#BeautifulDestinations: Exploring Rwanda, The Land of Eternal Spring

Traveling during the time of the coronavirus: A different kind of experience

#WearAMask: You may venture to travel but this is not the time to lower your guard. Wear a mask not just for yourself but also for people you come in contact with. Photo taken at Pepponi Living Spaces in Kigali, Rwanda.

After being stuck and missing my much-needed work break in Juba, South Sudan after six months, choosing a place to go and unwind while Covid-19 is still a threat around East Africa and many parts of the world was a tough decision. Working as a humanitarian working in fragile contexts, I know fully well that the break is not your normal holiday. It is a requirement to keep your sanity and give you a reprieve.

Traveling during this pandemic is a test of steely nerves. Having moved around 46 countries in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, dealing with the unseen coronavirus is something else, terrifying, to say the least. It took me months to decide it’s time to pack bags and change my environment. Looking at my veranda in Juba that has also served as my stationary running gym has become tough to endure.

After almost nine years (if my memory serves me right), I am finally back in Rwanda. This is Kigali’s beautiful city hall.

Rwanda was my most practical choice. It is close to Juba via Nairobi and took me only a day’s trip, leaving at 4:00 pm and arriving at 9:00 pm in Kigali, switching flights from Kenya Airways to Rwanda Air with a barely three-hour layover. Both airlines did remarkable jobs keeping the trips convenient and on-time. Filipinos also do not need a visa for a 90-day visit so that extra hassle was off.

Early on, I started practicing wearing my mask at my apartment in South Sudan to get me more acquainted with it. It was my biggest worry especially having asthma. This helped a lot while I was traveling as it became a normal part of my face. I was also able to observe how I breathe and where I was comfortable. I packed several masks in a sealed bag enough for the entire trip.

Here are some things kept in mind and packed in my bag ahead of the trip:

  • Medicines – asthma inhalers, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins
  • Extra face masks and less-than 100mg sanitizers; one I put in my handbag and use from time-to-time
  • Fully-charged phone/s and mobile charger
  • Credit card and spare cash (to avoid ATMs)

I am a sucker for real books but this time I brought my 12-year old Kindle with over 90 e-books on it to travel light. This did not stop me, though, from buying two books in the Genocide Museum. Bookworms are just hopeless paperback fanatics. From Juba to Nairobi to Kigali, the Dalai Lama’s Beyond Religion gave me a perfect insight on how to handle moments, and generally life, at its most crucial time. Amazing how books fitted what I need so perfectly.

Two Rwandan women catching up while waiting for their bus as I was taking an uphill walk. Rwandans are among the world’s friendliest people. Expect a wave and a smile when people see you walk by.

“It seems that hardship, in forcing us to exercise greater patience and forbearance in life, actually makes us stronger and more robust. From the daily experience of hardship comes a greater capacity for accepting difficulties without losing an inner sense of calm” – the Dalai Lama, Beyond Religion

Isn’t that a beautiful reassurance that out of this runaway pandemic, there is something positive we can do with our lives? Working in global emergencies for a long time, reminded me one more time that we humans have the capacity to endure suffering and rise above it when we keep our mind in a noble goal. I have witnessed this in so many survivors.

Many hotels and restaurants are almost empty. In my first week, I was the lone guest living on the hotel’s 3rd floor. But it is also a great time to bond with staff and workers! That’s what travel is all about – meeting people from different walks of life.

One important part of every trip is bringing a positive spirit and spreading it around you. There will be times when you get annoyed or disturbed during the trip, but be ready to shift gears and tell yourself that the world is already faced with a huge threat. The best thing we can do it make it better. Kindness matters at this point.

Beyond Religion shares this reality-check and very timely advice from the 8th-century Indian thinker Shantideva:

If there is a solution, Then what need is there for dejection? If there is no solution, Then what point is there in dejection?

Now, let me leave you to that thought. The most important take-away I have from Beyond Religion is how you do the meditation process well. When you encounter some distractions, the Dalai Lama tells you to just go back without scolding yourself for giving in to the unwanted thoughts that crept in. Just go back and keep trying.

I think that’s the perfect advice that we must do all the time – we find the good and keep going back to it.

A mother and a baby moving slowly. Do you know that the city is also known for its thousand hills. Perfect for walking and running!

Next stop: #ExploringNature – Akagera Rhino Lodge