So, a good opportunity to do a blog post having decided to spend the weekend in Kigali. A friend of mine, in the UK, asked me why I don’t update my blog as often as I did. I guess, having been in Rwanda for three years, my musings or observations of life here become more of a way of life and living in Kigali, for the last year, my experiences of those early months in Cyangugu are very different.
What I continue to observe in the city is the pace of development. As we are now into the hot, dry season and with it not only comes the heat but also the dust (and smell of fresh tarmac) added to by the construction of new roads, roundabouts and pavements as the pace of building is being driven by the opening of the new Kigali Convention Centre in time for the African Union Summit on 10th July.
|This corner of Kacyiru is now unrecognisable|
Each morning, on my regular walk, I notice the women employed to sweep the roads. As there is no litter, they just seem to be sweeping the dust that seems a rather pointless exercise as it is soon replaced by more dust. They take some risk as they often stand in the road with heavy traffic coming past. I wonder how long it will be before their job is taken over by a vehicle that will come and sweep the roads as we have in the UK.
An army of workers is now finishing the roads, installing pavements and cycle tracks building retaining walls, rain water channels, planting trees, laying turf, installing lamp posts, painting the kerbside stones etc.
Noticeable has been the lack of health and safety with pedestrians seemingly ignoring ‘No Entry’ or Road Closed’ signs – Rwandans like their shortcuts even it this means clambering over ditches, avoiding cables and large diggers. Even freshly laid cement on the pavements has footprints on it!
|A Rwandan short cut!|
Much of this work is taking place just up the road from Solace and it was interesting to see that over one weekend two new, large roundabouts appeared. So, for those driving home on a Friday evening they would have experienced a completely new road layout on their journey to work on Monday morning.
|One of two new roundabouts|
These new roads and roundabouts are all part of the new Kigali Convention Centre that has slowly been unveiled to reveal beautifully designed buildings by German architect Roland Dieterle. The dome structure of the convention centre is based on the Rwandese tradition of having round buildings such as the King’s Palace in Nyanza. At night it looks even more beautiful lit up in many different colours including the national colours of Rwanda – green, blue and yellow. The new hotel next door with its colourful façade is based on the bright colours found in Rwanda and particularly the traditional clothes the ladies wear here.
|And by night|
To have such a major project be finished and opened before such an important event must be putting so much pressure on everyone as something of this scale would normally require a soft opening. Time to settle in the staff, iron out any hitches/snaggings but I am sure, like the recent World Economic Forum, Rwanda will rise to the challenge and it will be a success.
These major events certainly give Rwanda a great opportunity to put itself on the map for international meetings but perception change is still needed to bring more people here. I am often asked, when I am back in the UK, “is Rwanda safe?” It is probably the safest, cleanest and most secure country in Africa with so much to offer the visitor not only here in the city but around the country. Rwanda tourism are running a very good campaign called “Remarkable Rwanda” and I hope they can push this more overseas and highlight all the things that people may not know about the country. There is so much more than the genocide and the gorillas.
In admiring these new beautiful buildings and often (OK very often!) finding myself in cafes where the décor easily matches anything I have in my home town of Lewes – known for its many coffee shops, I often think of the contrast of life here in the city and life outside. In planning a visit for a church team from the UK next year, I was sent a photograph of a house that is currently a home for a lady and her children in Cyangugu – the team will build a new house for her when they come. Perhaps, not to the same scale to the ones being built here in Kigali but nonetheless an improvement on what she has at the moment.
|Kigali or Lewes?|
|A sharp contrast to Kigali|
A couple of weeks ago, we were summoned by the Mayor of Kigali to attend a meeting at the local district office. A call at 11am asking us to be present at 1pm for a meeting with the Mayor, District Officials and Heads of Security to discuss security for the forthcoming African Union Summit. At 1pm, myself, Jean-Luc and Betty turned up to be faced with a rather empty room and some frantic phone calls being made to remind people to come – we were awarded brownie points as three of us from Solace turned up. The Mayor, very apologetic, turned up an hour later and the meeting commenced. Rwandans have a great capacity to sit and patiently wait and something that I can now manage as well – I have learnt to zone out!
|What time is the meeting due to start?|
Talk at this meeting was around making sure we were aware of guests we had staying in the hotels and guesthouses including any “extra guests” we may have. It took me a while to clock what was meant by “extra ladies” and realized they meant special lady guests – something else that is on the increase here in the city.
Today, Liberation Day, marks the day the RPF liberated Kigali in 1994 and started to bring to an end the genocide. It also brings to an end the official 100 days or memorial and commemoration – a sad and reflective time for so many.
I am still very much aware of the challenges facing many people here. I have come across a man here in Kigali who struggles to find work and I know life is pretty tough for him. I have discovered that he has a gift as an artist and produces some very nice small drawings and watercolours. To support and encourage him, I have commissioned him to produce a series of six small painting on Rwandan life and culture. I hope to have these produced into a series of cards and maybe sell some of his work. I have come to realise, the hard way, it is so much better here to try and create opportunity for people rather than just give them money.
I have noticed, sadly, an increase in beggars, street-children and hawkers on the streets trying to sell me anything from maps, watches, belts, magazines and postcards. The ones around Solace have got to know me now so rather than try and sell me something I don’t want, we exchange greetings and a wave. It really is difficult to know how to respond in these situations as the government do not want to encourage begging and, I guess, like so many situations like this you need to deal with the root cause of the problem.
Looking ahead, we have about to have a couple of busy months at Solace with teams and visitors coming from the USA, the UK (including members of the Conservative Party) and a team of 50 students from Israel. I am currently planning three church teams to come out in January & February next year – almost six weeks of back-to-back visits with most time spent in Cyangugu so it will be good to spend some time down there again.
After three years in Rwanda, I have now made the decision to return to live in the UK. I intend to finish here at Solace in September and take some time to travel in Rwanda, visit Uganda to attend a conference in Kampala in October before returning home for the months of November and December for Christmas and to celebrate a big birthday. I will then return to Rwanda after Christmas to be here for the teams and then, finally, head back to the UK early in March. With the result of Brexit, I was beginning to think that applying for Rwandan citizenship was looking to be an attractive option!
I realise that I can be now more effective supporting Rwanda from the UK. I want to explore the possibility of bringing more church teams out here as I believe in the transformational experience it offers people who come and the people they come to serve here. The experience of being here for three years has really helped to increase my knowledge and understanding of the country, the people, their faith and the culture and traditions that are so deeply rooted here. I really want to be able to share all this with people who come to visit.
Rwanda and its people are very much in my heart and I know that it will not be possible to say goodbye and not continue to support them in some way. It has been an amazing time being here and at no time have I regretted coming here to live and work. I have had so many wonderful experiences, been blessed by so many and changed in a way that I have yet, I think, to fully recognise.