Rwanda. – I have wanted to visit here since seeing the movie Hotel Rwanda in 2004. In the hope of learning more about the history, to understand a little of the genocide and get a feel for this recovered nation, given that I come from one myself. I also needed to understand more of the making of man and what it is that brings us to hurt one another the way that we do. This in mind I booked a stay en route to Uganda for Gorilla Trekking with the #nomadgorillas.
What I found was the beauty of Kigali. A city with manicured lawns and clean, well tended streets, where structure and order prevail. I noticed a strong police and army presence, both highly respected as peacekeepers. Was envious of the cool African fashion that seems so effortless to all and was drawn to the vibrant African fashion. But then again, 70% of Rwandans are under the age of 20 yrs and couldn’t be a more beautiful and stylish people.
Air Rwanda offered a seamless service and the best deal to deliver me safely from Johannesburg to Kigali in under four hours. The weather was hot and humid and I discarded layers whilst walking to the car I had arranged to transfer me to Inside Afrika Boutique Hotel where I was staying. My driver Christian I then booked to guide me for the rest of my stay. He spoke French. I speak English. We were just fine.
During my too brief three day stay I managed to explore the city, visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial, the State House Museum, Remera Heroes’ Cemetery (by appointment), Nyamata and Ntarama genocide memorials, Amahoro Stadium, Hotel des Mille Collines (that the Hotel Rwanda story is based on) and the Caplaki handicrafts co-operative where I bought the coolest pair of African print trousers.
On one of the nights I dined at CityBlue Urban Boutique Hotel which has the most incredible view of the city, a ten plus minute suburban walk from where I was staying. Travelling on my own I marvelled at how completely safe I was walking around late at night. The irony is not lost, as twenty ago these very streets had been strewn with the bodies of massacred tutsis.
Today Rwanda is a land of proud Rwandan’s. No longer segregated by identity cards marked Hutu, Tutsi or Twas as were implemented by Belgium in the 1930’s. A thing that defined the segregation that was to manipulate the country towards genocide in 1994. Everybody I speak to tells me of their loss; parents, siblings, grandparents. How they themselves only survived by being sent out of the city to aunties, relatives. Few disclose which side their heritage is on, as in this country that works daily towards a united healed people, it no longer matters. Yet they all still hurt.
Rwanda is know as the land of a thousand hills and a thousand smiles and this emanates in the friendly welcome. This is a very appealing part of Africa, one that makes travelling the seductive continent even more necessary. All of us can identify with something once broken, now standing tall and inspiring.
The lessons I had come hoping to learn flood over me with deep emotion. I shed tears and feel heartwrenching pain for the million people who died in 1994, and those that have lived through it. Yet from the obvious sadness I feel a lightness. Love and leadership, a sense of safety and care that made me wish my beloved South Africa would take their lead from Rwanda.
This country is very much more than their sad history and I want the world to know that. Its beautiful with much to offer. These I’m put on my wishlist for my return – gorilla trekking in the Virungas Volcanoes National Park, walking the Congo-Nile trail at Lake Kivu, learning more about the cultural history in Butare and game drives in their national parks.
Footnote: Never before on my travels have I had such interaction on Twitter and Instagram with locals – thanks for making me feel welcoming and answering any questions I had along the way @TweetRwanda and co.
Boda Boda drivers en masse.
Hairdresser and motorbike styling.
Sights of Kigali from the road.