By Joseph Oindo
Rwanda is a small country in central Africa teeming with numerous rolling hills. Having shrugged off its atrocious past to become a model of modern development, the country now boasts imposing and attractive new buildings that dot Kigali. With the capital city’s new skyline, the picturesque countryside and great weather, a trip to Rwanda will leave you with a memorable experience you’ll cherish for the rest of your life. Here are the things to do and what not to do while in Rwanda:
DO visit memorial sites: The memorial sites are to be found in Kigali and other satellite towns all over Rwanda. They act as a somber reminder of the atrocious 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. For example, a visit to Kigali Genocide Memorial in Gisozi, a final resting place for more than 250,000 genocide victims, should be on your A list of what to do while in Rwanda.
DON’T ask whether one is a Tutsi or Hutu: Ethnic identity is a no no. But when you unwittingly ask, you’ll be met with a blank stare or “I’m a Rwandan” retort. Ethnic identity was banished together with the ghost of the genocide.
DO visit the country’s enthralling attractions: Take time and wheel to the countryside. Not really countryside, but there are many remarkable attractions that will leave you mesmerized. Lake Kivu in Gisenyi, an extremely beautiful lake, is enclosed on all sides by huge vertically steep, green, terraced hills and it lies along the Congolese border. This picturesque water mass is a great relaxing region where tourists are safe to visit and swim. There are also different national parks that host a variety of animals ranging from chimpanzees to gorillas to countless species of birds. Why not visit Akagera and Nyungwe national parks for a feel of the wildlife?
DON’T come with polythene bags: Kigali prides itself with its clean streets. Polythene bags are victims of this cleanliness. It’s a punishable offence to come with one when visiting the country. It’s just safe for the environment. So, when you don’t want to pay a hefty fine, or, worse still, spend time being a guest of state…leave that polythene bag at home.
DO taste Rwanda’s rich traditional cuisine: People here like to eat not-too-spicy food. Basically, their cuisine is simply made with local ingredients. The Rwandan diet consists majorly of beans, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, fruit, and millet. A traditional breakfast consists of porridge and sweet potatoes (leave that appetite for tea and bread, please). Why not partake for a change Umutsima (a dish of corn and cassava), which is the heaviest meal for dinner, and isombe (cassava leaves with spinach and eggplant), or mizuzu (fried plantains)? Join Rwandan men for a traditional banana drink called Urwagwa.
DON’T drink and drive: Didn’t your mama warn you about the dangers of alcohol? Well, you can drink in Rwanda but woe unto you if you drink in Kigali only for your drink-addled head to cheat you that you can manage to drive your car safely home. Ok, do it, but don’t knock one of those attractive palm trees that dot Kigali streets. If you are lucky not to meet your maker, then you are going to meet the arm of the law that will slap you with a hefty fine of some Rwf1 million or so just for knocking down one tree.
DO learn the local language: Rwandans feel proud when a foreigner speaks their language. So, start by knowing such words as Muraho (how are you), Mwaramutse (good morning), Murakoze ( thank you), among others. It’s for your benefit. Otherwise, don’t think that all Rwandans will know your fancy English, French or Greek.
DON’T think anyone who scowls at you with a strange face is an enemy: Rwandans are friendly, and they like to stare at faces. Some of the stares border on scowl. But take it easy, he just wants to know you. On the other hand, don’t think all those who laugh with you are your friends.
DO be patient: This is a virtue you should inculcate here. Otherwise you will have a heart attack when that attractive waitress takes eternity with your order. Customer service here is, sadly speaking, still in its primeval stage.
DON’T fear walking at night: Kigali’s security is top notch, with ubiquitous security personnel patrolling every nook and cranny of the city. You can take a leisurely walk at Kigali’s highly illuminated roads at night, but beware: a walk in the darkness might produce some shadowy characters you’d not love to meet.