We arrived in Banda on Wednesday, tired by our five and a half hour journey from Kigali in a crowded car, but excited to finally reach our home for the summer. As our car descended the final few kilometers into Banda on a road that managed to consist primarily of potholes, we finally gleaned our first glimpse of the T-shaped town of Banda that has become familiar to us only in pictures. (Note: our driver referred to the violently jostling descent in Banda as an “African massage,” perhaps using “massage” a bit too loosely.) At the end of the hill, we finally arrived in the main town square with at least a dozen children happily chasing our car.
We immediately drove to our new home, the house of Jeremiah, the medical professional in charge of the Kageno health clinic in Banda, who has housed and worked with DHE students in the past. Jeremiah is wonderful and his home is lovely. The beautiful landscapes resting just outside our windows continue to amaze us, along with the brilliant star gazing we are able to partake in after dark.
Our days in Banda have been varied. On the day we arrived, we went down to Kageno to play soccer, which attracted quite a crowd of spectators who spent most of the time laughing at our (many) whiffs. That said, our onlookers were quite smiley and friendly, and made us feel welcome in town despite our incompetence on the soccer field.
Our next day was spent visiting Nyargasigo and Kigogo, and it was great to finally see the sites in real life. While the pictures Joey had been sending had been extremely helpful, actually being at the sites allowed us to better understand what we will be doing to improve the sites and why it is necessary. We have decided to work on Kigogo first because the repairs/changes are less complex, making it an easier site to begin with. Since our first visit, we have returned to Kigogo to take more measurements and talk to site operators, as well as working on putting together the electrical system and preparing the civil upgrades from home. We’re planning to test the electrical system tomorrow and begin creating a spillway along the channel on Monday. Progress has been great so far, and we hope things continue to go smoothly.
We spent this morning carrying bags of sand up a steep hill to a construction site for a few hours, taking part in umuganda, or community work that is mandatory across Rwanda. Of course, we were shown up by people from Banda carrying massive amounts of sand, but the community was appreciative of our efforts and gave us tips on how to carry the sand most easily. After umuganda, we announced our intentions for site upgrades and surveying to the community with the help of the leader of Banda, Pascal. Pascal has been quite friendly so far, going so far as to invite us over to his house tonight when we met with him yesterday.
Perhaps what has been most memorable from our time in Banda so far is getting to know Jeremiah (our host) Pete (our contractor), and Pascal (a KIST student who is working with us this summer). Our conversations go on late into the night as we talk about everything from the culture around relationships and marriage in Rwanda, Japan, China, and the US to the Big Bang to light refraction. We’ve also been teaching each other our languages, with Pascal, Jeremiah, and Pete teaching us Kinyarwanda (Maramutse!), Shinri teaching Japanese, June teaching Chinese, and all of us travelers helping our Rwandan co-workers with their English. Yesterday, Pete returned from a trip to buy biscuits with Shinri reciting numbers in Japanese.
All of us travelers are doing well. We’ve been working hard on electricals and civils for Kigogo and planning our days to minimize the need to shut off the system or wait on parts. In addition, we’ve been practicing our Kinyarwanda and learning the art of cooking on an open fire. Other than June’s perpetual concern for one of Jeremiah’s chickens (which likes to absent itself from the yard for extended periods of time), Joey’s frustration about the lack of sushi available in Rwanda, I’d say all is well with us.