Tag Archives: friends

From Rwanda to Kenya: The Journey Back Home

I certainly had a grand exit from Rwanda (meeting the president and all), one I fear I may not be able to match elsewhere. I was on a six-week internship in Rwanda which extended to eight weeks, but I do hope to go back and continue what I was doing. Working on the logistics right now. I might also get an offer to be a teaching assistant at my alma mater (JKUAT) since you know, I got a first class honours degree. Currently, I’m in Nairobi on a short holiday (another word for jobless).

The Horrible Bus to Kampala

I was leaving Musanze town, where I’d been staying, for Kampala through the border at Cyanika. I asked around for a bus that leaves for Kampala and was directed to Horizon. I went early to book the bus. I suppose I should have seen the warning signs when they told me you can’t book a day early, you have to book on the day you were leaving. The office was outside on the verandah of a building facing the Musanze Market.

So I booked at noon for my 4.30pm bus. Check-in time: 4pm. I was there at about 5 minutes past four with all my luggage, with Julie and Val and the other Val there to see me off. The bus was nowhere in sight. We waited till 4.30 and still the bus was not there. I thought when they said the bus leaves at 4.30 it means it leaves at 4.30, passengers arrive earlier at 4 so they can settle.

Finally, at almost five, the bus came speeding round a corner. It came to a stop right in front of us and I rushed in so I could secure a good seat. See, when booking you don’t choose a seat number, it’s a scram for any good seats like it was in the old times in Kenya.

When I got onto the bus, I was dismayed! There were five seats per row: 2-isle-3 seat arrangement. The seats were old and looked uncomfortable. The floor of the bus was dirty and rusty, with holes in some places. The seats had no armrests, the seatbelts were dysfunctional and dirty or missing altogether. Any hope that the seats could recline so I could snatch some sleep on the 10 hour journey were dashed. I feared I’d fall off my seat if I dozed… there was not much space and as I mentioned, no armrests/seatbelts to keep you in your seat!

The bus was not full so I could have the 2-seater to myself. I had a lot of luggage, which I had to keep in the bus because you cannot be assured of the security of your luggage. Soon, I was hugging my friends in Rwanda bye and the bus took off.

It stopped a few kilometers out of town to pick up more passengers. This we did all night! Picking and dropping off passengers in-the-middle-of-nowhere kind of towns.

I was gloomy, staring out at Muhabura (volcano that is part of the Virunga massif) as it loomed closer and closer. We were approaching the Cyanika border, just 25Km from Musanze. At the border, the money changers were enticing me and I wanted to change part of my money into Ugandan Shillings. It was very confusing though; new currency confuses me! Not forgetting I had not yet cleared with immigration on both sides and the custom officials searching luggage. I was in a panic! I told the money changer that once everything was settled, I’d look for him.

I had no trouble getting my Rwanda exit/Uganda entry stamps on my travel document. I got back to the bus to find all my luggage in a heap outside, just like the rest of the passengers. I opened my bags for a Ugandan customs official who confirmed I was not smuggling any contraband. Now I had the daunting task of getting my luggage back in the bus!

I started with my suitcase, trying to lag it up the steps of the bus. Two small boys who were hawking water to the passengers in the bus noticed my struggle and offered to help. They put their bottles aside and carried my suitcase in, plus my other heavy bag. I gave them all the Rwandese currency I had left, about $5. They thanked me profusely and wished me a safe journey. I asked them their names: Alex Moses and his friend (can’t remember his name). Their beautiful faces stuck with me. I smiled for the first time since leaving Rwanda. My only regret is that I did not have a camera with me at the time.

I eventually changed my money, trying to get accustomed to the Ugandan notes. I gave up the seat next to mine as the bus filled up on the way. It got dark as we went up and down the hills; Western Uganda is quite hilly. The road was being repaired but there were bad sections where I felt as if we were going to topple off the hill. Worse, the driver was driving way over the speed limit, slowing down only to take sharp corners. I remembered there were no seatbelts and kept hoping we don’t crash. Outside, it was a clear beautiful night. The moon was casting a soft shadow on the hills, which looked like mountains in the night. The stars shone brilliantly. I remember thinking it was a beautiful night to die(!). Sometimes I lost sight of the moon as we drove on one side of a steep hill and at that time, the stars looked like motherless children: sad and forlorn.

I dozed off sometime later after midnight. I slept on and off until we arrived in Kampala at five in the morning. The conductor told us to get off the bus but no one was budging, we were all waiting for it to be light. I did not want to spend another minute in the horrible bus and took a cab to my friend’s place in a hostel near Makerere University.

In Kampala

Kampala was just the opposite of Musanze. Musanze is a quiet, beautiful town; clean and cool. In fact when I left, it was raining.

Kampala was hot and dusty! It felt like being in Kenyan coast only without the redeeming quality of sunny beaches and an endless ocean view. I dreaded going out in the scorching sun and dusty streets, where cars competed with motorbikes for space on the roads. The passenger-carrying motorbikes- boda bodas- sometimes drove the wrong way on one-way roads. You don’t know ‘dangerous’ until you’ve taken a boda boda in downtown Kampala, without a helmet!

If wearing helmets for both the passenger and the rider is a law in Rwanda (which it is), then there must be a law forbidding helmets in Kampala. Maybe it’s the heat, I don’t blame them. The 24hr protection advertised by Nivea deodorant lasted only 1hr, tops!

I stayed in Kampala for about 3 days, doing what young people do to pass time.

The Luxury Bus to Nairobi

Easy Coach is easily the most luxurious bus I’ve ever taken. It’s not just comfortable, it’s luxurious. Akamba is comfortable. So are the coast-plying buses from Nairobi. Easy Coach to-and-from Kampala is luxurious.

The bus was there when we arrived at 5.25p.m. and departure time was 6pm. I had booked the previous day and chosen a seat in the singles column. The bus has just three seats per row: 1-isle-2 seat arrangement. The floor of the bus was shiny and clean, the area under the seats carpeted. There was a bag-thingy at the back of the seat in front of me so I didn’t have to hold my handbag and food-to-eat-on-the-bus on my lap. There was plenty of space and the seatbelts worked. The seat could recline all the way back until you are almost horizontal. There were footrests that you could lower/raise. I sighed with pleasure.

Luggage was checked and labeled. There would be no stopovers to pick random passengers on the way so luggage was safe till we arrived in Nairobi. I hugged my friends goodbye and got onto the bus. I waved at them till we turned a corner and joined Kampala traffic. The sun was setting and I was reading Charles Onyango-Obbo’s book: Uganda’s Poorly Kept Secrets.

Before we took off (at 6pm on the dot), the guy who had been labeling our luggage handed us cold bottled water. Compliments of Easy Coach.

As I was getting comfortable; adjusting my seatbelt, reclining and pulling up my seat, raising and lowering the footrests; I noticed some buttons overheard. One was drawn on it the G-clef (I remember my brief music lessons in primary school) and I pressed it. Nothing happened. Two were for the individual overhead lights, these worked. One bright, one dim. On another button was a steaming cup of tea. I didn’t press it: I’m not an idiot. It may have been first class, but it was still a bus!

I had an interesting conversation with the guy in the seat ahead of me. On my two-month stay in Rwanda, I had to use correct grammar so I could be understood. Now some guys I meet are telling me I don’t sound Kenyan. Sample some parts of our conversation with the guy:

“Me I am telling you…”

“I had used that ka-machine of mine sijui for like for 6 six years.”

“Otherwise me I think night runners are just shy nudists.”

I’m definitely back in Kenya.

Friendliness: It’s not a matter of race

I’ve met so many people here, from so many different nationalities: Germans, Americans, Croatians, Canadians, Kenyans, Italians, Britons, Spaniards, Congolese, Zanzibaris, Belgians, French nationals (Frens? Frenchians?) etc. Most are tourists, some work here, some to visit, some for whatever reasons… goes without saying I’ve met lots of Rwandans too.

 

black-hat-white-hat-struggle

It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white

Let me break this into locals and foreigners:

Rwandans

Reception from locals is mixed. One time, I was hanging out with the Zanzibari (I’ve since learnt they are not called Zanzibarians) at a small café, and someone asked us if there are no jobs in Kenya/Zanzibar. Well, we broke it down to him: had we remained in our own countries, we’d have got better paying jobs (after lots of competition, of course) and we’d be in cities with vibrant social lives (read fun). Of course, we seem to be escaping competition and we have an edge in the rat race here because we are generally (sic) more qualified. We want to contribute to Rwanda’s development (at least that’s my dream) and I don’t intend to stay here forever, but when I leave I hope to have left a mark. We then told the guy who asked us the question that this is not a matter of just Rwanda but East Africa, let there be love among us. He was welcome in Kenya/Zanzibar anytime!

So far one of the challenges I face every day is trying not to scream when someone says: “but you look like one of us, how can you not speak Kinyarwanda?” Well, I have news for you: every black person looks Rwandan. There are black people in Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Senegal… and they all don’t speak Kinyarwanda. I’m trying to learn it, you know, the basics. I even borrowed a book: English, French, Kiswahili and Kinyarwanda phrases that is so inaccurate (at least the Eng/Swa translation because I understand these two languages), I literally laugh out loud at some of the translations. Everywhere I go, whenever I tell people I don’t speak Kinyarwanda, they’re always genuinely surprised. “ You look Rwandan!” Then they tell me they’ll find me a Rwandan husband.

Well, some of the kids we teach conservation education have taken a liking to me. One time during recess, one of the girls wanted to take me to a market somewhere and buy me tea because she thought I’d be so hungry by the time the class would be over. Glad to know someone cares about me! I politely declined but they ask every time I’m in their class. Later, we had a broken conversation (as in, it was hard to understand each other), and she told me about her brothers and sisters, then asked me how many children I have, or if I’m married.

The other Rwandans I’ve met have all been very nice to me. My co-workers, I love them very much. Some others who are friends of friends, them too. The girl who works down by Volcana Lounge where I sometimes play pool. Some vets from Kigali.

The Other People in Rwanda

Well, foreigners sounds like such a harsh word, innit? Though I think it’s better than aliens!
By far, the Americans are the friendliest. I guess by the time they overcome the images ‘genocide’ brings into most minds, they’re pretty much open-minded and informed. So they’re not likely to say something like:

“Wow, you speak good English.”

It’s a miracle! A Rwandan who speaks good English!

Then when I clarify that I’m Kenyan, they sometimes nod their heads in understanding. Sometimes they’re still puzzled as to how an African (am using this term loosely, I think I mean a black African) can speak such good English.

So I’ve had some ask me, “pizza, you know pizza? We’re going to have that.” All the while speaking slooowly so I can get what they are saying. Other times, if I happen to hang out with some of them amongst other friends, they won’t speak to me directly and am like, why am I even hanging out? I love staying in my room listening to music, typing these blog posts…

But as I said, these are rare times. If someone actually decided to travel to Rwanda, they must be well informed and it’s always fun to interact with all these different people from all over Africa, and the rest of the world.

The question am sure you want to ask me is, how do I meet all these people?

Well, I live at a guest house. It’s quite small, so I get to meet all the visitors that pass through, staying for a day or two at a time. Then there are friends, and friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends… I think that’s what we Kenyans like to call connez (connections).

connections

Connections, see what I mean?