Interview with Willem on his trip to Rwanda
How did you experience the journey in general?
Wow, how should I describe my experience in general? That is a difficult one already.
Maybe baffled is a good one. Or maybe amazed is even better. It already started when
leaving the airport. The taxi I got in was not shitty at all! Or at least not compared to the
standards I got used to in Ghana. The doors and windows did open and shut properly, no
pieces of fabric were hanging around and I guess even the speed-dial did work, although
I can’t remember that one. And then I still had to get onto the roads!
These turned out not to be some random strip of tarmac, but real proper roads, with lines
and sidewalks and even well kept trees and flowers in the middle and on the sides.
Now I almost forget to mention the traffic lights and I hear you think, what can be so
special about the traffic lights, but they count down! I mean, come on, which city has
counting down traffic lights? I don’t know them and I certainly did not expect to encounter them in Africa.
Another point of amazement is the degree of regulation in Rwanda, although I don’t know if
this is always a good thing, but that is open for debate. An example is the ban or at least
restrictions on street merchandising, forcing everyone to open a shop instead of selling their
mangos or whatever on the street. However, the most remarkable of these regulations is
the ban of (small) plastic bags. This instantly made me feel like a petty criminal, since my
backpack was stuffed with plastic and zip lock bags for my clothes and other belongings.
Silently hoping that no one would find my plastic bags, I’ve kept them safely in my backpack
for no one to see and to eventually take them back home with me.
And then to two sources of continuous amazement: the view and the moto-rides. The view
is simply astounding! Always these beautiful hills with either buildings, little villages or
lush vegetation on them. Combine this with the thrill and excitement of a moto-ride and
you have made my day! Luckily there were a lot of moto-rides and even more hills,
so I had an excellent time in Rwanda!
Can you give a global description of your daily activities during the three weeks?
First of all I should mention that I did not stay for just three weeks, but remained in Rwanda
for two months. Concerning the daily activities, these really differed upon the different
locations I visited. The first two and a half weeks were dominated by my visits to Ruhango
and the Ruhengeri district hospitals. At both hospitals I have participated in the daily
activities of the pharmacists and other pharmacy employees, which to my disappointment
mostly were related to stock keeping.
More in-detail information about this can be read in my Exchange report.
During the fourth week, I visited the National University of Rwanda, the place were pharmacy
education takes place. In this week I didn’t really have a structured daily agenda, but did had
the opportunity to talk to the Head of Department, one of the pharmacist of the Teaching
Hospital and the Director of Ladamet, the laboratory affiliated with the university.
Moreover, I participated in some lectures and had the opportunity to talk with different
students and got introduced to the student body as organised by the Rwanda Pharmaceutical
This made it possible to exchange experiences about each of our respective pharmacy educations.
The last month I spend at Kipharma, a wholesale company in Kigali that also houses a small
production laboratory for mostly creams and ointments. During the first two weeks of the month,
I spend my time with reviewing their production facilities focussing on what they make,
how they do it and what should be done to become (pre)-GMP compliant.
In the beginning this mostly involved a constant ‘interrogation’ of the pharmacist responsible
for the laboratory, a lot of document reading and some ‘inspection’ at the lab followed by
a period of writing and coming up with good recommendations to improve their facilities.
The next two weeks I mostly spend at performing a small market research in order to find
out if there is a market for more sophisticated dermatological products than just vaseline.
This involved visiting different pharmacies and beauty shops around town, talking to doctors
and dermatologist and performing a (very) small-scale survey at the pharmacy of Kipharma,
to find out what the opinion about the products is.
The market research was also the last exchange related activity I performed in Rwanda
and the last few days I used to see a little more of the country.
Kids in Kigali
What were your nicest experiences?
As I did say before, one of the things I probably came to love the most were the moto-rides
through Rwanda. Although it definitely took a lot of getting used to and I was mostly terrified
or at least anxious during my first few rides and although my most unpleasant experiences
concerned a moto-ride, I really loved this kind of transport. I even do miss it sometimes
now I am back in the Netherlands.
The nicest moments however were the moments I could be together with ‘the locals’.
Although both awkward and nice at the same time, these are probably the moments I cherish
the most. During my stay I have been invited to have dinner with some of the employees of
the hospital, attended a new years party inside the surgical ward of a hospital, hiked the
hills of Kigali to afterwards eat a whole cow with them, attended a symposium organised
by the Rwandan pharmacy students and even attended a wedding! And now I am sure I
forget a lot of other great experiences.
Another thing I really like about my stay in Rwanda were the hundreds and hundreds of
people I’ve met, both locals and internationals. Everyone is always up for a chat and
everyone has a story to tell. This made it that there was almost never a dull moment if
you didn’t want it to be and my stay was really worthwhile.
What were your less pleasant experiences?
Undoubtedly my least pleasant experience involved my so-loved transport vehicle: the
moto-taxi. To be short, I had an (small-scale)
accident with one of them. To be more elaborate: it happened on my second Sunday in
Rwanda. I was returning to the Ruhango district hospital after a well-spend weekend in
Kigali, to start again at seven AM the next morning. Getting there involves a one-and-a-
half hour bus ride from Kigali to the city of Ruhango, followed by a forty-minute moto-
ride on a nice but rough dirt road leading to the village of Kinazi were the hospital is
located. It was this moto-ride I was already a little concerned about, since there are no
lights at the side of the road to the hospital, so I really hoped to finish the trip before
dark. Everything seemed to go according to plan and I arrived in Ruhango just in time to
get a moto and arrived at the hospital before dark. I did found a moto-driver to take me,
but half way on the dirt road to the hospital he stopped his moto and got me another
driver. It is then when the problems started… Apparently he did not know where to take
me and probably only took me on because I am white, meaning money. At the moment it
was already dusk, turning completely dark at any moment and thunderclouds were
gathering in the hills nearby. Unfortunately, the driver I got stuck with was really
inexperienced (or really drunk, but I don’t want to think about that option) and drove
far too slowly for the road we were on and eventually we fell over. Luckily it did not
result in major injuries besides some wounds on my knee, especially considering how it
could have ended… But you probably can imagine I was pretty anxious at the moment,
mainly because I still had to continue with him to the hospital. To cut the story short,
Me giving a presentation at the RPSA symposium
eventually it all ended well, although it took me a walk and another moto to arrive at the
Another less pleasant experience is more pharmaceutically related. It is the fact that the
pharmacists, as highly educated people as they are, have to spend almost all their time
with administrative procedures instead of spending their time at pharmaceutical care.
This really frustrated me, especially because I believe pharmaceutical care should be the
core business of a pharmacist. Hopefully this will soon change.
Farmers working at a tea plantation
If you could take this trip again, what would you have done differently?
The main thing I would have done differently is probably a different or better to say a
more proper preparation. Now I came to Rwanda while knowing really little about the
country, just take the plastic bags as an example. If I could do it again, I would try to read
and watch more about the country before going there. I also might invest some time to
improve my French, since still a lot of people only speak French or Kinyarwanda. Now I
had to save myself with English and all things considered this went fine, but I think it
could have brought me closer to the people if I was able to speak their language a little.
One thing that I definitely will do differently the next time and not even particularly for
redoing this trip, is trying to discuss and decide upfront what I will be doing at the
different places. Most of the times during this trip it was not clear what I could or should
be doing at the different locations. It could all have been a lot more fruitful for both the
people there as for myself if this was decided before arriving at the location. Now I
spend (too) much time waiting before anything could happen.