Covering 23 km², Nkombo is the biggest island I have ever visited in Rwanda. It is home to 1,800 natives who speak a dialect mainland Rwandans barely understand. The island is located in Rusizi District, Western Province.
I sailed to Nkombo without planning any activities. I didn’t even know what the island has to offer.
Upon arrival, I started strolling along the streets and felt the heartbeat of the local community. I walked from the dock towards the interior of the island without a slight clue of my destination. As I did so, Nkombo people stared at me like I was a strange creature from Mars.
As I wandered up and down the streets of Nkombo, I tried to blend in but failed miserably. Some kids called me Muzungu. I must be the blackest Muzungu ever created.
Nkombo dwellers are laid-back. They are never in a hurry. Scenes of idle young men hanging out and teenage girls as young as fifteen breastfeeding their own babies are common across the island. In the barbershops, radios are tuned to stations broadcasting from the South Kivu Province of DR Congo in a mixture of Swahili and French.
When I saw the premises of Nkombo Sector, I walked in and spoke to one public official who recommended a visit to Gisunyu forest. Following the directions he gave me, I proceeded to the forest on foot. As I made one step after another, islanders kept staring at me like I was an alien from another planet.
On my way back to the dock, I dropped by the workshop run by a cooperative known as Agaseke k’Amahoro. A group of women were weaving their way out of poverty. After a brief interaction with them, I bought a souvenir and kept walking.
My next stop was a small kiosk a couple of houses away. I tried to buy drinking water but the only beverages available were alcoholic ones. The owner of the kiosk had been serving beers, wines and spirits to his esteemed customers for many years. None of them had ever attempted to buy water. Unlike aliens from Mars, the inhabitants of Nkombo spend their money on real drinks.
Nkombo is surrounded by a number of relatively smaller islands. The virtual boundary line separating Rwanda and DR Congo is only a few kilometers from the shore. The view of Bukavu, the capital of the South Kivu Province, is quite clear. The city is expanding rapidly but urban planning is evidently unheard of over there.