|Learning forgiveness in Kigali|
Sunday, 02 January 2011
By Elisha Mayallah People travel far and wide on different missions: Fun and adventure, exploration and discovery, business and trade, official, missionary, getaway and so on. But my trip to Kigali recently was more than official. I arrived in Kigali amid a sweeping early morning breeze, 50-minutes after we left Bujumbura International Airport. Having hauled the rest of my luggage off the carousel, I dragged it across the customs and immigration checkpoints. Kigali International Airport looked quiet, no hassle at all. Our flight, which was delayed in Bujumbura, landed safely. The landscape looked green and mountainous. Not wanting to travel to the capital alone, a co-passenger suggested that we share a taxi, an idea that I readily agreed. I sat quietly in the back seat while my newfound friend occupied the front. I adjusted to being in the ‘new’ Rwanda. The early sun and gentle breeze on my face caused my mind to wander in several directions as we drove. The smell of smoke stemming out of a thousand cooking fires was so familiar. The tarmac road connecting the airport and the city centre was lined up with people. There were women wrapped in various brightly coloured clothes. Sometimes a baby’s head could be seen visible on their back, men on bicycles, their cargo, well-filled jerry cans securely strapped on, or perhaps another brightly clad woman [Mugore in Kinyarwanda] and a babysitting sidesaddle on the back. It all looked extremely precarious to me! City of a thousand hills Well, this is Kigali, commonly known as the city of thousands hills, the capital city of the Rwanda. Once there, the scenery changed to a more surreal kind of lushness, lent by large buildings lining the view in the area. After nearly fifteen minutes drive from the Kigali International Airport I arrived at Okapi hotel, a modest structure owned by a local. I paid my fair share of the taxi charge and continued to the reception for check-in formalities. After sorting myself out on arrival I decided to hit the streets. Everywhere I looked there was something new, some signs of growth or rebirth, and many people I met were exceptionally friendly. The busy roads and energetic people going about their business lend the city centre a positive vibe seemingly at odds with the past. And, speaking to the locals gave me a sense that they are proud of their city. The highlight for me, however, was the opportunity to experience the real capital. You have to set off on foot downside streets and hidden lanes, said a receptionist at my hotel. "But how are you supposed to do this if you literally have no idea of where you are, where you are heading or what is where?" I queried. There are countless shopping opportunities, the markets, the handicrafts, the football stadium and the genocide memorial in Gisozi. The 'touts' friendly approached me, as I walked around, to board their minivans and so were the 'bodabodas' [motorcycles operating as taxis] The main shopping and commercial area is around the Hotel Mille Collines, with the central business district (CBD) on the neighbouring Kaciyiru hill. The Mille Collines in Kiyovu area became a refugee centre during the genocide, as famously depicted in the film Hotel Rwanda [although I was told that the hotel shown in the film is in South Africa] I wound up my wonderful time in Kigali after I had several discussions with the locals, and I learnt one important lesson - forgiveness. I learnt to forgive those who have grossly wronged me in any way. I learnt to forgive even if, at times, I would not comprehend the reasons for some unjust and unfair acts against me or those I care and love. Reconciliation and healing would not come to the Rwandese without genuine forgiveness, I was told. I prayed that their inspirations and strength could last longer. Certainly Kigali is a new destination for East Africans and its bound to grow its popularity.
MORE ABOUT KIGALI
It was founded in 1907 under German rule and has been the capital since 1962 when the country gained independence. Kigali was chosen to be the capital because of its more central location. Since then the city has grown quickly and now is the main political, economic and culture centre of Rwanda. Before my travel, I have to confess that my knowledge of Kigali was rudimentary at best with the 1994 Rwanda Genocide only. At night many people go out and socialise while the cafes, restaurants, drinking joints; fill up as the dark controls the night. Language: It is an African city now turning itself to English, but the echoes of its French past are seen everywhere. To get there: Daily flights from and to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) Nairobi and Entebbe, Uganda. Contact travel agents for a detailed flight frequency. Where to stay: Kigali has a wide range of good hotels in the City centre, ranging from $60 to $200 per person per night. Pre-booking is recommended through the travel agent or the hotel’s website. Important costs: Visitors are advised to budget properly for a visit to Kigali as it is relatively expensive.