Opinion: First impressions


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Sue Horton, Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion editor of The Times, is in Rwanda on a two-week Gatekeeper Editor fact-finding trip organized by the International Reporting Project. She is chronicling her trip on the Opinion L.A. blog.

Monday night, Nov 7: There is a smell unique to Third World cities. It’s a combination of burning trash and cooking fires, and it hit me as soon as I stepped onto the tarmac at the airport in Kigali, Rwanda. That was impression No. 1.


Impression No. 2 was how un-Third World the airport seemed. It wasn’t grand, but it was pleasant, efficient and clean. Signs warned that plastic bags are illegal in Kigali, and one of our party who was carrying some things in a plastic bag had to turn it over to a guard.

The biggest surprise, though, was how calm things were. There were no bandit cabs trying to hustle a fare or porters vying to carry luggage, no beggars or vendors selling their wares. Just smiling airport workers offering free carts and trying to be helpful.

Our party was met by the extremely charming Fred Mwasa, a Kigali journalist who says he’s 30 but looks 16. He turned up wearing a jaunty fedora and a coat jacket that hung on his thin body. All in all he looked and talked like a Rwandan version of Clark Gable in ‘It Happened One Night.’ We’re going to spend more time with him on Tuesday, which I’m really looking forward to.

It’s always a little strange to be in a poor country and stay in luxury. The Kigali Serena Hotel, where we’re based for the next few days, has a vast marble lobby and a bar out by the pool surrounded by tropical vegetation. Very colonial, but at least the vast majority of the guests are Africans. We’re here at the same time as a U.N. conference that includes several African presidents, so security at the hotel is tight. Lots of men in uniform out front with guns. Not the sort you want to argue with. And while the conference is going on, all bags have to go through a scanner and guests have to walk through a metal detector and get patted down. I can’t wait to get out and see the city.


Sunday, Nov. 6: Journey to Rwanda

Sunday, Nov. 6/Monday, Nov. 7: Two views of President Kagame

--Sue Horton

Photos, top to bottom: One of the ubiquitous sweepers around town; Fred Mwasa, journalist with the Rwandan paper the Chronicles and our spirit guide; not only do motorcycle taxi drivers have to provide helmets to their passengers, they also have to have their phone numbers on them; the lobby of the elegant Kigali Serena Hotel. Credit: Sue Horton