Rising like a Phoenix- The New Indian Express

Express News Service

History whispers from every corner of the densely populated Kigali in Rwanda, Africa. It was under the German rule, Belgians and the Rwandan kings, before becoming the capital of independent Rwanda in 1962. A visit to the Genocide Memorial offers a glimpse into the nation’s dark past when in 1994, the Hutus killed millions of Tutsis and moderate Hutus, in an ethnic cleansing over 100 days. Video recordings, testimonies of survivors and photographs document this ghastly massacre.

Particularly haunting are the images of children killed, with a list of their ages, favourite food and toys. Outside is the rose garden and canopies over the mass graves of over 2.5 lakh people, with a wall of names where locals come to pay respects. Not far from here is the Hotel de Milles Collines, where over a thousand people took refuge during the genocide, and became the subject of the Oscar-nominated film, Hotel Rwanda.

About 10 km away from the memorial is Nyamirambo, one of Kigali’s oldest neighbourhoods, dominated by Muslim traders speaking Swahili, who initially came here from Tanzania. Amid barber shops and tiny beauty parlours, street-side restaurants serving local delicacies such as pilau, biriyani, ugali (a porridge made with maize and water) and fried plantains in a car-free area, as locals play board games, while children have a run of the play area. Largely a tea-drinking country, there are many milk bars in Rwanda, which double up as places to socialise, with locals thronging it for hot milk and cold fermented milk served from huge metal drums, besides cheese and yoghurt. In fact, like India, cows and milk are an important part of the Rwandan identity. One of the local greetings—amashyo—means ‘may you have a thousand cows’.

With its wide boulevards lined with palm and jacaranda trees, Kigali sprawls across four hills and valleys. Hillsides are dotted with banana plantations that grow lush in the red, volcanic soil. There are houses lined on the slopes among spotless streets, thanks to umuganda— a community cleanup held on the last Saturday of every month.

murals on a building

The city’s commitment to environmental conservation is evident from its wetland protection project—the recently opened Nyamdungu Eco Park, sprawling over 120 hectares—that preserves biodiversity, prevents the annual flooding and reduces pollution by acting as a filter. With a prolific bird life and biking trails, it is a popular green lung for the city. On the outskirts of the city, is another ecotourism initiative started by a local vet, which rehabilitates grey-crowned cranes with black and red throat pouches. These birds used to be kept as pets by people or poached, with their wings cut or maimed, and were on the verge of extinction. Today the Umusambi village—just eight minutes from the Kigali airport and famous for its marshes, grasslands, trails and boardwalks—has become a wildlife sanctuary with hundreds of rescued cranes.

A great place to meet the locals and browse through Rwandan art and craft is the Kimironko market, next to the main bus station, which sells everything from vibrant fabric and household goods to fruits and vegetables. Seamstresses sit bent over sewing machines, making dresses from local kitenge fabric on express orders, as shopkeepers sell colourful baskets and Imigongo art panels in geometric designs moulded out of cowdung and ash before being painted.

The top of Mount Kigali, which is the highest point of the city at 6,000 ft, is the best place for a bird’s eye view of this densely populated place. Fringed by banana plants and palm trees, the red earth, and tin roof houses, not to mention the gleaming office towers and convention centres, Kigali is a phoenix, recovering from its tragedies.
 

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