From Africa to Geneva: There is more to conversations and travelling

From the top of North Tower of St Peter’s Cathedral, one can view Geneva Lake. Photos/Julius Bizimungu.

Nothing is more rewarding than travelling with the right people and to the right place.

There are times you meet people on board and that just ruins your entire trip even before you get to your final destination. There are those you will meet only to tell you about themselves and gossip about others.

But there are those that will change your perception about different things, and that’s all we need, at least speaking for my friends who happen to enjoy every discussion that has to do with positively changing the way they look at things.

On my recent trip to Switzerland, I met a Nigerian who lives in New Jersey, United States. First, there is one fact about Nigerians; they will never give you a second to enjoy your flight. They seem to have an idea about everything even if they may not.

I have been to Nigeria more than three times and I have observed this from my meetings and conversations with many Nigerians, including my friends.

This man was quite different, though. He is been in the U.S. for more than 15 years. Damilola is a man you would want to associate with if you believe in Africa.

To cut the story short, we talked about everything from how African education is flawed, confrontational politics, and business, in particular agribusiness. Damilola told me a story of his father who happens to own a 20-hectre farmland back in the western part of Nigeria, growing palm trees.

I told him how we don’t have enough land in Rwanda, how little we have invested in research and development, how banks are holding their credit to other sectors than agriculture, and how hilly our country was, bringing to him an argument that we were on losing proposition if we didn’t have a focus on specific crops like tea and coffee.

The panoramic view of Geneva city from Saint Peter's Cathedral's North Tower. (Photo. Julius Bizimungu)

What I didn’t know was that this guy is actually an academic researcher who strongly believes in Africa. He’s the most optimistic man I’ve ever met.

“There is no research that hasn’t been done. There is more research than some countries think they know. Access to this research is still a problem,” he argued.

His argument essentially was that countries shouldn’t invest their little resources in conducting timely research that might have been already done by many other institutions or countries.

On lack of adequate land, Damilola told me that his father harvests less than his other friend who has a smaller piece of land. One does modern farming and another still relies on traditional methods.

At some point he mentioned to me that countries shouldn’t be crying of dry season. He said it was less costly to drill a borehole that would irrigate areas like those in Eastern Province of Rwanda that face frequent drought, than spending millions trying to bring water from a far river or lake.

My flight to Geneva came to an end when I already had a challenge to go back home with.

I am going to invest in agriculture.

The exterior of Saint Peter's Cathedral. It has been one of the main places of worship of the Protestant Church of Geneva since the advent of the Reformation. (Photo. Julius Bizimungu)


First things first, Geneva is a frosty city. For some reasons I had to believe climate change was real the moment I touched down at Geneva Airport. It was 5 degrees Celsius by the time I arrived there. This is completely abnormal to an African who is used to 25 degrees and above.

For the locals, however, this is actually normal. If you ask Swiss people they will tell you it was in fact worse five years ago where the level of coldness would go down to -10 degrees Celsius.

Flaunting a white hoodie was a poor choice I had made thinking it would cover my often hot body in an environment that I am not used to. Plan B was to resort to a ‘not-so-cheap’ mall to get myself a bomber jacket.

Manor, where I got myself a cool jacket is one of the biggest shopping malls in Geneva situated just right next to Geneva Cornavin station, a heartbeat of public transport for the city and the wider region.

Truth is, if you are someone who likes to strongly explore the “how” in life, then this is pretty much the place for you. Geneva will teach you ‘how’ to economically behave. It is the most expensive city I have been to.

For the first time I spent 50 Swiss francs (about Rwf45,000) on a single lunch. I mean, I am someone whose custom is having a plate of real food, not indulging in junk food.

But even junk food, say, a burger, which happens to be the least expensive, will cost you more than 23 Swiss francs (approximately Rwf20,000).

A visit at United Nations' Headquarters makes you have more memories and get to shop affordable souvenirs. (Photo. Julius Bizimungu)

To sum up on this, I advise relying on cafeteria and taking a heavy breakfast from your hotel, especially if you are planning to come back home with lots of chocolates and other souvenirs as is a tradition for every visitor to Geneva.

All in all, ‘Ville de Genève’ as most natives call it, is a beautiful city, to say the least. It lies South of Switzerland on the border of France and is surrounded by Alps and Jura mountains.

Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) is a popular place here. You cannot leave the city without paying a visit or taking a boat cruise. Unfortunately I couldn’t do this due to my tight schedule.

Geneva is a global city, a financial centre, and a worldwide centre for diplomacy due to the presence of numerous international organisations, including the headquarters of many agencies of the United Nations and the Red Cross.

If you get a chance of visiting the UN Headquarters, the biggest outside New York, you can’t afford to miss shopping at the souvenirs shop inside the building. It has affordable products compared to other shopping malls.

Before I visited the UN headquarter at Place de Nations, I had visited Saint Peter’s Cathedral. This is a famous chapel located in the old town of Geneva.

The cathedral is a Roman establishment which later became a reformed protestant church. Here we discovered some of the magnificent architectural treasures that are so emblematic of Geneva’s transformation, including the Rohan Chapel, Chapel of Holy Spirit, Chapel of Portugal and the communion table. The Rohan Chapel houses the mausoleum and a life-size statue of the Duke of Rohan, leader of the French Huguenots.

Upon entrance, one encounters Calvin’s Chair. The chair belonged to John Calvin, one of the leaders of Protestant Reformation.

The key highlight of the visit to St Peter’s Cathedral is the two elevated towers. The cathedral is comprised of South and North Towers. I and my female friend from Antigua had to climb the 157 steps of the towers.

At the top of North Tower, one gets a spectacular panoramic view of Geneva city. And on our way out of the cathedral, we got ourselves hot wine which had cinnamon mint to it. It is a Geneva speciality.

This is a statue of the Duke of Rohan, leader of the French Huguenots. (Photos by Julius Bizimungu)

Before leaving the city, though, one thing particularly kept rolling in my head; the public transport system is the most efficient and reliable of any country. I kept asking myself how long it took them to build it.

When we arrived at the hotel I was given a Public Transport Card which enables one to freely travel around the city. To make sure you don’t get lost, you also receive a city map.

Everyone staying in a hotel, a hostel or at a campsite is entitled to receive a personal and non transferable Geneva Transport Card for free, which allows them to use the whole public transportation system of Geneva for the length of the stay.

Geneva public transport network is smart. There are all sorts of means of transport working all day long – Trams, buses, trains, and mouettes (yellow transport boats).]