Recap: Diner en Blanc Kigali 2016

To say my trajectory at Diner en Blanc Kigali has been interesting would be an understatement.  I moved to Rwanda about two weeks before the 2013 edition, and was not interested in attending, despite my then roommate’s invitation. The thought of packing up tableware and food AND having to wear all white did not sound appealing.

In 2014, I decided to go alone, and managed to break the one pair of white shoes I owned. Thank God I had my flip flops with me.

In 2015, I went with a fabulous group of friends and Kigali Naturalistas. We won best table, and an amazing camping trip to Akagera National Park.

And in 2016, I was invited to host the fifth edition, alongside popular event host and moderator, Regis Isheja.

Diner en Blanc Kigali 2016
Pre- Diner en Blanc Kigali promo shoot with my co-host, Regis Isheja. We were probably laughing at the fact that he’s 10 feet taller than I am.
Photo: Illume Creative Studio

If you’ve read any of my previous DEB posts, you know I always have some sort of mishap. Thankfully, this year they were minor. First, my tailor informed me the night before the event that he had not started sewing my outfit (which was supposed to be ready from the previous Monday), and was not going to be in town on Saturday  to work on it. My Saturday morning was spent stalking menacingly outside his workplace, convincing his coworkers to call him and get him to finish the outfit – which he did. Secondly, my taxi broke down as I was on my way. I had the kind of mini panic attack you get when you are late and you are supposed to be helming an event, and you expect the whole crowd to stare at you in disapproval as you walk in, in slow motion. Thankfully, others were late, so my fifteen-minute delay did not cause a problem. In fact, we had enough spare time for my friend, (and DJ for the evening) Makeda,  to help me adorn my ‘fro with flowers, completing my whimsical fairy look.

DJ Makeda. MC Donnalee Donaldson. Diner en Blanc Kigali 2016
With DJ Makeda, en route to the secret location. We were 5 minutes away and didn’t even know it.

The third issue was that at some point after I reached the venue, it occurred to me that my black and white bowtie was violating the all-white dress code. Aaaaah, but it was so cute, was it not? Nevethless, probably not a good look to be out of formation if one is hosting an event. Of course I had two backup necklaces with me, so it all worked out in the end. (Yes, I carry backup shoes and jewelry to events. You never know what will happen!)

Margaux Wong. White Throne. Diner en Blanc 2016.
After switching out my bowtie. The jewelry pictured is from Margaux Wong’s White Throne collection. Sustainable fashion, made in Burundi!

I had every intention of making a vlog again this year. Brought my tripod and all. Alas, I learned that being an excellent host does not go well with filming excellent footage. So I decided to focus on the thing I was being paid to do – host!

MC Donnalee Donaldson. Diner en Blanc Kigali 2016
Ready-Set-Host!

This year’s secret location was the Kigali Conference and Exhibition Village. Unlike last year, I was not able to correctly guess the location – I had been betting on the area in front of Kigali’s brand new Convention Center, as it continues to be the talk of the town. I still think the brightly lit dome would have been the perfect backdrop for Diner en Blanc, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it is used in the future.

Diner en Blanc Kigali 2016
My outfit captured some of my travels. The shades are from the US. The bowtie is from Ghana. My lipstick is MAC Ruby Woo – purchased in Qatar. The shoes are from H&M in Paris. My button-down and tutu were made in Rwanda. And my cow-horn ring, earrings and ring were from Margaux Wong in Burundi.
Photo: DJ Makeda

As usual, things got underway with the arrival of the 600 guests via buses coming from various departure points across town. They were greeted by the sound of Regis’ and my voice, complimentary wine on their tables, and the smooth mixing of DJ Makeda, which set the tone for the evening. There were even complimentary glasses of champagne at hand. Guests had about forty-five minutes to set up their tables, many aiming to win the elusive prizes for the most attractive tableware, while Regis and I kept the banter going.

MC Donnalee Donaldson. Diner en Blanc Kigali 2016
A candid moment at Diner en Blanc Kigali 2016.
Photo: Illume Creative Studio

Once the napkins were waved to signal the official opening of the event, Makeda kept the vibe going, while everyone dived into their meals. My friends and I brought from Trattoria. We thought we ordered for four, but we easily had enough for ten. The worst part is, I literally ate one piece of meat the entire night. That was it. Note to self: Eat a full meal before hosting an event!

Diner en Blanc Kigali 2016. Food from Trattoria.
Part of our delicious meal – vegetable soup, lamb chops, potatoes, salad, and 2 cakes! And all I had was that one piece of lamb on the right.
Diner en Blanc Kigali 2016
Our attempt at celebrating diversity. Our art and craft experiment did not go as planned. Haha.

What was I doing instead of eating? Interacting with the crowd and keeping them entertained and engaged, in partnership with my co-host. One of my favourite activities of the night was doing the country roll call to identify the different nationalities mentioned. Of course the East African countries were no surprise. And all the typical Western countries that have aid and development workers were expected, as the expat community always shows up to Diner en Blanc Kigali. I did get quite a shock when I realized there were Haitians in attendance! I lost count of the number of countries, but over 20 were represented. The world meets in Kigali indeed.

Diner en Blanc Kigali 2016.
My lovely friends and tablemates. We celebrated the diversity of Kigali, repping Jamaica, Britain, Rwanda, and Ghana.

There was no shortage of entertainment, as Kenyan songbird Mayonde gave us some good R&B vibes with her set. It was quite a treat to see her in her first live performance in Rwanda, and her sultry vocals were matched by her warm personality. In the same vein, Ugandan saxophonist got the whole crowd to their feet with his electrifying performance. If you think one man and a saxophone can’t bring the house down, you thought wrong!

At the end of the night, I had the pleasure of announcing all the lovely attendees who won prizes for the elaborate tables, and stunning outfits. One of my personal highlights was fashion designer’s Moses Turahirwa’s jawdropping angel outfit. If it was up to me, he would have gotten every single outfit award. The rest of us just needed to go home and try again next year. I imagine his brand, Moshions, earned a league of new fans that night.

Diner en Blanc Kigali 2016. Moshions. Moses Turahirwa. Donnalee Donaldson.
Moses, the talented designer behind Moshions, wearing my favourite outfit of the night.

I also thought the Black Power/Black Lives Matter table was quite memorable. I never actually saw their decor, but I love that they committed to the look of the US civil rights movement: Afros, black power fists, and all.

Diner en Blanc Kigali 2016. Black Lives Matter Rwanda.
The Black Lives Matter table carried this plaque honouring civil rights leaders. A fitting political tribute given recent events.
Diner en Blanc 2016. Georgie Ndirangu. Donnalee Donaldson.
In the media tent with CNBC Africa’s Georgie Ndirangu, after a quick interview about the event and Kigali’s creative economy.

Our fun was curtailed by a 10pm curfew – required in order to not violate noise pollution laws, I presume. Nevertheless, judging by the amount of time folks spent dancing, I do believe this was the best edition yet. (And no, I’m not saying just because I hosted; I promise!) It was certainly a fitting 5th anniversary for DEB-KGL.

Illume Creative Studio. Diner en Blanc Kigali 2016
The outstanding Illume Creative Studio celebrating 5 years of staging Diner en Blanc Kigali.

p.s. Makeda has a great vlog recap of the event, and you’ll even see me on the mic for all of 30 seconds. Take a look:

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