Lovestruck: Notes from Kigali

KIG_8993Photos: Kevin Mutonga.

I’m writing this from Kigali, Rwanda. I’m actually kind of cheating, so we’ll call this is a teaser post for a more photo-filled post in a few days, but I just couldn’t hold it in. You see, in a couple of days I’ve been forced to reconsider a grossly mistaken belief I’d previously held, which was that Nairobi was the best city in Africa. Nairobi, I’m deeply deeply sorry– it appears that my city loyalty was fickle and fleeting, despite everything you have given me all these twenty something years.

Unfortunately, one thing that you did not give me was streets not littered with polythene bags. Because of this, I’ve decided to switch camp to the capital of the country where they confiscate your polythene bags when you come in. Yes, this actually happened. Isn’t that crazy? Gahh imagine if that were to happen in Kenya– for nylon bags to be confiscated. I have to say that I’ve been a little hesitant to believe in the banplastics movement in the past, but I’m rethinking that now. I suppose you could say I’ve been changing a lot lately, thanks to you, Kigali. See? A few hours in and you’re already making me a better woman.

Kigali– but really all of Rwanda I’ve seen so far, including outside the city– is breathtakingly gorgeous. Hill slopes trace out whorls of green steps, the main roads are super smooth, paths are lined with banana trees and avocados, this last thing is really what won me over, to be quite honest. I’m a sucker for avocados. As I always say, “Once you go avocado, you can never go backward-o”. hihi.

I was having a conversation with Tosh about how sometimes, no matter how hard you try as a photographer or as a writer or as a whatever, it sometimes is impossible to recreate the beauty of a moment or scene. You’re often just trying to duplicate and to do the best you can, and it’s like if you’re really good, your duplication kinda approaches infinity in matching the initial thing, but never quite getting there.

A small thing: I’m not going to say too much because I’ve yet to visit the genocide memorial, but it would feel like something was amiss if I talked about how beautiful this city is without mentioning the shadow of the genocide of two decades ago. There   are little hints of this so far: “Wanted” posters offering thousands of dollars to anyone with information on men whose faces are captured in faded, grainy photos, the fact that many people we’ve met speak Swahili from having spent some time in Congo or in Tanzania, or just from the little knowledge I’ve had of this place before visiting. There’s a powerful essay by Clementine Wamariya that I read once that’s been on my mind since I got here, and I’m hoping to learn more in the next few days I’ll be around.


So that’s that. Oh! Tosh and I have been learning about the work done by Earthenable, a startup whose product is earthen floors. It’s absolutely fascinating, and I’m convinced that masons are the most underrated artists ever. The reason why they create this product is because earth floors can sometimes be unhygienic, hoarding pests like termites and jiggers, collecting puddles and making the house dusty. However, cement floors are often too expensive for many people in rural Rwanda. Earthenable floors fit this gap: creating a product that’s the fraction of the cost of cement floors but which is a lot more hygienic than plain earth.


Ok, that’s it. This was supposed to be a short and sweet post but I got a little carried away. Don’t blame me– it’s the sweet intoxication of new love. And to Nairobi, I’m sorry. But I think this is the end of the road to our rocky relationship of 20 something years. I hope that we can still remain friendly acquaintances who wave at each other from the other side of the street (or rather, from the other side of two borders). And Kigali, my new love, it’s nice to meet you.


  • bankelele

    Kigali is a super clean city, well lit at night. Makes me wonder what’s wrong with Kenyans who litter at will and are unconcerned abut garbage

    • Yes, the polythene ban is something I have a lot of respect for. Which is not to say that it’s perfect– I remember a day after writing this post I went somewhere in the city where there was litter on the ground. So I wonder how much it’s about people caring/not caring versus institutional/cultural/legal forces. But there’s so much we could borrow from them.

  • Kevin Tosh

    Well illustrated ….continue writing