Travelling from London to Kigali, Rwanda
As with most journeys to catch a flight, stress levels are somewhat increased.
For us going down to Heathrow early on Wednesday morning, it was motorway congestion, but thankfully the updates on Google Maps lived up to their ETA and I was able to get through the clearances without too much of a rush.
Sat waiting to board, it seemed like the first hurdles of my outbound trip had been crossed. I replied to various last minute correspondences, and then went into Flight Mode.
I was struck by the number of families of FaceTime (presumably not to each other), showing those on the other end their last minutes on a foreign land before being reunited.
Sat opposite me was the mother of a boisterous Turkish family of five who pacified her boys (father included) with mini cucumbers, which they all chomped in unison.
The newfound silence alerted us to being called up to board, and I finished the survey I’d been doing with an airport employee, the only parting suggestion I could offer was a Heathrow-only lane on the M1 which she noted down very earnestly.
Do you know those wheely suitcases which high-flyers dash around with at airports?
No, not the ones that you drag behind you, but the ones with four wheels where the owner has merely has to push a finger and their well-behaved luggage follows in suit.
Well I’d opted to buy one of those for the trip, expecting the experience to be akin to having a self-driving golf buggy accompany me on my walk across the concourse, and was especially looking forward to the opportunity to look sympathetically upon at the huffs and puffs of my fellow passengers lumbered with backpacks.
No such luck.
You see I’ve learned that at all times the four-wheeler has its image to consider and must maintain an air of graceful elegance in its transit so as not to get embarrassed in front of its friends.
This is fine when leisurely strolling around the departure lounge, but at the slightest hint of urgency it goes in a strop.
Why should the fact that you are running late be any reason for me look like idiot?Nope, if the two of us are going any place on my wheels, it’ll be at own choosing thank you very much.
This was the stand off I found myself in after a delay into Istanbul required me to run to catch my connection.
Scooping up my companion in my arms like a dishevelled parent I hurried to the gate and took the connector bus over the plane.
On the short journey the mildest of inclines resulted in my suitcase deciding to roll off and sulk in the corner. Clearly bereft at the horror of being carried in public it was giving me the silent treatment.
I picked it up, dusted it off and promised it would never happen again I’m sorry.
The plane was full and my seat was at the back meaning I got a good chance to assess the demographics whilst catching my breath.
We had a mixed bunch.
There were baggy-eyed young parents with their obliviously cheery toddlers, teenage girls strapping on Beats headphones over their headscarves, and a pair of Rwandan nuns flicking through what looked like the barbeque section of the Duty Free magazine.
The middle of the plane was occupied by a congregation of missionaries from Manchester en route to Uganda. I knew this from the identical t-shirts they were all wearing, and their Bibles.
As with any tour-based international trip there was a nervous energy in the air, but this one had extra sizzle as some of the party were under the age of seventeen, and what’s more contained both males and females.
Even in the brief passing I was able to observe the initial land grab that is often played out in these scenarios as individual members who only know each other fairly well try to indicate early on that they are the funny/ kooky/ let’s-get-the-party-started one, and others test out a new version of themselves.
“Oooh has anyone got a pack of cards?!!”
*Got in there with a classic plane-based party-starter move early doors. Nice*
“I’ve got Uno!!!”
*Shit, too keen*
With that behind me I had my own fun and games playing a quick round of suitcase Tetris with an elderly German lady, and then plonked myself in my seat and waited for take off.
The flight was fairly uneventful save for a showing of a Zac Efron film which weirdly I think I watched when I flew out to Latin America, and the quad of elderly German ladies to my left finding each mini bottle of wine they ordered even more hilarious than the last.
I should say a little about the visa process.
When I’ve spoken to people about getting a visa in Africa it usually results in them taking a sharp intake of breath. Taking on board this feedback I was keen to get as much sorted as possible before I headed out.
Diligently, I applied online and waited for an email to come within 2-3 working days. But it didn’t.
I called up the embassy in London and was nonchalantly assured that “Oh oh you can just get it at the airport”.
Time was on my side and wanting to avoid undue hassle, I persevered finding a site that allowed you to book and pay online, and then collect at the airport which seemed perfect. The page took a while to load and then returned an error message saying that you can only view it if in Rwanda…
“Why is on earth is that the case?!”
I emailed the customer support desk. And she also replied nonchalantly (I’m inferring from her written manner on this one) that I can just do it on my phone when I get there.
I began to appreciate the collective sharp breaths that I received and after a message to Olly (my man on the ground) who called the Embassy his end and an hour later I had an official letter saying that the country of Rwanda looked forward to welcoming me to their country.
Olly attests that it was simply a phone call, but I was nevertheless very grateful.
Anyway, the reason for giving you this context is that the first thing I saw when stepping into the terminal was this:
An easy way to apply for a visa from your mobile as soon as you got there. With a bit.ly link and everything.
The guys next to me were applying for theirs and so it seems that all that hassle might have been in vain.
I’m writing this from the outside porch of Olly’s house in Kigali where I have a room for a month.
This morning consisted of sorting admin, essentially getting a SIM card. We drove up on his motorbike and got a 4G SIM with some airtime which was all very straightforward. In fact, I’m tethering from it now as I type.
The only slight bump so far has been the four-wheeler’s older sibling throwing an even bigger wobbly and refusing to come with me on the same flight to Kigali.
Tomorrow morning I’m hoping to go back to the airport to collect it after which it’ll be sitting in the corner for a few days to think about what it’s done…