It’s amusing how Kigali teased us when we returned from exile. There is this time in August 1994, for instance, when we felt hungry and enquired as to where to eat out. A good friend recommended an eatery in Nyamirambo and even offered to drop us there.
It’s called “Green Corner”, said he, and it’s famous for its delicious chicken. The good old feller dropped us by the roadside and, after we’d thanked him, we turned to proceed to our lunch.
But there was nowhere to go! No name announcing the eatery; no corner; no garden, which we’d assumed’d be the reason for the “green” in the name. Bewildered, we looked around for somebody to ask. Luckily, there were idlers sitting on stools, enjoying their “liquid” lunch (read booze)!
I advanced to one of them and offered my greetings: Mwiriwe! Can you please tell us where Green Corner is? The fellow, with a tinge of excitement, answered: Brother, you are in luck! Pull a stool, this is Green Corner! Was he pulling my leg? I excused myself and went back.
When I explained to my friends and one decided to crosscheck with the counterman, it was confirmed that it was the place and we could have our chicken and “frites” (chips). As it turned out, those “idlers” were civil servants and, at 2 pm, they went back to their offices.
As we settled on our stools to wait for our lunch, one of us muttered: Seems we’ll take quite some time before we can understand this place. And me: You can say that again! Booze for lunch?
After our lunch, when we asked the counterman where we could pick a minibus taxi, known as Twegerane (sit-close-together), we were advised to walk to Iryanyuma and get it there. But where is Iryanyuma, we asked. Everybody knows where Iryanyuma is, countered the counterman.
Now, Kinyarwanda is interesting. When you say Iryanyuma (the last one), even a Rwandan who has not lived in Rwanda, as long as they know Kinyarwanda, will understand one for the road. Iryanyuma is therefore so named because it is the last stage where people alight so as to walk home. Being the last stage, those who’ve been imbibing will visit the nearby bar for the last one. Even teetotallers will tell you the meaning!
Indeed, as the counterman’d said, we could not miss Iryanyuma. The noise calling passengers and announcing destinations was enough to lead us there. On reaching the stage, we asked one of the touts for the taxi that’d take us to the city centre. However, when we were settled in, we could hear the tout calling out a different destination: Kumunuko, Kumunuko!
To confirm that we were in the right minibus, we had to ask the driver, who assured us we were not mistaken.
We joked about the name and then talked about other things until we reached the stage bellow the then Central Hospital of Kigali (CHK) and one of us exclaimed: Uhm, Hm, hm! This is Kumunuko!
The stench that assaulted our nostrils was enough to explain to us why the stage was called Kumunuko (at-the-stench)! We had not exactly reached our destination but we quickly alighted to escape the hospital sewage stench.
The ironic sense of humour of these Rwandans did not impress us one little bit.
Looking back at those days, one wonders how people managed to live in such filth and to even joke about it. And you, today living in this city that’s said to be among the cleanest in Africa, can you believe that only a few years ago you lived in such filth?
I remember that during the dry season a cloud of dust always hang over Kigali. It was impossible to eat food that was not mixed with dust. By the time clothes on lines dried, they’d acquired a cake of dried mud. Awake or asleep, you inhaled more dust than air.
During the wet season, roads and paths were impassable and in places like Cyahafi, people used to slide down, on their seats, to reach their houses.
Of course, there are areas that are still stubbornly dusty and muddy, but you can be sure that they are fighting a losing battle. I have no doubt that soon Kigalois (Kigali dwellers) will forget what dust used to look like.
Today, it’s interesting that, when you go to cities in developed countries, the first thing you check out is whether they are as clean as Kigali. And, to be sure, there are many that are not.
But one thing stands out like a sore toe. Since most of these cities are not in the tropical zone, why should some of them enjoy more tree cover than Kigali? It’s a big shame that our city planners do not seem to give as much importance to trees and open parks as they make believe.
A look at upcoming estates like Nyarutarama, Kibagabaga, Gacuriro, Kagugu and upper Kicukiro is enough to make your buoyant heart sink. Yes, Kigali is crying out for trees!