Friday, 23 March 2007

UNDP Retreat in Akagera National Park

MK: Well, I wasn't back from South Africa for a day when I packed up and went to the Eastern province in Rwanda where Akagera National Park is situated. This time, it was for UNDP's Annual Retreat. The highlight of the week was on the last night (Thursday the 22 March) in which we had a party. UNDP provided copious bottles of wine and alcohol for its staff. However, the staff of the Akagera Lodge felt it belonged to them as well. They had no shame in bringing trays of glasses, taking a bottle of whiskey off our table, filling up their glasses and brining them to the bar only for all of us at the table to watch on stunned! The staff proceeded to drink the whiskey they took from our table!! Other highlights included an early Friday morning Game Drive in which the Rwandese staff pointed at every living creature and exclaimed, "goat!"!!

For photos, click here and here.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

GEF Training in Pretoria

MK: I left John at the airport in Johannesburg and shuttled my way to Pretoria. I spent one week there familiarising myself with my UNDP counterparts in the Global Environment Facility (GEF) - photo to the left. I had a chance to reunite with old friends from my training in Bonn, Germany. Photo below.

I also had the opportunity to meet the relatives of my sister's boyfriend, Malcolm: Toinette, Michael, their 3 children (Daniella, David, and Joshua), and Dandy (Malcolm's sister) hosted me for a few days, took me sightseeing, took me shopping, fed me, sheltered me, etc. They were great hosts! I was very happy to meet such a wonderful family.

I also took a tour of Soweto. What an interesting experience! I saw Nelson Mandela's old house before he was imprisoned and where Winnie spent her days while he was in prison for 27 years, Winnie Mandela's current house, and Bishop Desmond Tutu's house. I also saw the real Soweto townships and met some of the people living there. It was incredible to learn that some of the most expensive houses are located in Soweto .... and of course, some of the poorest! To see my photos, click here.

Monday, 12 March 2007

Reunited in Cape Town!

JK: The Canadian Euro-Africa duo reunited again! This time it was on South African soil -- of all places -- after a string of good fortune landed us both in the same country for respective business meetings (mine Johannesburg and Mélanie's in Pretoria). What a surreal experience it was to see each other in a totally different place -- and what a place! The Western Cape did not disappoint. Stunning is about as accurate a word that I can think of to describe Cape Town and its environs.

Our 3.5 days together were spent exploring the coast and the wine country by rented car. Despite the fact that the South Africans drive on the "wrong" side of the road, not to mention the perpetual warnings about car-jackings and theft, we managed quite nicely. The drive to the edge of the continent at Cape Point was other-worldy, reminiscent of some of the dramatic coast-lines and blue waters of the Mediterranean. Some of the beaches looked absolutely glorious, despite the uber-frigid Atlantic water temps.

Hanging with the African Penguins at Boulder beach was a highlight. The penguins came dressed in their best dinner jackets...(ok, weak joke, sorry). Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope were spectacular, although the winds were so monstrous that the svelte Mélanie was almost hurled into the air on our climb up to the summit (slight exaggeration for dramatic effect). But no wonder there have been over 600 documented shipwrecks around that bend over the last 400 years.

We also headed inland to Stellenbosch to do "the posh thing" and taste some wines. Actually, we were more into finding spectacular locations to have a nice meal accompanied by good wine and tremendous views. We were especially lucky at the Sylvanvale winery (pic below, taken from the winery's restaurant terrace). I should also add that South African wine was a revelation to me. Yum.

And just in case you're wondering, we did not fall victim to South Africa's infamous crime (although we do think the wheel on our car rental was punctured on purpose one night; fortunately we did not have to deal with the problem until the following morning -- in daylight). Ironically, the only time I was "threatened" was in Paris at the airport train station awaiting the TGV (Thalys) back to Brussels. I was approached by four totally emaciated mid-20 something men in broad daylight on a relatively busy platform. I could not understand what they were doing, since clearly it would have taken all four sets of their atrophied arms to pick up my 20kg suitcase. After encircling me (not kidding) they pulled out their customs official badges, as if they were the FBI. It was a bizarre public spot check of my bags and passport. I must have been looking particularly swarthy after the 10.5 hour flight from Joburg. ;)

For our "best of" pics (note: not all are yet uploaded), click here.
For all our South Africa photos, click here

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Buffoonery in Burundi

MK: Melanie and Lindsey - 2 of Rwanda’s 3 Angels - felt that being chased by a girl with a machete and catching their “night guard” smoking drugs while on duty was not enough excitement in their lives. So, they decided to get on a crowded minibus at 7am destined for Bujumbura, the capital of neighbouring Burundi. They were not far out of Kigali when Melanie had to ask the male (dare not say, “man”) squished up against her to stop picking his nose. This resulted in teasing in Kinya-rwanda and laughter from all other passengers on board (about 25 or 30).

The journey involved several stops along the way, not to pick up additional passengers (because we were already over capacity) but to purchase much-sought after food items: brochettes, cartons of buttermilk, grilled corn on the cob, donuts, etc. One female passenger was either starving and had not eaten for months or bored, because she atecontinuously (devouring six brochettes, two cobs of corn, and a donut or two) during the entire nine hour journey (yes 9, you read correctly).

The fiasco at the border (there is definitely a difference between “law-abiding Rwanda” with the “anything goes – with a price – Burundi”) entailed the same famished female going straight from the last person in line to the first person being attended to at passport control. The line-up for immigration never moved because females like her decided they were of noble blood and didn’t have to wait in line for even one second. They pushed their way to the very front without hesitation or concern. Melanie and Lindsey also witnessed a few notes being passed under the table for unwitting quick and easy service.

Just when Lindsey and Melanie thought they were nearing the finishing line and could see Bujumbura on the horizon, Burundian customs decided to stop the bus and search through all the packages and bags on board. Much to Melanie and Lindsey’s surprise, they started taking articles off the bus. Two of Rwanda’s three Angels wondered what kind of illegal substances these passengers had subjected them to. (It is also important to note here that Melanie was actually unauthorised to travel to Burundi in a public vehicle and because there is evidence of rebel activity in the area). They didn’t have to wait long to discover these criminals were smuggling Rwandan cheese into Burundi. How horrific!

With fewer load in tow, Melanie and Lindsey finally arrived in Buju. They quickly found a quaint quest house and proceeded on a walking tour with a guide from the Saga Guest House offering his services free of charge (believable?). He was quite knowledgeable about all the important landmarks: he pointed out the banks (it was Saturday and they were closed), the Kenya Airways office, some nice hotels (although we were already staying at the Guest House he worked at), the RwandAir office, etc. All useful information the next time we want to: fly out of Buju, exchange money in Buju, or stay in Buju. Melanie and Lindsey were then taken to the beach of Lake Tanganyika. This area had a nice (and cheap Hotel Saga Beach), nightclub, cultural centre/theatre, and a few different styles (and prices) of restaurants. Melanie and Lindsey – the celebrities that they are – met the owner of the expansive bar/resto/club/theatre complex) who gave them a tour followed by delicious mojitos. The two Angels were ancy to return to town, so declined the owner’s advances and departed for the Guest House. The escapade was short-lived and Melanie and Lindsey boarded the same overcrowded bus the following morning at 8am.