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The Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda

May 6, 2015

The odor is thick. The kind that sticks in your nostrils. Strong musk. Just shy of skunk. I look at our park guide. I can smell them, I say as we move deeper through the bamboo and dense undergrowth. Bosco leads our small group of six. Roger, a second park guide, accompanies us as well as a tracker carrying a machete. The bamboo cracks beneath our feet. We duck under low hanging vines and there, lying flat on their backs, in a small open area not more than 10-12 feet from us are what we have come to see. The Mountain Gorillas — the species brought to the world stage by Dian Fossey almost 50 years ago. The silverback is behind the bush, Bosco says aloud – not in a whisper. A foretelling of the tone of the visit which is about to unfold. I sidestep to the left and the great Agashya comes into view. His long silver back outstretched; his front facing away from me. He is sedate. Chill. Almost as chill as the females sound asleep surrounding him.


Bosco motions for us to follow him further left and deeper into the foliage. Come, black backs are playing here. Black backs are male adults whose backs have not yet grown their silver hair and who are beta to Agashya’s alpha and not permitted to mate. Only Agashya will father the babies of this group.

The word Agashya in the mother tongue of Rwanda, Kinyarwanda, means “special.” Our education about the Mountain Gorillas and this special group started very early that morning.


 “Good morning!” Lawrence our host at the Bambou Lodge belted out along with a powerful wake-up knock on our rondele door. It’s finally 5:30. I had been awake for who knows how long. I felt nervous about the hike – high altitude and no way to know how far until the trackers found the gorillas.   I was also somewhat fearful of being run over by a gorilla. I had felt the power of a baby panda bear when I held one in China. A gorilla’s unleashed, animal strength must be greater.

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Why are we going to Rwanda?

April 17, 2015

By Alex Eby

If Rwanda conjures any meaning for you, it most likely has to do with mountain gorillas or genocide and perhaps Don Cheadle. Now I’m no historian, so what you read here has not been exhaustively fact checked. I’m simply trying to make sense of what I’ve read, heard and learned and then offer that to others.

Of course there was a colonial period – Belgium and King Leopold in this case. Lots of nuanced historical factors influenced what happened for 100 days 21 years ago, but here are some basics. More than 200 years ago there were two main indigenous groups here, the Hutus and the Tutsis. Intermarriage was abundant and so by the 1800s these distinctions were economic or class based, not ethnic. This is important, there were and are still generally two groups, but they aren’t ethnically separate.

The wealthier (determined by number of cattle owned) were Tutsis and were a significant minority, but they were put in power over the Hutus by the Belgians. Every person was assigned an identity card. This of course led to resentment. After independence from Belgium in 1959, the Hutu, by shear majority took over; there were atrocities then and many Tutsi people fled the country.   Over the years there were attempts by Tutsi to regain some standing in the country. In 1994, this all boiled over for 100 days. What resulted was indescribably brutal. It saw people that knew each other, neighbors, attacking one another. Mass murder was committed with machetes on a very local level by many, many people. No other countries came to help, including and especially the United States.

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