Rwanda

MUHABURA

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Last weekend, I finally hiked another one of the five volcanoes surrounding Musanze. The night before my hike, I woke up multiple times to pouring rain. It was the, “Noah and Ark, the flood is coming,” type of rain. Thankfully the rain calmed and in the early foggy, cloudy morning, a friend took me and my guide to a tiny little town at the base of Mt. Muhabura, where we waited for the guards that would accompany us. As I stood against a building trying to find shelter from the wind, a crowd of boys and men gathered around me-the muzungu (naturally). When an old man asked me where I was going, I pointed to the top of the mountain ahead. They all roared with laughter as they dispersed.

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After an hour or so of waiting, a large truck filled with armed guards finally pulled up. I joined them in the bed of the truck and we made our way up to the rocky road to the trailhead. The truck drove back to town as my guide, his porter, six armed guards and myself made our way towards the mountain.

I’m not going to bore you with the whole story. That would be a waste of space when there are so many wonderful photos for you to enjoy. However, you won’t appreciate these photos as much as I do. You can’t. You may admire them, and I hope you do, but these scenes can never be accurately depicted in photos, not without seeing them in person and experiencing the struggle that made them that much more incredible to see.

Now, I enjoy a good physical challenge, but this, well…this was a bit much. I should of known better than to try to climb an almost 14er when I was so out of shape. It didn’t take long for me to realize I was in over my head with this one. I said I wouldn’t bore you and I’ve already written more than I intended. Just know, the hike included this: Some laughing at myself, lots of talking to myself (only one of my eight hiking companions spoke any English), coming up with all sorts of mountain climbing-life analogies, a good amount of prayer and some singing. Oh, and lots of water and photo breaks. This hike also required me recognizing and admitting my own weakness (something I hate to do), and to be humbled in a lot of ways that I won’t try to explain here. Ultimately, I was reminded once again of God’s provision and presence in my life. And I got to conquer a mountain in the process.

Enough blabbing. Check out these photos.

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Fun fact:  Yesterday was the first (and only) day I have seen Muhabura since I hiked it a week ago.

SAVE THE CHAMELEONS

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If you are expecting to hear about a real conservation effort, stop reading now. You will be disappointed.

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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.

IMG_8407As 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.

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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.

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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.

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MEET THE PRESCHOOLERS (PART 3): THE LITTLES

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Though I like to refer to my remaining three students as my, “littles,” this really only refers to their age. They are by no means little. Between the three, they have big eyes, big hair, a big vocabulary, big imagination, big smiles, big tears and BIG personalities. Though they can make teaching (older kids) a challenge, they brighten my day an insurmountable amount and I am going to miss having them in my class when we grow and split my class into two In January. Meet the littles…

DYLAN:

Dylan turned three just a few weeks into the school year. He is a tiny, little guy, and for the most part, pretty quiet. Until just a couple of weeks ago, he would rarely speak, in English or Kinyarwanda, and often seemed to be in a constant daze.  He was content watching others, his big eyes glazed over, without participating or interacting. It has been so fun to see Dylan come out of his shell. He is full of energy now, and loves to run around laughing and growling. He is still content playing independently and can hold a (constant) conversation with himself in his own mumbly growly language whenever I am trying to teach or read a story. He loves to watch the older boys in our class and is sometimes brave enough to join in their rowdy games…but he is very much still a baby, and if something doesn’t go his way…get ready for some crocodile tears. I think the other students are growing concerned with how easily I go on like nothing is wrong, despite his wailing. According to Dylan’s parents, he now insists on being addressed by his American name (same spelling, different pronunciation). So, I guess he likes school. And his proud grin after doing something all on his own, is priceless. Also, those eyes.

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KEKE:

This girl has a lot goin’ for her, and she is a sweet, fun loving girl, but man can she pout. In the beginning, I had a hard time not laughing when she didn’t get her way…she can cross those arms, stick out her chest… and that lip. She’s got some lip. Like most of my students though, she has grown and changed a lot in these few short months. I actually can’t remember the last time I saw her strut around to let others know she was unhappy. For the past month, she has been nothing but giggles and smiles. She is very playful, and also very nurturing. Though she is not one to sit and listen herself, she becomes very distraught when other students are being too wild or aren’t following rules, and she’s not afraid to take action in letting them know. KeKe speaks French, and until recently, refused to even attempt words in English. No matter how many times you tried to get her to repeat words, she would only reply with, “oui,” as she raised her eyrbrows. She now not only repeats English, but can say several things on her own, one of her most common phrases being, “Miss Mary, one big, big, BIG, push please,” which she shouts from the swing that she would sit on all day if I let her. In her little French accent, it’s hard to deny this request, and I rarely do.

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KeKe loves to wear flowers in her hair…and fortunately for her, they stick like velcro

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JULIA:

Even though VVA is an International school with several American students…. my youngest student, Julia is the only fair skinned, blond haired child in our class. Unfortunately for her, the other kids are fascinated with these features and don’t allow her much personal space at school. This caused Julia to be somewhat stand off-ish for quite some time, but she is learning to stand her ground now, and between her vocabulary, English skills and bright mind, you wouldn’t know that she is the youngest. She is from Spain and speaks Catalan (and a lot of English). She has the smallest, high-pitched voice I have ever heard, and though she loves to speak and sing at inconvenient times…I must admit, I love to listen to her ramble in her distinct little voice (when it’s not distracting other kids). I know that kids are sponges at this age, but I am still amazed at how quickly she has picked up English…among other things. I’m sure this is due to good, active parenting. Until she speaks Catalan (which is not very often anymore) you would never know that English is not her first language. Despite being very bright and very verbal, she also loves to be silly and joke around. She can also be demanding (she is part of the “Miss Mary, push me!” swing posy), and still likes to test her boundaries at times. That’s just part of being a two year old. But spelling and writing your name? I don’t think that’s a normal part of being two. She spells her name for me on a daily basis, and yes, she attempted to write her name yesterday, and was fairly successful in creating the general form of all the letters.

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Julia loves to play in the rain. Thankfully, she loves umbrellas too!

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Teaching me the game that she made up.

 

 

Well, hopefully this gives you a glimpse into the diverse personalities that make up my preschool class. They are really an awesome group of kids, and I’m sure you would love them as much as I do if you could meet them in person. They just assume that any muzungu visitor is there for the sole purpose of playing with them…and if given the opportunity, they will waste no time in wrapping their arms around you.

 

MEET THE PRESCHOOLERS (PART 1)

Some days I love it here and I can’t believe I live here. Other days, I can’t believe I live here and can’t remember why. This past weekend I struggled with the latter. Maybe it’s because I was exhausted and needed a break. Maybe it’s because the holiday season (and lack of seasons here) is making me miss home a little extra, and the thought of not being with my family for Christmas is making me realize what it means to be homesick. Or maybe it’s because I had been sick and when I get sick, I get cranky, and I lose whatever filter was left as thoughts come pouring out of the corners of my mind and then out of my mouth.

I promise this post is not all about me. We will get the to kids…just hang on.

Still not feeling well, I had a difficult time mentally preparing myself for Monday morning…then as I walked out of the school, before I could even get out the words, “good morning,” ten little sets of arms wrapped around me in a big group hug as they shouted, “Miss Mary! Miss Mary!” each with their distinct accent. In case it isn’t obvious enough; this is why I’m here. I’m here for these kids. There are days when I don’t think I can muster up any more patience or energy for them…and those days are always followed by ones when I can’t stop smiling and can’t believe I let myself forget (again) that they are my purpose for being here, and they are more than enough reason to stay.

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My small class of ten preschoolers is made up of kids representing six different Nationalities and five languages, coming from different cultural and socioeconomic groups (which we will be adding to in January when some new students join our school).  Really, they each need their own post…but with 10 kids and my posting pace, that would take all year.  Meet my preschoolers…

PRINCE:

Prince will be six before the end of the school year making him the oldest in our class.  His mother is the sweet worker at my house.  She is an incredibly strong woman, and Prince already takes after her in this.  He (like most of the kids) speaks very little English, but that doesn’t keep him from taking charge, wanting to be a leader and always trying to help others.

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Prince can write his name and loves to copy other words on his own. Check out the Rwandan flag he made!

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KELSEY:

This is my second oldest student, Kelsey.  As you can see below, he recently had a Birthday.  He was so excited to celebrate with his friends at school; he refused to have his party at home.  Kelsey is trilingual (yes, I’m envious).  While French is his first language, he also speaks Kinyarwanda (the local language) and knows a decent amount of English.  During the first few weeks of school he would sometimes act as the translator between me and the other students.  Kelsey loves responsibility, and often pretends to be the teacher.  He also has a great sense of humor and will make a joke of something any chance he gets.  This kid also has great manners. Props to his momma.

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Apparently it is Rwandan culture to let kids cut their own Birthday cake. The five year old is holding a giant knife. No big deal.

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I’m sure Kelsey was the one who started this creative play of making computers during center time. He’s learning his father’s businessman ways already. Sometimes he sells balls to the other kids (for leaf currency).

 

AMANDA:

Meet Amanda.  I’m still trying to figure this one out.  She is extremely shy and soft spoken; I have to strain to here anything she says.  Within the past couple of weeks she has relaxed a little and become more comfortable and confident.  The almost constant, “deer in the headlights,” look she had has now softened to a bashful look of interest, often interrupted by a big smile and laughter.  Her laugh sounds just like the one one Mario, if you know what I’m talking about.  It’s pretty great.

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Confession: I thought Amanda was four (turning five) until her parents came to celebrate her Birthday at school and brought a cake with a big number 4 on it. She is a very tall four year old.

 

Seven more preschoolers coming your way…

 

 

 

JUST A GLIMPSE

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I’ve shared plenty on here in the form of words in my last few posts, so enough of my thoughts.  Here are some photos to give you a glimpse of my life in Rwanda…more specifically of my first two weeks back here (the  first week of school-week 3 will get its own post).  Enjoy.

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On an early morning run a little ways from my house. I ran a new direction and saw new things right by my home…who knew.

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I think this one is pretty self explanatory…

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I’ve already shared this one a few times…but being in the rainy season, I’ve only seen these volcano’s one other time since I taking this photo my first day back. This is where I live. It’s not so bad.

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Mt. Muhabura at sunrise…as seen from my back door.

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Devolta made and frosted cupcakes for the first time. My housemate Julie brought the mix and helped her make them.

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After making cupcakes we realized we don’t have any birthday candles…so we made due with this.

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One of the girls I live with teaches at a boarding school here in Musanze, and last weekend she invited me to go watch her students play sports. It was the highlight of my week. And yes, they are playing volleyball.

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Here’s to crowding under the cover of small dukas with strangers when the Rwandan rains come.

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Once the rain finally let up, these kids got right back out there to play their futbol game. Slippery grass, splashing mud puddles and all…Nothing stops them. Especially the kid with the suitcase. He’s ready for anything.

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I spent last Sunday morning at church with the sweet children from Sonrise school that I had met the day before.

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Kids leading other kids in worship. So much energy. unavoidable blur, unavoidable joy.

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As we left the school to go watch a basketball game, a few children followed us out and said they were coming with us…and then they kept coming. All of those children along the road came with us. In Rwanda, we walk.

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Some Sunday Basketball

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This isn’t a very exciting photo, but it’s an image I see every day. I get to look at that awesome mountain (that i’ve been to the top of) as I walk home from work each day.

So there you have it.  A glimpse into my life here and a visual of a few of the highlights from my first couple of weeks.  And then there are the moments that can’t be shared through a photo…and just can’t be described in words.  At least, not by me.  Not right now.

 

 

FOOD FOR MY SOUL

Since the day I arrived in Rwanda, I have wanted to climb all of the surrounding volcanoes (there are five in Rwanda). Ok, I take that back, it was too cloudy to see any of these volcanoes my first few days here….so maybe since my fifth day in Rwanda. Regardless, my favorite of these mountains is Mt. Sabyinyo, which means old man’s teeth. Seeing this volcano nearly every day, I have wanted nothing more than to stand at the top of it. This past weekend I got to do just that. Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 3.01.12 PM The idea of scheduling and planning doesn’t work here quite like it does in the states, but after rescheduling our hiking trip a few time, we finally made our way to Uganda this past Sunday (you can’t hike sabyinyo from Rwanda). After being dropped at the boarder, making it through the immigration process and dealing with the moneychangers, we hopped on some motos and started our journey to Amajambere Community Camp (which was a great little place to stay) just outside of Mgahinga National Park. Apparently anything goes in Uganda, including riding two people (three including the driver) per moto, without helmets.  So we decided to save a few schillings and ride two per person plus our bags on what ended up being about an hour drive on rocky, hilly, dirt roads. It was more like off-roading. We only had to get off and walk a few times, and my friends’ bike only flipped once (ours tipped on the way back) before we made it safely to our camp just before dark.

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Someone is excited!

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Waiting for a replacement after a flat tire

 

 

 

 

 

 

After some dinner, euchre, and a much-needed star gazing session under the clear Ugandan sky, we headed to bed to rest up for the hike. I’m not much of a morning person, but thankfully my good friend S.J. is. After some unsuccessful attempts to coax me out of bed, she mentioned the sunrise outside of our dark, cozy sleeping quarters. That’s all it took. I was up, and it was worth it. The sky was on fire and after some breakfast I was ready to make my way up the mountain that had brought me there.   We were pleased to discover that our camp was only a few steps from the entrance to the park where we met our guides (more like armed escorts) and had a short briefing before making our way towards the volcano. As we made our way up the trail, we passed through several different types of terrain. After starting out in an open field with a view of our goal (which looked really far away), we made our way through some areas of deep foliage at which point a massive buffalo jumped across the path just in front of us. Next came the swamp. Our guide stepped very strategically and seemed to float over some spots of land where I quickly sank despite my attempt to carefully follow his every step. On the way back I was not as successful and at one point slipped, sending my foot deep into the thick muddy swamp. With little struggle I pulled my foot out of the mud…unfortunately only my foot came out, but after a little more struggling my shoe made it too. Thank goodness for my Gortex shoes. Five years of wear and tear and they still kept my feet dry, swamp sinking and all. As we made our way up the mountain we walked through a bamboo forest, an, “enchanted forest,” of trees covered with moss, and then began to make our way up some ladders leading to the first of three peaks.

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At each of the three peaks we stopped long enough to rest our legs, catch our breath, take in the view and do some serious snacking before making our way back down and up to the next peak. At the top of the third peak Rwanda, Uganda and Congo all meet. On each peak the ladders and stairs got a little steeper and were vertical at some points. After some more serious snacking at the top of the third peak, and a few attempted handstands in a sort of hole where the three countries meet, we made our way back across the first two peaks and back down the mountain.

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Peak #1

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Peak #2

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Peak #3. Standing on the boarder of Rwanda, Uganda, and Congo.

This hike was everything I hoped for and more. The trip that we packed into about 28 hours was food for my soul. Maybe because it was a much needed break from life in town, maybe because I finally reached the top of the jagged giant that I admire every day. Or perhaps it was because of the reminder of what and incredible God we have, and what an imagination he has. And the great friends I was with; People that have been an unexpected blessing during my time here. No matter how much I write (or how many photos I post), I won’t be able to accurately describe the beauty of this place or the way it feels to peacefully stand on top of a mountain in the middle of three countries filled with so much pain and destruction below. DSC_1653 DSC_1767

 

 

 

 

We made it back down the mountain just in time to catch our cramped motos for a final (off) road adventure. With a full heart and tired muscles I caught glimpses of the sunset as I tried to keep the dust and bugs out of my eyes on the moto ride back to the border. Once we crossed back into Rwanda, a friend was kind enough to pick us up and give us a ride back….in his truck with no headlights. So, with the hazard lights on we ended our adventure dodging people, motos, and holes in the road as we hoped our driver could see at least a little more than we could.

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Taking in the view. Uganda to the left. And Rwanda (the cloud) to the right.

A few more photos…

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What a crew.

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lots and lots of ladders.

 

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Jesse getting a little extra protein.

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S.J. descending into the cloud. #muzunguinthemist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BISOKE

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On the ride up to Bisoke. Before we hit the unpaved road.

Due to a lack of both internet and motivation this past week, I am behind on this blog whole blog thing. So…I’ll back track a little.  A couple weekends ago I hiked a volcano. Yeah.  I did.

IMG_9105Mount Bisoke, is one of the five volcanoes here in Rwanda. It’s not an active volcano, at least I don’t think it is, however it does have a crater lake at the top, which is pretty neat.  It was a beautiful hike through thick lush terrain.  Sadly, I did not see any exciting wildlife on this hike, but I wouldn’t of been surprised if at any moment I had seen a gorilla, an elephant, or even Tarzan and Jane.  Speaking of gorillas…though it’s not common to see these scarce creatures unless on a, “gorilla tracking tour/hike,” it is possible to see them while on other hikes (like the one I went on).  Non gorilla hikes are much cheaper than gorilla specific hikes, however if you are not on a gorilla hike, you’re not allowed to photograph any gorillas that you may be lucky enough to see. So apparently you don’t actually pay a high price to see the gorillas…you pay to take their photo.  Anyways…

We kept a pretty quick pace the whole way up the mountain…well, as quick a pace as you can keep when taking a sandbag staircase meant for someone with really long IMG_9103legs.  Regardless, we started at the bottom of the volcano and made it to the top in a decent amount of time.  By the time we reached the top, it was already surrounded by clouds which continued to close in on us, so after catching our breath, taking a few obligatory “we just hike a volcano” photos, we made our way back down the mountain just as it started to rain. After slipping and sliding down a few hundred yards, we made it back out of the clouds and enjoyed the rest of the hike with clear sunny skies up until the very last stretch, when it decided to pour. This hike provided some much needed outdoor adventure, physical activity, and time with friends. Hopefully I’ll have the chance to conquer more volcanoes in the near future.

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The crew, plus a few fellow hikers at the top of Bisoke

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IMG_9098Jesse and Roger thought they saw some gorillas…..must of been the elevation