My mentor Michael Noel had informed me of a proposed trip to Kigali and Nairobi to speak at a technology conference. He encouraged me to attend the event make a presentation as well, an advice I heeded to. The organizer of this event is The SharePoint user group in East Africa. SharePoint is a collaboration tool for companies. The groups share knowledge on SharePoint and other Microsoft technologies. They had organized a similar event the previous year in Kampala Uganda, which I would have attended if I was aware. In any case, this opportunity was an excellent one to visit the region and also explore Eastern Africa.
Asides from the normal preparation of making flight reservations, budgets and a few research of the possible locations in the region my wanderlust might take me to, I had to prepare a presentation, slides and lab demonstrations. I also had to deal with the usual hurdle of securing leave absence from work.
This event was scheduled to happen in Kigali first, then in Nairobi afterwards. I thought it would be a nice time to also visit Uganda since I only need one visa for the three countries. The event in Kigali was scheduled to hold on a Tuesday while that in Nairobi was for the next Friday. I crafted a plan to leave Kigali immediately after the event on Tuesday to Uganda and then return to Nairobi on Friday morning for the second leg of event. I was fortunate. I experienced the serendipity of finding a return ticket that would not just have a 24-hour stopover in Nairobi to allow me attend the event at no additional cost but also will make a stopover in Bujumbura, a place I would want to see and visit as well.
My itinerary was as follows: Leave Lagos on a Friday, sleep over at Nairobi and continue to Kigali on Saturday evening. Explore Kigali Sunday and Monday then make it to the event on Tuesday after which I fly to Entebbe to arrive Wednesday morning. Explore Kampala and Jinja on Wednesday and Thursday then leave Friday morning back to Nairobi. Will continue to Kigali Saturday morning then back to Lagos Sunday morning. My budget for the whole trip was approximately one thousand dollars. Even though I choose the cheapest flights plus delays, they were all in tandem with my scheduled activities.
Let me also note one thing I have observed on the Eastern Africa route. Kenya Airways and Rwandair are the major airlines on this route and if for instance you are Kigali bound, it is cheaper to fly Kenya Airways plus delays which could amount up to 24 hours. Same thing for travelling to Nairobi with Rwandair, even though the delays on that route is not up to 24 hours.
At the airport, after I waa checked in was at the point of boarding the plane, I noticed a similar figure and he called out to me: “Ifeatu, kedu ife I na aga ime na Nairobi?” That was Uncle Dozie. My uncle, who once worked with my grandfather. He lives in Kenya and is married to a Kenyan wife. I was happy seeing him. I imagined how young he looked when we were younger and how he looks now. “Nka abiabago!” I said to myself as I thought of a suitable response to his earlier query of wanting to know why I was going to Nairobi. “Uncles don’t like to hear I’m traveling just for tourism’. I told him that I was going to speak at a technology event, a response he was well impressed with. At that point, we couldn’t talk much as we were boarding the plane. He told me he was however not happy I had come to Nairobi before without paying him a visit.
Meeting Uncle Dozie was some sort of a blessing. It eliminated the need to find a hotel or an Airbnb apartment for lodging when I arrive Nairobi and also whatever I could have paid to a taxi that would drive me there. Secondly, it would be a very good opportunity to meet his family. My aunties and mother had always talked about them and I thought it would be nice to see them. More importantly, I was sure my stomach would be well taken care of, there’ll be lots to eat and drink.
We arrived Nairobi after 5 hours that evening and the local time was 7pm. I was still haunted by the experience I had at the airport the previous year when I was denied entry. I visited for tourism. However, just like the last time I was there, the visa process was easier. Uncle had gone ahead of me to explain to the immigration lady in Swahili that I was going to need an East African visa as I was continuing my journey the next day. She only requested for $100 for the visa which I paid and she issued the visa without questions.
We took a taxi back to Uncle’s house in Langata, one of the communities in Nairobi. He had made his return a secret. He wanted to surprise his wife who was celebrating her birthday that day. The family happily received me. His youngest child, David who is only 3 or 4 years then after playing with his dad briefly, came to me to carry him. He was with me till it was bedtime. He was such a nice boy and we played through my stay.
The next morning, my cousin Ifeoma or Ify as she’s fondly called took me out to buy a sim card – basically for internet. Getting a sim card in Kenya weekends can be very stressful for a visiting foreigner. People with foreign passports can only buy those from certified agencies of the telecom companies in town. As at time we went out, all the places we visited required a resident card and without that they would not be able to sell to me because I have a foreign passport and offices where I could buy would open by 10 o’clock that morning.
We were able to get my favorite Safaricom sim at The Gallaria, I recall it had worked for me both in Kenya and Mozambique three months ago when I had visited. I was guessing it might work in other countries in the region – I was still visiting Uganda and Rwanda and I thought they might as well work since it worked in Mozambique – it never worked in those countries. Meanwhile, Uncle had given Ify enough money to pay for my sim and our transportation to The Galleria where we bought the sim.
My onward flight to Kigali was scheduled for 5pm that evening. Uncle Dozie dropped me off at the airport. To avoid any problems with immigration in Kigali, I had to make an Airbnb reservation and also made a printout of the invitation to the event I was scheduled to speak at. I rehearsed a few questions I thought they would ask me and what my answers would be. I had several flashbacks at my first experience I had at the airport the previous year.
In this case however, I already have a visa so, there was not too much questions. We arrived around 7pm local time. A one hour flight. The immigration officers only sighted my letter of invitation to the event and stamped me into the country. The first thing I do in every other place I arrive is to buy a sim card and then find a Bureau de Change to exchange local currency. I was informed I the exchange rate at the airport is the same in town – it was around 800 francs to $1 USD – an exceptional situation, changing cash at the airport is normally too cheap and one is bound to make losses.
After exchanging an amount I assumed I’ll be needing, I went to buy an MTN sim card. Unfortunately, I forgot to pay the gentleman who sold the card to me. I was meant to pay $10 for both sim card and 3 GB of data. When I later made an attempt to pay back this money, I was not allowed to leave the airport when I was leaving Kigali.
I called my Airbnb host who advised me to use a motor bike instead of a taxi. Going to the part of Kigali where he lived from the airport on an Airport taxi would cost me 15,000 francs but if I use a bike, it would cost me 1,500 francs! He spoke to one of the motorbike operators who got me to his place.
Pacifique, my Airbnb host was a great guy. He had hosted lots of other travelers so he knows what exactly what I wanted. I think he deserves more than a 5-star rating. He is exceptionally good. He first took me to a place where I could get some food. Not being able to find food there, we proceeded to a night club where there was food, drinks and good music as well. He also had written a list of commonly used Kinyarwanda words and sent to me to aid my communication.
On the streets that evening, I noticed that the street was well lit up and clean. I understood why the city is fondly referred as the City of a Thousand Hills. The topography is very breath taking, you are either climbing or descending. Everywhere was very neat and clean. Armed police officers manned the entire length and breadth of the city. We got to a club at around 10pm that evening. It was a buffet. Once you pay 2,000 francs, you can go in and eat whatever you wished. You’re however allowed to take a piece of meat.
Pacifique, his two friends and myself had a very good time dancing and watching different musicians perform that evening. People there seemed much more relaxed and friendly compared to Nairobi, even though I never went to a club in Nairobi. I wondered what impact the 1994 Genocide had on them individually and collectively as a nation. Somehow, a few of them understood I was a foreigner. We stayed till around midnight when I felt I needed to sleep – that was when I requested Pacifique we go home.