Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Yann in Rwanda (11) - Daily Life in Kigali

The bright economic future of Rwanda is almost palpable in spite of the genocide of 1 million people, which took place only 17 years ago.  It is almost as if there was a collective decision to pour themselves into work, business, etc. to avoid contemplating or reflecting too long on the significance of this immense tragedy. 
Kigali itself is a safe (probably because of the strong military and police presence), clean and busy city that has almost Swiss-like cleanliness tendencies: it is forbidden to walk on the grass, no plastic bag is allowed, etc.  That said, pedestrians are at the bottom of the “traffic chain” (as in food chain) in Kigali: they can be run over by anyone, starting with the numerous taxi-motos (you hop on the back of a motorbike and put on a helmet shared by all the previous customers).  Bicycles are very frequent in the peri-urban areas (not so much in the City center and main thoroughfares) and are used to carry anything: bales of banana leaves, cement bags, water jerry cans, chairs, or even … your wife!  
Then cars (which have the driving wheel either on the right or left side depending on which country it was exported) and taxi-minibuses (which need to be filled with passengers to capacity, folding benches included, before they actually leave for the driver-shouted destination) are in the upper echelon and generally drive to the right side of the road, unless there is a traffic jam and then everybody just goes where they want.  Finally, trucks own the road.  The one traffic rule is that size matters: priority increases with the volume you displace …
Businesses vary from small pharmacies and supermarkets (fitting within the ground floor of a building) to selling of cell phone cards in the street (yellow-shirted salespeople for MTN, blue for the competing Tigo), or the numerous taxi-motos (green shirts for one company, blue for the other).  There is also a lot of construction going on in the City (please overlook the OSHA safety violations in the picture below).

When moving away from the City center towards the peri-urban areas, you would find markets where a wide range of goods and items can be sold: traditional charcoal made from eucalyptus tree (which explains the lingering sweet burnt smell as you walk the streets of Kigali), bicycle spare parts, various food items, etc.  Women carry these in baskets on their head (sometimes in addition to the infant they carry wrapped in a cloth around their back!).

Businesses are normally open normal all week (if one is closed on one day, the next door shop would be open) from early in the morning to late at night, except on the compulsory community day (the morning of the last Saturday of every month).  The community day activities can range from building a house of the poor family in the village, to weeding the public gardens, repairing broken pipes, etc.  If a Rwandese does not participate (e.g., goes to its normal work), he is fined and the money goes to the community.

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