What will the next global battle be over? Received wisdom deems it will be a war between an ailing American and a rising China. Some point to a resurgent Russia instead, or those oil-rich nations with immense Sovereign Wealth Funds. Others, such as Tony Blair, expect strife to occur not over ideology, but over values, notably of the religious variety.
Perhaps they are all wrong though. The next global battle may be peaceful. It is arguably already under way. With the globalisation of markets being the main paradigm through which countries plan their economic strategies, communication is pivotal. And what is communication without language?
So maybe the next global battle will be over the way in which countries strive to maintain their uniqueness within a framework of global sameness.
As a case in point, take Rwanda where I am currently stationed. A former German and French colony, in 2008 English was made an official language alongside French and Kinyarwanda. This is evident in the capital, Kigali. Older generations by and large only speak fragments of English. Younger people on the other hand deftly speak English with ease and comfort. If you ever need a reason to visit Rwanda, let it be this: you will be helping to fight the war against le franchise Francais.
If you want further evidence of why English rules supreme, it is not necessary to take my word of it. This is Eric, an erudite and eloquent 21-year old I ended up speaking with for a couple of hours in a café overlooking Gitarama’s bus station in Rwanda.
So, in aid of this switch to English, Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, I salute you:
Before arriving in Rwanda, I went on safari in Tanzania with Oli. The safari was booked through our venerable tour operator, Peter Meela. It comprised of Lake Manara, the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorogoro Crater.
Our safari guide and driver was Emmanuel, whose knowledge of the surrounding wildlife was as extensive as his imagination – quite literally. When asked a question, the facts he uttered were not only blatant fallacies, but inconsistent. For example, the lifespan of giraffes increased from 26 years to 42 overnight. Who knows: had we asked again he may have espoused Buddhist liturgy about how they never die but reincarnate.
Joining us on the safari were two Germans, Cornelius and Timote. They were the type of people whose idea of good conversation was to remain silent over dinner. Without wanting to resort to crass national stereotypes – but I will anyway due to a certain compulsion in this case – they were rigid, methodical and about as entertaining as uncooked chicken. That said, they did have some compassion: in one of our very few conversations, they told us that they booked a Kilimanjaro trek which treated the porters with dignity – it later materialised they tipped the porters and guides less than £1 each per day. Every little helps.
The wildlife spotting on the safari itself was as expected: enthralling and engaging as we saw a spectrum of animals. In one case, a lion casually sauntered around our jeep. Similarly, an elephant lacking scruples washed itself in mud mere metres away from us in the Serengeti. Unfortunately we did not manage to see any death in gladiatorial battles of malice and might, although I was entertained for ten minutes in the Ngorogoro Crater as a sluggish hyena chased a wildebeest across a vast expanse in an epic marathon which the hyena was always destined to lose, yet it remained hopeful throughout.
As with Kilimanjaro though, the pictures are the best indication of what we saw and between Oli and I, we took close to 250 photographs. You can view them via the link above.
After the safari, Oli and I returned to Arusha, Tanzania’s second-city for our last night together. Arusha was a sprawling mess with no discernible centre and we spent the better part of an hour looking for somewhere suitable to eat before capitulating and trying our luck in a hotel-restaurant overlooking the salubrious sight of the bus station.
The following day we woke at 5:10am and after hurriedly eating breakfast, walked to the bus and went our separate ways: Oli to Mombasa in Kenya before his return flight to England four days later, myself to Kigali.
Now, briefly back to a specific point on language. There are two interpretations of the word ‘classic’. On the one hand it may signify something that is tried and tested; something so reliable that it is etched onto a national psyche. Conversely, it may refer to something antiquated and by extension, sub-standard, flawed and best to be forgotten. Guess which category my first bus en-route to Kigali was.
The tone was set within 45 minutes of the journey as the ‘Classic Mohamed’ broke down for the first of four times. That flamboyant Tanzanian music was being played throughout the journey – even when the bus was stationary – only added to the misery. Finally, another dimension was added after 2 hours and 15 minutes when the roads began oscillate between paved concrete and bumpy, red, raw dust.
Things could have been worse, however: I could have been in Oli’s position. In his very own words:
“Ive just got to Mombasa, Tahmeed Coaches Ltd and I have spent the day hiding from the police. It turns out the bus wasn’t road worthy and they didn’t have ‘papers’ so we got word of a checkpoint and basically had to wait until it shut down for the night. Not sure how late we are but something like 4 hours and I’m giving serious consideration to jumping on an overnight vip bus to Nairobi (its also chucking it down here).”
Oli aside, I should also add that I was not wholly certain about where I was going. I had booked a bus to a place called Kahama which is notable only for the fact that it is on the map yet features in no guide books or travelling websites about Tanzania. I was told that I would easily be able to catch a connecting bus to Kigali from there though.
As it happens, this was correct, although, I had to spend the night in Kahama as the bus left at 6am. This was not too bad within itself as Kahama was much more sedate and obliging than Arusha. I was even assisted by a bus salesman called James who took it upon himself to guide me to a hotel and internet café, the latter at which he enthusiastically sat down next to me and peered over all my emails and facebook messages.
The journey to Kigali was relatively seamless. The only real issue involved having to wait 2 hours at the border for the guards to arrive to search every bag on the bus; it was a job they enthusiastically endeavoured to complete, barely glancing at my bag before giving me the thumbs up.
Arriving in Kigali at 6pm, I initially took a taxi to a budget hotel. However, upon arrival I had a change of heart and directed the driver to the other part of the city for a slightly more expensive but ‘backpacker’ option. Let the following words be a guiding principle to all those who travel: if the Lonely Planet recommends somewhere, avoid it like the plague. I should know this by now, but I was tempted by the fact that I would not be the only ‘mugunzu’ (foreigner) staying there. However, upon arrival I was told the One Love Hotel has recently increased its rates to close to £20 per night for a ‘basic’ room. Exasperated but tired as I had not eaten all day, I took it. That is, I took it until I saw what basic entailed – it looked like a prison cell. Needless to say, thirty minutes and a motorcycle taxi later, I was back at the first budget hotel which is a 1/3 of the price and dare I say, nicer (relatively, of course).
The prices of the hotels are indicative of the overall costliness of Kigali in general though. Indeed, paying £7 for the most rudimentary of accommodation is more expensive than Sydney or Buenos Aires. The reason for this can be added to the list of noble causes with unintended consequences: expatriates and NGO works. As mugunzus have flocked into the city – and indeed, the country – inflation has accordingly risen due to fundamental supply and demand dynamics. So, whilst the altruistic mugunzus live in their central gated communities, the local population in many cases (but not all) suffers. But they are here to help the country develop and Rwanda is a thriving African economy. Whoever said life is simple?
Kigali itself is tranquil. It is all too easy to invoke the 1994 genocide, but really, I have never felt safer walking around a foreign city at night. There was not much to do but the speckled lights dotted around the surrounding hills were reminiscent of Damascus, whereas the sloping streets harked to San Francisco.
In a broad sense, everyone was friendly too. When bartering with a taxi-driver, I asserted that he was charged me a ‘mugunzu’ price. Deeply affronted, he retorted that in Rwanda, I am a Rwandan too and that he was charging me the local price. He was, as far as I know, telling the truth.
As aforementioned, there is little to do in Kigali but roam around. I visited the Genocide Museum which was absorbing but predictably saddening. Most of you will be aware of the Rwandan genocide, if only due to the movie Hotel Rwanda. Here are some uplifting UNICEF statistics regarding the percentages of children affected by the genocide:
- 99.9% witnessed violence
- 79.6% experiences a family death
- 69.5% witnessed someone being killed or injured
- 61.5% were threatened with death
- 90.6% thought they would die
- 57.7% witnessed killings or injuries with machete
- 31.4% witnessed rape or sexual assault
- 87.5% saw dead bodies or parts of bodies
If you would like to know a bit more, watch the following trailer for ‘Raindrops over Rwanda’ at www.facebook.com/explorerwanda – it will also help contribute towards a $50,000 fund for the museum which will be granted if 50,000 people watch the video.
On a less serious note, I subsequently visited Huye (formerly known as Butare) where I met a Belgian student who had been to the Democratic Republic of Congo with a contingency from his university to conduct research. It seemed like a torrid and terrible place; almost as if it was a thousand miles from the peacefulness of Rwanda. I had tentative plans to visit the DRC. These have now been abandoned.
After Huye I went to Kibuye via Gitarama where I met the affable Alex who features in the video above.
The journey from Gitarama to Kibuye was woeful. With my two bags pressing anchored over my thighs, the sweeping road twisted and turned and rose and sloped like an interminable rollercoaster. It was so bad that above the volume of my ipod, I heard what I thought was a woman weeping. Only I was wrong. She was not weeping. She was wretching, and she eventually wretched over the back of my shirt and shorts. Thus I sat with a sodden and stinking shirt and shorts for the final 45 minutes. I subsequently discovered that this journey was notorious for people puking. This would explain why it seemed to me as if I was more apologetic to the culprit than she was to me.
Kibuye was bliss. Lake Kivu engulfed the island with its rich, azure colour. In my guesthouse, once I had showered, I spent the evening sharing a bottle of banana beer (which has a 14% alcohol volume level, but is distinctly sweet and quite thirst-quenching) with Kate and Steve, who were volunteering for America’s Peace Corps in Uganda. They were impeccable ambassadors for their country and it was fascinating to hear about their experiences within the Development sphere.
I spent most of the following day with Kate and Steve. The former’s language adroitness proved particularly helpful as she negotiated for a boat to drive us around the circumference of Kibuye. Kibuye can be epitomised as thus: a place to write a book in seclusion.
This can be contrasted to Gisyeni, Kibuye’s coastal neighbour. Slightly larger but with equally little to do, it lacked Kibuye’s quaintness and thus was fairly banal. Some good news did materialise from my time there though, involving a tourist office – that is for the next blog post though.
6km from Gisyeni lay Rubona which was more picturesque at least with its dainty harbour and fickle fishing boats.
But now I am back in Kigale, waiting a couple of days for the next big part chapter in the trip. Earlier today I bumped into Team America again, where Steve was kind enough to buy me a celebratory cupcake for passing my exams. Here is a hint as to what is upcoming next:
- Some Selected pictures
Here is the link for all of the pictures (you can also click ‘Africa Pics’ at the top of the page):