21 December 2012

Rwanda: Do They Know It's Christmas Time?


About this, about seventeen years ago, I was doing my finest to lure my mum into buying me the Christmas present of my preference. House chores were done without instructions, obedience observed to the utmost - a trick that constantly worked with my mum.

Where I come from, people used to wait for Christmas all year long. Foods like rice, meat, mandazi, chapatti, and drinks like soda were only served during Christmas.

With Christmas, for us kids, there was an assurance of a new pair of shoes and a dress, and occasionally a fresh hairdo and lucky lads would also receive a 'don't touch my shoe' creased mutumba suit with a pair of DH rubber shoes to seal the look. That is how highly placed Christmas was during my childhood.

Presently, things have been altered. The mood is no longer that heated, plus the excitement that comes with Christmas has plunged several folds. I set out on a tour of Kigali city to discover whether people are actually in the celebratory mood Christmas drops.

My first stop was at the City's main shopping centres. Entering Nakumatt supermarket, KCT branch, Christmas decorations hit my eyes.

Big banners showing Christmas promotions reveal the mood the stores are trying to introduce their shoppers to. According to Adan Ramata, the Nakumatt Rwanda Country Manager, the carpet has already been rolled for the festive season. "We have put in place everything and even introduced a shopping promotion to reward our shoppers but the mood is still low. We hope it will increase as the day draws closer," says Adan.

According to Assouman Ntakirutimana, a shopper I intercepted at Nakumatt with his family, apart from the religious part of celebrating Christmas, the general enthusiasm that used to come with it has greatly decreased "The way Christmas used to be enjoyed two decades ago is not the same way it is nowadays. Things have completely changed. It has become a usual season. For me, this is a normal family shopping day we are having and not a Christmas one. We buy the same things time after time," says Assouman.

At Simba Supermarket, things were not any different. In the words of Carine Rutari, another shopper I found at Simba, the Christmas spirit is no longer what it used to be. "Life gets tighter every day and people need to strive harder to keep up with the economic hard times. People no longer close down offices for weeks just because of Christmas as one can lose a lot in terms of revenue," explains Carine, adding that it is these hard times that altered the way Christmas used to be celebrated.

Mathew Gamariel has owned a clothes stall in the city for the past sixteen years and he says that shoppers visit his stall evenly, year long. There are no distinctive times at which people shop more. "Christmas used to be the peak of our year sales but it is no longer the case. People shop from time to time except for a few cases who still believe in shopping for Christmas," notes Gamariel.

However, in the transportation industry, things seem a bit upbeat. Alfred Mugabe, a taxi operator plying the Kigali-Southern Province rout, says that business gets brighter during the Christmas period. "People usually travel from place to place to have Christmas as a family. We really get busy during this period as they are either travelling upcountry from the city or vice versa."

For entertainment spots, in our time, every day seems like a party day. "Sometimes we are even fully filled with revelers during normal days than over Christmas, but the mood fluctuates from time to time. We, nonetheless, make changes to usher in Christmas for customers," explains Amit Sharma, the manager of Downtown Bar and Restaurant, Kigali.

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