As my 9 year old and I prepared for a week long trip to Rwanda I can’t count how many times I was met with shock, awe and often stunned surprise that I would take my child to what many considered a dangerous country.
It’s true that Rwanda lives in our collective memory as a place of horrors and not much has been said of late to change anyone’s mind. Time and again intelligent and well traveled friends would counsel me against my trip or at the very least caution me to be “on guard” (whatever that means). I suppose the government of Rwanda has more important matters to attend to than the public relations spin on travel to their country.
Our trip was to be some parts mission, some parts research and just a little bit of fun (yes, I said fun in Rwanda). We have supported Partners in Health, an organization that has been building medical centers in some of the poorest countries, and planned to visit a health center that we had been a part of funding. We traveled with my friend Lesley and her two children, ages 9 and 11. We had also arranged to visit World Vision and meet the children that we had been sponsoring through their organization. Lastly, Rwanda still has a fabulous game preserve and we were hopeful that we might see some great African wildlife.
While I wasn’t worried about our safety in Rwanda, it’s currently one of the safest African countries to travel to, a few friends did make some arguments that gave me pause. One friend in particular was worried that I would be exposing my son to a level of poverty and human misery that would be more than he could comprehend. Another pointed out that a group of blonde, white people might make excellent targets for kidnappers (that’s Mexico, and another story). We were lucky enough to have our travel organized by Partners in Health and had hired a professional driver who would be with us any time we were out of the hotel. Do I think this is necessary? Absolutely not. Did it make me feel better? Absolutely yes.
Getting to Rwanda is easier than you might think. Most flights connect through Brussels, after learning that Rwanda had been a Belgian colony, this made more sense. In one of the many ironic twists on our trip, the flight from Brussels to Rwanda was far more luxurious than our flight from New York to Brussels. There are also a few somewhat “westernized” hotels in Kigali (the capital city of Rwanda). No, I haven’t seen Hotel Rwanda and am not sure I’ll ever be up to it. The Serena Hotel is the most luxurious, however locals take a dim view of westerners who come to “help” and stay in such nice digs. I heard a few unkind comments about the venerable preacher Rick Warren whose group has come to Rwanda many times, it doesn’t seem to the people like they’ve done much, and they always stay at the Serena.
There is a new property just developed by the Chinese that includes a casino, also frowned upon, and I’m told the construction was suspect. We stayed at the LAICO Umubano hotel, formerly known as the Novotel. It reminded me of the many motel vacations we took as a child. While the remote controls weren’t bolted to the night stands, I can only assume it was due to lack of bolts. The hotel does boast a pool and clay tennis courts, it also has a lovely restaurant, a patisserie and available wi-fi. I was told that all hotel transactions were made in cash so I was packing enough Franklins to make me nervous. They do take credit cards, so the cash came in handy at the markets. Basket anyone?
Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting about our visit with our World Vision children, our trip to Partners in Health medical centers and our “safari”.