here, there, everywhere

36 Hours in Rwanda

In Africa, Rwanda on January 21, 2017 at 9:29 pm


View of Kigali at night from The Mirror Hotel.

I was supposed to spend at least 3 full days in Rwanda but family stuff took precedence and I opted for more time in Mbarara.  The plan was to head by myself to Kigali on the bus Wednesday morning and spend an evening and one full day there before catching my flight home.  Then Mum took exception to me traveling alone (she actually spent some time crying about it) and it was decided by the family (and without me) that Lil Bro would be my travel companion, or chaperone in my opinion.  So Dad drove us to a gas station at 5:00am to catch the Kampala/Kigali bus and sent us on our way, me with a big hug and Lil Bro with a manly handshake.  A lot of people drive or hire private cars to take them across the border.  I’m told that version of the commute takes around 3 hours.  It takes twice as long by bus.  Around 5:30am we were finally on our way, turns out the bus wasn’t late but we were super early.  I tried to sleep a little bit, but as always, those Ugandan roads or giant potholes or little strips of dirt that pass for a highway…  I was fully awake by the time we got to the border and this was intentional as I pretty much love a good land crossing, they are unpredictable and sometimes have the best stories.  One thing about Rwanda is all plastic is banned so before we got off the bus to go into customs we had to make sure we’d transferred stuff out of the plastic bags into our suitcases as the bags would be confiscated.  Then once you pass the border guard for your stamp you have to stand in line with all your bags and wait for them to be inspected.  I suppose they will look for the usual suspects like drugs and other contraband, but they are specifically digging for plastic.  Your dirty laundry is in this one?  It gets dumped out.  The gifts you bought for people back home are now spread out and you have to figure out how to carry them back to the bus on top of your luggage along with anything else that got extracted.  The ban on plastic is to protect the country from the amounts of garbage which are evident in its neighbours’ cities and it’s pretty cool to see a country implement and enforce such a strict policy.  Do some googling though and you’ll find there are actually some detrimental side effects of such an implementation.

I didn’t have any major problems with the plastic bags as I’d been prepped on it, but we were unprepared for the drama surrounding my honey.  Now African honey is different than Canadian and as with all things people grow up with, they love the familiar taste of home.  My African friends back in Canada wanted honey so I was charged with bringing it back.  A lot of it.  I had maybe 6 litres in a few small jerry cans, a few hundred dollars worth.  Customs pulled it off the bus and stared at it.  Then they called Lil Bro over to explain it all.  Actually, they probably wanted to talk to me about it but he’s an African male which meant he knew what was best.  Big sigh.  He tried to convince me his ‘solving’ the problem expedited our departure but I’m pretty sure my diplomacy skills could have moved it a lot further a lot faster, he’s got a bit of a hot temper.  As our bus was getting ready to pull away, Lil Bro was still talking (arguing) with customs.  They were saying there was no way one person would consume that much honey, ergo we were importing it for business.  I’m not sure all that was said but eventually Lil Bro got back on the bus as did the honey and we were finally on our way.  This is not the end of that story.

Crossing the border felt like crossing into a new land which in a way it is, but considering they are direct neighbours it was astonishing to see the difference in infrastructure only meters apart from each other.  I’ve said enough about Ugandan roads (or have I??), but not sure if I mentioned the red dirt making up the roads or piled on either side of them.  It’s everywhere and I was amazed at how the locals could wear white clothes that stayed white throughout the entire day as I was generally a hot mess after one hour.  It blows everywhere, it gets into the houses, the stores, your hair, your teeth, etc.  But in Rwanda it’s a totally different story.  First, the roads are paved and without potholes.  Second, I have no idea how they do it but they have tamed the dirt.  It’s still there but it lies peacefully and does not seem inclined to make the world around it a mess.  These were only two things that blew my mind and it was a shame the visit would be so short, nowhere near enough time to sit and observe to make sense of the differences between the two countries.  OK, so the visit would be short but that bus ride felt like an eternity.  Slow moving because Rwanda also enforces the speed limit which I believe was 60km/h.  Mind blowing.  But, it also provided ample time to reflect on what the country represents in the modern day world.  I remember clearly the news coverage of the genocide in 1994 and it felt like the weight of the atrocity still hangs over the country like a faint cloud.  I say faint because although it is strong in everyone’s minds and everyone was affected by it in some way, I have never met a group of young people so proud of where they are from and so filled with optimism for the future.  That definitely dispels some of cloud and they do not let the rest of it stop them from moving forward.  I’d find that out later of course because at this point we were still on the bus and looking forward to getting off it.

Finally we arrived in Kigali almost 8 hours after we got on.  Thankfully a friend back in Mbarara had arranged for a friend to pick us up and sort us out.  H was at the bus station with a car and driver to help us get to our hotel.  But first we had to sort out the honey.  Turns out one of the jerry cans ruptured during the ‘inspection’ and the bag they were in was in was now seriously coated in the stuff.  We had to take everything out and wash it all down before putting in the car which took about 20 minutes.  We finally arrived at our rooms and quickly unloaded everything before heading out with H for a late lunch.  Within about 10 minutes of us sitting down we were joined by a couple of H’s friends who had our evening planned shortly after.  Lil Bro and I were exhausted so we headed back to the hotel to shower off the (Ugandan) dirt and take a nap.  The guys we’d met said they’d call by around 7pm.  Around 8pm they were nowhere to be found so we gave up and headed to the Mirror Hotel across the street because I heard terrible singing from there and figured it could only be karaoke.  It was the first time I’d ever heard Amazing Grace sung that way.  And they also sang ‘We are the World’ and ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’.  Without irony.  I always thought they were patronizing songs but I guess Rwandans don’t, go figure.  We ordered dinner and then one of the guys finally showed up! 30 minutes, a la African time.  He apologized, said he figured we’d be tired and there was no point in disturbing us any earlier.  Right then.  So after finishing dinner we headed to a club to meet up with the other guys to go dancing and I must say, those boys know how to dance.  I sat and watched for most of it cuz I have never seen any male with that much incredible rhythm in them, it was actually beautiful to see.  Around midnight we were done, it was a work night after all and they had to be up early the next morning so we departed and called it a night.

The next morning was spent leisurely, a nice brunch on the decks of our rooms, planning our sightseeing for the day.  H showed up and we headed off to the Genocide Memorial.  I have a few pictures from there but don’t feel comfortable posting them, I know we shouldn’t forget what happened but it seems voyeuristic to put any of them up.  But I can say it was incredibly moving and horrifying.  And say what you will about tribalism but my big take away from it was colonialism and the utterly inexhaustible ego of the Belgians.  Yes, it started there, just one more form of white supremacy couched in exploration and expansionism.  And it was all terrible.  There’s a sitting room with photos of those killed.  People come to take their time and look at the pictures and identify family or friends.  They can take the pictures or put up other ones at any time.  It’s almost inconceivable to think the woman wearing that dress at that party, or that little boy holding his teddy bear, all fell victim to the madness those days.  But the room where I finally lost it was the memorial to the children who died.  It showed some of their pictures, listed their favourite foods, toys, and friends names, then quoted their final words as documented by witnesses.  I suppose the most horrifying thing of all is that this insanity still takes place today in other countries in other ways.  I think humans are too stupid to learn.

We spent a good amount of time there paying our respects and then returned to the present by running around and taking care of a few errands.  We had to buy new jerry cans and a bag for the honey, change money, repack the suitcases, and finish final travel arrangements.  And I had to have a hotdog at one of the shopping centres we were in.


By about 4pm I was done and just wanted to crash even though we’d checked out of the hotel already.  Fortunately H had an apartment a few blocks from the hotel and we went to hang out there til it was time to leave for the airport.  Lil Bro looked so sad at the prospect of taking the bus all the way back to Kampala, it would have been a 13 hour ride, that I bought him a plane ticket as a thank you for being my travel buddy.  It turned out he was on my flight as we had a refuel in Kampala so we got to hang out together for a few more hours.  Said goodbye to H, checked in for our flights and successfully tagged the honey through to home.  Lil Bro and I said goodbye in Kampala and I continued on to Kenya where I passed out waiting for my next flight to Amsterdam.  And that was Africa.  Footnote:  the honey never made it 😦  We think someone in the Kigali airport took it for themselves, the bugger.


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