I’d been warned by multiple people about Kampala’s dangers as a solo traveller, especially after dark. Before I left Rwanda, people had me believe that phone snatching, pick-pockets, thieves, bag-slashings and muggings were all too common in Kampala. So I was prepared to just stay in the guest house on my first day, since I arrived in the evening. But something told me to pluck up the courage and go see the sunset. So off I went in search of the Old Kampala National Mosque in Namirembe in an Uber (I was not yet ready to try out the city’s matatus – the equivalent of minibuses, supposedly a hotspot for theft, driven at breakneck speeds and usually stuffed like sardines).
As I continued to read, I learnt more about Rwanda’s beautiful lakes. I’ve also been magnetised by the enigma that is the Congo. So after a few days in Kigali, I headed west to Lake Kivu, which dominates the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo – the closest I could safely go (an Ebola breakout with WHO advisories meant crossing the border into Goma was risky). The mammoth Lake Kivu surrounded by tall mountains with several islands make it an explorer’s heaven. Particularly so if you’ve got access to a boat. From there I headed north to Lake Ruhondo, the less popular of Rwanda’s northern twin lakes to read, relax and stay in a Foyer de Charité – a Catholic mission focused on offering spiritual retreats, not quite sure of how they’d react to me. Both regions reinforced the quiet and level-headed image of Rwandans I already had, and what a calm oasis Rwanda is compared to its neighbours.
If I was to summarise Rwanda in three words, they would be: safe, tidy and forward-thinking. According to the World Economic Forum, Rwanda is the 9th safest country in the world – ahead of Austria and New Zealand. And I definitely felt it. Maybe it was the peaceful and level-headed nature of Rwandans. Or maybe it was the reassuring police presence on the streets. I walked about alone at night all around the city, and hailed random motorbike taxis, but there was not once a time when I felt threatened. For a country that was (wrongly) defined to me by the media coverage of the tragic genocide in 1994, the forward-thinking mindset of the nation blew me away. A nation that is ever determined to rebuild itself. A nation that strives to be a leading example to the world.