Gisenyi was my final stop down memory lane and preceded our greatest adventure of the trip: our gorilla trek in Volcanoes National park. During my semester with SIT, we had the opportunity to design and conduct independent study projects anywhere in the country and on any topic relevant to our experiences throughout the semester. My friend and I decided to head west to Lake Kivu in search of a change of scenery and alternative perspectives to the stories we heard in Kigali. Through a series of fortuitous connections I met Emmanuel and he and his family graciously opened their home to me for however long I wished to stay. Their home is in Rugerero, a rural village about fifteen minutes outside the city of Gisenyi.
A year later, I felt a sense of comfort and ease as soon as we crossed the town border into Rugerero and then again into Gisenyi, which was surely helped by the combination of rolling hills, Lake Kivu, and the volcanoes in the not-so-distant backdrop. After settling into our hotel we wandered through the city, allowing me to take on the tour guide role one last time. We first detoured to the border crossing between Rwanda and the DRC before walking along the water’s edge back towards the main part of town. Although Gisenyi is clearly a vacation destination for Rwandans and foreigners alike, it was the glimpses of everyday life that caught our eyes: the beautiful Muslim wedding on the beach, a spirited back flip competition among young Rwandan boys on the dock, the end of a neighborhood soccer game at the school. We let the rhythm of the town sweep us up, wandering aimlessly and watching what seemed to be everything and nothing simultaneously.
Later that afternoon we visited Emmanuel and his wife, Hope, so that my mom could meet the incredible people who took me in and told me the most incredible stories. Hope and Emmanuel live at the end of a long, bumpy road and have a yard filled with gardens and animals from which they both feed their family and sell at the local market down the road. Emmanuel is a pastor in Gisenyi, but he and his family decided to live in Rugerero with the aim of bridging the disconnect between himself and the community he represents. We sat in their living room drinking African tea and sharing stories of the year we spent apart. Never failing to impress, Hope and Emmanuel told us of the women’s sewing cooperative they are spearheading in their community and we are excited to share more information as soon as the cooperative gets off the ground!
On our final morning, we woke up to music and sermons spilling out of the many, and varied, places of worship throughout town and walked to enjoy one more cup of tea along the lake before heading to Volcanoes National Park.