Have you just arrived in Kigali? Don’t know a single person here and want to make some friends? Or maybe, like me, you’ve been in Phase 8 for so long that all of your friends have forgotten you’re still in the city and you need to re-engage with the Kigali community? Well, you’re in luck! I present to you a giant list of things that you can do that other people will also be doing… and then you talk and interact and laugh and maybe, just maybe, you’ll have found yourself some friends!
Share a House
Housemates are a great way to get an instant ‘in’ with new people. Assuming, of course, that your new housemates are sociable people who like you and want to include you in their Kigali social circle. Most of the people I know in Kigali are pretty close with their housemates and hang out with them, go on trips together, throw parties and all of that fun stuff. So if that sounds good to you, take your time when finding a house and make sure you get along well with your potential new housemates. Don’t rush these things. Moving into my house is how I met ‘Meryl’ – a very elusive but awesome breed of muzungu. If you’re lucky, you too will meet a Meryl of your own here in Kigali. Collect them all!
Find an Event
There are all kinds of random things happening in Kigali and I try to keep track of them on my events calendar. Just pick something that interests you and go! You’ll have to be a bit social in order to reach out to strangers, but people are nice and if you pick an event you’re interested in, you’ll have something in common to chat about.
- Ishyo Arts / Goethe-Institute Events – I’m not sure if the Goethe and the Ishyo people are in cahoots, or what, but between the two of them they host some really fantastic events at the Arts Centre in Kacyiru and around the city. Tuesday night movies (usually with a German connection) are a regular thing and concerts, debates, dance performances and more are packed into each month’s schedule. To get on their mailing list, contact [email protected] or follow the Goethe and Ishyo Facebook pages. Find an event you’re interested in and get out there and talk to people.
- kLab – This co-working space for IT people holds a lot of interesting events usually related to IT entrepreneurship in Rwanda. It’s a very open and friendly environment and an easy place to start chatting to people, whether you’re an IT nerd or not. Check out the kLab events page to keep updated on what’s coming up or follow them on Facebook.
- The Office – This new co-working office space is quickly becoming a hub for cool events. They’re planning on hosting TED talks regularly and have also hosted entrepreneurship week events in the past. As the space is completed (it’s under construction at the moment) you’ll see more and more events popping up. The events are attended by a friendly, outgoing bunch of people and you’re bound to meet some interesting folks. To keep up to date on what’s coming up, follow their Facebook page.
Kigali has a bunch of options for sporty folks out there. Or if none of these things appeal, start your own thing! I know of people who’ve started up small running clubs just by reaching out to people on my forum. Or ask around for a tennis partner. Or start a yoga class or something if that’s your thing. Or tell people you’re from some obscure country, invent some ridiculous ‘national’ sport and see how many people you can get to look silly at once. You’re new, nobody knows you… have some fun with it!
- Hash House Harriers – This ‘drinking club with a running problem’ is known worldwide and Kigali has its very own chapter. It’s a notoriously social group of people and joining Hash is a very easy way to meet a lot of people at once in a fun and friendly environment. Not only will you find running and drinking buddies all at once, you’ll also get to explore some really beautiful areas of Kigali that you might otherwise never have found. Hash has a pretty good mix of Rwandans and foreigners. The Hash starts and ends in a different Kigali location each week (and sometimes they head out of town) but you can get all of the details from their Yahoo Group. This is one of the easiest ways to meet a lot of people quickly.
- Ultimate Frisbee – These guys get together three times a week to play Ultimate at Cercle Sportif. The group is a good mix of locals and foreigners. They hold a tournament in Kigali each February and they also organise road trips to tournaments in Uganda and beyond. To keep up with what they’re doing and when they’re playing, check their Facebook page.
- Volleyball at Mamba – Spending Sunday in the sun at Mamba Club in Kimihurura is a great day out regardless, but if you’re into volleyball and want to meet some new people then you’ll have to check it out. They have a beach volleyball court here and people congregate on Sundays at about 1pm to play. The level of play depends on who’s there but it’s a friendly bunch and open to new players. The Rwandan volleyball team (yes, there apparently is one…) hangs out here too.
- Football – There are a bunch of football clubs scattered around the city as well as more informal pickup games. I’m afraid the only group I have solid info on plays on Sundays out by Amahoro Stadium (check out their Facebook page for details) but there are also rumours of a game at Ecole Belge. Asking around a bit should lead to you finding a regular football game somewhere in town.
- Moto Polo – If you’re not yet crazy enough to play, moto polo still makes a nice social gathering. If you’re sociable and outgoing (and bring cold beer to share) it’s a good place to meet a lot of people.
- Watch Sports – If you’re after some man-bonding and are more into watching that playing then head to anywhere that has a TV for any Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal game. You’ll find sweaty, beer swilling, screaming men galore and you can talk about ‘your’ team and gesture wildly at the TV with the full support of a room full of dudes. If that doesn’t invite new friendships, I don’t know what does. If football’s not your thing (or if you prefer the American kind) then Sports Zone at Casino Kigali usually has a good variety of international events on their TVs (you can get the schedule on their Facebook page). Watch sports. Drink beer. Slap each other’s asses. Bond.
People in Kigali are pretty friendly and house parties are a fantastic way to meet lots of people at once. So if a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend’s friend is having a house party… go to it. You might want to replace the ‘what are you doing and how long have you been here’ question with something a bit more creative but people will still talk to you if you come at them with this. Work the room, shmooze, mingle, exchange business cards, make plans to meet up later. Try not to get so drunk that you forget meeting them, though. Not advisable. Trust me. If nobody is inviting you to their parties, throw one of your own! Don’t have anyone to invite? Just let me know and I’ll whack it onto my events calendar and you should have at least six people showing up. Maybe seven.
There are lots of great causes around the city that could use an extra pair of hands and working together with others towards a good cause is a great way to bond. Group hugs, pats on the back and all of that good stuff. I’ve got a whole list of volunteering opportunities in Kigali but here are just a few I wanted to highlight.
- Umuganda – Rwanda requires its citizens to do monthly community work and it’s possible to join in. I have no idea how to do this because I’m a horrible person who chooses to spend my umuganda Saturdays sleeping off hangovers. But ask around in your community and I’m sure someone will be able to point you in the right direction. Or just wander out on a Saturday morning with some work clothes and see if you can find somewhere to plug yourself in.
- eUmuganda – If you’d rather keep your pretty hands clean and you have an interest in techy stuff then kLab host eUmuganda each Umuganda Saturday at their space in Kacyiru. They’re currently focusing on mapping Kigali for Open Street Map which sounds like an interesting and worthwhile project. They post info about eUmuganda each month on their website.
- Solid Africa – Not only do these guys do some amazing work providing meals and support to patients in hospitals around Kigali, they’re also a social bunch. Fundraisers often include elaborate parties and nights out organised in cooperation with local bars and clubs.
A good teacher will probably have you interacting with your fellow students… a fine way to get chatting to new people as you attempt something new.
- Language Courses – Kigali isn’t really a mecca for taking language classes and the choices are pretty much limited to French, English, Kinyarwanda and Swahili (although I think a Spanish class used to also be on offer last year). I’ve taken a couple of courses through the French Cultural Institute (located at the roundabout just below UTC) and they’ll certainly get you speaking to new people… just maybe not in a language you fully understand.
- Workshops & Art Classes – City Arts in Kibagabaga are offering figure drawing classes at 7pm on Mondays and painting at 7pm on Wednesdays. They’re also offering workshops in things as varied as building an earthen oven to meditation to how to use your SLR camera. Learning and experimentation in an area that’s of common interest should make meeting people easy. Take a look at their website for upcoming workshops or follow them on Facebook.
- Dance – Salsa is strangely popular here in Kigali. Or at least, there are a lot of places offering classes. The newest addition is City Beach (located next to La Class which is next to Downtown Bar) in town every Saturday night. The Manor Hotel and Pasedena in Gikondo have also offered classes in the past and most likely still do. City Arts offer a few adult dance classes as well.
- Pottery – Cooperative Moderne de Poterie in Kacyiru offers a Saturday morning traditional pottery session that is pretty popular. Grab a hunk of clay, sit down on a banana leaf mat and make stuff while chatting to other wannabe potters.
If you came all the way to Rwanda to meet other muzungus then, you’re in luck! I know where they congregate…
- Quiz Night – I’m pretty sure quiz on Monday nights at Sol e Luna is the highest number of white people in an enclosed space in Rwanda. But it’s a good way to see who’s new to town, meet some new groups of people and maybe even win a pizza and drinks.
- Bagels at ABC – African Bagel Company do a doughnuts and bagels thing on Saturday mornings (except on umuganda) which attracts an interesting mix of families with screaming children and 20-somethings with hangovers. Go! Meet other families… or meet other hangovers. Either way, you can enjoy a doughnut in a nice setting.
Chances are you’re in Kigali because you already have a job… so I guess this piece of advice is sort of lame. But having a network of coworkers is a great way to meet people. It will probably lead to a lot of wedding invites, new baby visits, and parties where everyone sits around and drinks Fanta but if you’re new to town then you probably have a few of these events in you before they get old. If you’re one of the solo, office-less workers who find yourself wandering like a laptop-toting nomad from coffee shop to coffee shop, check out The Office for a great co-working environment with a nice group of people working on interesting things. Also keep your ears open for people doing similar things to you. People here love to have meetings and if there’s someone out there doing something remotely useful to you, or vice versa, you’ll probably end up meeting them at some point.
Just being generally friendly and approachable will probably lead to random encounters in all sorts of places. Kigali is one of the friendliest cities I’ve lived in. Most people I seem to meet – both locals and expats – are curious about what you’re up to here in town and if you’re a somewhat normal person (or even if you’re not… I’ve done ok for myself) you should find meeting people here pretty easy.