Beholding Beautiful Bugesera
I always wanted to visit Bugesera in Rwanda and for two reasons (this piece would focus on the first reason). And when the opportunity presented itself, I took a trip with New Dawn Associates (NDA Rwanda was established in 2002 is one of the most reliable and highly professional tour operators in Rwanda with an impeccable track record). And this well-planned trip by NDA Rwanda was like no other.
As the tour commenced at about 9am in Kigali on this fateful Sunday, I had the company of Mr Wally Walter (a Zimbabwean who is a professional Master of Ceremony and Travel Advisor), Florence Mbabazi and Obed Nsanzabera (NDA Rwanda tour guide and driver). And in the other vehicle; were NDA Rwanda’s tour guide Angelique, Hussain (the driver), five elderly Americans. Our vehicle journeyed through several areas like Gahanga road which leads to the under-construction Bugesera Airport. Along the way, one could see farmers with sugarcane plantations on both sides of the road just before the Bugesera bridge.
Before we arrived at the Bugesera bridge. What you would want to know is that the Akagera River which is the longest source of the Nile; is right beneath the Bugesera bridge. We got into Bugesera and Wally and I wondered how anyone would call Bugesera a village? With the good express road, electricity, modern buildings and the unending lush greenery of the town (which has an interesting story behind it). As we zoomed past homes, shops and buildings, we saw a traffic camera erected along the Bugesera road which monitors the speed of cars and if a driver went above the stipulated speed limit; a text message notification would be received on the number of the owner of the car with the stipulated fine.
We drove past the General Hospital and other known buildings in Nyamata, Bugesera. The greenery in Bugesera is one of the noticeable sights of this historic town. This is the same town that in the year 2000 was considered remote, desolate, drought-laden. But as we drove past several sceneries, we could see this was a bustling town.
At about 10 am, the NDA Rwanda tour guide by the name Florence informed Wally Walter and I that we had arrived Nyamata Genocide Memorial (also known as Bugesera Genocide Memorial.) What awaited me is another article worth reading.
Reading and observing the body language(s) of the people walking, driving or riding bicycles, I could deduce contentment in the midst of it all. And speaking of bicycles; I was surprised to notice several bicycles (not motorcycles) with two occupants (a rider and the individual who always looked like a client/passenger). And I asked Florence and Obed; if what we say was actually a ‘bicycle taxi’? It was and it is called Taxi Velo in French while the Kinyarwanda word is Abanyonza.
At 11:20am, the two-car convoy arrived at the Millennium Village Project. According to the NDA Rwanda itinerary; the Millennium Village Project is a project that has been in Rwanda since December 2005. Mayange which is located in Bugesera District, was selected by the Government of Rwanda as the site of the first Millennium Village in Rwanda. To put it into proper perspective, in this part of Rwanda; deforestation was a big issue decades ago which created ecological disaster, soil erosion, famine and especially drought. So, as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility, NDA Rwanda engages local members by providing them with economic opportunities to horn and develop their skillsets.
The Millennium Village Project is about twenty minutes from the Burundian border but if we were not informed like we got to know, we would not have known. The team visited Peruth, a seventy-five-year-old woman (who didn’t look her age), who has her own farm and cultivates her crops herself (this reminded me of my National Youth Service days in Ebonyi State in Nigeria). She shared with us how she operated and scheduled her daily routines and whilst she spoke, Obed, Florence and Angelique (the NDA Rwanda tour guides) interpreted for the rest of us. Where we congregate to discuss, beans, macadamia nuts, corn, cassava, sorghum, soybeans were on the table. After the discussion, we all shared fruits like sweet bananas and local groundnuts and then, we were taken to the backyard of Madam Peruth’s house, where we discovered her farmland and she demonstrated to us how cassava is planted. Interestingly, cassava doesn’t need much watering. We were even offered mangoes and cassava to taste. And I learnt the importance of cassava leaves for breastfeeding. Other crops available on her farm were mangoes, yam, avocado, potatoes and lemon.
Next port of call was the visit to the community estate (Millennium Village) built for the victims, perpetrators and returnees of the Genocide against the Tutsi. The three categories of people who reside in this place are; those who fled in 1959; victims and perpetrators. And they have lived side by side for fourteen years. The story by a perpetrator was chilling and the victim’s story of survival and forgiveness was sobering. After several questions by the tourists, we were invited for a dance. And I want to believe none of us disappointed our host community even though, I was trying to catch up with the dance steps (legwork). This experience remains embedded in my heart.
Before we headed back to Kigali, we stopped at the recognised handicraft weaving cooperative centre in Mayange in Bugesera; where we found women busy with basket weaving. I learnt that over 246 women between the ages of 19 to 76 directly benefit from this initiative and they produce circa 45 products weekly. The items are so colourful, I had to wonder how they were able to intertwine colours without any modern-day equipment aiding the business. And in the traditional African culture.
On a lighter note, during the trip to Bugesera, a conversation ensued between Wally, Florence, Obed and I. The discussion was on clans and I asked Florence and Obed, the clans they were from. Abega Clan, came the response. Then, I asked my Zimbabwean friend, why couldn’t we come up with our own clan? We conjured ’NigZimga’ (a fusion of Nigeria and Zimbabwe). Florence and Obed began to laugh. Only to be told to our utter amazement that the conjured word pronounced like immbwa means something else in the Kinyarwanda language. It was not what we were expecting and we tried to correct the self-induced error to no avail.
On the return leg to Kigali, we stopped at Club House La Palisse Hotels in Bugesera and I got talking with Wally about our experiences during the NDA Rwanda organised tour to Bugesera (Nyamata Genocide Memorial and Millennium Village Project), the drought that hit the town and made it almost a deserted town and the tree planting initiative which Obed Nsanzabera (the NDA Rwanda driver) said he took part in, in 2000. And how as a student, he and others had their own personal tree which they tended to and were paid to ensure the trees blossomed. That singular initiative has transformed this town (with a peculiar history) into the beautiful Bugesera.