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9.19.2010

Welcome Home.

It was almost noon. The Rwandan border crossing had eaten another hour and a half. I was 25 hours into a 16 hour trip. But we were rolling! Sadly, we were rolling on the wrong side of the road. At the Uganda/Rwanda border the road goes from British influenced - drive on left, to French influenced - drive on right. Our Ugandan driver seemed determined to be true to his Ugandan ways. Several passengers kindly reminded him of the switch, but he continued to drive on the left unless actually facing down another vehicle. When this occurred he swerved violently to the right and cursed them, taking offense at their blaring horns and counter-curses. We proceeded the best part of two hours in this manner, until we reached the outskirts of Kigali and the traffic became thick enough to force our driver to assume the obviously flawed and counter-intuitive position.

Just as there is a refreshing vigor in fresh roads, there is a special sweetness in  coming into space you know, from the unknown. One glimpse of the Kigali Hills and I knew where I was. I could have driven from there, and it might have been a good idea.  Before reaching that spot the flora became familiar, the people customary, and the sights comprehensible. Not home, but close enough.

In due course, 27.5 hours in, we arrived at the section of Kigali where the buses live. It was blue with Diesel smoke. Kigali is a bowl, and the buses live at the lowest point. I knew the name of the hotel I wanted, but I had not stayed there in 3 years, so I was hoping they were there, open, still respectable, and had a room for me. If not, I was ready to say the magic word "Intercontinental" and blow 200 bucks on clean and fed. In Kigali, "Mille Collines" will also work - if you have to ask how much  - you can't stay there. I wonder what happens if you come in on the people's bus, get a taxi and say "Mille Collines."  The cognitive dissonance might damage the taxi driver.

Getting off the bus in daylight was merely purgatorial rather than hellacious.  The crush of taxi drivers was the same. They were shouting and ready to grab my bag. But daylight and known territory makes a gal bold. So from the top of the bus steps, I chose my man, a small, Congolese looking fellow with an open face and a clean shirt. I pointed at him - shouted "Wewe!" (You!) and launched my bag at him. It caused him to take two steps back but he was grinning.  Tu Gende, Madame! The Francophone title felt so comfy. He turned and I followed. His taxi was parked nearly a block away, but we made it. I swatted thieves like flies.

I had to pay my man  half up-front because the Cab had no gas. He put in two liters. But he knew the Okapi, and I knew where it was, and approved of his efficient route. You have to be efficient when you only have two liters of gas in your cab. Fortunately the Okapi was mid-way up one of the Kigali hills. He could easily coast back down to the bus-yard. I am sure he did.

The lady at the desk of the Okapi was coiffed beautifully, dressed smartly, and smelled delicious. She looked at me as if a leprous alley cat had just walked in. Not far off. If my skin had not looked sort of white, I would have gotten no further.

I quietly pleaded my case.
"Bon Jour, Madame, I am Peggy Senger Parsons. I have no reservation, but I have stayed with you before, and I am sincerely hoping that you have a room available for me."
"It is a bit early, check-in is not until 3pm."
Oh how the Rwandan people love rules.
"Madame, I am just off Kampala Coach from Kenya - I am a desperate woman."
"Ah! So sorry, Madame - that is a terrible journey."
"I can wait if I need to - I could order food in the dining room - I have not eaten today..."
The thought of sending me to the dining room clearly appalled her.
She was likely married to the Maitre d'.
"No, no the dining room may not be ready for you either - I shall find you a room. Gervais will carry your bag."

A room was found. It came with unlimited hot water, free soap, a shiny private flush toilet and a bed. What else could the Mille Collines possibly have?

Scrubbed pink, coiffed, made up, and in a dress and heels I entered the dining room at 3pm.  The Maitre d' greeted me by name.

"Ah, Madame Parsons, so good to have you at the Okapi again. Your table is ready. I have made coffee, as I think you prefer. Chef will be happy to make you anything you desire.  Welcome home."












Comments:
I think I would have had a few tears in my eyes at "welcome home" by that point!
 
Raye, his kindness did leave me speechless. The Okapi is middle class African. The food is good and plentiful. The accommodations don't quite come up to Motel 6 level, but I will have a warm spot in my heart for them forever.

This is by the way the same dining room where the Famous Porridge of the Quakers episode occurred.
 
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