Kampala to Kigali
14.01.2007 - 14.01.2007
13th – 15th January 2007
I setup my tent after midnight and had a short uncomfortable sleep. I woke up freezing in the middle of a thunderstorm; water was coming through the roof and I was surrounded by mud. I was not a happy puppy.
I ran into the bar for some food and warmth and overheard there was a bus leaving for Rwanda at 09:00. I had 40 minutes to pack up and get to the station. I acted impulsively (as always) and asked the staff to prepare my bill and arrange a taxi.
I thought to myself: Fuck the volunteering, fuck the job, and fuck worrying if Burundi will be safe or not. Just do it!
I shoved my tent into a plastic bag, mud and all, and hurried through the storm into the taxi.
The security guard wouldn’t let me out of the place as I couldn’t prove to him that I’d paid. I ran back through the mud, and frantically demanded a receipt.
All this rush would be in vain, as I ended up waiting all morning for the bus to arrive. It gave me time to find some Rwandan Francs and fill my stomach with chapattis and tea. I was stoked to find some memory cards for my camera.
On the bus, I met an elderly Scottish lady and young German man. She was heading for the Democratic Republic of Congo and he to small town in Rwanda. Neither of them knew or cared what Burundi was like, but the Scottish lady informed me that all DRC border posts were officially closed to tourists, due to fighting in Bukavu. She was an aid worker and could still get in and out of the Congo, but warned me not to go near the place.
Our Bus got a flat tire (I wasn’t that surprised), so I filled my chapattis with huge espetadas (giant cubes of succulent flesh) that were hopefully not bush meat. While waiting for the repairs to the wheel, I was told why the bus was late. It had needed a service in Kampala. I asked why it wasn’t serviced the day before and then I found out why the bus company was called ‘Regional’. This particular bus had traveled from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to Nairobi, Kenya, to Kampala, Uganda, non stop, and was heading to Kigali, Rwanda. Four countries, three days. I wondered how many other problems they had.
I was excited when we approached Kabale, the last Ugandan town before the Rwandan border. The colors in the roadside clothing markets were a wake up call for me, and bore a stark contrast to the dull grey gloomy skies.
The bus driver was really pushing it, and some of the passengers began complaining. They told me the border would close at 18:00 and we were only going to make it if the driver put foot. I looked at the map and calculated that he would have to maintain an average speed of 150km/h to get there on time. It wasn’t possible. We were stuck in Kabale for the night.
The bus driver pulled up in front of the New Standard Hotel and announced that we would be spending the night there and would leave promptly at 04:00. We were welcome to sleep on the bus, but he preferred us to stay in the hotel. Regional weren’t paying for the hotel, I was wide awake and had sat on too many bus seats over the previous six weeks.
I couldn’t find an internet café, but eventually found an old Indian man behind a computer screen in his video store.
He was trying to digitize VHS video footage that he had filmed at a local wedding. The quality was awful and when I showed him my ‘machine-that-plays-videos’, half the size of his VHS video tape, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
So I copied a movie to his PC and showed him, then I begged him to let me use his computer to type up my blog, and in exchange I would copy all of my 80 DivX DVD’s which were on my MPEG4 player. He agreed, much to the delight of his kids jumping up and down in excitement. I spent four hours typing away, until he wanted to go to bed at 23:00.
I hastily threw my things back in the bus, trying my utmost not to disturb the snoring passengers.
After playing (hustling) pool until 03:00, I found the bus door had been locked. I couldn’t wake everyone up, so I ended up strolling the empty streets, freezing my tits off in my shorts, vest and sandals! My only company was the odd homeless person tossing and turning under fertilizers bags to keep warm. As promised, at 04:00 we headed for the border. We had to be the first bus there, as more were on their way from Kampala and it would take much longer if we didn’t make it before them.
I was thrilled that there was no visa fee for South Africans!
The culture changed immediately on entering Rwanda, and I was instantly intrigued and excited. They drove left hand drive vehicles on the RHS of the road, and French was the only language I heard from the locals. For a change I could communicate fairly confidently, albeit slowly. I instantly fell in love with the country of ’le mille collines’ (a thousand hills). I couldn’t take enough pictures. It was a completely foreign world to me, like nothing I’d ever experienced. It had a French colonial history but was overwhelmingly African. All the hills were occupied by subsistence farmers.
Vivid scenes from Hotel Rwanda came flashing back to me, but there and then, I saw a tiny, peaceful, gorgeous country, covered in mist and filled with colour. The abundant rainfalls turned the hills into a lush green sponge.
The architecture of the houses dotting the roadside was a weird eclectic mix of European design and African chic. I pictured myself toiling the land and savouring my hard–labored produce of maize, cassava and legumes.
It was a Sunday and there were morning markets in all of the small towns we passed through. I thought there was a political uprising in Byumba, as there were thousands of people stretching all the way up the mountain side.
I met a Kenyan businessman on the bus and we shared a taxi to his friend’s hotel. We had lunch with the Ugandan/Rwandese owner and then tried to squeeze in a power nap, without much success.
I wanted to watch a movie but discovered to my horror that I’d left my MPEG4 player on the bus.
The owner found me a taxi and I was rushed to the station to try recover it. The bus had been taken to the depot, and I was shocked to discover my MPEG4, wrapped in newspaper, in the cleaner’s office. Theft was the furthest thing from his mind. I gave him a big hug and 5,000 Francs!
On the way back to the hotel, I treated him to 10 minutes of the Independence Day friendly football match between Uganda and Rwanda. The Mandela Stadium was recently built and the crowds inside were extremely obedient. I didn’t see any bad elements and the thousands of spectators were enjoying the game quietly. I wished the English Premiership and UEFA fans (hooligans) could take some lessons.
After enjoying the game I visited Kigali’s enormous Sunday Market where I found myself an exquisite double-sided bongo drum, completely covered in soft brown calf hide. It was almost the size of my backpack, and I didn’t care how I would get it home, I had to have it! I bought some quality 2nd hand clothing there too.
I was dropped back at the hotel where I entertained the already drunk guests. They were proud that I had recovered my MPEG4 and immediately attributed this to their safe, rehabilitated city. I had to agree with them.
Kigali didn’t look like a city that had taken a pounding 12 years earlier. I found it hard to imagine the terrors that unfolded during those 100 days of madness, in which hundreds of thousands of innocent Rwandans were bludgeoned to death. Dogs had to be shot en masse, as they had developed a taste for the dead and decaying bodies that littered the streets. The younger generation didn’t speak of the genocide, and if they were traumatized they hid it well. I asked several locals how to tell the difference between a Hutu and a Tutsi. Many of them had interbred by now, and even though there were features distinguishing the tribes (the Tutsis are tall and warrior like and the Hutus are small Bantus), they preferred to see themselves as all being ‘Rwandese’.
A group of locals at the Hotel warmed to me and we spoke for hours on history, politics, my adventures, journalism and business opportunities in Kigali. Pascale, the owner of the Hotel, insisted on accommodating me should I decide to make the move to Kigali.
They were dumbfounded as to how I knew more than them about their country and its history, but they did shed plenty of light on the current issues. I was let in on a secret that the UN were moving their African Head Quarters to Kigali and that it was voted one of the safest cities in the world.
One of them offered to involve me in his business, initially in Kenya, then moving west through Uganda and Rwanda. We brainstormed and came up with the idea of a chain of internet cafés, replete with patisseries, quality local coffee and IT sales and support. I told him I would seriously consider it, as my good friend David from Kenya had contacts in government (ambassadors and corrupt ministers) who would issue me with a journalism or work permit, no questions asked.
They invited me to a Nyama Choma spread, with goat, beef, chicken and plenty of Ugali. I didn’t enjoy it as much as they had hoped I would, as this type of food had become the norm for me in East Africa. I pretended it was my first time.
We continued until after 02:00, when it was just Pascale and his staff still awake. As I was about to say goodnight, a (fairly large) guest and his petit girlfriend appeared, itchy for a taste of the nightlife. Pascale drove us all in the hotel bus to the ‘KBC’ nightclub. Its actual name is Planet, but it’s situated across the road of the familiar landmark KBC bank, which helped direct people there. LP says “the club is filled with beautiful people and really goes off at weekends.” Pascale insisted on leaving David, his barman, as my chaperone. I tried explaining to him I was very capable of protecting myself, could communicate with the locals, and had just been through six countries in as many weeks without incident. He insisted, and the little kid didn’t last five minutes once we were inside. He had smuggled in two half jacks of potent Ugandan spirits and was bust topping up his mixer. The bouncers thought it was necessary for me to go outside and deal with him, even offering me alternative ‘security guards’ to replace the now legless David, who was notorious for his behavior. I sent him home, agreed with the staff that he was in the wrong, and everyone was happy. I was hustled at the pool table and accosted by pretty woman that were eyeing me out like vultures. I was a strange site, a blue and yellow beaded white South African with a strange French accent wearing a Sikh outfit! My nom de plume was Dahoodi. David somehow negotiated his way back into the club, and proceeded to irritate everyone.
It was soon time to catch my bus, and we hailed a taxi, headed back to the hotel and hurriedly threw everything into my backpack.
I was offloaded at the bus station at 05:30, amazingly still very alert after not having had any sleep for over 48 hours.