Sunday, July 27, 2008

Octopus Risotto

I went to the Restaurant Hellenique (aka “the Greek restaurant”) the other day in my never-ending quest to try different restaurants in Kigali (apart from the brochette and buffet places, the restaurants are pretty finite). It’s a beautiful setting, on the side of the hill in Kimihurura. It’s also a guest house, with a few rooms and an inviting pool.

My friend swore by this restaurant, so I decided to take a leap of faith and try the octopus risotto. I mean—octopus? In Kigali? But I crossed my fingers and ordered it anyway. When I did, the waiter said, “Would you like a side of rice?”

I looked at my friend and then back at the waiter, and couldn’t help but laugh—“risotto” is an Italian dish made with rice, I explained. So why would I want risotto with a side of rice? I didn’t need carbs on top of carbs, so I declined.

Twenty-five minutes later, our food emerged. My friend’s grilled meat looked and smelled great. The waiter then presented me with my dish: a plate of octopus in sauce on lettuce. There was no risotto in my risotto. My friend and I cracked up at the measly, brown, Atkins-worthy pile on my plate, and I asked the waiter, “But where is the risotto?”

“That is risotto,” he said, obviously confused.

I ordered that side of rice after all.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ndwaye inzoka—or, I have amoebas.

A Fish Brochette. And a salad that I happily ate.

Ndwaye inzoka. (Pronounced “NDwahYeenZohKah.”) Yes, this is a helpful phrase. And just because it’s interesting, it also means “I have snakes.”

Most people who have spent any time living in countries with questionable water quality have at some point suffered from what some refer to euphemistically as “having amoebas.” Basically, this means that you ate or drank something you shouldn’t have, causing bacteria to multiply in your stomach and do unfortunate things to your digestive system. I’m pretty cavalier about what I eat (the UN has a rule that I used to follow: Boil It, Cook It, Peel It, or Leave It), so I take the good with the bad. Frankly, sometimes you just need a fresh salad. Kigali’s municipal water supply is treated, so the chances of getting sick are not as great as, say, drinking a glass of water in Gisenyi. I brush my teeth with tap water, and so do most people I know.

So yes, I reluctantly admit that I have amoebas. It’s mild, at least—cramps, more than anything—but it can obviously be pretty nasty. Because I have incredible foresight, I managed to leave all my good American medicine at home, and the house where I am staying is curiously medicine-free. I have been boiling ginger in water for some relief. I’ve also picked up some yogurt, which does wonders as well. One of my friends swears by plain bread, and another believes that Sprite works wonders.

One of the funniest things about living here is how frequently people talk about their stomach issues—because it’s a natural part of living here. It’s like everyone compares their war wounds. When I was working for the UN in Gisenyi, it was totally normal for someone to simply get up suddenly and scurry out in the middle of a meeting on a bathroom visit...because, well, one of us was probably going to go next.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Funeral

The Thursday after Leonard Musonerwa died, his family held a beautiful traditional funeral for him. I was at work, so I missed the morning viewing. The family transported the body from King Faisal Hospital to their home in the Gatsata neighborhood of Kigali, where he lay for viewing by family and friends.

At noon, I attended the funeral at the St. Matthews Cathedral in Kiyovu. It was all in Kinyarwanda, and I struggled to catch a word here or there. There was singing through the entire service, interspersed with sermons and remembrances from friends and family. Since it was a Catholic service, there was a beautiful if somewhat chaotic Communion. The entire service was filmed by a couple of people with camcorders, and unfortunately, as the only muzungu in the crowd, I felt that the camera was a little too focused on me and my emotion. It was an intensely personal time for me, and I didn’t particularly want it on tape.

About an hour and a half later, the service ended and Leonard’s family gathered around the coffin, carrying it out to the ambulance they rented. It was the only vehicle big enough to carry it. Mrs. Musonerwa sat in the front of the car, quietly mourning, as people came to her, whispering “Wihangane,” an expression of sympathy.

Several buses had been rented for close family and older guests. I didn’t have a ride, but a stranger took my hand and led me to a car full of more strangers. We drove with our hazard lights on all the way to Remera, to a graveyard known in Kinyarwanda as the Home for Everyone. We ambled down a dirt lane, beside some elaborate tiled graves, and some simpler plain concrete ones. There were thousands of graves, all on a hillside overlooking a pastoral hill. After parking, we stumbled around the graves until we caught up with the crowd that had formed.

Leonard’s daughters were wearing matching mushananas, the traditional dress that Rwandan women wear for special occasions. His sons were all in pressed wool suits, shoes shined. Mrs. Musonerwa watched as the coffin was lifted onto planks over a deep, concrete-walled grave.

More songs followed, and the priest said a couple more words before using a brush to sprinkle some holy water on and around the casket. Each of the immediate family members took a turn sprinkling some water before Mrs. Musonerwa made her final, loving remarks. Then the cemetery workers came with rope and lowered the casket into the grave. The covered the top with planks of wood, then a tarp, and then mixed water with a pile of dirt at the side of the grave to make a thick mud. It was scooped on top of the tarp and a wooden cross with Leonard’s name was planted at the top of the grave.

After that, families were called to lay their wreaths and flowers on top, and the ceremony concluded with a prayer.

The wake followed the funeral, and everyone went to an outdoor bar in Kicukiro. As people filed in, they performed a Rwandan tradition of washing one’s hands after a funeral. The same happens after the closing ceremonies of Genocide Memorial Week in April.

Fantas and water were supplied by the family. It’s supposed to be the happy part of a funeral—family members and friends are able to catch up, especially those who live far away. It wasn’t as joyous as I (or, probably, Leonard) would have hoped, but there was a wonderful turnout. I was surprised how many people I recognized from Gisenyi. (Even the town drunk was there—and she was surprisingly sober!)

In the Rwandan tradition, the family builds a fire in front of the house, and a family member must stay awake to tend to the fire. It is just a family affair, so I did not participate. And a week after the death, the family holds another small ceremony to conclude the period of mourning.

I felt blessed to have been a part of the funeral, because it was wonderful to celebrate him (even though I couldn’t quite understand what people were saying). Hundreds of people came to remember him, and it’s such a tribute to the wonderful and giving person he was.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Keeping busy!

I haven't had a moment's rest since I got here. My organization is seriously understaffed (just the Country Director and myself at the moment) and I have been running around getting various and sundry things done.

Of course, because I've been running around and operating on generally little sleep, I've now come down with a case of the sniffles. While I bought some $2 sandpaper tissues, I recently discovered that the woman whose house I'm staying at has stockpiled lotion-infused Kleenex, which is probably the best thing ever invented.

So yesterday, I did what I hate to do...I stayed home. Well, not really. I went into the office in the morning and tried to work for about 2 hours before I essentially fell over. So I went home at 10 am, and passed out for four hours. When I woke up and dragged my sorry self into the kitchen for some water, I found that Laetitia, the angelic housekeeper, had prepared lunch for me without my asking. She knew I was sleeping in my room and brought me some leftovers of what she had prepared for her family--matoke (cooked plantain) with peas in tomato sauce. She then boiled me some water with ginger, which soothed my throat and is a trick I'm taking back with me to the States. I was so touched that she took care of me!

I ate until I was stuffed (plantains are like potatoes in that way) and went back to bed, where I slept for several more hours before one of my friends came over and offered me company despite the fact that I should have been quarantined. He happened to have a stock of Campbell's soup, and offered me a can. I am getting better, Rwandan and American-style.

* * *

For the past several weeks, I've been taking Kinyarwanda lessons from a guy named Patrick, who used to run the Kinyarwanda language training center at the Franco-Rwandan Cultural Center (now closed since the French have left). The classes haven't been cheap ($20 an hour...quite a muzungu price!) but since I'm here for such a short period of time, I have justified the expense to myself. It has been good, though--I have been able to bounce my Kinyarwanda questions off of someone, and my language skills have been improving very quickly. We meet for four hours a week, and it is pretty intensive.

I had a major breakthrough today! After massive struggles with the numbers (it's addition on steroids, really, the way the numbers work here), I was at a Forex today haggling for a better exchange rate. The Forex guy noted that I was speaking Kinyarwanda with him, and challenged me--he said that if I could say "551" in Kinyarwanda, he would give me that rate per dollar.

So....I thought about it, and I came up with "Magana atanu na mirongo itanu na rimwe." That is, literally, 500 and 50 and 1. (Told you it was math.)

He was stunned, and forked over the money at the higher rate. Patrick would be so proud.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Gentrification of Kigali

Lower Kiyovu, from a distance....mid-destruction.

A close-up of some of the destroyed homes...the flat area is where a house used to be. Sorry for the fuzzy picture. So it goes when you're in a moving car.

Kigali is changing, and fast. This could be (and eventually probably will be) a longer post, but it strikes everyone, expats and Rwandese alike, that Rwanda is developing at lightning speed. Roads are being built and existing roads are being widened. There's a methane gas platform out on Lake Kivu. Building construction is everywhere. Hotels are popping up on every corner--they just can't meet the demand.

And when that happens, the inevitable happens. Land that was once undesirable has now become invaluable. The simple brick homes of Lower Kiyovu, just below the city center where the big rotunda is located, are being demolished in favor of larger homes and office buildings. The landowners have been compensated enough to move somewhere else (probably nowhere near the city center, given the property prices these days), and massive bulldozers are tearing everything down.

The big rotunda in Kiyovu

It's sad, I guess, to see the ruins and think about all the people that now have to move to the outskirts of town. But, of course, it means that the country is moving forward. Businesses want that land, and that means investment. I just hope the prior owners are being adequately compensated.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Why Muzungu?

Ask ten people why foreigners in Rwanda are called abazungu (muzungu is the singular form), and you will get ten different answers. Some have told me that it means “white person.” Others say “person with light skin.” Still others say it means “rich person.”

I think, though, that I’ve finally heard the right explanation.

The Rwandans didn’t always call white people abazungu. Back when the Germans were the colonizers, they were called German. The French were the French. Et cetera.

But after World War I, when the Belgians came to take over the territory from the Germans, they were called Abazungu, not Belgians.

...Because the verb that Muzungu and Abazungu come from is “kuzungura,” which means “to replace, to take over.”


* * *
As a quick side note, the Kinyarwanda word for muzungu comes from the Swahili “mzungu.” Back in the days of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president, there was a rebel movement called the “Mau Mau,” which was actually an acronym:

Mzungu Aende Ulaya
Mweusi Apate Uluru

Which means: “Conquerors return to Europe, black men recover independence.”

* * *
Of course, the Belgian presence here in Rwanda was so significant that the term muzungu stuck—and now everyone who is a foreigner, including those of African descent, is called a muzungu. I’m glad it doesn’t mean people are shouting “white girl!” to me everywhere, but somehow I don’t feel any better knowing that they’re calling me a conqueror, either.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Losing a friend.

It is the dry season, yet it poured rain. They say that when it rains, God blesses the occasion.

Leonard Musonerwa passed on Sunday morning. His wife was with him at the time. At least he is not suffering anymore. I will miss him.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

"It is time."

My friend Aime flew back to town on Thursday. His father is very sick, and was at the King Faycal Hospital, the private hospital in town. I had become very close with his father, and wanted to visit him. Visiting hours are 3-5 daily, and since I had work and professional obligations, I couldn’t get there until Saturday.

According to Aime, he was not doing very well. I didn’t know what to bring to the hospital that would be culturally appropriate. Were flowers just for funerals? Could I bring food?

The hospital wouldn’t allow food to be brought in. In fact, it is one of two hospitals in the country to feed its patients. In most hospitals, families must bring food for the sick.

I couldn’t go emptyhanded, so on Saturday morning, I made brownies. I figured that someone would eat them eventually.

Aime came to take me to the hospital. He has always been the responsible son, taking care of everyone in his family, but I could tell that he just wasn’t as composed as he usually was. We drove to the hospital and made our way to the third floor. I had no idea what to expect.

The hospital is set up somewhat like a motel, with external staircases that access balconies. All of the visiting rooms are accessible from the outside. Outside the room where Aime’s father lay sick were about 25 people, all relatives and friends.

I solemnly greeted everyone individually in Kinyarwanda. It was not polite to simply walk in the room. And when we finally did, I immediately crumbled.

The long room had 10 beds, each with its own locker for personal effects and a side table for medicine and water. Each had a green privacy curtain. In the back, there were three patients; two who were little more than skeletons, and one who never moved. And in the front of the room was Aime’s father, Leonard Musonerwa, his arm connected to a slow drip of fluid, with a feeding tube through his nose.

He was in obvious pain, with eyes that strained to focus. He was so different from the last time I saw him.

* * *

This past March, I had been in Rwanda again. I was scheduled to return to the States on Easter, in the afternoon. Aime wasn’t here, but his brother Faustin was, and Faustin invited me to spend Easter morning with the family.

While I had feared that I was imposing, I realized when I arrived that I was just another member of the family. Three of Aime’s sisters and brothers were there, and I greeted them all in Kinyarwanda. Mrs. Musonerwa welcomed me in with a bear hug (she is a very tall woman), and Mr. Musonerwa (Leonard) slowly got up from his chair to clasp both of my hands and welcome me warmly. I had brought Snickers and Oreos with me—I explained to them that eating sweets on Easter was an American tradition—and Leonard insisted we share some over a bottle of Mutzig beer.

“But it’s the morning! And it’s Easter!” I said in French, laughing.

“God’s in a forgiving mood today. He won’t mind,” Leonard replied, with a broad smile and a hearty laugh.

Leonard loved his beer. Every time I came over, he insisted on sharing a Mutzig, which was his favorite (and mine, too). No one else in the family would drink (or, at least, around him), and so it was always just us sharing a large bottle or two.

The conversations were always fascinating. It was like an informal lecture. He would tell me about the history of the Banyarwanda in Congo, about what his family did there, and about the gorillas that came down the mountain onto their land to graze from time to time. He was a very well-educated man, the principal of a secondary school, and was therefore deeply respected.

This time, while we were talking, Mrs. Musonerwa brought out a plate of red beans topped with fried eggs, with a side of pili-pili. Usually, when they bring out a plate of food, they bring out several forks, and everyone takes from the same plate. This one, though, was just for me—they remembered how much I loved red beans and pili-pili.

Leonard was trying to eat an Oreo with his beer, so I told him how Americans like to dip their Oreos in milk. He looked surprised, then called something out to the back. Out of nowhere came several cups of ikivuguto, or drinkable yogurt. Not exactly the same, but...sort of close enough. Everyone, even Mrs. Musonerwa, took an Oreo and dipped it in the yogurt before taking a bite. It looked like a commercial, really—they were all looked at each other, pleasantly surprised by how it tasted. In doing so, it was clear that they thought that it was a bizarre American practice. I guess you never realize these things until you try to explain them to someone else.

Leonard was always animated, and always had an opinion. And he would often ask me, “Tu vas revenir quand?” When are you returning? And I would always reply that I wasn’t sure, but that I would definitely be back.

* * *

And I was back, as promised. This time, Leonard was not as I remembered him. He was in extreme pain, suffering from a multitude of ailments that all culminated at once. He had liver failure and kidney failure. There were more problems that the doctors could not identify. He was still recovering from a stroke he suffered in 1996. Only about a week ago, these ailments overcame him.

I stood at the foot of his bed for literally hours. People came in and out, all touching his arm. For a while, he slept. His mouth was open, and he had bitten his tongue so hard that it was partially black and ragged. Every now and then, his arm shook weakly. When he awoke, he would move his head back and forth, in obvious pain, and would speak in muffled, forced Kinyarwanda because he could not move his mouth other than to yawn. Relatives would move forward to listen to him, catching a couple of words, and would adjust his feet. Several times, he called, “Ma cherie,” my dear, asking for his wife, who was never more than a couple of feet away. She had stayed with him in the hospital since Monday, feeding him drops of water from the cap of the water bottle. He hadn’t eaten since Monday; they had tried to feed him soup on Friday through his feeding tube, but he couldn't keep it down.

Sometimes, he could focus his eyes, recognizing who was standing next to him. He would call for this brother, or that sister, or for one of his nine children. They cycled through, all sitting in the corridor. It was like everyone was waiting, but they weren’t. They were just there to be supportive. They went there to sit and mourn for hours. No one ate, and no one drank. They just sat.

It was in the middle of this that I felt sick. The brownies I had brought were so completely and utterly inadequate, inappropriate, insignificant. I didn’t know. I still don’t know. There was nothing I could have brought but myself, I suppose. No one brought flowers. They just brought themselves, and gave the gifts of time and love.

I went to Leonard a couple of times, holding his arm. He turned his head to see, and his eyes sparkled—just a touch. He said something I couldn’t make out, and then laughed a guttural laugh. I whispered in his ear that under normal circumstances, I would share a Mutzig with him, and smiled. I had to leave the room to cry. I was an inconsolable wreck. It was hard to see him like that, without the same life and vigor that I remembered. My heart was in my stomach. Esperance, one of Leonard’s daughters, came over to me. “You know,” she said in French, “It is time. It is time. When you accept life, you must accept all that comes with it.”

Later in the day, when the sun went down, he made a request to his brother, which I could barely make out, but that I still understood. His brother responded, “Fanta ikonje?” (“Cold Fanta?”), but I knew what Leonard wanted.

I said, “I think he wants a Mutzig.”

“No,” he responded. “He asked for a Fanta.”

Leonard repeated himself, calling out something. He was clearly asking for a Mutzig.

Aime was visibly upset. “He’s so sick that he can’t even have a drink.” He had been spending hours talking to the hospital administration because he wanted his father to be transferred to the Centre Hospitalier de Kigali (CHK), the public hospital. Apparently, there was no doctor at King Faycal. “I think he’s on vacation,” Aime said.

But the CHK was full. We had been informed that there was one bed free, but it was in the wrong ward, so Leonard couldn’t be transferred. And when a bed was finally found, the administration had gone home, so it was too late to transfer him. And frankly, in his state, he simply was too fragile to be transferred. But the CHK said they could take him the next morning.

Night fell, and the mosquitoes came out swarming. I took a break, and walked up and down the exterior corridor. As I was walking, I heard a hint of a whisper: “Muzungu.” I turned to find a little girl in a green cloth gown, her head stitched and a plastic tube inserted into her windpipe. She was so beautiful. Her skin was clear and smooth, she had a wide smile, and her eyes shone.

“Witwa nde?” I asked her, and she told me her name, but I could barely hear it. “Nitwa Morgani,” I replied, smiling. I asked her how she was. “Ni meza,” she said, the standard answer. I’m good. Perhaps she really was good—perhaps she was recovering. I wanted to hug her, but she was so fragile. “Komera,” I said, lightly rubbing her shoulder. Be strong.

I heard some stirring from inside the room, and saw that I was outside the pediatric ward. I waved to the children and said hello, and then walked back to Leonard’s room. Mrs. Musonerwa was singing softly to him, rearranging his pillows, comforting him.

She accompanied us out as we left, at about 8:30 p.m., perhaps later. She was to stay behind, as usual. She held my shoulder and said with a weak smile, “Il est fatigué.” He is tired.

I do not know if he will survive the night, but I plan to go to the hospital again tomorrow morning. I have never seen anyone on their deathbed. I am an emotional wreck.

Friday, July 04, 2008

A Shared Holiday

The Fourth of July is a national holiday for both the Rwandans and the Americans. For the Rwandans, July 4 marks Liberation Day, the day that the RPF took over Kigali and effectively ended the genocide in 1994.

The Embassy had its official celebratory event on July 3 as a result of the shared holiday. All of the U.S. Government agency partners (Rwandan and non-Rwandan), as well as Rwandan officials, were invited. Held just inside the security gate on the side lawn of the Embassy, the grounds were decorated red, white, and blue, and 51 flags (including the District of Columbia) were planted in the ground. (The Embassy interns and diplomats’ kids had been working on the decorations for days.) Two tents were set up for an open bar with beer and wine, and waiters meandered through the crowd, carrying trays of stale bread squares topped with whipped salmon cream cheese, mini beef and fish brochettes, mini pizzas, and an inexplicably unpalatable hors d’oeuvre of a cheese, pickle, and pineapple skewer. (Someone was a little too creative.)

The event formally opened with a presentation of the colors by the Marines (there are five plus a staff sergeant posted here), and the singing of the U.S. and Rwandese national anthems.

Ambassador Arietti, who is about to complete his tour here later this month, gave a wonderful state-of-relations speech, and Rosemary Museminari, the relatively new Rwandan Foreign Minister, gave a speech from the Rwandan perspective, urging increased investment in infrastructure, methane gas extraction from Lake Kivu, and information technology. I didn’t catch everything because some American kid was standing next to me, moaning and groaning about how boring everything was. I was going to throttle him. But apart from that, it was a lovely ceremony.

After that, people just mingled for a while. I was on my third glass of wine and a relatively empty stomach when I accidentally wandered near an acquaintance of mine who was talking to a Rwandan man.

“Morgan,” he said. “Have you met...”

I looked up at the fellow and realized it was the immediate past Foreign Minister, who served for nearly six years. Over the past two years, I had tried to get an appointment with him on behalf of my organization several times, but it never worked out.

“...Charles Murigande.”

My acquaintance was trying to make a graceful exit, and soon, I had the full attention of the former Foreign Minister and current Chief of Staff.

...While semi-drunk. Thank GOD I knew his bio.

I probably talked to him for 20 minutes. Talked at him, really. Apart from discussing his time as a professor at Howard University and that I met his wife the other day while researching one of Kigali’s finest private schools, I really have no idea what I said. All I know is that I was doing most of the talking. I’m sure he thought I was neurotic.

I made my exit by asking if he wanted to get something else to drink. (I obviously didn’t need one.)

At 8:30, the bar closed, which had the intended effect of driving everyone out.

* * *

The next day, the Embassy had its celebration for the American community.

Holy muzungu invasion.

My friends and I looked at all the Americans, and were baffled by where they came from. There were hordes of thickly made-up teenagers who looked more fit for Daytona Beach than Kigali. A bus full of tourists showed up. There were backpackers who were just in the country for a couple of days, missionaries on two-week stints, NGO workers, Embassy personnel, and everyone in between. Most of them hadn’t RSVPed (and many people took more food than they could eat—it’s the American way, after all), so the food ran out rather quickly. As a result, I starved, picking the errant French fry off the food table while shooting nasty looks at the family at the nearby table with four half-eaten burgers. Apparently, they had pasta salad and hot dogs at some point, but I didn’t see them.

The festivities included a volleyball tournament, face painting, and a DJ. Eventually, the drinks stopped pouring, and most of the tourists left. The others headed over to the Marine House, where there was a cash bar. My friends and I headed out.

Of course, since it was a Friday night, it was a night to go out...and a big group of expats went out to Planet Club, the nightclub at KBC, for drinks and dancing. It was renovated recently, and one half is techno-loungy, and the other side is all dancing. Clubs in Kigali, with the possible exception of the prohibitively expensive B-Club, are crawling with creepy white men looking for hot, young Rwandan women, some of whom are available for a price. I will never get used to that.

Nor will I get used to the guys who dance with their reflections in the mirror. It is genuinely hilarious—probably mostly because they take themselves so seriously.

At about 2:30 a.m., we decided to head out. Some of us (myself included) were starving, and the only place we could think of that had food was a “snack bar” next to the Cadillac Club. (If you go there, stick to the samosas. It took a half an hour to get a ham sandwich.) By the time I had my sandwich, everyone deflated—and we headed home.

While there weren’t any fireworks, it was a pretty great July 4th.

I should note what I saw of the Rwandan celebration—because, as I noted, it is a shared holiday. Unfortunately, I didn’t see much. I saw the remnants of a parade—everyone was wearing white shirts and waving Rwandan flags. I am certain that there was an event at the stadium, but it was on the other side of town from where I was. Every time I got on a taxi-moto, I wished the driver a “Happy Liberation Day!” to which each replied, “You, too!” It was very sweet. I regret having seen so little of the Rwandan celebrations—and I realized that it’s because my time in Kigali, as I discussed in a prior post, is more of a traditional expatriate experience. And again, I missed being with the Rwandan people. Perhaps next time.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Nyarutarama Pictures

There were some requests for pictures from the different neighborhoods, so I am going to post them when I take them. Here are some from Nyarutarama. As I mentioned, wealthy expats and Rwandans live here.

This isn't the clearest picture, but this is a more modest neighborhood in Nyarutarama. (Most other houses have 2-3 floors, with marble and columns, etc. This particular neighborhood is structured like an American subdivision, which street names and everything.

This is the MTN Center, the landmark of Nyarutarama. With a German Butchery (a supermarket that caters chiefly to expatriates), a Bourbon Coffeeshop and some clothing shops (including a lingerie boutique!), this is a weekend favorite.

This is Bourbon Coffee, one of two in the city. It's fancier than a Starbucks, and the coffee is delicious...But be aware that the prices are like Starbucks, too!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Kigali’s Neighborhoods

Many people have written to me, asking about different neighborhoods in Kigali. I wanted to do a quick summary of the ones I have seen or spent time in (especially for people who are moving here and are thinking about where to rent/buy a home). For travelers wondering where all the action is, this could also give you an idea. I don’t know all the neighborhoods, and welcome input on the ones below, as well as others!

Kiyovu- The center of town. It’s the place where you can find all the different knick-knacks you want and need, including office supplies, automotive supplies, etc. There’s a street peppered with foreign exchange bureaus, and the rate is one of the best you can find (better than the bank rates). Express matatus to the other big towns in Rwanda leave from here (as well as Nyabugogo...but leaving from Kiyovu is generally more convenient). The Belgian School is located here. The supermarkets are here as well: BCK, Patel’s, La Bonne Source, and La Galette (also known as the German Butchery). Union Trade Center (which will soon have a Nakumatt Supermarket—a Kenyan chain) has a Bourbon Coffeeshop. Two of the big hotels are located here—the Serena and the Mille Collines. Most of the houses in this neighborhood are quaint and pre-war. The boulevards are wide and flowery. The President currently lives here (though he has plans to move soon). There are many NGO offices here. Most of the favored restaurants among expatriates are in this neighborhood. Many NGO workers live here.

Kacyiru- The ministry area. This is where the President’s office is located, as well as most of the ministries (the Ministry of Health is in Kiyovu). They line one long road called the Avenue de la Gendarmerie. Generally speaking, water and power are dependable here, because of the proximity to the ministries. A lot of NGOs have offices here. The homes vary widely, from pre-war to brand-new mega-mansions. Novotel is located here, as are some temporary executive furnished apartments. The U.S. Embassy is located at the end of the Avenue de la Gendarmerie.

Kimihurura- The place where the ministers live. In fact, the central road in Kimihurura is called Minister’s Road, or la Rue des Ministres, which is a wide boulevard. There is a beautiful stone paved road in Kimihurura, and several NGOs have offices there. Papyrus, La Fiesta, Comme Chez Moi, and the Restaurant Hellenique are located here. The homes here vary as well; along Minister’s Road, the houses are large and stunning. Off the road, the houses are not as flamboyant but are generally post-war and are still quite spacious. Some of the roads are unpaved. Many NGO workers live here.

Nyarutarama- The ritzy neighborhood. Everything here reeks of new wealth. The houses are unbelievably large (though frankly, their interior layouts are sometimes a bit awkward and illogical) with columns, marble, and the works. Some even have swimming pools. There was a building boom in this area that has petered a result, many houses are unfinished until someone wants to take them. A lot of wealthy expatriates live here (i.e. not the poor ones who work for small NGOs). The MTN center is located here, which is a growing mall (most of its space is still vacant). There are several restaurants on the top floor, as well as a Bourbon Coffee, and the ground floor boasts another branch of the German Butchery (also known as La Galette). This area looks like California, with tall white houses, sparkling windows, red tiled roofs, and perfectly manicured gardens.

Kagugu- Ritzy neighborhood, rather empty. Most of the McMansions are vacant. There are subdivisions here that eerily resemble the U.S. It’s located past Nyarutarama.

Nyabugogo- The main bus station. The most chaotic area of Kigali! Services such as power and water are largely undependable. Houses tend to be off the beaten path, and are much simpler here. There is a large market in this area, and the international bus services leave from here. The domestic ones do, as well, but I have always found it easier to navigate the bus area in Kiyovu instead.

Remera- Near the stadium. There are a couple little supermarkets here, like Ndoli’s. Chez Lando and the Auberge Beausejour are here, as is the O Sole Luna restaurant. The houses here are nice but not extravagant—many will have 3 bedrooms, a sitting room, and an outdoor kitchen, or a kitchen housed separately, a more traditional setup. There is a buzzing nightlife here—lots of little buvettes. And it’s chaos when the Rwandan team plays!

Safety and security are really outstanding in Kigali. The police and army take their jobs seriously, and are trustworthy. In terms of walking at night, there are generally few dangers. The most common I have heard is of people whose cell phones have been stolen because they were walking and talking on them at night...and even that isn’t common.

Houses and office compounds usually have a guard—otherwise, there is usually razor wire or broken glass cemented onto the tops of the walls.

I feel perfectly safe walking around by myself at night. Nyarutarama, Kimihurura, Kiyovu, and Kagugu are particularly safe; keep your wits about you in Nyabugogo and Remera (at night). It’s not to say that anything will happen, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Generally, rent in Kiyovu and Remera (not sure about Nyabugogo) range from $500-1500 a month. For the wealthy neighborhoods of Kimihurura, Nyarutarama, and Kagugu, the range tends to be from $1500-2000. When realtors propose a price, always negotiate.

Input on these and other neighborhoods is welcomed!