Evening humidity and the sweet smell of wood fires and damp earth greeted me when I stepped onto the tarmac at 8 pm in Kigali, Rwanda (Jan 14). I breathed in deeply. I love the first smell of a new place.
Kigali was my point of entry into the continent from Brussels because it is only a 3 hour drive west to Goma just over the border in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Rwanda is neat and orderly. There was no pushing in the immigration line, no shoving at the baggage claim and no porters competing for my suitcases. There were porters, but all I had to do was ask for a cart (it's free!) and I managed my own luggage.
A driver from the office met me outside and took me along perfectly paved, perfectly clean streets to a small hotel where I promptly encountered someone who I had first met in Port-au-Prince a few years ago. He would also be working in Goma.
I felt immediately at home at the hotel with CNN on the TV and two cockroaches scurrying across the floor. (I shortened their lives.)
The next morning at 8 am the driver picked me up and we started the drive toward Goma. It took an entire 20 minutes for me to spot a piece of garbage on the side of the road. Shakira and The Dave Matthews Band sang out on Voice of America.
We climbed a hill and drove along green mountains with a red earth background that remind me of the Haitian mountains. I could have been in Kenscoff or Furcy. These mountains were broader, but have the same sloping features and garden plots etched into the hillsides. Banana plants, eucalyptus trees, sorghum, beans, potatoes, calla lilies, impatiens, birds of paradise were everywhere. Houses cropped up here and there. Men and women walked along the road many carrying produce to or from market.
When I am first in a new place, I like to ask local people what they like and don't like about their country. The first people I tend to meet are the office drivers. The Rwandan driver responded promptly to the first question, "Ah, I love that my country is clean." I had to agree!
When I posed the second question in English- what he doesn't like- he asked me to repeat it, then asked for the question in French then said,"We have a lot of security in our country. I cannot answer that question." I remembered Rwanda is the place where everything is neat and orderly and the people reserved, but with very little trust between them.
We met the Congolese driver half way to the border and I posed the same questions to him. He quickly said,"I'll answer first what is not good. The government is not good. They do not take care of their people. They do not take care of the roads. What I love is the beauty of my country."
We arrived at the border and were across within 20 minutes--no fees, no bribes, no pushing, no waiting. It made my memories of the Haiti/DR border experience all the worse!
Crossing into Goma, the road deteriorated- mostly dirt and potholes (although nothing worse than the side roads in Port-au-Prince!). It certainly is not as tidy as Rwanda, but it still looked cleaner and less chaotic than Port!
I think I'm going to like this place.