Little Switzerland

Rwanda Travel Blog

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My sponsored child (Muragijimana Louise) from Rwanda riding with us into town to get a bicycle!

Upon first learning that I would be traveling to Rwanda I felt a sense of peril in stepping within its borders, but my fears were premature and I soon put them to rest after doing a little research and talking with people who had gone before me.  My friends and family remained somewhat skeptical and reserved, though.  Rwanda invoked images of the violence that tore the country apart in the mid 90s, and many people close to me simply couldn't move past those images.

The purpose for my visit to this small, East African country was a mix bag of mission/volunteer work, business, and sight-seeing.  Even though I had done research and dug up every little photo I could find on Rwanda, it simply didn't do justice to the real thing.

  Flying into Kigali (the largest city in Rwanda with more than 1.5 million people), it was evident--just from looking through the small porthole in the jet--that I was entering a poor, third-world country.  Kigali didn't have the sleek city-outline of skyscrapers.  It didn't have the multi-million dollar stadiums or super-highways and freeways.  It didn't have the scattering of upper-class suburbs that most developed cities do.  In fact, there really wasn't anything aesthetic about it.  Nearly all of the buildings and dwellings were constructed with tin roofs and native, brown bricks and most of the side roads (or surface streets as we call them in America) were dirt.
  But that was from above, and I was reserving judgment for later.

Entering the borders of Rwanda requires a passport (of course), certain vaccinations, and depending on which country you're from, a visa.  Rwanda and the U.S. have very good diplomatic relationships between them and so U.S. citizens do not need a visa, which made going through customs at the Kigali airport painless.  The first item on the agenda after customs and collecting our luggage was to exchange currency.  100 USD would get you around 50,000 Rwanda francs, which seemed like a lot, but it really doesn't go any further than a hundred dollars would in the states--at least for the tourists.  Many Rwandans live on a fraction of 50,000 francs per month. 

Our drive to the hotel (no, it wasn't Hotel Rwanda, although we did visit there) was quite different than driving in Nairobi from where we had just come.

  For starters, Kenya was colonized by the Brits, and therefore drove on the left side of the road.  Rwanda was colonized by the Belgium government after WW II, and apparently the Belgiums drove on the right side of the road.  And unlike Nairobi, Kigali has much less traffic.  The common citizen here does not own a vehicle.  They are fortunate if they even own a bicycle, as a majority are pedestrians.  This is probably a good thing, though.  The drivers in Rwanda, and especially in Kigali, are nothing short of "devil-may-care" abandon.  The only thing that slows them down are the fearless pedestrians who stroll down the middle of the roads--there are no sidewalks, afterall.  It's not a big deal if you hit someone, but God forbid you get caught not wearing a seat belt.
  The police will slap a fine on you faster than you can say muraho (that's "hello").

Something that I immediately noticed, and that seemed a bit peculiar, was that most of the Kigali citizens were dressed much like the people back in the United States.  I would see them wearing t-shirts and jackets embroidered or printed with logos like the Dallas Cowboys, or Old Navy, or Levi's, or Jack Daniel's, etc. etc. etc.  "This is Rwanda Africa!!!", I thought. "How the hell do they know about Barry Bonds or Tony Hawk or NASCAR racing?"  Uh, I got my question answered.  After the genocide, many countries felt guilty about not stepping up to the plate and intervening.  And so, after things had settled down, these guilt-ridden countries (including the U.S.) started pumping in the resources, including crates and crates of donated clothes.  The government then dispersed the clothes to the markets where they were sold to the people, and still are, at very cheap prices.  I found out that just because someone had on a Def Leppard shirt didn't mean in any way they knew who or what Def Leppard was.

 

pearcetoyou says:
Thank you, Harriet!
Posted on: Mar 18, 2011
Africancrab says:
James, you put it down like no one would. Rwanda is a beautiful yet very poor country. Not different form my home of Uganda. Yes, the images of the genocide remained with many people, it will take centuries before those images can be put aside. I enjoyed your blog.
Posted on: Mar 18, 2011
LelaLovesLife says:
You have been everywhere in Africa! Rwanda, WOW!!
Posted on: Jan 15, 2009
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My sponsored child (Muragijimana …
Kigali
Kigali
A cool tree on our hotel grounds i…
A cool tree on our hotel grounds …
Driving down the main highway in K…
Driving down the main highway in …
The U.S. Embassy in Kigali.
The U.S. Embassy in Kigali.
Hotel Rwanda
Hotel Rwanda
Following a load of bananas.
Following a load of bananas.
Kigali--the better part of town.
Kigali--the better part of town.