If you have never made a stopover at Nyirangarama, perhaps you travelled while asleep.
This is the official stop-over point for travellers plying the Kigali-Musanze route. For travellers using public means, it is the only place the bus stops for you to grab a few refreshments and empty your bladder as well.
Legend holds that it started in 1993, as a small roadside mandazi shop until, eventually the owner, Sina Gerard moved into food processing.
Today that name is synonymous with Nyirangarama, and no talk of it is complete without mention of Sina Gerard.
The stopover is called Nyirangarama, while Sina’s food processing empire is Urwibutso Enterprise. But Urwibutso Enterprise and Nyirangarama are almost one and the same.
The enterprise is a cluster of commercial buildings that house Sina’s diverse business interests, while a few of the premises are rented to service providers like banks and telecom companies.
Otherwise, it is one giant, indigenous business empire modeled along the lines of a social enterprise.
Food processing is the dominant activity here, and some of the products on offer are; assorted fruit juices, biscuits, cookies, banana and grape wines, fruit jam, bread, honey, flour, and the famous Akabanga chilli sauce.
The owner is a man whose life revolves around the outlying farmlands that dot his huge plantation, and on the Saturday afternoon when I stopped over for a chat, I found him driving out to attend urgent business with farmers. For a man who liaises with hundreds of peasant farmers on a first-name basis, such scenarios must be regular.
“I can say confidently that I’m a man who has no single enemy in this whole village,” he said in a rather cheeky way. “I work with all the farmers in this village, because all the food that I process here is bought from them.”
Nyirangarama has a VIP restaurant that houses a buffet and mini bar. Obviously it is meant for people with private means (unless, that is, you are going to eat your food in five minutes and rush back to catch your seat on the bus). This upper floor-based facility is mostly patronised by tourists, who occasionally come here to catch a Primus or try the brochette, although the majority come here to make use of the more private (and cleaner) washrooms.
Otherwise, there is the more public and aptly named restaurant, Kimaranzara, on the adjacent building that houses a telecom company outlet. Loosely, Kimaranzara is Kinyarwanda for “that which takes away hunger).
But that’s not all. When I peeped through one of the windows, I saw a dormitory-style triple deck beds. I was told the room rates start from as low as Rwf3,000, and that should really give you a rough picture of what kind of facilities to expect.
The public toilets downstairs, though not the best, are hard to complain about, for a facility that plays host to such a big and diverse crowd of travellers on a 24-hour basis and seven days a week.
And when talking of bites at Nyirangarama, the key word is “fresh”. This is because everything on offer is sourced from nearby local farmers, who have a long-term engagement with Sina.
If your taste buds prefer something oily or hot, the brochettes and roast maize and deep-fried irish potatoes will do the trick. The brochette grills are manned by motor-mouthed young women who will give you the freedom to pick your own skewer of meat and pack it for you within no time at all.
I wanted to try the roast maize, but then I saw that it had been seasoned, just like the brochette, so I imagined it tasted like boiled maize.
The speed at which guests are received, orders taken and delivered is simply amazing, especially for an enterprise that is anchored on the aspirations of a peasant community.
How Sina enforces speed — whether he spanks and frog-marches those that drag their feet, only he knows.
One of the explanations for this high level of motivation among staff is perhaps the overall feeling of belonging they derive from working here. After all, all of them are drawn from within the local community, with most coming from families that already do business with their boss. Some of them have been raised on proceeds from their parents’ sale of produce and food stuffs to Sina. Most of them harbour dreams of not only rising through the ranks to managerial positions in the company hierarchy; they also want to be the next generation of successful farmers.
Come weekends, between 3:00-5:00pm, the employees turn into dancers, and entertain guests to some energetic traditional dance routines.