Sunday in Kigali

After a bit of sleep-in, we had a drive through some of Kigali’s neighborhoods.  Kigali was established in 1907 by Richard Kandt who was an explorer who came through Tanzania looking for the source of the Nile River.  When the Belgians were in Rwanda, they used the capital of Burundi as their seat of power for the two countries which worked well because the Rwandan King had his palace in the South.

Kigali like the rest of the country, is full of hills which you can see in these photos of the neighborhoods we saw. Since it is Sunday, the traffic is light and people are going to church, visiting family and going to the market.  We passed the main city market and saw many of the shops open in the center of the city.

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Unfortunately, the person working the pedal sewing machine is blocked by a customer in front of one of the homes in the picture on the left.  Apparently the seamstress makes house calls!  These are typical middle class homes and you can see that the side streets are not yet paved.  A person is carrying water jugs – their water supply must have a problem.  I read a letter to the editor in the local paper complaining about inconsistent service.

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Many of the commercial establishments were covered in colorful advertizements, and of course, there is the ubiquitous nail salon!  This is a huge and new church.  About 90% of the population is Christian and about 10% Muslim.

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The homes in Kigali are densely constructed up the hills.  There are a number of beautiful and well-maintained gardens throughout the city and the traffic round-abouts are stunning – some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Since we passed a road construction site with the gutters just being built, I wanted to show how they look.  During the rainy season, the flooding is high in the streets and the gutters are substantial channels for the heavy flow of water and are designed to go under the roadways.  This one will have a grate over it on the right for vehicles and pedestrians to cross.  All the sidewalks have these channels and cross passages along them.  Very cleaver!

We visited the Natural History Museum which was established in 2004 in the former home of Richard Kandt, the first wooden home build in Kigali.  Traditional building is of mud bricks.

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The staff at the museum were dressed in a traditional garment called imunena which is basically two pieces of cloth, one wrapped as a sarong (it it could be made into a skirt) and the other, a rectangle of fabric fastened at two of the corners and worn over one shoulder.  The effect is graceful and beautiful.

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We learned that there are six national museums, the Ethnographic Museum, the King’s Palace Museum (where the traditional king lived in the south), the National Art Gallery with works of art from Rwanda and abroad, The Museum of the Environment with an emphasis on sustainability, water conservation and solar power, The Presidential Palace Museum, which apparently has parts of the shot down plane that killed the former president, and the Natural History Museum.

Although the museum was small, we got a nice overview of the country with its national parks, rivers, lakes and volcanoes clearly identified.  You can see the blue lake Kivu on the left of the map.  The border between the DRC (Congo) and Rwanda goes through the middle with the island being in the DRC.  There are two large rivers that flow through Rwanda and they join and flow into Lake Victoria which then feeds the Nile.  The same mountains are the source of the mighty Congo river.

An impressive note is that of the minerals found in Rwanda, gold is not mined because it is in Virunga National Park which is a protected area for gorillas.  Another interesting exhibit had archeological artifacts from Masangano, the area where the two major rivers join that are 2000 years old!

We paused for a photo op in the garden of the museum and enjoyed Richard Kandt’s beautiful view.


On our way to lunch we stopped at the fabric shop to enjoy (and purchase) some of the wonderful colorful fabrics – I just love them!  I am inspired by what I’ve seen that the women have created with them here.  I look forward to letting my imagination play with the ones I got!


We had lunch in the Hotel des Mille Collines (Hotel of a Thousand Hills) where the famed “Hotel Rwanda” story was set.  There is general agreement that Hollywood got only part of the story right and there are conflicting opinions about the heroics of Paul Rusesabagina.  In any case, it is restored to being a beautiful hotel and they have a wonderful Sunday brunch!  Much enjoyed!

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What do we do after lunch when we find out we have free wifi???


The rest of the afternoon we visited the Kigali Genocide memorial which was opened in 2004.  It is a well-done memorial with three major exhibits inside (the Rwandan genocide, Genocide throughout the world in the last century and a Children’s exhibit) as well as beautiful garden rooms and mass graves outside.

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The memorial was created in memory of to those who died as well as a lesson for future generations.  There are 259,000 people buried in the graves on the site from all over the country.

The sober realities of the Rwandan genocide are documented in the exhibits from colonial times, through the Tutsi persecutions, early warning signs, specific events leading up to the spark that ostensibly started the genocide (the president’s plane going down) and the systematic elimination of people on a prepared list just minutes after, inciting illiterate people through the radio, the horrors of the killings, torture, rape, mass dislocation for millions, orphans and heroes who helped people hide or escape.

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Mass killings in churches or schools                Millions of people dislocated and fleeing

The most moving exhibits were photographs of victims, a video of victims telling their stories, and children who were never able to realize their potential.

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We ended our visit by each of us placing a rose on one of the grave sites and a moment of silence in tribute to all those who suffered the atrocities of this devastating history and the pain and suffering that continues behind the beautiful smiles we meet.

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Opinion Page:  Beth Fluke

After being in Hyderabad India for the past two weeks, Kigali looks like a totally together city. New cars are driven carefully, respecting traffic rules. The motorcyclists all wear helmets. The center city architecture is modern and clean, abundant new construction projects give the perception of a prosperous contemporary city. But wait, we are in Rwanda, a poor country. For example Kim, a dentist and one of our fellow delegates, said in this country of 11 million people there are 18 dentists.

Today we “toured” the city neighborhoods, going up the hill to the more prosperous gated homes. I see a man walking down the hill carrying a yellow Jerry can, after a bit another and then another and another. Surprised in this upscale neighborhood, I ask if they have running water in their homes. Oh yes, Clementine explains, the water supply is sporadic as the water supply is alternated between neighborhoods.

So for an analogy, the bones of the city are starting to fit together (now they have implemented city planning) however it may be a while for the infrastructure to develop.

The afternoon, as Holly probably explained, was to the Kigali Memorial Center. Yesterday we had been at another memorial center, as Holly explained, in the East in a church were 20,000 were killed. I came away from the site yesterday angry. I was outraged that the conflict between the two groups, the Hutu and the Tutsi was continuing to be presented that: ‘the Hutus were the nasty murderers, thank goodness a few Tutsis survived to take on leadership of the country’. Perpetuating this crazy idea of the good and bad, I was reluctant to go to the Kigali Memorial Center, the big memorial center in Kigali today.

The presentation here shifted my perception, blurring the good/bad guys lines. The Memorial clarified the blame for the genocide was rooted in colonization of Rwanda. Conflicts over the years, the feeding of news media on the radio, unemployed, uneducated Hutu youth being trained as solders then fed irrational beliefs. A match was struck with the shooting down of the president’s plane, thus a fire raged out of control. The Memorial moved us through the horror of dead bodies, then a large collection of fuzzy snapshots of grinning victims. Yesterday we were shown bones and skulls, the snapshots, I found, more moving. These snapshots were followed by stories of perpetrators asking for forgiveness, giving back to the injured families and community. Guilt was laid on the west, of course, for not coming to the country’s aid. I found the Memorial shifted my previous anger of the unhealthy practice of perpetuating the genocide story to the story needs to be kept alive to heal and prevent further conflict.

One thought on “Sunday in Kigali

  1. Marianne Handler January 26, 2015 / 4:29 am

    Beth’s comments were very helpful. Thanks for including them. I must admit that the last paragraph note on the need for the Memorial did make me think of the need for Holocaust museums…… again to sure to remember so it does not happen again. By the time you get back, Holly, my entire body will be green. My envy of this amazing trips over my body a bit more each day. Thanks for the sharing and the photos.


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