As a foreign visitor in Kigali it is a requirement that you learn one thing and you learn it quickly upon your arrival. If you don’t know how to haggle over the price of something, it’s best to start learning. Nearly everything is negotiable here. Unless it is specifically marked you can cut a deal and usually get a better price. While traveling as an American with two other Americans in Kigali, we have found there are two, sometimes three prices. 1) The Kigali price 2) The foreigner price and 3) The Muzungu price. Sometimes numbers two and three are the same, but they don’t have to be exclusive. For those reading who are unaware what a Muzungu is they should know it is a word that means “white person” or “stranger.” It has been defined to us by several Rwandans as “rich white person.” If a seller sees a Muzungu then they often choose to raise their prices.
In order to not get ripped off you have to be aware of when you are being ripped off. Easier said than done at times. If something is not marked with a price or genuinely understood there is always room to cut a deal. You just have to know when and how. In America, you’re best off going to buy furniture or a car with shabby clothes because they either 1) leave you alone and don’t haggle you or 2) don’t jack up the price. Here, as a Muzungu you can’t avoid it, but you must realize when you’re being hung out to dry.
In a variety of situations we’ve experienced wheeling and dealing. When hailing a mototaxi the driver priced a ride at 10,000 francs (almost $18). It was clear he knew the three of us were foreigners, but we knew that was an outrageous price and got the same ride for 1,000 francs. Additionally, it helps to have situational awareness. A separate time when the three of us were looking for mototaxi rides we approached three bikers and told them 800 francs is what we’d pay and the first turned it down and said 1,000. Immediately we said no thanks and asked another and he agreed to 800 and after another two bikers showed up it became a shark feeding frenzy and we were the chum. We found three rides for 800 francs because it became a buyer’s market for us and the first guy that turned us down realized he would lose business and lowered his price. The Donald would be proud.
While some things are very expensive in Kigali – particularity housing and Pringle’s…yes, I said Pringle’s. They’re $7 a can here – not everything is astronomically priced. Bread, for instance, is relatively cheap and delicious since it’s made fresh daily and locally. However, as noted, housing is extremely expensive. We’ve been told that we should blame NGOs and international developers. The typical Rwandan can’t afford the expensive housing that is being developed in the city, and this statement is times infinity for those Rwandans in rural areas.
While dealing with our housing situation we ran into several locals who were smooth talkers. One we will call Colonel Mustard. As it was explained to us, Colonel Mustard was a “entrepreneur.” He was a very nice guy, actually. He was a former soldier in the military, but I’m unsure how he came to such prominence. At the least he is a slum lord, considering he wanted to rent out a three bedroom apartment in the slums that smelled like urine, probably had some mold or asbestos growing, and, due to its overall sketchiness, it could conceivably have allowed us to wind up in a real-live version of the movie Hostel.
At the best, our friend the colonel is a slum lord who also runs a Blackwater private security operation and moves guns across borders. In Kigali, “private security” guard banks and their roster is mostly ex-police or military. He did run a security team because there were at least half a dozen security guards who sat outside on a truck while he was there. Col. Mustard said he’d “fix it up” if we decided to move in to the apartment. Imagine a nightmare episode of “Flip This House” where the house is in disarray but a starry-eyed couple thinks they can turn a quick profit after they fix up a complete dump. Luckily we were not that couple and “fixing it up” was not in the cards. There was no chance we’d stay there, even for $800 a month for the three of us. I’m sure people have died in there – and not of natural causes, mind you.
After that terrible option, we eventually were able to move into something that was more than acceptable after spending a week in a hotel. Finding housing located close to where we need to be for our internship, plus making it affordable and safe proved to be a nearly unreasonable task. In the end, we dealt with a Rwandan who priced newly refurbished apartments for $1500 per month until he saw us and would only rent to us for three months instead of two. In short, he wanted $4500 total instead of $3000. It was clear he decided to give us the Muzungu price. We “dealt” with him and countered with $1750 over two months and he changed his mind in a matter of 15 minutes. We ended up turning down that chump after he tentatively accepted our counter-offer. Between that apartment and a five bed, four bath half-mansion that proved to be too big we finally settled on a third option that we were shown at the last minute. It required no haggling in the price and it was the best option we saw since arriving. Having a place to call home is definitely a comforting feeling at this point.
In the famous words of Ryan Seacrest…