To begin at the beginning, Public Health Border Control. Yes, fresh off the plane from Amsterdam, before customs even, our temperatures were checked by hand with something aimed at the forehead of every arriving passenger. Can’t trust those Dutch, you know. All of Africa is taking Ebola very seriously right now. We passed, were admitted into Rwanda through the shiny and very new Kigali airport, and were met by our friend Jimm who has been teaching there. Most conveniently, he had just finished his contract and was free to be our semi-local guide. He took great glee in gaining the locals’ discount, declaring himself to be Rwandan and showing his residence card. Rwandans are, as you may surmise, black. Jimm is as white as we get. Everybody gets the joke and finds him amusing. And gives him the locals’ price for his trekking permits. Even at that, most Rwandans couldn’t afford to do many of the things we did in their gorgeous National Parks.
We chose to rent a car from a friend of a friend of our friend (cash and a handshake) and drive ourselves, being the middle ground between inexpensive, reliable but not entirely convenient, and mighty uncomfortable public transit and a wildly expensive but comfortable organized tour. Mzungus ~that is, white people~ almost invariably arrive at the airport, are collected into a Land Cruiser by their tour guides and drivers, and are seen in them exclusively. Yes, like our last safari. Don’t get me wrong; that is an awesome way to go. But we were up for a different sort of adventure this time. The kind that earns double-takes, stares, and frantic waving and smiling from nearly every child we passed.
The first morning we spent visiting Jimm’s school, learning about Rwanda, and having lunch with the students. In the afternoon, we visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center. As I’ve written about previously, it’s a hard thing to understand. The museum is very well-done, very informative, everything posted in French, Kinyarwanda, and English. There is a memorial room where people are welcome to post photos of their loved ones killed in the genocide. The piece that touched me the most was a written note, from a girl to the aunt she never met. It said she knew the woman had dreams she was never able to fulfill, but the girl herself has so many things she intends to accomplish, she hopes one of them will be her aunt’s dream as well. Rwandans are a people looking to the future.
After a lovely dinner at the highly rated Heaven with a colleague and two fellow hockey players, we were back to Jimm’s for the night. The Hollywood-romantic mosquito netting over the beds is absolutely necessary. Jimm says they arrive in unpredictable waves, annoying but as of currently, non-malarial within Kigali. We’re taking the Doxycycline nonetheless. And burning mosquito coils. <lightbulb> The downstairs renters at home who burn incense like freaking hippies? Not incense, mosquito coils! #3rdWorldSimilarities
Oh, here’s a curious thing. Electricity is prepaid by a scratch-off card with a number which is entered into the meter in some fashion. Jimm was never privy to that process, it being someone else’s job to do it. Internet can be bought the same way. Used in conjunction with a cellular modem, the hidden code is entered on-line. It’s a bit unclear how one does this for the first time. Jimm did say the “unlimited” internet is good for a week… unless you use it up. He got nowhere debating the meaning of “unlimited.” The real trouble was his inability to commence a new week’s service from a new scratch-off card because the seven days of the old one had not passed. Having learned that lesson, he became more watchful of his data usage, much less YouTube. Another interesting facet of ex-pat life there: when foreigners take up residence, they are expected to employ a certain number of staff ~cooking, cleaning, security guard, that sort of thing~ to support the local economy. For a bachelor working full-time, having someone do the shopping, cooking, cleaning, and laundry for a reasonable sum is a pretty good deal. However, his first ‘girl’ had married and moved to her husband’s family home, never to be seen again. The new ‘girl’ seemed aware that he was leaving soon and was beginning to slack. She normally kept the kitchen stocked with fruit, but having been given the usual money, there was no fresh fruit in appearance. Nor was she, even without the knowledge that he would not be needing her to cook for him this week. Good help is hard to find everywhere, I suppose.
So, we packed up the car and Jimm performed the full-contact driving to get us out of the big city. But after that, traffic was light, the roads excellent ~thanks to the Chinese investing heavily and sending their engineers overseas to oversee, the highways are better quality and more pleasant to drive than the autostrade here~ and the kilometers rolled by, taking us into the jungle of Nyungwe National Park in the south-west corner of the country.
To be continued…