After visiting many heart-wrenching genocide memorials upon the grounds in which this unfathomable amount of life was lost, our student group spent a weekend on Lake Kivu. Three friends Laura, Jeremy, Joel) and myself impulsively rented a canoe from our lodge for a short day trip. We didn't connect with our academic directors because the plan was to return long before dinner. Breathtakingly spread before us.. were layers of forested hills and various sized islands, all surrounded by the brilliant blue waters of Lake Kivu. As we set off, the destination was quickly and unanimously chosen. The biggest of these distant islands of course.
We switched on and off with the tiresome rowing, enthralled with our mission to reach this unknown and ¿uninhabited? island. Almost three hours into the trip, we snapped back in tune with the sun's position, realizing we weren't going to make it back before sundown. Yikes! Buuuuuut, why turn around now? We had largely misjudged how far off this island actually was. Determined, we agreed to press on and at least reach our goal.
We arrived just before the sun's descent. It was a mighty tall island, indeed. I don't blame my comrades for wanting to quickly climb the steep and thickly vegetated land, but due to a previously dislocated knee cap (another African adventure)... I was unable to join. As they began scaling, immediately disappearing into the brush, I was alone. The waters were safe to swim in near the lodge, but here we were 3 hours "out to sea" in the middle of a huge lake bordering Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Was I really just going to sit on a log and wait for them to return?
Fuck it. I stripped down and swam out from the Island's edge. Floating on my back, weightless, I began to see a large flock of "birds" come around the Island's top edge toward me. How beautiful, I thought. I lay there, the sky turning lovely shades of orange as the mass of flying beings kept growing and growing- still headed my way. Then it hit me. These weren't birds, they were... bats. My smile grew enormous at this realization, as they were almost upon me now. Thousands upon thousands of bats flew over me, some just a couple feet above my floating body. Incredible. No words can describe. Even in my comparable size, I was so small. I was nothing to them. A stranger, floating in the waters of their home. Simply a witness of their nightly flight.. soaking it all in. I was alone, but felt so undeniably connected to something much greater than myself.
Several minutes later my friends began emerging from the forest. The bats had passed and all I could share with them was a quick dip and this story. But something about that moment forever changed me. It inspired a connectedness with life and nature that I'm not sure if I have ever experienced in quite the same way. I had never felt so in tune.. So alive. (This touches on the meaning behind my African tattoo a bit-- "Ibuka" meaning "remember").
Someone was smart enough to bring their phone.. so the dreaded call was made to our academic directors.. telling them we were undoubtedly going to miss dinner due to our current location in the middle of the lake. Whoops. They freeaked out and wondered how in the hell we were going to make it back without light. But, the stars and moon were our light. I remember feeling so safe. Not far into our journey back, someone (I think it was Jeremy) had us all turn around... to witness the red glowing top of a volcano.
Is this real? Yes, yes it is. Life sure is beautiful.