Monday, May 08, 2017

A Trip to Burundi and BBQ Goat

Well since I'd broken the seal on going to sketchy country's borders then turning around, why not another?

The Burundi border was super close to Kigali. I want to say the drive was 1.5 hours tops one way.

When I got in the cab Kayitare had the radio on and was listening to news concerning Emmanuel Macron winning the French presidential election. The only words I recognized were Clinton, Trump, American, Le Pen, and Macron. My driver's English is pretty serviceable so that has been great. On these long road trips I've been able to pick his brain a little. I asked him why was France important to Rwanda and he gave a pretty surprising answer.

So as I've stated previously Rwanda was a German colony first then Belgian. Never belonged to France. However French is one of the languages spoken in Belgium and it seems that it is fairly popular here in Rwanda. After Rwanda gained independence my understanding is that France involved itself in the affairs of Rwanda just because it was a French speaking country.

Anyway long story short France seems to have picked the wrong side in the civil war that resulted in the Rwandan genocide, and is accused of training the militias that did all of the killing. Its soldiers also fought the army that ended the genocide. So the relationship between the two countries is still pretty frayed, with France not even having an ambassador in the country according to Kayitare. 

Fred said he was so tired from driving to Uganda and DR Congo with me that yesterday he didn't work and just rested. Hey man I don't play.

Whelp. To the road!

Next time you want to complain about your job think of the lady whose job it is to carry a big bundle of sticks on top of her damn head while walking along the side of the highway.

And I can't wait to get on the road again
On the African road again
Goin' places that I've never been
Seein' things that I may never see again

There aren't a heck of a lot of street signs around these parts.

We arrived at the border without incident. Let's talk Burundi. The US State Department gives them a ringing endorsement: "Political violence persists throughout Burundi in the aftermath of the country’s contested elections, an attempted coup d’etat, and debate over the President’s eligibility for a third term." I've read that this border is so closed that they wouldn't even let UN food assistance through. Now that's a closed border. "I'll give you a bite of my PBJ if you let me cross this border."

So I didn't feel that bad when I asked for an entry visa and they told me no. No, I'm not crazy enough to actually go into the place I just wanted the stamp in my passport, but no dice. Kayitare said that he would be in even more danger in Burundi than I would be. As we passed the Rwanda side of the border into no man's land, the Rwandan police took his ID card and the car's registration to keep him from trying to cross into Burundi, for his own safety. Now that's real.

Kayitare did awesome though and tried his best to advocate for me with the Burundian immigration office people. They replied that no it was not possible and that I should have applied for a visa beforehand with their embassy in DC. I did not find it necessary to tell either side that I had already done that and had been denied. I'm a bad, bad man.

A random guy hanging out at the border told us that the only foreigners allowed in are Chinese people because the Chinese government supports the regime. Ok, let's call it agree to disagree and turn around.

Close enough.

The highway didn't have much traffic on it at all. Well it's a highway to the border and the border is closed, so now that makes a lot more sense.

Kayitare suggested stopping for a refreshment. Yes let's. He suggested a hotel that we passed but I'm all hoteled out. Let's keep this real, now. His next suggestion was Bar Gahembe. Now we're talkin'!

This place was a whole compound. I was impressed.

My companion doesn't do beer but he ordered a wine. The serving ritual was hilarious. The waiter brought a whole platter of stuff over to our table. He first set a box of wine on the table and then proceeded to pour some into a little empty whiskey bottle. I assume he was doing this for an exact measurement. Then he set the wineful whiskey bottle on the table, cap screwed on, alongside a wineglass. Classy. "A pint of your worst wine for my friend barkeep!"

I could see delicious smelling smoke rising from a building across the courtyard. My fearless guide was raving about how fresh the goat was around here. They bring live goats here, butcher them, then grill them right up, no freezing the meat or anything. I initially refused but after a couple more insistent offers...  you know where this is going.

If eating here doesn't make me sick then I may be immortal. Why oh why was I cursed with such sterling manners and concern for the feelings of my fellow man? It was really good but I'm pretty comfortable with weird meat. It was a little gristley at times which might not suit the average chicken nugget connoisseur. There were a few hairs on it and I pondered if I'd rather they came from the goat or the chef.

I was shooing flies while I sat but mercifully I haven't dealt with many mosquitos at all. What else can I tell you? Oh it was 500 Rwandan Francs per skewer which is about 60 cents. In the bathroom there were ants all over the place including on/in the urinal. You know what they say, live by the pee, die by the pee.

After we left I was like "that place was awesome I wonder how many Westerners have even been to that place?", imagining myself as some sort of modern-day Marco Polo of Africa. Kayitare replied "oh there's lots there on the weekends." Sigh. I guess I can't name the place after myself on American maps after all.

Back in Kigali I visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre. It was pretty rough. There's a whole section devoted to the stories of individual children who were killed.

The whole thing seemed to be a cascade of failures from western governments, the catholic church, and basic human dignity.

To end on a lighter note, Rwanda has sparkly gorillas on their banknotes.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Livin It Up at the Hotel Rwanda

Matt was leaving today so we had one more monster breakfast.

I asked a bit more about his day to day life. He said his place has 4 rooms and that rent is 36 dollars a month. The bathroom and kitchen are in a detached building of some sort. He said it's a two hour journey to the nearest native English speaker. It's funny because I thought I was some sort of trailblazing hero when I was working in Japan. Teaching in Africa makes that sound like a vacation.

I guess when they do digging for construction projects they still find bodies from the genocide. Man oh man. I'm sort of dreading going to the genocide memorial. Not entirely sure if I want to go at all.

Breakfast of champions.

I hadn't really taken the time to check out the hotel's exterior so we strolled around a bit after breakfast.

That's some real African patio furniture right there.

It being the rainy season I didn't get to take advantage of the pool. It looked nice though.

We still had time for a little bit of sightseeing before Matt had to depart. The Hotel Rwanda was walking distance from my hotel so we popped over for a look. The hotel from the movie is actually called the Hôtel des Mille Collines which is a French reference to Rwanda being call the Land of a Thousand Hills.

Genocide memorial. This is a random genocide related Rwanda fact. So I've mentioned that it's super clean and orderly definitely in Kigali but also Rwanda as a whole. Another thing that's different here is there aren't gross feral dogs and cats all over the damn place like there were in Senegal/Gambia. Well I think part of the reason why is that during the genocide there were so many bodies laying around everywhere that street animals developed a taste for human flesh and were all shot.

I liked this place a lot. I'm not sure which hotel, mine or here, I would say was nicer. My hotel is brand new so it's not really a fair comparison. This one though felt a lot classier and probably had more of a vacation clientele. I definitely prefer the atmosphere here. My hotel was always full of suits like a convention center. Kigali Marriott is a lot like the hotel I stayed at in Brussels. There it was European Union bureaucrats having meetings and here it's African Union bureaucrats having meetings.

Took this last opportunity to ask Matt more about his life here. Some random tidbits:

Some of his kids have lines burned into their foreheads from a now illegal traditional form of medicine where you touch a hot iron to someone's face to cure disease.

His village trades potatoes with a nearby one for sugarcane.

He said in some remote part of Rwanda the locals thought that white people couldn't walk because they only ever saw them in cars.

Matt did his weekly ritual to buy data for his phone. There are people everywhere selling these little prepaid phone card things. You can tell them from their brightly colored red or yellow vests. Many of the motorcycle taxi guys seem to be doing this job simultaneously. So he buys a 1 gig card for 1,000 Rwandan Francs which is like $1.20. That data is dead either after he uses it all or a week passes.

You scratch off your secret code like a lottery ticket.

I'm amazed that I haven't been ill on this trip yet. Last night we had Turkish takeout and today for lunch we had Chinese food. You'd have a good chance of getting sick eating like this in the US. The Chinese food was excellent though. Again, better than in St. Louis. St. Louis really really sucks at Chinese food.

Thought it was funny that bottles of Fanta were in the "made in Rwanda" section.

We found of bottles of yesterday's banana wine at the store so I snagged a few of those beauties. Peanuts are another local product that I really like here. I don't know if they are fresher or they roast them differently or what but they are really good. 

Well Matt left and I was back to adventuring solo. I decided to take it easy tonight.

This picture of the rich Marriotts was sort of a jarring thing to see in an African hotel.

Had a beer at the hotel bar and called it a night.