Written by: Raïsa Mirza
I tip-toed out of my room, silently closing the metal door behind me hoping that nobody would wake up. I walked into the road where my colleagues were waiting to pick me up. A typical scenario for any teenager sneaking out of their parents’ house, but there was one small difference – this scene took place the middle of rural Rwanda and I was sneaking out for a date with giraffes.
My friends and I tried to catch some sleep whilst sitting tightly packed in a local ‘matatu’ as we made our way to the Tanzanian border. We were all volunteers, spending the summer in Rwanda working on various agricultural and human-rights projects and we are all first time travellers to Sub-Saharan Africa and wanted to go on a safari. Even though we are all on a budget, we managed to find a local matatu to take us for a fraction of the price of normal tour operators. As the group photography enthusiast, I usually carry a heavy 50-500 Tamron lens everywhere, and today was no exception.
Akagera National Park, is located near the Tanzanian border, and is one of the three major national parks in Rwanda. Of all Rwanda’s landscapes, it is the most reminiscent of East African savannah and is inhabited by a small but growing population of animals. It is also home to a large wetland which is an important habitat for many birds and some aquatic animals.
We arrived at Akagera National Park as the sun was about to rise. A guide was assigned to us and we are on our way into the park as the first golden rays of the sun hit the path in front of us, a guineafowl posed with her brood of chicks. I twisted out of the matatu’s window, snapping away.
Then we arrived at the top of a hill where you could gaze out at the Kagera River below and see Tanzania on the other side. Although there weren’t huge quantities of animals we did see some birds, zebras, giraffes, buffaloes and baboons. The landscapes were breathtaking and despite the small size of the park, it packs a good punch.
Akagera National Park used to be almost double the size. However, much of it’s land was settled by refugees after the 1994 Genocide and the ensuing civil war. Today, despite intense population pressure, the government has committed to protecting the park and its wild inhabitants. I look forward to going back one day to see how much the population has rebounded. To be able to find gorillas and chimps in a small country like Rwanda must be every safari-goer’s dream.
We got back very late that night and as I slowly opened the metal door to my compound, my host family was waiting for me with dinner, desperate to hear about my day. As I ate my ugali, the children bombed me with questions about the animals. It’s always more fun to take photos when you have a captive audience waiting to see them.