The Before

To appreciate any present, it’s important to know what came before. And this feels particularly relevant to Tongo Art Gallery and our renovation story.

  An image of the front of the gallery circa Feb 2014

 An image of the front of the gallery circa Feb 2014

Because the thing about Kigali is its rapid-fast-action pace of development. This thanks to a government – and particularly a President – deeply committed to changing the face of this tiny country. Rwanda promotes an image of organized, clean growth. From the swept streets to the manicured lawns and public trash bins, Kigali isn’t like most African cities.

And what this means for residential development  and small business is money. Money. Money. Expats landing in Kigali for their first time in Africa may be shocked to find rent as high (or higher) than many large American cities. And the houses (yes, houses. Apartments are only now becoming a thing) are big and beautiful and new…and expensive.

You may think I digress. My point is this: When Joe and I were gallery-home-hunting, we had a choice.

  • Option 1: Pay a huge amount of money for a big beautiful new house
  • Option 2: Find a smaller traditional space and renovate

Clearly, we went with the latter. But we were SO LUCKY! Why? Because we happened upon a tiny house on the main paved road just behind the President’s Office. Nowadays it’s pretty rare to find such structures in co-habitation with neighbors like the IMF and USAID offices. But the place seemed to be waiting for us…

So in February-ish of 2014 we started our first round of work. Two apartments. The front apartment was slated to be our gallery space and the back apartment would serve as living space for Joe. We were also blessed with a pretty stunning view of Kigali from our rustic back “patio” and a quaint garden space in front. Work needed to be done…but oh, the potential!

Anyway, before I tell you about all the neat changes we’re making, just take a moment to appreciate what came before. The photos tell the real story and how much love and commitment was really required to get things up and running.  Joe and I love this place. We really do. It felt right, you know?