Up and Down in Rwanda

Rwanda is known as the land of a thousand hills. Kigali, its capital, is no exception. The city itself is built on eleven of those hills, making running on the flat simply not an option.

Last July, I was in the country for two weeks of work. I had had a busy race season already, competing in the 24 hour Rogaine and Lugnacoilla mountain race in the fortnight before arriving in the country. I spent my first week concentrating on the job. But by the second week, I was itching to start running again, and soon figured out a city centre route.

Running in Kigali is hard. The streets are steep, with long ascents and sharp descents. The air too is thin, the city perched at 1,600 metres (5,100 feet). And being near the equator, heat was as ever a looming factor.

To avoid the worst of the African sun, I’d leave from my hotel around 5.50am for a 70 minute jog. After less than 5 minutes, I’d pass the infamous Hotel des Mille Collines, the one immortalised forever in the movie Hotel Rwanda. It was there that Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager, housed over a thousand Tutsi refugees during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide when approximately a million people were killed over the course of 100 days. Over the weekend I ate lunch at that same hotel. It was simply impossible to believe what had happened in that place.

When I run in developing countries, I usually have unfortunate encounters with dogs. Dogs are often kept for security rather than as docile pets. So when they see me running away from them at speed, they immediately assume a transgression and follow in hot pursuit. In Kigali however, I found no dogs. I expressed my surprise to a co-worker. She explained to me that, during the genocide, packs of dogs would maraud around feasting on the dead corpses that littered the streets. Since that time, Rwandans have an aversion to keeping dogs in their homes.

Despite the terrible history that Rwanda still lives with, there is considerable progress in the country. Roads are good, amenities work, investment is happening. Yes, it is still one of the world’s poorest countries, but things are looking up for Rwanda.

Even running is used to help Rwanda heal itself. The annual Kigali marathon is devoted towards achieving continued peace and reconciliation. Run over 4 circuits, the 42.195km has 1,400 metres of climb. If you are in that area of Africa at that time, it is seemingly worthwhile marathon to go to, if not for the ascent (!), then at least for the cause.

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