At first I wanted to be a pilot. When I was a kid, I used to watch the planes high in the sky, sometimes they left a trail of smoke behind, and think how I want to be high up in the clouds like them. Sad I’ve never actually flown, huh?
Then I went to school and I wanted to be a teacher.
Later, in primary school, I wanted to be a doctor/lawyer/engineer. It changed depending on who was asking me the question, but my heart wasn’t really in it. Though I remember Regine Re on Ommo Pick a Box, that program that used to air on KBC? My mum told me she’s an electrical engineer and for a while I wanted to be one.
Much later, in class six, I read Ben Carson’s Gifted Hands and I wanted to become a neurosurgeon. Tell me you didn’t dream of separating some Siamese twins after reading that book.
In short, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to be when I was young. I was fickle.
Now I still have ambitions of being a world renowned novelist and a sports journalist so I can attend a world cup sponsored by my media house, of course.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
What’s the worst that could happen if you tried?
What’s the best piece of advice you ever gave?
If it was meant to be, it will. No point worrying about things you can’t control. Do what you can, you’ll know you did your best.
What do you most enjoy about your job?
Let’s say I’m currently jobless but we can talk about my most recent job. I was working with kids and I realized I’m not as bad with kids as I thought. I don’t mean babies and toddlers, but 9-15 year olds.
Oh, let’s not forget Friday afternoons. They were the best days in the office.
Who would you most like to have dinner with?
Paul Kagame. I got a number of questions to ask him, there was never time to talk a lot when I first met him.
Who is your role model?
This is a hard one. Most people just say their parents but it’s just an easy way out for answering this question. My parents inspire me, they really do. They both come from extremely humble backgrounds and they do the best for us. Wangari Mathai is another one, she’s my hero! Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison and came out with no bitterness, I don’t understand it! I’m not even 27 yet! There are many unsung heroes, people whose stories you’ll never see aired on CNN, let alone any local news channel, whom I look at every day and wish I could somehow acquire part of their character.
I had a role model when I was young, an older family friend. I went to the same primary school she went to, followed in her footsteps to the national secondary school she went, got the same grade in the secondary exam! She went to Moi University and got a first class honours degree in engineering. I went to JKUAT and got a first class honours degree in computer science. I guess you could say she’s one of my role models.
Another person who I’ve never met in person but inspires me online is Grace Mwaura. Google her!
There is no one person who is my role model; there are many from whom I’d like to copy some part of the character and somehow assimilate it in me. There is no space to name them all.
If you could be one person for a day, who would that be?
Barrack Obama. I would love to know how being the president of one of the world’s most powerful countries feels like. I hope no one tries to assassinate me while at it! Perhaps I would then get a chance to influence and change people’s lives in a big way. A lot can be done in a day!
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.
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.”
How it began: the background to the story
It all started with a tweet. Rather, two tweets.
Let me backtrack a little
Friday morning. My last day at work. Fridays are easy days around here, we report to work at nine in the morning, which means I get up at 8, and on most days, I oversleep till 8.30 and I have to shower, dress, have breakfast and do the 10-min walk to work in 30min! Today at around 4pm, there is a farewell party for me. I don’t really have that much work, so I spend most of the morning tweeting, Facebooking, blog reading and emailing.
Julie, my wonderful boss (I know you’re thinking am just saying this because she might read this blog but it’s the truth). Where was I? Julie, my wonderful boss, was playing tennis in the morning when she noticed Coach Tony (the Ibirunga Tennis and Running Club coach) planting bananas/flowers around the tennis court. So she asked why he was doing that, and he said President Kagame was going to pass through on his way to Kigali. They were not sure he was going to stop, but the coach and the tennis kids were going to wave at him when he passed by.
The Ibirunga Tennis Court in Musanze Town was in a bad state, until the organization I work with, Art of Conservation, came in and helped rehabilitate the club. We also sponsor a few kids to be coached on weekends, since they go to school on weekdays. They are the tennis kids (duh!). The United States Tennis Association provides some of the equipment needed at the court.
Back at the office, Julie told me about the president passing through today and I told her you know what? The president is on twitter, I could tweet him. She was like, why not?
So I tweeted him, and kept checking my replies every few minutes. Finally, 30 minutes later I get a reply:
The Party That Was Not
The president’s timing is er… inopportune since it clashed with my party. He was to come in at around 4pm or 5pm and that’s when guests should be arriving. At first we are not even sure he’s coming so we get on with the party. We have some pizza, wine, soda for the kids and beer. Two of AoC’s staff go to the tennis court, just-in-case.
There are a few guests who’ve arrived so far, and two of them, little angels 7 years old, are drawing something for me as a going-away present. In the end, it’s something a little strange, if abstract, but I appreciate the gesture and will keep the drawings for as long as I can.
The Signs of His Coming
Apart from his tweet, and the excitement in the air as the tennis kids were told to come in their best club t-shirts, there was little to show the president was going to stop by. But at around 5pm, the commissioner of police in this area (I think) called and started asking all sorts of questions about the club. Then we knew things were getting thick! Later, a few security guys (a part of the presidential guards perhaps) arrive and also start asking questions. We’re called from the office. We (AoC staff) have to leave the party for the tennis court. We tell the guests not to worry, we’ll be back to continue it but for now, well…
More army guys arrive. They surround the tennis court and melt into the shadows. They go into the houses neighbouring the court and command the residents to stay indoors. It’s all very movie-like. They are asking questions. They are polite, because they ask me, “may we please speak to you” and then pull me aside and ask me all sorts of things. Then they call Julie aside and do the same. Then they call me back. Then they call Valerie (another staff member) and do the same. Then back to Julie. It is just so very exciting.
The rain and the waiting
Then we begin the wait. The kids continue playing tennis, it would be fantastic if the president sees them in action. The security guys ask us to brief them about our plan. How should we receive the president? What gift do we have for him? Here we show them the various t-shirts we have and wonder what his size is. We plan how we will say hi, introduce everyone, coach thinks of what he’ll say, Julie thinks she should be brief but hit the main points, I think of how I first want to go to the bathroom quickly before he comes.
Unfortunately, it starts raining and I know it will ruin the pretty little picture of the president playing a little tennis in the dust. We wonder what to do. There is a small shelter that will eventually become a bathroom but is currently not functional. The kids shelter there. We run to the car and wait for the rain to stop. I tweet the rain and tell it to please stop.
It stops after a while and we get out. We ask the security guys how long before he comes, they say “we will tell you when he does, don’t worry”. The guests at the party have excused themselves. It’s okay really, since the focus is now elsewhere.
The security guys decide the t-shirt we have for the president is too wet and drive us back to the office to get another one.
It’s now six in the evening and the rain starts again. We rush back to the car. It gets dark. 7pm and we’re a little wet from the rain, we’re cold and the little kids are starting to have long faces. It finally stops raining, the lights at the tennis court come on (well, some of them) and we’re searched before entering the court. We are told to keep our mobile phones away. The camera is examined. No one else will be allowed in/out except the original party.
He’s almost here
You can tell just the moment we realize he is near. There is an increase in the two-way radio static. We’re told to move from the tennis court onto the road. Phone calls are being made. Traffic is diverted so there is an empty stretch and we all look into the distance.
There are several headlights in the distance but they keep turning before hitting this stretch. Another nobody, we sigh.
Finally, a car travelling at high speed blazes through, flashing lights and hooting horns. Or maybe a siren. In our excited state, we see and hear things. Off it goes past us. It must be the decoy car, I think. The presidential motorcade finally weaves its way and at the tennis court where we wait by the roadside, a small sleek car stops. Someone opens the door. And Kagame steps out.
I wave to A. A is our unofficial photographer tonight. We have done several practice shots so we are ready to go. I must say I’m hogging the limelight, at one point making sure I am looking into the camera all the time. I hope no one notices this.
Julie is the first to greet him and to introduce herself. I shake his hand next. He then greets everyone by hand, paying special attention to the smallest kid here. He speaks with Coach Tony. He says he has a gift for us and hands us an envelope. We thank him and clap for him. We remember the t-shirt we promised him. We give it to him. He holds it up, saying “thank you, it’s my size.” We couldn’t be happier at this moment!
There is a pause in conversation and activity, and I seize the chance to tell him I’m the one who tweeted him. He turns back to some of his entourage and says, “she’s the one who invited me.” Then I tell him am going back to Kenya soon, and he said no, you should stay. I tell him I want to be the president of the EA Republic when it’s formed in 2032.
Julie invites him to the pizza and wine party but acknowledges that he’s probably tired. She thanks him and we all clap for him and thank him yet again. Then he waves bye, slides into the back seat of his car and they slowly leave. The security guys are leaving. Traffic resumes. Then it hits us: the president came!
We open the envelope. Crisp bank notes. We’re so happy, we’re shouting and laughing and whooping and singing as we walk back to the AoC office. It’s about 9pm (we don’t have our phones so I’m not sure of the time). We make more noise and sing louder.
The After-party That Was
Singing and dancing, we arrive at the office and distribute pizza and soda to the kids. Drinks are handed to the adults. The mood is buoyant! We’re high on adrenalin.
After a while, the tiredness starts to kick in. I stop the music and give a little speech. I’m kind of emotional right now, I’ve encountered nothing but love all around (most of the time). I love this place yet am leaving soon.
Then my co-workers start handing me gifts, giving a little speech about how they will miss me and tears are slipping from my eyes. Anyone who has something to say says it. We allow the kids to go. The adults remain and continue to have fun. More wine and music and dancing. It’s two in the morning when the last people leave the party.
Meeting President Paul Kagame is definitely the highlight of my two-month stay here. I like this town a lot, I would love to come back. Perhaps I will.
We wake up on Saturday to a flurry of phone calls left, right and all over. Definitely, a lot of questions about Art of Conservation. In short, we carry out conservation and health education to kids living near the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. For more, check out the AoC blog.
We count the money the president gifted the Ibirunga Tennis and Running Club. One million Rwandese Francs (about 2000 USD).
My impression of him is that he’s a very nice guy. There, I don’t have glowing descriptions. It was humbling for me, for all of us. He’s generous and polite. A great man.
There are also a lot of questions about Twitter. What is this twitter thing? And we have to tell them it’s like Facebook, you know, the internet site?