Rwanda Part II

A delayed follow-up to my Kigali post. This week has been a social whirlwind (more of that later) so our Rwanda trip seems a long time ago. But Rwanda is so different than the other places in Africa I didn’t want to leave the impression our only memory was the memorial.

I’ve been told Rwanda is like Germany: disciplined, controlled and well organized. But the people we met had a sense of humor. We hardly scratched the surface, arriving late Saturday afternoon and leaving early Monday, especially considering on Sunday everything is closed (a crisis to those in Team Walton who needed a shopping fix). So we’ll be back one day. But it was time to say goodbye to our van;

Naty and Safari van

We did bounce around Kigali on the Sunday via motorbike taxis. Typically you’re advised to avoid motorbike taxis in Africa where there often seems to a competition to get as many people on board (with no helmets) as possible. But in Rwanda they are required by (enforced) law to be well maintained and always carry a second helmet for one-passenger only. Great fun and quite terrifying. The taxi riders even waited until we entered the memorial, waving goodbye.

Unfortunately, the Greek restaurant (Restaurant Hellénique) recommended by our buddy Ronnie was closed. We had arrived an hour before the guard told us it would be open so we found a local bar.

Naty and Phil in Kigali bar

A couple of beers on an empty stomach and we were feeling merry but when we returned to the restaurant no dice (although we did get to meet the owner Cocolio).

Ronnie had given us a backup restaurant, New Cactus, which was within walking distance of out hotel. Off we went by foot but in the wrong direction and spent the next 60 minutes wandering around Kigali streets at dusk. Not a concern at all and an opportunity to meet very stern and professional policeman on every street corner.

So a fail on Kigali restaurants (shame as we’ve been craving Greek and Mexican food) but we didn’t care. We had used my accumulated stock of Marriott points (thank you to you-know-who) to stay at the brand new Kigali Marriott. High-end gym, Sauna, steam room – and all round luxury and a fantastic view from our balcony.

Phil and Naty on Kigali Marriott Balcony

Amazingly, I still have status with Marriott and we were invited into their lounge. No honor bar or peanuts and crackers – full free bar and wide range of tasty food for breakfast and dinner. In fact, when we found this out at check-in we were on time for dinner and smuggled Ben in and we all dined like kings.

Dining like Kings

And we invited him back for breakfast the next day, with his boss Nasser who had traveled all the way from Entebbe by bus (10 hours during the night) just to confirm our trip was a success (sure beats a customer satisfaction email) before they both left to return to Uganda.

Phil, Nasser and Ben in the Lounge

Since we’ve been back we had our anniversary and then had a surprise anniversary party at Club Destiny arranged by Violet, Carys, Isabel and friends. Delicious food and a lot of fun after a long and tiring week, followed by a spontaneous trip to Harry’s Bar and then Chez Ntemba until 2.30am. All the girls (who were feeling no pain) and me, the arm candy and designated driver (Brave and Adrian – please hurry back). We’re very lucky to have friends like this here in Malawi.

Club Destiny Anniversary Party

We were joined by our latest friend, Daniel Ruiz who we were connected with after seeing his name on an AfID bulletin saying he was in Lilongwe. Daniel is Colombian and quite a character who has traveled the world (Congo, Argentina, Myanmar) on international assignments. First we went to Wednesday night to an Indian restaurant with Carys;

Meeting Daniel

And then we rolled into a new bar for us (Vision Gaming) where we bumped into an old friend (Adrien). I’ll be back at this bar as it seems we have a common interest.

Vision Gaming

Daniel joined the party Friday night and was still dancing up a storm with the remaining girls at Chez Ntemba as we left. If you’re having a party invite a Colombian and it won’t end early.

Strangely enough, Mrs W. was on the sofa all day Saturday.


Kigali Genocide Memorial, Rwanda

There is so much more to Rwanda than the genocide but I’ll share those stories and pictures next post. It doesn’t feel appropriate to mix in the same post the fun of our visit with our experiences at the Kigali Memorials.

We arrived in Kigali late afternoon after a long (but scenic) drive from Uganda (and the typically confusing and time consuming African border crossing) and Ben took us straight to the memorial. Unfortunately, it was Rwanda Independence Day so the memorial closed at 5pm so we only had 45 minutes to rush through it. After this 45 minutes we realized we had to come back the next day to take a more respectful time to see every display (the gallery of photos of the victims from the survivors was especially chilling) and enjoy the tranquility of the gardens.

The memorial is so much more than a narrative on the events in April 1994. The country is clearly still healing and the memorial is a focal point of that process – this wasn’t a collection of dusty graves and grainy photos but rather a historic and humanitarian documentary. The memorial staff were my age or younger who, like all Rwandese people above 30 years of age, have expeienced events so harrowing that you marvel at their ability to rebuild a country so quickly. In fact, it was seeing the pain on the faces of the group of young men attending a remembrance service that I found most moving. In 1994, while I was adapting to (the good) life in the USA these young men’s parents and siblings were being hacked to death or their parents were brainwashed into slaughtering their their own neighbors. These were people the world failed to protect. 

I would encourage everyone to read this link to the history of Rwanda Genocide. As you walked through the memorial it was explained that the events between April to June 1994 were in the making since the Germans colonized Rwanda in 1875. Being English I’m very aware that every country has chapters in their history books that they wish forgotten but the Belgiums, and latterly the French, did not bathe themselves in glory with their involvement in Rwanda since Germany ceded control after World War I. Nor the United Nations before, during or even after the civil war with their pathetic attempts at war crime tribunals in Arusha, Tanzania.

But the tone of the memorial was not of apportioning blame but to try to allow understanding of what could possibly drive human beings to such barbaric acts. And to detail the heart wrenching and incredible complex process of national recovery. I was left with the impression that these may have been events in Rwanda but this was really another example of the failure of humanity – a repeat of history we should have learned from. Armenia, the Holocast, Cambodia, the Balkans. Genocides have a shameful repetition.

So the Rwandese have healed themselves. There has been significant foreign aid to help the economy (which has been dramatically successful) but the recovery of Rwanda has been been enabled by addressing the genocide head-on with full transparency. The courage of the Rwandese to do this is inspiring.

Maybe not surprisingly, I sensed an underlaying sadness in the Rwandese (the quietest Independence Day I’ve experienced – possibly because in some ways this day marked the point when the wheels came off the bus) that only time will cure. But this shared pain has been channeled (by the government) to make Rwanda the “Switzerland of Africa”. Pride has been restored by collectively making Rwanda the cleanest and safest country in Africa, with a standard of living equivalent to most European cities. There are no Mzungu (white person) prices, no haggling for taxi or motorbikes fares (more on this next post) and a no-tolerance policy to crime, trash or corruption. It’s Rwanda new identify and it’s very welcoming. With the picturesque green rolling hills, range of (non-active) volcanos and the Gorillas, Rwanda is the hot place to visit and invest. Quite an achievement considering what happened in 1994. The President rules with an iron fist but it works. Dictatorships work but only if the dictator doesn’t have self interest (which appears to be the case with the current incumbent).

We also visited the memorial to the 11 Belgium peacekeepers who were tricked, cornered and then slaughtered by the Rwandan army in the build up to the Genocide. They were protecting the safe passage of the moderate prime minister who was executed with her hushband for opposing the genocidal idealodgy.  Their last refuge has been left untouched, including where grenades exploded among the soldiers.

Finally, Ben took us to what became known as Hotel Rwanda, the location of the movie (with adapted facts) of the same name. This has now been redeveloped into a very fancy hotel. We took pictures including a photo of the swimming pool that was used as a source of water for the 100 days of the war by the occupants.

At this stage it began to feel a little uncomfortable, as if we were genocide tourists. So we ended our sightseeing but we did feel that we completed something important and educational, about Rwanda and the nature (good and bad) of humans. And something that deeply moved us both.