24 October 2007

Hello from Kigali, Rwanda

Hello all!

Greetings from Rwanda's capital Kigali. I arrived a few hours back from Bruxelles, after having a wonderful 18 hour visit with our dear friends Debbie and Dino. We had a terrific time catching up - we haven't seen each other since we were in Amsterdam together in November - so it was great arriving to their home in Belgium, hanging out, i-chatting with Jane, and enjoying a glass of real Belgian beer and frites with them. So nice to have such good friends, even if they are a plane ride away! Thanks Debbie and Dino for your hospitality, warmth, and good times!

I left Bruxelles this morning for my flight to Africa ... after arriving with my characteristically lone piece of luggage, I was able to pass immediately through security so I could quickly grab my second café - the first was with my bleary eyed hosts this morning in their kitchen, poor souls! I enjoyed my latté and was able to quickly write to the kids in camp, espousing the virtues of Belgian chocolate, beer, and frites!

At the gate for my Brussels Airlines flight, I felt like a real schlepper! Although the majority of those flying seemed to be non-African (a good number of American missionaries, young people, and Europeans), the Rwandans boarding stole the show. Talk about grace! Youthful, incredible smiles, humble, yet confident, it was clear to see what I was going to experience this week in Kigali. Each person was dressed more fashionably than the next, and not in a self-conscious or pretentious way ... simply gorgeous. Slender, fit, and with the most glorious chocolate colored skin I've ever seen, they boarded the flight with charm and ease, wearing Roberto Cavelli belts, Prada shoes, ties and slim fitting jackets - very 'cool' looking, ipods in hand. I had been warned in all honesty - recently I attended a meeting for the project I am working on here, and as it was an advisory board conference, I uncharacteristically wore a suit. At the end of the afternoon, I remarked that I knew I wouldn't be doing that in Rwanda, to which my colleague Sifa responded that the people I would be meeting with take their positions seriously, and dress accordingly! (So off to H&M I went, looking for business attire!).

We left Belgium a bit late this morning, but flew through fantastic weather with clear skies, affording me the opportunity to peruse the landscape below ... I was surprised to see that we were flying over the Greek islands, directly above Mykonos, Crete, Santorini - then across the azure Mediterranean to what I thought was Libya, but was in fact Alexandria, Egypt. Down the Nile we followed our flight path, into Sudan just to the east of the infamous Darfur region. After reading a book yesterday by a survivor of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, it was disheartening to think of what is going on in that area, and eastern Chad, while the world seemingly stands by. For those who have not had the chance, Vanity Fair is running a series of articles addressing this, and other issues in Africa this month, which makes worthy reading.

Upon leaving Sudan's airspace, it was a quick hop over Uganda, just to the west of Entebbe, and at that time the sun set (it goes away early here, 2 degrees south of the Equator - around 6:30pm, as opposed to Northern Europe - last night in Bruxelles the sun set at 10:30pm!). From there, it was a final jaunt into Kigali ... a smooth approach, quick disembarkation to the terminal, and very quickly through immigration (and yes, that French is really coming in handy!). I was met immediately by my colleague Sifa, and her brother Alain - they are native Rwandans who's family were touched by the horrors of 13 years ago, yet retain the characteristic grace and good nature of the Rwandan people. It was a comfortable 70 degrees when I landed, and having traveled to India and Morocco recently, I can guarantee that Rwanda is tame relatively speaking! The people are gentle and solicitous, warm and friendly (that ever present smile!) - Kigali is a city free of plastic bags (to eliminate trash and to be 'green' this was ordered by Paul Kagame's government last year). Today was a monthly 'cleanup' day for the city - similar to what I used to do at summer camp as a kid (the 'sweep') - anyone out before noon is required to work on beautifying the city by picking up trash, gardening, etc.. Even foreigners, if out and about, are required to participate!

I arrived to the hotel, which is gorgeous in an urban/resort way, and was offered fresh orange juice while checking in (which took no more than 30 seconds!). I was quickly shown to my room, on the top floor overlooking the grounds, with all of the amenities one could imagine from a 5 star hotel ... wifi, fluffy robes, oversized safe, etc.. After unpacking, I went down to the pool for a large 'pression' of Rwandan beer and had a light dinner (10pm) of more frites, and a baguette sandwich stuffed with Rwandan grilled vegetables - aubergines, tomatoes, and particularly good sweet green peppers.

Off to bed now, as I'm going to visit the site for our inspiring project at 9 am tomorrow morning ... wishing you all the best from Africa, and looking forward to sharing the rest of my story with you during the week!

Love Harley

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