One of the reasons that I’m here in Rwanda is to celebrate. The Virunga Lodge is one of four Volcanoes Safaris properties. Three are located in Uganda. Virunga is the sole property of the group that is located in Rwanda. It’s where I am now and it sits high in the Virunga mountains.
It’s an affluent property where guests often include the who’s who of American and British government and enterprise.And at the celebration festivities for it’s 10th anniversary, some of those high level guests are smattered among the crowd.
Also in attendance are the locals of the villages (umdugudu) that surround the lodge. They’ve had a hand in its growth and development too. Many work here or have family and friends that do. All have benefited from various charitable efforts Virunga Lodge has taken on through the Volcanoes Safaris Partnership Trust – including bringing electricity to local households and donating time, labour, renovations and more to the local school.
Today the communities have gathered high on a hill inside the property’s gates to say thanks to owner and founder Praveen Moman and his staff. Men, women and children have shown up in droves, dressed in their finest and are offering as their gift, dance and song.
Moman has long loved Rwandan music and dance. He founded the Intore Dance Troupe to allow young people in the village a chance at improving their lives through the arts. Many of the people who danced with the group over the years have gone on to opportunities and higher education thanks to the Lodge’s involvement. It has become quite the competition to get in and is a point of pride for those who succeed.
Tonight they’re putting on a performance.
They leap and chant and sing and beat drums and it’s a spectacle to behold. Bright colours and blond wigs and stomping Converse sneakers and jingling ankles.
It’s magical to watch and I feel privileged to be in the audience. So much so that when one of the dancers comes out to the audience and reaches for my hands I don’t hesitate to join them. And despite my awkward moves I have a fantastic time trying to keep up.
But the lesson of the evening comes not from the dance I do, but the one I watch after the youngsters are finished.
In a special offering of thanks the elders of the community put on a dance as well. They aren’t as fluid or limber as the youngsters. They have no elegant costumes or fancy wigs. They don’t wear converse. Their ankles don’t jingle.
But it’s even more magical than the first one. One woman in particular catches my eye.
She is likely in her 80s. She is dancing to her own rhythm – an intoxicating waving of the arms and shaking of the hips that is likely slower in delivery than it is in her mind’s eye – and has the audience smiling along with her.
She is joy.
I ask one of the staff members to translate what is happening and she tells me “She is happy for electricity and new sheep in the community and opportunities for her loved ones.”
She felt joy and so she danced and in watching her I felt joy too.