I take less tea this morning. It will be about a four-hour drive on a curvy, brought-to-you-by-China, but dangerous road to Kigali, Rwanda. Ida will travel with us to the edge of Goma and see us over the border. We will take Thomas, Jean Baptiste, Bingi, and an assistant researcher from our Kigali office that is waiting for us as we cross over. I'm surprised when we leave the hotel and within five minutes are at border patrol. I didn't realize we were so close from our hotel.
Ida sees us to the other side but has to stay back in Goma. Immediate research and conversations have to happen as the Bosco gold-smuggling operation has taken a nasty turn. We can't wait to hear. We all wish for her to be safe. She is another hero of this region.
We are a caravan of two vehicles. Our landcrusier and a vintage Toyota Corolla with some HRW Rwanda staff, Bingi and Jean Baptiste. We follow them as our first official stop will be the HRW Rwanda office in Kigali. Then lunch with the staff and head to Kigali airport.
The juxtaposition of the two countries is stark. The drive from the border at Goma to Kigali looks like no African country I have ever seen. Hillsides covered with nice single family homes, just like one would see in any populated US city. The houses all are new, investments made by NGOs and a lot of foreign aid since the genocide. Proper roofs. Plumbing. No one carries water on their back. Kids riding bikes along the roads, not pushing them up hills with hundreds of pounds of cargo.
The drive then gives way to rich farming on either side. Everywhere you look you see people working the soil, planting, hoeing, harvesting. Everyone is in western dress. I mean everyone. Gone are the vivid prints wrapped around the women.
Our lead car gets pulled over about every 20 minutes to have papers checked. Rwanda. The police will see us from a distance, clearly foreigners, and wave us on. Taking no chances that they might inconvenience someone making an investment. We drive up a half mile or so, pull over and wait for our lead car to pass.
Reaching Kigali, we come to a stop. I point out the window at something not seen in our entire stay: a traffic light.
The Kigali HRW office is set way back, hidden down a driveway off a side street. No sign calling out what or whom is inside. President Kagami is no fan of any human rights organization that exposes wrongs with him or his administration. HRW keeps a low profile. Our senior researcher was kicked out over a year ago, and finally we have a new senior researcher coming in next month. We walk through the office and meet the small, local team. In each office I see photographs of Alison framed on desks and shelves. Her presence is deeply missed and never forgotten. The bulk of the office staff has been with us since the late 90s. Another fine team.
Mindy and I will catch the first of only three flights that depart from Kigali today -- it's a quiet airport. In Nairobi we will be surprised yet again to bump into a friend from CoJ. Three of us will board the night flight to London.
It's a small world.