Rwanda and Southwestern Uganda (+ photos)

11 01 2010

The story of three Ugandans, two Brits, one Aussie, one Kiwi, one Canadian and an American’s trek to Rwanda and Southwestern Uganda. Click here to see photos.

Over the Christmas holiday, I embarked on a bus trip with eight strangers to visit Kigali, Rwanda and southwestern Uganda.  The trip began with a long trek west across the country. For those of you who have ever been to Valley Fair – imagine riding the old, rickety, white roller coaster for five days and you’ll understand what our trip was like.  Infrastructure in the developing world leaves much to be desired.  There are massive pot holes in all the roads, crazy drivers, no real traffic laws and the kind of bumps that make you physically brace yourself as you fly through the air.  Combine this with an incredibly early morning departure time for the bus trip and I began the trek wondering what I may have gotten myself into.  Luckily, the worry diminished quickly as it turned out to be a wonderful experience.

We arrived in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda in the early evening.  Immediately, we noticed how different Rwanda is from Uganda.  In Rwanda, the streets were paved, clean, safe and quiet.  Kigali felt more like a European city than any other place I’ve seen during my African journey thus far.  When I started talking about going to Rwanda, people said told me that it was developing at a quicker rate than Uganda.  This was hard to reconcile with the only other knowledge I had of Rwanda – that of the genocide only 15 years ago.  Yet, it is true.  Rwanda seems to be light years ahead of Uganda.  In many ways Kigali seemed to be a lot easier place to live than Kampala and almost left me wishing I had chosen to volunteer there as opposed to the grittiness of Kampala.

We were given a tour of the Kigali by a young guy named Tim.  Tim’s parents fled Rwanda after the massacre in the 1960’s.  Tim lived in Uganda until he was 6.   His parents chose to move back to Rwanda in August 1994, right after the genocide, as a sign of solidarity with their home country.

During our tour, we saw the real Hotel Rwanda (which is being renovated so we couldn’t go in) and stopped at two museums dedicated to the genocide: one a memorial by the Belgian government to 10 U.N. peacekeepers killed at the beginning of the genocide and the other the main museum called the Kigali Memorial center.   We were not allowed to take pictures inside at the official genocide museum so the pictures in the linked album are mostly from the Belgian tribute.

I highly recommend a visit to the Kigali Memorial Center – it is a well-done international museum which has three main exhibits: about the genocide in Rwanda; about other genocides in the world; and about the children of the Rwandan genocide.  The site also is home to 14 mass graves where 250,000 victims’ remains have been buried.  They are attempting to make a wall with the names of the victims, however so far they have only been able to identify about 2,000.  The genocide museum was understandably heavy.  It was so hard to understand how such a thing could have happened in our lifetimes, in such a beautiful city of hills by such normal looking people.

Rwanda has come a long way in short period of time – largely because of the guidance of a heavy handed government.  Rwanda is a democracy led by Paul Kagame, the leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), whose victory over the incumbent government in July 1994 effectively ended the Rwandan genocide.  Elections are held every seven years and presidents are limited to two terms in office (though we’ll see if that actually holds true).  Kagame is up for election in 2010 and everyone expects him to win handily.  The country has benefited from an influx of foreign aid, largely due to guilt from the international community who clearly did not do enough to prevent the genocide.

The way Tim describes it, Kagame and his government are like a parent being strict with their child.  They are doing it out of love and in the best interest of the child so therefore the strict treatment is sometimes warranted.  For example, one Saturday per month, all Rwandans are required to clean the streets.  This is enforced by neighborhood watch and there are financial penalties for non-participation.  I can certainly understand the need for structure and order after the chaos of the genocide and I by no means want to diminish Rwanda’s accomplishments in coming through that tragedy.  Still, there is a part of me that remains skeptical that this approach is sustainable long-term.  Eventually, the desire for free will, will prove a challenge for the almost dictator-style of democracy currently in place.

Also, as much as Rwanda has tried to put the genocide behind them (they’ve changed the country’s flag, it is illegal to ask if someone is a Hutu or a Tutsi now, etc.), there still seems to be a hauntedness to the city and its inhabitants.  Tim said that during the genocide, nothing was functioning – no stores were open, there was no school, nothing.  People were either hiding to avoid being killed or looking to kill someone.  It is only in the past four to five years that the roads have been built.  Now, while businesses have been opened and Kigali feels like a “normal” city, I still think the scars are a bit too fresh for everything to be as OK as they are trying to portray it to be.

After our time in Kigali, we started the journey back to Kampala however this time we did it in shorter stints.  We spent New Year’s Eve at Lake Bunyonyi – a gorgeous lake in the mountains along the Rwanda-Uganda border.  We spent a luxurious day lounging at a high point view of Lake Bunyonyi which you’ll see in the photos with the trampoline.

We then took a sunset cruise on Lake Bunyonyi and got some gorgeous pictures.  2010 was welcomed in on a dock with champagne, chocolate, a bunch of random internationals and African music in the background – definitely one of the best NYE ever.

The next morning, we got up bright and early and headed to Lake Mburo.  At Lake Mburo, we did a game drive and boat safari.  We saw zebras, gazelles, eagles, hippos, crocs, warthogs, water buffalo and a ton of birds.  There are a few good animal shots in this album so if that’s your thing, check ‘em out.

Last stop on our trip was the sign at the Equator in Uganda – we made it more fun than it actually is as you’ll see from our photos (it is literally just a sign on the side of the road).

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4 responses

11 01 2010
Kristin

Your photos are amazing – the pictures of Lake Bunyonyi are beautiful. Also, I am very happy that you did go on a safari. Was it cool? Or were you underwhelmed?

Regardless, the pictures and commentary are wonderful.

11 01 2010
Alan Frailich

Allison- The 95 pics you posted to this entry are great but could be hard to find for some people. I know you spent a great deal of time uploading them and nobody should miss seeing them. The link is labeled “photos” and is right next to the picture from the lake and at the bottom of the paragraph about Lake Bunyonyi. I especially liked the picture of you holding hands with the child. I believe it was photo #87. Wonderful.

Love you.

Dad

PS – We can’t Skype the Vikings game to you as we’ll be in Atlanta.

12 01 2010
Noelle

You look like you and your friends are having so much fun!

20 01 2010
Lindsay

Dear Ally Cat — where are you? Waiting for more updates, emails, posts, pics….don’t tell me the internet is down again. 🙂 Lovely skyping with you…even if it was in the dark. be safe!!!!

love the pics!!!!

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