First published 6/2015
FIRST 36 HOURS
After leaving Chicago early Friday morning, Erin landed in Kigali, Rwanda around 2 PM Saturday. Since her arrival she has busied herself meeting as
many people as possible. There is a church very close to the Good New House where she is staying and she noticed that it is always busy with children singing and dancing. Curious she went to a church service that lasted 3 ½ hours.
After the church service Erin spent 3 hours walking the streets of Kigali. It took her a little while to get accustomed to the staring but she realized that the people were only just curious. “Most spoke some English so they taught me some Kinyarwanda and I helped strengthen their English skills. I met 2 guys from Kenya and I was able to use my Swahili to converse with them”.
During the evening hours Erin spent another 3 hours at the church with about 40 children, ages ranging from 6 – 18. They loved playing with her hair and taking selfies on her phone. The children taught her dances and as the evening progressed she bonded with a girl named Carine.
Carine spoke English quite well so she assisted Erin by translating the Kinyarwanda for her. She was also able to visit with Carine’s family who had a house directly across the street from the church where she lives with her Mother, Aunt, and 8 siblings in a tiny house. “She was so incredibly loving and sweet and told me she was going to come visit me again.”
Erin used her first 36 hours in Africa to explore and converse with the locals. “It’s been absolutely eye opening and absolutely amazing.”
Up next is a Gorilla Trek through Rwanda-Eco Tours
The following is a recap of Erin’s experience with the Gorillas in her own words.
I was super jet legged and super excited for the gorillas so I ended up waking up at 12:30 in the morning and not being able to fall back asleep. I didn’t want to take sleeping medication because my guide was picking me up at 4:30 in the morning so by the time it would have kicked in it would have been time for me to get up. So my guide picked me up at 4:30 and it was crazy that people were already walking the streets. Many had stuff had on their heads that they were taking to the markets.
It was a 2.5 hour car ride to Volcanoes national park where we were seeing the gorillas and my guide, Henry, spent majority of the time telling me about Rwanda’s rich history. It was absolutely breath taking. We arrived at a place where I met my other 2 guides who were actually taking me to see the gorillas and about 10 other people who were trekking with us. They had Rwandan coffee and tea for us while we were waiting and it was the best tea I had ever had in my life. They also had traditional dancing from people who used to be ex-poachers.
After we met our guides and got some basic background on the gorillas we drove another 45 minutes to the actual park. Life is so different in the rural areas than in Kigali. It is also so green and potatoes and beans are the 2 biggest products that the people grow. Once we arrived to the park, we got ready to go but we also were greeted by all these people who were dressed in all blue. They are ex-poachers as well who now come looking for work each day. You can pay them to carry your bags on your trip and they help you with the difficult hiking areas.
We then started the trip walking along a path through the fields of the locals. Our guide explained that the locals don’t mind us coming through because a percentage of our gorilla permit we paid for goes back to them so we are actually supporting them. Our guide also explained that the land was donated to them by the government.
After about 15 minutes of walking there we entered the actual hill/mountain area. Words and pictures cannot do it justice to explain how beautiful everything was. We hiked through all different environments, uphill, downhill, mud paths, bamboo forests, shrubbery, large trees, some next to hills some 100% surrounded by plants. It was all absolutely amazing and I will never forget it.
About an hour in we saw some golden monkeys which was a real treat! Besides the gorillas and the golden monkeys the only other animals that live in the forests are mountain elephants and buffalo. We saw buffalo tracks and poop but not the actual animal. The way it works is we are guaranteed to see gorillas but we are not guaranteed within a certain time period. There is another group of people called the trekkers who spend their life with them. They follow them ahead of time and radio our guides on where to meet them (it’s incredible how well the guides know the park). The trekkers are with them during the day and stay with them until the gorillas make a nest for night. They then return the next morning at the nest where they had left them the previous night and continue tracking them. This allows them not to radio collar or do any of that. It can be as fast as a 15 minute hike or in my case a 3 hour hike. It was amazing because we got to see so much of the national park, but it was exhausting at the same time. I liked to think of myself as a pretty decent hiker; I never use hiking sticks, never stay on the actual path, and can go for hours, but this hike was pretty rough. We were given hiking sticks and I had never been more grateful to have one. Many of the paths were just big enough for my feet and there was one point the guide was using his machete to cut down stuff to make a new path for us.
Once we meet up with the trekkers we have to drop off our bags and hiking sticks. Our bags because of food and hiking sticks because they scare the gorillas because poachers used to have them. Then we were off to see them! The gorillas were foraging in a shrubbery area so it could be difficult at times to see them but what was amazing was the trekkers would machete any branch or stuff inches from the gorilla so we could see them better, and what’s crazier is the gorillas weren’t even phased by it! We were told we had to stay 7 meters away from the gorillas but that statement was then followed up by “but the gorillas don’t know 7 meters”. The guides not once ever told us we were to close and there were multiple times I was within arm’s reach of them. Then there were the few magical times the gorillas decided they wanted to get from point A to point B and we happened to be in between there so they would walk right past us brushing up against us. This happened at least 3 times and my heart stopped each time.
We visited the Armohoro group, which means peace. They have about 20 members in the troop including 5 silverbacks and 3 babies. We didn’t see all 20 at once but saw many of them. We were allowed one hour with them before we had to go back and it was the fastest hour of my life. They were eating, grooming, farting, cuddling, holding babies, banging their chest, walking, sleeping, making sounds, and being adorable the entire time. They weren’t phased by us; not friendly, but not scared. It was hard to remember that they were still wild and the silver back could easily destroy us all.
After the hour we had to go back the way we came. We were tired, hungry, thirsty, and miserable with all of the fire ants and stinging nettle but I didn’t mind because of the experience I had just encountered and would do it all again in a heartbeat. We ended up not getting back until 4 in the afternoon. Henry told me it had been 3 years since one of his guests had taken that long to find the gorillas.
It is hard to believe that Erin had any energy after the wonderful experience with the Gorillas, but she continued her journey that day by visiting a Cultural Village.
The cultural village is run by ex-poachers (the same ones who were dancing at the beginning) and they are all now huge conservationists. This was probably just as great as meeting the gorillas.
The first place they took me was to the king’s house. They don’t have kings anymore but they dressed me up in a traditional outfit and gave me a tour of his house. We couldn’t wear shoes inside. There was a room where the people from different provinces sat and the king held meetings. There was then the king’s room with a gigantic bed and that room was connected to another smaller room where the “beautiful women waited for the king to call them into his room” there could be up to 20 women at a time in that room.
After the king’s hut we went to the medicine doctor where he showed me traditional medicine used. Rosemary and eucalyptus were huge. The next stop was a craftsman who has made stuff to sell to make money. When he was a poacher he had killed over 100 buffalo but now is huge into conservation. He was also selling postcards made by kids whose parents were ex poachers to support them as well.
I then watched a traditional wedding ceremony. Finally it ended with singing and dancing and they let me drum for a little bit! It was an eye-opening experience and it was incredible that over 300 people who used to be poachers are now huge conservationists.
So in this small world, one of my friends from Chicago, Gabe Andrle, is doing research at the Diane Fossey Research Center in Musanze which so happens to be where we were passing through. My guide was nice enough to stop by so I could visit him and he also showed me around.
By this point I was starving because I hadn’t eaten anything so we went to a local restaurant on the way home. It was a buffet style so I was able to try a large variety of food, mainly potatoes, rice, and beans.
I finally got home around 9 and was absolutely exhausted but I then had to go to dinner at Ben’s house. Ben is in charge of the Guest House where I am staying. He runs a program called Good News International which is a program to help widows and orphans from the genocide. It was so nice to meet his family and eat more delicious food.
Below is Erin’s account of her final few days in Rwanda.
I drove through the wealthier part of Kigali. We passed the American embassy and the Rwanda parliament. The parliament had marks from where it was bombed during the genocide.
We then went to a private Christian school for a few minutes, although we didn’t get to look around much. We then went to a local market. You must barter well and as soon as you get out of the car everyone welcomes and invites you to their shop. Everything is absolutely beautiful.
After I got back I went to a local school for students with a disabilities right next to where I’m staying. On my first day I had met a nice family and the wife was a physical therapist for the school and she invited me to visit. There are 35 students in the school ranging from ages 4 – 38 with varying levels of ability. There are 3 classrooms and they are broken down first by age so the youngest are together in one classroom. The other 2 classrooms are broken down by ability. Some students have autism so severe they can’t talk, others have hyperactivity, and others have downs. The school is 3,000 franc (only a couple dollars) each term, compared to other schools with disabilities which are about 60,000 franc per term. Elena also works to educate the mothers on everything. She teaches them that it is not their fault their child is like this and tells them more about the disability. She educates on how to help their child at home, especially if he/she is unable to go to school (typically due to lack of funds). She is working on teaching them how to make boxes from cardboard, as well as weaving stuff and making necklaces to form cooperatives so they can earn money. It is absolutely incredible everything she is doing. She explains that the teachers don’t really know what to do either. We played soccer and I helped them with math problems and with Mugisha’s therapy.
I also went to visit Carine but she and her sisters were at school so I talked with her grandmother. Her grandma didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Kinyrwanda but we do both speak Swahili! It was amazing because I had used Swahili before on my trip, but only because I wanted to. This was the first time it was necessary for me to use in order to find out where Carine was. We had about a 15 minute conversation and I found out that she (Carine) would be back around 5. I misunderstood and thought that it was 7 so I didn’t go back over and instead was greeted by Carine and her sisters around 5:30. I helped her sisters with English and science homework. Each individual is not done with their homework until every single person is done with their homework. I talked a little more in Swahili and then had to go back to eat dinner. I returned to Carine’s house after dinner where they taught me Kinyrwanda songs and I taught them English songs.
I also went to Carine’s school. All of the kids were so excited to see me. No one complains, and they all eagerly raise their hands to answer a question. They are all so excited to be there and learn.
I went to the genocide memorial and it was very heavy but I’m very glad I went. There were lots of gruesome photos and the language was very vivid. There was a room full of bones and a room devoted to the some of the children who were murdered. I went to Carine’s house again later that night.
The next day I got to meet my sponsor child! He lived along this dirt road that was ripped up and hilly. The entrance of his house was super nice and had nice couches and curtains but the rest of his house was 3 bedrooms and absolutely disgusting. One room was for sleeping and barely fit 2 mattresses which they all slept on and had the most horrid smell. The other room was devoted to washing, it had several jerry cans and washing basins. I didn’t get to see the third room.
I met a school group who are from Scotland and went to one of the Good News communities with them to help re-cement a house. We were still in the pre-building stages of the house where we had to get all of the supplies. There was a group moving the large boulders, another group hacking off the old cement from the house, and a third group carrying bags of mud to the house. It was a whole community project and many came to either watch or help. It was incredible how hard working they were without a single complaint. The person whose house we were helping became a widow from the genocide as well as losing her child. Unfortunately she also just lost her children in a freak accident and is left raising two young children. She is absolutely devastated and has lost much hope.
I ended my stay in Rwanda at Carine’s house. Her mom painted my hair and although I wasn’t thrilled with the turnout it was a kind gesture. Her mom “paints” hair as her job, but painting hair is taking weave and braiding it into your own hair.
So those were my last few days in Rwanda! It was mostly humanitarian work which was nice because Zimbabwe will be mostly dedicated to the animals. Each day I was in Rwanda I met new people with completely different and fascinating stories and I saw something new that completely blew my mind. Though I’m sad my first part of my trip is over, I have learned so much in just this short week and I am so excited for everything that is in store for me! Thank you to everyone who has followed me on my journey, it gives me great encouragement each day to keep writing and sharing!
ERIN’S FIRST WEEK IN ZIMBABWE
I had a day layover in Johannesburg, South Africa which allowed me to explore the city a little and go to the Apartheid Museum.
I then made it to Zimbabwe Saturday afternoon. Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage is located about 45 minutes outside of Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe. The orphanage works to rescue and rehabilitate to ultimately release animals into the wild. I will check how many animals they’ve released over the years, I haven’t had a chance yet to look at the chart that has that information. They have about 20 lions, 5 leopards, lots of monkeys and birds, servals, warthog, duikers, crocs, snakes, and many others.
The volunteer’s main responsibilities are to care for the baby animals they have. They currently have 3 pookies (super similar to a bush baby), a baby common grey duiker, 15 tortoises, a baby serval, and 3 baby barn owls. Another daily task we do is to catch 60 grasshoppers in the fields for the pookies and chameleons. We also spend an hour each day as “animal time” where we pick an animal and spend an hour talking and chilling with it. The monkeys like to groom and hold your hand, one of the lions likes playing hide and seek. All the animals have such personality (as anyone who works with animals would know).
We also have random tasks that need to be completed. I’ve helped rewire a cage for a new hyena, organize and go through the “bean room” which is a room full of canned beans, peanut butter, and jelly for the animals, especially when they run low on food because all of the food is donated. Volunteers are also allowed to use their strengths to help out at the orphanage, with this knowledge I hoped that I could help out with whatever training they did.
My main assignment is to work with 2 Samango Monkeys and get them to shift. We were able to watch a hyena get darted and get fitted with a radio collar. Today we released him into Matopos National Park. We got to help with the measuring and taking temps of the hyena—it was a super cool experience. After we released him we tracked him and some other leopards with collars (those are the 2 main species they track). It was really neat to get out in the field and help. Each day has new tasks and new surprises which is super fun and exciting.
Today I went to Matopos National Park again except this time was a full day experience with a guide. Matopos is known for their rhinos and we actually found them within 15 minutes into the adventure. Our guide, Ian, has been around them his entire life so they are super familiar and comfortable with them which allowed us to get within a few meters of them. There were 5 of them; a mom with her 13 month old calf and 3 juvenile males. We hung out with them for about an hour watching them eat, sleep, and walk. We discussed the poaching problem in great detail. I don’t want to relay much of it just because it’s such a complicated issue and we spoke so much about it I don’t want to misspeak any of what Ian explained. The few things that were very clear is that about 25 poachers get caught each month in Zimbabwe—Zimbabwe has very strict laws against poaching and you will get shot on the spot if you are suspected or get caught poaching. Additionally Ian explained that he is an advocate for legalizing the trade and then commercially farming the rhino horns—a perspective I have not heard before and found very interesting.
We saw some other animals on the trip including a crocodile (we got within feet of it), baboons, Vervet Monkeys, and rock hyrax. We also hiked to a top of the mountain and it was absolutely gorgeous. We saw cave paintings that were over 20,000 years old from bushman and we also went to a local village and met a chief who was 84 years old—he has the most incredible stories. We got to watch the kids sing and dance which was always fun. I was bummed we didn’t get to see more animals but the rhino experience completely made up for it.
Erin’s day is filled with many duties and life experiences. In her latest post she tells us what she does on a typical day at Chipangali.
On a typical day at the orphanage, we start at 8 in the morning with baby duties. This includes collecting all of the food bowls, prepping diets, feeding the animals, cleaning the Duiker and Serval cages, feeding the chicks, cleaning and feeding and sorting through mice containers and mealworms cages because both of those are bred for food, and cleaning the eyes of 15 baby tortoises. These tasks are divided amongst the volunteers and everyone helps to get the job done.
Once these are completed we get a short break and then we have to collect 60 grasshoppers for the chameleons. This task sometimes is finished really fast and other times it takes quite a bit of time. After grasshoppers we get an hour of animal time before lunch. This is where we are allowed to walk around and spend any time with any of the animals. You can get groomed by the monkeys or pet a leopard or enjoy the company of Tammy the Kudu.
After lunch we have to take care of the babies again for the critters that get an afternoon feed. The afternoon hours then consist of big tasks that need to be done; fixing enclosures, getting new food, pretty much any and all tasks that need to get done. At 4 we start afternoon babies which is pretty similar to morning babies.
We then have a little bit of downtime before supper and then after supper Valentine the Duiker gets fed. This is one of the best tasks because at night she lives with the 3 Bushbabies and since they are nocturnal, they are super active while she gets fed. We take turns bottle feeding Valentine but anyone is allowed to watch (and play with the Bushbabies). The Bushbabies love to jump on you and crawl in your pockets and sweatshirts and we are allowed to spend however much time as we want with them. Each day at the orphanage is an adventure with new adventures and new memories being made.
Part of Chipangali’s main goals is to educate the public on the wildlife. One of the ways they do this is by visiting schools 3 times a week. One of the workers at the orphanage who is a native Zimbabwean takes 2 tortoises, a hedgehog, a chameleon, and a young African rock python to schools of all ages (pre-school all the way up to high school). Volunteers are allowed to go and help him and meet the students.
Today I went to a pre-school and high school where I helped with the animals and listened to him as he told all of the students about the animals. One of the beliefs here is that if a chameleon touches you it will stick to you forever. The looks and squeals on their faces when they not only saw a chameleon but got to touch it and hold it (if they wanted) were priceless.
It was absolutely amazing to see their faces light up when they got to see these animals and how big of an impact just a few hours could have on them. As always, they stole my heart with their infectious smiles and love for learning. The principal was there as well and he said that he was scared of snakes until today. He probably held the snake more than anyone else and it was awesome for the students to see such a respected role model holding something that they had been taught was extremely dangerous and harmful. It was overall an incredible experience.
We have not heard from Erin in awhile, because she has been busy experiencing the trip of a lifetime! Below is her account of her trip to Victoria Falls.
I spent about a day and a half being a complete tourist. We left the orphanage and took a 6 hour bus ride to Victoria Falls. I went up with 5 other volunteers and we stayed in a hostel type lodge. We only spent 2 nights there so we had a jammed pack day since there are so many activities to do. I started the morning with a helicopter ride over the falls and it was absolutely incredible. It is crazy how for miles and miles there is all of this desert and then there is a patch with the falls and all of this luscious greenery.
After the helicopter my friends and I did the “Big Air Experience” where we ziplined, bungee jumped, and swung off a bridge over the gorge and the falls. It is impossible to put this experience into words to accurately express how I was feeling. We ziplined first and that was relaxing and fun. I then swung and that was a 111 foot drop and then a rope catches you and you swing. It was the first time I ever felt like I was going to die because you don’t think the rope is going to catch you. The bungee was even worst because you are dangling upside down looking into the river and my feet slipped a little from the towels so I actually thought I was going to fall! It was completely worth it though.
We then spent a few hours walking the falls and it was amazing. There is a path that leads to all of these different lookout points so that you can see the falls from varying angles. It was the perfect day as well, sunny with not a cloud in the sky. We went to a lodge to watch the sunset where the sun sets over the watering hole and a bunch of animals come at dusk for a drink. The sunset was gorgeous and we didn’t see many animals at first which was a bummer but right as the sun had set and left the orange glow a herd of about 20 elephants emerged and drank from the watering hole. Then from the opposite direction an additional 20 elephants came and drank as well. They stayed there until it was too dark to see them anymore. It was the first wild elephants I had seen and it was a great way to end an amazing day!
THE PANGOLIN ADVENTURE.
Late at night a Pangolin was brought into the orphanage. It was found in town and suspected to be hit by a car. Apparently this species is uncommon and many of the workers had never even seen one. They suspected it was a male and we later discovered it weighed 10 kilos (which is rather massive for them). From a quick assessment, he was fine so he was put in an enclosure and was let be until the morning. It was also decided he would be relocated to Matopos as soon as possible because they are extremely difficult to keep in captivity, mainly because they are so difficult to feed. They usually eat a specific kind of ant that has a certain acid that helps with their digestion.
The following morning a more up close assessment was done. He had a few superficial cuts on his nose and one of his toes. We dug up an ant mound for him and put it in his enclosure. If you sat quietly for long enough he would unroll and walk and sniff around and he was so cute! I spent a lot of time just watching him and quickly became obsessed with him. The following day we drove to Matopos National Park and released him at dusk. It took about 15 minutes and he unraveled and walked into the tall grass and that was the last we saw him. It was really neat to see a rescue happen (even though he was just brought in) and it was even more exciting that it was such a rare species.
With only about 1 1/2 weeks left to Erin’s trip to Africa, she shares with us some of the various duties that she and the other volunteers perform during their stay at the animal orphanage.
There are about 30 volunteers here now (there were only 8 when I first got here) which means a lot goes on and gets done each day. The hyena cage that we have been working on for weeks is finally finished and we moved the first hyena today. We darted her and microchipped her, vaccinated her, and weighed her before we placed her in her new home. There are 2 others that will be darted and moved tomorrow morning. The projects we were working on the enclosure consisted of wiring a fence so it was double fenced, stitch mats to create a little hide away for each cage, wheelbarrow dirt, manure, and hay into the cage, remove branches, and add cement. The workers also built a den in the one of the enclosures with hopes 2 of them will breed and they can release the mom and pups.
Other jobs we’ve done around the orphanage was cleaning 2 pools which involved dumping the water out with buckets, scrubbing off the algae, and re-adding more water. We spent a day painting various parts of the orphanage. I also helped cut up 2 baby cows for the carnivores. All of the meat is donated and has to be chopped to be fed. I also spent a day working with one of the workers to feed, clean, and care for the primates and birds of prey. We’ve also worked on cleaning and making a new home for Valentine (the baby duiker).
The training is coming along great with one of the leopards and the two Samango monkeys. The leopard is working on learning to accept an injection. She had done some training before but hadn’t been trained for many months but she was a quick learner and it has been so fun to work with her! The Samangos are learning to shift and do alright. We’ve been busy!
UPDATE #10 – FINAL INSTALLMENT
This is the last update for Erin Shattuck. She is back in the United States getting ready to start another life experience . . . college, specifically Kent State University.
One of my most favorite tasks at the orphanage that everyone else hated was the fruit truck. All of the fruit is donated, as long as we go and retrieve it. So most days there is a pick-up truck full of old scraps of fruit that humans wouldn’t eat but is perfectly fine for animals. We have to sort through it and pick out the fruit that the animals eat. Everyone hates this because it can be kind of nasty but I thoroughly enjoyed it because I viewed it as a treasure hunt and would get SO excited when I found a full, hard piece of fruit. Since I loved this so much, my supervisor put me in charge of sorting through it whenever it arrived so I did this about every other day.
I went to schools again and this time we went to 3 pre-schools. One of the pre-schools was one of the nicest schools around and it costs $100 per month to attend, versus the other pre-school we went to which costs $30 for 3 months. Despite this huge gap, all of the kids were enthusiastic and intrigued about learning all about the animals.
One of the Vervet monkeys had cut his foot down to the tendon so we had to dart him and stitch it up which was cool to watch and help with. He was extremely difficult to catch to dart but once darted he went down really fast and the procedure went really smoothly.
One of the big projects I worked on the last week was redoing one of the jackal’s enclosures. I got put in charge of this and so a few other people and myself tidied it up by raking up leaves, moving around the rocks and logs, and just making it look nice. The owners are very concerned with always making the enclosures look as nice as possible because then when people see neat enclosures, they assume that the animals are being well cared for. It’s challenging during the dry season because it is difficult to keep the plants green, constantly require wire, and the leaves are constantly falling.
We also darted another hyena (this was my 5th one!) that they had captured in their trap in Matopos and they put a GPS collar on her so that every 4 hours they get a location on where she is. We did this my last day and then re-released her in Matopos my last evening which was a great way to end an amazing trip.
My trip has unfortunately come to an end but it has been the most unforgettable 6 weeks of my life. The experiences and memories I had will stay with me forever. There are so many amazing highlights that it’s hard to pick my favorite but I know for sure that I will be back to Africa again sometime in the future!