East Africa Day 13 – Rwanda (Kigali)

Saturday.  Time to explore Kigali.  My hotel room curtains opened upon a stunning scene of Kigali’s rolling hills dotted with the browns, yellows, and pinks of settlements.  I had a breakfast of fruit, omelette and African spiced tea, milky but pretty good.  Walked up into the centre of town to the tourist office, up the steep hills and past the flowery roundabout.  Rwanda is known as the Land of a Thousand Hills, and Kigali is surrounded by a lot of them, making for a spectacular urban setting, and for an extremely goods leg workout.

At the tourist office I enquired about gorilla trekking.  $500 for the privilege seems steep, but I decided it would be worth it.  I was to be spurned the opportunity at every turn, however.  Mastercard isn’t a favoured card in Rwanda, Visa is preferable.  I couldn’t pay for the gorilla trip with Mastercard.  As a result, I traipsed up to the Bank of Kigali, where I was told I could get money from my Mastercard at the ATM there.  A security guard led me upstairs to the ‘ATM’.  The ATM was actually a little office, where a bespectacled man of some importance sat.  You had to present your passport, and then he swiped the card through.  He tried mine.  Denied.  Fuck.  I thought this must mean that the DBS Fraud Squad in Singapore had yet to unfreeze my card.  Rwandan ATMs don’t accept international cards.  I was going to have to wait until Monday.  Disappointed, I went to BluJazz café for an extended lunch – cheeseburger and chips and a cappuccino, which I nursed for 2 hours.

I checked my emails.  Later, I thought about calling my credit card company.  I asked at numerous places where I could make an international call.  Nobody knew.  Then, somebody suggested the Post Office, which was located in the KBC (Kigali Business Centre) area.  I got a motorbike taxi there, a nice 10 minute ride up and down the hills, but it was closed.  Back in town, I took one of my customary strolls around.  I walked up and down Kigali’s hilly streets, passing women in full African garbs, carrying bowls of fruit on their heads, men remonstrating loudly with each other in the street, kids begging for money, their mothers slouched in the corner looking on hopefully.  Kigali is a pleasant place, not chaotic; in fact, rather orderly.  It’s safer and has more touches of class and sophistication than other African capitals.  It’s also a young city, and a fun-loving one.  It’s a city that knows how to party.  I thought that this was one place in Africa I might consider living in.

I realized why it was such a young city only later in my visit.  The genocide, which killed almost a million people in 100 days, left a broken city.  Over my next few days in Kigali, most young people I spoke with, who had escaped Kigali before the genocide, lost both parents to the tragedy.  Yet still they smile and are a peaceful and optimistic people.  I suppose they have to be.  In felt ashamed of my own self-pitying at times.  I’ve suffered nothing compared to these people.  Nor has anyone I know who moans constantly about things.  Nobody I know could have problems as severe as those suffered by Rwandans.  I found a respect and love for Rwandans during my visit that surprised me.  I want to return.

I popped into the Hotel des Milles Collines, otherwise known as ‘Hotel Rwanda’, the infamous safe house for thousands during the genocide, or the ‘war’ as many young Rwandans call it.  At the time, the hotel’s European managers were evacuated, and Paul Rusesabagina, now an outspoken humanitarian hero, took over, allowing Tutsis and moderate Hutu to take refuge there, bribing the Interahamwe with money and alcohol to keep them safe.  It’s one of most inspiring stories of self-sacrifice and heroism I’ve heard. The Hotel des Milles Collines is actually rather a dull, institution-looking place with no charm at all.  I went to the bar and ordered a large bottle of the local stuff – Primus, which comes in huge 72cl bottles.  I supped the beer, read a book.  It was hard to imagine the horror that was happening all around here just 15 years ago.  I went back to my hotel via the UCT (Union Trade Centre), which is a shopping centre.  Here, I bought a ticket for the Munzig Beer Festival at a park outside of town.  It sounded great.  For just 5,000 RF, you could eat, drink and party as much as you wanted.  I never got there.  I fell asleep at the hotel, and woke near midnight.  Determined to make the most of what was left of the night, I took a moto to KBC, and walked into Planet nightclub.  A Kigali institution, this place was full of women – most of them from Congo, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda.  They tried to meet my eyes constantly, and were pretty hard to shake off, but I managed to cope.

I was getting stared at by a young-looking girl.  I smiled politely but looked away, convinced she was just another whore.  She came over and said ‘hi.’  She wasn’t a whore.  She was an American girl, with Rwandese parents.  She was bubbly and friendly, and invited me to join her for drinks and a dance.  Glad of some genuine company, I accepted.

Here, like Cadillac, the crowd were dancing in front of mirrors.  I grooved with the girl, Tabitha, and noticed the very African way of dancing.  Girls here just shove their butts at your crotch, and gyrate so sexily it can cause a man embarrassment.  Here in Africa, the ass is power, the bigger the better.  I’ve never seen so many beauties in place, like African lions stalking prey in the Serengeti.  I met an English bloke called Dicken on the way out, who has opened the biggest music studio in Rwanda.  He was a nice chap, but it was 4:30am, and I had to get back to the hotel.  I was exhausted.  A rather frustrating day then, but an excellent night.

Author: Neil

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