10 Things You Should Know Before Going to Rwanda

Photo by Josefa Ovalle
Photo by Josefa Ovalle

1. Bring your camera

Known as the “land of a thousand hills,” Rwanda is filled with absolutely stunning mountainous landscape that includes the volcanic Virunga range in the northwest sector – home to what is estimated to be a third of the world’s remaining 750 mountain gorillas, which you can visit and meet for yourself if you are interested in making the short hike up to their nesting pods.

2. It’s probably safer than the city you currently live in

Throwout all stereotypes you currently hold regarding Africa. The crime rate in Kigali (the capital city of Rwanda) is one of the lowest of all in the world and you will feel surprisingly safe walking around the city — even as a woman completely alone in the middle night.

3. Don’t make any plans for the last Saturday of the month

In Rwanda, there is a mandatory community service day from 8:00am to 11:00am on the last Saturday of every month called Umuganda. The word Umuganda can be translated as “coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome.” By law, all able-bodied people above the age of 18 and below 65 are expected to participate in volunteer community work. The Government of Rwanda drew on aspects of Rwandan culture and traditional practices to enrich and adapt its development programs to the country’s needs and context as part of efforts to reconstruct Rwanda and nurture a shared national identity.

Today close to 80% of Rwandans take part in monthly community work. Successful projects include the building of schools, medical centres and hydro electric plants as well as rehabilitating wetlands and creating highly productive agricultural plots. The value of Umuganda to the country’s development since 2007 has been estimated at more than US $60 million.

4. NEVER take anti-malaria medicine on a empty stomach

Just trust me on this one.

5. Leave the plastic bags at home

Single-use plastic bags are illegal in the entire country and will be confiscated upon arrival. Due to this effective ban and other factors, Rwanda was ranked #3 of the greenest destinations of the world in 2015 and you can clearly understand why when you arrive in Kigali – it is astonishingly clean by any standards.

6. You’ll hear the word “muzungu” a million times Every day

If your skin is not black, you are a “muzungu” and shall be referred to as such by almost every child you see. Eventually, you’ll probably join them and start calling every other Caucasian you see a “muzungu” as well.

7. Rwandans are incredibly warm and welcoming people

If you’re lucky enough, you’ll get to experience the traditional song and dance Rwandans joyously perform to welcome visitors. And, if you get lost and ask for directions, get ready to have at least 5 random people try to help you find where you’re trying to go — although they’ll probably all send you in different directions, their intentions are well-meant.

8. Taxis are FOR TOURISTS

The best method of transportation are boda moto taxis — by far the most efficient, affordable, and fun way to get around Kigali.

9. Rwandans love their president

As Fred Mufulukye states, “Rwandans recognize President Kagame as their source of security, comfort and the father of Rwanda.” Following the trauma of the genocide, President Kagame has efficiently and quickly pushed the country forward in an admirable fashion that puts most developed nations’ elected leaders to shame. Not to mention, he is said to be the most punctual man in Rwanda as well as a president who leads by example – if he walks past a piece of trash on the street, he picks it up and throws it away himself.

10. Love means forgiveness

If you know anything about Rwanda’s history, you will understand the importance Rwandans place on forgiveness. Love and forgiveness have been two of the main driving forces behind the country’s astounding progress and development following the tragic events that occurred in 1994. Both sides of the conflict have learned how to ask for forgiveness as well as forgive their aggressors, now work alongside each other in rebuilding their communities, and have even fallen in love and started families together. Such an inspirational story of reconciliation and reunification is remarkable to learn from and witness firsthand.

Photos by Josefa Ovalle
Photos by Josefa Ovalle

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