Marina in Rwanda

Carleton University journalism student working as intern in Kigali, Rwanda


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Bones

*Content warning*

Please be advised that this post contains graphic content.

“Are you scared?” she asks me.

“It’s just hard.” I respond.

My guide takes me by the hand and leads me down the steep steps.

“Oh god,” is all I can muster.

It’s the smell. It’s similar to the scent of a basement— a mix of cement, mold, with an added chalky odor.

It’s the smell of death.

I’m standing in the Nyamata mass grave, and I’m surrounded by shelves upon shelves of skulls and bones in what is one of two crypts here.

I’m in the Bugesera District about 45 minutes south of Kigali, here to see two very important memorial sites— two Catholic churches where mass murders were carried out during the 1994 genocide.

During the genocide, many people took refuge in churches all over Rwanda as they had in the past, thinking they would be safe. But they were terribly wrong. Here in Nyamata, in April 1994, the Interahamwe militia attacked the church. They threw grenades inside to the church and then entered, using rifles and machetes to massacre the people who were still alive inside. Ten thousand people were killed in the church and surrounding area.

My guide’s name is Anita and like most of the guides at these memorial sites, she is a victim who has lost family here.

I’m trying to process what I’m looking at, skulls stacked on top of skulls. Sometimes it’s just a piece of a skull— just a jaw. Anita is comforting me and it’s messing with my head, because she’s the one who saw this happen and I can only try to imagine it.

Her casualness is eery…we exit the grave and she walks along, texting on her cellphone as she shows me different parts of the memorial. Along with the mass underground graves containing bones and caskets, there is the church, its pews still draped in thousands of items of clothing belonging to the victims. All of it is covered in a thin layer of red dust that matches the dried blood on the clothing. I pick out a a child’s cowboy hat sitting on a pew.

I leave Nyamata and head on a short moto ride across town to the other church memorial, Ntarama.

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Ntarama memorial

Ntarama is a church with a very similar story. Five thousand people were murdered here. Inside this smaller church, there is clothing hanging from the rafters and windows, and shelves containing personal items of victims— a few mattresses, a suitcase, a shoe, a pair of glasses. A Tutsi identity card precariously hangs off one of the shelves, a faded photo of a woman marked “Tutsi” underneath. There are caskets here too, each containing the remains of about 100 people.

I see yet another shelf of skulls. My guide, Jonathan, points to one skull with a perfect circle hole on the right side of it. “That was a hammer.” he says. I notice another skull that has a sharp, rusted piece of metal sticking out of it. Jonathan tells me it’s a farm tool. There are some very small skulls mixed amongst the other ones. “These were children?” I ask. “Yes.”

I ask Jonathan why so many bones are on display while others are in caskets.

“It’s important so that people can see what happened,” he explains. Although most of the bodies are buried, people’s clothing and hundreds of skulls have been left on display so that visitors can see the brutality in which people died and the scale of how many were murdered.

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Various clothing and furniture still clutter the floor of the kitchen. The structure was burned down with people still inside.

At Ntarama, there is not just a church, but several other buildings to visit. Jonathan shows me the kitchen that was burnt with people inside of it. There is also another small structure right beside the church that was used by the priest. It now contains several thick white sacks.

Jonathan tells me that these are the newest remains they’ve found. Even 19 years later, remains are still being dug up.

“We have run out of room in the church. We need to build a mass grave here,” he says.

We come to another structure. It looks like a very small version of the church, with miniature pews and a chalkboard inside.

“This is where they taught Sunday school,” Jonathan says.

He points to the wall. It has a large, dark brown spot on it. It looks like someone has covered the spot in bits of red plaster.

I’m told it’s the blood and brains from children who were taken by their legs and had their heads smashed against the wall until they were dead.

He points to a stick. During the genocide, women were often raped before being killed. The stick was used to impale women from their genitals right up to their mouths.

The sun is hanging low in the sky now. Jonathan leads me back outside and to a bench. “You can sit here for a bit so you can think about what you saw,” he says. He walks away.

I sit down on the warm cement and close my eyes. The air is so fresh, surrounded by grass and trees, not like the dank smell inside the churches. I can hear a cow in the distance.

In the quiet, I hear screams. I see blood and I see fire and I see fear. Images of chaos I can only begin to create in my own mind. And I see so, so many bones.

Skulls of people nobody knows.

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Clothing of victims hang from the broken down windows.

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Theft

This is the story of how my camera was stolen.

I bought the Canon something-x-something at a “MediaMarkt” in the Netherlands, a last minute purchase when my camera I had brought from home stopped taking clear photos. I bought it for 125 euro, not wanting to spend too much on it in case it got stolen.

Living here, I have really tried to take a “yes man” attitude to things. Get on a potentially dangerous footbridge and walk across the rainforest canopy? Yes! Take questionable moto rides at night? Yes! Go out at the bar in the small town of Musanze and have a dance party with a bunch of intoxicated Rwandans? Yes! (Still less sketchy than some North Bay bars in my opinion.) YOLO!!!!

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Conquering my fear of heights. Photo by my lovely roommate Natalie van Rooy.

So when I heard about Expo Rwanda, a huge, two-week event where you can buy everything from slap chops to sandals, I of course said “yes!” and went.

The outskirts of the expo contained the most extreme moto traffic I’ve ever seen. Best sight: a woman on a moto with a two-year-old sitting on her lap. Safety!

When I got to the entrance, there was a massive, unorganized mob of people trying to get in. The lineup for men was very small…predictable. Meanwhile, there were at least a thousand women pushing at eachother in desperation to get in. It reminded me of those terrifying YouTube videos— the ones taken at Wal-Mart on Black Friday where large groups of Americans punch eachother in the face to get cheap video games. There is a universal human desire to aggressively want to buy shit we don’t need.

I managed to get to the front of the mob relatively injury-free. Several women in the large crowd laughed at my reaction to the security checks. I nervously wiggled around while the female security guard patted down every part of my body that shouldn’t be patted down by someone you don’t know.

A bit flushed from my intimate moment with the security guard, I entered the grounds of the expo and was greeted by a myriad of East African rap music. Amongst the throng of people, there were vendors, women getting their hair done, and children’s bouncy castles with WAY to many children in them. I of course had my camera out taking photos of it all, but was careful to keep it strapped in the case and at the front of my body where I could see it.

And then it happened.

Faster than anything, my camera was gone. Because it was strapped to me, I could instantly feel the change of weight, and looked down to see the case unzipped and empty. I looked around, frantically, to see nothing but crowd. I yelled that someone had stolen my camera, but I instantly knew there was no hope. The thief was gone.

I asked a nearby vendor if he had seen anything. He apologized saying that he hadn’t.

“There are so many thieves here. My phone was stolen yesterday,” he said. I asked him if there was anything I could do. He suggested I go to security. Maybe they could keep an eye out for it? File a report? HA.

After going through several people to find someone who spoke English and could tell the security guard my issue, the security guard nodded and started leading me through the expo.

“Here is milk.” he said. He continued walking.

“Here is goat.” he said, pointing to some sticks of meat.

“Why are you showing me goat?” I asked, trying not to show how flustered I was.

“You want restaurant, no?”

Ah fack.

And then I did what any adult does. I called my mom. And like the wise mom she is, she pointed out the important thing was that I wasn’t hurt, and worse things could have been stolen— my iPhone, my laptop, or my passport. I had also backed up my photos, so very few were lost.

I got off the phone with my mom and left the expo, a very sad panda, and mad at myself that I hadn’t been more careful.

But you have to hand it to the thief…that was some darn good stealing. That dude really has a talent.

I hope he enjoys my photos.

Another CMTS intern, Hillary, had her camera stolen in Kigali a while back too. HIDE YOUR CAMERAS, HIDE THEM.

My camera and I, falling in love in Zanzibar

My camera and I, falling in love in Zanzibar. It was a beautiful, but short two-month relationship we had together. Photo by Natalie van Rooy.


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Afterbite

Not too long ago, I was soiling my pants over how to pack for my longest and far-off trip ever.

Although I would say I was relatively successful, I made some serious mistakes in what I failed to pack. Since these blogs were such a resource to me when I was preparing, I thought I would make a list of some important things I brought/forgot for future interns/anyone coming here for an extended period of time.

THINGS I SHOULD HAVE BROUGHT

Bags. Every kind of bag you could possibly use, bring it. Bring small bags for holding little bunches of crap, a laundry bag for your dirty clothes. I should have brought a smaller purse, I should have brought a bigger backpack.

I can’t stress the backpack thing enough, especially if you’re planning on taking trips. I took a small one but it always sucked because it was too small for weekend/weeklong trips and I ended up with no room for luxury items, like pants.

I had other friends here who brought duffle bags, which were super useless because you usually end up having to carry your stuff on your back. I watched my one friend bail in front of an entire Rwandan wedding because he had tried to strap his duffle bag to his back like a backpack.

Also, plastic bags are illegal in Rwanda (cool!) so bring some if you like to use them. Different sized ziploc bags can be great.

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A long, hot hike in Zanzibar, Tanzania with way too much stuff on our backs.

Also wish I brought…

Shampoo. Everything here is expensive and/or made for weaves. I don’t remember what conditioner feels like.

A good notebook. I’ve gone through three and they were all shit. I’ve taken to writing on scraps of paper. Really professional.

Sweatpants. If you know anything about me, you know I own more sweatpants than any other clothing item. I took them out of my bag when I was packing to try to save weight and seriously regret it.

A wide variety of shoes. Bring stuff for hiking, bring flip-flops, bring nicer shoes/sandals for your internship. Shoes are hard to find here and they’re expensive.

A small sleeping bag/blanket and a small, crappy towel. So, so useful when staying in dodgy hostels or freezing your butt off in one of the national parks. Towels can also double as blankets.

Granola bars/power bars. They don’t exist here. Bring several boxes of them, they will save you from starving when all you can buy is white bread.

Chocolate. This was suggested by our CMTS advisor Allan Thompson, but I was silly and only brought two bars. Chocolate is really expensive here, so if you can, get it on your Europe layover because it’s the cheapest and fancy.

 

THINGS I’M GLAD I BROUGHT

Afterbite. I don’t care if you think you’ll be fine with a malaria pill and bug spray. I had a few too many drinks one night and thought it was a great idea to hang out under an avocado tree without any bug spray on. The next day my feet looked like I had scabies.

Dry shampoo. Bring dry shampoo, baby powder, baby wipes, anything that could potentially make you feel or look less dirty than you are.  Our house is currently on Day 3 without running water.

External hard drive and USB keys. I religiously back up everything in case stuff gets broken or stolen. They day I wrote this blog, my camera was stolen, but luckily I had saved all my photos on my laptop.

I also loaded my hard drive with episodes of The Office which was a great relief when the internet was gone or I was feeling homesick. You really can’t download or stream here, so put on as many music, movies, and television as you think you might need.

All-weather stuff. Just because you’re going to Africa doesn’t mean you won’t have times where you freeze your butt off or get stuck in torrential rain. Both have happened to me. I brought a warm sweater and a raincoat and they saved me.

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Freezing in the Vurunga mountains

Medication for every possible ailment even if it’s impossible for you to ever get it. I’m talking painkillers, acid reducers, allergy medication, bowel movement enhancers and decreasers. For the love of god, bring some gravol because you WILL get sick on bus rides, if not from the ridiculously winding roads, then from the fact that other people will get sick around you. You can always leave it behind for people who will really appreciate it. Also, bring eyedrops and if you have glasses, glasses cleaner, because the dust will get in your eyes. Pack your malaria pills in your carry-on. I know a guy who didn’t and the airline lost his luggage for almost a week. Sketchy.

First-aid kit. Bring one that is small enough that you don’t mind carrying it on trips. I have treated many stings, bites, and cuts with my trusty little kit from Shoppers Drug Mart.

Locks. Bring small locks for bag zippers, combination locks, and a bike lock. I have a safety deposit box that I lock to my bed and then lock inside my suitcase. Some rooms have cupboards that lock, but it’s nice to have your own system that only you have a key for.

Scarves. They’re light and they’ve managed to make me look much more put-together than I ever am. They have also doubled as dresses, blankets, towels, and most importantly, I use them to protect my hair from the nasty moto helmets.

Extra space! I read the airline instructions wrong and didn’t know I was allowed two checked bags weighing 23 kg each…so I only brought one. I now have an extra 23 kg to travel back with. Although I could have used an extra few kilograms to bring with me, I now don’t have to worry about limiting the stuff I come home with. That’s awesome, because I want to take a whole lot of Rwanda home with me.

If I’ve forgotten anything else, please feel free to comment below!

If you are one of the interns coming to Rwanda, I highly recommend you check out Livinginkigali.com – the site is run by an expat and has a bunch of really useful tips on not just just what to bring, but where to stay and what to do in Kigali. I’ve found it more useful, and honest, than the Bradt Rwanda guidebook.


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Danger

East Africa has changed my understanding of danger.

Since being here, I have lived with regular warnings about the conflict in neighbouring Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In recent months, things have flared up in the region and Rwanda is becoming increasingly involved.

When I first got here, there were two mortar bombs launched into northern Rwanda from the DRC, but no one was injured.

Then at the end of July, two grenades were set off at the bus station here in Kigali, killing three people and injuring over thirty. Just today, The New Times reported that members of the FDLR are taking responsibility for the attack. The FDLR is labelled by the U.S. and UN as a terrorist organization. The FDLR has been widely blamed for the 1994 genocide.

And then today, the U.S. temporarily closed its embassy in Rwanda, along with 18 others diplomatic posts in the Middle East and Northern Africa, over concerns of a potential terrorism attack from Al-Qaeda.

What I have learned from this is that danger is a relative thing.

When I told people back home that I was travelling to Africa, many were totally bewildered that anyone would want to come here.

But now that I’m in Rwanda, it’s really interesting to see how people view danger here. The day after the grenade attack at the bus station, the place looked the same as always: a swarm of people, buses, and dust. Someone is killed in one spot, and the next day there is a new person standing there, selling juice and magazines.

Every morning I head into work and check Twitter to see what has happened in the region. There is always something. But I would probably not know about it if I didn’t go out of my way to check. Most people here just go about their lives. They get up, they drink coffee, they go on Facebook, they go out to the bar on Saturday night.

It’s not just Rwandans who have this philosophy. I met a couple from the U.S. a few weekends ago who were travelling to Goma, despite it currently being a major conflict zone with hundreds of refugees spilling over into Rwanda and Uganda.

The Americans were headed there to see some friends. “The media exaggerates the situation there,” the guy told me. “Our friends there go salsa dancing at night.”

Driving by a refugee camp south of Kigali. Most of the refugees here are from the DRC.

Driving by a refugee camp south of Kigali. Most of the refugees here are from the DRC.

I’ve also changed my ideas of what a border means. Coming from a country that is as massive as it is calm, the concept of a border didn’t mean much to me. But here, a single line that some dude drew can be the difference between relative safety and absolute danger. Not long ago, Rwanda and Burundi were very much the same place. But during the genocide, the line between the two countries literally meant the difference between life and death. The smallest distances also make the biggest differences. A bus ride from Kigali to the violence in Goma takes less than three hours. In Canada, that wouldn’t even get me from Ottawa to Toronto.

It’s important to note that many agree that Rwanda is one of the most stable countries in Africa right now. This is in large part due to all of the international influence over the last 19 years. I think in many ways, Rwanda became the trendy country to give international aid too. It makes sense that the international community would want to support Rwanda, considering how it failed to help out in 1994. I feel quite confident that the Western world will not let anyone touch Rwanda. (This in itself is troubling considering the state of Rwanda’s neighbours.)

The calm and quiet streets of Musanze, a town less than an hour from Goma.

The calm and quiet streets of Musanze, a town less than an hour from Goma.

All of this has got me thinking for the first time about the relationship between risk and experience. Is it better to live a life where I am comfortable and safe, or one where I really see the world, even if it means I put my safety at risk? I think of the statistics. I am probably more likely to die in a car accident in Ottawa than I am by a grenade here.

I don’t know if I could become an international journalist, since it would probably cause both my parents a premature death. I’m pretty sure my mom is losing sleep and my dad is losing hair from me being here.

But I have gained a whole new respect for the storm chasers— those who go to the places everyone else is leaving. Those who go for human rights and relief work, and those who go for journalism.

I know one thing. I will not be afraid of much in Canada anymore. I also know that when I leave Rwanda, I will always care about what happens here.

And I don’t necessarily think that living in complete safety is really living.

Sorry mom.


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Memorial

I’ve put it off for over a month.

It’s the reason why I chose to come to Rwanda. It’s why I always wanted to come here. But I’ve been avoiding it, knowing that it will be one of the most difficult things I’ve seen in my life.

It’s a dusty, sunny afternoon and I’m riding on the back of a moto to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, trying to prepare myself as we approach the large white arch marking the entranceway.

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The memorial serves several purposes. It’s a museum that documents and presents the events before, during, and after the 1994 genocide that saw 800,000 Rwandans killed within 100 days. The memorial is a place of education on worldwide genocides. And most importantly, it is the resting place of 250,000 Rwandans who were killed.

The outside of the centre features mass graves for those killed, surrounded by several memorial gardens. Huge, long flat blocks of unmarked cement are the final resting spot of a quarter of a million Tutsi and moderate Hutus. The graves have nothing written on them—anonymous— just like so many who died in the genocide. Many people who are buried here are unknown victims—with so many murdered, there was sometimes no one left to identify remains.

Mass graves at the memorial

Mass graves at the memorial

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The inside of the memorial features the museum. It begins with a history of Rwanda’s early Belgian colonialization. This is an important precursor to the genocide that many people in the west are unaware of. It was the Belgians who were the ones who introduced the concept of Hutu and Tutsi as unique ethnic groups. It was the Belgians who created the identity cards identifying Rwandans as Hutu and Tutsi. Many of these identifications were done arbitrarily. For example, people who owned more than 10 cows were automatically deemed Tutsi, those with less than 10 cows were deemed Hutu. Sometimes being a Hutu or Tutsi was determined by the shape of people’s noses.  Violence between the two groups was practically non-existent before the Belgian’s arrived.

There are several other exhibits on the events leading up to and following the genocide. There is an important section on how propaganda and media were used to spread the genocidal message. Along with print, radio played an important role in reaching the masses.

Portions of the museum talk about international involvement (or lack thereof). The display says that the number of forces that were used to evacuate people from other countries would have been enough to stop the genocide from happening.

Portions of the museum talk about how the international community failed to stop the genocide. The display says that the number of forces that were used to evacuate people from other countries  out of Rwanda would have been enough to stop the genocide from happening altogether

I next enter the children’s room, a place specifically dedicated to the kids who died in the genocide. This is particularly hard, because along with a wall of photographs of those who died, there are several profiles that feature the stories of specific children. David was 10 years old. His favourite sport was football. He loved making people laugh. His dream was to become a doctor. His last words were “UNAMIR will come for us.” Cause of death: Tortured to death.

I come to three final rooms. I enter the first room and looking back at me are the faces of thousands of murdered Rwandans. The room is filled with personal photos of those killed, brought in by families and friends of victims. There is a photo of a couple cutting their wedding cake on their wedding day. Another photo is of a teenager making a funny face, dressed in a brightly coloured tracksuit, just like everyone wore in the 90’s.

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The next room is a display of bones. There are rows upon rows of skulls, many with giant cracks down the middle. Many people were killed violently with common farm tools like machetes.

The third and final room is a display of clothing and other items found buried with the victims. Scarves, pants, shoes. There is a dirty, tattered bedsheet. I can tell its from a child’s bed because it has superman printed all over it. There is a massive blood stain in the middle.

Then I see a children’s t-shirt. It says on it, “Ottawa, Canada.”

I break down.

I sit and stare at the bloody t-shirt. Ottawa, Canada, with a big maple leaf on it. I am so far from home. And yet Ottawa was there when this child was slaughtered in cold blood. My country, like the rest of the international community, turned its back and watched as nearly one million people were murdered by their very neighbours. My country, even my city, was there.  And we did nothing.

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Beans

Today marks exactly one month since I arrived in Kigali. Adapting to a new country for the first time in my life hasn’t always been the easiest, but it has definitely been an adventure I will never forget.

There are several main things you really need to be okay with if you’re going to come to a place like this. Thus, I have created a list of things any intern must like in order to thrive in a place like Kigali.

1. You must like cold showers. You must like going without a shower.

Hot showers are pretty rare here as most homes are not equipped with a hot water heater (mine included.) We’re currently in the dry season in Rwanda, which also means that the water is often cut off completely, especially in the morning. I’ve become completely comfortable showering with a jerry can in the morning. Timing hair washing is also essential since we sometimes go days without running water except for in the middle of the night. (Three cheers for dry shampoo!)

We also lose electricity, although less frequently. Since going without water and electricity is pretty common here, it’s actually really cool to see how these interruptions fail to disrupt the flow of everyday life here in Kigali. In Ottawa, a day without water or electricity would probably result in mass pandemonium. Here, you sometimes aren’t even aware the water is gone until you cover your hands in soap and try to turn on the tap. (I recommend checking that there is water first so you don’t have to wash your hands with bottled water like I did.)

2. You must like beans.

The Rwandan diet consists of several main staple foods. Since the country is so small, there are several key foods produced here that are relatively cheap. Everything else is imported from outside (often Kenya) which make them considerably more expensive. (I spent about $5 for a chocolate bar the other day and it was completely worth it!)

Despite a problematic lack of cost-efficient chocolate, peanut butter and yogourt are made here in the country and the stuff would put Skippy and Yoplait out of business. I have also developed a love of African Tea— an amazing blend of black tea, milk, spices and fresh ginger that puts any chai latte in Canada to shame.

As for dinner, you better like beans. Dinner always usually consists of a staple starch (usually potatoes, rice, or a flatbread called chipatti) and beans. Fortunately for me, I love beans and because they are made from scratch, they are amazing compared to the canned type back home. I’ve heard that Rwandans eat more beans per capita than any other country, but I have not been able to find a credible source for that other than the dude who told me at a buffet.

Many types of fruit are plentiful and cheap here, including bananas, avocados, pineapple, passionfruit and mangos. All of these fruits are superior to any Canadian version and I would be happy living off these alone! Good luck finding broccoli though.

Another favourite condiment here is “pili pili,” a locally grown, extremely spicy pepper. It’s concentrated into a liquid and put in little drop containers, and basically served with every meal like you would salt. One drop on an entire plate of food and your whole mouth will be on fire. (So I’ve been told…I’m way too scared to try it!)

3. You must like being the centre of attention. All. The. Time.

It’s hard to get used to the stares that come with being a “muzungu” (white person) here. Caucasians are quite a rarity, especially as you head out of Kigali. Growing up in North Bay, I am relatively used to people staring all the time, but it was still an adjustment to get used to the feeling of everyone’s eyes on my back all the time. The best way to deal with the stares is to simply smile and say hello (“Beat-eh!” in Kinyarwanda). Whoever is staring usually gets a little embarrassed and then smiles and says hi back.

It’s quite strange though…some people here will literally lose it over the sight of a white person. I can’t count the times people have tried to take photos of Nat and I wherever we are, like we’re some kind of travelling attraction. I’ve had a two-year-old chase after my moto with surprising speed for a good five minutes, yelling “muzungu!” over and over. I’ve even had a woman hang out the side of a moving bus, waving her hands in the air and screaming at us like a Justin Bieber fan.

So there you go. Don’t shower, eat a lot of beans, and then go outside knowing that everyone in the city will be watching you. That should turn out well.

You’re welcome.

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Motos

They’re the cheapest and most efficient mode of transit in Kigali, and they’re absolutely terrifying.

Motorcycle taxis (or “motos” as they are called in Rwanda) can be found absolutely everywhere, dodging around cars and barrelling  over dirt roads. I’m never stuck waiting more than a minute before one bolts past me, ready to take me anywhere in the city for a cost of about 500-1000 rwandan francs (About $1 to $2 Canadian). Car taxis are expensive and buses are both confusing and slow (they only leave when they’re full), so motos are the transit of choice for Rwandans.

I’ve told my Dad I won’t take a moto in Rwanda because they’re dangerous, but I’m in Kigali for less than a day and I’m clambering onto the back of one. Natalie, a fellow intern from Carleton and roommate here, has luckily been on one before. We hail two motos and she haggles with the drivers over the price. Because we’re clearly “muzungus” (white people) and not from here, the moto drivers will often attempt to overcharge. Luckily for us, we always make sure to know what the price should be beforehand. Natalie is also ridiculously good at haggling prices. Doing so often draws a mob of multiple moto drivers and a collection of random Rwandans who come to watch the entertaining exchange.

Motos zooming along my street. Note how both the driver and rider are barely holding on!

Motos zooming along my street. Note how both the driver and rider are barely holding on!

We finally decide on a price for our trip—800 francs— and the moto driver hands me a decrepit helmet with a visor so scratched I can barely see out of it. I tell myself that they helmet damage is just from overuse. Natalie looks at me while buckling on her own helmet. “Just try not to think about it too much,” she says. Wise words.

I hop on the back and we’re off, winding in and out of trucks and cars with surprising skill. There is a bar on the back to hold on to and I clench it so tight my fingers turn white! Since I’ve grown up riding snowmobiles (from the North, eh?), I at least understand some basic rules for keeping my balance on a machine like this.

It’s a beautiful way to see the city though, and this early morning ride is my first view of Kigali in the daytime. The rich colours of the city streak past me, the deep red soil and the lush green trees. People gawk at me, the word “muzungu” on their lips when they notice my pale skin.

I look at the moto’s dash. It reads zero kilometers per hour. Hmm. It’s probably better not to know my speed anyways. The trip odometer has over 200,000 km on it, and the gas tank reads empty. (I later learn that this is exactly what the dash looks like on most motos.)

After about 20 minutes, we arrive at our final destination, and it’s time to pay the moto drivers. Holding onto your helmet is the only way to make sure you get your change back. Natalie notices her driver has tried to take an extra 100 francs for himself.

He laughs and reluctantly hands over the coin.