Bilharzia and ‘Best Night Club’

Exploring the “nightlife” in Kibuye and befriending locals before a diseased swim and leaving a chunk of me on the banks of Lake Kivu.

I flew into Kigali, the capital, from a three-week stint in Zambia but flew back to London on Qatar Airways. Doha is a massive airport and there is plenty to do there, and if your layover allows time you can take a free bus tour into Doha provided by the airport.

Many people I have spoken to view Rwanda as dangerous because of the infamous Genocide that built up after the Dutch vacated and came to a head in 1994. Personally, I found it incredibly safe. Post the horrific events, many of the main perpetrators fled to Zaire (now the DRC). My impression from the Rwandan people is was that the only way to move on was to forgive. It is now considered very rude to ask someone whether they are Tutsi or Hutu.

Rwanda
Rwanda is very green and hilly

Where? Rwanda

When? August 2016

With whom? A group of teachers from the UK

One weekend we took a minibus from our project station in Nyamasheke (doing charity work) to a place called Kibuye, also on Lake Kivu, and stayed at Home Saint Jean, which has a great view of the lake. A group of us walked down to the lake bank to hop on a power boat to explore. Lake Kivu is a huge lake spanning a large proportion of Rwanda and goes well into the DRC. The green hilly terrain framed the still lake perfectly with the occasional green land mass. We made our way to a very small island called Amahoro, meaning “one bar”. We couldn’t find a bar, but we did come across a sacrificial pit.

Rwandalake
To the Congo!

Kivu contains parasitic worms called schistosomes, which can infect humans with a disease called Bilharzia. The worms live mostly in the reeds by the banks of the lake, but once inside the human body they hang out in the veins that carry blood from the gut to the liver, causing all kinds of problems. We had done our research, so we were well aware of the risk, however, we were much less likely to catch it from swimming in the middle of a lake from a small island than from the banks of the lake on the mainland. So we went for a swim. A few of us found a tree to climb so that we could swing ourselves into the lake, for the added adrenaline.

The view from Saint Jean

After our boat trip back to Saint Jean, we had dinner and tried the local gins, rums, beers, and everything else available. Jean, the owner, told us about ‘Best Night Club’, which was apparently the best night club in Kibuye. So then a group of 15 or so merry teachers descended on the town. We successfully found Best Night Club, and some people took the news that it was permanently closed better than others. We’d walked for 15 minutes and were committed to finding some sort of bar, as supplies were running short with such a big group up at Saint Jean.

We saw lights from a first floor room and decided that this would be the place where we would spend our evening. We sent in a couple of people to suss out the situation, who reported back to us quickly, saying operation bar was a success. I don’t know whether this was somebody’s home or a very tiny bar, but it definitely became a party once we arrived. With help from Thomas, the man who had welcomed us in, we were able to hook up Miriam’s phone to the speakers to get some music. Miriam, all of a sudden, became Mir.i.am.

There was a sudden buzz in the room; Chan had spotted a pole for poledancing. He was on his feet in a flash and returned with said pole and challenged us all to a game of limbo. We had mzungus and locals competing with and mostly laughing at each other as people fell and took it in turns to hold the bar. Some had impressive flexibility – always an advantage for this game.

collage
Getting resourceful with a knife and a machete to cook the group fish from the lake “marinated” in tomato puree.

As we made our way back towards Saint Jean (through the trees and out of earshot from residential areas) we had sing offs of girls vs boys. Shaggy definitely featured but the headline act was Mr. Brightside, and the girls smashed it out of the park.

We stopped before reaching the hostel to quiet ourselves down so as not to wake those who had left earlier than us and gone to bed, and as we did, Chan had another brain wave: We should all go for a swim! Great idea – we should definitely swim in a Bilharzia-infested lake by the banks which were covered in reeds and had signs that read “Do not swim”. We did. The boys stripped off completely, and I went down to my underwear to have a splash around. It was the middle of the night and it was cold, so the length of time spent swimming was definitely not enough to undertake the risk of contracting Bilharzia.

The crawl up from the lake to our rooms was a challenge in the dark, one of the group decided the best way up was on his hands and knees, and he might have been on to something as walking upright didn’t work out well for me; I fell. Once I found some light I was able to ascertain that I no longer had skin on my elbows and instead was a crater of missing arm thanks to the fall. I quite enjoy the thought that a chunk of my flesh has been left in Rwanda.

Upon lots of testing back in the UK and a GP who got very excited (“Finally, some real medicine!”), I discovered that I did have Bilharzia. The other swimmers decided that if one of us got it, it’s unlikely that anybody else did, and therefore did not get tested. Treatment was a simple course of antibiotics.

Rwandainfinity
Infinity Pool in Nyungwe Forest National Park overlooking the rainforest!

Info: The official education language for Rwanda was French, but this was changed to English in 2008. This transition is still underway as these things take time and can’t be put into place overnight when teachers didn’t previously speak English. Most people’s mother tongue is Kinyarwandan, which has similarities with Swahili. Getting around Rwanda is difficult as the public transport system outside of Kigali is not something that exists. It would be worth booking your own transport by hiring a car or driver. In Kigali, if you’re comfortable doing so, the cheapest way to get around is a taxi motorbike, where you sit on the back of a bike.

Product of the week: Trekmates Tour Mosquito Net is an essential when traveling to malarial zones. The best way to prevent contracting Malaria is to prevent getting bitten. I’d also recommend Citronella Citronelle Insect Repelling Spray to keep the buggers at bay before bed.

Tip of the week: If travelling to a malaria infested zone, it’s worth investing in more expensive anti-malarial pills. Doxycycline is the cheapest but has strong side effects. If you decide to go with the Doxy, make sure you take it with food. The pain otherwise is almost unbearable. You can now buy a non-branded version of Malarone (look for malarials that contain Atovaquone and proguanil), which is less than half the price of the branded. I’ve found the cheapest way of doing this is ordering in advance from a pharmacy in a supermarket, like Asda or Tesco.

Other places worth visiting:

Ishara Beach was where we stayed for our project station. It had a lovely place to sit by the lake to work, as well as chairs and tables on the balcony. There is a conference room if needed and we found space for yoga sessions too.

Rwandachimp

For chimp tracking, head into the Nyungwe Forest National Park. I stayed in eco pods at Eagle’s Nest Lodge. From here it is easy to take excursions to the high suspension bridges, chimp tracking, waterfall hikes, and the tea plantation.

In Kigali there is loads to do. Tripadvisor will tell you as much. I stayed in a hostel called Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel, which I would recommend. It’s close to some bars and restaurants, has comfortable beds and a cosy common area. From here the Genocide Museum is walking distance and a must. It’s harrowing but gives you an insight to the events you might not find elsewhere. If you’ve seen the film Hotel Rwanda, the hotel is called Hotel des Mille Collines. You can use the pool even if you are not a guest at the hotel.

The view of Kigali: Tall skyscrapers contrasted with the slums in the bottom right.

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