Valentine’s Day special: Kigali toasts to love

THE big question is no longer the origin of Valentine’s Day.  It is how and why we celebrate it. Over the years the Valentine’s Day craze in Rwanda has picked up.  This year the lover’s day has been hyped and it is the talk of town-from radio stations, Television, News Papers to special valentine’s packages being dangled by hotels and recreational facilities.  The business people are cashing in more than before. The Valentine’s bug has descended on Kigali and it looks like it won’t spare any lover. Today the city is literally toasting to love.
The non-followers of Valentine’s Day believe that love should be celebrated every day of the year. Net photo
The non-followers of Valentine’s Day believe that love should be celebrated every day of the year. Net photo

THE big question is no longer the origin of Valentine’s Day.  It is how and why we celebrate it. Over the years the Valentine’s Day craze in Rwanda has picked up. 

This year the lover’s day has been hyped and it is the talk of town-from radio stations, Television, News Papers to special valentine’s packages being dangled by hotels and recreational facilities. 

The business people are cashing in more than before. The Valentine’s bug has descended on Kigali and it looks like it won’t spare any lover. Today the city is literally toasting to love.

If you walk into most supermarkets and major stores in the city, a section or two are reserved solely for the merchandise of valentine themed items, from 20-year-old wines to lacy red inner wear for women and boxes of chocolate. Flower sellers are making a kill as lovers place orders for roses to be delivered to their loved ones.

Collin Rwelinyange makes a living by wrapping gifts at Kimironko market. He says that the last time business was this good, was during the festive season.  He says that although previous Valentine’s Day occasions almost passed un noticed, that is no more. 

“This time around more people are buying gifts. I think the urban elite are finally embracing Valentine’s Day,” Rwelinyange says. 

Vendors of flowers and chocolates are rubbing their hands with glee; this year’s Valentine’s Day has been kind to them, numerous orders have been placed; though statistics of their profits or orders are uncertain, it is clearly a good day for them.

Restaurants across the city and beyond have also come out to make the most of the day with dinners and treats made for lovers’ pleasure. Most have romantic dinners lined up, at a costly fee of course, and others offer treats like beauty spa specials. 

Other restaurants are banking on singles’ loneliness by hosting blind dates and events that promise to provide loners some company for at least the day which songstress Solange Umuhire, popularly known as Liza Kamikazi, frowns upon. 

“There is no need to be under such kind of pressure in love. It is supposed to happen at its own time, at the right time. No need to get desperate; believe in love and it will happen,” she says.

Speaking to older folks, you get the feeling that Valentine’s Day has been reserved for the young generation and come off as new to the older generation. Most see it as another of the habits and traits that the affluent youthful population has adopted from the west.

54-year-old Martine Irakoze has seen lots of Valentine’s days that have passed by with the only mention of ‘Valentines’ being in catholic masses. She has also seen the day slowly gain popularity among the young population. 

“Growing up, we rarely marked the calendar on February 14; we took it like any other day. There was still talk of it being a lover’s day but no one took it seriously. It was only celebrated during morning mass in catholic churches. But slowly I have seen it fast become popular. It began with a few people wearing red outfits, and giving gifts to their lovers, but every year after that, it has always been bigger than the previous,” Irakoze says.

The day even has an impact on those not in relationships; some choose to treat themselves in the name of being happily single and others flock to the numerous singles’ parties lined up on the day.

The singles

Beattah Ingabire will be one of those who will go out for a self-treat accompanied by her girlfriends.

“Not dating doesn’t mean I can’t go out and have a good time with my friends and celebrate life.  Valentine’s Day is fast moving from a couple’s day to a celebration of life,” Ingabire says.

For the 25-year-old supermarket attendant, not having a date on Valentine’s Day shouldn’t be a reason for sadness. “There is Mother’s day and Father’s Day and not everyone has a father or mother. If you have one good for you, if you don’t have one, celebrate life,” Ingabire advises.

Culture-wise

But even as the Valentine’s Day craze consumes most, some people like Intore Masamba, a traditional music artiste and founder of the famous Gakondo Band, see it as a creation and adoption of the West meant to excite people to reach deeper in their pockets and spend.

 “In the Rwandan culture, we are taught to love and show love and compassion every day. We should not limit our proof of love to only one day in a year,” Masamba says.

Though it doesn’t float his boat, he has nothing but respect for those who regard it highly. 

At the Ministry of Sports and Culture, there is an office mandated to ensure that culture stays alive and is not chocked by progress and developments - Culture Promotions. The office is held by Lauren Makuza who says that Valentine’s Day is not overrated and should serve as a moment for lovers to evaluate where their love stands. 

“As lovers or as a couple, you should always have time to evaluate yourselves, and where your relationship stands. You need a moment to stop and look back to what has been happening to your love life and set goals as a couple if you didn’t have any. Valentine’s Day is that time. It however should not be overdone,” Makuza says.

If you want to put a face to the Valentine’s Day obsession, you will have to pass by one of the fancy dinners restaurants are throwing that cost an arm and a leg. You will walk in to the mellow tunes playing at the right decibels and air conditioning that rivals a breeze. Couples will be in their best attire and the lady will most likely be sitting next to a bouquet of roses.  But whether all this is sincere or out of the pressure, no one can tell.  

Like most days celebrated, Valentine’s Day might have come aboard a ship; our understanding of it may be a little wanting, causing us to interpret it differently and celebrate it another way. 

So whether the day finds you stuck at work, eyeing the roses and chocolates that your workmates are receiving or looking into the eyes of a lover plotting the days ahead in your love life, you make part of the many people still consciously or unconsciously trying to figure Valentine’s Day out.

What is your most memorable Valentine’s Day?

My best friend and I operate a video library and we were dating two girls who worked at the same salon. My friend and I made plans to take them for drinks after work but we were shocked when they both broke up with us. We were so hurt and decided to drown ourselves in beer. We later learnt that they had other guys who drive taxis. 

Jean Bosco Nkulikiyimana, Video library owner

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My man and I had been dating for a year and half in 2001 and he had promised he’d propose that year but he didn’t. I got angry with him so when Valentine’s Day came in 2012, I wasn’t expecting anything. He sent no flowers, no message, no phone call but he surprised me by picking me up from work. I wasn’t even talking to him but we ended up at a nice restaurant and half way through the dinner I began to soften. All this time, he was being so nice. Finally, the waiter brought a silver tray and announced: ‘A special treat for the lady.’ I expected a dessert, but instead found the most gorgeous diamond ring I’ve ever seen lying on a bed of red rose petals. We were married seven months later, and it’s been nothing but bliss ever since.
Antionette Mbabazi, Social worker
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My most memorable Valentine’s Day is the worst. My fiancée told me he would be working late so I decided to go for dinner with my best friend only to find him with another woman at the restaurant we had gone to. They had a bottle of wine and you could tell they were in love. When he saw me, he fidgeted and had no explanation. We broke up later. 
Hedidiya Muhayimana, Health worker
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I’m not a fan of Valentine’s Day but there was a girl I loved so much that I always thought I couldn’t live without her. We had been dating for nine months and during that period, Valentine’s Day came around. I told her that I wasn’t really keen on Valentine’s Day and wanted to know if it would be fine to do something low key instead. She was disappointed, and I felt bad. I thought about it and decided to surprise her with a bottle of wine, a flower and chocolate. When I showed up at her place, she was on the couch kissing and touching with some guy! Some “Happy Valentine’s Day” to me. 
Abraham Muliisa, Environmentalist
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Last year, I had a presentation on Valentine’s Day and it turned out to be a total disaster. I hadn’t prepared adequately which made me look stupid before my bosses because I couldn’t answer the simplest of questions. My presentation was dismissed but my husband arranged to take me out to dinner, it was a good cheer-up. I’ve never been more happy or in love with my husband like I was at that moment.
Jackline Owinyi, Procurement and logistics trainer
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