Mention Gatsata and the things that will spring into any person’s mind are auto spare parts, garages and Ugandan food. Gatsata is located roughly 4km North-West of Kigali, bordered by Nyabugogo on the South, Mount Jari on the North, and Karuruma on the East while Kamonyi is in the West.
I walked from Nyabugogo on a scorching sunny afternoon squeezing my way through both human and motor traffic jam crossing the Nyabugogo Bridge to Gatsata town. I branched off to a dusty path that led me to a zone known as Ki-derenga (a localised version of a French word (Delinquat) meaning Street children). I jumped countless filthy gutters and heaps of garbage as I lunged deep into the down-low end of Gatsata.
This part is mostly dedicated to cheap bars and restaurants; the air was thick with a cocktail of smells coming from roasted maize, brochette, cow hooves and whatever else was being roasted in the area. Though the day was still young, folks here seemed to have already lost hope and decided to take a premature retirement. Some men in their mid thirties were seated wherever there was shelter from the roasting sun as they sipped their warm beers and puffed away at cigarettes.
Though I still wanted to linger a little longer in this new world, my lungs started protesting and I was left with no option but to cut my visit short. I crossed a trench bridge by made of a skeleton of a Datsun pick-up scarp and landed in another quartier that can easily be mistaken for Nabugabo Market in Kampala.
Luganda is the language spoken here, a person speaking Kinyarwanda turns people’s heads. It’s like someone scooped a piece of Uganda with a giant spade and dropped it here. Here you get to see guys dressed in t-shirts with inscriptions portraying their love and devotion to their favorite Uganda soccer teams their constituency candidate back at home and their favourite local music stars.
Everything here seems to scream Uganda.
This area is comprised mostly of auto spare parts shops and auto paint stores. They deal both in brand new and second hand pièces de rechange. It’s believed there is no car spare part that can’t be found here. If they don’t have it, they fabricate it. Gatsata is also the home of the best car mechanics in the country.
Here, the mood is so light despite the desert- hot temperature. Unlike reserved Rwandans, Ugandans are known for being so lively, more outgoing and so full of life. Here, men and women could be seen going about their business, shouting, jesting and making fun while working. Kadongo kamu music (Uganda’s native music genre) fills the air coming from car radios and shops. Rare fruits such as the jackfruit are in plenty here too.
Wearing a snow white tunic and a brown pair of leather sandals, we found Hajji Hamza Nsubuga, a windscreen trader reading Bukedde, a Luganda newspaper and listening to BBC Africa. Hajji is one of the most respected individuals in the area. He established his business more than a decade ago. “Business is good here, our only problem is the high taxes, otherwise, Rwanda is my second home,” said the jolly 56-year-old. “I stay with my wife and my five children just a few metres from here.”
Gatsata is home to hundreds of Ugandans, some of them staying permanently with their families while others only work and go back once every few months. “We like it here, nobody bothers us as long as we don’t deal in illegal trade or cause trouble,” said Ssempa Luke, a restaurant owner.
“We don’t get home-sick or feel so far from home as we get whatever we need within an arm’s reach like food, drinks, music and movies,” added Christine Namusisi, a visibly contented fruit peddler.
Next I went to visit a 71-year-old Gatsata indigenous Mzee Munigantama François, who lives up a steep hill. “This area is known as half-Uganda; we live like brothers; Ugandans are so hardworking, friendly and well-mannered. Though there was a time when we used to have a problem with drugs, theft and prostitution in the area but that was long ago. Now we enjoy total peace and harmony with one another.”
Although there are many restaurants in the area, people don’t go to the restaurants, the restaurant comes to them. They have food brought to them at their workplace. They strongly believe ‘time is money’ and can’t afford to spend precious minutes or hours in restaurants having lunch.
During lunch hours, a number of folks working from different parts of Kigali throng the place to have a taste of the delicious Ugandan food. Well, not really Ugandan food, but food prepared Kiganda style. This mostly comprises of yams, cassava, mashed bananas and sweet potatoes that usually go with luwombo (chicken, meat, dried fish or peanuts steamed in banana leaves). Freshly squeezed passion fruit juice or soft drinks like mountain dew, Pepsi or miranda fruity complete the meal.
Gatsata is not the kind of place you can go to spend quality time with your family or friend, people do come here to buy spare parts, get their cars fixed or have a taste of the famous luwombo.