East Africa Day 12 – Rwanda (Kigali)

Woke at 9am, had breakfast, collected my ticket to Rwanda, skillfully avoiding flycatchers and touts, and checked my emails.   Baraka picked me up in his mum and dad’s jeep at 3pm, for the drive to Kilimanjaro airport.  I realized that Baraka was doing quite well for himself….he’s certainly not poor, and has good business sense – he probably saves much more than I do.  I caught the 5:30pm plane to Rwanda with Rwandair.

I didn’t feel nervous about heading to Kigali.  It seemed like it would be a nice place.  I met a 50 year-old Belgian guy on the plane, a printing technician who’s been in and out of Africa for 17 years.  The poor bloke had fallen in love with some girl in Arusha, who turned out to be a professional scam artist.  She’s stolen his passport that morning and fled to her house, where he’d never been so couldn’t find her.  She blackmailed him into giving her $800 for the passport’s return.  It was all very professional.  She’s employed a taxi driver and an accomplice to pick him up at a certain place, take him to the bank to withdraw money, then give it to the driver, before they exchanged cash for passport.  Cunts.  Poor bloke fell in love with the wrong girl.  I told him to put it down to experience.

The flight took 2 hours – and I had a small bottle of red wine during it to put me in the right mood.  Friday night in Kigali!  At the airport, I was whisked straight through, being a holder of a British passport.  I changed $250 into Rwandan Francs, getting about 140,000.  I took a taxi for 10,000 RF to a hotel – I said Okapi hotel, but also asked the driver, who was very friendly and jovial, if anything better was available, but cheaper.  He told me he’d whisk me around a few places.  The journey there was very smooth, roads are well-paved here, and traffic was light, and quiet – none of the claustrophobic noisy carnage of Dar es Salaam or Arusha.  The driver took me to a place called Imanzi Hotel first, which was brand new.  Staff were friendly, the place was clean, but rooms were overpriced at $60 for a TV that didn’t work, no shower curtain, a fan but no socket to plug it into, and no hot water.  I checked out Okapi hotel, but didn’t think much of the rooms or the surly staff, nor it’s dark and rough-looking neighborhood.  I went back to Imanzi, and negotiated a $20 discount for room 14, so it was only $40 a night.  Success!

Excited, I changed into my gladrags, and headed out to dinner at the restaurant / bar downstairs.  The young manager from the Imanzi was there – he’d lived in Amsterdam for 7 years and was as a result quite a relaxed and liberal fellow.  He’d come back to help his mum set up the hotel and restaurant and bar.  I ordered a beer – German beer – and a spaghetti Bolognese, which went down a treat.  After dinner, I bounded up the steps and out onto the back of a motorbike taxi, which in Kigali are distinguished by the green bibs they wear.  I went to Cadillac bar and disco, a Rwandan institution.  I was the first in, and it was 10pm.  After an hour a few more began filtering in.  I got talking to some American  guys – retired military who now train the army here.  Real rednecks.  Then I got talking to a young Rwandese lady, who was obviously soliciting, but I needed the company so I didn’t care too much.  I also met a Russian guy, working as a helicopter engineer and technician.  I danced, I drank vodka and coke.  I had a great time in this bowl-shaped club, which played a mix of Afrobeat, cheesy 80’s music, disco and dance.  Rwandans are real party people, and the dancefloor was full of huge smiles and dazzling white teeth.  Everybody was really enjoying themselves, and it was full of Rwandese people, with only a handful of whites in the place, which lent a really local feel to the evening.  Somebody started a conga.  People had clearly shaken off memories of the genocide in 1994 as best they could.

It was interesting to note certain ‘Frenchisms’ that are maintained in Rwanda, being a French speaking Belgium colony of old.  Mirror dancing.  As in clubs from L’Orleons to Paris, and now Kigali, people dancing on their own, looking at themselves in full length mirrors which are all around the dancefloor.  Here in Kigali were women dancing suggestively in front of mirrors, never once taking eyes off themselves.  Men too, preening themselves.  Very French.

I went back to Imanzi hotel by taxi after a few more vodka and cokes, a great evening had.  Tomorrow, I could look forward to exploring Kigali proper.

Author: Neil

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