Knowing Kigali: What caught my eye?

#1. The cold

I thought it rather unusual the chill I felt during the journey to Kigali, but I put it down to the annoying sniffles I had. Then again it had been raining steadily and quite heavily before we left.

No respite in the form of rest or peace either during the trip; I had to keep a keen eye on both children, especially after T threw up twice. She has that ringing sensation in her ears, got it from her dad.

So my sniffles continued into the chill that characterized the prevailing temperature of Kigali and enveloped us. The kind that dogs your every move, stays on you like a second skin and follows you around like your faithful shadow in the dark.

It didn’t help that we arrived during the rainy season. Twice the cold. Even when the sun peeked out through the dull and gloomy weather, that chilly wind always registered its presence. As if to say, I am not going anywhere, people.

My morning walks were more acts of bravery and courage than actual exercise. And I certainly didn’t want any added weight at the end of the holiday. The security guards must have thought me absolutely insane. Who wears bikers’ shorts and a short – sleeved t-shirt at 5.45am in the biting frost while they fought to keep warm in layers of clothing that were wrapped tightly around their bodies?

#2. The speed bumps

Perhaps I haven’t see so many speed bumps in their varying designs, sizes, heights, width, etc but Kigali’s, I must confess, are about unique as none I’ve ever seen.

Not high. Nah, they don’t intend to wreck your car’s undercarriage. Wide is what they are. Almost the width of your car. I bet a car or two can adequately fit the length and breadth of that hurdle, if placed horizontally.

With speed bumps like that, there’s hardly any chance of serious accident. Unless, of course, they were created because of the severity of previous accidents.

Slow down, you must; if not they would stop your movement completely. Rudely.

#3. Greenery

How long does it take a tree to grow into its full size? 20 years? 100 years? Counting from the year of the genocide, it is less than a century but slightly more than two decades.

Did they start then? Planting, cultivating and nurturing this luscious vegetation that decorates the city? In the centre of it. Skirting its outskirts. Beautifying the homes of its citizens.

Everywhere you go, you inhale clean, fresh air because greenery (in all its leafy, swaying glory) pleases your sight, blending effortlessly with concrete and building, and refreshing your lungs.

Any resistance put up by carbon monoxide car fumes is immediately refuted because vegetation is everywhere and outstrips the poisonous smoke.

Kigali got this right; you can never go wrong with the greens.

#4. Hair

When your eyes are accustomed to certain images, adapting them to a whole new set (especially ones that are unanticipated) can take some getting used and probably cause quite a prolonged, mild shock.

Nothing prepared me for the afro I observed in Kigali. Coming from a city of weaves, wigs and more weaves, the Brother Johnson (BJ) styles that beautify the heads of the women folk made for an amusing scene.

For every (read: occasional/rare) weave I saw, there were at least two or three afro styles right behind, countering that foreign influence.

I have no issues with afro. Going au natural is the trend now (I even contemplated it last year) but this…this BJ throws me off completely.

It sends me back to my secondary school days when Bobby Brown’s, or was it Carl Lewis’? hair style (short, back and sides) was the rave.

Crew cut was a boy (and girl) thing. It still is for secondary school students back at home but here…it’s a whole new ball game.

Two to four inches of kinky black hair seats quite comfortably on a female’s head – from the very young girl of five to the middle – aged grandmother; there’s no distinction. That’s the first part of it.

Then comes the cut. There’s no twisting the strands into several small buns or braiding them half – way through or even restraining them, upwards style, with a rubber band like Nigerian women do back at home. In Kigali, most shape the hair, right above their foreheads, like hedges. The sides have a sharp, razor – like edge to it, making the look manlier than something a woman/ girl would opt for. It gives a tomboyish appearance to the female wearer.

I understand the look dates to the way their ancestors wore their hair, but this has a modern twist to it.

Just not modern enough for me, I must admit. There are other ways to rocking afro – cornrows, use of hair pins to keep it in place as well as those I mentioned above. Anything to exude feminine qualities instead of this Lewis’ style they’ve got going on.

To top off my eyesore were twin children seating in front of me in church one Sunday morning. Too distracted to listen to the homily, I debated internally if they were boys or girls. Their hair (or lack thereof) were so low I could almost count the strands left behind. The plain, royal blue jackets they had on could have been worn by either gender. It didn’t help that they had no ear holes because they looked like girls; then again, they didn’t. Not with that practically bald style.
After staring at them for a while, I concluded they were boys and averted my eyes when the congregation had to all rise.
My heart just about skipped a beat as spotless, white chiffon ballooned into dresses from waist down.

Keoghenebiko! They are girls!

#5. Building art

Perhaps this has everything to do with their hilly landscape.

Perhaps it has absolutely nothing to do with it.

Perhaps it makes sense to have it because there’s an abundance of the raw material.

I didn’t ask; just ogled and appreciated their building craft.

Like their language and currency, it’s one of their signatures; something they own, have developed and stamped everywhere for us to see.

#6. Cost

“40, 000 francs.” The woman sang out the price of the bag I had pointed to, and I thought I heard her wrong.

40, 000? For what? I didn’t say. Then I inhaled and mentally did the conversion. After which, I began, gladly, haggling with her.

For a while, their charges stomped me. As they reeled them out, my head’s picked them up in naira until I got a grip of myself and did the math.

How can a croissant cost 1,500 francs? What the…? Do you know how many I’d get for that price back at home? Oh, wait…it’s in Rwandan francs.

#7. Shopping bags

Just like the movies.

At least it felt that way to me as I hurled brown, handless, paper- made shopping bags to the car after my first retail experience in Kigali.

Just plain unfamiliar too, I have to add. And when something’s different or you don’t understand it, your first reaction is rebellion.

Where were the hands of these bags? I grumbled initially when I saw the bags my shopping was being piled into.

As it was with their cost and their language, it took some getting used to. These brown bags are everywhere – in the supermarket, the food market, and wherever you buy stuff that can be fitted into them. It was the official, recommended carrier bag.

It also made sense when I adjusted to and gave it some thought.

Use of recycled, paper bags cancelled out the polythene alternative which was responsible for major garbage and blocked drainages back home. Here, the environment was pleased (and it showed) with the ban on polythene bags.

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