A Week-In-The-Life of Kirsty, Living in Kigali, Rwanda

Kirsty left Canada in 2001 and has lived, travelled, and volunteered around the world ever since. She has called Kigali, Rwanda home since 2010 and is working on a city guide website and a printed tourist map of the city. Both projects require her to really explore and get under the skin of Rwanda’s hilly capital and she’s happy to help any travellers coming this way. Please enjoy this week-in-the-life of Kirsty in Kigali, Rwanda!

This post was originally published in 2014. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content. 

I’ve lived in Kigali, Rwanda for just over four years and my life has settled into a nice little routine. My typical week doesn’t look much different than it did when I lived in London or Canada but my work and my choice to live in Rwanda are a bit unconventional, so here goes…

Day 1 – Thursday

7:30am – I wake up, make eggs and coffee and sit down on my back porch to do some work. I’ve spent the past few months rewriting a volunteering eBook I wrote back in 2009 called The Underground Guide to International Volunteering and last week I finally finished the thing, figured out how to format it for Kindle, and uploaded it to Amazon. Right now I’m working on a website (International Volunteer Guide) where people can go for more information. It’s an annoying, finicky, last minute type job but it needs to get done before I can start promoting the eBook so I spend my morning working on this.

Noon – I have a lunch date with two ladies who volunteer with the Africa International Club who organize a lot of charity fundraising events. I want to talk to them about what they do so I can feature them on my Kigali city guide website as a good cause. Their work is interesting and I enjoy the conversation with eating a good burger and enjoying the scenery. Kigali is very hilly and you seem to have a fantastic view, no matter where you are.

a week in the life of living in Kigali Rwanda, overlooking the city
Kilgali’s beautiful sunny skies

2pm – After a lovely lunch I head home to read in my sunny garden for an hour before chaining myself to my desk once again to finish the eBook website.

8pm – A friend’s parents are visiting so I meet them all out for dinner at Republika, one of my favourite Kigali restaurants. I like the atmosphere, the local menu, the large wines, and the owners. They’re a brother and sister team who grew up in Ottawa, Canada but returned to Rwanda once things here began to stabilize. Rwanda is a country with tremendous opportunity and there are lots of budding entrepreneurs here, especially returning Rwandese.

Day 2 – Friday

10am – A few weeks ago I was put in touch with the Nyamirambo Women’s Centre (NWC), a locally-run NGO catering to women in the area. Nyamirambo is vibrant, lively, slightly edgy, and there always seems to be something happening here. The NWC run a walking tour and they invited me along so I could write about it for my website. We learn about the organization, visit a local tailor and hair salon, wander around a small market, and finish off with a lunch of rice, beans, cassava, and some yummy tomato dish cooked by one of the ladies of the NWC. Afterwards we return to their office where we look at some of their creations – baskets, earrings, and colourful children’s clothes are their main focus so far.

Woman at NWC selling her colourful fabric in Kigali Rwanda
One of the ladies of NWC shows us some fabric at the Biryogo Market

2pm – Tired from my day traipsing around busy Nyamirambo, I head home to read in my hammock and fall asleep.

4pm – I wake up with a bit of a sunburn and head back to my desk to edit my photos from the day’s tour and write some notes about the experience.

8pm – I meet up with a couple of friends for dinner; one who runs financial literacy programmes who just got back from Kinshasa and the other who works with torture victims who got back that morning from Burundi. You can always count on meeting interesting people here! We go to another of my favourite restaurants, Sakae, and I order sushi. Sushi in landlocked Rwanda, I hear you asking? Well… I don’t think about that too much but it’s pretty tasty.

Sushi, Rwandan style
Sushi, Rwandan style

Day 3 – Saturday

8am – I wake up and putter around in my garden. Rwanda is an amateur gardener’s dream and things just seem to grow here without much effort. The weather is great and the plants are mostly happy which makes gardening a pretty fun pastime.

Some Kigali garden goodies
Some Kigali garden goodies

Noon – I eat lunch at home and then head up to the pool at a the Serena, Kigali’s only five star hotel. My membership here is my guilty Rwandan pleasure. It’s expensive but I love the gym and the pool and I certainly use it a lot. I spend the rest of the day reading in the sun, working on my computer in the lobby, and sweating in the gym.

7:30pm – A friend of mine is having drinks at a bar out in an area of Kigali full of local bars serving beer and brochettes. A brochette is wooden skewer with hunks of meat (usually goat or fish and sometimes beef and chicken) speared onto it and then barbequed with a delicious seasoning. Any local place will serve them and Kigali residents always have their favourite ‘secret’ spot.

Brochettes… Rwanda’s national dish
Brochettes… Rwanda’s national dish

10pm – I move on to Heaven Restaurant, a restaurant catering mainly to tour groups. But it is a nice space and they host interesting events fairly regularly. With a belly full of brochettes, I arrive to find lots of familiar faces watching some live music. I buy a beer and sit down to chat with some friends.

1am – One beer turns into four and I am soon convinced to keep the party going and follow the crowd to another bar.

3am – Four beers turns into shots and the drunken mob moves onto Sundowner, one of Kigali’s notorious late-night spots. Dancing, drinking, talking, repeat.

5am – Home to my welcoming bed.

Day 4 – Sunday

Noon – This is about when I surface, due to the shenanigans the previous evening. I don’t feel much like leaving my bed so I watch three episodes of House of Cards and laze around.

3pm – I wake up and make some dough for pita bread. There are a few good bakeries that have sprung up in Kigali in the past year but nowhere that makes pita. It’s fun to be in a place that challenges you to attempt to make all of the things you can’t buy. My pita bread hasn’t been a great success so far, but I have to say that I’m turning into a bit of a hummus pro.

6:30pm – Feeling slightly guilty about three nights of eating and drinking, I wait for the sun to go down and head out for a run around my neighbourhood. The roads in my part of town are well-lit and pothole-free and Rwanda is very safe so running in the evenings is very popular.

9pm – I crawl back into bed to watch a movie. Kigali is a pretty sleepy place and when there’s time to fill, movie night at home is a popular choice.

Day 5 – Monday

7:00am – Having noticed that the power went out during the night at around 2am, I wake up to assess the situation. On my way outside to the electricity box I bump into a couple of strangers in my kitchen. One of my housemates is managing a student programme and apparently last night there was some sort of an inappropriate incident at their homestay, so the girls spent the night on my giant couch. Too bad for them there was no power and the water was in a pretty sad state, too… but I guess that’s better than a creepy homestay!

9am – Since my computer was dead due to the previous night’s movie watching and morning’s power outage, I head back to bed for a couple of hours and wake up at 9am to find that both the power and water have been restored. I make a smoothie and some coffee and sit down to work on my Kigali website.

11am – After a good couple of hours of updating the month for my Kigali events calendar, I pack up some leftover hummus and head up to the Serena Hotel for an afternoon of work by the pool.

3:30pm – My Kigali website has a handful of advertisers so far. One is an art gallery called Inema, which is run by a couple of brothers. They decided to renew their ad, so I stopped by their gallery to collect the cash and have a quick catch up.

Colourful art at Inema
Colourful art at Inema

6pm – Rwanda isn’t really on the way to anywhere so I don’t get a lot of random visitors but last week I was lucky to meet up with Dan and Audrey from Uncorneredmarket.com and today I’m meeting with Shannon from ALittleAdrift.com for dinner. We meet up for Indian and talk mostly about travel and nerd stuff (SEO, monetizing websites, mailing lists, affiliate sites, etc). Shannon is an Internet marketing expert and I’m feeling very inspired and full of new ideas.

8:30pm – A friend of mine runs a shared office space called, funnily enough, The Office. After dinner Shannon and I walk over for an exhibition by two young photographers. It turns out to be a fun night with some beers, some chatting with friends, some photo-looking, and I’m happily home in bed by 10pm.

Day 6 – Tuesday

8am – I wake up, make eggs and coffee, and sit down to do a couple of hours of work.

10am – I head to the gym for an hour. Eggs, coffee, work, then gym… this is my usual morning routine. Sometimes with some gardening or a swim thrown in.

1pm – Part of running my Kigali city guide website is writing restaurant reviews and there are new places opening all the time. Today I venture to a new place called “OC Pizza Bar & Grill” which is in a hotel run by a Canadian guy. They have poutine on the menu! Poutine and fajitas and Thai red curry? What is this magical place? Well… it turns out that it’s pretty good. I chat with the owner, take some photos and notes and I leave satisfied and with a good idea of what to write.

7pm – I’ve been trying to learn French for about three years now and the progress has been slow so I’m planning a trip to France for a month to take an intensive course. This has me freaked out a bit and I’ve enlisted the help of a friend to give me some conversational lessons in exchange for guidance on how to set up a website. I cook up some pasta and my friend comes over for lesson number one.

Day 7 – Wednesday

8am – I wake up, make breakfast, and pack up a few things for an overnight trip to Kibuye, a town located to the east of Kigali along the shores of Lake Kivu. I’ve been offered a free night at a new place called Rwiza Village and I have a ride with a friend… so off we go!

Noon – We’re about halfway through the 2.5 hour drive to Kibuye and we’ve just hit the curvy part of the journey. When I take this trip on the bus, this is the point where people start barfing. I’m happy to be in my friend’s spacious, air-conditioned SUV for a change.

1pm – We arrive, check out our rooms (nice) and the view (very nice) and head to the restaurant. We order beers and brochettes. The beers come promptly but the brochettes make it to our table about two hours later. Oh well… it’s not like there’s much to do here except laze in the sun or swim. We finish our meal and hit the dock with our books.

Beautiful Lake Kivu as seen from the room
Beautiful Lake Kivu as seen from the room

6pm – The sun is starting to go down and nobody is really hungry or willing to brave the restaurant again, so we head to the room’s balcony to chat, listen to music, and take in the amazing view. The moon sets and there’s a pretty awesome lightning storm so we enjoy the rest of our lakeside evening watching the beautiful Rwandan sky.

Kirsty recently returned to Rwanda after spending some time in Scotland, and is currently planning her next travel adventure. She recently updated her eBook, The Underground Guide to International Volunteering, a guide aimed at first-time volunteers. She’s still pretty addicted to volunteering and you can often find her helping out in post-disaster regions. She also runs a website about Living in Kampala. 

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