Arriving in Rwanda
The bus was speeding through the dark, hitting bumps that would send us all bouncing off the seat, and me who didn't weigh that much, would catch close to a foot of air sometimes. There was a group of women in the back, who would all giggle whenever a bump came around, it gave me the reminder to relax just a little, but this bus ride was one the time during the whole trip where I wondered if we would make it. My nerves were on fire, I had thoughts of crashing, going tumbling off the side of who knows what because it was too dark to see what was out there. This would be one of the many reasons why I would be hesitant to take a night bus again, though I did later on in Mexico and Colombia. It was late, I couldn't sleep and the bus absorbed all the shocks so it hurt when a bump would come, and I would try and purposefully lift myself up, to roll with the bumps instead of being lifted by them. Later on, when I recalled the story to one of my co-workers, she told me it was best to sleep on a bus because you are less likely to break bones in a crash when your body is less rigid. People really live like that?
The wind flew through the windows, bouncing and swirling off the seats and my face. I looked towards the screens that the bus had on display, which were playing Ugandan auto-tuned pop artists standing next to cars and women shaking their butts. The bus swerved violently, I felt a bump on the side of the bus and looked out the window. A small blue car swerved off in the opposite direction, went off the side of the road and 1...2... flipped over twice. "Shit, shit, shit", I said as I watched the car and our bus slowed to a stop. I looked over at the man to my left, now standing and peering over my shoulder out the window. Everyone on the bus migrated over to the right hand side, and slowly, people started to get off.
Okay, I have no medical knowledge that would help out in this situation if someone was severely injured, the people in this bus are from the area, and most likely know the area and protocol better than I do, I don't have supplies on me that could help, I have water, but that is probably of little use, I am the only white person on this bus which is now stopped in the middle of nowhere southern Uganda, nearing the border of Rwanda. If this person's head is severed, or if they are critically injured and deformed, and there is little I can do, other people are going, and maybe it's better for me not to see that if I don't have to. I decided to stay on the bus.
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I made a couple of calls back to the states, to people who I was close to. I was shook, no doubt. A couple of hours later, people started piling back on, and we headed back on the road. I knew that I was not going to get any sleep and continued to roll with the bumps in the road while listening to the giggling women, reminding myself that if they were able to find some joy in the situation, I could relax some. I felt a sense of camaraderie with the other passengers from the beginning of the ride, which involved sharing the experience of riding together on a bus with all the idiosyncrasies involved. It was already a fresh, new experience for me, one where I was easily able to embrace the diversity of life and the oneness of people sharing each second of each individual experience. It now had the touch of going through a somewhat significant event together, where now we were all talking more, there was more chatter all along the bus, the man to my left and I talked more in detail where as before we made small talk about where we were from. I became less defensive seeing how the conversations flowed with ease and that he was treating me like a person living down the street, and less of what felt like a foreigner from a far away country. If things had gone really bad and we were all in a life and death situation, these people would have become more of my family, more of my brothers and sisters than they already were, with the piercing thought that life is all that we had left (which is all it ever is) and that I would feel shared humanity, love, and experience with these people with an acute awareness. I am sure this would exist in any situation where death was perceptually impendent, being able to look at yourself and at another with walls stripped down, tearing away walls of learned habits of social construction which may have been forged for survival mechanisms, but that isn't as relevant within the moment where survival is the last thing that you have. Now, I don't think I was that close to death within this case, but I have existentially pondered and have been in situations that have brought me to wonder...what if this was my last moment? What if it was a year from now? How do I relate to people? What does my life mean? The thing that pops up in my head immediately when I am faced with a situation that could potentially be very dangerous, are the people I love. I would find out a week after visiting Rwanda, that my friend died, which instilled more feelings of mortality within me.
We drove for another hour, and slowed to a halt. Multiple buses surrounded lined up next to each other, cubes in an ice tray. We had reached the border. Piling off the bus, chilly and moist air hit my face, with fog that hugged the ground sprawling out all around and into the distance. Light from the buses pierced through the mist, defining every upward swirl and dive that the patters of air took. I could see about 20 feet in front of me, enough to see the spread out line of people walking in the dark. It felt like a slow-motion walk through an unknown territory, though I felt like I would be alright.
Our bags were checked, and there was an area to get rid of any plastic bags, which are banned in Rwanda. This is due to multiple initiatives that the country has taken to rebuild itself after the genocide, and environmental initiatives were one of the factors being addressed. The disposal of the bags was one of the key concerns, as they would be burned, releasing toxic chemicals into the air, the smell of burning plastic is one I became accustomed to in Uganda, along with the smell of burning vegetation. There would be days where I was hacking up a lung from the neighbors burning piles of leaves, I could see the smoke sifting through the sky, rising like they were deep underwater, reaching for the surface to grab a breath of fresh air. There would be piles of burning trash everywhere I went, and a black soot remained on the dirt long after something was burnt. One time I was walking on my daily commute from work, and a large dead dog lay on the side of the road. I watched its changing physiology over the days that I decided to walk on the opposite side of the road to avoid the smell and the bouts of flies that collected. Continuing my daily journey, I had looked over this time and saw a burnt carcass with the tongue seeming to be untouched by the flames that once consumed the dog. The smell of something burning still brings me right back to Uganda.
Arriving in Rwanda at 4 in the morning taught me something about planning ahead of time. I found a ride with a mota driver, and I sat on the back of the bike as we took many turns throughout Kigali’s hills, searching for the hostel I had booked hours earlier. I looked around in a daze, tired and comforted by the motion and sense of safety that being on a bike, in motion going towards my destination brought.
Hôtel des Mille Collines - "Hotel Rwanda"
Meeting new friends
Thank you for visiting! This is my personal blog, where I write about social justice, geography, culture, and my own encounters and reflections from around the world.