April 25, 2006

A drive through Rwanda

We quickly drive to the Rwandese border and walk to the other side, where two cars are waiting for us. We immediately start our three-hour drive from the Rwandese border town of Gisenyi to the capital Kigali. It is an incredibly pleasant drive and I already feel my tense back-muscles relax. Though we only drive for three hours, we cover a distance of 250 km, more than half of the country’s width. I chuckle recalling my trips in the DRC where we cover 250km in 8 hours at best (two days during the rainy season). Rwanda has splendid roads that meander and twist around hills.

The country is essentially made of large hills, one rising up after the other. It is called “Le pays des Mille Collines” (“the land of the thousand hills”). Due to overcrowding, almost every square inch of land is cultivated. It resembles Peru or even Madagascar, with its stratified agricultural beds. The richer soils reside in the valley while the nutrient poor ones are on top of the hills. The water often washes crops away and strips the top soil of nutrients essential for growing crops. The poorer families own the lands on top of the hill. In addition to having to hike up the hills everyday to harvest their land, they also have poorer soil to work with.

I see loads of vibrantly orange carrots, neat cabbage mounds and bean sprouts attached to man-made tripods. There are cows in pastures! I feel like Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music, when she rushes up those green hills, twirling and breathing the fresh mountain air. Except in my fantasy, I sing off-key. I spend the first few days asking the hotel staff if this is really Rwandese-made cheddar, goat cheese, milk, strawberry/passion fruit and mango fruit juices and get strange looks from the vendors (side note: I stay in the famous Hotel des Milles Collines, otherwise known as Hotel Rwanda).

They say the Rwandese are cold, but I find them rather reserved and shy. It's pleasant not to have to make conversation for a change.


TheMalau said...

As I said before, lady D, I didn't pin you for someone who would mind making conversation. Tout le monde peut se tromper, n'est ce pas :).

Anyway, that was a priceless image of Rwanda's hills. I believe you know that I lived 4 years in Rwanda in my childhood. The main video store was at the Milles Collines (at the time, Rwanda did not have its own TV station). It has been a while (12 years), and I have been told Kigali has grown even more modern and pretty than it was then (one may wonder about where the construction money came from, but that's another story). But even then it was neat, and pristine. And the biggest contrast was at the Gisenyi/Goma border. As soon as one crossed from Gisenyi, to my beloved country, one could feel the first pothole, and could see the first torn flag on the border station... Oh, and in Goma hotels at the time, we had electricity only from 6PM to 12PM... If you are still there, you should go visit the other Hotel in the movie, the Diplomats (which is now Inter-Continental), and go to the top of the Rebero hill to see all of Kigali. And if you have time, go to Kibuye, you will never regret it!

I reminisce, and tear-up... By the way, you are so right about that sounds of music comparison! And Rwandans - and East Africans - are reserved; but they just "seem" shy. Enjoy!

Steve in Wisconsin said...

Hey, "Hotel Rwanda" - I just watched that two nights ago. Although the movie is tragic it shows the impact that one person can have in the larger scheme of things.
Nice to know that the Hotel des Milles Collines is a real hotel - wasn't sure until now.

Beaver said...

What a wonderful description :) So sad to think such a beautiful scenery saw such terrible events.

Have the best time. If you go into the office in Kigali, say hello to Joe and Moses for me !

Much love,


P.S. Sorry I haven't updated/commented too much recently - I've been busy with David and work. Will post some news soon.

Anonymous said...

Wow, after all the news about Rwanda, it's strange to hear it's such a nice country, with a great road network!!
Do you feel there are still tensions?