Always be prepared for surprises ...

(How to get prepared for a trip to Rwanda? – continued)

Everything boils down to an excellent preparation! And it seems easy, thanks to the internet, Google, Wikipedia, etc.

Your passport and visa arriving back right on the day of your flight check-in? Boy, why fuss about that? After all, that was just in time, wasn’t it. True, the postman surely will not be witness to a Mexican Wave being performed each time he delivers the mail.

Arrived, at last. Packed our suitcases and other stuff on a trolley and went off to the customs gate. An officer stops us, her attention having been caught by the huge boxes completely wrapped in glaring red plastic foil. She wants to know in detail what is in there. Is it new or used stuff? Will all that be re-exported or stay in the country? In spite of “the internet” having told us that people in Rwanda speak French, this officer obviously is speaking English. As soon as Deirdre Summerbell is here to explain everything in Kinyarwanda, things are moving quite fast. Quite so ... just a sec ... wait. After everything regarding the boxes’ content (uninspected) has been clarified, we are being advised that no import of plastic materials to Rwanda is allowed. No further questions asked, no further comments given. We unwrap the boxes at the customs and finally pass the gates.

Deirdre takes us to her house and shows us our rooms. Everything is neat and bigger than I had expected. The first thing I do is check the sockets, of course. Not being able to charge my devices, after all, would cause me some trouble. Alas, no type J sockets whatsoever, and another lesson learned: Wikipedia is not always right. To me, the plugs look like German ones. Fortunately, I have brought the respective adapter along (better safe than sorry ...). In none of the other houses we have entered so far here in Rwanda could we find type J sockets. To tell the truth, sockets here all look a bit different.

On the fourth day, we eventually meet people who seem to prefer French to English. Anyway, you get along here perfectly by talking English, and the local population speaks Kinyarwanda throughout, anyway.

Until Monday, we did not have local cash. Deirdre, not understanding at all why we had brought US Dollars along in the first place, advised us what to do best. Seeing my greenbacks she scratched her forehead and explained that exchange rates with banks were better for higher-value banknotes. Mind you, I did have a hard time back in Zurich getting all that greenbacks! Recalling this, Benita laughs. Paying with dollars in Kigali? No way, and don’t you even think of getting local cash from a cash machine here. The bottom line was exactly the opposite of what I believed to have found out during my trip preparations. In the end, we changed high-value Euro notes into Rwandan Francs.

Having read before our departure that cash import allowance was 5,000 Rwandan Francs, I assumed the price level to be rather low here, what with 5,000 Francs equalling to about just six Euros. But already on day 1 did we notice that this was not really going to take you far: The car park already was more than 1,000 Francs, and five bottles of beer exceeded the import limit.

Yesterday, we went to a department store. The entrance was being guarded by security officers with metal detectors, checking people’s bags for guns etc. Basically I feel prices are higher here than in Germany or Spain, partially they even reach Swiss level. Based on the little I know, I assume that this was not always the case and that they simply must have forgotten to adapt the cash import allowance to inflation.

But, hey, no problem. Not sticking to your expectations in the light of a presumably excellent preparation will make your life easier everywhere, not only in Rwanda.

Fred-Marc Gmür

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