Updated: Sep 30, 2020
By Dennus Baum, Latitude Travel Expert September 2020
In October 2016 I had a chance meeting that has forever enriched my life. I led a group of 8 friends on a trip to Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda. Rwanda was a first for me, and a chance to trek to find the gorillas in Volcanoes National Park and see the Golden Monkeys. Upon arrival we visited the capital city of Kigali and the soul searching, thought provoking Genocide Memorial to learn more about the inhumanities suffered by this nation in the 1990s. A quick visit and lunch at the Hotel des Millie Collines (the hotel that was depicted in the 2004 movie “Hotel Rwanda”) was followed by a 2.5 hour drive through lush rainforest to Volcanoes National Park, a must see adventure to take in the surrounding beauty of the country.
Gorilla treks can be a short adventure, or a grueling hike depending on the position of the gorillas and where they have moved during the day and night before the trek. Believe me, gorilla families are always on the move, never sleeping in the same nest overnight. A trek usually begins at dawn with a team of guides and rangers and at that time limited to 8 guests. After a briefing and making sure we had our lunches, water, hiking sticks and proper gear we drove to an entry point in the forest where the advance trackers had suggested we begin the trek. Here we met a group of local villagers, both women and men that would be our porters for the day. Porters carry backpacks, lunches, even heavy camera gear and assist trekkers in negotiating the hills, slippery slopes, and vines on the journey to find the gorillas. For a suggested tip of $10-$15 US, the assistance is invaluable, and even if you do not need it, it is a great way to give back to the community. My assigned porter was a middle-aged man named Job. For the next three hours we talked and laughed as we hiked the jungle, not knowing when we might encounter the gorillas.
In that three hours I got to know a lot about his family, what he did for work beyond the porterage and what life was like in Rwanda. He proudly told me about his wife and two children Aline and Robert and his younger brother, Leonard, and their mother. They have a small farm with two houses, one for his family and one for his mother and brother. They grow vegetables and potatoes to sell in the local farmers’ market. He also works in construction and does general labor- odd jobs within the community. We discussed the government and how life had changed since the 1994 Rwandan genocide and what was most important to him. His answer was simple and from the heart: He longed for a better life for his family: getting his brother through high school and college and his daughter and son a high school education so they would have more opportunities for a better life and job than he had had. After the trek, Job and I exchanged emails and said our farewells. I thought I would never hear from him again, but on our last day, as we were about to leave, Job appeared with a gift- a small basket that his mother had made. We departed as friends and promised to stay in touch.
A few months later I decided to help Job with Leonard and Aline’s schooling. I felt empowered to do something that was a modest contribution by me but hopefully has had a life changing impact on them. This journey has truly been something that has given back to me in many ways and created a new family in Rwanda for me.
Job and I joke that I am his elder brother and he my younger brother.
Leonard finished high school in 2017 with honors and will be graduating in 2021 from the University of Tourism Technology and Business with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He is the first in the family to ever graduate from high school. His dream is to be a driver guide. To date he has earned his class B driver license required to be driver.
Aline will be starting her senior year in January. She is in an advanced high school program for hotel and restaurant management. I am hoping that one of the lodges we work with for our guests will hire her into an internship program after graduation. Robert, the youngest son, can now start high school next year to follow in Leonard and Aline’s footsteps.
If you are interested in learning more about Rwanda or my Rwandan family you can follow my blog at DennusBaumPhotograohy.com or contact me through Latitude Expeditions. Dennus@latitudexp.com