Monday, September 10

Would you like paper or paper?

I'm currently in Rwanda, land of a thousand hills and no plastic bags. At the border with Uganda, after passing through the formalities on both sides - Rwanda doesn't make Americans buy a visa, which is a pleasant change - they unload all your bags from the bus and make you open them so they can toss any plastic bags you may be carrying. No looking for knives or drugs or liquids, just plastic bags. But I guess it pays off. The country is clean. Downtown Kigali looks kind of like suburban California, and even the the shanty towns are tidy.

The rest of our time in Uganda was pleasantly spent. On Friday we went to Jinja; the "adrenaline capital of East Africa" to do the touristy thing and go rafting. It's supposedly some of the best in the world. I don't really know if thats true - it wouldnt suprise me if it's not - but it is fun, and the deep water lessening the danger of hitting rocks makes things more enjoyable. Getting caught in a torrential rain storm makes it less enjoyable. There was also this guy who had been hit by a car and paralyzed below the waist, who tied his legs together and came along for the trip. Impressive. We only had 8 on our trip, though I hear 60 or 100 is common these days. Then our truck got stuck behind the rearview mirror of a minibus on the way back, resulting in an amusing exchange between the driver and our rowdy crew of Ugandan kayakers. After ten minutes or so of arguing, the parties decided to turn their attention to actually untangling the vehicles, which took about twenty seconds.

Saturday, we went to a sports bar to watch Uganda's soccer team smoke Niger 3-1. That might not be enough to qualify them for a spot in the Africa Cup finals, but it still flooded the streets with lots of flags and honking. We also had the pleasure of checking out Bubbles O'Learys, Kampala's premiere Irish pub, where for the price of admission; you too can forget you're in Africa - except for the tastless beer.

Following an uneventful busride, with a fair number of other wazungu - mostly creepy American missionaries - we're in Kigali, where the beer isn't any more flavorful. But I passed a shop today selling all sorts of Belgian beers, from Leffe to Duvel to Chimay. Now I just have to figure out a way to get it cold.

As I mentioned, Kigali is clean and tidy and quiet. They have traffic lights that people follow, cars stop to let you pass, the motorcycle taxis all have helmets for the driver and the passenger. Even the market area is quite tame for Africa standards.

Hanging over everything you see, of course, is the legacy of 1994. The Kigali Memorial Center is a pretty somber experience, complete with piles of skulls and photos of kids that were killed. I don't know enough to gauge how well the country is coping. It's undeniably impressive how well the country is functioning, and Ive never felt safer walking around an African city. But the government is also authoritarian, and the order a little creepy. It seems like every other story in the New Times newspaper is a defensive article about the RPF regime - including in today's paper, a recycled Guqrdian article, from 2004.

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