I had had it up to my neck! There was so much fuss about Rwanda, its beauty and their progress in spite of the dreadful genocide 25 years ago that I started following everything Rwanda on Twitter – Prez. Paul Kagame, his wife, Michaella Rugwizangoga of VW, etc, you name them.
I was simply obsessed with this country I had never seen; it had become my new dream country. I remember when a very good friend once told me that I, Ama Duncan had shared a fellowship opportunity on our WhatsApp platform and that she applied and went to Rwanda! I nearly passed out! ‘But I want to go to Rwanda!’ I was incredulous, how could I share an opportunity and not even apply myself? So anyway, finally sometime in 2018, I told God I wanted an opportunity to visit Rwanda. By telling God I mean I put it on my vision board and in my prayer book to ensure God will not miss my request! Haha. Basically, I asked God to open a door for me to go there for free but I remember feeling this in my spirit, ‘if you want to see Rwanda so bad, why not just pay to go and see it?’ That was when I decided that for our upcoming 2019 Girls Trip to Dubai, we had to pass through Rwanda.
Oh but God had other plans too. So a friend with whom The Fabulous Woman Network has been collaborating with reached out to me about the Eisenhower Fellowship Africa Conference coming up in where? Rwanda! All I had to do was to pay for my ticket, everything else would be sponsored. And who was this amazing friend? Yawa Hansen-Quao, Founder of The Leading Ladies Network. This was perfect! An opportunity to visit it first before our Girls Trip so at least I could be familiar with their ways. I immediately took note of it and added it to my budget. However, getting close to the date everything with my plan just kept going in the opposite direction. I would love to explain but I would be digressing. Long story short by some miracle, I managed to find a cool deal with Ethiopian Airlines. Now, the last battle I had to fight was an internal one.
So I have been a Corporate Trainer for over 11 years now but my travelling has definitely intensified over the last 4 years because I am no longer serving one organisation in one place. And yet I kid you not, anytime I have to travel it is tears, tears, tears as I envisage the time away from home. Don’t get me wrong, I make the most of my trips to ensure some solitude and treat myself to sleep, dancing in public bathrooms etc, however, the process of leaving is always hard. And for this particular trip, I had other events around the same time starting with a speaking engagement at Webster University, a TV interview with the fabulous Renee Q. Boateng for the Today’s Woman Show, a SheTrades Apparel Training, etc. Therefore, it was going to be one long 9-day trip. My daughter double-checked the number of days many times and with each one, my heart just sank.
Well, I was going anyway, there was no turning back and so on 12th June, I was on the Boeing 737 flight from Accra to Kigali through Addis Ababa. While we were boarding, I overheard some people talking about the recent plane crash but I only smiled. No, I was not going to die on this flight. This was my second experience with this particular airline and I loved the plane from Accra. It was their Airbus from Addis Ababa that I was not looking forward to because it was smaller and did not have individual entertainment so I made alternative plans to keep myself busy. All in all, both flights to Kigali were OK.
Emefa Gadze of Single Ladies Support Network, Joyce Boadi Okyere of Posky Plus and I (3 members of the Leading Ladies Network Delegation) arrived in Kigali after midnight on 13th June. We were properly knackered to the extent that we took our sweet time at the airport catching up on messages and checking in with our loved ones. Don’t you just love free airport wifi? Little did we know that while we waited, our arranged airport pickup had for whatever reason decided to return to the hotel without us! It would take about an hour or so for us to reach them and ask them nicely to come back for us. Thankfully the weather was not as cold as I had envisaged and we had comfy chairs outside of the airport to sit and wait. It was at this point that it finally sank in that I was actually in Kigali! Gosh! I started paying attention to my environment. The airport looked small but very beautiful. The ceiling reminded me of the design at the Kumasi City Mall. I also paid attention to the workers at the airport, I saw a lot of tall dark young men and women, most of them very serious looking. I had been warned about their zero-tolerance for single-use plastic so I was not surprised when they asked me to remove my precious plastic suitcase wrapper. Yes, the environment was clean, like really clean. OK, I still had 3 days so I decided to just be quiet and observe. Nothing was going to ruin this experience for me, not even the long wait at the airport.
On our way to the hotel, I noticed how lighted the city was with its beautiful hills. Land of a thousand hills indeed! Even in the dark, I noticed how trees were abundant. When we reached the magnificent Raddison Blue Hotel and Kigali Convention Center, I was mesmerized by that beautiful dome! We were not due to check in till 12 noon and once we realised how much it would take to do an early check-in, we not-so-happily accepted to wait at the lounge till we could get rooms. Yes, we totally slept right there that dawn. At one point, I woke up noticing my mouth was wide open and thought to myself ‘ah Ama, this is not fabulous at all’ Haha. Well, at 8 am a very beautiful hotel staff woke us up and promised our rooms would be ready shortly. They even offered us a hot beverage and my Oliver Twist mouth asked them for evaporated milk. When the tea came, it was hands down the best tea I have ever tasted! Too bad I could not find out the name of the milk.
I decided to have an ‘in day’ on day 1 so I could catch up on some work and sleep. That afternoon, I woke up to a lovely note from my roommate Emefa ‘Happy snoozing. I love you Ama. Emefa’! This really made me smile, bless her. Yawa took us out to Heaven – a really nice and classy restaurant in Kigali. By then the final member of our delegation, Henrietta Adjetey of BrandEAfrica had also arrived. We experimented with the food that night; I do not recall the name of what I ate but I enjoyed dinner so much. Joyce cracked so many jokes we just kept laughing while eating and discussing ways to progress as women in business. Later that night I checked in with my family again, all was good of course. I could not believe how worried I had been ahead of this trip when I knew all will always be well because I had Jesus in my boat.
Waking up on day 2 which was the actual conference day 1 was quite difficult as I was really enjoying my sleep. No, I will not blame it on jet lag because the time difference was really not that much. The EF Africa conference was being held at the magnificent Kigali Conference Centre which was just opposite our hotel. There were a number of other conferences happening with tight security. I would later find out that the tight security had nothing to do with the president’s presence, it was standard procedure for all public buildings to have all these security gadgets. ‘Wow,’ I thought. The conference, of course, was very well attended.
I was going to sit at the back until I spotted an empty seat in the front row. The minute I sat down, I remembered who I was - Ama Duncan, author of Networking Made Easy – and started networking right away. And who was I sitting by? The Rwandan Minister of Youth! A very lovely lady she was. She was kind enough to answer my question on what has made Rwanda a successful brand in terms of ICT, sanitation, women empowerment among others. She said to me that Rwanda was the way it was because of its president, youth and women. Ha! That was not hard to believe. And then I got to ask Prez Paul Kagame how he was able to rally everyone to run with his vision. In his response, he joked about how he represented ‘men’ in the minister’s response to my question. I was really impressed when he illustrated how he led by example by picking rubbish off the street himself even while he was vice president and in a convoy! He also illustrated how his government engaged the people in decision making. Obviously, I was very impressed by him, and he was not all talk; the country itself was a testament to what he said. I was a bit surprised when after the panel discussion, people reached out to me and commended my question. And then a gentleman from RwandaTV reached out for an interview! What? Well, I had a blast during this short interview.
Later that day, some of the ladies and I visited the Rwanda Development Board to register our businesses. I kid you not, we were there a few minutes after 4.00pm on a Friday, by 5.30pm we were done with our registration which was online, no money was taken, no stress! We were told to wait for approval by Monday (the next Monday, I was in Ghana when I received an email with approval!). And just like that, I have a registered business in Rwanda! Wow! So anyway, back to Day 1 of the conference, we had an amazing time on the rooftop of the Kigali Conference Center. The view was absolutely beautiful. What stole my heart were the cultural performances. I was really mesmerised by the consistent smiles of the dancers! I was like ‘it is either they extremely love what they are doing or are very disciplined’. I just couldn’t believe the uniformity of their smiles (I later found out that it is standard practice to smile in those cultural dances). I see, said Ama Duncan! We had so much fun that night. I even attempted the cultural dance and I have videos to prove it! It was really heart-warming the way we all loosened up and danced. Oh and I was pleasantly surprised to see Yawa’s moves! That woman! I returned to my room just in time to watch Ama Duncan on RwandaTV, I cannot for the life of me fathom how that even happened! This Fanti girl from Komenda/Moree doing ‘jab-jab’ in Rwanda! Only God can make this happen. Of course, I videoed myself on TV and sent the video home immediately. Yes, I slept very well that night! Thank you.
My highlights from Day 2 were the closing ceremony activities. There were short but very inspirational messages charging us all to go out there and do more to make a giant impact. I kept thinking: ‘Partnerships! Partnerships! Partnerships!’. One of the Ghanaian Eisenhower Fellows, Dr Teddy Tottimeh really challenged me to stop playing small. And so I kept thinking about how I could form more partnerships to make a bigger impact. Later that day, we visited the Kigali Genocide Museum; a very emotional experience indeed. We saw a grave with over 250,000 victims buried there. We saw pictures of some of the victims, many of whom were kids. It is just unimaginable. We also got to learn a bit about the history of Rwanda and paid tribute to the dead. OK, let me just end the genocide experience here.
That evening, my Rwandese Mandela Washington Fellow who had been with me at Northwestern University took me out to dinner. I got to take in the night view of Kigali again. Truly beautiful. Like back in Northwestern, I had many questions for her and she gladly answered them. There is just something about the way Rwandese talk about their country, with so much pride. Oh and I tried Ugali again, my first time had been made by another East African, this one tasted like our banku with only cassava dough.
The final day of the conference was for tours but I decided to stay in; I had booked an interview with a very fabulous Nigerian woman over breakfast. And then I wanted to have an in day, to reflect on my experiences and treat myself to some calmness. That morning I told God ‘Father I have already had a beautiful experience, but if there is anyone else I need to meet before I leave, please make it happen’ and then I stepped out. The interview was super inspiring, I returned to my room so happy that I made a dance video haha! I also met with an amazing Kenyan called Teddy Warri who was a God-sent to me really. And then I read Lucy Quist’s The Bold New Normal and just chilled in my room. It was when I started packing that I realised ‘oh no, I still have the Made-In-Ghana jewelleries!’ You see, these had been made by a fabulous woman whom I live with. Last year, I had sold some of her items in South Africa and her scream when I paid her in dollars had been worth the cold I endured while selling. And so on this trip as well, she made a few items for me to sell. How could I forget? I felt so sad that I may have to disappoint her. I thought of buying them myself or sending them to the SheTrades Apparel training I had over the next couple of days. But then as I was about stepping out for one last meeting with some new friends, I felt it in my spirit to take them along. Long story short, I sold most of the jewelleries and made this lady almost twice the amount she had made from South Africa! Wow, had I not listened to that voice! And not only that, this selling experience led to a bigger meeting which concluded in a dinner with some business magnates from Asia! I can never forget that night! I kept saying ‘today must be my birthday!’
Soon we had to say bye to this beautiful country. I was not sad though because I knew this was the first of many visits, God willing. At the airport, I was really surprised by their level of security, even before entering the carpark there were all these gadgets. It was some James Bond movie! On the plane, I sat next to a really nice Rwandese from the Prime Minister’s office and we had so much fun networking. The flight to Addis Ababa was quite turbulent and at a point, my heart may have stopped beating just a little haha! But thank God I survived. Frankly, my return journey made me question if I really want to travel by plane again. I mean why not just enjoy Ghana for the rest of my life? It was later when we arrived at Addis Ababa that I found out the Prime Minister had been on the flight. I thought ‘ah then there is no way we would have crushed!’ Haha
I have been to a few other countries around the world and had beautiful experiences too. Rwanda definitely took these experiences to another level for me. I took home lessons that I am sure will live with me for a long time. I think of it as hope for Africa because when I try to fathom what they have been through and the circumstances through which they had those experiences, the differences and all, and yet they are managing to progress. It is just astounding! It makes me realize that the Africa I envision is possible. I love that Ghanaians and hopefully many other Africans can enter seamlessly and do business there. I also especially love their branding culture and their consistency thereof. No, not everything was perfect but I admired their progress and commitment to keep going.
Now I am back home in Ghana and actually in Sunyani as I finish this write up. I am thinking, ‘how can I also support the branding of Ghana to exhibit our progress to the world?’ It will be lovely to hear your thoughts until then, stay fabulous!
Author (https://goo.gl/pv4Y7z ) and Founder of The Fabulous Woman Network