Rwanda’s Kigali. As experienced on my visit.

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Kigali Rwanda

During my visit to Rwanda’s Kigali in 2014, I was deeply moved by the resilience and beauty of the people, as well as the gorgeous green landscapes and many attractions the country offers. It is a place I now feel a deep attachment to, and highly recommend you add it to your African travel list. Some of the reasons why are included below in this infographic: Rwanda. An overview of a country.

I had visited there in the hope of learning more about the country’s history, and to try and understand a little of the genocide, as well as to get a feel for this recovering nation. In Kigali, I found 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. The incredible African fashion that is worn so effortlessly by all was drawn irresistible and I came home with a few items of clothing I still wear. It was interesting to learn that 70% of Rwandans are under the age of 20 yrs and they carry the hope of the nation.

Rwanda is a land of proud people. No longer segregated by identity cards marked Hutu, Tutsi or Twas, as was implemented by Belgium in the 1930s and was to manipulate the country towards a devastating genocide in 1994.

Everybody I spoke to told me of their loss; parents, siblings, grandparents. How they only survived by being sent out of the city to aunties, and relatives. Few disclose which side their heritage is on, as, in Rwanda’s determination to unite a healed people, it no longer matters. Yet in conversation, I know that the individuals still carry the hurt.

Kigali Genocide Memorial

At the Kigali Genocide Memorial much work is done by the Rwandan government to educate school children and ensure that they never forget the lives that were lost or the violence that once existed between the hutu and tutsi people.

Whilst I was at the memorial a group of about 30 high school children were visiting with their teachers. We arrived together in the children’s room, which is filled with photos of beautiful little faces, some with names and descriptions of their favourite food, pastime, best friend, etc. They were once the innocent hope and future of the nation, yet were systematically wiped out by the Hutu.

It’s a very difficult place to be and I was sobbing as I read the plaques and grasped the details when one of the school girls next to me found the photo of somebody that she was related to. She broke down, crying with such deep anguish, heaving and shaking with heartache and sorrow. When I left about half an hour later, I could still hear her plaintive cry from the bathrooms. I can still hear it now and it makes me cry with her. The sound of a broken person.

There is too much sadness in this world and when I meet the reality of sweet children massacred because of their ethnic group, as happened here, I can barely find the strength to comprehend it. Twenty years on, despite the noble efforts by all, the wounds are very raw.

Kigali Markets & Curio Shopping

The fabrics, beading, weaving, carvings, masks, ceramics and textures out of Africa, not to mention the glorious bright colours that represent this seductive continent are a triumph. A visit to the Caplaki Craft Market in Kigali’s Kiyoyu neighbourhood offers a brilliant selection. The old informal street market along Ave de l’Armée next to the Milles Collines was moved to this new home where sellers are now organised into beautiful fixed stalls. Most of the items on sale are produced locally, with some items like the masks brought in from the DR Congo.

I’m not a big shopper when I travel, only buying token gifts for loved ones and the occasional travel memento for myself, yet here I could have done some serious damage! Prices are set reasonably high and you are expected to bargain them down by quite a bit. To be honest, the Rwandan currency had me in a complete muddle and I had prices shown to me in US dollars, an easier divide by 10 right now. But then again, as an obvious muzungu, one who doesn’t speak French, the price was higher than it would be for others, but I’m okay with that.

There are dozens of little booths at the market, some around the parking area and others on either side of the stairs. It did feel a little like running the gauntlet as each store owner tried to show me their ware and I wish I could have supported each one of them. It’s a tough way to make a living, especially out of season. I was interested to learn how weaving was used to unite women in Rwanda after the genocide. The activity had widows of various ethnic groups gathering to weave baskets whilst creating an opportunity for them to earn money for their families.

My great find was a pair of African print trousers, tapered with a zip at the ankle, which I fell in love with on sight. I’ve worn them often since and wish Cape Town had an outlet for similar African fabric clothing. The fashion in Rwanda, as I have said previously, astounded me and left me wishing I was equally as cool and stylish.

My driver Christian waited patiently whilst I chatted with vendors and admired their gorgeous goods. When I returned to the car he gifted me a woven “Rwanda” bracelet. It moved me that he would do that, special people live here, ensuring those 1000 smiles and happiness.

Beyond the Capital City

This country is very much more than its history and I want the world to know how much beauty it has to offer. These I’m put on my wishlist for my return –  gorilla trekking in the Virunga 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.

Rwanda is known as the land of a thousand hills and a thousand smiles and that warm and friendly welcome is one of many reasons to visit a very appealing part of Africa to visit.

Before I could say ‘slow down time’ my days in Kigali were up and Christian was dropping me at the Kigali Airport for my flight to Entebbe, Uganda. I left with a happy heart, feeling a little like I’d been allowed to peek through the looking glass at a rather private nation. One that suffered greatly, yet mastered the process of reconciliation and has united in its healing. Thank you, Rwanda for the warmth, a closer look at your history and the lessons that you taught me. I am ever touched and respectful of your vulnerability.

*Pics by Pixabay.

 

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