Interview: Karli from My Kigali Kitchen & Rwanda Influence

Karli from My Kigali Cookbook

I finally met Karli awhile ago on a Talking Through Art walking tour around Gikondo after several years of seeing her work on Rwanda Influence. It’s always great to meet people doing similar things and I’ve enjoyed following along on her website and Instagram page. She’s since released a cookbook called My Kigali Kitchen and has some other fun things on the go as well. Have a read to learn more!

Tell Us a bit about yourself.

Hi friends! My name is Karli. I’m an American mama of two, wife of Matthew, and have been living in Rwanda since 2016. I wear a lot of different hats these days, from writing both Rwanda Influence and my spin-off project for expat women, Third Culture Thriving, to doing social media consulting and content creation, to serving friends as a labor and birth doula. And now, of course, being a full-time stay at home mama here in lockdown! Ha!

In my free time, I enjoy cooking new things, reading voraciously, seeking out the best cocktails in Kigali, and planning trips to take with my family. And trying to learn Kinyarwanda! It’s really hard, but I started classes in January and I hope to continue once lockdown is over.

What brought you to Rwanda?

My husband has a unique background in sustainable agriculture and theological application, so we were invited here by the Anglican Church to start a program that works with their rural churches to equip farmers with training in those areas. We originally planned to stay for two years, but we just hit four last week and don’t see ourselves leaving anytime soon. We own a farm just outside of Kagugu and hope to build a home out there in the near future!

What are some projects you’ve done in Rwanda?

My original foray into work here in Rwanda was the creation of an Instagram page and blog, Rwanda Influence. This has served as an outlet for me to cheer on local businesses, share my thoughts on parenting and thriving (and sometimes struggling) here in Kigali, and also as a launch pad for social media consulting and content creation work. It’s become a community I really love, and I’m so grateful for all of the opportunities that have come from meeting such amazing people along the way!

My most recent project here is the release of my digital cookbook, My Kigali Kitchen. The original idea was for this book to be a professionally published and photographed cookbook you’d want to gift your mom- you know, hardbound, really nice looking. It got put on the back burner a while back as I pursued other projects, but when lockdown hit a few weeks ago, I knew the was the perfect time to release the cookbook- it just needed to look different than I intended it to look at first.

Where did you get the idea to write a cookbook?

I’ve always loved cookbooks. I didn’t grow up knowing how to cook at all. Even when I got married (at 20…) I honestly could barely fry an egg. But, over the years, I’ve slowly learned how to cook more things- and now I consider myself a proficient home cook. Living in Rwanda with kids helps, too! If they want something to eat, I have to learn how to make it!

Cookbooks have always been my inspiration, though. I love the stories they tell and how beautiful they are. The idea that, if I follow the recipe, my kitchen will smell the same way the author’s kitchen does when they cook the same meal. My ideal Saturday would be picking a new recipe I haven’t cooked before, shopping for the ingredients, and spending the day cooking that new recipe for a few friends. Heaven!

But when we moved here, I found that most of my cookbooks weren’t relevant anymore. Most included ingredients I couldn’t get (or wouldn’t splurge for) and typically had some kind of processed ingredient I wasn’t able to find. I felt like I was flying blind, and it was really disorienting for a while. But I adapted, and slowly started collecting recipes that I had adapted to make here, or that were already perfect for the ingredients that are locally available.

I’m an entrepreneur at heart, and I’m usually thinking about how to monetize my passions (why not?) so the cookbook idea came to me pretty quickly. I started slowly working on it in the spring of 2019 and now, about a year later, it’s out in the world!

How can people purchase the cookbook?

The easiest is to just buy from the sales page on Third Culture Thriving via PayPal. But I can also take MoMo! Just shoot an email to rwandainfluence@gmail.com and I can get you set up that way.

What’s next for Rwanda Influence?

I’m celebrating two years of that project next month so I’m hoping to cook up something fun. I’m also pouring a lot of energy into my new project, Third Culture Thriving, which will be both a podcast and a resource collection for expat women. I have a few more projects specifically for Rwanda Influence that are rolling around in my brain right now, but I’m not quite ready to speak them out yet 😉

And yes, hopefully someday, a beautiful, printed version of My Kigali Kitchen! And, in my dreams, a Kinyarwanda version. It’s been requested a lot. We’ll see!

Written by Kirsty
I'm a Canadian who left in 2001 to wander around in search of sun, beautiful views, and goat brochettes. I found Kigali in July 2010 and it seems like the perfect fit so I stuck around and made this website. I also like to make fun maps and I spend a good chunk of my time in Portugal building things. You can reach me at kirsty@livinginkigali.com.