Posted by: DHE Rwanda | July 15, 2011

“It Was Cheaper in Tanzania”

No really, it was.

Hey friends, advisors and secret admirers, hello from Kigali! The group is starting to come together, though not all of us have arrived quite yet. Mike and Wouter were the first to get here, showing up in Kigali on the 9th following a cross-Tanzania odyssey by bus (a poor man’s safari), during which they saw elephants, zebras, and all manner of charismatic megafauna. Lucky them. The refrain since then has been “it was cheaper in Tanzania,” as Kigali is a more international city with international prices to match. That said, the refrain may just as well have been “it was more expensive in Europe,” which is where Emily, Ted and I have been spending the last week and a half (though not together – Emily’s been backpacking across the continent with friends, and Ted and I have been exploring Attica and the Aegean), having our bank accounts demolished by the exchange rates. Greece may well be in the throes of a financial crisis, but you wouldn’t know it from the prices there, and for my money a 200 RWF bus ride (1/3 of a dollar at the current exchange rate) is pretty decent when compared against, say, a two dollar metro ticket in Athens.

Emily, Ted and I all arrived at Kayibanda International on the same flight from Addis Ababa yesterday around 1:30 pm, where we were picked up by Wouter for the ten-minute taxi ride to the Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel in the Kacyiru suburb of Kigali, where we’ll be staying for the next couple of nights as we wait for the rest of the group to arrive (Joey, Yi, Collin, and the guys from e.quinox). This left us plenty of time to catch a bus to downtown Kigali and explore the city a little bit (it’s about ten minutes south of the hostel and the buses run frequently, so transport isn’t an issue. And no worries, Mom, it’s also quite safe.)

Kigali is a very interesting city, especially in its topography; not for nothing is Rwanda called the “Land of a Thousand Hills.” The capital sprawls across at least ten of them (as far as I could tell); downtown perches on one and the rest of the city radiates into the nearby peaks and valleys. There’s so little flat land that the airport runway doubles as a taxiway directly adjacent to the terminal, and I’m certain that the hill it’s on had to be flattened to even get that amount of level ground. Downtown is compact but labyrinthine; point A may be geographically close to point B but it’s not necessarily easy to get from one to the other and the streets aren’t well marked, so navigation within the city is best accomplished via dead reckoning and landmarks (the lone roundabout, the lone skyscraper, the giant Heineken sign, etc.) After purchasing cell phones from a dealer near the expatriates’ favorite supermarket, we spent an abortive half hour searching for the elusive or possibly nonexistent Café Torero. Fun fact: the Bantu term mzungu, generally used to mean foreigner, is (quite aptly, in my opinion) derived from the root for “aimless wanderer.” We fit the description quite well, I think, as we drifted up and down Avenue de la Justice clutching our guidebook, much to the delight of the packs of little kids and street vendors who proffered an odd assortment of giant laminated maps of Rwanda, flash drives, and cell phone minutes. After three passes up and down the avenue (during which I managed to trip on the same pipe each time we walked down it) we called it off and set out southward across the heart of downtown.

Kigali has very little in the way of tall buildings, with only one skyscraper that I could see, but downtown nevertheless has the lively bustle I associate with happening American cities like New York or San Francisco. Developing world is a fairly apt term for what I’ve seen here; there’s construction everywhere, and Rwanda is definitely open for business (as the advertisements in the airport were quick to point out). Certainly not everything is up to the quality we’re used to in America, but the basic necessities, at least in the capital, are covered; we ended up getting a meal that was both delicious and nutritious for about $ 4 at a one-pass buffet in the south part of downtown, and we’ve been able to find running water and internet pretty much anywhere we’ve been.

Our bellies full, it was time to return to the hostel to draw up a plan of action for the next few days. Our chief objectives are: coordinating the group, arranging permanent housing, and establishing contacts with NGOs, the government, and KIST (Kigali Institute of Science and Technology). We expect that we should all be together by tomorrow morning when Collin arrives at 11 am; Wouter is currently picking up the group from e.quinox and Yi and Joey should arrive at about 7 pm tonight. We’re currently scouting the city for low-cost housing, preferably with access to hot water and internet (our lifeline to you, dear readers), of which there seem to be a range of promising options; the biggest challenge is likely to be figuring out which one is best. We’ll be meeting with a representative from KIST on Monday and with Leo Kassana of the Ministry of Infrastructure on Tuesday. We’re heading into town now, so I hope soon we’ll have more to talk about!




  1. Nice post Wiley. Glad it is off to a good start. If you are looking for something to post about, I’ll bet your faithful readers would like to know more about who the team members are and what responsibilities, skills, etc. they bring. ” Limey is our dynamite man, and a cooler hand with nitro glycerine you’ll never meet….”

  2. Wonderful that you will get started soon, keep us posted, we look for news everyday~! What is the name of the president in Rwanda, he seems to run the country well but busily suppresses the opposition. The last election, I think was far from fair.

    But, the place is safe. It was also very organized and safe under Hitler, except when you opposed him.

    Any insights already?


  3. Love reading you posts, Wiley. Good luck to you and you companions. We are proud of your endeavors.

  4. Glad to hear our fellow DHErs are on the continent! Keep in touch, and we hope all goes well with your project.

  5. As Emily’s grandmother and a traveler, i wish i was there to watch the “process” of connecting the turbine. After holding it in my hand;s, I’m so impressed with what you have done and hope all goes well. Keep the ionfo coming.

    Gramdma Ruth

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