The Kigali Account

By on August 1, 2016

When I was much younger, it was something of a fact finding mission and enemy status assessment of sorts whenever one paid their friend a visit. Any chance to walk into a friend’s home was an opportunity to weigh up their status, the furniture they owned, the meals they had and the size of their TV screen. Wealth contests were a common scene for kids back in the 90s.

As a fella whose family emerged from humble beginnings, I was quite often the umpire during these wealth contests. There was no way I was getting dragged into a wealth contest when my dad drove an old 1980 Suzuki Jimny LJ80 to work and my mum kept reminding us that if we did not finish our food at dinner, it would be kept for us to finish the next day.

I was more of an observer during the wealth contests.

Quite recently, a wonderful friend in Rwanda, Usher, invited two friends (Raymond & Olive) and myself to pay her a visit in Kigali. Unlike the visits to neighbours in my younger days, this one was not a wealth contest. It wasn’t one of those visits where I would be comparing the curtains, TV screen, cutlery or carpet type. It was simply a time to get away from the usual madness of Kampala and into the much talked about calmness and serenity of Kigali.

If Ray, Olive and myself had been told that people from Rwanda are mostly calm, composed and extremely laid back, we discovered within moments of boarding the bus to Kigali that it was a lie; a dirty fib designed to shock unsuspecting visitors to Kigali with the strange realization that there are people from Rwanda who are louder and more aggressive than a wounded Tasmanian devil. Ray and Olee had been to Kigali before, I hadn’t. So while they kept grinning and shaking their heads at the noise in the bus, I was simply left open eyed and speechless.

The guy who sat next to me in the bus was involved in a heated argument with another guy four seats away and the two of them seemed to have ganged up against the driver who was throwing back lengthy incomprehensible words in Kinyarwanda from the front of the bus. A few fellas in the back picked interest in the conversation and occasionally weighed in with equally heavy words in Kinyarwanda. Basically, the entire journey from Kampala was one long loud lesson – not all Rwandans are laid back.

By the time we got to the border, I had gotten my fair share of crush program Kinyarwanda tutoring and even as we started weaving through the hills and valleys towards Kigali, I was confident I was ready for Kigali.

Whenever I go to a place outside Uganda for the first time, there are numerous questions I am keen to ask. How do these people treat visitors? Does anyone here speak my language? Do the cops here also take bribes? Do people wake up in the morning to complain about their government? Do their bars have award winning happy hour menus? What makes these people proud of their country? And most importantly, does their pork taste as good as our award winning Ugandan Pork?

The challenge was to have all these answered in as little time as possible.

When Ray, Olee and myself arrived, we went to our hostess’ place to drop our luggage, get in a few hours of sleep and head out into the beautiful city of Kigali – to begin discovering.

To understand any place, I like to think that the music, food and nightlife are three important things that one must experience. And that is precisely what my friends and I set out to do. Before we could even plan an itinerary, we were whisked off by some friends Allan, Arnold and Patricia,  to a famous place known as Car Wash where there was more merrymaking and ordering of goat’s meat than actual car washing. Safe to say that while Kenyans are the kings of Nyama Choma, Car wash in Kigali is most likely one of the finest Nyama Choma places I have been to.

NyamaThe past tense of a goat

When you visit Kigali and there are loads of your friends there, it is likely each of them will have recommendations for where you should go and what you should do. Some might even bundle you (with or without your permission) into their cars to take you to their favourite place just so you can experience their beautiful city. We turned out to be Guinea pigs of sorts – and none of us complained, we were loving it.

FriendsEdmund, Ivan, Jo, Ray and yours truly at one of the joints in Kigali

A quick visit to another friend’s local joint Kosmic, revealed that Rwandans will go to extra lengths to make you feel at home. The entire night we were at this joint, the DJ kept playing Ugandan music and pointing in our direction. It appears someone had tipped him off that some Ugandan fun loving hooligans were in the area and so he worked overtime to make us feel at home. The gorgeous bummy lady at the counter was twice as nice to us – or was it the beer; I can’t remember well.

By the time we retired to rest at some ungodly hour, it was clear that the distance between Kigali and Kampala was almost non-existent, we felt at home – at the neighbours.

Sundays in Kigali are very peaceful days. The tranquility and serenity that comes with gallivanting in a city where pedestrians, motor cyclists and car drivers seem to speak one language of respect is something that is second to none. Having come from Kampala where your survival on the road almost depends on how much you can inconvenience another road user, moving around Kigali gives one the feeling that perhaps the human race did fully evolve.

I did wonder though how these folks in Kigali survived in a world where people drive on the right.

Such confusion!

Ray and Olee were on several occasions caught looking the wrong side of the road while at the Zebra Crossing – something that we were told was typical of foreigners.

BodaGallivanting in the streets of Kigali with Ray and Olee

Kigali is generally one big ball of calmness and togetherness. I figured this was because every short distance or so, security patrolled the streets and therefore there was no chance that pick pockets, street preachers, beggars and trouble causers would have room to ply their trade.

There is a general sense of accord and unison it is almost scary. Whether or not this behaviour is worn like a dress when visitors arrive and then shredded when they depart is something I am yet to discover but from the look of things, the folks in Kigali prefer to stay in good books with one another than go on the offensive.

Amongst all the places I visited, there was a general sense of politeness and civility it was simply shocking especially after what I had experienced on the bus ride to Kigali. There was something similar about all the people I interacted with at the different places I went to. The lady who ushered me in at KC Gents in Kicukiro where I had gone for a massage, the fella at Masters Grill who wondered why I preferred to drink straight from the bottle and not pour my beer in a glass, the waiter at Simba Café who insisted that they had the fastest Wifi in Kigali, the DJ at Kosmic who decided to play just Ugandan music because the hoodlums were in the area, the gorgeous waitress at Masters Lounge and Restaurant who kept going back and forth just to find the right glass for my drink, the manager at Caymans who was shocked that I understood the Blues Playlist; all these people had one thing in common – they seemed happy.

I have always thought that Ugandans are happy people and we are a very welcoming lot. And indeed we are. But these Rwandan people give us a run for our money. If people in Kigali have problems of their own, they do a good job not carrying them around on their faces.

One might be wondering why there is no mention of the famous gorgeousness of the women in Kigali or the much talked about clean streets or even the numerous breakthrough projects that the country is undertaking. Well, as I mentioned earlier, this little visit was not for me to compare curtains and chairs but rather to just sit back, relax and enjoy the sitting room set up at the neighbours.

I have already planned to visit Kigali again, this time to do some research on the gorgeous bummy babes who are much talked about across the whole of East Africa.

IMG_20160726_174010One last Kigali sunset … 

“Good neighbors always spy on you to make sure you are doing well.” ― Pawan Mishra, Coinman: An Untold Conspiracy

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