I was over the moon excited to be selected to go to Africa on this trip. I knew several months in advance and started prepping for my trip mentally and physically. By physically, I mean, I didn’t start working out, I mean I had to get almost every vaccine known to man, I say that in a joking manner – but I did have to get a lot of shots. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the vaccines you should get prior to traveling to Rwanda. I also went to an organization called Passport Health to help me through the process. In the end I was vaccinated with Yellow Fever, Hep A/B, Cholera, Typhoid, Tetanus, an update on my MMR shot, and given some Malaria Pills. I feel like I am missing a few and am not sure that I needed all of the shots I got, but it doesn’t hurt to be safe.
This is how my mind works: my primary worry before traveling to a third-world country was getting diarrhea while there. I took, what I called, a diarrhea kit, with me. I was fully prepared to treat myself with a ton of meds when travelers diarrhea struck. I was really careful with what I ate and drank and I am happy to say that after 3 weeks in Rwanda…I never got diarrhea…so maybe I should have focused on other things before I went on this trip. Like…learning about the country, culture, history and language, which I didn’t do enough of.
Packing was an ordeal for me. I didn’t really know what to pack. How many pairs of underwear? Jeans? Cute outfits? Will we be able to do laundry? How many days in a row will I wear the same thing while working? Should I bring my flat-iron? Fortunately our logistics team put together a great packing list for us which was really helpful. I ended up with a 49 lb body-bag as a suitcase and over packed cute outfits and wet wipes and under packed cold meds and forgot a headlamp (which would have been really handy to have).
Just getting to Africa took a long time…over 40 hours, in fact. First off, I had caught the ‘common cold’ about a week before I left, so I wasn’t feeling great. After I visited with a doctor and told him my situation and that I was about to embark on the trip of my life to Africa and didn’t want to get sicker while I was there…he suggested a long list of over the counter meds…so I loaded my suitcase up with them. Needless to say, I felt like absolute crap the whole way there and each flight made it a little worse. I left on March 13th, 2019. That week there was a terrible snow storm in Denver, so right out of the gate, my first flight to Denver was cancelled. I was re-routed to Seattle, the day earlier. I then had to take an overnight flight from Seattle to Washington D.C., where I had a long 12 hour layover. I was beat and worn down, so I got a hotel room for the day. Those in the travel industry call them ‘day-rooms’, you can reserve a room for the day or a few hours or whatever you need at a slightly discounted rate. It was the best thing I did on the trip over there, although if I felt better I would have taken in some of the DC touristy sights. I slept most of the day, ate, showered and made my way back to the airport that evening for a 9 hour overnight flight to Brussels, Belgium. On the flight, I had 3 glasses of wine, took some nyquill and slept for most of the flight…and got a little sicker. The guy next to me on the flight probably thought he drew the short straw by having to sit next to a coughing, sneezing, watery-eyed person. Full disclosure: a couple of times I even woke up with snot running out of my nose, not pretty. We had a 5 hour layover in Brussels, it was nice though, a lot of our team was there and we got to know each other a little better. We then hopped on another 9ish hour flight to Kigali, Rwanda where we were greeted that evening by our Bridges to Prosperity rep and a couple of other team members.
I don’t know what I was expecting Kigali to be like. I didn’t give it a lot of thought before I arrived. It is the capital of Rwanda and a very large and thriving city. Parts are beautiful, parts are not so beautiful. Similar to any typical city I’ve been to. The traffic was CRAZY! I was shocked by the amount of traffic and how drivers maneuvered it with ease. There were cars and motorcycle taxis everywhere. Traffic control signs and lights seemed like a suggestion rather than a rule that had to be followed.
We lugged our bags to our hotel and we settled in at the hotel bar and restaurant and ordered dinner and drinks. I was pleased to find that the Gloria Hotel Restaurant pours a healthy, to the rim, glass of red. My kind of place. One thing that we learned in Kigali is that dinner, wherever you go, can take up to 3 hours and is a long process whether the restaurant is busy or not. If you’re hungry, be prepared to wait a while for your meal. Instant gratification is not something to expect at the dinner table. We complained about this a little at the time, but looking back, it was a great opportunity for us to visit, have drinks and get to know each other better.
The next day we had a free day in Kigali to tour the city and do whatever we wanted. Jetlag and my cold really got to me, so I skipped the touring and spent the day in bed, until 1pm or so. I was honestly really surprised both going too and from Africa, how bad my jetlag was. If I travel that far again, I am going to definitely prepare for it.
The next morning we rose early and started our 6 hour journey to our village. All in all, the trip was roughly 150km. Six hours meant a lot of winding roads and off-road travel. We stopped a couple of hours in and had lunch in a little town and experienced our first true Rwandan meal…rice, beans, noodles, potatoes, plantains, red veggie sauce and mystery meat on a stick, if you were so inclined….which I wasn’t…remember the diarrhea fear? We also got to experience our first rural Rwandan bathroom….which, at the time, I thought was primitive. I was such a young child then.
We spent the next hour or so on pavement and then made our way onto the dirt roads of the Southern Province of Rwanda. The picture below shows the road closer to the start of our dirt-road journey, the further we went, the roads got narrower, curvier and muddier.
Along the way, we saw very few cars besides our own and several pedestrians or bicyclists. As we got closer and closer to our destination, more and more people started waving at us and became interested in us and shouted muzungu, which means white person in Kinyarwandan. I suddenly started feeling very nervous and anxious about what I was getting into. Here we were, in remote Africa, about to stay in a primitive village, surrounded by people we don’t know in a country that isn’t home. It was overwhelming to me to say the least.
We arrived in the village, called Gatunda Centre, in the early evening. I couldn’t believe what it looked like. It reminded me of the 1800’s. The streets were dirt, and mostly washed out. The buildings were all concrete/stucco-ish, several had dirt floors and most didn’t have a store front. There were so many people there who were genuinely interested in us. When we were unpacking the vehicles, we were instantly swarmed by the local children and adults. Not really in a bad way, I didn’t feel like I was in danger or anything like that, I just really felt overwhelmed and had no idea how to deal with it.
We didn’t stay outside very long and rushed into our accommodations, processed where we were and what just happened and started settling in for the 2 weeks ahead of us.
Stay tuned for Part 3.