Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hotel Des Milles Collines

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...

I was tired and a little lonely after leaving my cousins in Bhutan.

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.

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'...

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...


  1. Hi Lou,
    What an amazing post !
    You should write a book on all your travels. I empathise with the all the expat feelings and shifting from plane to hotel. The story about you almost going to Rwanda gives me a chill. I hope you enjoy your stay and the pool looks very inviting.
    If you want to have a peek at my blog is Blue Eyed Ennis at

  2. Welcome back! Missed you! xxx

  3. Thank you Phil! I'm checking out your blog now... Lou