farewell to a favorite pastime
As we prepare to bid adieu to Rwanda, we have been making mental notes of the things we will miss (and others that we definitely won’t). One thing high on D’s list – not just for Rwanda, but rather for the entire continent – is the region’s incredible birdlife.
In our line of work, we’ve learned to never say “never.” For instance, the first time S visited Rwanda in 2010, she rushed to see the gorillas. “When else will she be in Rwanda?” we had mused at the time. When we got posted to Nairobi, climbing Kilimanjaro and seeing the gorillas were high on D’s list because he too thought it unlikely that we’d return to East Africa in the foreseeable future, and yet here we are, having just completed two more years in the region. We are heading back to Washington now, but it is entirely plausible that our follow-on assignment might be right back in this neighborhood. It is equally possible, of course, that decades might pass by before we return to this part of the world.
The tension between exploring new places and revisiting old stomping grounds is always present for any world traveler. In our case, there are several destinations that we consider formative and where we would love to return. Ecuador – where we met and where D spent three and a half years with the Peace Corps – is high on that list, but a decade has now elapsed since D completed his Peace Corps service and we haven’t even made it back to that continent in the intervening years. Similarly, it’s been fifteen years since D’s study abroad year in Spain; S has never been and has been pestering D to go for years, but somehow the trip has yet to materialize.
On the flip side, D would love to explore Western Africa, where S had studied abroad, but the closest he’s come was an aborted language immersion trip to Senegal when we were studying French at FSI. D’s was the lone vote for Dakar; everyone else opted for Paris, so that is where we wound up spending two weeks. Even Kenya, where we forged our first Foreign Service experiences and which is just next door to Rwanda, has somehow eluded us. We’ve flown through Nairobi a couple of times during the past two years but have never left the airport. In the meantime, half a decade has flown by since we last enjoyed some quality Kenyan nyama choma, lost ourselves in the country’s magnificent national parks, or visited its fabulous coastline.
In a way, the timing of our departure is a bit unfortunate as our new Ambassador, who arrived two months ago, is also an avid birder. In fact, he had heard about D’s love of birds before D had had an opportunity to introduce himself properly, and so the Ambassador spent most of their first meeting sharing birding stories.
It’s been a while since D has taken a birding trip in Rwanda, and it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to squeeze another one in during our remaining two weeks in country. The last bit of birding D did was during two separate trips to southern Africa earlier this year. Birding was not the primary motivation for either trip, but both proved noteworthy – the first for the close-up encounter with a whole flock of Knysna turacos and the second for a rare sighting of the endangered bearded vulture.
D didn’t have his birding lens during the second of these trips, so the photos are a bit shoddier than we normally prefer. Still, we couldn’t leave this wonderful continent without one final (for now) homage to its birdlife, so D culled the best of the images for this farewell post. The slideshow above includes species from South Africa and Mauritius that were new to us. The other birds, in order of appearance, are: red-whiskered bulbul (Mauritius); malachite sunbird (South Africa); greater striped swallow (South Africa); Knysna turaco (South Africa); red-billed quelea (South Africa).