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I love to learn new things, to discover travel curiosities. Each country, each city has its special things, its unusual attractions, sometimes strange laws, and more. Let’s discover 5 curious things about Rwanda presented by Jen from Passions and Places.
So many people have never even heard of Rwanda – a tiny, hilly country situated in East Africa. And those who have often know it only as the home of some of the world’s few remaining mountain gorillas or as the site of a horrific genocide that killed nearly a million people in 1994. People who are more familiar with the country might have heard about its beloved but controversial President, who is simultaneously praised for promoting development and criticized for abusing human rights. But there’s so much more to Rwanda – as there is to any place, really – and after serving as a Peace Corps volunteer there for two years, I got to witness some of the country’s most interesting curiosities.
1. Plastic bags are illegal in Rwanda
If you make a purchase at a store in Rwanda – whether it’s groceries, clothes, or souvenirs – you’ll take it home in a paper bag, or maybe wrapped in newspaper. In an effort to reduce litter, the country’s government banned plastic bags in 2008, and even sometimes confiscates them from arriving visitors’ luggage at the airport. And the ban has worked: the bags that plague the streets of nearby countries are noticeably absent in Rwanda. Enforcement of the law is harsh, though, and it’s even created a black market for plastic bags, which people typically use to buy or sell small quantities of goods like oil and powdered milk.
2. Many places in Rwanda have two names
Until 2006, Rwanda was made up of 12 provinces. In an effort to weaken ethnic divisions and disassociate certain places from events they suffered during the genocide, the government created all new administrative divisions. The old 12 provinces became five provinces divided into 30 districts, all with new names. As a result, some people call places by their old name, and others use the new names. If you’re planning to visit Rwanda, you’d better know both!
3. Rwanda is the only country with a majority female Parliament
A gender quota in Rwanda’s constitution reserves 30 percent of the seats in its lower house of Parliament for women – but the electorate has voted in far more female politicians than that. Today, 64 percent of the chamber’s 80 representatives are women, compared to 19 percent in the U.S. and 14 percent in Romania. Yet, critics question how much power these female Parliamentarians truly wield. And while Rwandan women enjoy better conditions than women in many parts of Africa, they still face tremendous challenges and a huge amount of discrimination in their educations, careers, and society in general.
4. Some of the world’s best coffee comes from Rwanda
When you think of good coffee beans, you might think of Central America or maybe other African countries, like Ethiopia or Kenya. But when it comes to harvesting quality beans, Rwanda is right up there. Coffee grows throughout most of the country, but the best beans come from the eastern region, where the high elevation and volcanic soil create ideal growing conditions. Coffee tours show visitors each step of the process from picking coffee beans to drinking roasted coffee – after seeing all the work that goes into it, you’ll never look at a latte the same way again! Or, you can (sometimes) pick up a bag of Rwandan coffee at your local Starbucks.
5. You’d better stay off the grass in Kigali
The capital city of Kigali has some nice landscaping, including grassy medians and other green areas. But if you thought it was for actually using, think again! Even walking a few steps across grass when crossing a street or cutting through a roundabout is prohibited, and spreading out a picnic blanket is definitely not allowed. I’m not sure what happens if a policeman sees someone walking across the grass, but even random passersby will scold foreigners they see stepping on it.
About the author:
Jen Ambrose is a freelance writer and editor who’s passionate about making travel a force for good. Originally from Montana, she served for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Rwanda and has a Master’s degree in International Development. She has traveled extensively in the U.S. and abroad, particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia. Jen and her husband recently left their jobs in Boston to travel the world, working as freelancers and bloggers from the road. Their blog, Passions and Places, focuses on responsible travel, outdoors adventure, and getting off the beaten path. You can also find them on social media, including Facebook and Instagram.