Kigali, Kigali Province, Rwanda

January 31, 2016

Welcome to Rwanda

Welcome, with me, to Kigali, Rwanda.

Whatever’s in your mind when you think about Rwanda, wipe it clean. In its place, let's paint a picture.

Green Start with green. Green grass, green trees, green hills. Trees hovering over bushes, brush and wide-bladed grass, landscape filled full in every direction.

Hills Rwanda is called the land of a thousand hills, and it’s true. Paint them layered, hills poured upon hills. Nothing, nowhere, is flat. They rise up around you, fading out into the sky.

Red Clay red. Earth red. Wet red, rich and strong. Paint lines curling around the hills, drawing roads across the landscape. Carve red squares into a few hillsides, each a space for a new foundation. Dot red roofs across the valley, then climb them up the hillsides.

Grey Concrete grey. Stone grey. See new buildings crawling up, fifteen stories high. See workers like ants moving across them, a yellow crane bundling up materials. See light peeking through the not-yet-installed-windows. See, each day, it a little bit taller. See grey sidewalks, snaking along every road.

Cloud grey. Of haze and a dry mist. The sky oscillates. Some days deep blue, other days a blue-grey-white haze that turns the nearby hills into hints.

Black Asphalt black. Smooth and well-cared for, it curves up and down the hillsides, connecting a city that’s, by my Colombian standards, far-flung. Downtown is two miles and four hills away, and there’s more city behind me. Along every strand of tarmac, the curbs are striped vertically. Black. White.

Shadow black. See the ravens silhouetted against the sunset, slowly gathering in the valley East of downtown. See the whirling column of the day’s news, a thousand feet above the valley floor.

Listen There are songbirds in the morning, the afternoon, and just before dusk. Calls high and varied, different than I’ve ever known. After the sun falls, crickets play their parts. In the depths of night, the frogs speak from the nearby grasses.

On weekday mornings, the heavy machinery across the valley starts up and goes steady on until six pm, then falls quiet. Some nights, music echoes up the valley, resonating from a small radio on someone’s porch.

On Sundays, all day, hear voices raised in song. Churches full, a few instruments, then the broad, full sound of humanity, rising.

Smell Grasses and trees. The mix of onions, garlic, peppers frying in a pot. Fresh, clean air. The rain, rolling in on a storm, pounding wet into your nostrils.

Taste Good homemade beans with vegetables, simmered to perfection. Drops of hot yellow pepper oil warming your mouth. Fresh-ground Rwandan coffee, unrolling your morning.

Feel The tinge of heat in the mid-afternoon. The hint of chill in the night. The breeze crawling through open doors and windows, all hours of the day.

I came to Rwanda knowing as little as I possibly could, so that it could unfold on its own terms. Like you, I knew the history - genocide twenty years ago - but little else.

What I’ve found is a culture and a people living with intent and intentionality like I’ve encountered nowhere else. There’s a long-term view here, as a society and as people, and it’s been around for centuries.

Folks are reserved, prudent, and stoic. If you want to see Rwandans let their hair down, I’m told, go to neighboring Kenya or Uganda and find them on vacation. Or stay up late enough that the clubs really get going.

Kigali is the safest I’ve felt anywhere I’ve lived, period. It’s nestled in the hills in the center of a country so small that every bit of land has to make its due. In the valley below my house, there are a few small farms, winding down to a lake. On the hilltops above, glass-and-concrete business centers rise into the sky.

It’s quiet here, only a passing moto really breaking the afternoon.

I’m sitting out on the front porch of my house, on a red couch with bright yellow pillows and a deep brown frame. Out in front of me stretches Kimihurura, the part of Kigali where, for the next two months, I’ll live.

Today is the first big breath I’ve had here in Rwanda, the first time I’ve really felt like I’m settling in.

I’m so glad to have you here with me.

Have a wonderful week, with a little unexpected, waiting.

-Steven

p.s. The best thing I read this week was this wonderful piece by Gizmodo, telling the story of all the plants we’ve grown in space, and the astronauts who fell in love with them. It’s charming, inspiring and says something wonderful the connection we share with plants.

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