Shamem Ahmed

Shamem, Zally & Damur in Rwanda

Sham-Wanda: When Shamem Met Rwanda

I was asked if I wanted to accompany my best friend D’amur Kamuzinzi to Rwanda, the country of his birth and origin. We had discussed for a long time about going and unfortunately with due to family reasons he found himself having to go. When D’amur asked if I’d keep him company during his trip. I felt this was exactly what I needed – having not travelled much and feeling not that thrilled to going to tourist spots I jumped at this opportunity.

 

Rwanda – Where Is It?
Rwanda is a landlocked East African country surrounded by Tanzania, Uganda, DR Congo and Burundi. A former Belgian colony and in terms of economy a growing powerhouse. I won’t talk about this much but it will come up, they are mostly known for the tragic genocide that occurred in 1994 which the film Hotel Rwanda is based off. A democratic country led one leader since the end of the genocide.

Rwanda flag painted on a wood plank texture

Before Entering the Country
At the time I wrote this post I needed a visa which you can pick up at the Rwandan embassy (high commission) or sort out at the airport. It cost me £20 GBP, in dollars it was $30 USD. I paid in Sterling (the value of the pound plummeting due to Brexit made it cheaper to pay in Sterling). Good old Brexit.

Border control took a long time as we had to sort out our visa but make sure you have all important details ready. Why you are visiting? Where you are staying, the address? They are slowly opening up to tourists but they will ask you questions so be prepared.

Get your injections sorted. You can go to a pharmacy if you can’t get a GP appointment. This is really important – get a yellow fever injection or they won’t let you into the country and have a yellow fever card

 

Transport
You will notice the poor condition of roads in Rwanda. They are in a bad state so most cars I’ve seen are old vehicles imported from Europe. This leads to driving in Rwanda. It is chaotic. If you have driven in India or Bangladesh then you will get what I mean. Personally if i could drive I wouldn’t. Even as a passenger i do not like being in automotive vehicles in the dark. To sum up my experience as a passenger – it felt like I was in a rally race sitting inside the car. Get yourself a driver for long journeys. They have buses but i wouldn’t use them.

 

For short journeys there are motorcycle drivers and cyclist who will on the cheap get you from A to B. Motorcycle riders should only cost you between 1,000 to 2,000 RFR. I’ve been on motorcycle rides in the capital and i have no complaints. Riders were easy to spot as they were wearing red jackets and had an extra helmet. On the journey i went. My rider did not move until he was sure i had my helmet on properly. In the South of the country motorcyclists wore yellow jackets while cyclists wore blue jackets.

 

Food
A popular stable is the casava tree, the root is used to make flour and a cooked dough called bo-gali. It is eaten with a stu or curry like you would with rice. Eating bo-gali is a great experience. It is put in the middle and everyone takes a piece and dips it into thier stu or curry. Rwandan’s also use the leaf which is made into a stu. I found the taste intense and tasted exactly like spinach. I love spinach.

Beef is an affordable meat and eaten in alot of meals like goat meat. Chicken is eaten, i dont think it is as popular as the other meats. I have eaten more beef in Rwanda than i have in 5 years not in Rwanda. If I am up front then I’d would say that I am not a big fan a beef, though eating beef in Rwanda was great.

NEVER ask or mention lamb. It is considered the food of the poorer of society.

A few interesting things i noticed how much Indian cuisine they have adopted. Somasas, biryani, etc. Which is surprising with so little Asians in the country.

Also the flavours are very simple (the only thing that took me a while get use to was a casava leaf stu) so mostly easy to adjust. Homemade fries, rice, spaghetti are all part of the diet so you wont find eating alien.

Music
What is fascinating about Rwanda when you bare in mind that they had a genocide is that they are such happy and fun people. Most Rwandan whether poor and rich were positive, this is reflected by thier music. Rwandan music is such positive. No grunge, no goth, no miserable metal, nothing mellow but just sunshine and music to dance to. One observation I would make that about thier music videos are that there was that typical sunglasses wearing I am cool vibe to some of them. I see this everywhere.

Here are some of the songs I enjoyed listening to-

Teta Diana – VELO

Charly & Nina featuring Big Furious

 

Media
I didn’t watch much Rwandan television, when I did I watched news channel which were available in thier native language, French and even some English. As usual I watched CNN and BBC World Service when I wanted to check in on the world.

 

Conclusion
You have to admire Rwanda they are a shining star in East Africa if not in the whole Africa. There are some mumbling around freedom of speech and government corruptions but even with, they are a growing progressive nation which can one day become a stand out nation amongst world nations.

I have to admit it was a little scary/ refreshing to be in a country where English wasn’t spoken everywhere. I ended up clinging onto people who spoke English and ended up missing hearing it. With colonisation and American-isation of the world, there is an expectation to hear it everywhere.

My message to Rwandans are keep on being great and I look forward to coming back. I feel like I left a piece of my heart there and I will back to collect.