We Wend And Wander In Wonder Through Rwanda

Posted in Review / Travel / The Honey Badger Diaries

We Wend And Wander In Wonder Through Rwanda

At last! We are getting into the swing of things. Our days are longer, and distances travelled are slightly shorter as we fall into the relaxed African rhythm. This boils down to the realisation that I’m spending more time reading, cooking, relaxing and indulging in tiny treats like sitting with my feet up and exploring with my eyes closed. "Bravo!" my neighbour shouts, "and about time too!"

Butch says Rwanda is like many of the women he knows. Unpredictable. “like coffee, you’ll only know how strong she is when you pop her into a plunger and add boiling water.”

A friend who worked in Rwanda, when asked to confirm our notion that Rwanda is a model of transformation, a democracy built on solid leadership and an example of economic transformation in Africa, hesitated for a long time before answering, shaking his head while pulsing his shoulders and twisting his lips, said: “don’t scratch the surface.” Before changing the subject, adding, “They have inadequacies.”

My knowledge of Rwanda was limited to the Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi between 7 April and 15 July 1994 during the Rwandan Civil War and "The Hotel Rwanda" the 2004 docudrama film co-written and directed by Terry George starring Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo as hotelier Paul Rusesabagina and his wife, Tatiana. Based on the Rwandan Genocide.

The film documents Rusesabagina’s efforts to save the lives of his family and more than 1,000 other refugees by sheltering them in the besieged Hôtel des Mille Collines. Hotel Rwanda explores Genocide, political corruption, and the repercussions of violence.


To understand the conundrum that is Rwanda, it is essential to revisit its history.

In 1899, Rwanda became a German colony. After the defeat of the Germans during WW1, in 1919, Rwanda became a mandate territory of the League of Nations under the administration of Belgium. The Germans and the Belgians administered Rwanda through a system of indirect rule.

Belgium controlled several territories and concessions during the colonial era, principally the Belgian Congo (DR Congo) from 1908 to 1960, Ruanda-Urundi (Rwanda and Burundi) from 1922 to 1962, and Lado Enclave (Central Equatoria province in South Sudan) from 1884 to 1910.

(Side Note: Leopold II (French: Léopold Louis Philippe Marie Victor; 9 April 1835 – 17 December 1909) was the second King of Belgium from 1865 to 1909 and the sole owner of the Congo Free State from 1885 to 1908. He will be remembered as an abusive tyrant.

“The Congo”, by Illinois poet Vachel Lindsay, wrote: “Listen to the yell of Leopold’s ghost, Burning in Hell for his hand-maimed host.”


Before the colonial era, Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa lived in relative harmony. The Tutsi (14% of the population) were the cattle herders, soldiers and administrators, the Hutu (85%) were the farmers, and the marginalised Twa (1%) were hunter-gatherers or potters.

Rwanda was separated from Burundi and gained independence on 1 July 1962, declaring itself an independent country under new Hutu leaders. Cycles of violence followed, with exiled Tutsi attacking from neighbouring countries and the Hutu retaliating with large-scale slaughter and repression of the Tutsi.

The Hutus remained in power until 1990, when Tutsi rebels invaded the country, starting another civil war. The two groups fought until 1993 when peace negotiations began to take place.

Belgium withdrew its troops from Rwanda in April 1994 during the Rwandan Genocide after ten Belgian soldiers were killed and several others were captured and tortured by Rwandan government forces.


We continued all along the eastern shores of Lake Tanganyika, skimming through Gombe National Park and quietly slipping past Burundi. Unfortunately, we could not enter Burundi due to insurance constraints on our Honey Badger.

We’d met two lovely NGOs working in Burundi who were adamant we should go. Still, unfortunately, Butch didn’t see his way clear to enter the country, with its shocking roads and rumours of dodgy security without insurance.

Once again, the dramatic landscape changed as we traversed higher altitudes. 

Our border experience in Rwanda was professional; the well groomed officer was knowledgeable and multi-lingual, and the modern, working IT system saw us on our way within a few minutes. We could stay for three months too.


We were excited and eager to explore Rwanda, often called the “beating heart of Africa”, and soon experienced the undulating thousand hills as we snaked through the green, hilly landscape.

I love the sun and hot climates and had misgivings about the tropical, temperate climate due to its high altitude. It is rumoured that the average annual temperature ranges between 16 and 20˚C without significant variations. Rainfall is abundant and experienced throughout the year, with the most significant rain occurring from September to May. "Oh boy, that’s like winter in Worcester" I declared. Butch ignored my comments about the weather!


The roads were excellent. The tarmac is maintained and in pristine condition. There was not a pothole in sight. The Honey Badger could pick up speed (a little) and went singing along at a good clip. We did not break the land speed record; there were rules and speed restrictions we would adhere to. 

Rwanda’s agricultural production comes from smallholder farmers. Rwanda’s principal crops include coffee, pyrethrum, tea, flowers, beans, cassava, banana, Irish potatoes, rice, wheat, and sugarcane. This is no Banana Republic, but there are millions of banana trees everywhere even in the tiniest garden. Food for thought.

Most of Rwanda’s soil is suitable for agriculture as it is fertile.

Homes along our route were brick and mortar and gave the impression that the economy was on the upswing, but we were still in Africa, where children waved and shouted “Mzungu” from the side of the road, and people were courteous. I loved the use of colour on doors and window frames, it speaks of creativity and individualism. 

“Like Singapore,” Butch said in Kigina where we found parking in a narrow lane off the market a few streets up from the Main Road, where the facade of order, prosperity and success succumb to the usual colourful chaos we’ve experienced elsewhere. Thank goodness.

No sooner had I alighted the truck to find the Vodacom shop to buy SIM cards when the subtropical heavens opened, and a downpour ensued, creating puddles and streams cascading to the main street.


I was wet, my hair was in a frizz, and we needed to sample the legendary Rwandan coffee everyone had told us about.

The Urugo Women’s Opportunity Center sounded like the perfect destination.

After our coffee, Butch went off to settle in while I perused the shop and succumbed to the friendly ladies’ sale pitch and basketry. The joyful use of colour again demonstrates women’s positive attitude and expresses their delight in being uplifted. The ability to create something a stranger will enjoy using gives the creator a feeling of accomplishment, and their continued success inspires other women. One lady told me triumphantly.

The beautiful gardens, astonishing architecture, in keeping with local traditions, and the work produced at the Urugo Women’s Opportunity Center impressed us. They set the bar for our onward journey of discovery in Rwanda.


Only this morning I opened our last packet of Question Everything - The Power of Women.

Here is a step by step guide to producing, from a seed to the perfect Cuppachino - as told by the Receptionist.
10 Steps from Seed to Cup
  • Planting. A coffee bean is actually a seed.
  • Harvesting the Cherries. 
  • Processing the Cherries. 
  • Drying the Beans. 
  • Milling the Beans. 
  • Exporting the Beans. 
  • Tasting the Coffee. 
  • Roasting the Coffee


In Kayonza, we stopped to use the ATM for Rwandan Franc (R1.00 or US$0.05 = RWF6756). It would take a while to get our heads around that. To bolster our spirits and to test the new currency, we stopped for a coffee at Stafford Coffee’s street vendor’s cart for an excellent brew and Chipati.

There was no time to linger; puffy clouds were gathering momentum, and at Rusororo, we were driving in the rain.



Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, is the country’s heartbeat. It is situated on the Ruganwa River. Like a colourful patchwork quilt, the cityscape swathes the “city of a thousand hills”. Lush greenery, avenues of trees, clean streets, and boulevards give the city a unique and captivating character, making it visually appealing and thrilling to explore.

Kigali was a trade centre during the German colonial administration, became a regional centre during the Belgian occupation and the capital upon Rwanda’s independence in 1962.

As a primate city, Kigali is relatively young. It has been Rwanda’s economic, cultural, and transport hub since it was founded as an administrative outpost in 1907.

We wound around the city’s outskirts, spiralling down into the centre, where we found our first night’s camping spot at the Catholic Diocese of Kigali.

It was wet and muggy when we arrived there, and getting late, we were exhausted. The Sister Receptionist was not very accommodating, and after protracted negotiations on Butch’s part, we were permitted to park for a few nights. The rates, after parleying, were exorbitant, $20pppn. We were allocated a bathroom in one of the rooms a few hundred meters away from the Honey Badger parked in an obscure spot behind the restaurant, almost like she was an embarrassment.

My comment on iOverlander ends with “Basic standards at European rates.”


To find the lay of the land, we decided to treat ourselves to dinner at The Hut Restaurant and Bar.

The Honey Badger would take a night off, and we’d hail a taxi to whisk us off to our destination. At first, with the help of Google Maps, the driver knew precisely where to go, so we sped off into the city centre. I oohed and aahed at the skyscrapers, the city lights, the modern malls and Butch was bowled over by the construction work in progress.

Eventually, we exited the main thoroughfare and entered a warren of side streets with dubious gravel alleys. By the time we reached our destination, the blue hour had passed, and the sun was lighting up Canada with long rays of golden light.

The busy restaurant was abuzz with diners who, unlike me, had enjoyed the views on numerous occasions but gave me plenty of leeway to shoot a few pictures, take a deep breath of washed Kigali air and spot the evening star sidling up to the moon.

We dined on fine international cuisine. Butch enjoyed a glass of South African wine while we enjoyed the chatter all around us.

To end a perfect date night, our taxi was waiting for us at the gate. The return trip took a fraction of the time, and no sooner had we got “home” than we were fast asleep. At 2h00, we pulled our crochet blanket out of a hatch. We were feeling the cold.




We donned our walking shoes, shorts, hats and daypacks the following morning. We slathered ourselves with copious handfuls of sunblock (you never know when the sun might shine) and ventured into the city.

Butch had Google Maps guiding the way, and I had researched some landmarks to visit.

Kigali, like most modern cities, was busy. Rivers of vehicles of every shape and size flowed in every direction; pavements were clogged with pedestrians scuttling about like ants on a mission.

Butch and I had to have our wits about us. In Rwanda, traffic flows on the right side of the road, and most vehicles are left-hand drive! It was no longer “look right, left, right” before crossing the street. I felt as confused as a Wildebeest about to cross the Mara River, someone who knows instinctively that a monstrous crocodile is eyeing them ravenously.

A half dozen near misses later, we had to stop at a Parisiene-inspired coffee shop in the old town.

Kigali has achieved a clean and litter-free environment without the threat of harsh fines by the principle of Umuganda (meaning “contribution”) – the compulsory community service once a month for all Rwandans, where people clean up their communities.


Kigali is a safe, clean city with a well-maintained infrastructure system and modern city planning with tree-lined streets and roads. Modern urban developments and neighbourhoods are juxtaposed with informal settlements.

Seeing a large, modern, multistorey building looming over a cluster of tiny homes was interesting and begs the question, “How long can they survive this rapid 21st-century development?”

Hotels, banks, embassies, sports stadiums, colleges, universities, schools galore and  Smart City Complexes are surrounded by manicured lawns, sculptured shrubs, art, and water features. We were bowled over.




Every Rwandan is painfully aware of the 1994 Genocide. In every town and village where atrocities took place, there is a Genocide Memorial, with artefacts on display depicting the bloodshed, lists commemorating the names of lives lost and, where possible, who perpetrated the crimes. These sites are kept in immaculate condition often by citizens who experienced the carnage or lost loved ones.

It would’ve been amiss of us not to visit The Kigali Genocide Memorial commemorating the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The remains of over 250,000 people are interred there. There is a visitor centre for visitors wishing to understand the events leading up to the genocide that occurred in Rwanda.

With our young guide, we confronted the grotesque horrors of the genocide while she navigated us through the exhibits on display. In a soft voice, at times I had to bend to hear her, she did justice to the poignant detail of the victims and the depth of depravity of the perpetrators. It is unfathomable to think that it’s possible to brutally kill one million people in just one hundred days. The slain were members of the Tutsi minority ethnic group, as well as some moderate Hutu and Twa, were murdered by armed Hutu militias.

While standing on the rooftop, after our extensive tour and talk, we stood in silence and took in the cityscape the soldiers had to defend. Then, she also told us that Rusesabagina of The Hotel Rwanda fame has since come under fierce criticism from survivors of the Genocide for inaccuracies in his depiction of events. (I have since then watched other documentaries and films about the genocide - lest I should forget)

Our guide eloquently transformed our experience into an intensely powerful and moving encounter.

“They explain to me there’s no difference between the Hutus and Tutsis - they speak the same language, share the same culture and religion.” ANTJIE KROG reports from Fest'Afrika in Rwanda

“Don’t use safe phrases such as decapitating a child! What happened to that head? What happened to that torso? That artery!” Anonymous Mother and survivor.


“We are preaching hope, standing on the bones of the past.”

“The perpetrators of genocides are usually men of the herd, men who follow orders without questioning them. Rwanda was no exception.”― John Rucyahana, The Bishop of Rwanda: Finding Forgiveness Amidst A Pile of Bones.


Rwanda: Where Tears Have No Power by Haki R. Madhubuti

who has the moral high ground?

fifteen blocks from the whitehouse
on small corners in northwest, d.c.
boys disguised as me rip each other’s hearts out
with weapons made in china. they fight for territory.
across the planet in a land where civilisation was born
the boys of d.c. know nothing about their distant relatives
in Rwanda. they have never heard of the hutu or tutsi people.
their eyes draw blanks at the mention of kigali, byumba
or butare. all they know are the streets of d.c., and do not
cry at funerals anymore. numbers and frequency have a way
of making murder commonplace and not news,
unless it spreads outside of our house, block, territory.
modern massacres are intraethnic, bosnia, sri lanka,  burundi,
nagorno-karabkh, iraq, angola, liberia, and rwanda are
small foreign names on a map made in europe. when bodies
by the tens of thousands float down a river, turning the water
the color of blood, as a quarter of a million people flee barefoot
into tanzania and  zaire, somehow we notice, we do not smile
we have no more tears. we hold our thoughts. in deeply
muted silence looking south and thinking that today
nelson mandela seems much larger
than he is.


The bookshop and coffee shop we stumbled upon was the perfect ending to a long day on our feet. Emotionally drained after our tour through the Genocide Memorial Museum, we needed a quiet place to contemplate what we’d learned. We found it.

Sitting with our backs to shoppers, we took in the city from our comfortable chairs, sipping our coffees. The landscape perfectly describes a modern city in a developing African country where the rich and poor have to live side by side with dignity, respect and empathy.

I found a dozen books, all written by African authors. Some I’d never heard of and a few favourites. I could’ve purchased them all in a heartbeat, but I had to resist the temptation. There is no space in my tiny wooden box anymore. Besides, I’d never be able to swap The Memory Of Love by Aminatta Forma for a musty thrice-loved, well-thumbed fifty-year-old Penny Horrible by Jilly Cooper. It would be sacrilege.


We were uncomfortable camping out in the Catholic Church’s parking area and decided to move on to more suitable grounds.

Our only option was Peponi Living Spaces, a hotel in one of the suburbs. There are no campsites in Kigali.

Once again, our campsite will be a parking area for three nights. Although we had limited space and were walled in, a balanced Feng Shui existed.

The owner (an excellent creative photographer) and his wife, who live on the property, were charming and regularly checked in on us to make sure we were comfortable. The facilities were all good. We could do our laundry, eat in the restaurant and enjoy the swimming pool. The views were spectacular at night when all the city lights came on.


On the Saturday, we decided to take a long walk around our neighbourhood. The terrain was too hilly for biking, we thought and set off at a brisk pace.

The deserted streets were a surprise. The only activity we noticed was an ancient lady, stooped and wizened, sweeping the pavement doggedly with her short grass broom.

Large, modern, walled homes, apartment blocks and strip Malls lined the quiet streets. “Ah,” we thought, “residents take things slowly on the weekends in this prosperous neighbourhood.” Quite impressive.

Shops open later, stalls stand empty, and the filling station has only one attendant on duty. At least the pharmacy’s door was open for business. We noticed and entered to purchase “Tears Natural” for my dry eyes.

The surly young pharmacist reluctantly served us, only to tell us she had no stock after a perfunctory glance over her shoulder. Feeling fobbed off, we left and continued our walk, hoping to find a good coffee shop.

At around 11h00, we could hear the distinctive tuk-tuk of two-stroke engines fire up as the popular Tuk-Tuks started sweeping past us with their unmistakable knocking.

Like living statues posing as mannequins, the streets suddenly came alive, and the frenetic bustle of city life took off where it had left off the previous night.

Our host explained that it was the Rwandan Community work day and the Kigali car-free day.

“Umuganda is a national holiday in Rwanda and takes place on the last Saturday of every month for mandatory nationwide community service from 08:00 to 11:00. Participation in umuganda is required by law, and failure to participate can result in a fine.

The purpose is to contribute to the overall national development and was reintroduced to Rwandan life in 1998 as part of efforts to rebuild the country after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.” Wikipedia

He explained how communities come together to perform cleaning of the streets, maintenance work is done where required, and if a community member has special needs, e.g. requires a new roof, the community will work together to provide and complete the task and, most importantly, disputes amongst neighbours are discussed and settled. He wholeheartedly supported the initiative, adding that communities are more aware of each other and likened it to an extended family in small rural communities. Ubuntu.

“The ministry responsible for community work in Rwanda is the National Unity & Community Resilience Department, which promotes unity and social cohesion and coordinates and monitors social healing interventions within the Rwandan community; it monitors and coordinates the initiatives.” Wiki.


The Kigali Car Free Day is a twice-monthly event on the first and third Sundays. On this day, several roads are blocked off so that people can walk, run, or cycle freely without interference from motorbikes or vehicles. Even the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, usually takes part in these exercises. We were told.



Our lunch recommendation was a local Indian Restaurant “serving the best Indian Cuisine in Kigali.” We6certainly couldn’t argue with that.

The Delhi Darbar Indian Restaurant  “Kigali’s authentic Indian Restaurant” lived up to all our expectations.


It was time to move on. The city was closing in on us, and we needed to get out before we were gobbled up by the busyness, noise, too many choices, and its perfection. Butch stood by his opinion “This is just like Singapore.” I wonder what a Kigali Sling would cost and taste like?

The countryside was an overwhelming green in all its magnificent hues. Driving through the city early in the morning took me back twenty years when, I too, did the school run each morning. 

In one village, we misinterpreted the Garmin and took a wrong turn, sending us off on a wild goose chase across rolling hills, small holdings, patchwork fields and farms into deep valleys dotted with cattle, goats and the occasional sheep.


Curious onlookers gaped at us, traversing the narrowest roads, often hardly a “twee spoor”, as we hugged rugged hills and held our thumbs so we’d not roll off a vertical decline.

Rice paddies were green with new growth, corn stood shoulder height, and sunflowers proudly held their heads high. We crossed rivers on rickety bridges and could smell the African rain recently fallen on muddy roads and embankments.

Friendly ladies hoeing or tilling their fields gesticulated which way to go when I, the doubting Thomas, might’ve taken another route.

This was the road less travelled, and how thrilled we are to have conquered it.

We bumped and jostled our way along, but five hours later, we skidded to a stop and saw the main road before us again. 

During the entire trip we did not pass nor see another vehicle. Occasionally we'd here  the whine of a motorbike down in the valley below, the sound amplified, echoeing up the slopes of  the mountains.


Did you know? Rwanda is

  • Home to the endangered mountain gorillas. ..
  • Rwanda is the most densely populated country on the continent of Africa. ...
  • No plastic bags here! ...
  • Community work day. ...
  • Kigali car-free days. ...
  • Rwanda has four official languages. ...
  • Rwanda has Central Africa’s largest protected wetland.


The National Coat of Arms of Rwanda: The Seal of the Republic of Rwanda consists of a green ring with a knot of the same colour tied at the lower edge of the ring; on the top are the imprints “REPUBLIC OF RWANDA”. Below the knot is the national motto: “UNITY, WORK, PATRIOTISM”.


 “Propaganda is as powerful as heroin; it surreptitiously dissolves all capacity to think.”
― Gil Courtemanche, A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali.