We have arrived at our hotel room in Kigali, having left the house around 3:30 am on Thursday and travelling for about 36 hours. Rwanda is six hours ahead of Chapel Hill, and there is no daylight savings time.
We were actually supposed to arrive here yesterday, but American Airlines cancelled our flight to JFK around 12:30 a.m. the morning we were supposed to catch it. Word has it they cancelled the flight due to the recent grounding of all the world’s Boeing 737 MAX airplanes, but there was a big storm in Dallas earlier this week that caused 200 flight cancellations and a labor “action” at LAX the week before that that resulted in more cancellations. I’m guessing the Dallas storms put an additional strain on an already stressed system, and we saw the consequences.
We were planning on a leisurely three-hour layover at JFK, but we spent an additional two hours getting the plane’s engines started at RDU. And the layover on Qatar Airlines (which was a very nice airline; my first experience with it) was also short (about an hour in Doha). Late departures make for stressful transfers, but we made it and nobody had to run.
And now we’re at Villa Portofino hotel in Kigali, on a balcony overlooking the pool, blogging and catching up on the hotel wifi. There are kids are playing in the pool, mellow reggae (-ish) music with an African flavor (as opposed to Caribbean) is playing and chefs are preparing a meal over a large bed of charcoal, so we can smell the smoke. The weather is cool and dry, and there’s a slight breeze. It’s 100% relaxing (apart from the DJ who keeps injecting video-game sound effects and switching songs in the middle of a song — oh well, I guess party time is warming up). :) Supper will be served in an hour and a half as I type this. (Maybe the picture I took off the balcony will eventually finish uploading and I’ll be able to put it in this blog post, but, if not, I’ll post it later.)
An interesting occurrence when we left Entebbe, Uganda, was that the stewarding crew walked up and down the plane’s aisles, spraying an insecticide into the air. They advised us to cover our mouths and noses. People take mosquito-borne illnesses seriously here.
When we arrived, the airport in Kigali had a sleepy, relaxed feel, in spite of Kigali being Rwanda’s largest city and capitol. People who were moving were strolling. It had a nice feel. I was reminded of the concept of “Africa time”, although I did see one guy trotting to get somewhere (not a tourist, I think).
On the flight from Doha, we got a chance to talk to the two men in the seats behind us, who were flying to Kigali. One of them, Sam, lives in Belgium with his wife and comes home to Kigali every year, to spend time with family and work a little bit as a guide in the national forest that straddles the Rwanda-Uganda border. The other, Isaac, was a small businessman bringing electronics and shoes from China (presumably for sale in Kigali). They seemed impressed with Zoe’s approach (by the way, wearing the Zoe T-shirts is a great conversation-starter and advertisement). They liked that Zoe’s direction comes from local people who know what the problems on the ground are, along with approaches that might work.
One of the things that Sam said that I found interesting is that tourism to Rwanda is good and a desired thing. (He asked us to bring more people next time, and we talked a bit about tourism as one aspect of Rwanda’s economic development.) I had always felt like these trips shouldn’t be considered tourist trips, and I felt a little guilty at the touristy aspect of it, but: our tourist-y dollars are also a contribution.