Monday, August 15, 2016

August 13: Arrival and exploration in Kigali

Arriving at the airport last night, I was enveloped by the soft warm air; a feeling of gentleness as soon as I stepped off the plane. As we drove to the hotel, the first smells I noted were the fragrances of wood smoke and charcoal fires.
The hotel is small (16 rooms) and the staff are helpful and quiet. The rooms have 12-foot ceilings and the wardrobe scents the room with cedar.

During the course of the day I have heard Rwandan, English and French. It is a joy to be in a trilingual society - I get a little thrill hearing the interplay of languages and how the conversations can switch language from sentence to sentence.

I listened to the 'dawn chorus' in a drowsy state this morning and was jolted awake with an unfamiliar undulating bird call. "Oh! I'm in Africa!"

The team went to the former presidential palace. A guide showed us around and explained some of the history. Team leader Michael had been filling us in on Rwandan history in the bus ride to the palace (which took longer than expected as we went through a security check and disembarked the bus while a dog sniffed all our back packs). The grounds were clearly designed to impress, and even in this dry season with the greens turned brown and the buildings needing refurbishing, there was a feeling of spaciousness and prestige.

One of the events of the genocide that has been allowed to remain as a reminder is the crashed presidential plane. The genocide started when the plane was shot down. It landed right in his garden, next to his presidential palace!  A garden wall has been built around a large space that has the remaining (aging) plane wreckage, left where it came down. Crested cranes wander the garden. They are being rehabilitated from domestic ownership and, if able, are released back into the wild in Akagera National Park. We heard stories of plots, of subterfuge and saw the security measures of a leader afraid of assassination in his own home. While the place is calm now, the history of malice lingers.

Kigali is wonderful to drive around in. Correction, it is wonderful to be driven around in Kigali: the roads flow up and down and curve around. Well paved, clean swept, with no trash anywhere, it is cleaner than any of the cities we team members live in. Lots of people are walking - it is a common way to get around. Motorcycles weave in and out of lanes, ignoring lane boundaries, or hug the right hand side of a lane so that a car and a motorcycle share a lane.

We had a local lunch in a tiki-style restaurant, and then a Congolese dinner. Rice, fish, chicken, cassava leaves (akin to spinach), cassava buns (big soft gooey staple), cooked vegetables, sweet grilled plantain, boiled bananas (I thought I was eating potatoes) - all tasty.

The team visited the local 'boys' (young men, really) who are going to be working with us on the building project. They told some of their stories. We're looking forward to getting to know them better during the project.

Luinda Bleackley, 
DWC team member
Rwanda, August 2016

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