Tag Archives: Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village



I’m finally headed to Africa. I’ll travel to both Rwanda and Uganda with Edwin Sabuhoro, the young man I met after the July 2016 killing of Cecil the Lion. I leave Sunday, Feb. 10 and return home on Feb. 28th. My trip will be a jam-packed working trip with lots of people to meet, animals to see and information to gather.

In case you don’t recall my previous blog about Edwin, here’s the short version of who he is.
Edwin grew up in the relatively small country of Rwanda in Central Africa. He was just a baby when the fourth and worst genocide broke out. Being of Tutsi origin, Edwin, his family, and relatives were the targets of the Hutu Government which casually authorized the 1994 Genocide during which nearly one million Tutsis and Hutu sympathizers were bludgeoned to death leaving the land littered with bodies, parts of bodies and rivers of blood.

Edwin’s mother, siblings, and relatives fled Rwanda and traveled by foot to the safety of the refugee camps just inside the borders of  Uganda. At one point in their journey, the relatives feared that Edwin was slowing down the group. Edwin’s Mum carried him as she ran for her life. The consensus was that his Mum should throw Edwin into a river, so that the group could move faster. However, Edwin’s Mum would have none of it, as she trudged on carrying her sweet baby close to her bosom.

When Edwin grew up, he earned his law degree. As a lawyer, part of his responsibilities was to represent people on a pro-bono basis. When Edwin was asked to represent a Hutu man, who bludgeoned an entire family to death, Edwin abandoned the law. He subsequently began working as a park ranger in Volcanoes National Park where the endangered mountain gorillas live. Edwin fell in love with the gorillas and other animals as he sought to protect them from poaching.
Baby Gorilla
At one point, the rangers caught wind of a baby gorilla which had been captured and was up for sale to the highest bidder. Edwin volunteered to pose as a buyer. Once the exchange was made, the poachers were captured, and the baby was returned to his home. Edwin described to me what he felt when he peered into the burlap bag carrying the captured gorilla. He was overwhelmed with compassion and wonder at the big brown eyes staring back at him.

Over the next few days, Edwin thought about the poachers. He could tell they were not wealthy. Instead, they were ordinary males who lived in a local village. Edwin couldn’t shake the gnawing in his gut as he felt guilty for helping to put these men in jail. So, he did something remarkable.

Instead of brushing off his empathy for the men, he became more curious about them and especially the reasons why they worked as poachers. So, he got in his car and drove to the village. There he sat down with one of the more elderly males and asked him, “Why do you poach?”

They were sitting outside at the time and there were many children playing close by. Thus, the man made a sweeping gesture with his arm as he said, “We do it to feed our children.” In other words, the reasons were economically based. The poachers had no other means of earning a living. Being a logical,  compassionate human, Edwin immediately understood.

When Edwin left the village, he couldn’t stop thinking of the man he met and the trapped lifestyle the villagers were living. So, he came up with a plan to help the village provide food for their people via different methods. Edwin had a savings account which he emptied, giving the money to the to the village males as he discussed his idea with them. They would use the money to rent farm land where they could grow their food. Within six months the village was producing enough food for the village with a surplus of food to sell.

Note: The poachers and village population belonged to the third ethnic group in Rwanda, the Batwa. The Batwa are the original inhabitants of Rwanda. They are the indigenous population who, for generations, depended on the forest and its animals for sustenance

Two years later, Edwin helped the Batwa community establish a living history village to educate and entertain visitors to the park where the gorillas reside. The hamlet is called Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village. While in Rwanda, Edwin and I will spend one and one-half days in the Village talking to the people, including the ex-poachers who now pride themselves as the guardians of the gorillas.  Best of all, we’ll also visit the mountain gorillas.

Because of Edwin’s efforts to save the endangered mountain gorillas and change the lives of the Batwa who poached the gorillas, in 2015 he was nominated for the coveted award of CNN Hero of the Year.

I met Edwin back in 2016, shortly after the death of Cecil the Lion who was murdered by an American dentist, Walter Palmer. As were so many animal lovers, I was utterly shaken by the killing.

It was a deliberate kill, as Palmer’s guides dragged a carcass behind their jeep trying to coax Cecil from the protective boundaries of the park where he, his male friend, Jericho and Cecil’s family lived.

Walter Palmer was an avid Trophy Hunter. Trophy hunters deceive themselves into believing they are conservationists. How can a true conservationist kill a unique animal such as a lion?  They can’t morally and won’t. Palmer and all Trophy Hunters are nothing more than poachers. They poach for personal booty. Their plunder is the animal’s head, skin and other body parts all for two purposes: bragging rights and to hang as evidence the trophy head on a wall in their coveted trophy room.

I sent Edwin a friend request which he immediately accepted. Then, one evening, after learning, via Facebook that he lived “up the highway from me,” I sent an instant message to him. We began talking that evening. I was excited to have found such a remarkable human as he explained to me that he was a CNN 2015 hero of the year nominee and that he was currently earning his Doctorate in Conservation and Tourism at Clemson University. I don’t recall what it was I said, but I evidently mentioned that I was a writer. I was typing away when my eye caught a sentence in his last message. He wrote, “You’re a writer? I’m looking for someone to write my autobiography.” I stopped cold as my eyeballs leapt out of my head, hit the screen of my computer, then bounced back into my sockets. My heart stopped as I said out loud, “Oh my God!” And so, our story began.

While I’m away, I plan to blog every day. My next-door neighbor suggested I do that, so she could keep up with me. I thought that was a great idea as well, because, in addition to my written notes and those I record via two hand held recorders, my blog could add to my notes especially since they will be written in real time, capturing my emotions which I know will be abundant.

If you care to follow me while I’m away, I’ll post a link on my website, http://www.maribethshanley.com. My first post, I will publish before I leave on the 10th, will be the itinerary Edwin has prepared for my eighteen-day visit.

I hope you to join me on my journey into beautiful Africa!


Filed under Maribeth Shanley, Travel, writing

Happiness is a Conscious Choice

My new novel, A View to the Unknown, should  be out sometime this month.  It’s actually the sequel to Crack in the World, but, because it stands on its own, a person need not read the first to read the sequel.  I’m not sure which book I enjoyed writing most.  Crack in the World was very therapeutic as was the first part of A View to the Unknown because Emily was still healing from her past.  It was also revealing.

As the author has, Emily discovered she not only had  conscious scars, but also had unconscious scars which she didn’t understand, couldn’t wrap her mind around nor, more importantly, had any idea how to get at, let alone heal.  Due to her behavior, she knew she had the scars, because they manifested in unrealistic expectations as well as irrational and dysfunctional behavior.

I’ve always known I was short tempered, had extremely high expectations for myself and had very little patience.  Yet, until about seven years ago, I simply accepted them as flaws that just went with the person.  Seven years ago, however I had an epiphany when I realized they weren’t at all flaws; at least they weren’t flaws I should accept.  At that moment, I determined there must be something internally causing my dysfunctional behavior and I wanted to get at it so I could change.

I do recognize that my high expectations have been the driving force behind my success.  In my former career, I moved up the ranks farther and faster than expected.  Also, over the years, I realized that, if I put my mind to do something, I always succeeded.  Thus, drive, belief in self and being extremely resilient and resourceful became positive results of my expectations.  Unfortunately, however, unrealistic expectations also led to many disappointments as well as depression.  As Bob would always tell me, “Maribeth, you are your own worst enemy.  You expect way too much from yourself and fill your plate so much that you put unneeded stress on yourself.”  Of course he was right.  Yet, although, over the last several years, I’ve come to recognize the piling on I do, I also recognize  my biggest challenge…telling people NO.  I’m still working on that one.

Between 2004 and 2008 I was the happiest I had ever been.  I owned Iron Cowgirls, had three dedicated employees who believed in Iron Cowgirls and especially the philosophy.  They worked their butts off; and, me, being the generous person I am, I rewarded them handily.  We were having the time of our lives, coming up with new designs as we  decorated the tops and had orders flying out the door.  We even had over fifty Harley Davidson stores ordering our tops on a fairly regular basis.

I’m someone who believes in physical signs and consciously watch for them to tell me I’m on the right course.  The coyote, in particular, has always been one of my spirit guides; and, I was seeing coyotes every time I needed a sign.  It was amazing!  During the Iron Cowgirls’ days I was in what males call ‘the zone’ and I felt my life was magical.

Then I crashed; and that crash coincided with the 2008 economic crash.

Our 2007 Christmas season was overwhelming as we hurried to get orders out before their arrival date missed December 25th.  I even spent extra cash to speed many of the last orders to the woman or husband ordering the tops.  We made a promising profit that year.  Kellie, my second-hand person, and I had plans to take the brands, Iron Cowgirls and Girls Like Skulls Too to the Atlanta Merchandise Mart show in early spring of 2008, but that was thwarted when the sales dried up.

About the first of December, although sales were excellent, I could feel a gnawing in my gut.  Intuitively I knew the holiday sales weren’t as healthy as the previous Christmas.  Yet we were too busy to slow down and do a solid analysis.  That didn’t happen until January.  I was right.  Now, however, unlike the previous January, sales seemed to have dropped into a sink hole.  Sales dribbled in vs. the steady flow of the previous January.  I absolutely knew something was going on in the economy and it wasn’t too much longer that my gut wrenching came to fruition.

With the collapse of the housing market and the extra burden of an all-out Iraqi war, discretionary spending had come to a screeching halt!  Soon, many of the independent motorcycle store customers began folding up their tents.  Next, the HD stores quit ordering.  It was obviously over for Iron Cowgirls as I felt the magic leave my life.

I managed to sell Iron Cowgirls for a pittance and began trying to figure out what was next.  My spirit felt broken.   I was depressed and angry.  How the hell could this happen?

Literally, five years later, as I drove down a highway, I said out loud, “I’m tired of being depressed and angry.”  At that moment, it was difficult declaring that it was I who was causing all my misery; even more difficult was admitting that my depression resulted from self-pity.  Yet…admit I did.

At the time I was working, but it certainly wasn’t anything I wanted to do, nor something I could be proud of.  To this day, I avoid discussing those years of my life, at least the working part.  As I contemplated my real depression, the cause and what to do, I came to a critical conclusion.  I fully recognized my sadness and anger was coming from a place I thought I had been done with a long time ago.  Yet, I also recognized I really had not been done with anything because all my anger and sadness was coming from my subconscious and it was causing the depression and anger which manifested itself in dysfunctional behavior.  By the time I arrived home I had determined that, although I wasn’t sure how to get at my subconscious, I knew I had to redirect my intentions which would lead me to the solution.  In that moment I decided that, while I looked, I would go back to meditating.

Six years prior, I had stumbled on a wonderful audio meditation program called Holosync.  During that year I finished the first few lessons called Awakening.  I recalled how the meditation had helped me feel better as I religiously meditated to Holosync.  So, although I didn’t know how to get at the internal stuff, at least I could go back to what I knew helped; and so I began.  Within a few weeks I realized I had found my solution.  It was there in my night stand waiting for me to pick back up where I left off.

Holosync puts the brain into deep theta and delta meditation as the brain literally rearranges itself.  Neuroplasticity was proving itself in my own brain.  As I continued to meditate, I worked my way through the increasingly deeper audio lessons.

When I decided to go back to the meditation, I recall acquiescing to the notion that I may never achieve the level of happiness I craved.  Instead of fighting that, which is what I always had done, I decided to simply accept that where I was emotionally may be as good as it gets.   I was in for a magnificent surprise however.

One day, two years later as I was well into the next level of Holosync, and as I again drove down the highway, it suddenly occurred to me that I was happier than I ever expected possible.  The internal feeling wasn’t euphoric.  Instead it was a steady, quiet feeling.  A feeling of peace.  I realized it was the outcome I desired and desperately needed.   The meditation had taken all the internal depression and anger and washed it away as my subconscious gave me different, happier conclusions to my memories and thus better behavior.

That evening I discussed my revelation with Bob who told me that he had definitely noticed a dramatic change in my demeanor.  I was calmer he told me.  About a year later, my sister, Gail, who I had reconnected with, told me she recognized a dramatic change as well.  She sensed an internal peace that she never detected in the past.

As I began writing A View to the Unknown, I gave Emily the same meditation which gave her the same results.  We had both not only made peace with our past on a conscious level, but on a subconscious one as well.  We were both happy and content.  That happiness gave our minds the ability to look outside itself in order to explore all the possibilities a clear, calm mind has access to.

As Emily and I traveled through the rest of her life, there came a point at which her daughter-in-law, Trish, asked her if she had ever been able to forgive her father.  It was a question for both of us and I wasn’t sure how we were going to answer.  Yet, answer we did.

My mind released my thoughts as my fingers banged away at the keyboard giving Emily a voice to both our journeys.  This is that conversation.

“Emily, you don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to. I’ll understand, but I’m just curious. During all these years, have you ever felt forgiveness for what your father did to you?”

Emily looked off into space as she considered the question. Then she answered as honestly as she possibly could.

“Trish, having something as terrible as molestation happen to me has given me the ability to think outside the box, and not only that, but the gift of recognizing there really are no boxes. It’s given me the freedom to create my life as I live it. For example, when things go bad, I know they’re temporary; therefore, I don’t get bogged down in them. They don’t control me. My resilience to bounce back assures that. I’m able to laugh at myself and things that happen to me. As a result I’ve pondered your question on many occasions, and I believe with all my heart that I have forgiven him. That forgiveness, however, was never a conscious decision. Instead, it happened as a result of my realization that what I endured at my father’s hands was nothing more than a temporary situation which caused me temporary discomfort and sadness. My focus has always been happiness. As a result I’ve been able to let go of anger, sadness and desires for revenge, as well as negative emotions like hatred. Those are all too time-consuming and are blocks to happiness. So, yes, I believe I forgave Dad a long time ago.”

It was done. At that time in space I too recognized that I had forgiven my father a long time ago. Like Emily, that forgiveness came without deep or deliberate thought. It just seemed to have evolved. Also, as with Emily, I recognized that happiness is a conscious decision; one that you determine to be your goal. Anger, revenge and hatred are all negative feelings that, if I had allowed them to consume me, would have caused nothing but unhappiness. I don’t have time to be unhappy. I have a lot of living left in me and a lot to accomplish. Ironically, the release that Holosync allowed me to experience and my own determination to find a way out of the place I was in is rewarding me in ways I never expected.

Edwin Sabuhoro

I have finished my journey through my past and am now experiencing only my future as I am about to help a beautiful man write his autobiography. Edwin Sabuhoro, the CNN hero I mentioned in a past blog has asked me to help him write his autobiography. Too, he’s invited me to visit his country, Rwanda. While there, we will climb Mt. Virunga and visit with the gorillas he has helped save. Iby'Iwacu Cultural VillageWe’ll also visit with the men and women of Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village  where the men who used to poach the gorillas now teach paying visitors about their culture and sell their art.  These same men and the village as a whole are now very protective of the gorillas who have experienced a 20%+ increase in population over the last several years.  Meeting these people will be important to my future as well because, once we are finished writing Edwin’s story, we will write the story of the gorillas and their ex-poachers.  This is the type of opportunity that presents itself when we refuse to restrict ourselves to living within boxes that are full of darkness.  I live in the sunlight and will reap the benefits of that sunlight just as I have throughout much of my journey.  It’s great to be alive…truly alive!


Filed under Maribeth Shanley, writing