Describe Rwanda in a word: complex.
Describe Kigali in a word: growing.
How can you truly describe a city? Can you find the most accurate of words, people, places, images, smells, food, and sounds?
The sweet burning of corn kernels over fire infuse your lungs while smog of over-sized buses and sounds of street sellers desperately shouting your name so they can sell you on over-grown, far too smelly shirt surround you. Lord knows where the shirt came from.
How then can you tell a story?
I prefer words most often, but with our words, we need visuals. Words bring to life; photographs bring color, possibility, and recognition.
In efforts to push the boundaries of adventure, I decided to seek something different to do last week.
Kigali has a plethora of delicious restaurants these days (Indian, Asian, Mexican….you name it, it’s likely here), and there are even more sporting events to attend, and art galleries to peruse. I desired something gritty. Something a bit more, in the thick of things.
I have lived in-and-out of this lovely country since late 2011 and in that time, had never had the opportunity to photograph and see Kigali intimately. It has felt rushed here sometimes, and usually inappropriate to whip out my Canon and say hey! I’m taking a photo! And so, despite that duration of time, I had never been able to take my time, to really see what Kigali is – underneath the nice scrub n’clean that you see from miles away. It’s a clean city – nobody would deny that- and it’s changed a lot. Therein lies a story to be told. Change.
I have known about Vayando for a while now but had never participated in any of the experiences or activities offered. Started by a couple of old Peace Corps Volunteers (go figure), Vayando seeks to “put micro-entrepreneurs on the tourism map” by matching interested travelers with up and coming local businessmen and women. Want to try basket weaving? There’s a place for you. Maybe night fishing is your thing? That’s available as well. Once a traveler is booked and has their experience, the entrepreneur is compensated, marketed, and continues to receive a steady stream of revenue, highlighting their ingenuity, ideas, and skills. It’s a different kind of tourism, and it’s a heck of a kind of awesome.
Wanting to practice more with my beloved Canon I nearly jumped at the opportunity to do street photography with Yakubu.
I booked almost immediately, grabbed a friend, and prepared for a day around the town.
It was better than I even expected. We went on the tops of buildings, in streets that I had not ever walked, and in corners of the city that I didn’t even know existed. We got to see varying attitudes of photography in Rwanda – why people get so nervous with cameras around – and how Yakubu himself, a freelancer, negotiates with community members to ensure them that he is telling a story – not doing anything else. I asked him how he found “just the right photo” and he emphasized that especially with people, it’s about them. You may be clicking the button, but it’s art when an image tells a story of who someone is without saying anything at all.
I loved that he said that, and I loved that I had the chance to receive advice, angles, and tips from someone so well versed in the photography world. It excited me even more that he’s Rwandan; growing on the international scene of photography talent; paving a way for future photographers to come from the country too. I got to spend three hours with Yakubu, traveling by foot around town, learning, watching, observing, and clicking away. If you find yourself in Rwanda, check this out. You won’t be disappointed. Especially if you so happen to love telling stories. It’s just another way of sharing with the world what God has made so beautiful – life.