Today is Election Day in Kenya. The local and international communities are holding their breaths and waiting anxiously in hopes of a peaceful day. You may recall that in 2007/2008, post-election violence broke out as a result of an allegedly rigged election. Raila Odinga (who is a major contender this time around as well) had a significant lead in the last election. Then, the power went out across the country. When the power came back on, suddenly Kibaki was in the lead. The violence lasted nearly three months and many innocent people lost their lives as a result. This time Raila Odinga is up against Uhuru Kenyatta who is going on trial in the ICC for instituting violence in the last election. He and his running mate are both accused of being ring leaders in the violence, but ironically were on opposing sides. Now they have teamed up to try to run the country despite the fact that they will spend part of their time in the Hague. Why anyone would vote for someone that is facing charges in the ICC, I have no idea, but don’t get me started on talking Kenyan politics or I will sound like a broken record.
Not only have many foreigners left Kenya for the elections, but a lot of locals have as well since schools are closed right now. My neighbors were heading to Uganda this week. Others were looking at flights to Bangkok or to Addis Ababa for a cheap plane ride out of the country. I am not in Kenya for the elections. Calculated or coincidence? A little of both. Initially, I had planned to go to Rwanda at the end of my stay in Kenya. I have friends there that I wanted to visit, and I also wanted to scope out some women’s co-ops there. When my Rwandan friend who runs Art Point Rwanda came to Kenya to buy supplies, Fred and I grabbed coffee with him. After the meeting, Fred mentioned that he thought we should go to Rwanda during the elections, as he felt he could learn a lot from Abraham, and it would be an opportunity for us to visit these co-ops. I turned down the idea because of having to pay two visas in Uganda just to transit through en route. Then I got robbed at gun point, and suddenly I was all for the idea. My visa was set to expire February 27th and I thought with my horribly bad luck in Kenya this year thus far, perhaps I should get out of town for the elections. And I really just needed a break. Being in Nairobi has become near overwhelming, and I am constantly filled with anxiety when I’m out and about. I ended up having to renew my Kenyan visa before I left because immigration could not tell me whether or not I would be okay to leave on the 27th. But it was a pretty simple process and a lot cheaper than getting it at the border, as long as I am allowed to re-enter on the same visa.
So I am back in the land of a thousand hills, after falling in love with the landscapes on my first visit in 2010. When asked about Rwanda, I’m always quick to mention how safe and clean it is- definitely an exception in Africa. Plastic bags are illegal for environmental reasons. There is a mandatory cleanup day on the last Saturday of every month. There aren’t the horrible bus fumes choking your lungs every second like there is in Nairobi. Being here for just a couple of days has really opened my eyes to how different Kigali is from Nairobi. I feel free. Relaxed. And really happy. We whiz around on motorbikes to get around the super-hilly city and try to speak Swahili when we find a Rwandan that can converse in it. I’ve gotten a really big kick out of all the locals that try to speak Kinyarwanda (the local language) with Fred. In terms of looks, he can pass as Rwandan. So when he tells them “English or Swahili,” they either get that he’s not Rwandan and switch languages, completely ignore what he’s saying and continue to talk to him in Kinyarwanda, or look at him very perplexed and wonder why he can’t speak the language. It’s quite entertaining for me, but sometimes I have to spell it out for them that “He’s from Kenya,” so they don’t think he’s being rude.
Kigali is also really, really small. Even though there are a million motorbike taxis in the city, we’ve already run into two that we took before. You can walk anywhere in the city center in about ten minutes, and even to get to the suburbs is just a ten minute drive. The motorbike costs just $0.50 in town and about $1.00 out to the suburbs. It’s cheap! With the flood of expats here, there is a nice selection of restaurants, as well as ample local food to choose from. Fred and I ate an entire roasted chicken the other night and even though I practically went into a food coma, it was some of the best chicken either of us had eaten before. Oh yeah, and for all of that chicken we only paid about $10.50. The weather is definitely hotter than either of us expected (maybe because there’s not much of a breeze?) and our budget digs unfortunately does not have a fan. Speaking of accommodation, it is more expensive than Nairobi. Though still cheap (less than $20), we are paying more than I would pay in Nairobi and we have shared bathrooms here. We got lucky that there was room at one of the church hostels, as we would have to pay almost double otherwise.
What We Have in Store for Rwanda
I guess I would call this trip a working holiday. We are working nearly every day on business activities but also taking the time to do a little bit of sightseeing in Rwanda and enjoy a change of pace. We have visited a sewing cooperative in Kigali and have a few more co-op visits in the works. We are on our way to Gisenyi tomorrow to visit a good friend of mine and hang out at the lake for a few days (and visit some more rural cooperatives). Since I have to pay the visa again in Uganda on the way back, we might stop in Kampala or Jinja (a source of the Nile) just to scope things out for a few days (possibly more cooperative visits) before heading back to Nairobi to start my big jewelry order that will be our launch collection. I am feeling refreshed and reinvigorated to keep on keeping on. We are collecting more ideas and inspiration each day and attempting to pave our own path in the world of social enterprise. Stay tuned.