About two weeks ago, Jon and I had the chance to cross the border for a quick visit to Rwanda. We pretty much had to go, as my Ugandan visa was running out and I didn’t want to be on the wrong side of the law during my time here.

We decided to fly to Kigali to save a little time and pain. After all, we’d just come back from Gulu on a pretty miserable 6 hour bus ride, and I for one was hating the idea of spending an additional 12-14 hours on a swerving, cramped bus through increasingly hilly terrain. I was not willing, at least not this time. We had a pleasant flight on a small airplane, passing over Lake Victoria and the “thousand hills” that make up the Rwandan landscape. When we arrived in Kigali, we easily made our way through immigration, hailed a taxi and made the 15 minute drive into the city.

Jon and I had heard countless stories from friends about the major differences so apparent between Uganda and Rwanda. We had no idea how true these observations were. Unlike Kampala, we found Kigali to have well-paved roads, no trash on the ground, and a quiet yet lively pace. It felt a little weird, but it was nice. We checked into our charming little hotel and found ourselves exploring the small downtown area. Some of the things we discovered on our walk included the fact that Rwandan ATMs don’t accept American cards, most people speak Kinrwanda, French, AND English, and that there was a much higher number of mzungu tourists walking around than in Kampala.

For dinner, we found ourselves at the Hotel de Milles Collines, best known as Hotel Rwanda. The hotel is currently undergoing major renovation, but it was interesting to see it in real life and compare it to the film. Notably, the Hotel de Milles Collines also had the best ketchup we have ever had in Africa. (Seems like it wouldn’t be important, but sometimes you don’t realize what you love until it is taken away.)

The next morning, after the most delightful breakfast of fruit and FRENCH BRIE CHEESE!, we headed over to visit the Genocide Memorial Museum. I had mentally prepared myself ahead of time for the sad stories of inhumanity and the ignorance of the western world. I was right to prepare myself, as each exhibit offered dozens of shameful stories. However, the museum also showcased stories of strength, resilience, and those who risked and gave their lives to save their neighbors. I found the whole thing to be beautifully done, to be educational, sad, and uplifting at the same time.

Next on our journey was a trip to Gisenyi, which is a small town located on the shores of Lake Kivu in the northern part of the country. We mostly sat around, enjoying the gorgeous lake and the gardens of our hotel, and watching kingfishers dive over and over again. Unfortunately, the weather was mostly cloudy and rainy, so we didn’t get to enjoy the swimable beach (it’s hard to find non-pool places to swim that don’t have either crocodiles or a disease called Bilhazaria).

Beautiful Lake Kivu

Beautiful Lake Kivu

After two nights at our little hotel, we made our way back to Kigali. The rides back and forth were truly stunning, as we drove up and down massive hills through picturesque towns. The memories of the genocide were never too far away; at many of the towns we drove through there were signs in Kinrwanda indicating genocide memorials on the sides of the road. The country continues to grieve.

Rwanda is at an important place in its history right now, recovering from deep emotional trauma, poverty, and disease. The country has recently been acclaimed for its development and stability, but many are wondering if that might come at the price of democracy. Check out this article in a fairly recent Economist to learn more.

As I left Rwanda, I felt sad to have to go so soon. I had barely had the chance to distinguish many cultural differences between Rwanda and Uganda, remember much of my french, or appreciate the country’s ties to french cuisine. I think I’ll just have to go back someday…

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