Rwanda - Kigali's Nyamirambo District
Kigali is a beautiful city. Completely, utterly, breath-taking. Everywhere you look you see green trees, rolling hills, and beams of sunshine bouncing off the various roofs and Mediterranean-style architecture (ish). It’s a lovely place for an afternoon drive, but it’s not exactly walkable.
That being said, tucked away in the Southwest corner of Kigali is Nyamirambo, a historic and lovely part of the city often referred to as the Muslim quarter. Nyamirambo is vibrant and bustling, with a wide array of people, restaurants and shops, along with hard to beat views of the surrounding city.
A Note on the Genocide Against the Tutsi
Nyamirambo has a historic significance after the 1994 Genocide, as this quarter (once a township) housed many Hutus and Tutsis. This includes those of Muslim faith, as well as Christian, Catholic (and others). According to current residents (who lived there at the time), Muslims were often treated a minority and wished for improved equality and rights. When the killers came to Nyamirambo, seeking to massacre Tutsis and moderate Hutus, among others, many residents of Nyamirambo came together. They hid people in their mosques, in their homes, and within their businesses. They paid off the killers and convinced them that there were no “persons of interest”. As a result, the lives of many were saved. Today, the Muslim Quarter is still a melting pot of cultures, and when you visit you feel an energy that is not felt elsewhere in the city - the buzz is infectious.
Visit Nyamirambo - A Great Tourist Option of a Walking Tour
If you are coming to Kigali and want a unique experience to see the city, we highly recommend visiting the Nyamirambo Women’s Centre. We’ve blogged about the Centre before, (see this post on their accessories/clothing and this post on their homewares) but wanted to talk specifically about their walking tour.
Milk bars line the streets, with barber shops, music, and such a bright array of colours worn by the many women out in the streets. People stop and wave, greeting each other along the way, drinking cokes and fantas out on terraces (this is unique in the city!) There is also the 'underground' music scene, with many of Rwanda’s future musical talent (in particular hip hop artists) waiting outside the many recording studios and radio stations for their turn to impress. It really is remarkable to see their style, talent and inspiration.
Nyamirambo Women’s Centre (NWC)
A few years ago, a small group of 18 women came together and formed a self-help group (NWC) as a place to discus all things in life, from family issues, to health, to education, to unemployment, to music and religion. NWC now grown as a place for many women, whose members range in age from 22 to 46, and who come from a variety of different backgrounds and education levels. We’ve seen that some women have jobs (domestic workers, manual labour, shop workers and hairdressers), while some are students or unemployed.
Umutina - 'Handmade with Love in Rwanda'
Umutina Cooperative Line - full catalogue here
As an income-generation project, NWC started to look at producing handicrafts, but wanted to focus on high-quality goods that would be unique for tourists and other buyers. With the help of its many volunteers, the Centre started making clothing, fashion bags and accessories, homewares, baby blankets and children's toys. The brand is called Umutina (meaning heart), and all the products have the signature heart embroidered somewhere on the materials (see photos below). As someone who has travelled to many, many countries, I can attest that the quality of the products is very high, and everything on offer is exemplary. When you go to NWC, you can see the sewing room where women are taught skills and produce the many items. You are greeted with a smile, and invited to sit and chat with the women, who are so proud of their skills and the work of NWC.
Today, NWC also offers a tourism project - with trained guides from the community who can provide guided walking tours of Nyamirambo. You can visit their website to book, and have the option of lunch or no lunch.
As a recommendation, the lunch is one of the best local meals I’ve had in Rwanda in my two years of living here. You get to visit a woman’s home, who shows you how to cook traditional food, and you can sit and enjoy lunch with her in her living room. Definitely do the lunch!
Tour highlights include
- a welcome snack (delicious!)
- learning basic greetings in Kinyarwanda with your guide
- visiting the sewing workshop with the NWC ladies
- walking through the windy, cobble-stoned and sandy streets, seeing the local market, library, ICT centre, shops and restaurants, milk bars and hilarious shop signs
- visiting another NWC shop which produces local food materials to sell (production side, very interesting to see how they make cassava flour)
- visiting a group of woman preparing traditional cassava leaves, and processing agricultural goods
- stopping and chatting with the locals about their lives
I can brag that my Kinyarwanda is getting pretty good, so I can have basic conversations with the locals now. But even if you just practice your greetings, they will love you for trying! (and your guide can help).
The highlight of the day, apart from the food, was meeting an 80 year-old woman, who gave me a big toothy grin when I spoke to her in the local language. I asked her if she was married and had children, and she became very sullen, telling me that she lost all of her family in the genocide. I asked her how she stays so positive, and she shrugged and said “they light my heart, always”. It was really moving, as I was there with my mom, and you realise how different your own lives can be from the lives of others. Yet we all seek personal connections that drive us to live each day to the fullest. She seemed to, anyway, barking orders to the younger women who weren’t peeling the beans correctly. Not sure they enjoyed it as much!
Overall, the trip is cost effective, easy to get to (as its in central Kigali), and the guides are so knowledgable and very passionate about what they do. It was definitely the highlight of my mom’s trip to Kigali, and only takes a few hours of your time, yet you learn so much! So if you have guests visiting the city, or you yourself are looking for a fun morning/afternoon adventure, take a tour of Nyamirambo with the Women’s Centre, and make sure to buy gifts for your friends and family, you won’t regret it!