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Published: July 15th 2007
I have finally made it to Rwanda, The Land of a Thousand Hills. We flew in on Friday from the Arusha-Kilimanjaro airport on a twenty seater RwandanAir Express plane, and from the window, looking out over the country I already knew I would love it here.
On a quick side note: I had overheard the man in the aisle next to me mention that he was from Pasadena, so when he pulled out his maps of Tanzania and Rwanda I had to lean over and ask him where he had bought them. Surprise surprise, he had picked them up a couple weeks before at Distant Lands. We had a great laugh when I mentioned that I worked at the same store in Pasadena throughout the year. What a small world it is! Running into a customer on a tiny flight to Rwanda.
The hills, the vast amounts of nature and the people all make Rwanda one of the most interesting and beautiful places I have ever been. So, as you are reading this, please throw all of your preconceptions of Rwanda and it's daunting past out the window...because you would not believe yours eyes. Kigali is a bustling metropolitan city, booming in development and construction. The roads are immaculately paved, fountains ornate the middle of roundabouts, and flowers and trees lines the streets. Within a span of thirteen years Rwanda has done a one eighty and turned into a country working hard for development and peace. Although there are undoubtedly still tensions among people and problems in the government, I would say Kigali will soon be a match for any Western city. As we speak I am sitting at an internet cafe in a newly built mall with free wireless and an amazing coffee shop (the Rwandese owner used to work for Starbucks). Yesterday, one of the top Generals from the Rwandan Air force (more on that later) drove us to a country club filled with clay courts (yes Dad, they do have tennis in Africa) and a golf course in a neighborhood surrounded by mansions that could easily have been transported from Los Angeles. In a way, in Kigali I don't feel like I am in Africa, although my concept of Africa is being torn apart and now constantly changing. Africa can be a mud hut village, or a metropolitan city.
Yesterday was my first full day in Rwanda and we didn't stop of a second. Accompanied by Taea and Jayhan (two people we met in airport and ended up staying at the same motel as) we ventured into the city center to try and get Gorilla trekking permits and get some bearings on the city. At the bus stop people stared at us foreigners curious at my white skin and curly hair, but they do not yell "Muzungu" (white person in Swahili) as they do in Tanzania or Kenya. Just wide-eyed stares as we walk down the streets or try to get on a bus. We all managed to push our way onto a bus in the morning and go to the ORTPN (Rwanda Tourism Center). To my new friend Jayhan's dismay, we found out that all of the Gorilla Trekking permits are already booked for the next six months. They are in heavy demand and even at the $500 a pop price; tourists are snatching them up way in advance. It had originally been my plan to go up to the East and see the Gorillas, but I had originally budgeted last month's price of $375. In the last month the permits have gone up $125, equaling what could be an entire plane ticket to Zanzibar or a week's stay at a hotel. So, with no availability and limited funds, I have decided I will just have to come back sometime to go hang out with the gorillas. Let's hope it's before the permit prices go up to $1000.
In the center of the city we met up with Kelsey, an American volunteer for World Vision who had met David last week in Kenya. A few volunteers and aid workers who she knew were having a party so we decided to tag along for the free BBQ. The BBQ ended up being a Goodbye party for a person working at an NGO called Project San Francisco, dealing with HIV/AIDS prevention and education. The majority of the people at the party were American; there were a few random Marines, as well as a few Rwandese. It was interesting hearing everyone's reason for being in Rwanda; some were working for NGOs, others for USAID and the US embassy. It made me laugh telling everyone about our research project. People were interested and constantly questioning the way we were going to collect information. It made it sound real and official, instead of something I just dreamt up one night, but I guess that's how all things get started.
The highlight of the day came after the afternoon party when we met up with General Joseph (as I refer to him). The head of the Rwandan Airforce, he is incredibly humble and hospitable. We had previously met at the Rwandan Mission to the United Nations in April of 2006 and I had given him my word that I would visit Rwanda sometime soon. When he found out I kept my promise and was in Rwanda he insisted in meeting up for coffee and tea and helping us with our research in any way possible. So yesterday he took us to the Nyanmaratara Sports Club where we met his best friend who just happened to be the head of MacMillan Publishing. MacMillan Publishing is the main publishing company within Rwanda and manages all materials for the government, including any school curriculum. So Arthur, listened to us tell him about our project and eagerly agreed to give us the numbers of all of the contacts he has, including the head of the National Curriculum Development Center and many Historians within the country. He even agreed to email me a copy of the national social studies curriculum that they currently have in schools. So Tuesday we have meetings at the National Curriculum Center, which will undoubtedly give us more information for our research than we could have possibly hoped for.
We capped the night off with dinner at the Indian Khazana Restaurant in a beautiful residential neighborhood right outside the city center. The food was amazing, the conversation politically engaging and the company fantastic.
Today we will go to the Rwanda Genocide Memorial and be led on another tour by General Joseph. I am a little anxious to go to the Memorial Museum as the current impression I have of Rwanda is a peaceful one, but I think it will also allow me to understand all that I have read in the books and studied at school. I'll tell you all about it tomorrow.
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