Rwanda, the light of hope in Africa
Unfortunately, we did not have a chance to visit Africa so far. But it does not mean that we do not dream, we do not make plans, we do not read about places and news of this huge continent. However, no matter how much you read, how nice it is, when you have a friend to tell you a story from there?
Accidentally, in a travel group, I discovered Kelly, a former military nurse from Greece who has been living in Rwanda for the last 10 months. I could not hold back and stunned her with questions. After all, what do we know about life in Rwanda?
The issue of Africa is complicated, because most of us forget that it is a huge continent. We are talking about 54 countries, different in every way, starting with the geographical conditions and ending with the various political and economic data. Unfortunately, the information that reaches us is only about wars, poverty, and diseases, as if this is the absolute reality for all places of Africa. Clearly, all of the above exist and hurt, but there are also so many beautiful things that we, in the “developed world”, could envy.
Rwanda is a shining success in Africa that our channels and magazines will not shout about. A country that, just 27 years ago, passed through a horrific genocide with about 1 million victims. As a result, a refugee crisis ensued, with another 2 million civilians fleeing the slaughter. And yet, today, we can say that the Rwandans stood on their own feet and built everything from scratch.
Growth rates (on average 8% GDP 2008-2018) show that Rwanda aspires to get a Middle Income Country status by 2035. According to the World Bank statistics, poverty fell from 77% in 2001 to 55% in 2017, while life expectancy at birth improved from 29 years (!) in the mid-1990s to 69 in 2019. Before the coronavirus, the country’s airport was full of tourists from all over the world, who were coming to see the famous mountain gorillas of and visit the national parks, as well as the beautiful and cleanest capital of the continent, Kigali.
Looking for opportunities in Rwanda
All these numbers are fine, but if you do not see people’s life with your own eyes, can you be convinced? Unfortunately, it is impossible to travel at this time (although we put this country in our program) and we thought to see Rwanda through the eyes of Kelly. And, of course, our first question was how she got there.
“Before moving to Rwanda as a family, we had lived in Munich, Germany, for 4 years. The most difficult decision is to leave your country for the first time. Leaving Greece, my friends and family behind for the unknown, was tough. Since you have done it once, seen it, broke the bonds, and survived, it is easier to do it again.
We made the decision to leave Germany because we were tired of the rhythms and the weather there and we wanted to create something of our own. Rwanda is a fast-growing country, it is a growing virgin market and the business opportunities are great. So we wanted to dare, to start something on our own, but also to see what it is like to live in an African country, in a different culture.
I had never been to Rwanda before, but my husband had. I did my research for the country via the internet, I had talked to people who live here, I knew it was very safe, with a very good quality of life and so I came with a very positive attitude.”
A few words about Kigali
Kelly lives in the country’s capital, Kigali, a city of about 1.3 million people.
“I fell in love with Kigali at first sight! It is a very charming and lively city. Full of colors, smells, music, dance, colorful fabrics. To feel the city you have to walk a lot, feel its energy, buy fruits from the local markets, get lost in the neighborhoods, talk to the locals. I did not find it difficult to adapt here, paradoxically. I found their culture close enough to ours. They are warm, kind people.”
Many people here, in addition to their official language which is Kinyarwanda, also speak English. Many also speak French or Swahili. Rwandans are generally multilingual, since it is a country in the middle of Africa with many linguistic influences.
Seeing the pictures from the daily life of Kelly, I saw a country completely different from what I had in mind. She says that the positive facts almost never reach our ears in Greece. That was the first and foremost reason she started sharing pictures of her life in Rwanda via Instagram.
I wanted to show to the world how beautiful it is here. I wanted to communicate how much I loved this country.
Life in Rwanda
“What I love most about Kigali, and Rwanda in general, is an easy question but with a long answer. There are so many things I love. I like how green and clean the country is. They pay a lot of attention to cleanliness, you do not see rubbish or cigarette butts down. Plastic bags have been banned in the country since 2008. Every last Saturday of the month, all the residents are out on the streets and collectively clean their neighborhoods, something they call Umuganda.
I love the weather, I consider it ideal. It is never too hot or too cold. It has days with dew and rain that you may need a cardigan and a hot coffee. It has lots of hot summer days when you need a hat and sunscreen. The evenings are always cool, you need a blanket for sleeping or a sweatshirt for the terrace. In general, the temperature never exceeds 28 degrees and never falls below 16. It reminds me of September in Greece. An eternal, cool summer.
I love the sense of security I feel when I walk on the streets. To get to know the city I walk many kilometers, day and night, observing and photographing. No one ever bothers me, there is no harassment of women. I feel very welcome, they always greet me with a smile. Locals talk to me in English or in their own language, sometimes the elderly people pass me by and greet me with a nod or a hand on their heart. I find it very moving.
I love fruits and vegetables. Tropical fruits are cheap and in abundance. Everything is organic, unprocessed, directly for sale from their gardens. I have eaten fruits here that I did not know existed. I have eaten wild mushrooms that have just been cut from the forest. I have eaten wild and raw jungle honey.
I love colors. Colors, colors, colors everywhere. The neighborhoods, their clothes, their shoes, their houses, their graffiti, their flower pots, their furniture, their bus stops, their little shops. Everything is colorful.”
Problems lead to changes
I am not wearing pink glasses and I do not forget that Rwanda is still a country with many issues and a tragic past. A country that is developing among very poor neighbors, with ongoing hostilities, weak economies, and many other problems. There is a large part of the population living below the poverty line, and there is huge economic inequality. Kelly says the economy, wages, and lifestyle are of two parallel speeds. But she believes that year after year there is a great improvement.
Here I would like to highlight the enviable situation regarding gender equality in Rwanda. On the one hand, it is logical that after the tragedy of the genocide, women (up to 80 percent of Rwanda’s surviving population) stepped in to fill the leadership gap. As a result, lawmakers have introduced some of the most women-friendly policies in the world. On the other hand, the years pass by, but women continue to work, govern and fight for a better future. When I asked Kelly about it, she told me that in the last election women outnumbered 63% of the parliament.
I have been touched by many other government initiatives, related to the environment, the development of primary education, and the protection of endangered species. You can read many interesting things at National Geographic.
One last thing
I would like to finish this article with a short travel excerpt from our conversations with Kelly and accompany it with many colorful pictures.
“Outside of Kigali, nature is really enchanting. If Kigali is colorful, the countryside is green. Rwanda is the land of 1000 hills they say, and it is not an exaggeration. Infinite hills and green mountains everywhere, and wherever you go there is always a stunning view.
When I travel to the countryside I always anticipate the route itself. I do not get enough of this nature. Green, rivers, lakes. It reminds me a bit of the countryside of Austria or Switzerland, but with a lot of banana trees in the background.
My favorite place in Rwanda, apart from Kigali, is Lake Kivu. The largest lake on the border of Rwanda and Congo. Endless blue among the endless green. One of the most beautiful and powerful experiences was boating on this lake. In the afternoon, fishermen go fishing with their traditional boats and you hear them singing Rwandan songs until nightfall.”
What I love about Rwanda is the vibe of the place, the energy. It is unlike any other place I have visited so far. “Africa grows on you” they say, and it is absolutely right.
Travel, digitally or physically, and discover how stereotypes exist to be broken. Rwanda is a miniature of the future that could exist in Africa. A bright, enviable, and colorful future. Sure, there are still many difficulties ahead, until the other countries get there, but there is hope.
At the same time, it is a lesson for us. Every crisis, big or small, personal or on the level of a country, is an opportunity for change as long as we dare, take the first step, and patiently move towards our goal.
P.S. Kelly tries herself in a new profession and currently works as a travel planner. She is ready to help anyone who wants to travel to Rwanda and plan a dream route, or even a business trip.
* All photos by Kelly.
Read the previous article in the category “People of the world” here.