Kigali, Rwanda Report of what it's like to live there - 01/23/10

Personal Experiences from Kigali, Rwanda

Kigali, Rwanda 01/23/10

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, also Beijing China 2005-2007 and Shekou China 1994

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

West Coast, 36 Hours. Most flights come through Brussels.

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3. How long have you lived here?

August 2007-June 2010

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S. State Department

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Everything is about 15 miutes from everywhere else. Traffic is near non-existant. Expat housing ranges from very large to condos.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

There is a lot of fresh produce, however as Rwanda is a landlocked country most imported things are expensive and American brands are scarce. Dairy and chicken are also very expensive. Unless you are willing to pasteurize your own milk long life is the only milk available. I think the long life milk is good.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Basically most food you like you can't get here, so pack it. Anything liquid or glass can't come through the pouch. We’d also bring a ton more books, movies and video games, there isn’t a movie theater here, or too much to do once you've done what little that is here. Also canned chicken The chicken here is tough and tastes... okay.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

There is no fast food restaurants or restaurants that serve food fast. However decent restaurants are availble. There are multiple pizza parlours, Chinese, Indian, African, a nice coffee shop (Bourbon), also Heaven which is a restaurant with a nice atmosphere and serves "international fusion cuisine". They are also strongly involved with community projects. Meals range in cost from 3 bucks (african and the like) to 20 dollars. Most meals tend to be at the more expensive end.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

There are some mosquitoes during the rainy seasons, but as long as you sleep with a net it's fine. They only come out at night and they don't carry malaria.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Rwanda has no APO, we use the pouch.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Domestic Help is available. In fact, if you can hire help and you don't it is considered very rude and selfish. We have a maid, gardener and guard. A maid costs around $160/month at 5 days a week 8 hours a day for a gardener it's around $120. The price of guards vary.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes, at hotel Serena, Laico Umubano Hotel (Previously called the Novotel), and also at the local sport clubs Nyarutarama and Cercle Sportif.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

There aren't any, unless you use a Rwandan bank.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Catholic, Protestant, LDS (Mormon)

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Yes, both are available in English. I do not know the cost, we use AFN.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

None really. President Kagame is moving Rwanda away from French and to English. However market shopping is better if you speak the language, and of course it is always good for relations if you know friendly greetings and the like. Rwandans respect expats who can speak even a little of their language.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

There are no wheelchair ramps and very few elevators while there are very many stairs. It could be a difficult city to live in.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

There are no local trains. Taxis are safe, and both metered and bargained priced taxis are available. There are motorcycle taxis, which are reasonable safe, but the U.S. embassy does not advise people to use them. There is a local bus (van, more like it) system, the buses are very old though, and the drivers questionable. The U.S. Embassy has also spoken out against them due to safety. International bus travel is also available.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

The best car to bring is come sort of SUV. Although most main roads are now paved or cobbled secondary roads are still dirt and driving on them can be quiet and experience. The rainy season does a number on them. Toyota is the most common car and so parts are more readily accessible as is repair. It is not allowed to import right hand drive cars (British style). In early 2006 there was a carjacking, it was quickly addressed, and since then there have been no carjackings.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, some days are better than others, but it's much better since we first got here. It costs aroud $140 a month.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Cell phones are reliable and readily available. There are three phone companies, MTN and Tigo are pay as you go and Rwandatell offers packages. I am very happy with my MTN phone.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

There's Alphonse the one armed vet. I don't know how he does it, but he does a good job. And knows all the information you need to export animals. There are no kennels.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Not really, unless you speak Kinyarwanda.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Smart casual, professional Rwandans dress quiet well. Slacks and button down shirts. If you are a woman in public be sure to cover up your thighs. The men here will go gaga for them.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Petty theft. Be sure to use common sense as you would in any city. As long as you don't give anyone the opportunity to rob you, you will be fine.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Health Concerns? After three years we aren't sure what we have. But we are a lot more tired and worn out than when we arrived. Oh and stay out of the fresh water lakes, they carry Schistomiasis. At least Malaria isn't much of a concern. Don't drink the tap water, of course.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Good, there is some garbage burning but not often and not much and the rain takes care of anything that gets too bad.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Paradisiacal. Not to hot, not to cold, not humid, not dry. Just wonderful. There are two rainy seasons, one in the spring and one in the fall. But the season isn’t a nonstop rain more like an hour or so daily.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

The two American Curriculum Schools are International School of Kigali and Kigali International Community School. ISK is fairly new but is growing and working on becoming a part of the greater international school community. www.isk-rwanda.org. KICS is a Christian School, that targets Rwandan and missionary families. www.kicsrw.org . Green Hills Academy is a British Curriculum school. There is also Ecole Belge which is a French speaking school following Belgian Curriculum. We chose to pull our children out of KICS after two years because they were not actively pursuing accreditation and because of their required religion classes. We are happy with ISK, a secular private school, and are happy to see ISK strive towards accreditation and quality education. However, we know people who are happily enrolled in KICS.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

There are not any accomadations, or special needs kids, at this time.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

ISK, KICS and Greenhills offer Preschool at age three.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes: Soccer, Tae Kwon Do, tennis, also ballet which is a new development.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

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2. Morale among expats:

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Our family has enjoyed our posting here, lately the dynamics of the expat community have changed, leaving less youth and more young families, couples and singles. There is very little night life, but it can be found.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Recently the government attempted to outlaw homosexuality, in the end it fell through. Nonetheless homosexuality is not readily accepted amongst the local population. A very common sight is men holding hands. However, they are not gay. It's just a culture thing. You can even see policemen who are holding a gun with one hand and another man's hand in the other. They're friends, that’s all. Women do it, too. What’s rare is to see men and women holding hands.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Rwanda is actively working to overcome its racial prejudices from the nineties.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Getting to know the Rwandan people has been wonderful, as they are open and welcoming. Travel is our love and Rwanda's location offers a good base to do this from. The Gorillas were amazing; we were able to get so close. Rafting the Nile is just 10 hours away and it is fantastic.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Interesting:Butare's National Museum and Kigali's Genocide Memorial. Fun: Lake Kivu, with beautiful Kibuye and Gisenyi town. Also many other small road trips throughout the country. Akagera is a small game park in the east of Rwanda and is a good starter park. You can camp or stay in a hotel there. Nyungwe forest is an often over looked park here in Rwanda. It is full of monkeys, hiking and a general rainforest habitat. Oh and of course Gorilla Trekking.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

See above. There is also some jewelry, woven peace baskets, masks, and various fabric crafts. It is also possible to get limited quality tailored clothes.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Amazing Weather, on average its 62F-82F year round. Very Clean, much cleaner than any other African nation we have visited, also much safer. There is Gorilla Trekking in the North and chimpanzee trekking in the South. Rwanda is located near many other great safari countries, but only has a small park itself. We save a lot of money here due to the fact that there's nothing to buy. The people are very welcoming and friendly, be sure to wave.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, because there is nothing to buy after you have bought your banana leaf crafts, carvings and placemates.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, perhaps a shorter tour though. Two years, not three.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Coats, preconceived ideas from of Rwanda, your bike (remember this IS the land of 1000 hills).

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3. But don't forget your:

Patience, Sense of Humor, Movies, Books - especially the guide book, Maps, Sense of Adventure, and soft toilet paper. The stuff they sell here is like newspaper!

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Brandt Rwanda guide book, Land of a Thousand hills, A Small Pebble in a Big Pond.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Sometimes in April, Shake hands with the devil, NOT Hotel Rwanda.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

We love Rwanda and the people. This is mosly the warnings, don't let them scare you off. It is a great experience.

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