rwanda-one.jpg

Hotel Rwanda

August 5, 2008 | By Justin Sullivan | News

rwanda-one.jpg
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

RWINKWAVU, RWANDA – AUGUST 02: Jean Pierre, (L) an HIV and cancer patient, stands with a woman who takes care of him while meeting with former U.S. President Bill Clinton at a rural healthcare clinic August 2, 2008 in Rwinkwavu, Rwanda. 

Rwanda is an amazingly beautiful country. It is by far the cleanest developing country that I have ever been to. The streets in Kigali are spotless. You have to look really hard to see any signs of litter. The same goes for the rural areas. Someone said that a government imposed ban on plastic bags is a main factor for the cleanliness. There has to be more to it.

The day began early today. We were loaded in the buses and headed to the airport to get on helicopters that would fly us out to a village where they grow cassava. The Rwandan Air Force transport helicopters fit in with all of our other aircraft on this trip, antiquated. Thankfully, the three Mi-8 Hip Helicopters made it through the day without malfunctions.

clinton-helicopter.jpg
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

BURERA, RWANDA – AUGUST 02: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton waves to villagers after attending a groundbreaking ceremony for a new hospital August 2, 2008 in Burera, Rwanda. 

After flying over rolling hills dotted with small huts and farms that looked a patchwork quilt, we landed on a dirt soccer field in Rwinkwavu. At the edge of the field you could see people perectly lined up, fixated with the helicopters. There must have been 100 people just standing there and more were running down the dirt road.

bill-clinton-in-rwanda.jpg
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

BURERA, RWANDA – AUGUST 02: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton waves to villagers after attending a groundbreaking ceremony for a new hospital August 2, 2008 in Burera, Rwanda.

We drove in a van to the first event down a smooth brick red dirt road. As we drove along the road kicking up chalky red dust that clung to the roadside vegetation, kids ran from their homes to see a vanload of white people. Since we were ahead of the president, we had a chance to walk through one of the villages and talk to some of the villagers. It seemed like every resident was standing in front of their mud houses.

After Bill looked at a cassava field with a couple of farmers, we visited a rural healthcare clinic and then we flew over to another village while he dined with the president of Rwanda. We had box lunches.

bill-clinton-rwanda-field.jpg
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

RWINKWAVU, RWANDA – AUGUST 02: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton (2nd-R) and his daughter Chelsea (R) visit a cassava farm August 2, 2008 in Rwinkwavu, Rwanda.

bill-and-chelsea-clinton-in.jpg
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

RWINKWAVU, RWANDA – AUGUST 02: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton (2nd-R) and his daughter Chelsea (R) visit a cassava farm August 2, 2008 in Rwinkwavu, Rwanda.

When our helicopters took off, the same 100 people looked on. A group of about 15 kids had made their way to a closer vantage point, about 10 yards away. They ignored orders from a police officer to move back. When we lifted off, the rotor wash sandblasted the kids with red dusty dirt. They actually seemed to like it as they were blown around, some falling over, but still jumping up and down with excitement. A similar scene happened later in the day, but this time it was a group of singers. They didn’t seem as happy about it.

rwanda-singers.jpg
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

BURERA, RWANDA – AUGUST 02: A group of women sing before former U.S. President Bill Clinton arrived by helicopter to take part in a groundbreaking ceremony for a new hospital August 2, 2008 in Burera, Rwanda.

While Bill chowed down with the president, we sat in the bus for hours near the soccer field heliport. It was here that my fatigue started to show. I was attempting to get some work done and inadvertently erased one of my flash cards, one that had several images that I really liked. The photos of Chelsea getting her nose pinched by a little girl…gone. The kids getting sandblasted was also one for the memory. It was a nightmare. And once again, the day was turning south.

chelsea-and-child.jpg
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

RWINKWAVU, RWANDA – AUGUST 02: A baby pinches the nose of Chelsea Clinton as her and her father, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, visit a rural healthcare clinic August 2, 2008 in Rwinkwavu, Rwanda. 

Then it was time to go to the hotel, which wasn’t the same hotel as the night before since a last minute change has us staying here one more night. The room situation was bad. As a matter of fact, for a while there, we weren’t even sure that anyone would even have a room. Seems that while the advance team was hanging with us all day, important things like making sure rooms were being reserved and who would be staying where went unchecked.

We were all at the Novotel Hotel trying to figure out who was staying where. The front desk claimed they only had 10 rooms. We needed 18. While this mini crisis unfolded, David Braun of National Geographic and I looked on as one of the advance persons took the time to iron out her personal travel plans and another worked diligently to organize a tour of the Genocide Museum which would be closing in less than an hour.  Meanwhile, we all waited. I stared out the front door and watched as dozens of couples had weddings in a grassy area in front of the hotel. I’m too tired to lift a camera.

When everyone finally got checked in, I learned that I could have been in my hotel much earlier since I wasn’t even staying at that hotel. I was instead at the Hotel Des Mille Collines, better known as Hotel Rwanda. In 1994, the hotel gave shelter to thousands during the Rwandan Genocide. I thought that it was going to be really cool to stay here, but I was very disappointed. Maybe I wasn’t being fair. Maybe I had just reached the tipping point and exhaustion had taken over. But, when I think four star hotel, a single bed and a plastic fan in the corner doesn’t come to mind.

My time at Hotel Rwanda will be short. Bag call is at 3:30am. Load and go is at 4am. Liberia, here we come.

More posts by this author

Comments are closed.