisted of plantains (stewed, fried), peas, rice, and tropical fruits (bananas, passion fruit, tree tomatoes, pineapple, and more). We also had these croissants at this one hotel (shoutout to Splendid Hotel) that we coined "criscuits" because they were buttery like a croissants, but had the thickness of a biscuit.
Last, I can't forget to mention the infamous sauce known as pili-pili, made from African bird's eye (a chili pepper). The hot sauce is served everywhere and rides a fine line between burning your face off and adding beautiful flavor notes to any dish. I ate this with the peas and plantain often, but only a few drips. Everywhere makes the sauce different, but in each place it was tasty!
I hope the pictures give you a taste of Rwanda! If not, experience it for yourself :) !
Reuben Faloughi, M.Ed., is a fifth-year doctoral candidate studying psychology at the University of Missouri (MU). He recently defended his dissertation, which examined the effects of an intergroup dialogue-based diversity and social justice course on students' multicultural development. The course, now required for all MU College of Education students, was heavily influenced by personal experiences in the AFP/Dr. Kahn's drama-based education training, Division I athletics, the Fall 2015 student movement at MU, and other transformational life experiences. Reuben will complete his Ph.D. on internship at the University of Florida and graduate in Spring 2019. For more visit: