Kibeho, Rwanda: The Lourdes of Africa

Choir members pull on their robes before mass at The Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Kibeho, Rwanda. This is the only sanctioned Marian sanctuary in Africa. Kibeho's overseers and the Rwandan government hope this place will become a top tourism site. © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Choir members pull on their robes before mass at The Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Kibeho, Rwanda. This is the only sanctioned Marian site in Africa. The Rwandan government hopes Kibeho will become a top religious tourism site on par with Lourdes in France or Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Down a dusty road in southern Rwanda, the pointed blue roof of a large church suddenly pierces the sky. This is the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Kibeho, the only Catholic Church-sanctioned Marian site in Africa. The Church says the Virgin Mary appeared here from 1981-1983, offering messages of prayer and peace to three young women, but also foretelling the 1994 genocide.

“‘I see a river of blood! What does that mean? No, please! Why did you show me so much blood? Show me a clear stream of water, not this river of blood!” screamed Alphonsine Mumureke, one of the three visionaries, according to a book by genocide survivor Imaculeé Ilibagiza. “Why are those people killing each other? Why do they chop each other?”

The Shrine’s overseers and the Rwandan government hope this place will become a top religious tourism site on par with Lourdes in France or Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. However, there has been some criticism that the government isn’t doing enough to attract tourists and the religious faithful to Kibeho.

You can see more of my Kibeho photos here.

A paper prayer petition lies folded at the foot of this statue of the Virgin Mary in the Apparitions Chapel at the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Kibeho, Rwanda. The chapel is where the three young visionaries slept when the building was a dorm. The Mary statue is where Alphonsine Mumureke's bed was; Alphonsine was the first visionary, back on November 28, 1981. © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

A paper prayer petition lies folded at the foot of this statue of the Virgin Mary in the Apparitions Chapel at the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Kibeho, Rwanda. The chapel is where the three young visionaries slept when the building was a dorm. The Mary statue is where Alphonsine Mumureke’s bed was; Alphonsine was the first visionary, back on November 28, 1981. © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

 

Pilgrims from Kigali pray the rosary at the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Kibeho, Rwanda. The Virgin Mary appeared here in 1981to three young women. © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Pilgrims from Kigali pray the rosary at the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Kibeho, Rwanda. © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Nyungwe Forest Waterfall

Nyungwe_Forest_Rwanda by Laura Elizabeth Pohl
This is one of my favorite non-work photos from last year, taken when my husband and I spent a weekend in Nyungwe Forest. We’d heard from many people about the beauty of the waterfall hike – and the gorgeous reward at the end – and finally we did it on our third visit to the national park. Completely worth it!

How to pay your national taxes in Rwanda

Working in Rwanda by Laura Elizabeth PohlA worker mops the floor in the Rwanda Health Communication Center, Kigali.

You’ve registered your business in record time at the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and now you’re ready to start selling/consulting/whatevering. But don’t forget about paying your national taxes.

Ideally, RDB would give all newly-registered businesses a welcome packet with FAQs about processes like this. When and exactly how to pay your taxes is not clear on RDB’s website or the English website of the Rwanda Revenue Authority (Rwanda’s IRS). Some Rwandan business owners told me the information isn’t clear on RRA’s Kinyarwanda website, either.

What’s a person to do?

Well, you can learn from my mistakes.

I first registered my business in February 2013. My Kigali-based accountant advised me that I needed to pay my national taxes for 2013 at the beginning of 2014. I keep close track of all my income and expenses via a great website called Freshbooks, so when taxpaying time came around, I knew exactly how much I owed. I went to RRA, where a helpful woman asked me how much I earned in 2013 (she didn’t ask for any documentation of this amount, by the way), typed the number into a computer and printed my tax payment form for me. Then I had to run downstairs and get the form stamped and signed by another woman. The second woman almost didn’t sign my form because I didn’t have a business stamp. I kinda laughed and said, “I want to give the government money. Are you not going to let me give the government money because of a stamp?” She smiled and signed off. In all this took me about one hour.

Back in early 2014, the Rwandan government was touting online tax payments. Unfortunately, the system didn’t work for me, so I ended up pulling a bunch of cash and paying my taxes in person at the Bank of Kigali headquarters in town. It was about two weeks before the March 31 deadline and I waited for two hours along with about 20 other people. It was not fun. This was the only time I’ve seen Rwandans get in a tizzy about people cutting in line. I can only imagine the scene if you procrastinate paying your taxes.

As 2014 progressed, I met with my Kigali-based accountant again to make sure I was doing things right. We likely talked about something related to quarterly tax payments, but I didn’t pay close enough attention. My accountant in Rwanda doesn’t actually do my taxes for me – just advise me – so there’s no blame on her, just me for not listening enough. I assumed that paying taxes every quarter was optional, like it is in the United States (where I’m from) – a suggestion to keep you organized throughout the year, not a regulation with consequences.

Oh, the consequences!

More about those in a minute, but first a word about the regulations as I recently experienced them.

During your first tax year in business you pay national taxes only after the end of that calendar year. So if you register your business in August, you don’t pay any taxes until after Dec. 31 of that year. Then you have until March 15 of the next year to pay your taxes for the previous year (or portion of the previous year). In your second and subsequent years in business, you must pay taxes every quarter based on the total amount you paid the previous year. So, if last year you paid a total of 200,000 RWF in national taxes, this year you will pay 200,000 RWF / 4 = 50,000 RWF each quarter.

And now about those consequences.

Each quarter you don’t pay your national taxes you must pay a flat fine of 100,000 RWF plus an additional fine of 60% of the taxes you should have paid that quarter. Plus, you still owe the actual taxes for that quarter.

As an example, let’s say you should have paid 50,000 RWF in taxes in a quarter but you pay late. Your fine amounts to 100,000 RWF + (50,000 RWF x 60%) = 130,000 RWF. That’s in addition to the 50,000 RWF in taxes you should have paid. So when you pay late, you end up shelling out a total of 180,000 RWF for a quarter where you originally owed 50,000 RWF.

In 2014, my second year in business, I didn’t pay any quarterly taxes. As a result, I recently paid almost as much in fines as I did in taxes. It was awful. I was mad at myself for not fully educating myself about the tax regulations. I had to fill out and sign tons of forms where I admitted I didn’t pay quarterly taxes and agreed to pay the penalties. I didn’t even try bothering with online tax payment. I again pulled out a bunch of cash and paid up at the bank.

Please note that I’m not giving tax advice in this blog post. I’m the daughter of an accountant but that doesn’t mean I can help you calculate your taxes owed in Rwanda or give you other tax advice. I’m just sharing my experience for peoples’ benefit.

If you need tax information or assistance you might try talking in person with the mostly friendly and helpful employees at RRA. Also, I highly recommend my Kigali-based accountant, Lindsay Hodgson. Fair warning that she’s pricey – you get what you pay for. She’s the auditor for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Rwanda and she can quote straight from Rwanda’s tax code. Just be sure you carefully listen to her. Be ye not like me.

How to get a national police clearance report in Rwanda

Kigali, Rwanda, by Laura Elizabeth Pohl
(Note: Currently you can get a Rwandan national police report only in Rwanda or at a Rwandan embassy. However, you might be able to get it online in the near future.)

1. Gather all the materials you need for your report:
– passport
– two passport photos
– copy of your passport information page
– copy of your Rwandan visa page
– copy of your employment letter (if you need the report for employment purposes)
– 1200 RWF

2. Visit Rwanda Revenue Authority in Kimihurura to pay for your report. When you enter the building, the receptionist will direct you up one level to the finance office. You’ll have to leave your ID with the guard at the foot of the stairs/elevator before going upstairs. There’s no receptionist in the finance office. Don’t be afraid to interrupt someone and ask for help. Eventually, someone will help you. He or she will need your passport to create a bill denoting that you want to pay for a clearance report. Once you receive this bill, take it back downstairs to the bank (for those of you who have never been, there’s a bank inside RRA). A person there will take your bill and your 1200 RWF and you will receive a receipt. Don’t lose this! You need the receipt for your next step.

3. Go to the National Public Prosecution Authority‘s office between 7 a.m. and noon, which is when they accept applications for police clearance reports. The NPPA is next to the Ministry of Justice and directly across from Parliament. When you’re facing the NPPA’s entrance, turn right and walk along the small path parallel to the building. The first door on the left is where you want to go. Fill out your application form and attach all your other paperwork to it, including the RRA receipt.

4. In about a week you should be able to pick up your police clearance report.

Tips

– If for some reason you can’t bring your passport to RRA, the copy of your passport information page should suffice.
– Arrive at NPPA as early as you can to turn in your application. By 7:30 a.m. the place is crowded.
– Check your police report right away for errors. My husband and I saw after the fact that the NPPA misspelled both our names: they spelled my middle name the French way and jumbled up his last name. We had to go back and wait about 30 minutes for the mistakes to be corrected.

Rolling around with gorillas* at Kwita Izina, Rwanda’s naming ceremony for baby gorillas

Today is Kwita Izina, the annual Rwandan ceremony for naming new baby mountain gorillas. Last year my husband and I got one of the many free invitations to the event and I recorded our experiences. This was my first time producing an audio story where I was part of the story, a la This American Life. I learned a lot in making this piece and hope to create more in the future. What do you think?

(*Not real gorillas. Listen to the story or see the pictures for details.)

[sc_embed_player fileurl=”http://www.laurapohl.com/KwitaIzina.mp3″]

01-Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming celebration in Kiniga, Rwanda, on Saturday, June 22, 2013. By Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

02-Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming celebration in Kiniga, Rwanda, on Saturday, June 22, 2013. By Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

03-Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming celebration in Kiniga, Rwanda, on Saturday, June 22, 2013. By Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

05-Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming celebration in Kiniga, Rwanda, on Saturday, June 22, 2013. By Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

06-Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming celebration in Kiniga, Rwanda, on Saturday, June 22, 2013. By Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

07-Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming celebration in Kiniga, Rwanda, on Saturday, June 22, 2013. By Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

08-Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming celebration in Kiniga, Rwanda, on Saturday, June 22, 2013. By Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

10-Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming celebration in Kiniga, Rwanda, on Saturday, June 22, 2013. By Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

11-Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming celebration in Kiniga, Rwanda, on Saturday, June 22, 2013. By Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

12-Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming celebration in Kiniga, Rwanda, on Saturday, June 22, 2013. By Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Sorwathe tea plantation and factory for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation

Sorwathe tea plantation by Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Years ago, a photo editor who had just reviewed my portfolio showed me a beautiful picture of a golden wheat field. He said that one of his staff photographers had shot it. “See, that’s the kind of photographer we like to hire here,” he said. “Someone who can make a wheat field look gorgeous.” I remember thinking it couldn’t be that hard to shoot a lovely photo of a wheat field. In fact, I thought, fields of corn or even tall grass would be low-hanging fruit as far as pretty pictures go.

I’ve now shot plenty of fields of corn and tall grass and tomatoes and passion fruits. I was right back then: it’s not so hard to make a pretty photo of any of these things. But it sure is fun. It’s also nice to add some beauty to the world through my pictures. My most recent “pretty photo” assignment was to photograph the Sorwathe tea plantation and factory in Rwanda for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. Nothing beats working outside in the mild sunshine, walking in tea fields and learning about tea-making. The most interesting thing I learned (which may also show what a dunce I am about tea) is that green tea and black tea come from the same leaves. It’s the processing that makes one green and the other black.

Sorwathe tea field by Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Sorwathe tea plantation by Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Sorwathe tea factory by Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Sorwathe tea factory by Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Sorwathe tea factory by Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Sorwathe tea factory by Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Sorwathe tea factory by Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Sorwathe tea factory by Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Sorwathe tea factory by Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Sorwathe tea factory by Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Sorwathe tea factory by Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Sorwathe tea factory by Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl