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Charlotte Amalie
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Rwanda Journal: Night in the Village

Jan. 6, 2009 — All activities in the village are predicated upon when the sun comes up and goes down.
When night falls, it is dark. Only 5 percent of the Rwandan population has electricity, though it is part of President Paul Kagame's plan to see a dramatic increase in that number by 2020.
Meanwhile, on the night I have the good fortune to spend in Banda Village, one of the most remote villages in Rwanda, we eat late by the light of four low-energy bulbs connected to a small battery.
Levi NGILINANA explains that when the battery wears down, it is recharged at a hydroelectric facility nearby. Levi is the country manager for Kageno Project in Rwanda.
Kageno, which means "place of hope" in the Luo language of Kenya, was founded by Frank Andolino and Robert Place to fulfill basic needs for dramatically impoverished areas through capacity building.
Even the act of getting to Banda is something of a miracle. On the day Freddy Budaramani and I first attempted the drive down the mud-slick road adjacent to Africa's largest rain forest, we were thwarted at about the halfway mark by a tree that had, only hours before, fallen over in the rain-soaked soil, blocking the road.
We thought we were done for and, with great disappointment and some tricky maneuvering, turned around and headed to the reception center for Nyungwe National Park. There we took an hour walk in the deeply forested mountains that reach more than 10,000 feet into the African sky.
By the time we had made our way up and down the slippery slopes, Levi called to say the tree had been removed. Further, he was at the park headquarters to meet us.
It takes about an hour to go from the main road down the winding path to the village using the "short cut." Short cut is code for more narrow, rutted and slippery. But is saves nearly four kilometers.
I would make the trip a hundred times over.
Villagers, and especially the children, love visitors. In fact, they already had one — a young photographer from Holland who had been in Banda for five weeks filming the children.
As Stella Faber, Levi and Elisaphan HABAKWITOMNDA and I toured the village and the site of what will one day soon been an eco-tourism lodge that will help support the Kageno initiatives, we were always accompanied by a large group of laughing children. Elisaphan was once one of those children, having been born in the village.
He went away to college in Uganda for four years and, before returning to Banda to serve as the project supervisor, spent several years as a park ranger.
You cannot help but be absorbed in his enthusiasm for the potential brought to his village by the Kageno initiative.
But enthusiasm or not, the tour has to end as the sun sinks low behind the mountains.
The children follow us back to the Kageno volunteer quarters, a five-room cement house complete with outside latrine, separate wood-burning kitchen and "bathroom" — four walls and a round plastic bucket and pitcher used to pour the water over the "bather."
As it becomes truly dark, the children disappear down the hard dirt paths and behind the wooden fences that surround the village homes.
After a lovely dinner of pasta, vegetables and "chips" — a version of French fries made from locally grown potatoes — Stella and I sit up for awhile looking at some of the footage she has taken.
I am struck, as is she, by the willingness of these villagers, so far removed from our world, to welcome us so graciously. Stella has filmed a child sleeping with his grandmother in the early morning hours, sun shining on their faces.
Later, I sleep in the deepest quiet I have ever known, and awake with that same sun to the musical tones of morning prayer, African style.
I must admit, were it not for my desire to explore more of this country, I would have been very happy to while away a few more days in this green, moist valley, learning the names of the children and sharing meals with their elders.
To be continued ….
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