By Tadaferua Ujorha, who was in Rwanda
We flew from the Murtala Mohammed International Airport Lagos direct to Nairobi, Kenya, aboard a Kenya Airways flight. This was early August and we waited at Nairobi for about three hours or so, before boarding the flight to Kigali which went through Bujumbura. I quickly located the bookshop section of the Nairobi airport, and made a few purchases.
On the return from Rwanda, again through Bujumbura, I stopped to get some more books. In sum, I bought quite a lot from the two nations, including a rare book titled African Ceremonies by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher which I got at Nakumatt store, Kigali. In shock I stared at the book for some seconds, before I made the purchase. It’s really hard to find a fairly brand new copy of Beckwith and Fisher. I have not come across any in Nigeria. Surprisingly, despite all the books which included Inside The Hotel Rwanda by Kayihura and Zukus, my entire luggage still fell within the amount of kilogrammes allowed each passenger.
Rwanda, which is one of the fastest growing economies in the region, is a land of a thousand hills. The capital city is built taking advantage of the endless hills and valleys. It is a very beautiful city. I did not leave Kigali to go into the rural areas, although I was greatly tempted to do so. Maybe next time.
Somewhere among the hills outside Kigali, is an annual naming ceremony for Gorillas and tells a lot about the people’s passion for nature and interest in tourism. I intend to go back and watch this someday.
You purchase your visa on arrival, and very soon your passport is stamped by the very polite official who welcomes you. The airport is neat, very neat and it glows. The staff present are friendly and helpful, naturally very helpful. As you head for the exit, you are gently reminded that no plastic bags are allowed into the country. An option is provided which you pay for. Nice. When you pass through the exit, there are some kiosks set up for any currency exchange that needs to be done. You can also buy a SIM card within. Nice. This is done and it’s time to look for a hotel.
I went into town via the airport taxi, which is very expensive. Nobody harangues you to get into his taxi. No yelling. Things work quietly here. The Okada, as we refer to them in Nigeria (commercial motorcycles) is the cheapest way of moving round the capital and it’s also very safe. All passengers are encouraged to wear the helmet. The Okada became my regular means of transport. Each day we sped into the valleys, and up the hills, with expanding greenery all around. Often, I will ask the cyclist to slow down so that I could take in the scenery. At times, he would stop so that I could take a picture of something interesting. Policemen stand quietly in neat uniforms by the side of the roads. I only saw one accident involving a commercial motorcyclist during the week in Kigali. Some restaurants and gardens are set deep in the valleys, and a number of steps have been cut in the earth, allowing the visitor to descend into those gardens, which provide stunning views of the clean city above us.
I stayed throughout the week in a hotel some fifteen minutes from the airport. This meant that one of the runways was close to the hotel, and from time to time, especially at night, I would step onto my balcony, and watch the planes turning for the take-off. It’s quite a sight. Then I returned to the room to chat with a few friends in Nigeria via Facebook. My balcony which was even larger than the room I slept in, allowed me a good view of Kigali, and from that point I often took photos of sunrise. There was constant electricity supply throughout the visit, and there was non-stop pipe borne water. All the roads are tarred. I couldn’t find a pothole anywhere. I checked. Rwanda is a country where life expectancy, spending on health care, primary school enrolment have all improved, according to www.weforum.org
Coffee shops help to define the city, in addition to the hills and valleys, and the rich sunshine at the time I visited-8 days of glorious sunshine. It’s hard to think of Kigali without its infinity of coffee shops. You can have your cup of coffee there, as well as a meal. Good soft music is played, and when you are served, the well-dressed waiters utter the word ‘Enjoy’. It is a friendly call, spoken with much joy and naturalness. These words echoed in all the restaurants and coffee shops I visited. I miss Rwanda for this and for many other reasons too. The coffee shop I frequented was the one just by Nakumatt supermarket near UTC Kigali. I also visited the Kigali Genocide Museum, which chronicles the horrible events of 1994, in which up to a million souls perished. Technology is used to provide a recall of those events, alongside posters, boards, and hundreds of photographs. You walk through a winding corridor, and as you do this you are taken through the entire bitter story of 1994. Then there are the graves outside and a nice garden. Finally, you emerge into the sunlight with a strong volition towards good deeds, tolerance, peace and love. In Rwanda, everybody introduces himself as a Rwandan, and not as Hutu or Tutsi. The people have risen above primordial barriers and are looking into the future. A sign of this forward looking nature is the fact that in the country, 64% of parliamentarians are women. This is significant.
Kigali has a quarter called Nyamirambo. This is the main Muslim area and it is filled with Mosques, states The Map Kigali which I bought to decide which parts of the city I would visit each day. A visit to one new site each day, was my plan and it worked. The road to Nyamirambo is a winding one, and the community itself sits on a hill. I walked down its main road taking photographs of the many mosques as well as the numerous minarets. I made friends with two gentlemen at a mosque. They couldn’t speak English, and I couldn’t speak Kinyarwanda, the local tongue. Somehow, I communicated my intention, and with a smile they allowed me to take a photo of the mosque. By the time I returned to Nigeria, I realised that I still had $1,050 dollars with me, which meant that the brief holiday in Rwanda, though very rewarding in many respects, wasn’t a very expensive one. I will return.