I have long desired to visit Rwanda. It wasn’t clear if this trip would afford the proper circumstances for a visit or if it would be too far out of the way. Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, requires a ten hour bus ride from Kampala and since there isn’t much public transport back to Kenya through Tanzania around the South of Lake Victoria, you have to bus back to Kampala again before heading East into Kenya. When I decided to go gorilla trekking, however, I realized that I would be taking a bus most of the way to Kigali by reaching my stop in Southwest Uganda.
The next question was, what would I do there? Besides adding to my country count and experiencing a new place, would there be some redeeming value to the additional time and expenses that I would incur? While reading through my Lonely planet travel guide, I noticed with surprise that under their accommodations for Kigali they featured a guesthouse run by a Christian ministry. Solace Ministries, it said, used the funds raised by the guesthouse to purchase the ARVs, AIDS medication, for women who had been raped during the genocide. Realizing that this was exactly the kind of ministry that I have been looking for to support in East Africa, it was settled and I had to go.
My initial foray into Kigali was quite challenging. Finding my way around with boda boda drivers, or moto taxis as they are called in Rwanda, was more difficult than expected because most of them spoke very little English. Since Rwanda was colonized by the Belgians, it is far more common for Rwandans to speak French than English. This is likely to change in the future, however, because there is a growing push to learn English instead. I explained to one moto-taxi driver that I wanted to go to Union Trade Centre. When he said that he didn’t know where it was, I found this unbelievable because it is the major shopping mall in Kigali. We began to drive in the general direction and when I saw the place in the distance I pointed it out to him. When he stopped he made a special point of correcting me so that I would know for next time that this place was called UTC. I guess the idea that UTC might stand for something hadn’t occurred to him.
It didn’t help that Lonely Planet’s most recent information was already incorrect on several key issues. The guesthouse where I planned to stay was twice the price. All of the landline phone numbers listed no longer work because apparently there are some major changes to telecommunications underway. The recommended restaurant that my moto-taxi driver couldn’t find to save his life, actually moved recently. When I was tired of driving in circles, I just paid him and walked off to find it myself. A Rwandan offered to walk me there. I told him that he could come along if he wanted but I was going to pay him. He said that all he wanted was a soda. When I ordered a lunch buffet at plan B, a place called “Downtown, he was right there behind me grabbing a plate as well. Finding life far more expensive in Rwanda than I had anticipated, I headed over to the Banque di Kigali to get a cash advance. The ATMs in the city do not currently process foreign check cards. Despite the rocky start, however, my short stay in Rwanda was to prove very rewarding.