A skint trip to Gisenyi

Lake Kivu beach at Gisenyi in Rubavu district. Net photo

Traveling with journalists has always been a thrilling adventure for me, mostly because of the enthralling conversations we have. This time, it was a three hour trip to Rubavu also known as Gisenyi.

Gisenyi is one of the most popular places in Rwanda, firstly because it has the most popular beaches of Lake Kivu and secondly because it has one of Rwanda-Democratic Republic of Congo borders , reason for the high exchange of commodities between the countries’ inhabitants.

We all know how first times feel right? Well if you don’t, my first time here was stirring. Not so stirring however, is the fact that I had no money! You are probably wondering why anyone would arrange a trip albeit being penniless, well wonder no more as this was a work trip for journalists’ training that was held in Rubavu in January 2020.

Mid-trip, we halted at an area meant for travelers to respite. There was meat, milk and corn-based snacks available for purchase. As you may have depicted already, I travel sporadically so I had this “try something new” feeling, reason why I purchased Zinghalo, which bears a resemblance to Tripe. Truthfully, I had always wanted to try Zinghalo as much as any other item on my bucket list, but let’s just say now I understand why people prefer sticking to what they know.

This was not because the Zinghalo didn’t taste great, it was quite palatable but all hell broke loose (yes I am a little overboard with the idioms) when I noticed it was made with what we knew as “towel” or “blanket” when we were younger. These terms were used to describe cow and goat offals whose looks didn’t allure me and neither did their taste. This repulsion was also enhanced because I kept spiraling about the entrails not being appropriately cooked, thank God I was on my last piece and would have to forget about it soon enough. Nevertheless, don’t take my word for it as I’ve been made out not to always have the best tastes.

With everyone being so focused on their food, it seemed like the perfect time to take a nap, after-all we still had two hours to go. As I lay my head I heard something unusual. There was apparently a “sexologist” on board, hooray! With journalists, teams are often made of people who master certain notions better than the average man and good thing is, they are always ready to share. This time, it was a female journalist who was on her feet. She raised an issue on the deprivation of sexual satisfaction from most women. It’s no shocker that this divided the bus into debate teams, some for and others against. However, the point that wowed me is that of another lady that said she would kill her man if he deprived her of her satisfaction but wouldn’t we all?

The driver intervened with some music right before the debate got out of hand. I couldn’t help but think “perfect timing”.   Given that I had lost my chance at sleep, I spent my time watching the very tall hills among which was one named “Ibere rya Bigogwe”, Kinyarwanda for ‘Bigogwe’s breast’. This name stems from the wide belief that the hill is shaped like a breast but I failed to relate the latter and the former. Added to the hills were the beautiful plants at the side of the road such as pineapples, cabbages, Irish potatoes and much more. There were also some mountains whose peaks speared into the sky. This scenery was so breathtaking, I felt like jumping out that bus and taking a short walk or why not good old hiking?

Gisenyi at last

Upon arrival in Gisenyi we were led straight to the Rwanda-DR Congo border commonly known as ‘Petite Barrier’. The air reeked of fish around lake Kivu with women carrying sardines straight from fishing sites to the Cross Border market.

With the roadblock that clearly shows where every country starts, I had a lucid image of DRC. It looked very vibrant, with more people, more noise, residentials, and much more activities going on.

Whereas people entering Rwanda, are required to wash hands, get screened of fever, and are searched by the police. People Living With Disabilities (PLWDs) majorly come in riding their vehicles, which seem to be traditionally made. They seemed very new to me as wheelchairs could be ridden with either hands or feet pedals and obviously assisted PLDWs with mobility. These vehicles also had a huge cargo space to help them transport commodities easily. Nonetheless some people just cross the border casually, like it’s a visit to a neighbor or a stroll to campus.

Cost of living in Gisenyi

Finally it was time to find housing. I wanted accommodation by a restaurant because I had skipped lunch hence couldn’t wait to have dinner. Even though I had no clue where to start, this city felt exactly like Kigali, so much so that I would not know the difference if I was brought here in my sleep. The houses were beautiful and the clean roads were littered with hawkers and taxis. Basically there was everything that makes up a town. Specifically, I was in area in Gisenyi called ‘Unama’, which is  Kinyarwanda for ‘bend over’. Rumor has it, the name ‘unama’ came about because most customers are required to bend over to select what they would love to purchase.

Eventually, I found affordable lodging which met all my demands. It was impeccable with a comfortable bed, a spot-on bathroom and a welcoming owner. So back to my original plan, I took a well-deserved bath and went out to search for dinner, along with my three recent acquaintances. One thing we had in common was we were all on our uppers which made us even more diligent in our search for restaurants.

At last we entered a not-so-fancy restaurant, we picked up the menus and behold it felt like having dinner in Paris. “We couldn’t afford this”, I thought to myself. So we decided to go elsewhere but we were interrupted by a waiter who noticed we wanted something cheaper. He proposed a group meal; a meal we could share among ourselves that would be cheaper. He suggested we try ‘boilo’ which can faintly translate as stew. I wasn’t very enthusiastic about it because what a meal is without fries? In the end, we ordered something else on the menu that will be split among two persons. The food was copious reason why we couldn’t finish it. I enjoyed myself but couldn’t help but feel, we could’ve found better and cheaper if only we had continued our search.

Ultimately, it was time to leave and I had to do so early that morning. I couldn’t make time to go out on the lake so I went on a hunt for breakfast instead – it felt like I had not eaten in weeks. Along my search, I met a seller with a tea flask and a bucket of chapatti but I wasn’t interested as there will be nowhere to sit if I decided to buy from him. Few minutes later, I got into a coffee shop  which still didn’t do the trick for me and behold I found myself out on my feet searching for the guy with the tea flask and chapatti who was now a fair distance away as he had left to sell to other interested passerby’s.

Well, my trip back was relatively calmer and this time I slept like a baby. The only lesson I took home was never to travel to Gisenyi broke again.

Glory Iribagiza is a students in School of Journalism and Communication, University of Rwanda. She is also a reporter at The New Times.