“That’s definitely a new record,” I tell my dad as we stroll to the waiting taxi. From taxiing the runway to breezing through immigration, we’ve spent all of ten minutes. The efficiency on display is a far cry from the resignation often displayed by most of the public employees I’ve met elsewhere. And as we drive towards our hotel, it quickly becomes apparent that this East African capital tucked away in the hillside is not the quintessential African city. Not even close.
It happens before you even realize it. Suddenly, you’re in love with Kigali – the beautiful orange hue of the sunset, the sloping hills, the almost-unreal cleanliness and the greenery that seems so intrinsic to the city. And it’s not just the obvious things – it’s the tangible exhilaration in the air as mango season approaches, the silhouettes of mosquito nets, the office worker in a three-piece suit hanging on for dear life to the back of a moto, and walking beside the glittering road studs at midnight as the expressway curves out of sight. In a time where most urban centres are jostling to build as many skyscrapers as possible, Kigali seems content to retain its signature picturesque look of quaint houses on a hilly backdrop.
It’s also a foodie’s paradise: You could spend days alternating between high-end restaurants and local canteens and barely skim the surface of a constantly evolving dining scene. Coffee at Acacia Café, pastries at Baso Patissier, Indian at Zaaffran, sushi at Kiseki, Korean at Monmartse, Mexican at Meze Fresh, burgers at Mr. Chips, pizza at Sole Luna, the list goes on and on.
In many ways, I think the people in Kigali are what really sets the city apart. From the smiling man in the visa office to the moto rider eager to teach a few basic phrases of Kinyarwanda, the people are approachable. The cynicism that pervades most big cities have been replaced by a wide-eyed enthusiasm to welcome new people, and it’s a very welcome change of atmosphere.
On my second day here, I had breakfast with a new friend at Inzora Café in Kacyiru. We talked about all the things we could get in Dublin and Lagos, about McDonald’s and Balenciaga. We talked about Uber and friends and family. We spent a lot of time fantasising, so focused on our conversation that we forgot our phones and keys on the table when we left. In almost any other scenario, those valuables would have disappeared. But a waiter at Inzora chased us down with our forgotten belongings. Completely stunned, we stared at each other and fell silent, having spent almost an hour deploring the “rustic” nature of Kigali. Case closed.
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