Update from Maureen in Rwanda!

Hi friends!
I am writing to say hello from Rwanda! I came here a week ago to help with Project Rwanda and the Coffee Bike Project. Coffee is Rwanda¬Ęs only true export, and independent coffee farmers are helping to turn this country’s economy around in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide.
The goal of the Coffee Bike Project is to help Rwanda by helping its farmers. Mountain bike legend Tom Ritchey designed special coffee bikes made to carry extremely large loads of raw coffee beans to the washing stations. The bikes offer faster means to transport fresh coffee cherries to buyers, allowing the farmers to generate a much larger profit. The bikes are distributed among the independent farmers through a micro-loan system.

I am here with five others from UC-Berkeley. We’ve been building up donated bikes, visiting bike shops, and teaching Rwandans how to maintain their new bikes. We have also had some time to travel the country and see its beauty. We went on a safari and saw zebras, baboons, hippos, an elephant, and lots of cool birds. We also traveled to the volcanoes in the western part of the country, along with the massive Lake Kivu. We spend most of our time in Kigali, the capital. It has a lot of people, cars, motorbikes and black exhaust that stinks.

This is my first trip to Africa, and it’s quite different than I imagined. I thought I’d see a huge desert without much greenery (i.e. the Sahara), but I was wrong! Rwanda is a very small country, but the landscape is full of beautiful green rolling mountains. It reminds me a lot of western North Carolina, with one major difference: almost every inch of land is farmed. Bananas, potatoes, corn, cassava, avocados, passion fruit… We are just a little bit south of the Equator, but the weather is really mild. I think our elevation is about that of Denver (~5000 ft). It’s been humid but the temps are usually in the 70s.

The children wave, smile, and yell ‘Mzungu’ when we pass them. This word means ‘foreigner’ and it’s pretty funny. They are so cute! Most families have at least 3 children, so there are a lot of kids yelling at us. When we bike past them, they run with us smiling and cheering…some hang with us for at least a mile!

One of the coolest things we’ve done so far is ride 100 km (~60 mi) from Kigali to Ruhengeri to deliver some mountain bikes for a fundraising event in August called the Wooden Bike Classic. It was very difficult terrain, made harder by a few downpours and waning daylight.

Collectively, we’ve taken over 1000 photos, but we’ve not yet had a good-enough internet connection nor the time to get them on the web. Another interesting thing about Rwanda is the lack of land-line telephones. Everyone uses cell phones (we guessed they skipped the whole land-line thing), and you pay as you go, buying minutes from street vendors in the form of a little strip of paper with a scratch-off code.

We have a blog, but we haven’t really been able to maintain it (again, we blame the unreliable internet connections).
Anyway, here is the blog address:
http://bearsinrwanda.blogspot.com/

You can learn more about the Project at this website:
http://projectrwanda.org/

And in case you were wondering, yes the coffee really is good! Supposedly Starbucks buys the top 40% of Rwanda’s crop.

I hope this email finds you well…thanks for reading!
cheers, Maureen
(Thanks to Sean Sevilla for 3 of the above images. We will post more updates from Mo soon!)