CBH and 2 women
Rwanda, Uganda, and UAE
(February 16 – March 4, 2019)
Inspired to #ListenThinkAct
by Carrie Besnette Hauser
“I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up and was not happy.” – Ernest Hemingway
Following my first trip to the African continent in 2004 to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, I vowed to return again and again, to experience as many mornings as possible on this magical, mystical, massive chunk of our planet.
Recently, with Jeff, my husband and partner in exploration and discovery, I had the privilege to visit my eighth and ninth countries in Africa (there are 54 in total). Rwanda and Uganda are relatively small nations steeped in history. Both are agriculturally rich given their proximity to the equator, home to wild animals (some rebounding from near-extinction), and both balance aspects of extreme poverty and remarkable resilience.
Rwanda is a country roughly the size of Massachusetts with twice as many residents. It is lush, hilly, and picturesque with a horrifically dark past. Like many African countries, there is a constant flow of people. Many walk long distances carrying heavy loads on their heads. Some travel by “boda boda” bikes – hopping on the back of these motorcycle taxis for quick trips to wherever they are going. And, still many others ride standard bicycles – an important micro business, mostly for men, to transport goods, people, and themselves from place to place.
It was nearly impossible to visualize or imagine the players in this everyday hustle and bustle impulsively turning on each other with murderous rage. But, that essentially occurred on April 6, 1994. Sparked by Hutu extremists, a mass countrywide genocide unfolded and continued for 100 days until nearly one million Tutsi people had been brutally killed. Entire families were wiped out. Church congregants turned on each other; pastors enabled segregation and rage. Friends or family of Tutsis were not spared, nor were children. Women were raped, others intentionally disfigured or infected with HIV. All of this, because one politically brainwashed ethnic group came to believe that another was a dire threat and needed to be exterminated.
Many historians argue that the developed world – principally Western world leaders – turned a blind eye when Rwanda needed them most. Some countries even abetted the conflict, revealing a dark side of colonialism. To learn so much more about what happened only 25 years ago left me feeling gut-wrenched, guilty, sad, and angry. Following the 1994 genocide (there have been others in Rwanda’s history), the World Bank rated Rwanda the poorest country on Earth. Those who survived had lost so much – relatives, homes, income, and a sense of safety, security, and belonging. For a time, women far outnumbered men in the country, and entire age groups are vastly underrepresented within the population as majorities were killed or fled to neighboring countries. Small children who somehow survived in 1994 are now adults still grappling with the absence of any family and explaining Rwanda’s story to their own children.
Within five years of the tragedy, one in five Rwandans considered “poor” had been lifted from poverty, a rate the fastest ever achieved in Africa and equal to the best globally (source: Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University). It was the first country in the world with a female majority in parliament; today it boasts the highest percentage of women in national legislative positions. The resilience has been remarkable. Today, Hutus and Tutsis live among each other, recognizing the only way to move past the grim events of 1994 is to do so harmoniously. None have forgotten – or even forgiven – their neighbors, colleagues, or others who were directly involved or who inflicted harm. They simply cannot survive or be part of Rwanda’s recovery without simply “being” and living life as “normally” as possible.
President Paul Kagame has also been a notable force. He rose to office following the genocide as a key military player in stemming its tide. His image is common on murals and hung in hotel lobbies. He has positioned the small country as an environmental leader banning the use of plastic bags and reportedly drives around at night noting dilapidated buildings or other infrastructure in need of repair. Business is halted the first Saturday of every month for a day of service where citizens are expected to clean up and contribute to their communities. Quite evidently, the collective rebranding of post-genocide Rwanda is driving progress, tourism, and investment.
Loss and life
After visiting the Kigali Genocide Museum on our first day in the country, we traveled just outside the capital city to the Nyamata church memorial. Places of worship were presumed to be safe havens for Tutsis trying to escape the 1994 genocide. Nearly 10,000 made their way to this one, locking themselves inside. Instead, men, women, and children were targeted and killed by grenades, machetes, and bullets – the holes from which are still present and sprinkled across the roof of the building. The remains of 50,000 people are buried here. Clothes and personal belongings are piled on the pews, skulls and bones encased in glass cabinets, and countless coffins displayed in tombs as reminders of those lost.
Following this sobering memorial, we toured a home for survivors of the genocide, arranged by a profoundly impactful NGO, Voices of Rwanda. The facility houses about 65 elders, mostly women, who lost everything – every possession and every family member. In spite of the violence and horror they had witnessed and the intense losses they had suffered, they welcomed us – even hugged and embraced us – into their group home. With the help of an interpreter, we visited with them, shared our stories, and made the world a smaller and deeply human place for an hour or so, an experience we will never forget.
Just before departing Kigali, we stopped at the African Leadership University (ALU) a visit arranged by the Global Livingston Institute. ALU is a relatively new institution with students enrolled from across the continent. Its primary mission is to prepare future leaders steeped in values and ethics. So much of Africa’s business and commerce is infected with corruption, bribery, and shady ways of distributing products and resources, ALU seeks to be a powerful antidote. It was a treat to meet with administrators, faculty, and students to learn about their motivations, dreams, and plans. There is real potential for ALU and CMC to collaborate. We have committed to exploring the potential.
Before heading to Volcanoes National Park, we spent a night at the Sorwathe Tea Plantation, a major employer in the region. En route, we encountered a not-uncommon stretch of dirt road under “construction” – much of it had washed away in recent rains. While cars and trucks had to stop and wait for the mud and debris to be moved around, the steady flow of people, bikes, and activity continued, somehow meandering around the mess and going about their days. At some point, the acres upon acres of tea growing in terraced rows came into view and then never stopped. We learned that pickers out in the fields earn about $2/day. The raw leaves make their way to a massive factory with a gated entry and armed security. Following a multi-step process the leaves are dried, sorted, processed, quality- and taste-tested, packaged, and shipped around the world. As a tea fanatic, I will think more deeply with every sip about the origins of my drink and the hard-working people across the globe who likely made it possible.
Dian’s living legacy
Second only to the history of genocide, the mountain gorillas are strongly associated with Rwanda and what is now Volcanos National Park. The scientist and animal rights activist Dian Fossey is largely credited with seeding this legacy. She came to Rwanda in 1967, discovering how various threats to this species had resulted in its near extinction. Realizing their population had dwindled to fewer than 400 animals worldwide (living only in the adjoining triangle of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Congo), she committed to eradicating poaching by redirecting forest-living pygmy people and others to alternate forms of employment and income. Uncompromising in her quest, she perpetuated the myth that she was a witch practicing black magic to scare off potential threats and navigated the social, religious, and economic customs in the Musanze region to turn the tide for her beloved gorillas. But, not before she was brutally murdered in 1985 while sleeping in the home and research station deep in the dense Virungas mountains she had inhabited for 18 years. We hiked to her gravesite and the ruins of her operations to pay our respects. Today, nearly 1,000 mountain gorillas wander these hills and only survive in the wild. Gorilla-trekking tourists have brought new energy and income to the neighboring communities. Guide services and auxiliary enterprises have mostly replaced poaching activities. Many now credit Fossey for what otherwise would have been economies and livelihoods unrealized, not to mention a species of animals forever lost.
UGANDA AND THE GLOBAL LIVINGSTON INSTITUTE
“Travel teaches us tolerance.” – Benjamin Disraeli
After about five days in Rwanda, we found ourselves at the Kagitumba border crossing – an infamous escape route for tens of thousands of Tutsis fleeing the genocide. Today, it is a hotspot for Ebola testing and was our gateway to Uganda. About nine times larger than Rwanda and nearly three times more populated, Uganda has a diverse landscape – nearly every acre not consisting of busy town centers or remaining national forest is dotted with some form of agriculture, principally bananas, tea, coffee, cabbage, pineapple, bamboo, and potatoes. Nine out of ten families engage in some form of subsistence farming, surviving only on the goods they grow to sell or barter. Often, they fail to use any of their small plots to grow a garden – with some nutritional variety of fruits and vegetables – for personal use.
The Global Livingston Institute (GLI) was founded in 2009 by Dr. Jamie Van Leeuwen, a longtime friend who has focused his career on homelessness, poverty, and self-sufficiency. Alongside his work in Denver and Colorado, he chose Rwanda and Uganda to expand his impact to a developing part of the world. With an office in Kampala, he and his team opened up the Entusi Resort and Leadership Center on Uganda’s beautiful Lake Bunyonyi in 2013. He has kindly invited me to guest lecture there, be part of a women’s leadership summit, and participate in other events hosted by GLI. Years in the making, the trip was worth the wait, and even more special with Jeff.
Jamie’s efforts have not only taken root, one local shared that “if Jamie and the president of Uganda were standing next to each other and I had a chance to shake hands with one of them, I would pick Jamie.” Everyone in the Lake Bunyonyi region knows or knows of the tall lanky “Muzungu” (a word often yelled out by locals meaning "white person") who has invested so heavily here, and who has stayed. So many nonprofits pick Africa as a place to make a difference. Often, they don’t last, they fail to fold into local customs and courtesies, or their resources get derailed in other directions. GLI is the real deal. Over the course of five years, Jamie got to know local community leaders who are trusted, respected, and understand how to get things done in creative ways. After earning their respect, he engaged and hired them to be his boots on the ground. In turn, they loyally work on behalf of GLI to improve communities and impact positive change.
Entusi is an offshoot of GLI, a for-profit lake resort that also serves as a retreat center, business and idea incubator, teacher training facility, health education hub, and whatever else this region needs. As part of helping local residents and displaced pygmy colonies get more out of agriculture, GLI has launched sustainable model farming projects which include greenhouses, soil regeneration, and utilizing water from the local lake vs. relying entirely on rain and weather cycles. College students find their way here as part of study abroad programs, and ideally return home inspired to make a difference. As we arrived, a faculty member from Rollins College in Florida was departing. Her sabbatical had brought her to Entusi to study and assist local primary schools. GLI challenges visitors to this region to listen and learn, to think and reflect, and then to act. Hence, its core values and social media hashtag: #ListenThinkAct. Simple, powerful, and contagious.
Prior to my arrival at CMC, the college already had a relationship with GLI through a former faculty senate president, Gwen Ebie. Almost annually since that time, we have gifted retired laptops to GLI for distribution to local schools in Uganda and Rwanda. On this trip, Jeff and I took donated tents, sleeping bags, and more laptops with us – all items needed at Entusi to aid its growth and evolution. With no degrees of separation between CMC’s connection to GLI and my own, it is a partnership worth extending well into the future. Having seen it for myself, I have a better sense of what might be possible. Obvious synergies include CMC’s sustainability studies and permaculture programs, teacher education, nursing and health certificates, and others. Linking in the African Leadership University presents even more potential.
If not for Dian
On our final day at Entusi, we floated by boat in the pitch dark across the lake, an early morning start toward the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and its resident mountain gorillas. No words can adequately describe this experience. And, for two experienced people accustomed to adventuring in the backcountry, the steep, wet, muddy rainforest was a huge challenge. After a required orientation, we were divided into groups of eight, each matched with a guide, two trackers (who leave several hours in advance to locate the animals), a few AK-47 toting military officers (just in case animals come too close and a warning shot is required), and a guy with a machete to hack through the rainforest (there are no trails). Each group is assigned a family of gorillas “habituated” to tolerate some human contact. Once they are found, an hour of viewing is the limit.
After five hours of hiking, sliding, falling, and tripping – up and down, back and forth – we finally came upon the Kyagurilo family (group) of gorillas, munching on everything within reach like a never-ending salad. The grumpy silverback (alpha male) grunted and sent us all falling backward domino-style in an instant. A mama with a baby on her back walked right past us. Others played and did their thing within feet of our unsteady positions. And then, like that, it was over. Our hour was up. We hiked back to the road and our rides. Incredible.
Uganda’s capital city
After departing Entusi and following a stop to Queen Elizabeth National Park for a quick safari, we drove most of a day to Kampala, Uganda’s capital city. Along the way, we were reminded of the deep investment the Chinese are making here and across the African continent. Major road and infrastructure projects were common – typically crewed by dozens of local workers and supervised by a Chinese gentleman with a wide-brimmed straw hat.
Arriving in Kampala, Abdul Ndahura, our very capable driver, warned us to keep our cell phones out of sight to avoid someone reaching in an open car window to help themselves. In this large urban sprawl, there is a constant and frenetic pace of people, vehicles, and motorcycles. A city that expands to four million people every day, nearly half travel in on jam-packed small buses, taxi vans, or boda bodas.
Arguably, limited traditional “tourist” sites exist in Kampala. And, according to our tour guide, local, regional, and national laws are bent, broken, or disregarded. Compared to Kigali (capital city of Rwanda), a lesser sense of order, cleanliness, and general safety was certainly evident. And, Kampala is fascinating in its own right.
Slums, Mosque, Palace, and University
Spending two days in Kampala, we started at the bottom – literally. The Katanga slum sits in the lowest lying valley of the city. Ironically, a major hospital is perched high at one end and Makerere University at the other. When it rains, a common occurrence, the 2,000 or so families here contend with the result: open sewage trenches flooding, contaminated food sources, leaky structures, and generally rebounding. The conditions were grim and the poverty extreme. But, it somehow works for the people who live here. Some are enterprising entrepreneurs. We watched one man making sandals from scratch out of old tires and straps – seemingly very high quality. In another case, refugees from neighboring countries hammered old oil drums into sheets which were then repurposed into pots, pans, and utensils. Hardly anything is wasted. Nearly everything is recycled or reused in some way. Many of the goods end up in the Owino market, the second-largest flea market in Africa.
Katanga is one of six slums in the city; each has its own version of a vegetable market, gym (complete with weights and “equipment”), tailors, hardware stores, restaurants, and schools. Small children play in the dirt and muck, many without clothes or diapers. The plots or “sites” (typically broken-down wood or metal structures) are owned by someone and rented by others who live or occupy them. They were difficult places to observe, especially recognizing that one night at our hotel a few miles away is equivalent to a month of income for those in this community.
Our local guide in Kampala was Mukwaya Nasser, who goes simply by “Nasser.” He recently graduated from Makerere University (MU), East Africa’s first and largest by his description. Somehow, a woman in Texas had come to “sponsor” him and his education through college. What an impressive return on that investment. He is a most impressive, well-spoken, and accomplished young man. As we walked around the MU campus, people stopped to talk with him and recognized him as a former student government leader. He is now working for GLI and as a self-trained tour ambassador and historian of Kampala and Uganda.
Nasser also took us to see the National Mosque, named after Muammar Gaddafi. It was started by former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, who dreamed of building the largest mosque in Africa. It stood incomplete for nearly 30 years following Amin’s exile to Saudi Arabia. The Libyan leader stepped in, donating considerable funds and gifts, completing it in 2008. The interior features opulent chandeliers, windows, carpets, and wood from countries around the world. Apparently, Gaddafi had sights on ruling the entire continent and visioned a “United States of Africa” and thought this gesture would earn him recognition in Uganda. While a rise to continent-wide reign never transpired, his name is prominent on the mosque and various businesses and streets leading to it.
We also visited the king’s palace of Buganda, a subnational kingdom within Uganda. Nearby, Idi Amin’s torture chamber remains. After staging a coup and taking over power, Amin turned a former armory into a place where his perceived enemies were tossed in never to return. His own version of ethnic cleansing, thousands died here by suffocation, starvation, beatings, electrocution, or being fed to the crocodiles.
A STARK TRANSITION – THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (UAE)
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain
Entebbe International Airport is famous for the 1976 rescue of over 100 Jewish hostages whose Air France flight had been hijacked to Uganda by Palestinian and German terrorists, abetted by Idi Amin. For us, it marked a major transition from Africa to the UAE. As we sat in the airport terminal, we couldn’t help but notice we were one of two Caucasian couples in the jam-packed waiting area. We stuck out, appeared different, and were in the minority. While temporary, it reminded us of what this must be like for so many on a daily basis.
We flew via Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Dubai to meet up with my Wharton classmates for a second reunion (in 2015, we gathered in Madrid). Our group, the “Seven Wonders,” first met in 2012, then hailing from Hong Kong (Steve Norman, who couldn’t join us this time), Australia (Chris Whitehead), South Africa (Ashish Desai), Brazil (JR Benitez), Sweden (Lars Björklund), Kuwait (Anil Menon), and the USA (me). We committed to stay in touch and gather “someplace in the world” every few years. Many of our spouses are now woven into this special group of friends.
Dubai was a major shock to the system after nearly two weeks in Africa. From rural, rolling hills, scenic surroundings, off-grid exploring, and pronounced poverty, we were surrounded by glitz, glamour, architecturally chaotic buildings (hundreds under construction), heavy traffic (commonly Bentleys, Lamborghinis, Maseratis, and helicopters), and off-the-charts shopping malls with features like indoor ski resorts, world-class aquariums, skating rinks, art and sculptures to rival any museum, and every possible high-end designer store the world has to offer. An obvious illustration of the unfair and unequal distribution of wealth, natural resources, and opportunity around the world, it recharged my commitment to do my small part back home – to level the playing field and sharpen CMC’s focus and resources in ways that result in equitable outcomes for all students, regardless of their goals, background, circumstances, heritage, financial status, or social class.
While in the UAE, we were graciously hosted by Anil, who now lives and works for Ernst & Young in Dubai. Over three days, he arranged high-end dining, a desert safari, and stops to tour souqs (markets), the Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi, and Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the third largest mosque in the world. The whole experience felt like a visiting a massive international theme park.
Regardless of destination, time spent with this tight, supportive, loyal, and honest group of friends hailing from all parts of the globe is a profound gift. They pass no judgment, challenge my thinking, and remind me of the important influence the United States has in the world. While America’s current state of division, nationalism, and intolerance has far-reaching ripple effects, again I find my way right back to CMC as a powerful antidote. By modeling inclusivity, civility, and care for others, we lift our communities one person at a time.
On March 4, 2019 – to a car buried in snow – I returned home recharged and ready to get back to work! And, looking forward to the next Seven Wonders reunion in 2021. Viva Mexico.