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from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Journey to Rwanda

Gorilla trek [Journey to Rwanda]


Sue Horton, Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion editor of The Times, is in Rwanda on a two-week Gatekeeper Editor fact-finding trip organized by the International Reporting Project. She is chronicling her trip on the Opinion L.A. blog.

We were outside the boundary of Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park when we spotted it: a mountain gorilla that had climbed over a stone wall separating the park from farmland to feast on eucalyptus saplings. We clambered down a steep hill and watched it from about 25 feet away as it tore apart the young trees to get at their bark and leaves.

Our one-hour allotment of time with the gorillas had begun.

Gorilla tourism is something Rwanda has nailed. The government has worked closely to develop its program with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, which continues Fossey's work of protecting and studying the mountain gorillas that live in the Virunga Mountains.  Only 64 gorilla-trekking permits are issued each day, at a cost of $500 a person for foreign tourists, and no one can go into the forest without a guide.

On the morning of the trek, we  arrived at the headquarters of Volcanoes National Park before 7 a.m., along with everyone else who had a permit for the day. We were put into groups of no more than eight and assigned to one of the gorilla groups in the park currently designated for tourism. Trackers that work for the government find the gorillas in the morning and radio in their whereabouts. Then each human group is taken to the entry point of the park closest to where its assigned gorillas have been spotted.  The hike in can be as short as 20 minutes or as long as several hours. Time with the gorillas is limited to one hour.

Only 800 of the critically endangered mountain gorillas remain in the world, in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. About 280 of them are monitored daily by researchers affiliated with the Fossey Fund or by park staff. The Fossey researchers we met with said they think it's crucial to continue monitoring the effect of tourist visits on the gorillas, but they're convinced Rwanda is doing things right.  "Without tourism," one of them told us, " these gorillas would be extinct."

If Rwanda has been good to its gorillas, the gorillas have been good to Rwanda too. Tourism is Rwanda's leading source of foreign revenue (other than international aid), and the gorillas are a leading draw for tourists. It's hard to reconcile the stark contrast between the tourists paying $500 to spend an hour with gorillas and the Rwandans living around the park in mud huts without electricity or running water. But the government has tried to ensure that the area's residents derive some benefit from the tourism. The park employs more than 100 trackers, along with other local workers, and the hotels serving the gorilla trekkers employ many more. In addition, the government gives 5% of its revenues from gorilla tourism to nearby villages, building schools and improving access to water and other necessities.

In one of the villages, the people we spoke with seemed relatively pleased with the arrangement, though it is clearly making only a small dent in their needs. Their biggest complaint about the park was that, despite the walls and trenches intended to keep wildlife inside, buffalo sometimes break through and ruin their crops.

The silverback (adult male) gorilla we saw outside the park later rejoined his group (the Sabyinyo group), and we found the whole group feeding in dense forest inside the park. The contrast between the carefully tended fields and young eucalyptus trees outside the park boundary and the rain forest inside was shocking. Suddenly we were in dense bamboo, overhung by tall trees, hacking our way through vines and stinging nettles.

We were told to stay 7 meters away from the animals, but the gorillas sometimes have other ideas. Several times one came so close that I could have reached out and touched it without fully straightening my arm. The hour we had with them seemed like 10 minutes, and then it was time to leave.

PREVIOUSLY:

Sunday, Nov. 6: Journey to Rwanda

Sunday, Nov. 6/Monday, Nov. 7: Two views of President Kagame

Monday night, Nov. 7: First impressions

Tuesday, Nov. 8: Law of the land in Kigali

Tuesday, Nov. 8: Capital growth, for good and ill

Wednesday, Nov. 9: The master plan in action

Wednesday, Nov. 9: Genocide Memorial: Encountering the dead

Wednesday, Nov. 9: Rwanda's take on the Conrad Murray trial

Thursday, Nov. 10: Genocide survivors' testimony

Friday, Nov. 11: Rwanda's strengths and challenges

Tuesday, Nov. 15: Public health

--Sue Horton

Video care of Horton's colleague Tom Paulson of Humanosphere.

Public health [Journey to Rwanda]

Rwanda-children
Sue Horton, Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion editor of The Times, is in Rwanda on a two-week Gatekeeper Editor fact-finding trip organized by the International Reporting Project. She is chronicling her trip on the Opinion L.A. blog.

Tuesday, Nov. 15:  The statistics are impressive. Healthcare in Rwanda -- and access to it -- has improved dramatically in a very short time.

Between 2005 and 2010, mortality for young children has been more than halved, and both the malaria rate and maternal mortality have dropped significantly. Ninety percent of children are fully vaccinated. The country has quite a low rate of HIV infection compared with other African countries, and those with the virus generally have access to treatment.

As of 2010, 90% of the country had purchased government health insurance, though there is some indication that the number of insured may have dropped drastically in the wake of cost hikes (to a maximum of $12 per year per person, with a sliding scale that allows the poorest to be fully subsidized).

The country has instituted a system in which local health workers visit all the families in their villages regularly to perform routine healthcare. They can then refer patients to community health centers or to hospitals if appropriate.

We saw the highly local healthcare in action in a village in eastern Rwanda, in a dry part of the country where hunger has traditionally been a big problem. Now the government and the Catholic Church have collaborated to combat malnutrition at the Rilima Nutritional Center. If a child is identified as undernourished or is failing to grow properly, the mother can go to the center, where she gets extra nourishment for the child, along with lessons about what to grow in her garden for maximum nutrition and how to cook healthful food.

Still, the need is overwhelming. A 2010 health survey found that 37% of kids have stunted growth from malnutrition. About 76 in 1,000 kids die before they are 5. And even the best healthcare facilities lack things that U.S. hospitals consider necessities.

We visited a state-of-the-art hospital a couple of hours outside the capital, built by the international health organization Partners in Health, Rwanda's health ministry and the Clinton Health Access Initiative. The 150-bed facility sits on top of a high hill above the small town of Butaro. Before the hospital was built, the country's northern district of Burera, with a population of more than 320,000 people, had just one doctor. The new hospital is beautiful, with a commanding view of the surrounding countryside, and American doctors work side by side with Rwandan doctors to provide excellent care. But every day they have to make compromises.

Recently a child came in with severe kidney disease. They sent him to the capital for a scan, which showed the extent of the disease, but treatment really isn't possible. There's simply no access to dialysis, much less a kidney transplant.

Every day people start lining up outside the hospital at 6 a.m., and the parade of patients doesn't stop.

PREVIOUSLY:

Sunday, Nov. 6: Journey to Rwanda

Sunday, Nov. 6/Monday, Nov. 7: Two views of President Kagame

Monday night, Nov. 7: First impressions

Tuesday, Nov. 8: Law of the land in Kigali

Tuesday, Nov. 8: Capital growth, for good and ill

Wednesday, Nov. 9: The master plan in action

Wednesday, Nov. 9: Genocide Memorial: Encountering the dead

Wednesday, Nov. 9: Rwanda's take on the Conrad Murray trial

Thursday, Nov. 10: Genocide survivors' testimony

Friday, Nov. 11: Rwanda's strengths and challenges

--Sue Horton

Photo: Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., greets children before visiting a hospital in Kibuye, Rwanda. Saddleback Church hosted the 2006 Global Summit on AIDS and the Church. Credit: Allison Cox / Saddleback Church

Rwanda's strengths and challenges [Journey to Rwanda]

Rwanda village
Sue Horton, Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion editor of The Times, is in Rwanda on a two-week Gatekeeper Editor fact-finding trip organized by the International Reporting Project. She is chronicling her trip on the Opinion L.A. blog.

Friday, Nov. 11: Our drive north to where the gorillas live, which included a long detour, took us  through spectacularly beautiful scenery. It also revealed many of Rwanda's strengths, and its challenges.

The roads are in excellent condition, even the parts that aren't  paved. There are work crews everywhere, digging culverts so the roads won't  flood and making improvements on the sections that need them.

You also see the population pressure. Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa. But only a small  portion of the population lives in cities. Most people live in rural areas and do subsistence farming. The country we passed through has been almost entirely deforested (though non-native eucalyptus trees have been planted, which people like because they grow fast but which drive out native species). The villages we passed through were lively but clearly very poor.

Reminders of the genocide are constant.  Several times on the road, we passed work crews dressed in blue. They are genocidaires, convicted of participating in the genocide and sentenced to community service.

They're a chilling sight, but we also saw one of the more encouraging things that's happening in Rwanda: a huge improvement in rural and village healthcare. Stay tuned. 

PREVIOUSLY:

Sunday, Nov. 6: Journey to Rwanda

Sunday, Nov. 6/Monday, Nov. 7: Two views of President Kagame

Monday night, Nov. 7: First impressions

Tuesday, Nov. 8: Law of the land in Kigali

Tuesday, Nov. 8: Capital growth, for good and ill

Wednesday, Nov. 9: The master plan in action

Wednesday, Nov. 9: Genocide Memorial: Encountering the dead

Wednesday, Nov. 9: Rwanda's take on the Conrad Murray trial

Thursday, Nov. 10: Genocide survivors' testimony

--Sue Horton

Photo: In this image from the Los Angeles Times database, a view of a village near Ecole Technique de Murambi in Rwanda is seen in 2004. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Genocide survivors' testimony [Journey to Rwanda]

Rwanda4
Sue Horton, Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion editor of The Times, is in Rwanda on a two-week Gatekeeper Editor fact-finding trip organized by the International Reporting Project. She is chronicling her trip on the Opinion L.A. blog.

Thursday, Nov. 10:  It's late at night here, but I wanted to send a post today -- an amazing and  overwhelming day.

The 1994 genocide is never far from anyone's mind in Rwanda. But for some Rwandans it's a constant horror. This morning we talked with several survivors of the massacres, who told their stories through a translator.

It's estimated that 250,000 genocide survivors are also rape victims, though that number may be low because some women won't admit what happened to them. Sevota, an organization set up in 1994 by Rwandan social worker Godelieve Mukasarasi to help rape survivors of the genocide, brought half a dozen women together to speak with us. I won't name them, in keeping with The Times' policy about rape victims. Be warned: Their stories contain graphic descriptions.

The first woman who spoke  to us was 18 in 1994, married but still living with her family. The killing began in her neighborhood at 9 a.m.  She ran away and was hidden by a Hutu family. At one point, she thought she would be safer if she got to where other Tutsis were, so she left. Outside, she discovered that her mother and brother were dead. She went to a church where her Tutsi neighbors were hiding. They thought they were  safe, but then the Hutus came. The priest allowed them to come inside, where they picked Tutsis to kill. They took her to be raped. When they finished, they found sticks and stones and raped her again with them.

A second woman said that when the genocide started, her family thought the Hutus might come and kill their cows or other animals. But they never thought that humans would be killed. She and her brother fled into the forest, but her parents were too old to run fast. They were killed. She and her brother stayed in the forest for a week. Then they heard about a camp of Tutsis in the mountains; they headed for it. But soon after they got there, the Hutus came. They ran to a Catholic church. Again the Hutus came and began butchering people.

The woman  pretended to be dead. She stayed motionless, among  dead bodies, for two days. Then she ran away again. She hid  for two days before a Hutu soldier found her. After he raped her, he took her to his mother's house. She spent a week there. During the days, she was treated like a slave  and forced to work in the fields. At night, soldiers raped  her. Again she ran away, but she was soon caught by another Hutu and turned over to guards at a roadblock.  One of them wanted to kill her, but another said, "No, rape her."

Again she got away and ran to another Catholic church. At first it was better. She believed the church would protect her, and she was reunited with her brother there. But then the Hutus came, and the priest allowed them to take Tutsis. They killed her brother. She spent one month at the church, and every day Hutus raped her. She soon realized she was pregnant. Finally, she was rescued when the Tutsi army came through.

She found four orphaned children and began taking care of them. When her own child was born, she found it difficult to accept him. But  Sevota has helped her cope.

The third woman said that in her part of the country, the Hutu power movement  began as early as 1990.  Once, before the genocide, Hutu men came to her house to inspect her to see if she had the name of the Tutsi king written on her body. This was just an excuse to humiliate Tutsi women.

She fled when Hutus killed her family in 1994. A Hutu man who had worked for her family as a houseboy hid her in a water tank. But other Hutus found her. One man drew a long sword from his boot and was about to kill her when another one said, no, she had beautiful ankles and would be good for raping.

Hutu men who were pillaging raped her, again and again, saying they wanted a taste of Tutsi women. She ended up pregnant and with HIV. She loves her daughter, but she says that her daughter always asks her about her daddy. The girl, now 16, was told by neighbor children that she's really a child of rape. The mother still hasn't been able to admit that to the girl but says she is moving in that direction. She says she is shunned by the neighbors for having HIV.

As we listened to the stories, one of the women broke down, sobbing hysterically. But the others insisted they wanted to continue; they wanted their stories to be known, and they wanted us to tell people in the United States what they'd been through and how much Sevota had helped them.

Rwanda  today is a remarkable country. But considering that just 17 years ago the country was in  chaos, it's amazing.

PREVIOUSLY:

Sunday, Nov. 6: Journey to Rwanda

Sunday, Nov. 6/Monday, Nov. 7: Two views of President Kagame

Monday night, Nov. 7: First impressions

Tuesday, Nov. 8: Law of the land in Kigali

Tuesday, Nov. 8: Capital growth, for good and ill

Wednesday, Nov. 9: The master plan in action

Wednesday, Nov. 9: Genocide Memorial: Encountering the dead

Wednesday, Nov. 9: Rwanda's take on the Conrad Murray trial

--Sue Horton

Photo: During the 1994 genocide, there was a mass killing of thousands of people at Ecole Technique de Murambi in Rwanda. These are some of the victims clothes. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Rwanda's take on the Conrad Murray trial [Journey to Rwanda]

Conrad MurraySue Horton, Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion editor of The Times, is in Rwanda on a two-week Gatekeeper Editor fact-finding trip organized by the International Reporting Project. She is chronicling her trip on the Opinion L.A. blog.

Wednesday, Nov. 9: Rwanda has weighed in on the Conrad Murray trial, and the wrong man has been convicted.

Sunny Ntayombya, a columnist for the New Times ("Rwanda's First Daily"),  believes that "Michael Jackson did not die of cardiac arrest caused by an overdose of Propofol" but rather at the hands of his family and hangers-on who drained his financial resources.

"I was over here in Kigali," Ntayombya writes, "and even I knew that things were getting tight over at the Jackson household." 

"Why," he asks, "was Michael, at a ripe old age of 50, attempting to hold a series of backbreaking concerts that everyone thought could possibly kill him? Because he needed the money, simple as that."

Ntayombya doesn't absolve Murray, saying the doctor violated his Hippocratic Oath in administering the drugs. But, he concludes, "I'm displeased that only two ... suffered the consequences, Dr. Conrad Murray. And of course, Michael Joseph Jackson."

PREVIOUSLY:

Sunday, Nov. 6: Journey to Rwanda

Sunday, Nov. 6/Monday, Nov. 7: Two views of President Kagame

Monday night, Nov. 7: First impressions

Tuesday, Nov. 8: Law of the land in Kigali

Tuesday, Nov. 8: Capital growth, for good and ill

Wednesday, Nov. 9: The master plan in action

Wednesday, Nov. 9: Genocide Memorial: Encountering the dead

--Sue Horton

Photo: Dr. Conrad Murray reacts after the jury returned with a guilty verdict in his involuntary manslaughter trial Monday in a Los Angeles courtroom. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times / Pool

Genocide Memorial: Encountering the dead [Journey to Rwanda]

Kigali Genocide Memorial

Sue Horton, Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion editor of The Times, is in Rwanda on a two-week Gatekeeper Editor fact-finding trip organized by the International Reporting Project. She is chronicling her trip on the Opinion L.A. blog.

Mass-gravesWednesday, Nov. 9:  "The country smelled of the stench of death … Rwanda was dead."

Those words are from a display at Kigali's Genocide Memorial, and they describe the country's state after 100 days of carnage in 1994.

Outside the memorial, in 14 mass graves more than 20 feet deep, thousands of people killed in the genocide are buried. Inside, the story is told in a series of displays.  Most chilling is how much warning there was, and how it was ignored. As the so-called Hutu power movement was building, there were half a dozen sporadic outbreaks of killing, starting in 1990. But the world ignored them.

Then, in 1994, the airplane of Rwanda's then-president, Juvenal Habyarimana, was shot down, and within an hour the genocide began. Hutus involved in the massacres set up roadblocks and butchered Tutsis who stopped. They went door to door, killing their neighbors and friends.

Reading about what happened is overwhelming. Then, at the end of the circular memorial, is a room filled with pictures of the dead. Today, we are told by a health official, more than a quarter of Rwandans have post-traumatic stress syndrome.

PREVIOUSLY:

Sunday, Nov. 6: Journey to Rwanda

Sunday, Nov. 6/Monday, Nov. 7: Two views of President Kagame

Monday night, Nov. 7: First impressions

Tuesday, Nov. 8: Law of the land in Kigali

Tuesday, Nov. 8: Capital growth, for good and ill

Wednesday, Nov. 9: The master plan in action

--Sue Horton

Photos, top to bottom: The faces of the dead at the Kigali Genocide Memorial; mass graves contain the bodies of thousands of people killed in the genocide. Credit: Sue Horton

The master plan in action [Journey to Rwanda]

Koperative-Sign

Local interest
Sue Horton, Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion editor of The Times, is in Rwanda on a two-week Gatekeeper Editor fact-finding trip organized by the International Reporting Project. She is chronicling her trip on the Opinion L.A. blog.

Wednesday, Nov. 9:  The winding dirt road leading to Koperative Ubumwe Bat'sinda, where about 250 households have been involuntarily relocated from a hillside shanty near downtown Kigali, wasn't made for a bus like ours. But the driver navigated it expertly, staying far enough away from the sharp drop-off at the side that we weren't nervous. People in the small shops that lined the road were curious about us and came out to watch the bus pass. Finally we came to the sign announcing we'd arrived.

As we got out of the bus, we were surrounded by children. Soon their teacher walked up, and we asked him if he knew of a family we could speak to. He started to take us to the community center, but instead Fred Mwasa, the Rwandan journalist who's showing us around, pointed at a house and asked if we could be introduced there.

Mom-Remember the genocideThe woman who answered our knock, Cecile Bagirishya, a mother wearing a "Remember Tutsi Genocide" T-shirt, was a little taken aback at a dozen U.S. journalists standing on her doorstep, but she recovered quickly and was happy to answer our questions. With Fred translating, we asked about the resettlement, one of many planned for Kigali.

People were very angry when they were told they'd have to move, she said. And she said that most people felt the government didn't give them a fair price for their old houses. It's difficult to get to town now and there are no jobs out where they are. Those were the downsides.

CisternsBut, she added, if she were being honest, she'd have to say things were much, much better now. Before, they had no running water and not everyone had electricity. Now they have both. They also have a health center, which they didn't before. At the community center, they have access to a computer. And the children have a school much closer to them than before.

I don't know whether the government will be able to manage every resettlement as well, but this one seems to have made people happy.

PREVIOUSLY:

Sunday, Nov. 6: Journey to Rwanda

Sunday, Nov. 6/Monday, Nov. 7: Two views of President Kagame

Monday night, Nov. 7: First impressions

Tuesday, Nov. 8: Law of the land in Kigali

Tuesday, Nov. 8: Capital growth, for good and ill

--Sue Horton

Photos, top to bottom: The sign announcing that we'd arrived at the new settlement of Koperative Ubumwe-Bat'sinda for people relocated from a hillside near downtown Kigali;

Our arrival in Koperative Ubumwe Bat'sinda generated a lot of interest from the locals;

A mother at that settlement;

Not only do the houses have running water (at a tap outside); they also have large plastic cisterns to catch rainwater to use for irrigating the kitchen garden, which each house is required to plant.

Credit: Sue Horton

Capital growth, for good and ill [Journey to Rwanda]

Rwanda-City-Plan
Sue Horton, Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion editor of The Times, is in Rwanda on a two-week Gatekeeper Editor fact-finding trip organized by the International Reporting Project. She is chronicling her trip on the Opinion L.A. blog.

Tuesday, Nov. 8: Kigali has an immensely ambitious master plan. Growth is a given in the capital, and the Kagame government is determined that the city's spread won't be chaotic -- for better or worse.

First the good news: Rwanda has set a goal to be "the green financial hub of Central Africa," as one poster I saw put it. All over the city, high-rises and high-end housing are being erected. Development is everywhere.

An architectural model of the future sits in a planning office downtown, and we had it explained to us by both an urban planner ex-pat from a Denver architectural firm, who is a contractor for Rwanda, and her very impressive colleague, a young Rwandan woman, Liliane Uwanziga Mupende.

(An aside: Before we departed the U.S. for Rwanda, we met with Boston University political science professor Timothy Longman, who has made Rwanda and its genocide an academic speciality. He gave us his quite brilliant analysis of the deeply nuanced and complicated situation on the ground in Rwanda. One of the things he told us was that those with high-level bureaucratic jobs tend to be not just Rwandan Tutsis but Rwandan Tutsis who lived out the genocide as exiles in other countries, including Uganda. It's considered extremely rude to ask whether someone is a Tutsi or a Hutu,  especially because Kagame is insistent that Rwandans consider themselves simply as Rwandans rather than as members of an ethnic group. But if a person returned to Rwanda right after  the genocide, it can almost be assumed that he or she came back out of relief at the Tutsi victory. We asked Liliane how long she has  been in the country, and the answer was "since 1994." That's the year of both the genocide and the Tutsi victory.)

And now the qualms. One criticism of the master plan is that it creates a lovely capital that belies the reality of the rest of the country, and that to do so, it is removing structures (and the people who live in them) that don't fit with the new image. Longman, the BU professor, went so far as to call Kigali a "Potemkin city."

We asked Liliane about the people forced to move. She couldn't give us a number, but others have told us it will be many, many thousands. I've asked the planning department for a number, so maybe I'll get it (though transparency and openness are not this government's strong suit). Both Liliane and the planner from Colorado mentioned one community of hillside shanties that had already been relocated. Our journalist guide Fred knows where it is and says he'll take us there, so stay tuned.

PREVIOUSLY:

Sunday, Nov. 6: Journey to Rwanda

Sunday, Nov. 6/Monday, Nov. 7: Two views of President Kagame

Monday night, Nov. 7: First impressions

Tuesday, Nov. 8: Law of the land in Kigali

--Sue Horton

Photo: Liliane Uwanziga Mupende, a government urban planner showing an architectural model of the government's plan for Kigali to our group of International Reporting Project gatekeepers. Credit: Sue Horton

Law of the land in Kigali [Journey to Rwanda]

Kigali

Sue Horton, Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion editor of The Times, is in Rwanda on a two-week Gatekeeper Editor fact-finding trip organized by the International Reporting Project. She is chronicling her trip on the Opinion L.A. blog.

Tuesday, Nov. 8: The inimitable Fred Mwasa, journalist with the Rwandan weekly newspaper the Chronicles met us this morning to show us around Kigali. It’s an immensely interesting city.

Observation 1:

Kigali is incredibly clean. We passed dozens of women in simple uniforms with brooms sweeping. And they’re everywhere, not just in the city center but in the poor areas, too. There is no trash to be seen.

Observation 2:

As in most African cities, there are a lot of motorcycle taxis. But in Rwanda, not only does the driver have to wear a helmet, but he (we didn’t see any women motorcycle taxi drivers, despite Rwanda’s genuine progress on gender issues) also has to carry a second helmet for his passenger.

Observation 3:

Traffic is as orderly as in any city I’ve been in, and much more so than in many -- Boston, say. People drive the speed limit (the fines are high if they don’t). They don’t pass unless it’s clear. They stop when they’re supposed to. There aren’t a ton of cars, but still ...

Observation 4:

All my prior observations may be related to the same thing: Laws that are very strictly enforced. Fines are huge, and there are traffic cops everywhere. People don’t dare disobey the law. We asked a Rwandan today about whether the country is as safe as its reputation implies.

The response was instant: Absolutely. People don’t rob or steal or even shoplift.

Why, we asked? “The police shoot to kill.”

President Kagame has often stated his admiration for Singapore and has said it is a model for him. He’s well on his way.

PREVIOUSLY:

Sunday, Nov. 6: Journey to Rwanda

Sunday, Nov. 6/Monday, Nov. 7: Two views of President Kagame

Monday night, Nov. 7: First impressions

-- Sue Horton

Photo: View of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, in 2004. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

First impressions [Journey to Rwanda]

Sweeper Fred-Mwasa
Sue Horton, Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion editor of The Times, is in Rwanda on a two-week Gatekeeper Editor fact-finding trip organized by the International Reporting Project. She is chronicling her trip on the Opinion L.A. blog.

Motorcycle-TaxiMonday night, Nov 7: There is a smell unique to Third World cities. It's a combination of burning trash and cooking fires, and it  hit me as soon as I stepped onto the tarmac at the airport in Kigali, Rwanda. That was impression No. 1.

Impression No. 2 was how un-Third World the airport seemed. It wasn't grand, but it was pleasant, efficient and clean. Signs warned that plastic bags are illegal in Kigali, and one of our party who was carrying some things in a plastic bag had to turn it over to a guard.

The biggest surprise, though, was how calm things were. There were no bandit cabs trying to hustle a fare or porters vying to carry luggage,  no beggars or vendors selling their wares. Just smiling airport workers offering free carts and trying to be helpful.

Our party was met by the extremely charming Fred Mwasa, a Kigali journalist who says he's 30 but looks 16. He turned up wearing a jaunty fedora and a coat jacket that hung on his thin body. All in all he looked and talked like a Rwandan version of Clark Gable in "It Happened One Night." We're going to spend more time with him on Tuesday, which I'm really looking forward to.

Hotel-LobbyIt's always a little strange to be in a poor country and stay in luxury. The Kigali Serena Hotel, where we're based for the next few days, has a vast marble lobby and a bar out by the pool surrounded by tropical vegetation. Very colonial, but at least the vast majority of the guests are Africans. We're here at the same time as a U.N. conference that includes several African presidents, so security at the hotel is tight. Lots of men in uniform out front with guns. Not the sort you want to argue with. And while the conference is going on, all bags have to go through a scanner  and guests have to walk through a metal detector and get patted down.  I can't wait to get out and see the city.

PREVIOUSLY:

Sunday, Nov. 6: Journey to Rwanda

Sunday, Nov. 6/Monday, Nov. 7: Two views of President Kagame

--Sue Horton

Photos, top to bottom: One of the ubiquitous sweepers around town; Fred Mwasa, journalist with the Rwandan paper the Chronicles and our spirit guide; not only do motorcycle taxi drivers have to provide helmets to their passengers, they also have to have their phone numbers on them; the lobby of the elegant Kigali Serena Hotel. Credit: Sue Horton

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