If you were to ask me what to bring when moving to Kigali, I would tell you to stuff your suitcase with heavy-duty boots, mosquito nets, durable pants, and a silly-looking sun hat. I would tell you leave your jewelry and make-up at home, and instead make room for a year‘s supply of sun block, and a couple of emergency flares. And I would tell you all this because I am a rather mean and devious person, who take great pleasure in other people’s failure to dress themselves properly.
Against my innate inclination to screw people over, however, it has been bestowed upon me to provide you new arrivals with useful packing advice. If you’re staying any other place than Kigali or the other bigger cities, however, the durable pants and sun hat might come in handy for real.
Kigali is a capital city just like any other, with nice restaurants and nightclubs. I’d maybe leave the leather mini-dress at home, but other than that you should bring clothes you’d feel comfortable wearing out in your home country. Personally, I prefer not wearing anything too short here, and if I do I usually wear dark stockings. So pack a couple of those, along with your favorite shirts, dresses and party tops. For you guys, pack some nice shirts, and dressy pants. And bring nice shoes; they are crazy about how your shoes look here.
The dress code during the day obviously depends on your job, but in general people in Kigali like dressing up a bit. Bring some nice suits and cardigans, as well as a pair or two of jeans, and cute tops/blouses and T-Shirts. Bring shoes you can walk in, but that still look cute, and bring many of them. Shoes are what go first here (no pun intended), and though there are a few places to buy new ones here, I’d make sure to bring enough with me to last awhile.
During the evening and the rainy season it can get quite cold, so bring a few sweaters and a wind jacket. Rain clothes might also be smart, as well as a few scarves. Rain boots might be practical, but are heavy to pack so I wouldn’t prioritize them. A heavy coat isn’t really required. Layers do the trick.
Bras and Bikinis
If you are peculiar about what you wear underneath your clothes, you should bring plenty of underwear and socks. It can be difficult to find good stuff here, especially bras and thin stockings and such. Swimwear is impossible to find here, so bring plenty of bikinis and bathing suits from home – you’ll need them for Sundays at the pool and the excursions to Lake Kivu.
You can find most things here at any of the major Kigali supermarkets but expect to pay a lot for imported goodies. Jars of pre-made spaghetti or curry sauces can be found here, but cost a fortune. Packs of dried soups are also really pricey. Anything processed and imported is expensive so if you’re into processed things from home… load up before you come.
You can get local gouda cheese but it smells like feet. If you prefer your cheese feet-smell-free then you’ll pay a fortune for it. A small block of cheddar, for example, costs about $7 so if you can find a way, bring cheese! And bring some for me.
Good chewing gum is hard to find. Walnuts are rare. Chocolate chips as well. If you plan on making your own hummous bring some tahini with you. Hmm… can’t think of much else… like I said, most things are available here – if you’re willing to pay.
Kigali is not the most eventful city in the world, and many people fill their days with sports. Tennis, golf, basketball, soccer, horseback riding, biking, and running are some of the options you have, so if you think you might get into any of these, make sure you pack the right equipment. If you are planning on hiking or gorilla trekking in Rwanda or something, you obviously need to bring appropriate gear for this. There are sport stores in Kigali, but they have a crappy selection and are often very pricey.
For you Kindle-less people out there, books are indeed available in Kigali but I would recommend bringing a few from home, as the books here are a little expensive. Then you can just trade with others once you finish them. A more important issue are movies and TV shows. Fill up a hard drive or two with stuff you enjoy watching for those evenings when nothing is going on, or when it’s raining and you’re trapped at home. Also, board games and a deck of cards might be a good idea to bring as they’re are hard to find here.
If you like painting or drawing, you should pack stuff you need from home as well; you’ll find play dough and crayons at Nakumatt (the main supermarket), but that’s about it. If you’re musical bring your guitar, flute, tuba, grand piano or whatever your instrument of choice is with you because you won’t find a decent one here.
Just bring it all: iPods, iPads, iPhones, Kindles, Macs (and inferior laptops), cameras, external hard drives, play stations, karaoke machines etc. Yes, you can buy electronics here but you’ll pay a lot more than you would at home. I just saw the latest iPhone for sale here for around $1000. I’m guessing you probably wouldn’t pay that price in the US.
If you think you’ll enjoy it, just pack it. If you’ll be living in the city, chances are you’ll have a guard. If you don’t have a guard, you probably won’t have a break-in, and if someone does rob you, the police have a ridiculously good record for tracking down stolen goods. If your stuff disappears forever, then it is a sad thing that could happen anywhere in the world.
The things that are hard to come by in Kigali are quality make-up and certain brands of face wash and lotions. If you are particular about your hair, pack some extra hair treatment or something. The shampoo and conditioner selection here is bleak. Other than that, most things are readily available at the supermarkets.
Other Smart Things To Bring…
…are pictures of your pets and/or friends and family, stuff for a Halloween costume or a dress-up party, a flashlight for when the power goes out, candy, proper sunglasses (just because everyone should have them anyway), inflatable toys for the pool, a little child so you can pretend the inflatable toys weren’t meant for you, sunscreen for your face (the type for your body you can buy here), and a cook book from home. Those hand blender things are great for smoothies and I’ve never found them here. Bug spray with Deet in it is expensive here so brin it from home if you can fit it. Mosquito coils are a good idea too. You should also bring a little fanny-pack pouch to keep your passport in at all times. Oops! That was me being devious again…
If anyone else has suggestions for things to pack, please add them in the comments!