If you are expecting to hear about a real conservation effort, stop reading now. You will be disappointed.
I have some Aussie friends here who have been working with a group of people up in Kinigi (an area outside of town, up at the base of the mountains). I have been curious about their work and finally had the chance to join them last weekend. I was looking forward to this outing for multiple reasons. One: it meant getting out of town, and I enjoy a more rural experience occasionally. Two: this is one of my favorite areas to visit. It has more natural beauty; has been not been rearranged by the hands of man as much as other areas. I love imagining what places must have been like before man arrived there. Anyways, that’s a tangent I won’t go off on now.
As we were on our way to a small church out in a village, I was enjoying the scenery, when my friend stopped his car. There was a group of kids crowding around the vehicle (which is not unusual), one of which had a chameleon on a stick (lots of Rwandans are afraid of chameleons and will not touch them). My friend took the small green creature with his hand and brought it into the vehicle to admire it up close. It took me a while to catch on, but apparently the kid new that my friend likes chameleons and had brought it to him hoping to receive a pen in exchange. The further you go out of town, the less you hear kids ask for money and the more you hear them ask for a pen. So, as my friend placed the animal back on the stick, he explained to the young girl that she needed to put the chameleon back and protect it. If she did this, he would give her a pen on his way back. This happened a couple of times before we finally reached our destination.
Sitting on a plank of wood laid across rocks, I listened, watched and tried to sing along with the joyful people singing and dancing in the crammed quarters of a small building of sticks and mud. This was quite the contrast to my usual Sunday mornings at a local Anglican church where I attend their early morning English service. After a short time I went with my friends to help with Bible class. I followed a large group of children out the door as they carried the planks they had just been sitting on and carried them to an unfinished structure where we would have class. After several hours of church, we began to make our way back to town.
We hadn’t gotten very far when groups of kids, even teenagers began shouting at us as they held out sticks of chameleons. My friend couldn’t pass any of these groups without stopping and holding the small creatures and explaining to the kids their responsibility to protect the chameleon they had found. Usually it was just one or two chameleons, and then we reached a group where tree branches were shoved through the driver’s window as soon as we stopped. I believe there were about seven chameleons present at this point. Word had obviously gotten out that there was a man who would give you a pen if you brought him a chameleon.
So, while my friend is trying to encourage these children to leave the chameleons alone and protect them…all the chameleons are first being captured and brought to the chameleon loving muzungu. At this point, my friend and his translator got out of the car and gave quite the speech on the importance of these small creatures and the necessity of protecting them. I don’t know if it was his words or their fear of the small animals crawling all over this man’s hands, but they were very attentive.
So there you have it. A less than normal day of my life here in Rwanda.