20 Reasons You Should Live in Rwanda
After living in Kigali, Rwanda for the past two and a half years, I can’t speak highly enough about the place. The lively culture, the friendly and innovative people, the delicious food… it’s pure paradise, and there’s no end to the adventures, opportunities, and passionfruit juice you’ll encounter. I could ramble for hours on the topic, but I’ve decided to compile my top reasons to live in Kigali to hopefully convince others to move to the land of a thousand hills (if you have any, feel free to add them in the comments below!):
1. We play polo – with motorcycles. Without any horses around, we make do. Which means organizing weekend polo matches with required fancy dress (British speak for “costume”) atop your trusty metal and gasoline-powered steed. The moto jousting halftime show was discontinued due to dislocated shoulders, but other than that, it’s just a few scratches here and there. So grab a bottle of cold Primus and join us on the field!
2. Whole Foods has nothing on Kimironko Market. Rwanda is essentially an organic food lover’s dream. All fruit and vegetables are organic, non-GMO, non-hormone, the whole shebang… simply because, it’s all local and natural! There’s nothing more satisfying than taking a Saturday morning trip to Kimironko market and buying the most delicious avocado, carrots, beets, and ginger that only $60 at Whole Foods could buy, and whipping up a frothy fruity cocktail. And if you’re a fellow carnivore, Germany Bakery at MTN Center always has organic ground beef, lamb sausages, and sirloin steaks for ridiculously cheap. Boom, roasted. As in, delicious roasted goat meat.
3. Your going away party is a camping trip alongside zebras and buffalo with a whole roasted pig for dinner. When one of my best girlfriends announced she was moving back to the US (she returned to Rwanda about six months later – I’m telling you, this place is hard to leave), we planned an epic camping trip in Akagera Park. We purchased a whole pig (already slaughtered, thank you very much), packed up our trucks, and drove a couple hours east from Kigali. That night we roasted pig for ten hours, sang around the campfire, and watched wildebeest and zebras roam next to our tents. The fact that this is even an option for a weekend activity is pretty breathtaking.
4. It’s sunny and 75 degrees every. Single. Day. Think of it as an endless summer. Without seasons to give us a sense of time, why do you think so many expats disappear to Rwanda for years on end? It’s like a dream you never want to wake up from.
5. Witness a revolution in women’s education. Rwanda is known for its emphasis on female leadership (it’s the only country to have a female majority in Parliament). Institutions like the Akilah Institute are making sure that legacy continues, by being the only all-female college in East Africa and paving the road for a future generation of female business leaders. Visit the campus for your daily dose of inspiration and to hire your next business manager. *Disclaimer: My sister Elizabeth founded Akilah, which is why it’s so badass.
6. Why goes clothes shopping when you can design your own clothes out of a beautiful fabric called kitenge, for about $15/dress? Find a tailor you love, design your dress, and voila, you have a one-of-a-kind masterpiece that screams East African chic. The Rwandan fashion industry is quickly growing, with jewelry and apparel by local designers to fill your wardrobe for the endless summer. Other creative inventions I’ve seen include rompers, bowties, and blazers.
7. Rwandan cuisine brings a whole lot of deliciousness to the table. Beyond your typical Rwandan meal of rice and beans, the goat meat brochettes (kebabs), matoke (grilled plantains), and isombe (steamed cassava leaves) are local delicacies you can get easily hooked on. If you love your fish, don’t worry, Lake Kivu and Tanganyika have plenty of tilapia and sambaza (fried sardines) to keep you satisfied. Just make sure you balance out all the carbs with plenty of veggies and goat meat.
8. Perceived “third world disadvantages” (no electricity, water, internet, cable) are, in fact, advantages. Without the everyday, run-of-the-mill weekend activities like movie theaters, malls, and theme parks to rely on, we get creative in Kigali. Pool parties, board games (Settlers of Catan has a huge Rwanda fanbase), bar crawls, you name it (see #1). The social scene is always full of fun and creative activities, making for a tightknit community that enjoys trying new adventures. One friend of mine decided to organize a marathon through the Nyungwe rainforest to celebrate his 30th birthday, which has become an annual event; this year around 90 people turned out for the adventure. Some of the park rangers got confused and tried intimidating us with their AK-47’s, but with seasoned war-zone videographers leading the pack, who is going to stop us?
9. Be front and center to observe one of the world’s most inspiring political leaders. Paul Kagame, as controversial as he may be, is undeniably an effective and determined visionary who has led his country from civil war to economic success in just twenty years. The international media is constantly infatuated with his government’s progress, and being on the ground in Kigali to witness it firsthand is truly inspiring. Whether it’s the country’s first bond issuance to raise development capital, their alleged involvement in Congo’s affairs, or the twentieth anniversary of the ’94 genocide, the international spotlight is permanently fixated on the tiny East African country, and you get to watch it front and center.
10. “Roadtrip!” to Tanzania, Burundi, Congo, or Uganda. As they say, Rwanda is small, but nice! This means it takes about eight hours to drive from one side to the other, making it easy to get to any of the four beautifully different surrounding countries. On any given Saturday, take a bus to the waterfalls in Tanzania, the rainforest in Burundi, the lakes in Uganda, or the volcanoes in Congo. Guerrilla warfare in Congo is optional. If you’re looking to go further afield, dream destinations like Zanzibar, Masai Mara, and Ngorogoro Crater are a short flight away!
11. You meet the coolest people from all over the world – and Rwandans ARE some of the coolest people in the world. If you live in Rwanda, you’re probably really cool, adventurous, innovative, reckless, inspiring, or a combination of the above. And you probably have an awesome story to go along with it. Rwandans and expats alike contribute to create one of the most entrepreneurial and inspiring environments I’ve ever experienced, and it’s amazing to be a part of it. Why wouldn’t you want to surround yourself with these people!?
12. Although it’s hard to break the surface at first, if you persevere, the professional opportunities are mind-blowing. For me personally, managing a team of twenty-five at the age of 24 was an amazing opportunity to learn and grow, and something I could never have done in the US. I have friends who moved here to become journalists with the Associated Press, run their own architecture consultancy, set up a creative co-working space… if you have the patience and determination to take your career to the next level here, it’s possible.
13. An explosive tech scene with promising ventures on the horizon. One of Kagame’s biggest economic incentives is to turn Rwanda into the tech and business hub of East Africa, and he’s well on his way to fulfilling this dream. Africa’s first comprehensive 4G is being rolled out across Rwanda in partnership with South Korean telecomms, the kLab tech incubator is producing some of EA’s most impressive techpreneurs, and Kigali-hosted conferences like Transform Africa are a testimony to it’s increasing prominence as one of the continent’s leading techies. If you’re a big tech nerd like me, this = paradise.
14. We have awesome yoga. Check out Yego Yoga Rwanda, which partners with studios in Butare and Musanze, and offers Zumba, pilates, and yoga classes at cool locations around Kigali. *Disclaimer, my friend Allie and I are co-founders of Yego Yoga… which makes it even more awesome.
15. Nothing planned for the weekend? Go hang out with wild gorillas. The crown jewel in Rwanda’s sparkling collection of tourist attractions, trekking the mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park is the experience of a lifetime. If you can’t afford the absurd permit price ($750 for foreigners, $375 for foreign residents, $45 for Rwandans), going up to Musanze and spending a weekend hiking in the mountains is inspiring enough. And, if you’re lucky, you may accidentally bump into a gorilla along the way!
16. You tryin’ to start something? Do it. And no, I don’t mean a riot or political revolution. As Rwanda continues to grow, it’s in that sweet spot where there’s a lot of demand and not a whole lot of supply. Not much yoga happening? Start a yoga company (see #14). No artistic community? Open an art gallery and workshops center. No online resource for things to do and see? Build a profitable website curating awesome reviews and articles. Entrepreneurialism is second nature to Rwandans, and it’s easy to get infected by this bug once you’re on the ground. So roll up your sleeves and dive in!
17. Who needs subways and buses? We take motorcycles to get around. If you don’t own one (which you might end up doing, since you don’t need any approval to drive it off the lot), hopping on a motorcycle is as easy as flagging one down and haggling in Kinyarwanda. As long as you learn the basics (“How much? Eh! No, it’s not too far. How about 200 francs? Ok, sawa, let’s go.”), you’re moto-ready. And who doesn’t like to start their daily commute off with an invigorating ride on the back of a Rwandan moto?
18. Lake Kivu. This should probably be reason #1 – check it out from Gisenyi (on the Congo border), at the halfway point in Kibuye, or down south in Cyangugu. It’s the most beautiful lake in the world, with islands to explore, hot springs to relax in, and stunning mountains dropping right to the water’s edge. Just don’t stick around for the impending methane explosion.
19. Everyday tasks are always an adventure. Grocery shopping becomes haggling in the markets, buying furniture becomes designing and ordering handmade pieces in the woodworking cooperative, and getting around becomes finding a reliable moto driver to take you to work every morning (see #17). Trust me, there is always a good story to tell after each of those activities. No more humdrum Sunday chores for you!
20. Even in the main city of Kigali, you can go ten minutes and be in the middle of a rural village and gorgeous hillscape. Which makes for some lovely weekday runs. Rwanda isn’t called the land of a thousand hills for nothing!
**Except for 5 (Akilah Institute), 9 (Google search, gotta love it), and 16 (Inema Arts), all photos taken by yours truly.