I’m interested, but tell me, what do you think of when you think about an African market? How do you feel about shopping there? What does it look like, smell like, sound like, feel like?
Well, I want you to take all those lovely assumptions and drive them right out of your head because a certain team in Kigali would like very much to welcome you to a new type of marketplace – a Rwandan marketplace, an artisan and designer space, celebrating everything you love about Rwanda, but in a very different package than what you are accustomed to.
The Cultural Village of Kigali (also referred to as Kigali Cultural Village or KCV), is located in Rebero Hill and it is open and ready for eager shoppers! The project was dreamed up and designed by Keios in 2011-2012 and is based on the concept of a multifunctional entertainment park, offering an integrated range of facilities, programmes and services. The expansive complex comprises outdoor spaces, an indoor auditorium, a botanical garden, museums that are easy to digest in a short period of time (for the traveller on a time budget), plus accommodation, restaurants and, importantly, SHOPS!
What are you looking for? Home and interior designs? Jewelry? Dresses? Shoes? Kidswear? You’ll find it.
Don’t get me wrong. You can find all of these things (well, to some extent) at the vast, noisy, crowded Kimironko Market. Being Kigali’s main market, Kimironko is certainly, well, an experience to be had. But having to navigate the swarms of women and children proffering (sometimes quite forcefully) thousands of mangos and avocados, massive plantains, and strings of dried fish, before getting to the back of the market where the fabric and artisan sellers are… it’s beautiful, but chaotic and exhausting.
The enclosed, air conditioned shopping pavilion of KCV, on the other hand, welcomes you with a couple of rows of neatly ordered booths.
First, you can stop by the Niyamirambo Women’s Center booth, where Quinto awaits with a smile to sell you a handbag, a dress, a cushion cover or a stuffed animal – all lovingly hand-sewn by a cooperative of local women. She’s eager to talk to you about Umutima projects and products as well, plus give you pointers for NWC walking tours and artisan workshops in Kigali. She’s a peach and, honestly, she’s the main reason I happened upon the KCV in the first place.
If Umutima designs aren’t your flavor, let your desires take you down a different aisle. There is plenty more to tickle those tastebuds of yours.
- GloCreations, F&H and Mizero Designs offer textiles and fun home and interior décor.
- Uzuri K&Y sandals, which I happen to be wearing presently and kind of swear by, can set you up with options on the shelf or carefully crafted, made-to-order sandals that are maybe what you’ve always wanted but only now found? Dokmai offers modern and interesting leatherworks in the womanly, manly and unisex varieties (#lovethem!).
- DuHope is a jewelry designer run by women with a tugging-on-your-heartstrings edge. While yes, they fashion really intricate and lovely earrings, necklaces, bags (by BetsieJane), etc. out of leather, stone and cowhorn (all sustainably made; check out their Stonethrowers, Pathway and Pyramid collections), their catch is that they are also warriors for bettering the lives of Rwandan women. Their artisans just happen to be 14 ladies who form a small cooperative and who are all reformed prostitutes. They now make jewellery for a living and have free access to social and psychological care, literacy training and daycare for their children while they work.
- Haute Baso offers, again due to a well-run social outreach and empowerment programme, traditional clothing, textiles and jewelry with a gorgeous, modern twist. “Made in Rwanda” meets “Ready-to-Wear”.
- Inzuki Designs creates dynamic jewelry and home decor that transcend traditional Rwandan design and customize it to suit modern needs.
- Sonia Mugabo and Moshions are taking great strides and offer beautiful and modern fashion lines, with Sonia Mugabo focusing on women’s RTW and Moshions making enormous strides in the men’s RTW category. Both are worth celebrating for the strong links to Rwandan roots they maintain in their progressive and imaginative high fashion and prêt-à-porter trends.
- Gahaya Links produces upscale artisan products and is dedicated to women’s economic empowerment through enterprise design and providing access to education. Their bespoke home decor, jewelry, and textile collections reflect the beauty and resilience of Rwandan women.
- plus a growing number of others….
And what was that I said about tastebuds? Are you a hungry or a thirsty shopper, like me? Well, it’s a good thing KCV has also set up an adjacent section for foodstands representing some of Kigali’s more well-known and successful bars and restaurants! You can visit a small version of the Choma’d Bar where barmen are eager to mix you almost anything you’d like, or the Yummy and Fresh smoothie stand to quench your vitamin thirsts. Plus, Africa Bite and Chapati have installed a sandwich shops, and a Bourbon Coffee stand can certainly keep your energy levels up (not familiar with Bourbon Coffee?? It’s the Starbucks of Rwanda… but so much better…).
The new cultural village is hoped to contribute to diversifying what tourism in Rwanda already offers and will play a key role in increasing the length and quality of tourist stays in the city of Kigali. Because wait! There’s more!
Did you think you were getting away with just a shopping or wandering experience? Wanderbust says, “No way, José – or no way, Dukuzumuremyi anyway,” because tourists and residents can also benefit from something even more interesting: Kigali is bringing the village experience to the city! You heard it here first! Cultural performances such as dancing, drumming and storytelling, will be on offer in line with demonstrations and learning experiences by and with local artisan crafters and a number of other fun leisure activities.
Whether you want to sit down and learn basket weaving, try your hand at African drumming or dance (it’s hard, by the way!), catch a performance or just shop slowly, quietly, and on your own leisurely time, the Kigali Cultural Village is the place for you.
Pay the KCV a visit when you’re in Kigali and make people like Quinto’s day by saying Hi and supporting her shop and its artisans. I know better than most that schedules are tight, whether you’re on holiday or just getting to and from work every day, and yes, there are plenty of places to visit when you are in Kigali. But I promise you’ll be very happy to have spent at least a fe moments grabbing a smoothie or a beer with a friend or loved one (neither are mutually exclusive, of course – the drinks OR the humans) and perusing the very cool and very stylish booths.