Before this coronavirus pandemic invaded the world and brought it to its knees, a few of us old fusspots had gone native. Native in the sense of monopolising our local Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in our hobbling activity that answered to fitness exercise. If for no fitness at all, to keep bones together. Whether there is anything to show for it, that’s for the birds! But, as I am always wont to, I digress…. SEZ. It sits on some three of the gently undulating suburban hills of Kigali, to the east. We frequented it because of its endless drone of industrial activity that acted as the background music to our effort as if to spur us on. And, with its network of tidy and human- and vehicular-uncrowded streets, the view of rolling hills and mountains around, spur us on, it did. Gladly, the busy construction going on never came anywhere near fazing the streets’ neatness. My main intent, however, is to marvel at the multiculturalism reflected in SEZ. As you trace your winding routes through it, you’ll see posters announcing names of manufacturing companies, distribution centres, warehouses, cold rooms, office blocks, et al, that represent continents of the globe. Companies of the South (wherein, Rwanda), North, West or East; name them, they are there. Up the zone where it’s serene and sombre, quality ‘brain-fine-tuning’ in branches of the world’s best universities is in hushed activity. Go higher yet and let your gaze sweep down below, you’ll see a melting pot of nationalities, harmoniously working side by side. Not for SEZ the differences of East or West, White or Red; it’s oblivious to, and dismissive of, the bigotry of division. Work and its products, they respect quality; not colour nor creed. Of course, as everywhere else, this virus has taken a heavy toll on SEZ. And whether for that or other reasons, it has been shut off to us shufflers as to many new agile sorts. That’s how the other day we went scouting for a new equally uncongested trail and, bingo! We found one. Still to the east of Kigali City but slightly south of SEZ. Problem is, it’s a wicked footpath with pebbles that require astute ‘diplomacy’ to negotiate. Which is why we need the promised “Mulindi Recreational Area” near SEZ, pronto. But despite the grumblings of fellow ‘long-in-tooths’, I personally cherish this trail. Many an evening, I hit the trail right from my abode, masked (sole sad thanks to COVID-19) against the loose dust of this season, and slog down past a piggery and butchery to the swamp down below. After skirting the swamp, I climb up past a bamboo forest and at the top, I take a breather. Atop the sprawling Busanza hill, I gaze in awe at the hills across that fly in the face of the man (no word for women then) who first coined “Land of a thousand hills”! Anyway, it’s smooth on the tongue and the world has taken to it with fervour so, may our transformation let it be. Otherwise, on a clear evening, beyond the hills of Nyarugunga, Masaka, Kabuga, Rusororo, Ndera, Bumbogo and others, you can discern hills that number in the hundreds. And that’s only one side of Kigali! After the breather, you follow the dust road that, being sandy soil, is happily almost devoid of dust. The road snakes its way through an area that’s sparsely populated – a bonus for social distancing and easing on mask, to catch your breath. It connects to the tarmac road that, through a very wide semi-circle, links Kanombe to Kabeza. Being hardly inhabited means the area has not yet been developed as a housing estate. This explains its lack of tarmac, the way Kigali seems to be in a fierce fight against dust. All that apart, however, the jewel of my heart: that fact of multiculturalism. Wherever you pass, if you don’t catch sight of persons of non-black colour, you’ll hear a different language, if not dialect. In the few times I’ve taken that route, I’ve heard Kirundi, Kinyamulenge, Luganda and a number of other tongues I can’t place. Then there is the addition of Kiswahili in different accents: Congolese, Kenyan, Tanzanian and others. Which goes to show that Rwanda is a truly melting port of nationalities. This means that if it were not for this accursed coronavirus pandemic, Rwanda was going to go places so fast she’d make us all dizzy. Because I think back to when Rwanda used to be the fountain from which colonialists drew its labour force. Mines, sugarcane, tea and coffee plantations of Belgian Congo, Uganda, Kenya and countries further afield flourished thanks to Rwandan manpower. Now imagine all the nationalities in this country today. If SEZ had continued to move at the pace it was growing, soon Rwandans would be like some citizens of Arab countries. Attract diverse nationalities as labour force, then sit cosy and enjoy the fruits of that swift transformation! Well, Covid-19 is here and we must lie low and safe. Our melting pot of nationalities is here to stay. Without the unfairness of other countries, we’ll work together for shared benefits.