Lake Kivu, Rwanda
Crossing the border from Uganda, the difference isn’t immediate but it’s soon apparent: this is a much more prosperous country. The poorest village homes I’ve seen all have corrugated steel sheet roofs instead of thatch, and the middle class have shingles. There are actual sidewalks in the cities. With few exceptions, there’s no litter around and the streets are pristine. Vehicles don’t look like they’re going to fall apart. Development seems visibly rapid. It also seems like a far more orderly country: all boda-boda drivers wear helmets and carry one for their passengers, many of the buses run on a schedule instead of when full, and traffic is a smidgeon less dangerous and speedy.
The order can get a little bit ridiculous though. In Kibuye, a town with wide roads and relatively little traffic, there seems to be even a bit of overregulation — traffic only goes one way. And in the whole country, it seems like every notable town except Kigali has been renamed, with both names commonly used and a frequent source of confusion for visitors. There are now three official languages: Kinyarwanda, French, and the recently-added English, in order of prominence, along with some who speak Swahili. Other than Kinyarwanda, it’s a complete tossup as to what any given person speaks or understands. I feel obligated to start every interaction the way airport workers in Canada do, in hopes of being understood: “Hello/bonjour!” — and sometimes even that doesn’t work. (But hilariously, it seems like practically everyone knows “ni hao”, even in rural areas, and at least four people have greeted me with some sage-like fist-in-hand bow that they probably saw in a kung-fu movie. A high school-aged girl also completely schooled me in a conversation in Mandarin, which she initiated.)
Life moves normally. And normally, I wouldn’t give that a second glance. But this is Rwanda, and with its notorious recent history, I can’t help but look at everything with… well, what’s the opposite of rose-coloured glasses?