Seeing Rwanda is not a holiday, it's a travelling experience.
Standing up on the seats of our 4x4, heads poking out of the roof, hair blowing in the wind, Rwanda passes by our eyes. Across the movie screen flows some of what must be the most incongruous scenery in Africa. Arguably, these images would be more at home on the slopes of Bali or the mountains of Swizerland...
Soon after leaving Kigali, an artist’s landscape of green terraces began to open up.
No space is left uncultivated.
Known as the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’, the whole of West and Central Rwanda is dissected by dramatically steep mountains interspersed with stunning blue lakes.
Once a landscape of montane rainforest, tea plantations and banana trees now dominate although a huge tract of this ancient forest is preserved in the Nyungwe Forest National Park.
We arrive at Kibuye, a small port on the edge of Lake Kivu. It is serene and beautiful. We have a late meal and go to bed.
The images experienced en route stick richly in my mind.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
It was one of those pinch yourself moments and I was happy to be in a space to appreciate it.
Elton John's 'Sad Songs' drifted through the hot air as I sat waiting to order my usual poached eggs in Kigali's landmark hotel.
There is a certain familiarity to arriving, tired off a flight, and being transferred straight to an international hotel.
The expatriate bubble.
The expatriate buzz.
A group of American businessmen sat, speaking too loud and too confidently to be real.
A couple of low key, spectacled women sit on the table beside me. I hear the words HIV, extending the project and vaccination and presume they are perhaps overworked, slightly cynical aid workers. They have an asexual air to them and I wonder whether doing such a good job for society has taken them away from the stoking of their own fire. My projection perhaps..?
Then, there is the smiling black guy who said hello to me in the lift the night before. I probably looked tired after Brussels Airlines' economy class. He offered to help me with my rucsac. I was taken by his kind eyes and warmth and wondered whether it is suffering that brings people to this state of openess....
How many breakfasts have I had like this? My mind ticks over them...
THE YAK & YETI HOTEL, KATHMANDU
I was tired and a little lonely after leaving my cousins in Bhutan.
THE OBEROI, NEW DELHI
I was a little nervous as I was part-responsible for making sure a group of 'top-end' journalists loved every minute of their tour in northern India.
THE TABLE BAY, CAPE TOWN
I remember that high feeling of being shown into a huge breakfast room that had a landscape view of Table Mountain with its wispy white 'table cloth'...
THE GHION HOTEL, ADDIS ABABA
Shabby and dull, the bread was stale. I was slightly daunted by the task that lay ahead. How was it going to be, travelling Ethiopia alone? The times you bite of slightly more than you can chew are often the most memorable..
This time it was HOTEL DES MILLES COLLINES. A famous hotel with a chilling history. During the 1994 genocide where over 1 million Tutsis were targeted and killed by their Hutus neighbours. The Milles Collines was one of the last havens of safety for Tutsis refugees before they were finally deserted by the UN troops.
My feeling this time around was undoubtedly one of anticipation.
Rwanda had first come to my attention in 1994 when the genocide was in the news. Then, five years later, I was offered a job there to teach English as a foreign language with VSO. We were to be the first ones in post-genocide.
In the same week came an opportunity to teach Geography in an international school in the Swiss Alps. The roof of the world. It was one of those sliding doors moments. The tiny village of Villars won, with its snowy peaks and lights twinkling on the valley floor as dusk settled.
I always wonder what would have happened if i'd gone to Rwanda...
Still, I have learnt that life often works in a spiral. Here I was again, faced with Rwanda, a few years later, in another form.
From teaching to tourism...