Kemi’s East African Invasion series: Episode 3 – The Remarkable Rwandan edition

Hello people!!! How are you doing? It’s been about a week since I returned from Rwanda and I am yet to get over the entire experience. One of the good things about capturing memories on my trips is that they keep me entertained until the next adventure. I regularly look at pictures from past trips and find myself giggling when I remember the backstories of some of those photos.

On this trip, I took it one step further and actually documented short videos using Instagram stories (see summary of daily videos here).
Day 1 video here
Day 2 video here
Day 3 video here
Day 4 video here 

Now, that was fun! I didn’t even know people actually watched instastories (shout-out to my IG family for all the love and the hilarious comments, lol). I received a lot of positive feedback and a few prompts to start a video-blog and consider going on TV! Who knows? I just might start ‘vlogging’. I never thought I’d do instastories but I did it and it was fun (slight work but fun still). So my new MO is ‘never say never’.

I also said I’d never get on a jet-ski, but look at me now 🙂
Also see me trying to hang on for dear life, lol

So, Rwanda was my 3rd stop in my current East African exploration (read Kenya post here and Uganda post here). I had been thinking about visiting Rwanda since January when I saw that NaijaNomads was planning a trip there later in the year.

Snippet from my January post about Rwanda 

 

I inquired about the trip and even started saving for it, but between work schedules and some other life happenings, I was unable to make it. However, when I wrote the first blogpost in the East African invasion series, I mentioned that I was also looking to visit Rwanda and Burundi and asked folks to hola at me if they were planning to travel there as well.

Snippet of my Kenya post where I wrote again about wanting to visit Rwanda

This is how I got a message in my FB inbox from an old friend, saying she was going to be in Rwanda for a while and she would be happy to host me. This is someone I had not seen or even spoken to since we graduated from university 10 years ago (yes, I am that old now) and she essentially offered me free accommodation and love in Kigali.

Moral of the story: Open your mouth and declare what you want. As Papa Oyedepo says, ‘a closed mouth is a closed destiny’. If I did not put it out there that I was looking to travel to Rwanda, there is no way I would have gotten an offer to be hosted!

Also, check your DMs on Instagram and Twitter! Check your inbox on Facebook. Check your inbox on LinkedIn (I am particularly bad at this, but I am working on it now.  I have set weekly reminders to check messages). Make sure you don’t just read and ‘waka pass’, ensure that you respond too.

Look what I would have missed if I didn’t speak up

Moving on, a 1-week holiday from work fell on me, literally, and I was at a loss about what to do. I didn’t want to stay at home and have to deal with PHCN and generators and all that fun stuff, so I started thinking about affordable places I could travel to. 9-to-5 folks, you don’t know how blessed you are to be able to go somewhere that provides power (to charge your phone batteries at least, lol), air-conditioning, fast internet and more, every day.
You all know my relationship with visas, so the first criteria in deciding where to go was that it had to be a place that offered visas on arrival, or at most, had e-visa applications with quick processing times. Rwanda was an easy choice – there is a direct flight there and many alternative routes through Kenya and Ethiopia, plus the visa is even cheaper at $30 than Kenya and Uganda’s $50 visas. The best part is that you don’t even have to fill a form! It’s like visa application heaven 🙂

Moral of the story: If you are serious about travelling, it is best to keep a separate savings account dedicated to travel. It was easy for me to buy the ticket to Rwanda from my travel fund. You want to be able to take advantage of good opportunities whenever they come your way. I know I have missed out of a few flight ticket deals just because the money was not complete. That said, please do not borrow money to travel. I know the memories are priceless and the lessons you learn on the trip can be said to be assets, but I don’t think it is ideal to borrow to travel.

At the Genocide Memorial in Kigali

I had read Naija Nomads’ excellent article about the trip to Rwanda so I kinda had a clue about what to expect. However, Rwanda is better experienced than read about. It is a beautiful, small country that holds many lessons in nation-building, unity, efficiency, hospitality, simplicity, excellence, integrity and so much more. Apart from the brilliant points that Naija Nomads made in the article above, I made a few interesting observations on this trip.

  1. My visit to the genocide memorial made me realize that even though it is important to curate history, we should not get stuck in it and refuse to move on and rebuild. Rwanda is really many shades of amazing, and although things are not all perfect (nothing is perfect anywhere in the world, really), they are getting a LOT of things right. I am no political analyst, but I suspect that part of the remarkable progress they have made can be attributed to the stability in leadership that they have had (think Lagos). It takes time to really make lasting change & sustainable growth and development in any institution – organizations and nations.
    They do not lie when they call themselves remarkable – the growth is truly REMARKABLE

    The beautiful Kigali Convention Centre
  2. Building is not enough, having a strong maintenance culture is everything. The speed with which repairs are done in Rwanda is amazing. Trees that are knocked down get replaced within 24 hours. Little breaks in the roads are fixed ASAP. No wonder I was unable to find ONE pothole in this country, not even on the long drive to Gisenyi. Not ONE! I didn’t think it was possible in Africa, but Rwanda has shown me otherwise. We need a strong and agile maintenance culture to preserve our infrastructure. This trip was almost like an excursion for me – I went to some unusual spots to learn more about the economy of the country. I kept doing mental benchmarks with Nigeria (e.g., comparing their Special Economic zone with our own Lekki Free Trade zone).
    Striking my boss lady pose in front of the Special Economic Zone (not quite a regular tourist spot)

    The pension estate – another ‘excursion’ spot
  3. Even though I am not a big fan of road trips (I think some of the near-misses I have had travelling within Nigeria might have scarred me a little), I had a good time driving 3 hours out to explore Gisenyi, home to Lake Kivu and border town with Democratic Republic of Congo (which I could not enter because I forgot to take my passport along, sigh).
    Almost made it to my 35th country but forgetfulness did not allow me to be great 🙁

    I think I am going to start exploring multiple cities in the African countries I visit, going forward. The capital cities are cool and useful for learning history, but I find the most of the beauty lies outside these cities. Also, if you really want to disconnect and spend time with yourself, going out of the city is a great idea. Half of the time, the wifi in these out-of-town hotels doesn’t work in the rooms, so you have to spend all day sitting in the hotel lobby just to be able to hang out on Instagram, lol. By the time your back hurts, no one will advise you before you go to your room and read a book, or sleep, or pray to God, or write in your journal, or something.

    My holiday reading list

    And oh yeah, road trips are also great for reading (if you don’t keep falling asleep like me). I was one of those kids who fell asleep once they got into a moving vehicle, even if it was only for a 10-minute drive.

    Road trip views
    Majestic views – they say the convention centre design is inspired by these landscapes

    More beautiful views
  4. Unlike Kenya and Uganda, there is no traffic in Rwanda!!!! I thought it was an East African thing but Rwanda proved me wrong, again.
  5. I realized that I did not exactly fancy gorillas that much, lol. When I heard the cost of the gorilla trek (about $1,500), I was shocked! I decided that it would be more beneficial for me to satisfy my gorilla curiosity through Discovery channel and National Geographic for now. Maybe when I have $30billion in my ‘akant’, I will be back for the gorilla trek. Don’t get me wrong, I have only heard fabulous things about the gorilla trek, but the Ijebu in me could not justify the cost, for now. (Ijebus are people from a tribe in Ogun State, South-West Nigeria, and they are generally thought to be very enterprising and conservative with money)
    Most expensive gorillas ever liveth!

    Even if you can’t go on the trek, take a picture with plastic animals, lol
  6. I found the HQ of ‘nkan mbe’ (nkan mbe is a local TV show that highlights mysterious happenings) in Kigali – my tour of the Presidential Palace museum just left me speechless. The VIP python (see day 2’s video for more details about this presidential “pet”), the location of the plane crash on April 6th, the ‘interesting’ rooms inside the palace itself, all seemed like stuff out of an episode of nkan mbe.

    En-route the Presidential Palace Museum

    Front view of the main building in the presidential palace
    The HQ of nkan mbe!!! *side eye*
    We were not allowed to wear our shoes into the main building – I covered myself in the blood of Jesus before entering sha

     

     

  7. Nigerian music is EVERYWHERE, and it seems our biggest exports are Wizkid, P-Square, Davido and Tekno. East Africans seems to be completely smitten by Tekno – I saw his face on numerous posters across the city and I remember how my tour guide in Tanzania last year had all of Tekno’s songs on his phone. The most interesting part is how they sing out all the words in the song including the vernacular portions like they know exactly what it means, lol. This reminds me of all the American songs I have bastardized in the name of singing along, lol. The intro to Jennifer Lopez and Jarule’s hit song “I am real” has to be the best example. Apparently J-Lo said ‘R-U-L-E’ and not ‘are you ready’ as we all believed growing up, hahahaha.

    This is me trying to act like I am in my own music video, lol
  8. Our music is not our only export – some of our leading indigenous banks also have a strong pan-African presence. I always get always very excited when I see Nigerian brands abroad. not sure why.
    Access Bank in Kigali

    GTBank in Kigali (also saw a branch in Gisenyi)
  9. I have also found my magic formula for not coming back from a vacation needing another vacation. I spent the first day (day 0) resting and reading, started my tourist waka on day 1 and continued into day 2, spent most of day 3 chilling – reading and getting pampered at the spa, drove out of the city on day 4, explored Gisenyi & rested for most of the evening, and then returned to base by mid-day on day 5 which gave me enough time to unpack, prepare for the work week and wake up pumped on Monday, ready to take on the week. Going hard every single day of vacation will leave you exhausted and in need of a holiday immediately after you return. I think it’s important to pace yourself and organize your trip like a sandwich – take it easy, go hard and take it easy again.
    I managed to complete about 70% of this agenda

    Not sure if I got this salute for Sir Richard Kandt right, lol

My time in Rwanda was amazing and super inspiring. It gave me renewed hope for Nigeria, hope that we can and will be great again. I returned very refreshed and energized (almost too energized sef, as I went to work on Monday with dancing in my feet).

Post-food happiness

It would be impossible for me to wrap up this post without talking about the amazing hospitality that Fergie showed me in Rwanda. She took such good care of me, my goodness! If she was a guy, I would have said this was all a plot to get me to marry her. She was extra extra kind, taking me everywhere, checking up on me when she was out, trying to stuff me with food (and then taking me to the gym to burn it all off, lol), struggling with me to pay for dinner, making a ginger, lemon and honey infusion for me when she heard me coughing at night (I suspect she was also trying to ensure I didn’t disturb her sleep on subsequent nights, lol) and just generally being an AMAZING hostess.

The warmth and kindness she showed me was really overwhelming (similar to how God loves us first even when we have not done anything good/useful for Him) and I cannot wait to pay it forward. Thank you Fergie, you have taught me next-level hospitality and I pray that God honors and multiplies your seed of kindness towards me.

Introducing the amazing Fejiro! Love you girl 🙂 

Guys, let’s be kind to one another – it is a gift that keeps giving.

Love and kindness,

Kemi

p.s I am already plotting the next adventure and it’s going to be something involving a lot of water :-).  I just need prayers for visa favour. Amen!

p.p.s – The hustle to get videos into this post was REAL. Watch out world, I am about to become a YouTube ninja!