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Rwanda: 5 Surprising Things for First-Time Visitors

Dance Africa at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) is an annual event over Memorial Day weekend that celebrates traditional African dance with performances from companies in the US and always at least one group from abroad. This year's featured company was Inganzo Ngari from Rwanda, and their appearance was the most moving of my 20 years seeing Dance Africa. The group formed in 2006 to promote Rwandan folkloric dance among the country’s youth, and they brought us their incredible message of a national healing and reconciliation; and the country is now reaping the benefits of peace. Afterwards I met up with my BAM Artist Services friends just as the Rwandans insisted on a "flash mob" and paraded to the festival's crowded outdoor bazaar for the surprise extra performance seen above. I'm moved like never before to visit beautiful, peaceful Rwanda....

Article excerpt below by Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott was posted on 3 July 2015 to G Adventures Blog.

Travelling in countries that have known turmoil teaches us destinations, people, and cultures are not static. They change, grow and reinvent themselves in the face of – and often in response to – atrocity. Rwanda is one of those places; one that took an opportunity to re-imagine itself. Here are a just a few of the things about Rwanda that may surprise you.

The annual naming ceremony for newborn gorillas

Most travelers who visit Rwanda intend to see the mountain gorillas that live wild in Volcanoes National Park. This is one of the few conservation success stories in the world where it is believed that endangered animal populations have increased due to government efforts. Since 2003, the population of mountain gorillas has increased over 26% despite the continued challenges of poaching and civil conflict in the region. Each year, Rwanda celebrates its baby gorillas by having an official naming ceremony, referred to as kwita izina, in which locals and international guests are chosen to give names to all the gorillas born in the previous year. The ceremony has its roots in a traditional Rwandan baby-naming practice for humans, but this new tradition has been adapted so as to honor these animals and demonstrate nationwide support for and attention to the country’s conservation efforts.

First country to ban plastic bags

While it’s not uncommon for border guards to rifle through bags as you enter a country in search of things like alcohol, drugs, and banned fruits and vegetables, Rwandan officials instead focus their hunt on plastic bags. Rwanda was the first country in the world to ban plastic bags. They did so in 2006, and you see the impact as you travel around the country. The countryside and cities are remarkably and refreshingly trash- and plastic bag-free.

Rwanda’s monthly community volunteer days

Each month, all Rwandans are called upon for a day of mandatory community service, referred to as umaganda, meaning “contribution” in Kinyarwanda. This monthly day of service brings people together to contribute to public projects like school renovations, street cleaning, public-home building, and other feats of community participation and creation. In fact, Rwandan citizens who don’t show up for umaganda can expect a fine. In addition to contributing to cleanliness and order, these days of community service are meant to bring people from all socioeconomic groups together to work on community projects. The aim: to know and to feel a connection to your neighbors and to your government officials.

Rwanda: The Switzerland of Africa?

Rwandan life moves at a slower, more deliberate pace. Not only are there rules, but those rules appear to be followed, respected, and enforced. Even all the Rwandan motorbike taxi drivers carry two helmets – one for the driver, another for the passenger. Today, order and organization have become defining characteristics of the country’s identity in the 21st century.

National language: French to English overnight

The language most Rwandans used to speak to one another is called Kinyarwanda. As a former Belgian colony, Rwanda was also a francophone (French-speaking) country. English was later added as a third official language in the 1990s, but French remained the language of education, in classes and at school. Until 2008, that is. Overnight, the government declared English the country’s official language in schools. Why the switch? Rwanda is surrounded by English-speaking neighbors. Sharing a spoken language helps to promote trade and exchange, both within Africa and across the world. The country is also trying to position itself as a technology and IT powerhouse, a competitive landscape in which English is arguably dominant. 

Getting There: I can arrange a trip for you with G Adventures because they run a number of departures in Rwanda encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. G Adventures partners with National Geographic and also supports the Nyamirambo Women’s Center in Kigali, Rwanda. 

Call me when you’re ready to discover the unique culture of peaceful Rwanda!


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