I never thought I would ever take a trip as a courtesy call. Even with my tight schedule, I decided to visit a long lost friend, Mark, a Rwandan native working in the accounting field.
My flight was delayed and he wasn’t at the terminal to pick me up. I worried, thinking that he left assuming I had not travelled.
I called a cab and asked the driver to take me to the nearest hotel. The cold was ridiculous. My brief attempt to communicate with the driver made the situation worse. He could neither speak English nor French; and I on the other hand, couldn’t speak Kinyarwanda or Swahili.
All my mind could gather was Hotel de Milles Collines, since I had heard of it in a movie called Hotel Rwanda. So off we went. At the hotel, I paid quite a good sum on whisky to nudge my eyes to sleep and to tuck in what was left of the night.
I was able to reach Mark, and he picked me up the next day. I was fascinated by Kigali. The many undulating hills with well maintained snaky roads was an obvious infrastructural endowment that got me envious, wondering why my beloved home town still has a series of potholes.
A good number of people I came across were beautiful and friendly. I was indeed in the land of a thousand hills. I am inclined to think there can never be a better description.
The greeting is what actually beat my understanding. Unlike other parts of Africa, especially Uganda, where kissing and ‘pecking’ as a form of greeting is frowned upon and perceived as foreign, in Kigali, this is how it is done. I made it a mission to blend in.
Rwanda, in my mind, even as a little boy, screamed the word genocide and one major reason was; I have never heard from some childhood friends after 1994. Efforts to trace them have been futile. So I took time to visit Gisozi Memorial Site located in Gasabo, Kigali. They say when one man dies, it is a tragedy; when many die it is a statistic. But when countless people are savagely butchered by their own, it is a very tragic statistic.
As I was guided through the exhibition on the genocide, a gloom took over me; I felt a sadness that almost sent me into tears and I spent the rest of the day feeling very low.
I did not go to Ntarama and Nyamata memorial sites as we had earlier on planned. These sites aren’t for the faint hearted. My modest prayer is that it never happens anywhere on the face of the earth ever again.
To calm my troubled mind, I hit the Kigali night life scene and to be honest, it did lift my spirits.
At Car Wash - a well-known hangout - I got a bite of the delicious nyama choma served with birayi (potatoes) and washed it down with several (quite big) bottles of Mutzig. I sincerely hope no one was counting.
If memory serves me right, I visited KGL and K-Club before I called it a night somewhere in Nyarutarama. I can honestly say that was my favourite weekend since 2014 began and telling me ‘Happy New Year’ would in fact be an understatement.
I am yet to learn my way around without asking for directions, visit other cultural sites, play golf in Nyarutarama and find Rotarians to interact with, among other things.
I think that embracing the spirit of unity through the East African Federation was by far the greatest gift member states gave their entire population. It is great that I have met quite a number of non-Rwandan nationals working in Kigali without being discriminated against.
Now before you pass judgment on whether all I have done is a presentation of what Kigali really is, let me guide you. There is the truth and then there is the right thing; the truth is Kigali is a beautiful city with equally beautiful people and the right thing is; people ought to visit it.