Monthly Archives: July 2015

Rwanda’s Mountain Gorillas

On my second day in Volcanoes National Park, I visited the KWITONDA family, a group of 22 members. When born, baby gorillas weigh less that human babies, between 1.5 and 2.5 kilograms. Mothers breastfeed for between three and a half and four years. While breastfeeding, females do not reproduce, hence limiting the potential to accelerate population growth and why census’ are only carried out every five years. I’d like to introduce my friends.

A94O1128.JPGGorilla Baby 1-c17.jpgGorilla Family 1.jpgHello 6x4-c18.jpgI just can't help myself 6x4.jpgI must eat my greens 6x4.jpgLost in Thought 6x4.jpgMunyinya Silverback 1.jpgMunyinya Silverback 2.jpgMunyinya Silverback 3.jpg

Here is a breakdown of gorilla age categories:

  • 0 – 3    baby
  • 3 – 6    juvenile
  • 6 – 8    sub-agile
  • 8+       females can breed (typically, 4 – 6 babies in a lifetime)
  • 8 – 12  males known as black backs
  • 12+      silverbacks


Posted in Dignity, Movies

Gorillas in the Mist

The mountain gorilla or to use its species name gorilla beringei beringei is the 7th most endangered animal on the planet. This species of gorilla is only found at the confluence of three countries: Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Here, a meagre 880 mountain gorillas struggle to exist alongside man’s warring. Admittedly, the numbers are increasing, albeit slowly, but they are also marginalised by ongoing fighting in these countries, Rwanda back in 1994 and, more recently, in the DRC. Poaching is also an issue. Another census is due in 2015, and conservationists are hopeful the number of animals will exceed 900.

Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is home to 480 mountain Gorillas made up of 19 families. Ten families are visited by tourists while the other nine are monitored for research purposes only.

The journey to visit these bewitching creatures is not for the faint hearted, but the surrounding countryside is spectacular, traversing a series of five volcanoes. It is easy to understand how the title Gorillas in the Mist came into being.

Gorillas in the Mist 1.jpgGorillas in the Mist 2.jpgGorillas in the Mist.jpg

The first family I met were HIRWA made up of 19 individuals, including a set of male twins. The boss, a 27 year old silverback named Munyinya, was nothing short of regal, at once gentle and powerful.

In gorilla families, it is the silverback who entertains the children. The boss of a group is usually the oldest member but always the dominant one, he can weigh a staggering  220 kilograms. Only the silverback can touch the females in their family.

Gorillas live between 45 to 55 years. The females live longer than the males due to the amount of fighting the males endure. The animals’ diet consists of over 200 species of plants, and they can eat up to 15 percent of their bodyweight in a day.

Meet Munyinya:

Munyinya Silverback 1.jpgMunyinya Silverback 2.jpgMunyinya Silverback 3.jpg



Posted in Dignity, Movies

Rwanda 2015

Today, I thought I would show you Rwanda as it is in 2015, 21 years after the genocide. There is a lot to be learned here.

I have included some photographs that show what you can expect to see in the Land of a Thousand Hills.

Patchwork 6x4.jpgTraditional Dancing Girl 6x4.jpgView to Volcanoes 6x4.jpgWoman Carrying Cattle Feed 6x4.jpgYoung Gorilla 6x4.jpg

  • An after affect of the genocide is that the Rwandan population is made up of 64% women and 35% men
  • 66% of Rwandan politicians are female
  • There are no plastic carrier bags in Rwanda, recycled paper only
  • Rwanda is litter free both in the cities and in the countryside
  • Everybody smiles and says hello
  • Rwandans talk about the genocide, recognising that it is the only way to move on with their lives
Posted in Celebrity, Dignity

Visiting the King

Today, Lena and I escaped the big smoke courtesy of our driver Amos and a Toyota 4-wheel drive. We headed a few hours south to the seat of the old king. Driving through the countryside was heaven; lush, hilly, immaculately clean, and picturesque.

We visited the former king’s palace. The last king was deposed back in 1959 and mayhem followed. One palace was an old thatched building from the 1800s. It actually consisted of three buildings; one where the king lived, a smaller one where the women prepared food and a final house for his beer!

There was a second 1930s structure, which was built for the last king’s father in the 1930s.

The ones that we visited are reconstructions as the real ones, like everything else, were destroyed in the 1994 genocide.

Beer House 6x4.jpgMilk to Butter.jpgPalace Roof 6x4.jpgPatterned Wall 6x4.jpgVillage Scene.jpg

Posted in Uncategorized

Reflection – A Sunday afternoon by the pool in Kigali

To be fair, I didn’t come up with this title. It’s from a fictional book about the genocide, and follows the relationship between an ex-pat businessman and a Tutsi waitress. And, no, it doesn’t have a happy ending, but it is beautifully written.

Yesterday morning, a driver from the Mille Collines Hotel took Lena (A contact from OZ), Dieudonne (A genocide survivor) and me to a market frequented by locals in Kimironko.

It was interesting, meeting the local population and admiring the spectacular array of fruit and vegetables on sale. When we returned, Lena had a business meeting so Dieudonne and I sat by the pool and listened to live music.

Milles Collines Pool.jpg

Without warning, I felt my throat constricting and eyes filling with tears as a well of emotion rose up and consumed me. I took a long slow walk around the garden and gave myself a good talking to. There seemed to be something hauntingly poignant about sitting in ‘Hotel Rwanda’ with a genocide survivor, trying to comprehend the scale of everything I have heard and seen over the past four days. It took another two hours for me to breathe easy. Being here is the ultimate lesson in forgiveness.

Posted in Dignity, Genocide

Warning – This blog contains some confronting remarks & images

The Kigali Genocide Museum and Memorial Gardens

Today was never going to be an easy day. 259,000 victims of the Rwandan genocide are buried here. Personally, I find that number staggering and impossible to comprehend.

Shocking Statistics

  • The genocide lasted 100 days
  • 1,000,000 Rwandans lost their lives
  • 300,000 children were orphaned
  • 85,000 children became the head of their household
  • 2,000,000 became refugees
  • Two-thirds of the population were displaced

As most of you know, I have researched this subject in great detail but there were still several things that shocked me today.

  1. A common thread for survivors of the genocide here is that they knew their attackers, many were friends or neighbours. To know something is one thing. To hear individual survivors tell their personal stories and call their attackers by their names was harrowing. One lady said, “Patrick, my next door neighbour, came to kill us. The family were not well off and we had paid for their children’s education.”
  2. Part of the museum is dedicated to children. There are numerous photographs and below each a list of details:
    • The child’s name
    • Their age
    • Their favourite hobbies
    • Their favourite foods
    • Their favourite person
    • How they died

I will spare you by not citing an example.

Hotel Rwanda 6x4.jpgKGM Stain Glass Window 6x4.jpgVictims Photos 6x4.jpgVictims Skulls 6x4.jpg

3. Near the end, at the bottom of one display, there was a photograph of two round faced nuns, one with wire rimmed glasses. Immediately, my heart went out to them, they were here to help and must have witnessed heinous crimes and even lost their lives. The text beneath the picture explained that these two women were convicted for ‘crimes against humanity’ as they had handed a church full of Tutsi to the Interahamwe militias who had killed them all. Both women were sentenced to 10 years in jail.

To end on a positive note, many survivors whose family members are buried here spoke openly about how much they loved the Memorial Garden and how it was a place where they could feel both close to their loved ones and feel loved in return.


Posted in Dignity, Genocide

The Land of a Thousand Hills

It is never a good thing when you arrive at an International airport and are told, “I think you’re in the wrong place!” Fortunately, what the man meant was, “You need to go next door.”

So it was a relief to finally land at Kigali Airport and meet the enthusiastic Amos, who will be my guide while I am here in Rwanda. Much of the afternoon, I spent at the memorial for ten Belgian Peacekeepers, who were murdered at the start of the genocide while protecting the Prime Minister.

It was a sobering sight regardless of how much I had read about the attack prior to coming here. What was interesting was that the taxi driver who took me there had never been there before.

Tomorrow is the 21st anniversary of Liberation Day.

Here’s a few images from my visit.

Belgian PK Building 6x4.jpgBelgian PK Memorial 6x4.jpgBPK Genocide Artwork 6x4.jpgNames of BPK 6x4.jpg

Posted in Dignity, Genocide, NGOs

Sydney – Antarctica – Rwanda

It is often said that the best things in life are free. Many would argue that flying Qantas could hardly be construed as gratis but today’s experience certainly was an unexpected pleasure. Australian’s frequently complain about flying and my fourteen-hour endeavour from Sydney to Johannesburg, some might see as a chore. But that’s not how I see it.

No bastard can get you! Once those doors are closed, you’re free. If you’ve forgotten something it’s tough. You get waited on hand and foot, depending on the airline, of course! Indulgence is key: reading, writing, watching movies, listening to music, eating and drinking – what’s not to like?

But today’s surprise, and it was a surprise given I have travelled to more than eighty countries, was that I had never flown a southerly route from Australia. We spent hours, in a cloudless sky, gazing down on the Antarctica ice flow. It was mesmerising. Spectacular would be an understatement. There was nothing but white, white and more white all the way to the horizon. Icebergs floating in small pools, the size of which I could not comprehend from 32,000 feet.


I was so intent on reaching Rwanda, I had forgotten that old adage, it is better to travel than to arrive – and, today, it was.

Posted in Genocide