Road Trippin’ To Rwanda

After six weeks on the job, on call 24/7 (although for the record, I don’t get called often), and not having ventured more than a fifteen minute radius from either home or the embassy, we finally headed out.

Now keep in mind that “heading out”, for which I am known, is not as simple or easy as it might seem.

First of all, I have to find coverage–someone to be on call for emergencies within the embassy community. Thankfully I haven’t had any emergencies yet, but I still have to be ready and prepared. There is some back-up available–a local nurse and a local doctor, but with language barriers and cultural differences, and a lack of, shall we say, 9-1-1, I don’t take that lightly.

Secondly, we don’t have a car. (Ours is slated to arrive in just about two weeks. We’ll see if that’s like, really two weeks, or more like African two weeks, which could be two months.) This translates into being dependent on someone else. And as wonderful as everyone has been to us (and they have all been really wonderful and warm and welcoming and inclusive), that’s still hard for independent people like us who are used to planning road trips and making them happen. (Think ski days, 14er hiking, Brew Tour, Hanging Lake, Lake City, snow shoeing. If it was available, I drove there and did it!)

And thirdly, there’s safety and security. We can’t just pack up and go. If the first two issues above are addressed, then we have to make sure what we’re doing is approved by the Regional Security Officer, and that it’s safe. Safe usually means at least a two car caravan. Although the mandatory two car rule is no longer in effect, we can’t exactly call Triple A Roadside Assistance if we have a breakdown. So two cars is just a good idea. And radios. And first aid kits. And the awesome sheet of paper we carry in our cars that we’re supposed to hand out in the event of an accident: “I can’t discuss it with you right now. Please call this number.” in English, French and Kirundi. I love it.

And for someone like me who has the itch to go and the whole continent of Africa personally calling my name, you can imagine the angst.

BUT, everything fell into place last weekend, and we road tripped to Rwanda. Yea, I just said that. And it was awesome.

First the four or so hours out of Bujumbura to the border. This made me want to become a photographer, which I am not. This also made me want to have my own car so I could stop every five minutes and photograph the local color, of which there is plenty. Think: one of the most densely populated countries in Africa. Think: people and villages lining the highway (African euphemism for one and a half lane curvy mountain road peppered with random speed bumps and potholes and large vans speeding by in the opposite direction). Think: colorful garb and loads of just about anything carried on bicycles and heads. Think: little scantily clad children playing right on the road. Think: just about anything you can imagine being sold roadside–chickens, produce of all kinds, (well, tropical produce like bananas, mangoes, tomatoes, beans, peas, cabbage, avocados, manioc, sweet potatoes, but no apples, just in case you’re wondering), baskets and other handmade wicker items (one whole village sold nothing but these little handwoven, three-legged round stools), furniture of all kinds, goats, pigs, fabric, clothing. In one town, we even saw a parade, but that made our friend who was driving very nervous, because although it looked colorful and fun, it was really a political rally and those can turn violent and scary very quickly. Suffice it to say, it was A. quite visually stimulating, B. quite the adventure, and C. quite Africa. For real.

Then there was the border. We’d heard horror stories of the border crossing into the Congo (on the agenda for later this summer after we get a car), but this was quite the civilized affair. First of all, they waived us through with our dip plates. No stop whatsoever. Then we decided we’d better turn around and fill out the paperwork and get the official stamps, just in case we needed to show them any time. Voila. Another stamp for the passport. 🙂

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Not like I’m collecting them or anything. Ha.

And then we were in the Republic of Rwanda. OMG. Such a different country.

Paul Kagame, the former leader of the rebel force that ended the Rwandan genocide twenty years ago and the de-facto leader ever since (officially the president since 2000), is a controversial figure in the west. I’m not here to make this a place for political rantings or for taking sides, but he has been instrumental in bringing changes to his country and progress in many areas, including courting western business interests and investment.

In fact, here we are enjoying some of the fruits of his labor, so to speak:

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What’s that, you say? That’s some really happy people eating MEXICAN FOOD at a Chipotle look alike in Kigali. Highlight of the trip? Quite possibly. 🙂

Anyway, back to the Kagame controversy. You can read this article about him and decide for yourself what you think:

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/discussions/interviews/rebooting-rwanda

but I’m here to tell you that I certainly enjoyed some of his “results” after living in his far less stable and far less developed neighbor to the south, Burundi.

After stuffing ourselves royally at Meze Fresh (the Chipotle knock off), we relaxed here

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at this place:

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You movie buffs will recognize its significance. The rest of you will just have to go look it up, but yes, we really stayed here. Way cool.

And the highlight of the weekend wasn’t really the Mexican food, it was seeing these girls, as always:

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So fun to have friends to visit in The Middle Of Nowhere, Africa. 🙂

But just so I don’t paint an unrealistically advanced picture of Rwanda, amidst all the working stoplights (Burundi has none) and other accoutrements of progress, there was this:

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If you look closely, you can see A HAND picking up the fallen pins and replacing them in the set. I kid you not. But, hey, that’s more bowling than in all of Burundi.

So after a few really good meals, a stop at the Presidential Palace Museum where the plane crashed that killed both the Rwandan and the Burundian president in 1994, and a stop at the American Embassy Kigali to tour their health unit, we headed home for a mostly uneventful return trip. There’s still lots to do in Kigali that we didn’t manage this time, so we’ll definitely be back. It’s our closest tie with civilization! 🙂

And Mexican food.

 

2 thoughts on “Road Trippin’ To Rwanda

  1. The person that started Meze is this young guy from California who thought “I think I’ll go start a chipotle in Rwanda”. And, yes, he told me he worked there once. LOVED that place.

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