Day 13 – July 20, 2017 – Kigali – Reflections on Africa

Since our flight home did not leave until 8:20 pm, we had the whole day to sleep in, get packed and organized and explore the city on our own.

We headed out of the hotel toward the downtown area, which was a 15-minute walk. We went to the Union Trade Center and the Kigali City Tower, the tallest building in Kigali. There was really no shopping other than electronics stores, little shops selling clothing and pharmacies. We felt very safe and just enjoyed being out on our own in the city. We stopped at a coffee shop and then headed back to the hotel to meet our driver.  He was going to take us to a craft market and then to see the poorer section of town.

On our way to the market, we got caught in a tremendous traffic jam, something out of the ordinary. It turns out that we were in the middle of a massive campaign effort for the sitting president, Paul Kagame, who is up for reelection in a few weeks. As I mentioned, there is no competition for his job; he has a lock on it and no opposition. So why was there the need to have this massive campaign? There were literally thousands of people walking the sidewalks with his face on their t-shirts and the political party on their hats. Rwanda is a democracy with 3 political parties, however inconsequential the other 2 may be. The campaigning is just a display for the world, as if to say, we are a democracy not a dictatorship, but in fact, it is all a show. That said, the people do love him and he has done well for the country. The Rwandan franc is much stronger than the shilling in their neighboring countries of Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. The main part of the city is much cleaner, there are beautiful homes and an abundance of food. While there is still poverty and the country is still grieving the genocide, there has been much progress and little corruption, which is the nemesis of many of their African neighbors.

Moreover, Rwanda is an extraordinarily beautiful country. The land is fertile and every inch is used for agriculture. The rolling hills, planted with so many varieties of vegetables, look like a picturesque patchwork.

Other reflections on Africa:

The women in all 3 countries we visited, and I suspect throughout Africa, dress in color. They universally wear wraps with large, bold prints on them; sometimes the wraps are worn as dresses, sometimes as skirts. They will add striped shirts or zip up sweatshirts on top. The rule is, there are no rules governing matching or coordination of colors and prints. The only time I have seen any kind of matching, is if they wear a headscarf. The headscarves, if worn, generally match their wraps. The women add color to the often dusty backdrops of the small towns and villages, although city women also wear traditional wraps.

Bicycle taxi’s: The bicycles in Kigali all have a large padded seat on the back to accommodate another person. There are hundreds of bicycle taxi’s giving cheap rides to people everywhere, even up and down the steepest hills. The women all have to ride side saddle due to the fact that they don’t wear pants. I once saw a woman on a bicycle taxi riding side saddle with a baby strapped to her back. That would not have ended well if the bicycle went down.

Boda bodas (motorcycles) are EVERYWHERE! Another cheap way to get around, and there are hundreds. We saw these in every country.

Transporting goods, food, supplies and materials: Because people have few options for transporting goods, it is common to see bicycle seats loaded with goods up to 5 feet high, being pushed where they need to go. You’ll also see donkeys loaded up as well as wheel barrows. For a single sack of food or supplies, you’ll most often see both men and women carrying that load on their heads. It is remarkable to watch how steady they are, walking uphill in some cases or with babies on their backs.

Street signs: other than downtown Kigali, we did not see street signs anywhere; definitely not in Uganda or Tanzania. It would be impossible for anyone other than a local to know where they’re going.

It is a shame that Tanzania has the level of poverty that it does. With the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, plus many other incredible national parks, tourism is one of the top 2 or 3 businesses in Tanzania. A lot of money comes into the country, but corruption at the highest levels of government thwart any forward progress for the country.

Uganda is the same, but the people are even poorer and the situation more dire. Corruption in government and throughout the country make any real progress impossible. The clinics that are treating HIV patients, receive a 3-month supply of antiretroviral meds that are really enough for 1 month. More education, better hygiene, more follow up care, more help with family planning (Samantha injected women with birth control implants) and more supplies would be the first steps in relieving some of the sickness that plagues the poor people of Uganda.

This was truly the adventure of a lifetime. We experienced Africa on the most personal level at the orphanage in Uganda and the genocide museum in Rwanda. We saw the power and majesty that lives in the Serengeti, Ngorongoro and the jungles of Rwanda. We climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. We met fantastic guides that educated us in so many ways on life in Africa. So, Assante sana – thank you Africa! We hope to come back someday.


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