Georgia, our Director of Expeditions and Programmes, reports on her epic recce of a little known African gem:
WHAT. A. PLACE. I cannot speak more highly about it, Rwanda was absolutely amazing; beautiful, friendly, safe, easy to get around, clean and simply spectacular. Rwanda has so much more to offer than gorillas (and at a whopping $1,500 per person for a permit this is a very good thing!).
I went canoeing on the Mukungwa River and drifted gently downstream surrounded by marshland, bird life and people working the land. I kayaked on Lake Kivu with the DRC to my left and witnessed traditional fishing vessels setting out at dusk singing as they went. I went chimp tracking and stood in a clearing watching chimpanzee, mona monkeys and baboons all in one place. I walked on the new and very high rain-forest canopy walkway in Nyungwe National Park. (There are many other national parks too with a chance to see zebra, elephant, rhino, giraffe, croc, hippo and leopard among others.) I rode a mountain bike through rural villages witnessing day to day life and saying ‘maramutse’ (good morning) and ‘amakuru’ (how are you) to those I passed – always greeted with a huge smile and a delighted reply of ‘ni meza’ (I’m fine). I sat and listened to a choir rehearse in a field, fully kitted out with microphones, speakers, electric guitar and keyboard.
I was blown away by the epic transformation that has taken place since the genocide in ’94. It really is remarkable. I think this is definitely part of what makes it so amazing – the people are so kind and hospitable. Begging is illegal as is street vendor hawking – so it’s incredibly different to a typical African country where you get people selling their wares at every road intersection. But you don’t miss anything for the lack of that. The Rwandan culture is to have humility and not share your poverty or needs with a visitor – they are your guest and you must provide for them.
They have a wonderful thing call Umuganda, which takes place on the last Saturday of every month. The entire nation must stop work and from 8am – 1pm they must go into their communities and give back. We left Kigali on Umuganda and the streets were deserted – we drove past people working together in their communities, digging, lifting, cleaning etc – all coming together for a common goal, one that had been decided upon within their respective communities. This is a very big part of their focus on forgiveness and working together and moving on from ’94. They know how bad things can be if communities break down.
I also paid my respects at the Genocide Memorial, which you can visit for free, and learned more about the horrors of ’94 – and more about the amazing character of Rwandans since the tragedy, which is so evident in the wonderfully warm welcome I had.