8 British Habits I Lost When Moving To Rwanda

In 2013, Leigh Woods, Project Manager at Youth Time jetted off to the small landlocked African nation of Rwanda where he would spend the next few years of his life. Unsurprisingly, living in a little rural village situated in the country’s eastern province entailed many changes in his day-to-day life. His transition caused him to reflect on his own cultural heritage which in turn helped him to adapt to his new environment. Here, Leigh discusses some of the typically British habits and behaviors he had to ditch or reevaluate in order to truly appreciate and embrace his new home.

Traveling everywhere by car

Rwanda is fairly easy to get around via public transport – as long as you don’t mind a little discomfort every now and again. For longer journeys, reliable yet somewhat character building bus links are available between all major towns and cities. For shorter journeys, motorbike taxis are a quick and affordable method for getting from A to B. Aaah the moto taxi. The nimble, traffic weaving bane of the male reproductive system. My own experiences ranged from leisurely drives through the Rwandan capital to off-road backside-numbing hell rides of death.

Handshake greetings

When greeting fellow citizens in the UK, nothing other than a good old-fashioned knuckle-crippling handshake will do. Indeed, many of us might judge the strength of one’s character by the firmness of their grip. In Rwanda, however, a simple strong handshake just won’t cut the mustard. Expect to be embraced by locals there with a warm hug followed by three quick kisses and the prolonged holding of hands.

Meeting large groups can take a while

Complaining about the weather

Most of us Brits have adopted moaning as a hobby and there’s nothing more reliable than the consistently inconsistent British weather to get us all grumbling. I had to find something else to whine about in Rwanda, however, as the land of a thousand hills boasts spectacular weather pretty much all year round.

Disconnection from nature

In Britain, most of us are far too busy pottering about our days to pay any attention to the wildlife that surrounds us. In Rwanda, however, the biodiversity is so rich and colorful that it’s almost impossible not to get distracted by the enchanting array of flora and fauna that inhabits the stunning green landscapes.

Sunbirds are just one of many vibrant bird species one can find after five minutes spent outside

Taking water for granted

Lack of sanitized water and numerous outages led to my appreciation of how good we have it in the UK and across most of the western world when it comes to water accessibility. As Monty Python’s four Yorkshire men might have said, showers were at times, “luxury”, as was the opportunity to flush the toilet or wash the dishes during periods with little rainfall. Sterilizing each glass of water before drinking became routine and hand washing my clothes in rainwater was fairly commonplace.

Surfing the internet

Due to the abundance of power outages and weak internet signal, I spent my free time far more productively by reading books, photographing wildlife and cooking meals from scratch. Stepping away from the web also encouraged me to spend more time with people, which in turn helped me to develop some of the strongest relationships I’ve ever had

Fresh and organic fruit and veg made cooking from scratch a joy

Worrying over nothing

We all worry about things from time to time, but in reality most issues we allow ourselves to become stressed or anxious over aren’t really worth it. My time in rural Rwanda certainly put things into perspective. I lived and worked among some of the poorest people in the world, yet they were also some of the most cheerful and optimistic I’ve ever met. The inspiring Rwandan people taught me that the best things in life truly are free.

Keeping up with the football

Alright, so I didn’t take a complete hiatus on this one. I managed to locate a bar in Kigali that showed English Premier League matches, but had to make do with catching them every other weekend. Before moving to Rwanda, I could more or less state the dates, times and opponents of the next few matches involving my team (Tottenham Hotspur since you asked), but after a few months, I would forget to check results until a few days after each game took place.

The football crazy locals ensured 2 or 3 matches were arranged per week.


And here were the habits I got to keep!

Drinking tea

Praise the tea gods that I didn’t have to give up what is perhaps the most stereotypically British custom. Yes, it turns out that Rwandans are (almost) as serious about drinking tea as we Brits. In fact, the hundreds of plantations coating the fertile volcanic soils happen to make tea Rwanda’s largest export.

Football mania

As with many African nations, football is the national sport in Rwanda with the English Premier League being the most followed. I may not have been able to watch matches or keep up with the latest news, but there was still a lot to talk about. Not only were there plenty other armchair footballers to swap terrible footballing opinions with, I also got to play regularly and coached the village boys and girls teams.

Friendly banter

The Rwandan sense of humor is surprisingly similar to the British. Our satirical and self-deprecating style of comedy seems not to be lost on all we cross paths with, and “taking the mickey” is generally understood by locals as nothing more than light-hearted banter not to be taken seriously.

Photos: Leigh Woods




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