Quiet Kigali

Posted by on Jun 22, 2007 in Rwanda | 3 Comments

I must admit, I find it really difficult to update from public computers. I was spoiled with my laptop and now I can’t revise my posts for days until I manage to sound funny or interesting. And now that I’ve crossed into Rwanda I have encountered the dreaded French keyboards that plagued me in Madagascar. The equally dreaded French menus aren’t so bad because I learnt most of the common words. It has been funny to see the other American I’ve been traveling with discover the frustrations of a former French-speaking colony for the first time.

To give Rwanda credit, or at least the capital Kigali, there is a lot of English spoken. It also has nicely paved roads and the boda-bodas carry an extra helmet for passengers. I even had a seatbelt in the front seat of my minibus from the border! The driver must have thought we were crazy, oohing and ahhing about pavenment during the two hour drive.

I have been traveling with another American solo traveler named Grace, whom I met in our hostel in Kampala. We more or less have the same plans in this area so it’s been easy to just tag along together. Rwanda doesn’t get nearly as many tourists as Uganda, but it is quite small, French-speaking and still invokes horrible memories of the genocide that happened here 13 years ago.

Today was overcast and we were woken by a knock at our door by the deskman. He insisted Grace had a visitor, an American. We eventually got dressed and emerged to find the Israeli guy Grace had hung around with in Kampala. I had only changed about $10 at the border so we first stopped by a bank to draw a cash advance on Grace’s ATM card. Despite what everyone says, it is possible to withdraw money with an international card in Kigali, and only for a 3% fee. I had taken enough cash out in Kenya (Kenyan Shillings converted into US Dollars) to exchange my Dollars at a Forex bureau at a slightly better rate. The Dollar is falling against most currencies every day so you never know what rates you will find.

After breakfast, where the waiter transfered a song I heard and liked to my USB flash drive, we hopped on three boda-bodas and zipped over a few hills to the genocide memorial and museum. The interior is filled with exhibits detailing to lead up to the killings, with survivor’s accounts. We had watched the film Hotel Rwanda a few days ago and I was glad to have a general idea about what happened before being hit with it all at once.

Upstairs was an exhibit featuring photos of children killed along with details like favorite food and toys. Some read like:

Name: …
Age: 9 months
Favorite food: milk and rice
Favorite toy: doll
Character: Liked to smile
Means of death: Thrown against a wall

The entire thing is amazing to me… that this happened so recently, that nothing was done to help, that the murderers now still live next to families they terrorized and that I never knew anything about it before I came to Africa. Outside were mass graves covered in cement holding more than 285,000 bodies from Kigali alone.

Walking down the street you can’t help but look at the people, guess their age and wonder what happened to them and how they survived. For a weekday the town was quiet and most people walking around seemed unusually calm and detached—Kigali is unusually subdued for an African capital.

The country is small and aside from gorilla and primate trekking and the scenery, there isn’t much of interest to tourists. I plan to head to the South of the country (a whopping two hours) to visit the national museum in Butare and then head back to Uganda. Although I would like to trek some chimpanzees in the supposedly amazing Southern national park it sounds as if I would need my own car to find them this time of year. Maybe I can see some chimps in Uganda, where everything is cheaper, in English and more accessable to individual travelers.

3 Comments

  1. Wendy
    June 22, 2007

    I was in Quebec and had to use the dreaded French keyboard…I feel your pain!

  2. Nina
    June 23, 2007

    What happened in Rwanda can only be described as disgusting and for lack of a better word, sad. I’m sure it will take decades for the anger to subside.

  3. Steve
    June 24, 2007

    I appreciate your mentioning the Kigali Memorial Centre. The Aegis Trust created and manages the Centre – you’re right – it will take a couple of decades (if ever) before things can move on …