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A night out in Kigali

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“Everyone is coming. Let’s grab that table,” said Nathalie Gatesi, a new friend, as she commandeered a high top in a prime location at Kigali’s hip urban beach club, Pili Pili. Nathalie was referring to the imminent arrival of some 20 members of her family who were all texting her at once.

Kigali doesn’t have a club scene so much as it has nightlife spots that, perhaps out of sense of fairness and unity, each get to be hot one night a week. Thursdays are for happy hour drinks at Inema Arts Center, followed by jazz night at Repub Lounge, which serves a coconut curry fish I could have eaten every night of my trip. Fridays, after midnight, are for dancing at the red-lit Cocobean club while sipping whiskey and amarula. Saturdays are for concerts and birthday parties, and clubs you didn’t hit up on Friday.

Inside the Cocobean club, in Kigali.
Inside the Cocobean club, in Kigali.  (JADA YUAN / The New York Times)

And Sundays belong to Pili Pili. A Nigerian government worker I had met at my hotel had even changed his flight to experience the magic with Nathalie and her family — and then invited me along. Preteens tossed a beach ball back and forth in the pool, while their parents drank lethally strong mojitos. A D.J. played Boy George and James Brown. Then there was that view of Kigali’s famous hills, covered in tropical greenery and red clay as afternoon turned to brilliant sunset and then to the twinkling lights of one of Africa’s cleanest cities against a pitch black sky.

“This country has grown so far it’s like a new country,” said Marie Ange Katabarwa, a relative of Nathalie’s who sat down and immediately started treating me like I was part of the family, too.

M.A., as most people call her, went to boarding school in France before the 1994 genocide, and is now an investment banker splitting her time between Paris, Dubai and Kigali. She’s been coming back here more often to take care of her aging parents and manage their family cattle farm. The city, she said, seems to be ripe with opportunities for women.

“You can open your company online in three hours. It is so easy,” she said. Parliament, she pointed out, is over 50 per cent women. Now women can inherit property, whereas not too long ago, family wealth was passed on to men. A woman can open a bank account, she said, instead of asking her husband or father to open it for her. And if that woman doesn’t like her husband, she can divorce him.

“We are allowed to vote,” chimed in Nathalie, who does marketing for a telecommunications firm. The head of RwandAir, she pointed out, is a woman. “If you see a woman as the head of a company, you think, ‘I can do it.’”

While gender equality, in practice, still has a ways to go, the women I met said they feel the changes every day. “Before, people were afraid,” said Angeline Kajeguhakwa, another member of the family and a petroleum executive, who recently moved back to Kigali after 20 years in Florida. “Now you could take a cab by yourself if you are drunk or tipsy and you are going to get home safe.”

Angeline wasn’t the only family member to move back. I met new transplants from Boston and New Orleans, as well as Annabelle Uwera, who may be the pioneer of the bunch. She’s about to celebrate a decade back, after 10 years in London, and is now a super-plugged-in trade officer for the British High Commission.

I felt the sense of safety that Angeline had mentioned. I took walks alone at night and even hopped on a few motorcycle taxis to get around. (They’re 10 times cheaper than regular taxis, and thrilling to ride.) As M.A. explained, the government changed the constitution to ensure women feel less vulnerable, after the horrific rapes of 1994. “Women can have the power to do anything they want. They can say ‘no’. And men know they can’t beat you. They know if they do something wrong, they will go to jail.”

There is a dark side to the sense of opportunity. Adult men over the age of 35 are largely dead and gone; two generations were wiped out in three months. “One of the consequences of genocide is we have a lot of young people and a lot of women,” said Serge Kamuhinda, another family member, and a Volkswagen executive, who grew up in Germany after fleeing Rwanda at age 4. He remembers his village in flames and people running at him with machetes.

A village on the way to Akagera National Park, Rwanda.
A village on the way to Akagera National Park, Rwanda.  (JADA YUAN/The New York Times)

Then there are the critics of the government who have left the country for fear of political persecution, or who fled during the genocide and still feel unsafe coming home. Certain topics — politics, ethnic identity — are rarely discussed.

The people I met in Kigali do talk about the genocide, though, and often. It comes up in the fabric of everyday conversation as something that changed their country so distinctly that there is only a before and after. Almost everyone you meet has suffered loss and trauma. M.A. and Angeline lost their grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins.

Annabelle, from London, encouraged me to go to the city’s powerful Kigali Genocide Memorial to better understand the history. When I later told her I had cried in the Children’s Room, which features portraits of kids as young as 15 months who were burned alive or had their skulls bashed in, she told me that she cannot go into that room. She has relatives in there.

Still, for every one of my new friends that night at Pili Pili, the rewards of being together with their remaining loved ones in the country that is their home seemed to far outweigh the possibility of being re-traumatized, or the fact that they all had to take massive pay cuts to move back from overseas.

“When you are elsewhere, you are replaceable,” Serge said. “But here you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to contribute to building this society.” A fan of metaphors, he added, “coming here is like visiting your old auntie who went through cancer and beat it and is now a fitness coach with life lessons. You feel uplifted.”

Practical tips

Transport: Kigali is a driving city. I was very happy hiring a driver-translator, starting at $100 (U.S.) a day, through a co-operative run by Jean Pierre Sagahutu. This saved me from having to worry about logistics, and allowed me to see the city through the eyes of a wonderful Kigali resident. Should you take a taxi, rides anywhere in the central city should cost no more than 6,000 Rwandan francs (about $7). Motorcycle taxis are around 500.

Stay: I loved the luxurious new Kigali Marriott, the first Marriott in sub-Saharan Africa, until I got my bill. What looked like a steal online had a significant, not-so-transparent rate increase two days into my seven-day stay. It’s a great hotel — incredible massages, best Wi-Fi in the city — but double-check the math on the reservation web page to avoid similar surprises. For a real steal, Ivuka Arts Center has an Airbnb that goes for $20 to $25 a night.

Peppers for sale at Nyabugogo Market.
Peppers for sale at Nyabugogo Market.  (JADA YUAN/The New York Times)

Eat: Beyond Repub Lounge, my favourite Kigali food were the delicious, tiny bananas you can pick up at any grocery store. For a wider variety of fruits, head to Kimironko and Nyabugogo markets.

See: Inema and Ivuka galleries are great for browsing, or take a tour of murals with Kurema, Kureba, Kwiga, a public arts organization.

Day trip: If you don’t have $1,500 to spend on the permit to see mountain gorillas, you can still observe plenty of animals at Akagera National Park, two-and-a-half hours away. I left at 5 a.m. to take in a beautiful sunrise view of villagers fetching water or transporting plantains on their bicycles. By the end of a long day, I had seen zebras, antelopes and giraffes. Cost: $40 for park entrance, $40 for a community-trained guide, and $200 for my driver.

At Akagera National Park, you might see zebras, antelopes and giraffes.
At Akagera National Park, you might see zebras, antelopes and giraffes.  (JADA YUAN/The New York Times)

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Travel & Escape

Why your hotel mattress feels like heaven (and how to bring that feeling home)

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(NC) Choosing the right mattress is a long-term investment in your health and well-being. To make a good choice for your home, take a cue from luxury hotel-room beds, which are designed to support the sound sleep of tens of thousands of guests, 365 nights a year.

“When we’re shopping for a mattress, we do lab testing, identify the best materials, bring in multiple mattress samples and have our associates test them,” explains David Rizzo, who works for Marriott International. “We ask for ratings on comfort level, firmness, body support and movement disruption. It takes 12 to 18 months just to research and select materials.”

Here, he shares his tips to pick the perfect mattress for your best sleep:

Understand your needs. People have different food and exercise preferences, as well as different sleep cycles. So, it’s no surprise that everyone has unique mattress preferences. Not sure whether a firm or a soft mattress is better? Rizzo says the best gauge is to ask yourself, “Do I wake up with aches and pains?” If the answer is no, you’re golden.

Foam versus spring. All mattresses have a core that is made up foam or innersprings or a combination of the two. Today’s foam-core mattresses contain memory foam — a material engineered by NASA to keep astronauts comfortable in their seats. It’s special because it retains or “remembers” its shape, yielding to pressure from the sleeper’s body, then bouncing back once the pressure is removed.

An innerspring mattress has an encased array of springs with individual coils that are connected by a single helical wire. This wire creates continuous movement across the coil that minimizes disruption if the mattress is disturbed, such as by a restless sleeper. According to Rizzo, the innerspring is “bouncier.”

Temperature preference. Consider how warm or cool you like to sleep, and factor in the construction of the mattress to find one with a temperature that suits you. The air space engineered into an innerspring mattress promotes ventilation, which some people find keeps them pleasantly cool. To accomplish the same purpose with a foam mattress (or the foam layer of an innerspring) it may be infused with metal, usually silver or copper, to help dissipate heat and humidity.

Need to test out the right mattress for your needs? Find the right fit during your next trip by booking your stay at marriott.com.

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Travel & Escape

How to make the most of summer travel

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(NC) One of the best parts of our short Canadian summers is the opportunity to enjoy them a little bit extra on long weekends. If you need ideas, check out these creative things to do whether you decide to stay in town or go away.

Do a dinner crawl. Pub crawls are fun for couples, friends and also families with older kids. For an exciting twist that stretches your dollars and lets you taste food from several spots before you get too full, try a dinner crawl. Eat apps at one restaurant, mains at another and dessert at another.

Go on a mini getaway. You don’t need to go very far to enjoy a vacation – exploring a Canadian city over a summer weekend is great way to treat yourself to a holiday. Whether it’s checking out the museums in Toronto or the parks in Vancouver, there’s something for everyone. For upgraded benefits, special experiences and the best rates guaranteed, join Marriott Bonvoy and book direct on Marriott.com.

Host a potluck. Perfect whether you’re staying at home or going to your cottage, gather friends and family together for some food and fun. A potluck is an easy and affordable way to host a big get-together and lets everyone try something new and swap recipes. Make the festivities extra special with a fireworks potluck, too – ask everyone to bring some fireworks or sparklers and put on a light show. Just be sure to follow local regulations for consumer fireworks.

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Lottoland: Here’s why Canadians love it!

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Lotteries have been in existence for many centuries now and it’s an open secret that most people enjoy playing a good lottery.

Asides from gauging your own luck, the thrill of playing, the anticipation of the results and the big wins every now and then is something most people look forward to. Since 1982, the lottery has been in Canada, but now there is a way to play both the Lotto and other international lotteries from Canada, all from the comfort of your home.

With Lottoland, all you need to do is register and get access to numerous international lotteries right from their website. The easy-to-use interface has all the information you need, and great amount of care has been taken to ensure that the online experience is similar—and even better—than if players were to visit each location personally.

The Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries are hitting record highs with their prize money, in what the organizers claim to be the largest jackpot in the history of the world. However, the U.S. has gambling laws that are state controlled and buying your ticket through an online broker can be considered gambling.

“No one except the lottery or their licensed retailers can sell a lottery ticket. No one. Not even us. No one. No, not even that website. Or that one,” Powerball’s website says.

Therefore, to stand a chance to win the $1.5 billion-dollar lottery jackpot it means you have to purchase your lottery tickets directly from a licensed retailer such as Lottoland.

Since 2013, Lottoland has been operating in Canada, rapidly growing in popularity amongst Canadians. Due to its easy of use and instant access to lotteries that were previously considered inaccessible—as Canadians had to travel all the way to the U.S. to purchase tickets in the past—Lottoland has attracted lots of visitors.

Currently, there about 8-million players on Lottoland, a figure that points to the reliability of the website.

One of the core values of Lottoland is transparency and that’s why a quick search on the website would show you a list of all of their winners. Recently, a Lottoland customer was awarded a world-record fee of $137 million CND.

Also, due to the incredibly slim chances of winning the grand prize not everyone would take home mega-dollar winnings, but there are substantial winnings every day.

Securing your information online is usually one important factor when registering on any platform and as the site explains, “Lottoland works very hard to verify your information.”

The site has a multi-verification process that will ensure that you confirm your identity and age before giving you a pay-out. However, in the rare case that a player has immediate luck and wins a lottery before completing the verification process, Lottoland will hold on to the winnings until they complete your verification.

While this might seem like a tedious process, it is very important as these safety features would ensure that your information wasn’t stolen and ultimately your winning routed to another account.

Lottoland is licensed with the National Supervisory Bodies For Lotteries in several countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, Ireland and Australia—where it is called a wagering license. Typically, most gaming companies don’t establish insurance companies as it entails that their activities have to be transparent and the must be highly reputable in the industry.

Nonetheless, Lottoland has no issues meeting up to these standards as they have established themselves as the only gaming sector company who has its own insurance company—an added advantage for new and existing users.

Lotteries aren’t the only games Canadians enjoy playing and Lottoland recognizes this by providing players with other types of gaming. As an industry leader, video designers of online games often make them their first choice when it comes to publishing their works.

Online games such as slots, blackjack, video poker, baccarat, keno, scratchoffs, roulette and many others are always on offer at the Lottoland Casino. There’s also the option of playing with a live dealer and a total of over 100 games.

Lottoland has received numerous rave reviews from its growing list of satisfied customer and their responsive customer service agents are always available to answer any questions users may have, along with solving challenges they may have encountered.

More and more Canadians are trooping to Lottoland in droves due to the unique experience of going to a casino without having to leave the comfort of their homes.

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