Geert Jan de Groot’s updates

Hi Phil,

I just returned from doing 3 weeks (15 May – 5 June) of doing
volunteer work in Kigali, at KIST and other places. A few updates:

1. Environment
People visiting Rwanda will be very pleasantly surprized how clean
it is. No rubbish anywhere! The government takes serious measures
to keep Rwanda clean and frankly, I envy the Rwanda community
for this. I want this at home!

2. Plastic bags
People visiting Rwanda should note that plastic bags are now forbidden
by law. Expect plastic bags in your baggage to be removed and
confiscated by customs.
This, at first, sounds alarming (I was carrying lots
of electronics equipment but that was no problem, the plastic bags,
however, were). If you pack your clothes in bags inside your suitecase
like I do, use linnen bags and you should be fine.

3. Umuganda
There is only a small note about the Umuganda in your guide,
and it requires a separate subchapter: the umuganda.
The last sathurday of every month, between 8.00 and 11.00,
public life stops as the whole country embarks on community work.
Expect difficulties if you need service during that time as
public life basically stops: shops are closed, no road traffic, etc.
If you need to be at the airport etc I strongly recommend to
take this into account and plan accordingly.
At the same time, if you happen to be in Rwanda at this time,
why not join in on the community work? I planted some trees,
picked up rubbish, and slashed some weeds. While I expected
3 hours of hard labor, large part of it is also community building,
education et cetera. When I started to pick up rubbish, a couple
of kids joined and made a game of spotting and picking rubbish
(thankfully plastic bottles, no dangerous stuff) before I did.
If you do this, dress for it: closed shoes or boots, and I saw
a few locals with gloves and/or a stick which made the rubbish picking
perhaps less awkward for some (I used bare hands, like 99% of
the rest)
“When in Rome, do like the Romans”. Expect an unforgettable event!

4. Mille Collines hotel, Kigali
The Mille Collines is in it’s final stages of being renovated,
and if you’re looking for history, it’s gone: there are only
a few places that still remind of the old hotel, and perhaps
for the better. I did enjoy the hotel during my 3-week stay,
staff was very friendly and helpful, much more than I’ve seen
in various other places around the world.
Do note, however, that the hotel room booking system still has
a few rough edges, so make sure your reservation really does exist
as some of our group were moved to one of the overflow hotels
in the neighbourhood as their bookings were not in the system
and they were running at capacity. Hotel space is still scarce
in Kigali.
As to the movie, it was shot in South Africa, not Kigali and the
only resemblance is the logos used. That doesn’t mean the hotel
should be avoided, to the contrary, I was very happy there.

5. Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum
As described in the book. A definite must-see. Expect it to take
a few hours if you want to do it “right”. I was there with a group
of people from all over the African continent and noticed that
not a single person spoke a single word, that is how impressive
it is.
The museum has strict safety rules. Expect airline-like measures,
metal detectors and the need to temporary lock away tools – I was
still carrying pocketknife and light torch when I visited and
while you can store this in lockable boxes, it’s perhaps easier
not to bring it with you when you visit.
Also, the museum closes at 17.00 hours. This is not something to
visit the end of afternoon, you will run out of time.
There are guides (good), and electronic guide equipment (which I
did not try).
The museum cannot handle large groups. A good max group size is
about a dozen people. If you go above that, I suggest you coordinate
with the museum; they have ways to handle this but it is good to
know in advance.

6. Money / VISA cards
While at this time, still reports no representation
in Rwanda, there were huge advertizements that Ecobank was now
accepting VISA “at certain selected ATMs”.
I have successfully extracted money at the ATM at the head office
(rue de la paix, very close to the Mille Collines),
and have seen other machines with the VISA logo which I did not test
(Engen petrol station). Check the ecobank website.
In general, bringing cash unfortunately still is the preferred way,
but I do note things are changing.

7. Restaurants: Khana khazana indian restaurant
Indian restaurant with a wide choice of over 200 dishes (and if yours
isn’t on the list, just ask for it), very good stuff, we visited
several times when I was there.

8. Restaurants: Flamingo chinese restaurant
Was there once (during a social event). Excellent food.

9. Restaurants: Chokola
I was very unfortunate when I was there: my food order was dropped,
drink order got missing and when I ordered a replacement,
the kitchen had closed. Perhaps you should wait for more feedback
before publishing this, but I considered other restaurants
for the rest of my stay. So it goes.

Hope this is helpful,

Geert Jan de Groot


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