A German in Rwanda – Lara Williams

A German in Rwanda: Lessons I have learned

During my multiple stays in Rwanda, I have learned quite a lot of important life lessons that I would like to share with you. At least the ones I can think of right now.

Sometimes, the best „adventures“ are waiting for you in your home

There is a saying, that only boring people find themselves in boring situations. Which I do not completely agree with, however, part of me really resonates with this. My time in Rwanda has taught me that new discoveries can be made everywhere – even in your own home. Oh yeah, I am talking about that weird black and somehow huge flying insect with two very long legs (legs, supposeldy) that comes to visit me every once in a while. But I am not exquisitely referring to exotic insects, of course, when I am talking about new discoveries and adventures. Sometimes, adventures start in your brain, with little ideas – or big ones – that you have always wanted to implement. Free yourself from your boundaries and get creative, and you will never be boring. Ahem, I mean… bored. Rwanda is a great place to connect with artists or to find like-minded young people that are looking for an opportunity to hop on to a cool project you started or to make you part of theirs.

The definition of being on time is… flexible. And that is good.

We all know what Germans are typically known for… Yes, you guessed it right: Their punctuality. And as much as Germans are known for being on time, planning meetings elaborately a long time ahead, measures of time in Rwanda are known to be used quite… freely. Many times, I have found myself in situations of waiting impatiently for a guest to show up or a friend to visit me at a restaurant, frustratedly checking my watch and sending texts to the respective others containing a lot of desperate question marks. 

Then, getting acquainted to my new environment, I stopped stressing myself out so much and started showing up late myself, after finishing whatever I had done before in calmness instead of rushing and hurrying like I used to before. I must admit, this change in habit came quite slowly, as the importance of punctuality was drilled into me since I climbed out of the womb. However, quite hilariously, I became so relaxed, that some times I even showed up to the place after the Rwandan person I was going to meet. I guess some thought, as a German, I would be on time, and put in some extra effort… And as much as I do believe that punctuality and planning ahead are important to enhance effectiveness at the work space and in our routines in daily life (shoutout to my upbringing), I must say that I have come to the realization that the interpretation, use and value of time are very subjective and there is not one true defintion of time and how it is „supposed“ to be used. Like with many things in life, there does not always have to be a „right or wrong“.

Why money does not define your christmas experience – or your happiness in general?

Who needs a christmas with dozen of neately wrapped presents, a whole turkey that has been waiting his whole life just to end up in greedy stomachs and half a ton of christmas cookies? Right – no one does. But many people on this planet are used to this, because I guess, tradition is tradition and stays tradition, and so on and so forth. But what makes most religious celebrations or any celebrations, really, something meaningful? I am sure you know the answer: It is the people, their connection and their greatfulness, not the money they spend. This is important. Why, you might ask? Because materialism, consumption behaviour, even traditions have to be questioned once in a while. Not your financial wealth makes an event special or worthy of many trips down memory lane.

Free yourself from abundance

Being forced into flying to Rwanda with only one backpack at my side and a head full of curiosity was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Because, trust me, you do not need more than a few clothes, hair and tooth brush. Did you know, that regular soap does wonders to your hair and thus is a great shampoo and body wash at the same time, that is not full of chemicals and plastic particles? And did you know that showers with a shower head and fluent hot water (where do you think, all those energy resouces comes from?) are truly overrated? Sometimes, simplicity is what we need. Not the abundance I personally am used to live in back in Germany, where the showers even dispense purified drinking water. Swallow that! Yeah, literally. 

Because in abundance and luxurity we lose our connection to nature and to the things that matter, like the protection of our climate. We often strive after more and more and are not realizing the things we already have and that we are drowining in things we simply do not need. No, I am not trying to write a motivational text here or become a Guru of some kind. Just trying to… state the obvious.

Do not be afraid to travel – ever!

Travelling in Rwanda is cheap – so do not waste time watching Netflix in your own four walls. Go out and discover the beautiful lake views of Kibuye, the breath-taking bus ride to Rusizi, the pretty beaches in Gisenyi or the stunning and hiker-friendly volcanoes in Musanze. Rwanda is so much more than Kigali and its outskirts. And although this lesson may seem a bit superficial, compared to the others, it is worth gold!

Stand up for yourself

Oh, and last but not least: Never be afraid to negotiate. Or in other words: Never stop to stand your ground. Prices in Rwanda are flexible, at least on markets and with moto drivers. So do not let them take advantage of you. As a German, you might not be used to this and might feel disrespected when someone gives you a high price or you might even just believe in them asking you for a fair amount of money. Negotiating with people may seem like such a trivial thing, but it is much more than a skill or „life hack“. It may even boost your confindence and it teaches you to question things, „truths“, or your knowledge of the place. And most importantly: It teaches you to stand up for yourself.

Lara Williams