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Robert’s Rwandan Market Tour
Robert Palisin is our special guest on the Teaching House Nomads Blog. As a CELTA trainer and Local Center Manager in our New York location for many years, Robert’s love of travel and teacher training has taken him to Rwanda as an English Language Fellow for the US State Department were he oversees professional development of 150+ Rwandan primary/secondary/university English teachers in coordination with the Association of Teachers of English in Rwanda (ATER). He is also the lead proposal and grant writer for ATER, in charge of obtaining funds for various association projects, he creates, writes, and maintains publication of ATER quarterly newsletter, he’s a contributor, organizer, and presenter of Rwandan national TESOL conference and is a contributing presenter and collaborator for teacher training workshops for primary/secondary/university teachers in Ethiopia, Sudan, Congo, and Rwanda. Amongst all of that, he’s squeezed in this post for Teaching House, taking us into a Rwandan market!
Every Saturday is ‘Market Day’ for me here in Kigali, Rwanda. Running low on food, and eager to take in the sights and excitement of the market, I take a ten-minute walk down to Kimironko market, Kigali’s largest market. Everything you could possibly want, or need, will be found here. Need some fresh eggs? A pair of sneakers? Kitenge material for a new dress? A Britney Spears t-shirt? A Congolese mask? You’ve come to the right place. And as a foreigner, you will always be a “friend”, whether it’s your first meeting, or your hundredth. Of course, the intention of being a friend may be for economic purposes on the part of the seller, but it may also be a genuine desire to make a new friend, or get some practice with English. There are several sections in the market, each with their own look and feel, and of course products. Upon arrival to the market, you may be asked by a young boy if you would like an “assistant” who will carry your goods and negotiate prices for you, which you can say ‘yes’ to if feeling overwhelmed, or if you feel up to a challenge, can do everything yourself. One should expect to be a popular person in the market, as not a lot of tourists make it here, or to Rwanda in general. This seems to be changing, though, as Rwanda is making a big push to become a middle-class economy by 2020, a goal that every Rwandan is a part of and helping work towards. But back to the market – the four main areas you will experience:
The Food Market
By far the biggest section, this is where most Rwandans get their weekly supply of food. Most everything can be found here – all kinds of vegetables, fruits, meats, fish, whatever you may be looking for. The section with bananas is quite impressive, great for that big banana split you’ve been thinking of making. Quite a bit of haggling takes place here and one must be prepared to have a little back and forth before taking your items home. This holds true for most everything in the market, and the foreigner will of course end up paying a little more than what a Rwandan will pay, unless you’re a hardened bargainer with a good command of Kinyarwanda, the main language in Rwanda.
This the place where Rwanda shines – kitenge! You see it worn by women (and some men) in the street, at home, at the office, and out at night. It’s the traditional colorful design that is a staple of Rwandan society. The selection of styles is overwhelming – one could spend hours choosing the design that is best. The material comes from Rwanda, as well as places like Tanzania, Congo, and even the Ivory Coast. After selecting the design you like, you hand the material over to a seamstress who will measure you, and then proceed to make your dress, skirt, blouse, or whatever you’d like made into the latest item in your wardrobe. Usually your item will be done within three days, making for quick and reliable service.
My favorite section – I enjoy seeing the work of local craftsman, as well as the imported work of artists in the Congo, Tanzania, and Uganda. There are a number of craft shops located in the more centrally located downtown of Kigali, so not many tourists visit the market here for crafts, which means that you can get lower prices and a more pleasant experience. The big item Rwanda is known for is baskets – there is a strong tradition of weaved baskets in bright, colorful deigns. These are used by Rwandans to hold anything from fruit to wall decorations. Wood products are also popular, carved sculptures of animals, masks, and bowls populate the stalls, along with loads of materials made with katenga – bags, purses, wallets, headbands, slippers, and ties – quite a way to brighten up your style!
After working your way through all of the market, you will definitely be ready for a rest. There are several cafes located near the market, the perfect place to take a seat, relax, and review all of your purchases from Kigali’s wonderful Kimironko market!
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