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“Mhu mhu” “we come in peace”

“Let’s organise a company trip to the Volcanoes!!” Jan Willem suggested to the team one morning. Everyone was thinking: “Is he for real? Can he be serious?”  “Yes, this is a serious idea ” Jan said. “The Covid 19 pandemic has affected us a lot this year, so let’s make it work for us now. The costs  for visiting the gorillas in the Virunga Mountains have been reduced, and we had a great year of business with everybody wanting to move to e-learning services and programmes. We have all worked hard this year,  so let’s go for it.”

We couldn’t wait for the day to come. First of all, however, we had to be tested for the Covid 19 virus. Everyone was afraid of the results but, luckily, we all tested ‘negative’ so we were ‘good to go’.

Finally, the day came, and on Monday 21 December we left our office to start our journey to Musanze. We arrived there without any problems, and immediately went to enjoy a nice buffet lunch. The next item on our programme was to visit the Dian Fossey Museum in the town centre, but unfortunately it was closed as part of the Covid prevention measures.

“So, what shall we do now?” Gerry asked, to which Gretta quietly responded: “I have an idea. Follow me everyone.”

She took us to the Inshuti Arts and Culture Centre. They had lots of funny (and fun) exhibits in the garden, like a tree house, a gorilla made of pieces of cutlery, a van covered in black and white material to look like a zebra,  which had been turned into a boutique, and lots of other beautiful things. We really enjoyed visiting the Inshuti Centre and took lots of photographs while we were there.

Before going on to our hotel in Kinigi, we passed by the place where the Kwita Izina event usually takes place. There is a gigantic model of a gorilla made of bamboo, and a round, thatched-roof hut to show visitors how the kings of Rwanda used to live in the old days.

At last, late in the afternoon, we arrived at the hotel in Kinigi.  Janvier went off exploring the area – and made friends with a donkey – while the rest of us enjoyed ourselves in the playground. We played like children, and shared lots of funny stories before agreeing we needed to go to bed early, as we had to be at the RDB office in Kinigi at 7.00 am the next morning.

At the RDB office, we were assigned a guide from the team of RDB staff. She briefed us about the family of gorillas we were going to visit – called the Susa family. Before leaving the assembly area, our guide gave us clear instructions on how to behave while inside the national park: to always keep our masks on, to try to keep our distance from the gorillas and, if or when we approached the gorillas, to say quietly: “Mhu mhu mhuhuhu” which means “We come in peace.”

Our gorilla family seemed to be located quite far away from the RDB centre, on the opposite side of Mount Karisimbi (Rwanda’s highest mountain). We had to drive about one hour on a road that became rougher and rougher the further we went, until we got to the starting point. To add to the adventure, Gerry’s car got stuck in the mud twice, and each time we had to get out and push.

But then, things went more smoothly and more quickly: we learned that the Susa gorilla family had descended to the park boundary,  so after just half an hour of walking and climbing up through the potato fields, the park’s trackers came to tell us that the gorillas were ready to receive us.  We all laughed a little at this, but just a few minutes later we were confronted by a gigantic Silverback having his breakfast!  We all started to say: “Mhu mhu mhuhuhu” – but he just ignored us and kept on eating, like all the rest of his family, as if we were not there at all!  We were able to spend an hour among the Susa family, observing their activities – eating and playing. We took lots of photographs of the gorilla family in their daily routine. It was an awe-inspiring, and unforgettable experience!

On our way back to Kigali, it started to rain. The car that we had borrowed for the trip gave up half-way back, and we also got a speeding ticket from the police! Despite all of that, we really did not mind because we had left all our stress in the fresh air on the slopes of Mount Karisimbi. Some of the team had to continue the return journey by bus while the rest tried to get the car repaired. The first mechanic was not great, but then they found one who knew how to fix the car.

We all arrived back in Kigali just before curfew, and were able to go to sleep in our own homes again, dreaming of gorillas and of the new year ahead, full of new adventures.

Pro tips: take raincoats and boots or sturdy shoes to walk through the mud in the park.  And a car in a good condition. We were a group of eight so we had to borrow another RAV 4 from a friend for the occasion.

Nehemie Nkurunziza

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