Rwanda through fresh eyes

Editor’s note: Ella Hodgson-Pageau, an 11-year-old student at First Avenue Public School, is travelling with her parents in several African countries this year, and has agreed to write about her experiences for the Glebe Report.

By Ella Hodgson-Pageau

About a week ago, I arrived in Rwanda. Rwanda is the first destination in my family’s trip around the world. A lot of people have snap reactions to the word Rwanda. All they can think of is the horrible things that happened 20 years ago. But think again. Today, Rwanda is an entirely different place. It is safe, beautiful and has many good, kind-hearted people. It is becoming a tourist destination and is one of the few places in the world that is home to the endangered mountain gorilla. I have already seen many great animals – you can see one of them in my photo (on right).

A giraffe, one of the many Rwandan sights to delight Hodgson-Pageau. Photo: Ella Hodgson-Pageau
A giraffe, one of the many Rwandan sights to delight Hodgson-Pageau. Photo: Ella Hodgson-Pageau

Kigali, the capital, is in central Rwanda. That’s where we’re renting a house for three months, while my dad is teaching at the medical school. When I stepped out of the Kigali airport (despite being exhausted) my brain started buzzing with questions. Why were people carrying things on their heads? Why were women using pieces of old fabric to carry babies on their backs? What was with all the motorcycles zooming past? Why were there 50 times more people passing by than there are in the whole Glebe? That may sound like an exaggeration but the population of this tiny country is 11.8 million. I later found out that all those motorcycles flying past are called mottos and that you can flag them down to hitch a ride. Mottos zoom in and out of traffic like swarms of flies. They’re not very helpful when trying to navigate the crazy streets of Kigali in a car! Even though they aren’t very safe, if I could I would ride one before you could say “motto”!

Ella Hodgson-Pageau, 11-year-old Glebe resident, in Rwanda. Photo: Laura Hodgson
Ella Hodgson-Pageau, 11-year-old Glebe resident, in Rwanda. Photo: Laura Hodgson
Another interesting thing in Kigali is the market. The market is a buzzing place with all kinds of things, from dresses to fish. When my family and I went to check out the market, one of the many shouts we heard was “Mzungu! Mzungu!” This means a white/rich tourist, in the Rwandan language. The reason that all the vendors are so interested in us is because “mzungus” tend to pay more than native Rwandans. We were walking though the market, when all of a sudden, a Rwandan woman jumped from her stall and started hugging me. It was kind of awkward but still an interesting experience.

We weren’t carrying anything on our heads during that trip to the market, unlike a lot of the people around us. If you think about it, it really does make sense, you’re putting the weight in your center of gravity and your arms and shoulders won’t get tired. As my dad was driving, he saw two women in deep discussion, making angry hand motions and scowling at each other … with baskets of bananas on their heads!

There are only a few similarities between First Avenue Public School (my school back home) and Green Hills Academy (my school here). For example, girls still roll their eyes at boys, and boys still have “crushes” on girls. One of the differences is the method of teaching. In Ottawa, there are a few tests to study for and a little bit of textbook work once in a while – at Green Hills, there’s about two hours of homework every day. If you get a C in any subject, you fail and have to redo the grade. Something we don’t have at home is yummy African tea and bread in the morning. I was annoyed by the “no cutoffs” rule at First Ave but here, there’s a uniform with a skirt and blouse that must be tucked in. My Rwandan school is pretty different from home, but don’t get me wrong, I’ve made some great friends and it’s been a fun experience so far.

All in all, Rwanda seems like a pretty good place. It has friendly people, cool sights and interesting culture. Our next stops will be Ethiopia, Morocco and Tanzania, you will hear more about them soon!

Ella Hodgson-Pageau is an 11-year-old Glebe resident who loves to write and is on a 10-month trip around the world with her family.

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