Rwanda at a Glance!
Rwanda is a country of two faces. One side characterized by violence, terror and genocide, the other by compassion, respect, and patriotism. I experienced the latter. The aftermath of a terrible tragedy but the response of a strong, unified nation.
Crossing the border from Uganda to Rwanda, the differences were immediate.
First, they wore helmets! Halleluiah! Brightly colored red and hunter green orbs weaved cautiously in and out of traffic, obeying traffic lights and, be still my heart, adhering to traffic lanes! Helmets are mandatory in Rwanda for not only boda boda (motorcycle taxi) drivers but also their passengers. No helmet lands you a hefty fine and almost immediate confiscation of your motorcycle. And when it comes to maximum occupancy, two is it! The 3-person Uganda boda squish is not allowed nor are large pieces of shifty baggage draped precariously over the handlebars. I felt safer just looking at them. Too bad my leg didn’t. How I managed to burn my calf on the muffler of the safest bodas in Africa is still beyond me! Ouch!
Another unexpected difference was language. Parlez-vous Français “Huh? No, I don’t parlez-vous, do you?” Once occupied by thousands of French soldiers and dignitaries, the need for a common language emerged. French was taught in schools and considered the necessary language for economic success. Of course, many Rwandans (especially in rural Rwanda) still do not speak French,
relying on their traditional Rwandan tongue, but for those who do parlez-vous, it is a dying tongue. In an attempt to merge with the rest of the business world, Rwanda has recently introduced English as their primary language. Beginning in the primary schools, the process will not be overnight, aiding in the presidents goals for a healthy and prosperous Rwanda.
When it comes to price tags, Rwanda is noticeably more expensive then Uganda. A level gaged by my personal “SCB System” (Sleep, Coffee, Boda). An average nights budget accommodation, “S”, rounded out between 10-15 USD, whereas Uganda fluctuated between 4-8 USD. When it came to coffee “C”, my morning fix no matter what country I’m in, Rwanda charged a hefty 4 USD for a cappuccino while Uganda asked for 2 USD. And the final gage, “B”, were Boda prices. I could get all around Kampala’s CBD, Uganda’s capital city, twice for around 2 USD, a price doubled if not tripled to travel around Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. All that being said, my “SCB” gage fails to factor in the honesty meter. Rwandans appear more honest in their white person pricing, due to traffic coordinators and police officers scrutinizing their rates before departure.
As for safety, I never once felt threatened or in danger. Rwandans have a different agenda in life and mugging a mzungu tourist doesn’t seem to be one of them. Guess it doesn’t hurt having an armed soldier on practically every corner.
Cleanliness is another astonishing difference. Plastic bags have been all but banned in Rwanda (using paper or canvas backs) and every month, the entire country joins in a mandatory clean up day. No city is this effort more noticeable then in the capital, Kigali. You could practically eat off the pavement and drink from the gutters.
A final difference, one I still struggle to understand, is the national psyche and attitude. From vociferous and joyful Ugandans to conservative, quiet Rwandans, they couldn’t be more polar. Were they being arrogant, so much better then their neighboring countries, or were they stone faced in lou of the genocide ravishing their country not even 18 years prior? Maybe still they were more reserved simply by nature and upbringing? The first town I visited, Giseyni, had me convinced of the first notion but when I arrived in Kigali, the people could not have been more friendly and hospitable. Their calm demeanor emanated respect, not arrogance and their shy smiles shown a welcome air, not an unsolicited annoyance.
Kigali thankfully helped me retract my initial snapshot judgement. Rwandans are a proud, strong people and although they may not sing praises in the street and scream loud opinions on life, they are a unique and necessary micro-community among the more manic, East African nations.