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Trip Report 10 days in Uganda - My Experience

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My passion for Rwanda stems from its tragic history. Not that I was aware of the horrifying dimension back in 1994, but I realized that this was different to the many civil wars that Africa has been plagued with. The film "Hotel Rwanda" left an inerasable imprint in my heart. This was further deepened, when in 2009 I had the privilege to meet and talk to Mr. Paul Rusesabagina in Vienna. What puzzled me now was the question “How does a small country like Rwanda cope with the murder of 10% of its population within 100 days?” Of course the question couldn’t be answered during a two weeks visit, except a few glimpses.

To mention the words Hutu and Tutsi has become a taboo, and they have disappeared from identification cards. Sometimes remarks give away a bit of a person’s history. One I often heard was “I went to school in Uganda”. Only at the various memorials the guides address the genocide untainted but otherwise nobody ever talked to me about it, except Pierre, a Frenchman married to a Rwandan who I met in Gisenye.

Rwanda’s trademark is its “Mille Collines”. Add green and you understand why its thousand hills are a sight of its own. Tourism in Rwanda started in the late 1970s, when a few tourists came to trek the rare mountain gorillas. In the aftermath of the genocide, few tourists dared this traumatized country, but now they arrive in serious numbers. The gorillas are still the number one reason to come, but the Genocide Memorial in Kigali, the biggest of its kind in the country, has added another dimension.

Apart from these highlights, my personal ones were of many different kinds, like riding across the country on the backseat of a motorbike. Paul, an Australian I had met in Kigali, asked me to tag along and it topped all my expectations.

At Lake Kivu, with scenic Kibuye and Gisenye, it was very personal encounters that made my stay so very special. Even tiny villages will remind engraved in my mind because of the unique and pleasant experiences I was allowed to make. Travelling alone made me the center of the attention. The hardest thing was getting used to being looked at all the time, but people are overly friendly and helpful like everywhere in Africa.

Language-wise, it can be challenging: French is still the predominant foreign language, but English is catching up. In 2007, English replaced French in schools, a decision Nicolas Sarkozy did not take lightly. But it was a necessity to speed up Rwanda’s integration into the East African Community.

Rwanda is extremely organized, safe and very easy to travel. Zillions of punctual (!) busses crisscross the country. Short distances are covered by Moto, motorbike taxis. Except for public transport, Rwanda is not cheap, at least not for tourists!

Compared to other African countries, I found Rwandans extremely law-abiding and orderly. The president’s political conduct seems partly responsible. Paul Kagame runs a tight ship. He was the leader of the Rwandan Patrotic Front that ended the genocide and has led the country since then. What some find undemocratic and authoritarian, others justify as the only way to unite and to steer the country from its nightmare.

Rwanda’s 6% economic growth and tough anti-corruptions law has been noticed internationally, as were Kagame’s even bigger plans: in 2020, he sees Rwanda as the technology hub of East Africa. The speed and eagerness to advance makes this a realistic goal. Just to give one example, 40% of Rwandans own mobile phone, almost a national addiction. But those are much more than just phones. They are used for cash transfer, to check on commodity prices, consult a doctor and of course for taking photos of each other.

Rwanda is not only the country of thousand hills, but also of cities with two names. The explanation I got for was rather irrational. “The president ordered the slimming of the sprawling administration, fewer provinces & governors (fewer opponents) and in the midst of all these changes, the names of all cities were changed as well”.

To me Rwanda is special, different to all other African countries I have visited so far. Long before I went there, I had so many images, opinions and presumptions about its history, the genocide, politics, its unique gorillas, more than about any other country on this continent. I thought I knew what to expect.

Bang, and then nothing was like I had imagined it! The horror of the genocide hit me more than I could envision. But I also was stunned by the swift and successful rising from the ashes and the healing achieved so far. The beauty of thousands of green hills, my unforgettable encounters in the villages and, last but not least, my meeting with the nine members of the cuddly “Hirwa Family” added to make it a very special trip.

More information: http://www.oneyearoff.net/countries-visited/africa/rwanda/report/article/rwanda-summary/

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