A week in Rwanda

About the Rwanda trip I did in Easter holidays with Alena & Anneloes:

(deutsche Version oben, nächster Post)

We started at 6 in the morning with a taxi ( aka. Matatu – a minibus) to Mbarara. From there we took the next taxi to Kabale in southern Uganda, close to the Rwandan border. After a quick lunch we easily found a driver to Kigali, which we almost didn’t believe, that he was taking us for 5000 straight to Kigali. After a while we realised he was talking about Rwandan Franc and not Ugandan Shilling.

Around 20 Min after Kabale we reached the border, where we first officially had to leave Uganda before we could -after walking a few metres and a ebola-fever-check – enter Rwanda. The whole procedure at the border was a bit confusing since we couldn’t pay in Shillings but only in US Dollars. That’s why we first had to change money ( at a very bad rate) and then finally could get the visa. Especially the not so patient passenger who was on the same car, was happy we could continue then („time is money“).

And there we were. Now in Rwanda and an hour earlier. (same time zone as Germany) But not only that we were now driving on the ‘right’ side on perfectly built roads, also the whole environment seemed to be cleaner. One reason for that surely is, that plastic bags are generally forbidden and replaced by paper bags. But also Rwanda is not that perfect, which I had to realise after a few minutes, when the woman in front of me just threw out her empty plastic bottle.

The country if famous for its ‘thousand hills’ and the the street had a lot of curves. After a while we could see Kigali and its Skyscrapers from far.

When we arrived at the bus station we took a Moto to our hostel. Motos are the same as Bodas in Uganda, BUT every driver has a registered number and two helmets, so that you’re always going with a helmet. That’s quit different to Uganda, where not even every boda driver has a helmet for himself – and it must save a lot of lives! Motos are also stronger than bodas and it was really great driving through this clean and modern city to the hostel. The street lights on the ground and palms in the middle of the street doesn’t seem real to me, because it is so different to Uganda.

In the hostel we had a very nice cheeseburger dinner and tested the first Rwandan beer.

Unfortunately the hostel was fully booked for the next night, so we decided to go to Gisenyi and Lake Kivu the next morning.

So we went back to the buspark in the morning and bought tickets for the bus to Gisenyi. The bus left in time (which is also completely different to Uganda, where the buses leave when they are full). The road to Gisenyi was once again very nice with the mountains on one side and the valley on the other. Half way we had a short break, where you could use a toilet and buy some food.

In Gisenyi we took a Moto to the hostel, which was fully booked. Fortunately there was another one, but as we arrived there, it started to rain heavily so that we spent the whole afternoon playing card games. In the evening we went to town to have dinner and went back to the guest house with another beer brand.

The next morning the rain had stopped and after a very good breakfast we could go to the beach and walk some metres. There were some people swimming or fishing obviously some of them also were in holidays. As we came back to town we just saw the final of ‘Rwandan cycling cup’ – it makes a lot of sense to organise cycling competitions here, as I mentioned before there are perfect streets and a lot of hills.

Before we went back to Kigali with a bus we had typical Rwandan ‘brochette’ (meat on a stick)

In the evening we went to a Chinese restaurant next to our hostel and had great food and a lot of fun.

On Easter Sunday we wanted to have at least a little bit of Easter and decided to go to church. Well, I didn’t like it at all. It was a ‘Christian life assembly’ church and somehow American – or at least how i would expect American church. It started with a countdown and seemed to be kind of a show. But the music was good, they had a complete band with drums, bass, E- and Acoustic guitar, choir and singers.

After that we went to the genocide memorial. An exhibition which shows very well the events of April 1994, when about one million Tutsi were killed within 3 months while the rest of the world didn’t do anything. The exhibition is free, so that everyone can come and see it. I think it is a very good and important part of remembering and learning from the history. The diversion into ‘Hutu’ and ‘Tutsi’ was brought first by the German and later Belgian colonialists and also the role of France during the genocide is even nowadays not yet cleared.

Furthermore on the compound are mass graves with a quarter million (!) people and a garden, which has many symbols in it. (e.g. unity – remembering, etc….)

After this we went to downtown and realised there isn’t something like that. But maybe that was also because of Easter and the upcoming memorial day. We had a look in a mall next to the ‘city tower“ and then continued to a German supermarket, bakery and butchery. Then we went to ‘Nyamirembe’ a young neighbourhood with a lot of ‘local’ restaurants. We had fish Brochette with chips and almost a nice view over Kigali at night. On the way back to the hostel I was once again fascinated by the nice city.

Monday we went to the memorial sites in Nyamata and Ntarama, half a hour out of town with a matatu. Nyamata was a church, where Tutsi were hiding during the genocide, but weren’t protected. Almost all (thousands of people) were murdered there and we could still see blood on the walls and where the grenades hit the walls. Even the clothes of the people are still there on the benches. Behind the church are mass graves with many bones in it.

Our guide was a bit to fast and not really worthy.

We continued to Ntarama. The Moto driver told me, when we passed his former school , which was built by Rupert Neudeck and his organisation.

Ntarama was also a church with a room for Sunday class and a kitchen. We could also see the clothes of the people and their belongings, which they brought for the time they were hiding in the church. The destroyed kitchen and class room showed again how brutal even children were murdered.

We went back to Kigali by bus and met Emmanuel, who told us he survived the genocide and was hidden in a house in Kigali. .

For lunch we had the well known, very good and large fish. After that we first went to a craft market and then back to ‘downton’ We went into the mall next to the tower and saw Cinderella in the cinema. After a long time not going to any cinema, it was really great. At the end if the day we had a very nice dinner at a recommended restaurant.

Tuesday was national memorial day, because exactly 21 year before the genocide begun. During the week we already saw some signs, sponsored (?) by big companies to remember that day. The day also marks the beginning of ‘silent week’, during which bars and restaurants don’t play music and only memorial events happen. As we walked through the town it was somehow weird to see a completely shut down city with almost no one in the streets. (apart from Nakumatt, a big supermarket) every shop was closed.

I also just realised what a meaning it has to the Rwandan people to remember in April. 21 years is not really a long time and everyone knew someone, who was murdered.

In the evening we went again to the buspark to get our bus tickets for the next morning. The streets now were a bit filled. Even the official memorial event at the memorial was over. Some people were selling grey ( like the red ones on world aids day) and ‘never again’ wristbands.

The next morning we left Kigali at 6 with a bus to Kabale. The ‘country with a thousand hills’ once again proved its name and the bus driver was so fast that all of us were struggling with sickness.

Via Mbarara and Kasese we went on a nice road ( partly through Queen Elizabeth NP) back to Fort Portal. There we had the chips, we were looking for the whole day.

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