Kigali – first impressions

Tree lined boulevards, undulating green hills dotted with red roofed buildings and the occasional steel and glass of modernity… Kigali is not what most of us would expect from an African capital.

The main roads are in better shape than most of those in Ireland; there is very little litter; traffic is busy but not crazy; and modern supermarkets, coffee shops and official buildings mark it out as a city on the up, for some at least.

Our first day in the city was spent getting our bearings, badly, due to tiredness and a congenital inability to read maps.

Our accommodation – Heaven, a restaurant with rooms that caters to the NGO crowd and wealthy locals – is very pleasant and centrally located, and we’re within walking distance of the main shopping area, embassies, churches and most of the governmental furniture of a state sometimes described as the Switzerland of Africa.

In two days wandering around, so far we have encountered perhaps three beggars, and street hawkers are polite and pleasantly lacking in persistence.

Yesterday during one of our walks in the wrong direction, we stopped at a shebeen straight out of 1950s Ireland; the front room of a lady in her 50s from which she sells drinks. We could see her kitchen through a curtain behind a makeshift counter.

On plastic chairs, three young men sat around drinking beer. One of them – Mary’s nephew, Alphonse – explained why he was there and not at work. Working on a Chinese construction site – “building the biggest hotel in Kigali, a big skyscraper!” – he had the day off for Chinese new year.

He asked what we were doing in Kigali – we told him to report on the progress of women in politics.

“Yes, we have gender in Rwanda,” he said proudly, listing off statistics on women in politics and describing how things had improved. Men who hit their wives, he said, will be given five years in prison.

Alphonse invited us to go to mass with him on Sunday, at St Michel cathedral.


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