As a rule, I seldom look up the places I travel to. I want a place to tell me its stories in its own way without the prejudice inflicted by pre-knowledge.
That is why when I decided to hit Kigali, I didn’t bother Googling it, I just went. Living the Rwanda experience is far better than reading about it on Facebook.Go listen to her. Let her tell you her story and understand why she is different from Nairobi. Be sure to speak to her in French though, because English stumbles off her tongue in inaudible jerks and pauses, while her Swahili isn’t much good either.
Rwanda is a country with as many hills as there are goose bumps on a cold patch of skin. People in Kigali drive on the right side of the road, which is the wrong side.
Meaning you will get a mini heart attack every time you are going down a hill and a lorry appears. The local beers aren’t bad, but they don’t hold a candle to the ones we brew.
But they have the most magnificent thing that any Nairobian has ever seen; a mzinga of beer. A mzinga is what we Kenyans call a 750ml bottle of hard drinks.
That much alcohol is the reserve of vodka, tequila, rum and whiskey. Most brewers don’t go past 500ml when packaging beer, but the Rwandese are not normal people.
Their Mützig beer comes in a proud mzinga that is quite heavy on the swig so you have to drink it from a glass.However, if you are in Kigali and you are craving Kenyan drinks, ask the cab driver to take you to Car Wash, a watering hole owned by a Kenyan called Wahome.
If there’s one thing I envied about Rwanda, it’s the squareness of its people. We Kenyans are a rowdy lot. We’re like a bunch of teenagers whose parents are away during the weekend and we have the house to ourselves.
But Rwanda is more collected. You question whether you’re in an African country. For instance, they follow traffic rules. Even in the middle of the night.
Speaking of night, you can walk around Kigali at any time without fear of being mugged. Nobody would dare rob another person in Kigali because it is peppered with cops. And that right there is the reason for all this good behaviour: control. The big man has a strong grip on this country.
You can feel his squeeze wherever you go. President Paul Kagame is more than a leader, he is a supreme figure.
When he said there should be a national cleaning day every month, there was one. When he declared a car-free day in Kigali, his order was followed. God help you if you try smuggling in a plastic bag.
Being in Kigali, I appreciated that kind of control. It gets things done. It ensures order. It’s a far cry from Nairobi, where you can almost taste the stench of garbage. Rwandans, of course, trade some liberties in return. I ask myself whether it is worth the cost.
To many Rwandans, it probably is. If you find yourself in Kigali, pay attention to her at night. The conference centre comes alive, with running neon lights flashing the national colours.
Find a spot on top of a hill – a place as quiet and breath-taking as Papyrus on KG 674 Street. Sit on the balcony that overlooks the whole city. Kigali and her one thousand hills light up like an assembly of Christmas trees.
You might agree with me when I say that there must be times when the gods of order look down on present-day Kigali and feel almost guilty for being so good.