Kigali, Rwanda Report of what it's like to live there - 04/02/12

Personal Experiences from Kigali, Rwanda

Kigali, Rwanda 04/02/12

Background:

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

No - Middle East, Africa, South America

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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?

Washington, D.C. - 20hours with a layover in Europe (Brussels or Amsterdam).

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Mostly single family homes, some apartments and a few duplexes where you'll share a wall with your neighbor. Housing size is usually oversized and many end up in housing way to big for their position - many times it is all about timing. The Embassy is centrally located to all the housing neighborhoods - commute time is anywhere from 5 minutes (in the Embassy's neighborhood) to 20 minutes in the outer neighborhoods.

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

Groceries are available but pricey. Items are grown and made here, but many are also imported from Uganda, Kenya, UAE, South Africa, Belgium.

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

I've been around, so I know: anything liquid, put in your consumables. But for everyone else, must haves are: coolers, camping equipment, booze and wine (expensive!), ragu, salad dressing, mustard, vanilla extract.

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

There are quite a few restaurants here - Italian, BBQ, Chinese, Indian, Japanese. The cost is comparable to a mid-priced restaurant in the U.S.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

There is no "Trader Joes" here and finding those products can be difficult. Most people bring specialty items in their consumable shipment.

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

During the rainy season, mosquitoes. And they 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?

The Embassy has its own mail facilities. DHL is available to use, but pricey.

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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 readily available, but quality varies so greatly you may end up hiring and firing a number of times before finding "the one." Don't be surprised if you are asked for loans over and over, the laundry detergent disappears and items break on their own in place with no explaination. Also, you will lose clothes to bleach stains, iron burns and rips. Good luck!

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

Yes. The Embassy has a small gym for employees. There are a number of hotels with gyms that can be used for a fee.

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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?

Use credit cards only at the major hotels, and even then, I would still use cash. ATMs are available only if you have an account with a local bank.

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

There are a number of religions practiced here - Catholic, Jehovah's Witness, Islam.

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

Most Embassy employees have AFN.We have to pay for the decoder box, but the Embassy provides the satellite.

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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?

You'll do fine with only English, be at an advantage with some French and be an amusement with Kinyarwanda.

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

This would be a difficult city with people with physical disabilities. Sidewalks are not guaranteed. Many roads are unpaved and are a mess when it rains. Drivers are inconsiderate and do not stop for cross walks.

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Transportation:

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

There are strict restrictions on riding many of the public transportation options, particularly the mopeds. They are a real hazard on the road with no regard to their own safety, their passengers or anyone else.

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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?

S-U-V.Some housing neighborhoods are on dirt roads and are a mess when it rains. You also need a car with some power - you'll need it when overtaking slow moving trucks on the hills.

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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?

High speed! What a joke."Fast" is relative to the neighborhood you live in and what internet provider services that area. For example, in Kagugu, where only Altech is available, 512K will cost you $130 a month. When up, one can Skype and download a Kindle book pretty good. When down, which is often... well, what can you do?

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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?

Get a cell phone. Pre-paid minutes are cheap and this is very much a text messaging country.

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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, but make sure you have all your ducks in a row. Chips, rabies shots, cargo vs. baggage. Make sure you have all your paperwork with you.

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

There are a few vets available, and care is "okay."

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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?

Depends on your qualifications. The Embassy offers employment to family members, but it is all about arrival time. Outside of the Embassy, if you don't have the qualifications to work at one of the NGOs or the schools, you won't be working.

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

Business casual.

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Health & Safety:

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

Just bring your street smarts and you'll be fine. Make sure all your car doors are locked before walking off. Hitting the button on your remote lock isn't good enought.

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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?

Malaria is present, but I know of many people who do not take the meds. There are a few dentists who are decent for basic care. Other than that, outside of our Health Unit... good luck. There are frequent medevacs to South Africa.

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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?

The air quality is good.

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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?

The weather is always in the 80s. The dry season is during the summer. The rains come and go, sometimes with severe thunder and lightning storms you can see approaching from a distance. Other days are dreary and overcast, but for the most part, beautiful.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are quite a few schools available, however most children attend the same schools.

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

None.

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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?

There are a number of preschools both in English and French, some half day and some for the full day. They are okay - good enough for socializing the little ones with other children.

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

Through the schools and there is a private swim instructor that some of the Embassy parents use.

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Expat Life:

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

Relatively large. There are a number of other diplomatic missions, as well as USAID implementing partners. Quite a few young adults involved in their NGO projects.

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2. Morale among expats:

Depends on who you talk to. It varies in the American Embassy community, but I would say low to medium. The sadness and PTSD from the Genocide lingers even now - 18 years later. You often here the Rwandans blame the internatinal community for not intervening. It is exhausting. At work, the hours are surprisingly long, certain employees make the work life difficult, and working with the government can be tedious, at best. As one colleague put it best, "this place sucks the soul out of you."

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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?

There is a lot of entertaining in homes and people frequently go out to restaurants. There is also a bowling alley.

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

This is a very, very boring city. There are no parks for families, no movie theaters.

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

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

The Genocide was 18 years ago and the Government of Rwanda makes a real effort to promote"Rwandans" versus the Hutus or Tutsis. If you are white, you will be stared at, made fun of in Kinyarwanda and people are generally standoffish and can be very rude. They do not care for muzungus and they let you know it.

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

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

There is not much to do here.

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

Macy's baskets, jewelry, paintings, fabric, bags. You'll buy this in the first 4 months you are here, and then will be done.

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

The weather is always in the 80s.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes and No, but you can't go anywhere. Gas is EXPENSIVE.Gorillas are expensive. Zanzibar and Safaris are expensive.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

No, no, and no. This is the most boring Post I've been to, and the perpetual sadness is depressing. Add no beach and you can't get in the lakes due to bilharzia...

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

Expectations... yes, it is very clean here, but it is a surface clean. You are still in Africa.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen, bug spray and DVDs. Anything with a lithium battery (can't send these through the dip pouch).

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

The Bishop of Rwanda

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Hotel Rwanda

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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