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weekends at the lake

What is there to do in Kigali? The question is a tad rhetorical, but worth asking all the same.


The question came up, as it does not infrequently in conversations among expats, at a birthday party we went to last weekend. The answer tends to be some variation of “not much, but Kigali is nice and we like it here.” The restaurant scene has expanded somewhat since S first came to Rwanda half a dozen years ago, but Kigali is still relatively quiet. Not surprisingly, the party scene (if our young, single friends are to be believed – and we see no reason to doubt them) pales in comparison with other regional capitals, such as Nairobi and Kampala.


Rwandans tend to be reserved, and we don’t anticipate developing many intimate local friendships, as we did in Moldova. On the other hand, we have been surprised by the vibrancy of the expat community, which is considerably larger and more diverse than it was in Chisinau. Munchkin may have the most active social life of any of us – there are a ton of kids his age, both in the Embassy community and the larger expat circle – but we’ve also found plenty of people with whom we’ve connected.


Community and diversion are not the same, however. There have been tons of cookouts, BBQs, birthday parties, brunches, and game nights in our two-and-a-half months here, but we’ve struggled to find activities outside the home. This doesn’t bother D as much, since he is perfectly content to spend the bulk of his weekend relaxing with a book in our yard and enjoying the local birdlife. S, on the other hand, bears the brunt of Munchkin’s incessant demands and needs to get out of the house in order to maintain her sanity.


Now that we have more or less settled in, S made D commit to making at least one family outing per weekend. Saturday, we went for a short walk around Lake Nyarutarama, and Sunday morning D took Emmie back for a longer walk. With a dog on a leash and a camera strapped to his chest, D got as many looks as the four of us did yesterday when S had Munchkin in a carrier. Despite the number of expats in Kigali, foreigners appear to be a source of endless fascination and the staring can feel downright aggressive sometimes.


Having now been to Lake Nyarutarama twice, D doubts it will fit the bill for the kind of family outings S has in mind: the lake is small, not particularly scenic, and – most importantly – there’s not much for Munchkin to do there. Parts of the lake are a bit more secluded, and there are a ton of birds frolicking in the reeds along the shore.


However, it is impossible to hope for idyll or solitude in the middle of a big city, and much less so in the capital of Africa’s most densely populated country. There are people working the fields adjoining the lake and fisherman casting their rods all along the shore. There is a golf course that abuts the lake on one side. And, worst of all – there is a significant amount of trash that has accumulated in some of the reedbeds.


For all the downsides, D is thinking of making the lake a regular destination for weekend outings, both because of the birding opportunities it offers, and also because Emmie, whose needs sometimes get lost in the shuffle, had such a blast there. Our gardener sometimes takes her for walks around the neighborhood, but she can clearly use more exercise than she gets, and given the opportunity to roam freely she had a field day at the lake. While D stalked the reedbeds looking for birds, Emmie splashed around at the water’s edge, chased after ground birds, and even found a patch of cow manure to roll around in.

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As for the birding, Sunday was overcast; in fact, it rained all night and was still raining when we got up, and it started raining again shortly after D returned home. For all that, the outing was a success. D saw dozens of different bird species, including half a dozen or more he had yet to photograph: three different kinds of kingfishers, the woodland kingfisher being new to us; all sorts of finches, cisticolas, waxbills, and weavers; various waterfowl; and the highlight of the day – a palm-nut vulture that swooped down out of nowhere just as D was getting ready to head home.

Bird photos, top to bottom: grey-backed fiscal, palm-nut vulture (new), winding cisticola (new), yellow-backed weaver (immature, with changing plumage, was a bit difficult to identify), hadada ibis, woodland kingfisher (new); all the birds in the slideshow are also new to us.

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