I heard snoring and mumbling from people in the room; some shook their heads in disbelief, while others just had sad looks on their faces as we all watched clips from a screen in front of us.
It was at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center in Rwanda and we watched people share their experiences of the 1994 genocide that took place in the country.
I remember when I was about 12 or 13 years old, I came across a CD at home with the movie “Hotel Rwanda” as part of the movies. Although it was about the genocide, I had seen it, but I didn’t really understand what it was about, but earlier this year I had gotten my hands on the film and watched it again. This time I understood better, but then going to the memorial center was another ball game for me.
The Kigali Genocide Memorial Center was inaugurated in April 2004 to mark the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi ethnic minority group. Located on a hill, the memorial center houses a museum, genocide archive, memorial gardens and mass graves. These graves contain the remains of more than 250,000 genocide victims who died in and around the city of Kigali.
Right in the center I saw a gigantic Kwibuka28 signage there. The tour guide had said 28 years later that it meant “remembering” (the genocide).
As I toured inside, I saw skulls, bones, torn and bloodied clothing, photos of victims and gory statues, and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the people who lived through the genocide. A notable feature in the center was the presence of a wall of names, dedicated to those who died and it is even being updated to this day. This is because many of the victims’ names have yet to be documented and many of the victims in the graves are unknown.
However, twenty-eight years after the genocide, it is amazing to see how this country has turned around, has taken what life threw at it and is now doing great.
The capital has now been dubbed one of the cleanest cities in Africa (according to the United Nations Habitat), and frankly, walking around Kigali, I barely saw any dirt around. Somehow people are also already used to the rule of not making a mess and they are religiously watching this. Perhaps the fact that the use of plastic bags has been banned since 2008 contributes to this reality. Being from Nigeria, this came as a surprise to me.
Another fascinating aspect of Kigali is the presence of police officers at various intersections. No wonder Boris Johnson, in a June post by the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, had named Rwanda as one of the safest countries in the world. On my way to the hotel from the airport when I landed I noticed how clean and fit the police officers looked.
Later in the week I had used up all the money I had with me. When I had to withdraw some money, I realized that the police officers were also friendly and approachable.
Some other persons and I had lost our way, but the policemen directed us to an alternative route as the main road was blocked due to an event that was to take place there later that evening. As they got ready for the event, Burna Boy’s songs blared through the speaker. At that time I was a proud Nigerian. In the end, cash withdrawal was not possible and even some exchange offices nearby could not help my situation. You had to have your dollars or Rwandan francs with you to be able to exchange. The use of points of sale (POS) is also not common there, unlike in Nigeria.
There is also a bit of the language barrier for visitors.
The people of Rwanda speak French, their local dialect and some of them some English. On the first night at the hotel, which was a Sunday, I had been billed $30 after my meal and at that point I knew I had to find an alternative instead of eating both lunch and dinner at the five-star hotel I was staying at. was staying. So I chose to have dinner and of course the free breakfast at the hotel.
The next day I went to a restaurant to buy a meal for lunch that would later cost me $16. When I got there I greeted the waiter “good afternoon” and she replied with “huh?” I immediately realized that she did not understand English. I beckoned Emmanuel, the driver who took me and someone else there, to come to our aid immediately. It wasn’t like his English was fluent too, but after a lot of descriptions and hand gestures, we finally got a combination of rice, mashed unripe plantain, potato, something akin to pepper soup, and a raw habanero pepper. I had no idea what to do with the pepper. Emmanuel said the food is one of their best delicacies. I certainly didn’t share that idea.
Still on the food front, as a Yoruba girl, I wondered why Rwandans don’t like spices in their meals. You barely tasted pepper in their meals but as if they knew about Nigerian love for spicy food they always had a bottle of chilli sauce ready for us in the hotel restaurant.
Even during my visit to the popular KFC restaurant, the clerk had asked if I wanted my chicken spicy and I had replied in the affirmative. She didn’t need a fortune teller to tell her I was from Nigeria, but she asked anyway. When I said yes, she told me that in Rwanda they usually say that if a pregnant woman eats pepper, the child ends up having no eyebrows or hair in the front.
Though small, with a population of 12.95 million people according to the World Bank, and living on 26,338 square kilometers, Rwanda is truly a beautiful and serene place. During the tour, the guide also said that from the airport one can be anywhere in Rwanda within a day.
He also said there is free wifi in bus parking areas. So while people are waiting for buses, they can use the free wifi. Who doesn’t love free WiFi?
While there are bus parking areas/stations in Kigali, there are also bicycle docks to encourage the use of bicycles for transportation. What the residents have to do is download an application that allows them to choose their bike of choice, pay online and after payment, a key is generated to unlock the bike. GPS is installed on all bicycles, so that residents only have to return the bicycle to the nearest docking center after the ride. To make riding safer as well, lanes have been created especially for the riders on the road, called cycle paths.
Later I would also learn that Rwanda is called “The Land of Thousand Hills”. This is due to the hilly and mountainous character which I think words are not enough to capture. In addition to the lush greenery, the hills and mountains enhance the physical beauty of the country.
Just as the eagle represents the pride of Nigeria, the mountain gorillas are also of great significance to Rwanda, and they do not hide this fact. There are pictures and banners of gorillas everywhere. Apparently, mountain gorillas are an endangered species that only occurs in the border areas between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). However, Rwanda is leading the way by retaining the largest population of these mountain gorillas, all accustomed to the Volcanoes National Park.
According to a report by the African Wildlife Foundation, between 2006 and 2013, Rwanda received more than a million visitors, generating $75 million in tourist revenue from its national parks during that time alone, and 85 percent of this income comes from trekkers who come to see some of the country’s 500 gorillas. However, I was not able to visit these gorillas.
There are other fascinating things about Rwanda; the constant electricity, the obvious unpopulated air. Although only an hour ahead of Nigeria (GMT +2), the weather is very different. It’s a bit chilly, especially at night.
As the popular saying goes, all work and no play makes a person boring. Going to another country was a getaway I didn’t know I needed. It was a valuable experience for me and yes, I would certainly like to visit the land of a thousand hills again.
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