Cities are like people – you need to know how to tickle them the right way in order to get the most out of them. If you are visiting Kigali for the first time, there is no point wasting time figuring out the nooks and crannies of the city on your own: educate yourself with this short list of the essential tips and you should be good to go!
First of all, you need to know what the meaning of ‘muzungu’ is, as you will mostly hear it here and there. People will say ‘muzungu’ after you to point out – in case you were unsure – that you in fact are white, and that your hair is straight and light. I guess a reminder once in a while isn’t too bad, and most of the time people mean no harm when calling you this, especially young children outside Kigali who, amazingly enough, still manage to be ecstatic every time a white person walks by.
No expat Rwanda is unfamiliar with the genocide, and many already know that April 7 is the national genocide Memorial Day. What you might not know, however, is that for the entire week of 07th April – 14th April, the country shuts down. Restaurants, bars and radio stations are not allowed to play music (apart from the traditional Rwandan mourning songs), and there is a general somber atmosphere throughout the country. There will be commemoration walks through Kigali, as well as several assemblies with speakers from the government. April is an interesting, but bitterly sad time to visit Rwanda, and though people living here for a longer period of time should part-take in at least one memorial event, this really is not a time for party-crazed tourists to visit.
On the last Saturday of each month, every Rwandan citizen is obliged to participate in a communal clean-up! If you want to participate, feel free to, if not, non-citizens aren’t really expected to. Though you might not want to take part, however, you do need to be aware that the roads, coffee shops, grocery stores, and other businesses are closed from 07 am until 11 am. To be honest, the only thing you can do is sleep in. Fridays before Umuganda are obviously extra crazy!
Don’t Litter, Don’t Walk on the Grass
Though you will see beautiful, lush, green grass all over Kigali, you aren’t welcome to sit or walk on it. It’s also prohibited to litter anywhere in the city; there are public dustbins placed in various locations for people to dispose their waste responsibly.
…is not really required in Rwanda but has become more and more normal as Kigali continues to experience rapid development. You should leave a little tip – from Rwf 1000 to Rwf 5,000. You don’t tip taxi- or moto drivers (unless they use a fare meter), as these don’t have set prices to start with, and whatever you haggle the price down to is what you end up paying. For hotels, you could leave some tip in an envelope for the cleaning staff.
Perhaps the first thing you should do when you get in Rwanda is buy an MTN line and opt in for Mobile Money. Kigali is quickly transitioning into a cashless city, and MTN Mobile Money, commonly known as MOMO, is used by everyone to quickly transact money. All restaurants, hotels, hospitals, supermarkets, and many shops have a code you pay through at no cost to you. You don’t really need to walk around with cash.