Day 5: Kigali strolls/archives/motos/meeting my journalist

It’s about 5 p.m. and, already, the sun is low in the sky. Because Rwanda is so close to the equator, the sun rises and sets fairly regularly throughout the year, and there is almost equal amount of daylight and nighttime.
I’m buzzing with adrenaline right now, a sharp contrast to the last time I sat down to write. The more I explore this city and meet these people, the more I realize how complicated it all is. It’s not black and white or good and bad. Yesterday I wrote feeling sobered by this place’s history. Today I’m writing feeling elated about the way it feels to be experiencing Kigali’s present.
After blogging time yesterday I went on a walk with another student, Meagan. We walked out to the dirt path that can be seen from the house’s front porch. Everybody we passed seemed to smile and wave, to offer a hand for shaking, or call out to us in English. We meet a man who told us, excitedly, that his cousin is in Edmonton.
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We turned back towards the house and picked another dirt road, this one lined with houses. Everybody seemed to be out, enjoying the evening. The further down the road we walked the smaller and shabbier the houses grew. Corrugated tin suddenly became the dominant construction material.
At one point we paused and looked up the hill. In the distance was a huge mansion, home to an NGO or official, most likely. In the foreground was a small shack. I snapped a photo that doesn’t do the contrast justice.
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We returned from the walk dusty and happy. Walking around in pairs is easier that travelling in a pack of foreigners. The interactions are smaller and more personal when there isn’t an army of cameras to capture every moment.
After dinner most of the group sat downstairs to watch a movie, but Meagan, me, and a student named Noah snuck up to the upstairs balcony to look out at the city lights and talk. We discussed our morning at Gisozi and our favourite books and movies and struggled to find a way to put our lives and thoughts into words. It was a quiet and beautiful conversation. We laughed, but also discussed some of the difficult material with which we’ve been faced here. I needed that.
This morning we went back to Gisozi to have a tour of their extensive archive collection. They led us into a back room which is temperature and humidity controlled, and we shivered as a woman drew our attention to documents, photos, and items from the genocide. She pulled out an object packaged in tissue paper and unwrapped it with slender fingers tipped with bright red nails.
“It’s a machete,” she said matter-of-factly. “Used to kill people.”
Sixteen pairs of eyes fixated on the rusted blade.
After viewing the archives we had lunch at the museum café. I left early though, because I had a meeting with my journalist partner, C. To get there, I did something that would have sparked my mother’s disapproval: I rode a moto.
It was my first time hopping on one and I admit, I was nervous. The tension soon eased, however, as we took off around the city, a beautiful breeze beating against the lower half of my face, the upper half and my head encased in a helmet. The driver called the helmet a “bucket.” I tried to ignore the cracks and scratches on it.
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I met C. at a hotel. It looked like any tropical resort: palm trees, bright flowers, wait staff wandering around in blue polo shirts. The turquoise pool was drained and roped off, but the grounds were lush and populated with old white business people and young Rwandan entrepreneurs,
There was a British man with white hair, dressed in white pants, a white turtleneck, and brown shoes, looking like caricature of a Victorian explorer with his blazer slung over his shoulders. He made eye contact with me as he spoke to his local partners, “I want to make you rich, and you rich, and even her rich!”
C. arrived precisely on time and led me to a quiet table on the grass on the other side of the pool. It was cool and quiet and pleasant. When I commented on how nice the atmosphere was she said, “Yes! I wanted to show you this place because I sometimes come here to write my stories so I knew we would find a nice spot.” I felt privileged to be welcomed to her secret writer’s spot.
I spoke to C. for about half an hour about journalism here. She had many positive things to say about the opportunities she’s had since moving to Rwanda from her native Zambia. She raved about the safety here, and the people she’s met and places she’s had the chance to visit while writing features about lifestyle, cooking, and Kigali restaurants and hotels.
She also spoke about what it’s like being a woman in a male-dominated field. She told me that she had a strong mother who raised ten kids single-handedly, and that it was that inspiration that helps give her confidence when she’s the only woman in the scrum.
Eventually, I shut off the recorder, and we talked freely about life, wandering in and out of journalism and discussing culture and the world. She was interested to hear about the state of journalism in Canada and how I like Kigali. She told me that when she moved here she was amazed by how friendly the people here are, how welcoming they’ve been, how orderly and safe everything is. I agreed.
I took a moto most of the way home but had the driver stop early so I could walk part way. I passed some men sitting outside a shop playing a variation of checkers on a slab of wood, the board drawn in with permanent marker, using Fanta and Coca Cola bottle caps as playing pieces. I stopped and ask to take a photo and they laughed and agreed.
Then they urged me to sit and began explaining the rules. The next thing I knew I was losing at Rwandan checkers (although in all fairness, the rules are slightly different: you can jump backwards and forwards right from the beginning, and once you’re a king you can slide across the board on diagonals).
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After the game everybody wanted an address, phone number, facebook contact or email, “because we are such good friends now,” said one man. I wrote my first name and email down on a piece of paper and explained in a cobbled dialect somewhere between English and very-bad French that I don’t have my Rwandan phone number memorized but that they could email me if they wanted copies of the photos I’d taken. They laughed at my poor language skills and accepted the paper. I skipped home.
Issa, our security guard, let me in the gate. He was listening to music on his phone, so I asked him his favourite song. He switched on “I want it that way” by The Backstreet Boys. I laughed and sang a few lines, then hurried inside, catching the rest of the crew just as they set out for a walk.
I decided to stay in though, and curl up on the couch and pound out some thoughts on my keyboard and enjoy the dying sunlight. Only 12 hours of dark before we begin another day in Kigali.

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