Touring Nyamirambo: The social hub
Rwandans are, by nature, more reserved than Kenyans, or other Africans. Loud music isn’t tolerated after 8pm and bars tend to close early. Some may call it boring, but Kigali’s residents embrace the city’s quiet calm. Yet, the oldest part of Kigali defies this stereotype.
Nyamirambo is a vibrant neighborhood in the south west part of Kigali. It’s been called, Kigali’s “coolest neighborhood” and the “heart of Kigali” also referred to as Old Kigali, as it is the major center where the entire city began from in way back. Nyamirambo is the life of Kigali city. People party night and day. Of course that comes with a lot of mischief. Grocery shops are open all night, boutiques show no signs of closing and people work in shifts, basically – Nyamirambo is usually awake 24 hours
Nyamirambo is among the ten sectors that makeup Nyarugenge district. It is made up of Mumena, Cyivugiza, Gasharu and Rugarama cells. Although Nyamirambo starts from Al-Fat’hu mosque, it has since grown and stretches to areas around Sky Hotel.
Home to a mixed population, including much of the city’s working class and Muslim population, as well as bars, cafes, boutiques and hair salons, the area is an interesting juxtaposition of cultures. It is home to everybody. People from different countries settle here and there many more who are shifting here. That is because it comes off as place where they realize their dream. Look at the businesses here, restaurants work till late; you can buy airtime at any time of the night, salons and boutiques don’t close. The population provides a good market for businesses
This can as well be seen vividly from the old structural building of the old age. Nyamirambo, one of Kigali’s suburbs, a town where people don’t and rarely go to sleep. Walk down the cobblestone roads in search of street art, tasty market finds, and some of Rwanda’s best views.
The neighborhood is one of Kigali’s oldest and is now a bustling and diverse community. The area is home to a largely Muslim population, but it is also popular amongst locals and expats looking for more affordable housing options, as compared to the new Kigali area with more expensive facilities of modern styles.
That being said, however, it’s an unmissable neighborhood for those looking for true insight into Rwanda’s capital city; it’s a lively place to visit and feel Kigali at heart. Take some time to explore the area’s rich markets, corner stores, impressive mosques, and busy streets, and soak up the true essence of all that is Nyamirambo.
At Nyamirambo’s heart is the Women’s Centre (NWC). The group began in 2008, with 18 women who came together to support each other, discussing issues like health, family, education and unemployment. It has since expanded to include a sewing cooperative and provides practical training and skills for disadvantaged women.
The NWC has also evolved to tap tourism as a revenue stream. They employ locals to lead tours, providing them with an income, while offering tourists an insider’s view of a proud neighborhood that has repeatedly resisted redevelopment and modernization.
Different aspects of the area illustrate the diversity that makes Nyamirambo special, and the NWC tour weaves a trail from the spiritual soul of the historic Green Mosque to Nyamirambo’s creative hubs. These are a few of the highlights.
Morning at the milk bar
Milk bars are where Rwandans get their equivalent of a morning latte. Nyamirambo is home to more than fifty of the small shops filled with little more than a vat of fresh cow milk. Glasses of hot, steamed fresh milk are served straight up, with cocoa powder, honey or tea.
Recently, the government has promoted milk bars in a push to nourish more of the population, particularly those on a low income, encouraging a healthy start to the day. For many Rwandans, a fresh glass of milk and a banana, is breakfast.
Daily Routine Life
The streets of Nyamirambo are among the most colourful in the city, brightened by the sight of women in kitenge (waxed cotton) dresses, sarongs, and wrapped around their waist, babies slung around their backs.
Swarms of people gather around a platform in the center of Nyamirambo to bid on Levi’s jeans, River Island shirts, and other labels at the second-hand clothing auction, while at the fabric market, women sift through the vividly patterned kitenge, before taking their purchases to Rwandan, Senegalese and Congolese tailors, known for their fine dressmaking skills. From small kiosks, surrounded by spools of thread in every colour, they sew made-to-measure garments.
Kinyarwanda slang originated from here and it is mostly the youth that come up with such words. Some of the words that have originated from here include Kujya horo (to get high or confused) Ihanagure (to forget or give up on something), and Kuri Tanu (a place for weed smokers), Kuyoka (to understand) among others.
And it is that slang that characterises most songs produced in this country. That shouldn’t come as a surprise because, as it happens, Nyamirambo is the hub of music too. Almost all popular Rwandan musicians were either born or learned their trade in Nyamirambo. Jay Polly, Knowless, Urban Boyz, Riderman, King James, started recording their music from Nyamirambo studios
The roadside pubs start arranging chairs as early as 5pm. A walk through the dusty street at Kwa Mutwe, brings you face to face with a new obsession of taking green tea. Crowds of people order for the beverage like their lives depend on it
Women also sew next door to the NWC boutique where the tour begins, selling their hand-made childrens’ clothes, home accessories and handbags, all in a kaleidoscope of kitenge.
On the streets at night, prostitutes can as well be sighted here. You can as well meet group of boys and girls smoking their staff – whatever the case, this streets are amazing and safe. As everyone tend to mind his business. Don’t be worried, the population is used of the tourists’ life, as a number of tourists tend to flood the street to explore these amazing hidden city secrets.
The free flowing life style has generated an attitude where people are rarely shocked or stare at anything that might seem out of the ordinary. While people in other towns of Kigali might stare at someone with a unique hair style such as the popular le coq (Mohawk), in Nyamirambo nobody would notice.
It’s the evening rush hour. Motor cyclists jostle for customers. Waiters and waitresses in roadside bars warm up for a long night as some patrons arrive to start the evening with some cold beers.
The barbeque experts take positions to begin the long night’s work. Seated on a bench perched on a verandah of a small shop at Kwa Mutwe, 68-year-old Yusuf Mudacumura sips from a small tea cup as he plays draughts with a group of other men. For him there is nothing unusual since this is the place where he was born 68 years ago. Welcome to Nyamirambo, Kigali’s suburb that never goes to sleep. This place has all sorts of people and things.
Ones financial status doesn’t matter here, anyone can survive in Nyamirambo. Rwf 500 is enough for one to survive for two days. A a stick of brochette goes for Rwf 500 in most parts of Kigali, but in Nyamirambo, one can find a stick of brochette at Rwf 100. Chapattis or “Chapatti z’I Nyamirambo,” as they are commonly known cost Rwf 100. A cup of green tea, coffee or tea with ginger costs Rwf 50. It caters for almost all categories of people. Fried fish costs Rwf 500 at most; meat sauce with chapatti (Asusa) goes for Rwf 400. Fruits are in plenty and also cost peanuts in most places
There are motor cyclists, mechanics and other people having supper as late as 1am. To get something to eat at such a late hour in Kigali is almost impossible. After stirring a conversation, I was amazed at how cheap their food is.
You can get any character in Nyamirambo, it has most of the illegal stuff and the ladies of the night are an added bonus.
Places to stay
Nyamirambo is about a 25-minute drive from the airport, and quite close to the neighborhoods of Kiyovu, Kimihurura, and the center of town.
For those interested in staying in Nyamirambo, check out Ten to Two Hotel and Kigali View Hotel. These are both budget locations, with rooms generally starting at RWF12,000 (US$14). The rooms are fairly basic, but the views of the city from the rooms and bar on the roof of Ten to Two are spectacular. For the more luxury inclined, definitely check out the nearby Kigali Marriott Hotel, Hotel des Mille Collines and Kigali Serena Hotel in the center of town.
Don’t shy away from staying in Nyamirambo – the parties go on till late, the liquor keeps flowing, and the location is undoubtedly vibrant.
Things to see and do
Travelers and residents alike can stay entertained in Nyamirambo for days. Do you want to get busy for the day, than staying at the hotel lobby, just get on the bike, or hook us up, and we start to make you explore this amazing place with a sightseeing tour that will take you around and explore this wonderful place with a local guide. You can as well take a walking tour probably to make you explore more and see amazing staff her. Spend your time wandering the streets, popping into local bars, milk cafes, local restaurants and cafes for some good people watching, taking advantage of the neighborhood’s party scene, and shopping at some of the city’s most interesting stores. The Nyamirambo walking tour, will give a great essence of the entire environment here, as you visit the Nyamirambo market, Milk bar, Hair dressing saloon, Nyamirambo Cassava Project and later have a great dine as you lunch with superb Rwandan Cuisine.
The Nyamirambo Market is a great first stop for guests, as walking by the various stands that offer countless beautiful fabrics, a bevy of used clothing, and plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables is a quick jump into the bustling neighborhood. You may not be interested to buy anything any way, but a visit will make you enjoy the place, as you explore the hide outs, and take a look on how business flows in the area.
After leaving the market, stay in the general vicinity. Stores just outside the market sell used electronics, clothing, and even handmade leather shoes to mention but a few. The ‘Made in Rwanda’ countrywide initiative is big right now, and shops around this neighborhood are certainly doing their part.
While walking around, doing the Nyamirambo walking tour, make sure to pay attention to Nyamirambo’s street art. Every other block features colorful murals, drawings, or graffiti, some of which were done by Kurema Kureba Kwiga, an organization dedicated to the proliferation of street art in Rwanda.
Rounding off the NWC tour is a cooking lesson at a local woman’s home. After exploring the daily fresh produce market, where you can see women grinding cassava root with giant pestle and mortars, you’ll be taught to cook some traditional Rwandan cuisine. Irish potatoes – named because the original crop came from Europe – sugar cane, and a stew of green beans, tomatoes, and onions, make up lunch at the end of the morning.
You can as well enjoy a local Rwanda cuisine, after your walking tour around Nyamirambo, this will really energize you with a traditional taste. Cold drink like soda of your type is as well served around. Number of milk bar cafes does exist in the area which is as well included on your walking tour as you visit the shop, for a cultural experience on how milk is important in Rwandan culture. You will really fall in love with this sightseeing adventure as you weave around the street of Nyamirambo.
Nyamirambo’s spiritual side
The Green Mosque, nick-named for its green and white minarets, has been a fixture in Nyamirambo since the Muslim community first came to Rwanda as traders in the 1930s. Kigali’s Muslims set up shops in Nyamirambo, and continue their tradition as merchants today, opening their shops well past sunset, adding to the area’s nighttime buzz.
The oldest mosque in Kigali, the Green Mosque is a symbol of peace, with a history as a safe haven for many Rwandans during the genocide: Nyamirambo is said to have escaped some of the worst atrocities of the 90s, largely due to its Muslim population. Many opened their homes and mosques to shelter Tutsis. Their acts of righteousness, along with a loss of faith in Catholic and Protestant leaders, resulted in high conversion rates and Rwanda’s Muslim community has doubled since the genocide. As many believed from the great attitude, love, and cared that was showed by the Muslim friends. So they felt in love with the religion, as many of the Muslim counterpart, did not take role in the ongoing genocide incidence of the 1994.
Nyamirambo is known for a vibrant nightlife, businesses that work 24/7 and a big Muslim community among others. However, the big Muslim community didn’t just decide to settle in Nyamirambo, it had something to do with the colonial system.
Dirty side of Nyamirambo
Although Nyamirambo sounds like the perfect town to stay, its downside is too frightening that most people are scared of walking in Nyamirambo during the day.
Crime is also a constant scare for would-be residents. Tarinyota, is the only place where all stolen car spare parts can be found. The place is also a hub for illicit drugs, weed, heroine and crude waragi. Add that on duplication of papers and a growing homosexual community and you will understand why people might be scared of staying in Nyamirambo. Thieves are rampant in Nyamirambo especially at night.
Nonetheless, it only takes a few days out of town before you start to miss it. But the town wouldn’t even care to know that you left, it teaches the realities of life and moves on. If you are not strong enough to face it, you are the loser. Several people will always front reasons that show how bad the place is, but its residents don’t want to know about that, to them it is a place that has made them who they are through real life lessons.
Don’t be worried, our local guide knows the corridors, he will be with you, and your safety is taken care of, let’s explore this hidden secret, and embrace the livelihood of it. Tour Kigali like a local. For bookings, kindly email or make a phone call, we are at your service to take you around.