Rwanda Journal #6: Arriving in Kigali, Rwanda


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Greetings from Kigali, the capital city of the country of Rwanda and our first destination after a very long day of travel. Praise be to God, our flights were completely uneventful. After a four hour layover in Ethiopia, I hit “the wall” — the lack of sleep kicked in. I vaguely remember snapping a photo out the window when we were briefly on the ground in Uganda, but I can’t find that shot anywhere on my phone so maybe I dreamed the whole thing!

After a brief stop, our flight to Kigali was less than an hour. Clearing customs was a breeze, although we did have a photo taken and had to have our fingerprints scanned. The whole process from climbing off the plane to gathering our luggage took less than twenty minutes. The border agent who cleared my passport was an absolute doll and welcomed me so nicely to Rwanda. I have the sense that he is simply the first of many generous folks I will encounter here!

East African Villas

East African Villas

After picking up luggage, we were greeted warmly by the Catholic Relief Services staff and transported to our beautiful hotel, the East African Villas. Along the road to our guest rooms, we were able to observe some of the normal aspects of Rwandan life, including heavy foot traffic, “motorcycle taxis” and the number of people out walking the streets.

Here’s a short view of my perspective from our bus:

Once settled into our rooms and having had our first shower in over a day, our team was off for a special welcoming dinner at the Hôtel des Mille Collines. If the name sounds familiar to you, you’ve likely seen the movie Hotel Rwanda:

The Hôtel des Mille Collines is a large hotel in Kigali, Rwanda. It became famous after 1,268 people took refuge inside the building during the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. The story of the hotel and its manager at that time, Paul Rusesabagina, was used as the basis of the film Hotel Rwanda. (wikipedia)

Dinner at the Hotel Mille Collines

Dinner at the Hotel Mille Collines

Although the “real” MIlle Collines does not appear in the movie, having seen the film makes a visit to this hotel more than simply a pleasure stop. Fittingly perched atop a hill in this land of “mille collines” (a thousand hills), it gives a amazing vantage point to look out over the city. We dined poolside, reminding me of the film’s references to use of that same pool’s water supply to help the sheltered guests survive during the hundred days of the genocide. Today, this hotel is an upscale gem in a city that defies simple descriptions.

In many ways during our quick trips too and from the hotel, I was already mentally trying to process the current Kigali against the images (many false) I’ve held inside my head. Sparkling clean, bustling with well dressed folks walking her safe streets, Kigali is a mingling of patchwork family farm plots, small business districts, bustling real estate development, and amazing vista points. Drive five minutes down the road and you view will be renewed, your perspective updated. It’s not a simple city to describe, so I hope that pictures I’m able to share with you will capture some of the charm as well as the current development level of this place.

Our visit to Rwanda and our overview of Catholic Relief Services’ presence here begins in earnest tomorrow. I thank you for your continued prayers for all of us. Please pray that I will be worthy of this amazing opportunity to witness and to share the gospel message in action through the work of CRS.

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About Lisa M. Hendey

As a Catholic who loves her faith and a frequent adventurer who’s always up for a new journey, Lisa is a wife and mom, a writer, a speaker and an impassioned traveler. Visit her at to keep up with her comings and goings.