Tuesday, January 22, 2008

We're back!

We are both back in the states, all safe and sound. Our last day in Kigali turned out to be very rewarding. We visited John Peter's former University and spent part of the afternoon with his professors and colleagues. They showed us the new curriculum for the Environmental Health and Safety program, showed us around some of the campus and then took us to lunch in the dining hall for some tasty Rwandan food....rice, potatoes, pasta, green bananas, green vegetable, fresh tomato and cabbage salad, beans, beef and some tasty sauce. You may notice that the first four dishes are all starch, which seems to be a theme of Rwandan food. It was really tasty non-the-less and we had great conversation with the professors. They now want both of us to enroll in the program, or even teach there next January!

We hunted down a 9-volt battery to finish up our turbidity testing (we eat potatoes, but the turbidimeter eats 9-volt batteries). We ended up staying at Alecia's house in Kigali even though she had already left for the states, so Bernie, John Peter and I stayed up watching the movie "Sahara" (terrible movie) and some music videos. We shared a pizza and talked about American culture and John Peter's future at MIT.

On Friday morning we loaded up our 4 check-bags, 3 carry-ons and a walking stick and headed to Kigali International Airport (it has to be International because there are no other airports in the country). We said our goodbyes and thank yous to John Peter and headed into our 39 hours travel adventure.

Upon arrival in Kenya we were told that due to the unrest in Nairobi, KLM did not want its flight crew to overnight there. They told us that we were being routed through Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, just to change crews. Due to this delay, we missed our connecting flight in Amsterdam (by 5 minutes) and ended up spending an extra 8 hours in Amsterdam airport. We made it back to my apartment in Boston around 8pm on Saturday, after having left Alecia's place in Kigali at noon on Friday. Add a 7 hour time difference to that and you have 39 hours of travel. Bernie's flight was at 9am on Sunday, so after 4 loads of laundry, lots of unpacking and repacking, and 5 hours of sleep, we were back in a taxi heading to Logan International. A 2 hour flight and 3 hour bus ride got him back to Wisconsin and a ride on the T got me back to Tang Hall.

Now I am busy downloading GPS points and sorting through our 945 photographs. I will post some of the best ones soon for everyone to see.

All in all we had a wonderful experience and are glad to be settled in one place for a few days at least. I will post a link with pictures soon, but here is one of Bernie, John Peter and myself at the airport.

Kelly and Bernie

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Hi all!

This will likely be our last post from Rwanda, as we are leaving for Kigali tomorrow. This morning we presented our work to the Vice Mayor and some other important people (these are the same ones that we met with on Monday). It went well and John Peter did all the translating for us.

This morning after the presentation we drove to Bisate to collect our last rainfall samples and to remove our setups. It has been dreary weather, but we are here to collect rain, so no complaints. Back in the US I printed some of the pictures that I took last year and we gave the hard copies to some of the local children, who really enjoyed them. We were also caught in the middle of recess from school and found ourselves in the midst of a sea of children. As we have done in several different groups now, we juggled rocks for them and they backed away shyly when we asked them to try. Everyone got a good laugh out of it.

We said our goodbyes to the clinic staff and distributed cleaned “agachupas” – bottles to the children that have been particularly sweet to us. I am going to miss Bisate and all the children, but I think we are both excited to come home too.

We are running our last samples and packing tonight!

Our long days of traveling begin!


Kelly and Bernie

Monday, January 14, 2008

Fun in the sun...and the rain


We hope everyone is doing well. We sure are. Aside from the short-lived tummy troubles, we are enjoying abundant rain and consequently abundant lab work, which makes the data oh so rich and creamy.

On Saturday we visited the National Museum of Rwanda, which is located in the south of the country, in Butare. We had a 3.5 hour drive to get there, but it went by quickly (as did the country) because there was so much diverse scenery to take in: agriculture, more agriculture, and even more agriculture, but of different crops in different climatic zones and soil types. I enjoyed this thoroughly. We saw the headwaters of the Nile (before it even reaches Lake Victoria), which was quite turbid, and the entire floodplain was covered in farm fields. So far, this is completely in line with the rest of the country that we have seen; all agriculture.

The museum visit was striking, as the subsistence groups of pre-colonial times were alive only 100 years ago. We saw all sorts of objects that are still in use today in the rural areas.

Sunday and today (Monday) we spent collecting samples and running them in the lab. The guy who sweeps the floor at Electrogaz, the utility company, must unplug a lot of cords when he is working, because we endured many power outages today, and had to heat our incubator with hot water bottles. This morning we had another tribulation, as our meeting with the mayor of Musanze district went something like this:

0715- Met Mayor
0717- John-Peter explained our work
0724- Mayor asked if we had a research permit
0724- No, we didn’t
0724- Apparently, we needed one from the National Statistics Institute
0729- Mayor informed us he had another meeting
0730- John-Peter re-iterated that we had permission from the government agency with whom we work
0733- Mayor invited us to come again
0735- Conclusion of meeting

We found out three minutes later that the mayor was going on holiday for two weeks, starting tomorrow, but that if we did not meet with him it would be a great insult.

But, so goes it here. Our co-worker here, John Peter, is a fantastic program manager, and is able to guide us through the red tape and language barriers.

Our days here are quickly drying up, but thankfully, our samples are not… because we heated them with water bottles. Anyhoo, we hope everyone back in the States is well, and enjoying the northern hemisphere. We will be back soon, to share all the germs we gathered from the wonderful, cute, sickly children.


Bernie and Kelly

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Work Work Work


Sorry for not writing sooner, but we have been very busy with our lab samples! We have had 3 rain events now and are up to our elbows in labwork. We have a lab setup in our room, complete with microbial testing, an incubator, pH and conductivity testing, and all of our field samples. It is quite the setup, but it is working well.

The children here have been absolutely wonderful. Although they are covered in snot and constantly coughing, they are very sweet and display their bright smiles and waving hands when we pass. Bernie and I have both been trying to get involved in the culture and are learning to play with some of the children's toys and to balance things on our heads (I carried a wooden chair on my head the other day).

Our Kinyarwanda is improving in leaps and bounds thanks to the guards at our house. One speaks enough English to form full sentences and the other knows only a few words. With the help of our dictionary we have learned quite a lot from them.

Last night Karisoke Research Center had a party for some of its staff that were leaving and for the party they hired Rwandan dancers (who were formerly orphans living on the street). They danced traditional dances in costume, it was amazing. I have a short video clip to share when we get home.

We are planning day-by-day, depending on the imvura (rain), so we do not know what our plans are. This weekend we might travel to Butare (in the South) to see something different.

Hope all is well at home!

Kelly and Bernie

Monday, January 7, 2008

IMVURA (rain)!!


On Saturday we hiked Bisoke volcano, which has an elevation of 3600 meters at the top and was about 2500 meters elevation where we started. It was hot and sunny on the way up, but quite cool near the top due to the elevation. We didn't see any large animals, but saw lots of gorilla poo, and buffalo footprints. We had lunch at the top overlooking the Congo side of the volcano and the crater lake in the middle. What a view, it was even worth getting the huge blisters on my toes!

It finally rained overnight on Saturday and we collected our first rainwater samples!! Our "gizmos" seem to be working and we were able to collect 12 rain samples. We then spent all day yesterday doing labwork...until 2am! It is very exciting to see the apparatus actually working, now we are waiting for all those samples to come out of the incubator.

We have heard that the news from Kenya is bad. As a result of the problems in Kenya, Rwanda is anticipating a fuel shortage since the fuel is typically transported through Kenya. We are confident that everything will be fine, but we are trying to stay up on the news.

Back to labwork now! Sorry I am not posting more pictures, but they take a long time to upload.

Hope the news is good at home, we heard that Huckabee and Obama won the Iowa primaries!

Kelly and Bernie

Friday, January 4, 2008


We have had quite a fulfilling week! New Year’s Day was spent relaxing and catching up, but we did make our first trip to the isoko (market) to exchange money and pick up some lab goods. In contrast to Ghana and the US, the streets are surprisingly garbage-free, but there are people walking everywhere, which gets very overwhelming since most of them just stare at us.

Our Kinyarwandan is steadily improving, thanks to the lack of English speakers and the patience and enthusiasm of our new friends. It is amazing how much we can communicate using only nouns, gestures, and our very limited knowledge of French and Kinyarwandan.

On Wednesday we were able to set up our first “gizmo” which is the very scientific term for our water collection apparatus. With the help of Sakindi and Joseph (said the French way) we successfully hung and secured our first 4-bottle array. We also collected our first water samples from some of the new water tanks installed in the village. There is a table in our room that we have setup as our lab space and the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project lent us an incubator to use for the next 3 weeks. Unfortunately, the microbial tests smell like bad cheese after a day, meaning that the room does also, but we do not mind.

Thursday was gizmo setup #2 and #3. One was on a local roof made of rusty iron sheeting and the other was on a clay tiled potato storage house. As usual, we were constantly being observed by a horde of children who all asked us for “agachupa” (bottle) to which we replied “Oya” (no). Our first microbial results turned out well, although there was some coliform in our drinking water. Luckily there was no E. coli present, and we have strong tummies (no one has gotten sick yet).

Today John Peter (our colleague and translator) was in Kigali, so we were stuck without any English speakers. Our Kinyarwandan vocabulary grew exponentially as a result. We have a meeting later today (in English, I hope) and unconfirmed plans to hike a volcano tomorrow, but all in all everything is going well.

Now we just have to wait for rain.

We hope everyone is well at home and enjoying abundant snow and cold weather (just to rub it in, it has been ~80 degrees and sunny everyday).


Kelly and Bernie

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Umwaka Mwiza!! (Happy New Year)

Happy New Year from Rwanda! We are here, all safe and sound and very excited! Our travel from Boston to Kigali (the capital of Rwanda) was long, and our 13 hours overnight sleeping in the chairs of Kenya airport were less than 5 star accommodations, but we survived. The flight from Nairobi to Kigali was great (only an hour) and we flew over The Great Rift Valley, Lake Victoria and the rolling hills of Uganda and Rwanda. I slept through most of our 2 hour car ride to Musanze (the city in northern Rwanda where we are staying), but Bernie was bright-eyed the whole time taking in the new scenery.

We are staying with Veronica, an Italian woman who researches the mountain gorillas, at her house right across the road from Karisoke Research Center (read or watch Gorillas in the Mist if you don't know what I am talking about). Right now there is no one else staying there, but Winnie, a German primatologist is there sometimes.

Yesterday was great! We visited Bisate Village (our study site) and saw all of the new changes from last year. It was great to see some of the people that I worked with last year and to see all of their new projects. The children were friendly and both Bernie and I practiced our Kinyarwandan greetings! Most of the people assume we speak French, and are very surprised when we say "mwarwmutseho" (good morning) to them.

In the afternoon we set up our lab equipment on the desk in our room and later took a stroll down the main road to visit a friend from last year. We are getting used to being called "Muzungus" again, but got more smiles as we tossed around our Kinyarwandan words.

Last night we had dinner with friends and then went to a local orphanage with a friend of Veronica who helps run it. There were about 40 boys that we met between ages 6 and 20. For the New Year, Alberto (the Italian friend of Veronica), made this huge (maybe 10 feet tall) effigy out of hay and food sacks on top of a huge pile of wood. It is a tradition in Northern Italy to burn something to bring good luck for the New Year.

Words cannot express how much fun we had with the boys. We laughed and danced around the fire, cooked ibigori (corn) among the coals and shared banana juice with them. They were all smiles as we took their pictures and danced to their drumming. The stars were brilliant with Orion's Belt directly overhead.

Bernie made a friend, who happened to also be named Bernard. He was one of the only boys that could speak a little bit of English and he was very nice about translating what he could for us.

All in all, the evening was fantastic and we proceed to sleep for 10 hours! Hopefully tomorrow we will go back to Bisate, get some water samples and setup our sample equipment.

Happy New Year!
Kelly and Bernie