The author: Umaru Sanda Amadu
I know you are missing me after just a few days absence. Well, I’m missing you too. We’ll reconnect sooner than you can imagine. There are a lot of things I’ll tell you when I return but for this one, it’s just too juicy and you know, I talk to live so let me tell you.
I didn’t notice it at first but after moving from the Kigali International Airport and driving through the capital to my hotel room, I noticed the absence of something very conspicuous. I tried to picture your streets and consider what was before me. Then I remembered. There was not a single hawker in sight. Yes! Believe me.
At first I convinced myself the route I was using is a ceremonial one and expected to see a hawker selling newspapers or a puppy soon, but this didn’t happen even after traveling more than an hour out of Kigali. I couldn’t help but ask my guide and she confirmed to me that, no one sells on the streets here. “Spectacular,” I exclaimed.
Immediately, I felt like phoning that bearded man… what’s his name again? Yes, the one who sometimes directs traffic on your roads while television cameras look on. But making calls from here is a different tale we’ll discuss when I come home. I was embarrassed and amazed at the scenery. I never imagined a “hawker-free street” in my life but there was it, lying in front of me - black and white. And this is in Africa. Just some six hours away.
And do you know another strange thing I saw? There is no “rubber bag” in this city. A friend mentioned it before I left but I didn’t consider the comment worth listening to. When I raised the subject at dinner with my hosts, one lady told me thus: “When you get to Kigali Airport and they run a search through your luggage and find a pile of arms in one bag and a shred of plastic bag in the other, they will confiscate the latter and let you through with your arms.” It’s a joke but that is how serious they take the issue of plastic waste here.
Just last night when I entered the supermarket down the streets to purchase a few items, everything was packed in a paper bag for me. Can you believe that? I’m just imagining what we use plastic bags for at home. I buy fufu and hot goat light soup and all find their way in tiny polythene bags. When I finish eating, I dump it in your drains and you groan but I can’t even hear you. I once attended a press conference on how we can make use of paper bags rather than plastic bags but everybody - including some of the journalists around made fun of the whole idea.
But here I am, faced with the fact and I must confess, there is nothing beautiful than peeping through the car window and seeing the drains snaking through the town freely. Odawna just came to mind.
Hey, before I forget. There is no pure water or as you want me to call it, sachet water here. Yes. Trust me. There was not a single child screaming, “yeeeeees, pure water” by the car window when we got to the traffic lights. I convinced myself to say it’s a dream but then again, I couldn’t have been writing this letter in real sense if I was dreaming.
I know you will be jealous but I must confess, I’m in love with Kigali. You know those images they created in our head about genocide and rebels and people dying and so on…? Well, I haven’t seen that yet. Looking through the window of my hotel room, I see a city well lit roads very free and things moving orderly. I think I should be leaving you more often to explore other parts of the world because you made me believe yours was the only way of life.
And one more thing. You have really cheated me by not teaching me French. If these people here weren’t good in the English language, I bet I wouldn’t have been able to move an inch. I had to laugh at jokes after everyone else at the dinner table because I have to wait for one of those laughing to translate it to me. I look stupid laughing a minute or so after the fun. I think it is something you should consider, especially since we are bordered by only French speaking countries. No man is an island, they say.
I know you are not happy I’m praising Kigali to you but don’t worry. You will always be my lover. I’m just asking you to change your ways if you want me to admire and say good things about you.
There is one thing that frightens me here though. There are a lot of armed soldiers and police men positioned at every street corner. The first time I saw them, my heart missed a bit. I was later told they are there to maintain law and order or something. I think I will write to President Kagame and tell him you are more peaceful than his Kigali is, but I don’t see Special Forces in every street corner back home.
And the weather too. It’s making me freeze. That’s one other reason I’ll always choose you. The warmth and the AKWABA you will tell me whenever I return home. So don’t worry, I’ll be home soon with the award I came here to pick. Just to make you proud. Chao!
Umaru Sanda Amadu (Broadcast Journalist, Citi FM)