Land Of A Thousand Hills

I don’t think I have ever felt as intrigued by a country as I have by Rwanda. The country is incredibly lush and green, every square inch appears to be utilised and the people are hardworking and seemingly happy. But is it all what it seems?

Having visited a number of countries over the years, one of the first things that strikes you when you arrive in Kigali is the cleanliness – you see women literally sweeping the dust off the tarmac.  I was told that everyone is required to help with the cleaning on the last Saturday of the month!

I hate littering and despair with what people are doing to the English countryside and I like the idea of us all going out to clean up once a month – I do think it may deter some people from dumping in our lovely leafy lanes, but I cannot see this happening.  It may be seen as politically incorrect to force people to clean up their own mess!

The city of Kigali is a busy bustling city, not unlike many in Africa – with hundreds of motorbike taxis and minibus taxis, but here they appear to be more orderly and controlled. The traffic is not as chaotic as it is in Nairobi or Johannesburg and it could be argued that it is due to a smaller population, but I would say it is to do with people adhering to the rules of the road.

Rwanda is a small country, but with a high population density (407 people per
square kilometre) – one of the most densely populated in the world (Japan – 337 people per square kilometre).  The difference here is that most people live off the land.

Most if not all farming is subsistence and the land is incredibly fertile. This together with an amazing climate means that farmers are able to cultivate three crops a year in each field. When we visited (early December) it was considered as winter with temperatures in the early twenties and normal summer crops such as beans, maize, carrots and potatoes flourishing. I did not see any evidence of mechanisation on the farms and most people carry produce to market, some using bicycles or wheel barrows. Trucks travel from Kigali to buy produce for the city.

All homes I saw were solid structures, with corrugated iron roofs that are apparently subsidised, depending on income – this means that the country is dotted with thousands of shiny silver roofs. I did not see any shanty homes, which are so prolific in other parts of Africa.

You cannot ignore the past and visitors are encouraged to visit the Genocide Memorial, and to learn more about that horrific month in 1994, and the build up to that momentous period.

As someone fascinated by my roots and knowing that I have English, Scottish, German and Dutch blood, I find it hard to comprehend how people are expected to forget who they are, who their ancestors were, but in Rwanda they feel that it is necessary in order to prevent history repeating itself. The hatred and animosity that built up over the years between the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa people ended with such violence, that it is understandable to not lump people into groups, and to live peacefully side by side as Rwandans. I really hope that it works and I wish other African nations would follow this example.

The main tourism attraction is the Gorillas, something I never thought I would experience and something on that ‘bucket list’.  For many people seeing Gorillas in the wild is only a dream, something way outside the average person’s affordable holiday.  To me in the end it was just part of the experience of visiting this amazing country.

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