July 06


Kigali Dispatches: Life in this little big city.

Dateline July 4, Kigali, Rwanda.
As the photo shows, the view from my home office in Kigali is wildly different from the view in Chicago. My GSK PULSE colleague and I share an apartment on the 5th floor of an apartment building on top of a hill, so our view is out and down. The picture tells a lot.

• Rwanda is the “land of a thousand hills,” palm trees and equatorial sunshine. Nice climate.
• The buildings are mostly 1-3 stories with red tin or tiled roofs and there is construction everywhere.
• The soil in Kigali is red clay and dust covers most things. The cars and trucks are old, burn diesel fuel and belch lots of black smoke. Best not to wear a white suit.
• A large % of workers do manual labor and use lots of shovels, picks, and hand-made brooms. Workers and townspeople frequently carry loads on the head.
• Kigali is very tidy. Saturday morning until noon, by law, Rwandans are compelled to do public service. The job varies from weekend to weekend and one payoff is no litter and lots of community ownership of common spaces.

Our hired driver is a treasure and is linking us up to the stores and services we need. Lots of impressions:
• Many things in Kigali are smaller than in the US (e.g. stores, streets, homes, business buildings). Eggs are really small.
• The fresh air market is under a vast metal canopy and has elements of a Dickens novel: dimly lit, incredibly narrow aisles, hundreds of people jammed together, no refrigeration, pickpockets, women sewing clothes using pedal- operated machines and young children sleeping in the aisles. On the plus side the produce is fresh, lots of familiar (and a few new) fruits and vegetables, many sundries, and live chickens. The mangoes are amazing.
• In Kigali I am a curiosity. Pedestrians and little kids stare. I am a target for higher prices for many goods and services so at the market our driver does all our deals.

Rwanda is a developing nation and aspires to reach middle class income and quality health care for its people as soon as possible. Kigali is a beehive of commercial activities ranging from street vendors selling internet time to small shops in many door-fronts to death defying motorcycle cab drivers all the way up to a few familiar western businesses.


I drive in downtown Chicago all the time but I wouldn’t try it in Kigali. There are no lines on the streets, motorcycle cabs magically weave around all sides of our car and merging into traffic on roundabouts is breathtaking.

Next time- Our PULSE work in Kigali.