A Kigali Story
One of the things that I got to do during my stay in Kigali was connect with Rwandan Quakers. Some are previous students of mine. Some are new to me. I enjoy this aspect of traveling in the ministry.
One of the things that I always do when traveling is provide listening for trauma stories. You cannot understand Central Africa without understanding the trauma stories. We are now 16 years out from the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. Every Rwandan over the age of 20 has a trauma story. Most Have several. Rwandans are not done telling those stories. We should not be done listening.
I have three Rwandan stories to tell from this trip. It is not safe for me to identify the tellers of these tales, or to accurately name the places where the stories took place. But they approved my telling as long as I hid their identities.
Smallville, Rwanda, April 1994
"I was living here in Smallville in 1994 when we started to hear about the troubles, but we had not yet seen any of it. But the Tutsi families were very nervous, we, their Hutu friends and neighbors did not think that such trouble could come here. We could not imagine participating in it.
One day I heard that there was something going on in the Justice Court up on the main road. Someone told me that many snakes had been caught and that I should go look. I was not much interested in snakes, but people kept insisting that we go look, so I finally agreed.
We came to the courthouse. I looked in the window and I did not see any snakes. I looked on the floor and I looked in the rafters, but I did not see any snakes. What I did see was many people, young and old, men and women sitting in the courtroom looking downcast. I left confused.
Later I found out that the people were all the Tutsi families of our town. The local police had come to each Tutsi home that morning. They had said that they had heard that there would be trouble, but that they did not want such trouble in our town and that they would take the families to the courthouse and protect them there. It was voluntary, but strongly recommended. The police said that they were not sure they would be able to protect anyone who stayed in their outlying homes.
Later that same day we heard bombs. The doors of the Courthouse has been locked and Grenades had been thrown in the windows and not a soul came out alive. To be clear - The bombs were thrown by the very people who called them in to be protected. That is the first time that I heard people called snakes."
There is now a memorial to this atrocity in Smallville. The Courthouse is in use as a courthouse. It is the building you go to when you need Justice in Smallville. A few of the perpetrators were prosecuted. But most of the officials of that town still live and work and hold authority in that town today.
Todays Cute Overload
Update on Les Vulnerables
Back in 2007, I took a side trip in Kigali to interview vulnerable students at the Friends Church secondary school. My report of that trip is here.
After that report the fabulous Friends in Portland Oregon and Northwest Yearly meeting raise $10,000 and sent 40 students to school for a full academic year. Four of the six students in my original report finished high school because of this generosity.
When I arrived in Kigali this year I contacted my friend, a former GLST student and he informed me that some of the students had heard that I was coming through and had asked him to bring me for a visit. We arranged a time.
I was met at the Campus by Twagirayesu Venuste. If you had asked me which of the six I had met before was in the worst shape and most likely to fall, it would have been Venuste. He was a very traumatized young man with almost no outside support. He had not been able to make a smile for the picture (see link). That's what I would have said, and like so often I would have been so wrong.
Here was Venuste, bounding across the campus, looking smart in slacks and stylish shirt and white loafers. Here is Venuste grinning from ear to ear at the sight of me. Introducing himself to me, as if his image had not been seared into my unconscious and prayer life for these last three years. Here was Venuste reporting that he was working as a waiter and attending university nights. He is making good progress in his second year. (Only a very small, single digit, percentage of students get scores high enough to be admitted to University in Kigali).
Venuste had organized a party, paid for the drinks and food and bought a present for me - socially required. Five new vulnerable students were there to greet me - a group is also socially required. And Venuste had prepared a speech in English - Africans are like Hobbits about speeches at important occasions. When I said I would videotape it and bring it to America he got very serious, but agreed.
Here is the speech of Venuste.
You may have a little trouble catching his English - it is really quite good. He thanks those who supported their students. He calls them "Our parents" and sponsors. In good African style he asks for the moon in terms of additional help.
But hang to the end, because he will treat you to the most brilliant natural smile you have ever seen.
Some readers of this blog contributed to this young man's future, with no expectation of knowing the outcome.
The cats of Kigali
For Habitat LouJean - on her birthday
Ah, the view from the Oakpi !
A new building was going up next door. This gave me the chance to take a picture of the scaffolding up close. Yes, it is sticks nailed or tied together.
The construction method goes like this:
Pour a concrete slab.
Put in rebar at strategic locations. Tie long pieces of rebar to the rebar sticking out of the slab. Build wooden frames around the rebar. Fill with concrete. Let Set. Put up scafolding to next floor. Lay bricks between posts. Cover bricks in cement. Leave some holes in the bricks to anchor the next scaffolds. Build a wooden ramp to wheelbarrow concrete to next floor. One section at a time, using a frame, pour the next slab one wheelbarrow at a time. Repeat. The picture above was from the third floor.
This is what it looks like on a much taller building.
Since this takes a long time, use green tarps to wrap the building in the rainy season.
And when I say Much taller building - I mean like 40 stories (see below).
And remember, you are smack dab in the middle of the great Rift Valley which is an active fault zone. As in there are active volcanoes (like 5) within a couple of hundred kilometers.
Want to buy a condo with a nice view?
What was unusual about my transit?
The answer is... nothing!
This is standard MIDDLE CLASS African travel. There is a whole level of travel below this for the poorer class.
MIDDLE CLASS travel means:
Unpredictable schedules - Standard
27 hours for a 16 trip - Standard
Filthy toilets - Standard
Eating once in a day while traveling - Standard
Sexual Harassment for unaccompanied women- Standard
At risk for Theft - Standard
Cold, tired, no place to wait comfortably - Standard
Drunk and dangerous drivers - Standard
Terrible road conditions - Standard
Dangerous equipment used for public transport - Standard
Oppressive and illogical bureaucracies - Standard
During one of the legs of the trip an African business man inquired about my mission and when I informed him, he puzzled "Why aren't you on an airplane? It was a good question. Upper Middle Class Africans take the plane these days. David Niyonzima takes a plane if be has to go from Buja to Kigali. My desire to see the country and experience at least once the way in which my friends live, was a privileged whim. I was "slumming." Knowing that I could leave at nearly anytime. None of the other people on my bus had that option in reserve.
Getting yourself killed while slumming would be an ignoble death.
I am glad I did it.
I don't think I will do it again.
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."
To the Friend in Iowa
Who appears to have read my entire blog today:
Welcome, and Thank-you.
And a note to everyone else.
Sometime this summer this blog went over 500 posts
and 100,000 page views.
SOooo it is free book time again! Today to the Friend in Decorah, Iowa.
Identify yourself and get a free copy of "So There I was"
I am humbled.
(and that ain't easy :) ha! )
The African transit story starts here
We make the Rwandan border by about 10 am. Again with the exit stamp, the separation from bus and bags for the walk across no man's land, and then the entry stamp. I love the Rwandans. First of all, The US and a list of other countries are listed as "Friends of Rwanda" and no visa is required and no fee is charged. But you still fill out a form and get a nice stamp. I always put pastor as my occupation on the forms, and it does buy me some respect. I am through immigration in record time.
Since I expect to stay in Rwanda for the best part of a week I change some money. $100.00 USD gets me 5,500 Rwandan francs. I feel like Melinda Gates, except that I am sure that Melinda smells better than I do. So I head next to the bathroom. Yes a real building! It is still unisex, but you enter a room with shiny sinks and urinals and stalls marked Ladies, Gents and Staff. The stalls have doors that go to the floor! The actual toilet is still a keyhold in the floor affair, but it is porcelain and flanked by grippy foot positioners. And best of all, a young man stands ready and throws in a bucket full of soapy water between each patron. When you emerge another boy stands ready at the sink and hands you a bar of soap and pours water over your hands from a jerry can (you didn't think the faucets worked did you? silly reader) I am tempted to strip and scrub. But I settle for up to the elbows and my face and neck. I laugh in delight and the boy laughs with me as I splash him. Like all African public toilets you pay for this privilege, but I tip big in Rwanda, God bless them!
Next I buy a coke. First caffeine in 24 hours. I am still hungry but renewed. Then I go and join the people of my bus because we are about to be treated to the Rwandan plastic bag search. Rwanda is a proud country. They openly state that they wish to become the Singapore of Central Africa. They have recently made plastic shopping bags illegal in the entire country. This is a good thing. Plastic bag trash is the new paving material in most of Africa. The open burning of plastic material is a toxic smell you become accustomed to. Rwanda has done away with at least some of this. Plastic bags today, plastic bottles will be next. But for now, every bus, every person, every bag is checked at every border for contraband plastic shopping bags. At first I am told that they did this with the military and guns, it has now been privatized, our inspector is about 20 and wears a t-shirt emblazoned with G-Man but he takes his job very seriously. If they find a bag, it is confiscated and you are forced to buy a paper sack at a very inflated price to hold your goods. When they do find one - there is a great scolding - and then they throw the plastic bag on the ground and it blows off in the wind. It is very clear that it would not be a good idea to question the environmental wisdom of the bag disposal. They don't like plastic in Rwanda and they don't like questions. They are very fond of soap, obedience and respect. Our bus passes the inspection, and as soon as the driver comes back with the customs paperwork, we will go. Everyone is encouraged.
I am finishing my coke and wondering what to do with the plastic bottle when our conductor approaches me. He and I are alone on this side of the bus.
He graces me with a big grin - the first I have seen from him.
"May I ask you a question?'
I am feeling better too. "Sure - go ahead"
"Are you married yet?"
(Important note. All the Africans I have met have a terrible time guessing ages of wazungu. Best I can tell they are gauging by shape, size, hair color and style, and how you move. I am not traditionally built, my hair is not gray, I wear it long and often loose, and I do not move like an old woman. They guess my age anywhere from 25-40, never the 52 that I am, and look.)
I laugh at the conductor. He is tall, large, round, and I would guess him at 30. Certainly old enough that he has a wife and kids someplace back up the road.
He mis-interprets my laughter, and leans in and backs me against the bus.
"Because I have always wanted to have a sweet white babydoll like you..."
His breath is sour and hot.
I put a hand squarely on his sternum and give him a gentle push back. I pull myself to my full height and give him my very best withering glare - eye to eye.
"Sir!, you are extremely mistaken. I am a mother. (I push) I am a grandmother. (I put a finger in his face as he steps back again) And I am a Pastor of a Church, on my way to teach Bible in Burundi." He stops breathing and stares at me eyes wide open. He looks like he wants to melt into the ground. He is saved by the Driver showing up and shouting Tu Gende! and passengers materialize and we all climb back on the bus.
The conductor gets on the bus last, looking like a whipped dog. He tries to avoid me, but this was made difficult by my having the aisle seat at the top of the stairs right across from his perch. For effect, I pull out my Bible and my reading glasses and read from the story of Boaz the good and his treatment of Ruth, Sharing with Chantelle the fine points of the story. Several rows participate in the impromptu Bible study. The conductor is very quiet. After About 50 kilometers I put the Bible away. We all close our eyes in prayerful rest.
After a bit the conductor comes and sits on the filthy step below me. Quietly he pleads his case.
"Ma'am, Pastor, I am very sorry for what I said to you. I beg you to forgive me. I am not a bad man, really. Please do not curse me."
They take the power to bless and curse literally and seriously. This man is extremely worried.
I give him some quiet counsel on his duty to protect his passengers, especially women traveling alone. Then I tell him that I will forgive him, and in fact that I will give him a blessing. He beams up at me. A reprieved man.
"In the Name of Jesus - Whatever you sow you will reap ten-fold. If you give peace,peace will come to you, if kindness, kindness, if trouble - TROUBLE."
His smile froze.
"I advise you to be a very good man."
Dawn of the Dead Travelers
When the midnight bus out of Kampala finally rolls at 2:30 I am relieved. Relief gives way to annoyance when we pull into a petrol station at the edge of town, but really, I can't be opposed to the notion of being fueled up. It takes 30 minutes to fill a big bus. Then, to my enormous dismay, the bus turns back towards town and returns to the bus station. What sort of velocity do you need to escape this place? We apparently lack a conductor, and had simply been allowed to ride along for the fill up. A conductor joins us and it is 3:30. Perhaps now?
And then the young fellow next to me speaks up.
"Say, Conductor, Do you have our complimentary water? Our tickets say that we will be provided bottled water on this trip."
"No - you want me to go get water?" asks the conductor.
"I do" says my seatmate oblivious to the hissing and growling and wall of hatred radiating off his fellow passengers.
As for myself, I haven't see a toilet since the Kenyan border 8 hours ago, and drinking water is the last thing on my mind.
"You have got to be kidding!" I say "We are working on four hours late and you want to slow us down!?"
"We paid for the luxury bus, and I mean to get what I paid for." He says.
And an entire busload of Christians ignore the Sermon on the Mount and commit the sin of murder in their heads.
The conductor goes back up into the station and eventually comes back with a case of bottled water. It is 4am, and we appear to be leaving Kampala, but I am not convinced.
The roads are bad, and I don't care. Our driver drinks, and I don't care. I wedge my pack between me and the seat in front of me so that I physically cannot be thrown out of my seat when the brakes slam on. I put my small bag between me and the wall so that when I am hurled outward, I have something to cushion the impact, and I turn my back on my seatmate, and try to sleep. My dozing is intermittent due to the flailing arms and knees of the boy next door. He is not wedged in and occasionally gravity attempts to put him in my seat. Despite this, He stretches out and snores peacefully.
About 6 the darkness starts to lift. I give up on sleep and watch the Ugandan countryside fly by at warp speed. Uganda looks poor but there are enormous white cranes in the marshes. I decide to take out my final hard boiled egg and call it breakfast. I find it nestled intact in my bag. I hold it up and try to compose a prayer of gratitude. At that moment a pothole gets us and my egg is airborne and crashes to the floor, cracks and rolls towards the back of the bus. Somehow this manages to disturb my seatmate and he sits up and says "What was that?" "My last bit of sanity breaking - not to worry."
At 7, the bus pulls off at a petrol station and the conductor announces that this will be our only morning rest stop. I look across at Chantelle, "Toilets?" "Of some sort" She says. Everyone gets off. I follow the parade. Behind the station is a Ugandan people's relief station. This means that behind a low wall, there is a 3 meter by 3 meter, concave, concrete structure with a hole at the low center. It is not only unisex, but is used by 8 people at a time, two to a side. The surface is slippery and sticky at once. The men have the obvious natural advantage of distance and don't actually have to step onto the concrete. African ladies step up onto it and raise skirts and squat. Gentlemen are very careful in their attempts to not splatter the ladies. If you must do something other than make water, you squat with your back to the hole, and there is a garden hose to wash solids into the abyss. Not everyone had been so thoughtful. Like most western ladies I prefer trousers for travel. I took in this entire scene and scanned the area for friendly bushes. I asked Chantelle if she thought anyone would care if I went off into the brush. She looked shocked, and mildly disgusted and said "You can't do that when there is a toilet here."
The social rules seemed to be urban elevator. Do not converse, do not make eye contact, do not look at others. Unless of course a white lady is about to drop trou, in which case anyone could be forgiven taking a good look because, God knows, she might have a tail or something in those trousers and this may be your only chance in this life to see such a sight. I hope they were satisfied.
Ships in the Night
The most immediate story starts here, or here if you want to go back to Momabsa, or here if you want to include my summer posts from Africa.
I enter the Bus station a bit rattled, but actually encouraged. All I have to do was identify the correct bus, get on it, and then I can sleep, rolling or not. I am getting tired enough that I am sure sleeping will not be a problem.
The Bus Station consists of two areas; An outer courtyard, above the buses and open to the night air, and an inner semi-enclosed room. The courtyard is a concrete pad with two walls and some benches, it also has a food kiosk, and to let you know that you were really in a bus station a TV anchored up in the corner. The Office has a desk with a employee behind it, an area for parcels, and an area marked "sleeping space" with reed mats on the concrete floor and sections marked for men and women. A dozen people are making use of it, despite the bright fluorescent light - they really do have the gift of sleep. I see no evidence of restrooms.
I make my way through the crush at the desk and display my ticket to the agent. I ask if the midnight bus has left for Kigali.
"No, it has not gone."
"Good, I want to get on that bus."
"I am sorry - That bus is full - you will have to go on the 1am bus."
"Sir, I was supposed to be on the through bus, and was promised in Eldoret that I would be put on the first bus out of here - that would be the midnight bus."
"Actually, Ma'am, your ticket is for travel on the 8th of July and in 15 minutes it will be the 9th so you are going to have to buy a new ticket for the 1am bus."
"Now see here, Sir, I was sold a THROUGH ticket to start on the 8th, it is not my fault that I am not right now on my way to Kigali. You will send me on my way as quickly as possible! - and I am not giving you another shilling!"
He silently writes "1am" on a piece of scrap paper and hands it to me as if we were not both conversing in the Queen's English. I take his paper and just as silently crush it in my hand, drop it on the floor and stomp on it while giving him my best steely gaze.
I lean in.
"Get me on that next bus - or you are going to wish you had!"
He gives me a wry smile and says "We shall see what we can do."
Deciding when to be patient and when to have a fiery temper display is an African finesse point. Guess right and way opens magically. Guess wrong and you will backburner yourself into the previous century. At 12 hours of uncomfortable travel I am getting beyond finesse.But I think that I just might have guessed right.
I decide to do a little recon. I go out to the courtyard and start polling any passengers who are awake about their destination. There are two directions to go that night. South to Kigali, Rwanda, or North to Juba, Sudan. I am very clear that I do not want to accidentally get on the wrong bus, fall asleep, and wake up in the Sudan. I identify a young girl traveling with her old father. They are Burundians going through Kigali to Buja. The girl has English. They are waiting for the midnight bus and have been there for a couple of hours. I tell her, that if she doesn't mind, I am going to attach myself to their party and that when she gets on a bus I was going to get on that bus. "I'll just tell them I am your Mama." She laughs. She is glad to have the company. I lean my pack against the concrete wall, and put my small bag under my knees and pretend it is a recliner. I sit and practice relaxation. I don't know where bus stations all over the globe buy speakers, but they are universally bad, and here the messages are completely in Kiswahili, of when I get about one word in ten. I ask my new friend Chantelle if she is catching them. She is. God bless multi-lingual children. I ask her if she has found any bathrooms. She says they are there - down by the gate "But they are not nice." Burundian girls are tough, if she is turning her nose up at it, it has to be bad, and I do not want to get within 10 meters of that gate. I decide to tough it out. She and her Baba have plates of food - Potatoes and Beans and greens. Apparently the kisok is feeding transfer passengers. But you have to get a voucher from the man at the desk. hmmm. There is also fried bread and cokes for sale, but I had no shillings. I eat my second apple.
We wait. Midnight comes and goes. I keep checking my pocket watch. Chantelle says "You need to work on your patience." I am quite accustomed to being eldered by African teenage girls and tell her that she is right. I settle in to watch the movie. It is The Karate Kid - the new one - with Jackie Chan - Dubbed into Kiswahili. The layers of surreal of this are not actually calculable. But the plot is so predictable that I follow it with ease. Baba Chantelle dozes with his head in his hands. Then the movie is over, Chantelle looks at me, and I say to Chantelle "I would look at my watch but I am practicing patience." She laughs and says "I will investigate."
She comes back with the report that the midnight bus has it's engine open and several men inside. She is obviously peeved. The 1am bus has not arrived. It is 1:30. I refrain from counseling Chantelle about patience.
At 2am the 1am bus from Juba arrives and is re-designated the midnight bus to Kigali. When they announce this Chantelle pops up like toast, rouses the Baba and says to me - "Tu Gende (Let's move)." I am in complete agreement and we make the bus, which is thankfully inside the barrier, just as the last of the Sudanese passengers get off. We choose seats, Chantelle and Baba across the aisle, me trying the Southwest Airlines Jedi Mind trick of "You really don't want to sit with me," to get the extra seat. I say to Chantelle, "There is no Earthly power that can get me off this bus now" and she smiles. I am hearing a lot of Kirundi/Kinyarwanda which is a great comfort. I almost manage the extra seat until the last passenger joins me. He is about 25, and at least 6 feet tall, and chatty. I decide not to care. I will ride next to Shaquille O'Neal in a foul mood if this bus will just go South. I wish I knew which way was south.
At 2:30 the midnight bus rolls out. Surely nothing can go wrong now.
15.5 hours into a supposed 16 hour trip and not half-way there.
The roads in Uganda were significantly worse than Kenya. And our bus driver seemed to be determined to make up the time lost at the border. This is when I discovered that Kampala Coach Ltd. had been investing more in red paint than in shock absorbers. The potholes were bone jarring and the occasional sudden swerves attempting to avoid them had a tendency to put you in your neighbor's lap or on the floor of the aisle. After the first dumping into the aisle I moved to the seat by the stairs where I could wedge my pack and small bag between me and the barrier and outer wall as pre-emptive "air-bags." This seat also provided great air-flow from the door that did not really shut. I pulled out my only long-sleeved shirt for warmth.
This seat also afforded me a view of our driver and the scene out the front windshield. Our driver was taking regular sips from a flask.
"Our driver appears to be drinking." I said to the man next to me.
"Oh, yes, they all do that - they need to stay awake, you know."
"No, I mean he seems to be drinking alcohol."
"Yes, a little whiskey to stay sharp."
"Wouldn't you want to take tea or coffee to stay awake?"
"No! tea makes a person ready for bed!"
I encountered this idea several other times in East Africa - the belief that alcohol keeps you sharp and tea makes you sleepy. (Most Africans don't have much experience with coffee) I tried to explain stimulants and depressants but it was a lost cause. I asked around and drunk driving (emphasis on severely drunk) is discouraged, but drinking and driving is not actually illegal in most of the countries I was in.
Many of my fellow passengers had the gift of "sleeping in any circumstance." I tried and failed. We flew through villages on a regular basis and I watched as roadside shops stayed open for late business and eventually all closed but the drinking houses. In between villages it was truly dark, our driver was making liberal use of the entire road, as evidenced by the occasional sudden headlights appearing around what I presumed from the centripetal forces was a blind curve, with attendant blaring horns and cursing.
I am sure that Kampala is a lovely city. I am sure that it is first rate in many ways. I am sure that Uganda has much to offer - I hear that there are 600 varieties of birds. But I saw none of that. Whenever you enter a city by bus or train you see a different city than you see as a tourist flying in for your vacation. We reached the far outskirts of the city at about 10pm. Not much was open. As we entered the city everything was barred and gated like you would see in the bad parts of New York. But the homeless were out, and there are no city ordinances against garbage fires, so that is what they use for heat. And heat was needed as it was probably in the low sixties and dropping. The humans dressed in layers of rags around the fires lent a discernible air of Gehenna to the place. Dante would have been at home here.
We reached the bus station about 11:30. It had huge, arched, iron gates topped with the standard African replica spear heads decoration and coils of razor wire on top. Inside the gates were a row of buses and above them a dimly lighted area. Our conductor said that there was no room for us inside the gates and that we would be parking here in the street. Transfer passengers were told to make their way up to the office and check in. Our driver opened his door and drained out into the dark. We all started to gather our things. The conductor was about to take off when a passenger near me shouted "Man! You aren't letting this Mzungu walk up there by herself, are you?" "Oh, Kswahili-curse-word, OK - stay where you are, I will go get some help." I was mildly concerned that he thought he needed help, but thanked the other passenger, who just shook his head. I was alone on the bus for a couple of minutes and there were men at the door calling for me, having marked my presence. When the conductor came back with two other guys he gave me my intructions "Ok - in and up - don't Stop - stay right behind me!" Off of the bus, my small phalanx of bus employees shouted and slapped and pushed their way through a crowd of what I presume was mostly taxi drivers, sure that I was a potential fare to the nearest decent hotel.
Some of you have have experienced the African airport taxi crush. Bus station taxi drivers are several magnitudes more desperate and aggressive than that. Taxi drivers attempt to get a hold of your bag because they know if they get your bag - they will get you.
So many arms were reaching and tugging at my bags and shouting for me to join them. Other more ragged arms were also attempting to reach me, I presume a sprinkling of thieves and pickpockets - because that is just standard. I managed to keep my footing on very uneven ground in almost no light, with my top heavy pack being yanked left and right. My tucked down head still identified the smells of burning garbage, human waste, goat Barbecue, stale beer, and unwashed and unwell humans. Not quite Reavers, but close. (sorry, Firefly reference)
When we got through the gates my phalanx reversed and pushed me up a small flight of stairs and to what I presumed was safety.
On to Uganda
The morning was bright and clear and cool. I had packed for Mombasa and Buja and didn't really have much in the way of warm things but Hakuna Matata, I was not staying very long. We saw the hosts off on their errand to pick up a fresh traveling mzungu and started getting me ready for my trip. As a very last thought, Mama Gladys instructed Nancy to boil a few eggs and pack me some traveling food. Patrick had been assigned the task of accompanying me to the bus. He is a very good natured boy. He and I had gotten acquainted when, at my request, he hiked with me up to the top of the rock outcropping above the village the day before, and I liked him. Patrick said we needed two hours to get to Eldoret, and knowing the flexibility of Bus schedules anywhere in the world, but especially here, I wanted to be at the station by 3 at the latest, so I figured we should leave by One.
About 10:30 Gladys phoned Nancy. Someone she knew had called and told her that the through bus might not be running tonight, and that I should be prepared for changes. Having well placed informants is part of the job of a well run household, and I was grateful, but not terribly concerned. I finished loading my pack and told Patrick that I thought we should just go ahead and set off. Nancy wanted me to eat lunch before I left, but she hadn't started cooking it. I am not in a mood to wait. Nancy hands me two hard boiled eggs, a bread roll and two crisp apples. Always good to start a trip with apples in your pocket.
It was about 11:am when we went out through the gate taking leaving of Nancy and her helper. Housewives and children throughout the village wished me well as if I had been there a month not two days. Patrick shouldered my big pack, which at 35 lbs I can carry comfortably but I knew I would get weary of it soon enough and was glad of his help. We walked up the the village square and hired THREE piki-piki (small moto taxis) one for me, one for Patrick and one for my pack. Lumakunda village sits about two kilometers above the main road, when I say above, I mean that on a rainy day we could have sledded down. When we reach the tarmac, I look right, the Uganda border is less than an hour away Kampala is that way. Left, and Eldoret is slightly farther back towards Nairobi. My allergy sets in, and I think about just catching the next matatu to the border, but I have my ticket and my good sense, and I get ready to move to the rear.
We catch the next Matatu which like all good Matatus has a name "God is One." It is just good juju to have a name, most of them acknowledge God in some way. They are 10 or 12 seat Toyota vans and frequently seat 16 or more, plus baggage, produce and livestock. They come equipped with a driver and a catcher/stuffer. In town the catcher's job is to convince people to choose his bus over all the other obviously inferior buses, and to fill it to capacity as quickly as possible. He collects the fees (100 ks) and packs the sardines. The same job exists on the Tokyo subway, but those guys wear white gloves.
The bus looks full to me, 12 seats, 17 people and 3 chickens, but an old Baba is squeezed over and I am given a seat. Patrick stands, backside to the door leaning over two seated people - which is usually the catcher's position. Our catcher leaves the door open and hangs on the outside of the bus. We are off! Matatus stop for everything. We stop at least once in every one of the 60 kilometers. At stops where we gain or loose a passenger the catcher shuffles people. I am eventually shifted up to the seat of honor in the front by the driver. Patrick eventually gets a seat with the chickens. He gives no thought to complaint. My bag is somewhere in the boot, although how the boot can have any space is beyond me. Ninety minutes later we are in Eldoret, left off at the lot which is home to all the buses. Patrick shoulders my bag and weaves off between the buses and people and cheerfully commands me not to lose him. All the catchers try and catch us, but we are set on bigger hooks. Away from Matatu land and a block up the road and we are at the tidy small office of Kampala Coach Ltd.
Our informant was correct. "The 5pm through bus is not traveling today, ma'am, but since you are here in such good time, we can put you on the 2 or 3pm bus to Kampala. - What? you prefer to go sooner rather than later? Very well Ma'am the 2pm bus it is."
Patrick is concerned about my transfer in Kampala. "Do not worry a bit - Ma'am. You will arrive by 10pm and almost immediately you will be put of the 11pm bus going south to Kigali. It will be an easy and quick transfer. You will actually arrive earlier than you would have on the through bus. Our Agents in Kampala will help you with everything. Kampala Coach Ltd is the finest bus service in the region, we are known for our luxury and tender care." Patrick looks mildly concerned. The man is laying it on a bit thick - even by local standards of thickness. Stuff that thick is always a cause for concern.
But in 15 minutes it is announced that the bus has arrived "Behind the office" which turns out to be a block away on the next street. It is greyhound sized and red and shiny. I am impressed. Patrick sees my bus into the big boot and makes sure that I know which locker. He sees me all the way onto the bus, and converses with the driver, who says that really, the transfer should be no problem. Patrick knows that Mama Gladys will quiz him on my status and when it comes to it, he seems a little concerned about sending me off solo. I give him my best, No worries, kid, chat up and then pray a blessing on him, give him my spare Kenyan shillings that I now won't need, and send him off. He goes as far as the street corner to wait and watch until the bus leaves. A woman who heard me pray, changes seats and says "I will sit by you." By 2:30 we are off.
My seatmate is a youngish widow with one young son. We discuss American TV preachers which are all syndicated and all the rage in Africa. Joyce Meyers is HUGE. The widow wants to know what I think of Joel Osteen. I explain my discomfort with his salary, but acknowledge that he is not likely a crook or faker like some of them. She thinks that his wife looks "Proud - haughty - a woman can see this in another woman." I tell her that this is indeed Victoria's rep. We agree that John Hagee yells too much, and preaches fear. "I like hope- better" - I agree. She wants to know what I think about life after death. "Where are the souls?" I give her Jesus to the thief on the cross. She has seen spiritualists who charge money to talk to the dead. It turns out that she is worried about her husband. I encourage her to communicate with him through Jesus -"He never loses track of anyone, and doesn't charge a fee." When she departs two hours later just before the border she thanks me for the conversation. "So nice to talk with someone about the things of God."
We make the Ugandan border about 5:30 pm. A Kenyan exit stamp, then a good long walk - Then a Ugandan visa for $50. Same price for a night's transit or a month's stay. I am hoping that it will turn out to be about $5 an hour, but I end up getting a lot more bang for my buck. We wait for our bus to arrive through the barriers. I turn down multiple chances to change some money into Ugandan shillings but I can't see the need for it, and all I have is a stack of $100 bills, and I KNOW I can't possibly spend $100 before morning. I am hungry. I eat an egg, an apple and the bread roll. A small boy is selling bananas. I wish I had some small money to increase my provisions- he would happily take my Kenyan shillings. But a Ben Franklin would not just buy the bananas, it would probably buy the boy. I think about using my wiles to get one of the nice businessmen on the bus to buy me some bananas, but I am just not that desperate - yet. I wave the boy off. "But really Ma'am, they are full of potassium!" I compliment his marketing skills, and tell him they also have a lot of Vitamin B - he nods and files this info away.
Our bus rolls through about 6:00. And they give it a final customs check. Our driver and conductor look nervous. They ask me to bring my bag up from the boot as they lockers will be sealed once they are checked. We wait. And then we wait some more. Finally a team of inspectors show up and give our bus a body cavity check from stem to stern. They go through the bus itself and look at every passengers luggage. They herd us all off the bus and check it again. Everyone is nervous. Our conductor says this usually takes 10 minutes. He denies knowing why the concern. They hold us for two hours. Then they let us go. It is 8pm and dark. Off to Kampala.
And Then it got Interesting
What I was forgetting was the African Relativity Theory, Which states that the difficulty of traversing any particular kilometer can be inversely proportional to the level of difficulty anticipated. translation: "Whatever you thought? - It ain't gonna' be so!" This often combines with intermittent temporal anomalies. Where Time slows down or rarely speeds up in unpredictable ways. Also a factor is the African Amnesia effect - Just because you really should have known better does not mean that you do.
Resting comfortably at Chez Zarembka, I was told that I would need to go back 60K to Eldoret to catch the overnight through bus to Kigali. This despite the fact that the through bus would pass right by the road to our village. But they knew the "Good" coach company, and it would be the big bus, not the matatu, once I got to Eldoret. Much better to be on the express than the local line. It should be about 5pm on the Bus and in Kigali by breakfast time. Dave and Gladys needed to be about other business on my departure day, and this made Gladys a bit concerned as she wanted to see me onto the right bus, but Dave and I had spent a day swapping travel stories, he being a 40 vet of the region and he decided that any woman who had done the Congolese border crossing on her own without French could manage a bus in Eldoret. Being, as it was, Africa where you just don't count on doing more than one task in a day, it was decided that I should get my ticket a day ahead. But being, as it was, Africa I didn't actually need to do this myself, and there were several young relatives at loose ends who could be assigned the task. So two young nephews of Gladys, Pat and Mike, were sent to Eldoret with a handwritten note from me requesting a ticket and my money. They came back about dark successful, with a ticket clearly marked for the next day, 5pm, through to Kigali with no layover in Kampala. Supposed to be 16 hours.
Now a diclaimer:
Why I will never be a photo journalist.
When things get interesting, I get engaged. I get interested. I get involved. My memory clicks into hyperdrive - albeit in a story-teller, sometimes 'pert-near true form. And I completely forget that I own a camera.
So there will be no pictures till Kigali.
But I wrote it out immediately upon reaching safety.
And that it what you will get next.
Lake Nakuru, The Stem Hotel and the Last Homely House before the Mountains
After a three hour crawl through Nairobi, well marinated in Diesel fumes, we started climbing. The entire road from the coast is a climb, of course, but it got obvious now. We reached the edge of the Great Rift Valley and then Lake Nakuru. BSG fans - you know where they land on the "not-Earth"? - Flamingos etc. THERE. Uh Huh. From this spot on, until the shores of Lake Tanganyika, I will be traversing the Great Rift from one end to the other. It is old, and you feel it, seriously old. And beautiful.
About dusk it started to rain, and we had 300klicks to go. Friend Z and I conferred, and it did not seem like a good idea to give me another go at driving in the rain after dark, on unknown roads. The roads are DARK. No lighting whatsoever except for your headlights. There is usually a center line stripe, but no indicators for the sides of the road. And neither Gladys nor Dave could get excited about riding in the back again. So we found a hotel. And a some supper at a Kenyan Truck stop. Nice cabbage stew and chapati and tea.
My room at the Stem Hotel with a blooming Poinsettia outside
I collect signs - here are two from The Stem Hotel
The "shots" are in reference to the small water heater attached immediately to the shower head. Mine was wired in with electricians tape and had lots of visible black scorching from "shots" I elected to have a sink bath.
No Late Night Ramblers at the Stem Hotel
After a good sleep and breakfast we continued up towards Eldoret and then 60 k beyond to the village where Dave and Gladys live. The village is high on a rocky outcropping. Clearly volcanic but ancient. We arrive just after 1pm and we are all glad that we had the wisdom to split the trip.
Glady's house is well ordered. We are greeted by the Helper Nancy and some young relatives at loose ends, and tea is ready. The Village water pump is out, but this is not a serious problem because the house has a water tank and solar panels with battery back-up to the electricity. Water, if we are not extravagant and lights but no water heating - it is enough. A good bed, good food and good company. I am happy to rest here before the next leg.
The Mzee Baba Pastors
Gospel Ministry was never supposed to be all resorts, and salt-water pools, and flowers, and speedos, so on the fifth of July I disembarked Mombasa for the trip across Kenya. It got African fairly quickly as I snagged the opportunity to hitch a ride across country with David Zarembka and his wife Gladys. This meant the first 900 kilometers (1mile=1.6k) would be in the back of Dave's pickup which is equipped with a secure cab and bench seats. Sharing the back with me were four Mzee (seasoned) Baba (father) pastors from the Lugulu region. They were only going as far as Nairobi, (having as they did good sense) but they were good company.
You pack a truck cab thusly: most senior closest to the cab as the potholes are ferocious and sneaky, and the lift achieved is greater the farther back you go. SO, I was back by the tailgate, which gave me air and the ability to see forward, and the need for those things, as I am a famous puker. With the Babas, and their luggage, and my luggage, was some nursery stock one of them had acquired, and of course we stopped several times for road side produce. The Babas were amazed at my ability to snatch a tomato out of the air while myself airborn. When the road was smooth enough to permit conversation we shared stories. We found common interests in obscure Biblical references and Botany.
Neither Mama Gladys nor the pastors were drivers, and Zarembka had a bad leg, so when we were good and clear of Mombasa with at least 200k to Nairobi, Friend Z stopped the truck for the another round of the territorial marking of the countryside that old men seem so fond of, and announced "Your turn Peg." I said to the Babas, "What did the captain of Jonah's boat say to the crew and passengers?" "Pray to whatever Gods you have!" chorused the Babas. "Good advice" I said, "I'm going to drive!" Much laughter. Booyah! the girl drives!
Gladys took a turn in the back and Zarembka coached me in driving at high speed on the wrong side of the road. I liked the outside edge of the road but he fueled my courage and insisted I take an inner line, as the worst of the potholes seem to be edgewise. After a few passes of petrol lorries within a foot without my screaming, we settled in, and I did my 200k. On that stretch I saw zebra, baboons, a lone giraffe and many camels. On the far outskirts of Nairobi, I gave it back to Z and rejoined the Babas. They cheered my efforts and claimed that I was very good at sparing their spines. They asked if I had ever ridden a camel, I had not,(neither had they) but told them that I was an experienced horse woman. One of the Babas exclaims "Truly - I love you!" And they all tried to convince me to delay my departure for Burundi with a tour of churches in the Lugulu region. It is mostly kindness, but I think they envisioned tomato juggling on horseback, followed by preaching, and it's true, you don't get that every day.
When they deplane, half-way through a three-hour gridlock Nairobi, I know its am going to be lonely in the back without them.
Flowers of East Africa
And it was the dry season...
Flowers don't really start blooming until after the fall rains start in September.
Women in White
In the year 2000, before I had met any African Quakers, I had a recurring dream about worshiping with a large number of African women wearing white. The dreams were in a Language that I did not then know, but later discovered to be Kiswahili. These dreams prepared in me an interest in Africa. And I started to study a bit of Kiswahili just on spec.
But as prophetic dreams go, mine were not very accurate - My invitation eventually came from Burundi where there is no custom of wearing white on Sunday. Kiswahili is minorly useful in Central Africa but it is the third or fourth language. Until this trip Kenya was only a transit stop. So I was looking forward to my traditional Kenyan experience. What I got was the Sun n Sand (no complaints). We did everything in English, but they do where white on Sunday.
One of the fun parts of the stay was arriving a couple of days early and then watching the Euro-tourists adjust to the sudden influx of 350 Kenyan women. You could see them working through "We didn't come to Africa to mingle with actual AFRICANS..." On the other hand you had the very conservative Kenyan ladies dealing with middle-aged, hairy-backed, hard-drinking German dudes in Speedos. The whole spectacle was rather entertaining.
The pools and ocean were a real trip and temptation for the ladies from out West. They tended to be real scared of the ocean, but the sparkly pretty pools were tempting, and though they had no proper "swimming costumes" many got in. American ladies were kept busy with swimming lessons. Some of these women came from dry places and had never seen this much clean water in one place at one time. I had one conversation with a lady who was rather disgusted that they were letting people bathe in the water that she assumed also came out her bathroom tap and in the kitchen. (I mean seriously - those men look nasty!) I assured her that the water systems for the pool and the taps and the cooking were all separate and sanitary - really - they have that much water! She was amazed and a bit dubious.
By Sunday, our last day, the bravest of the Women decided to wade into the ocean. Terrified and delighted, they were. In their beautiful whites. I kept looking around for John the Baptist - it was his kinda scene.
The Resort draped their chairs in white "dresses" everyday - changing the color of the bow daily - a very nice sartorial touch, if you ask me. I thought it looked especially nice on Sunday.
Anticipating the Kenyan custom I had brought along a flouncy white skirt and gauzy white shell and blouse set - a real confection - I thought. I said something to one of the Nairobi ladies at lunch about how glad I was to be able to join in - and she said "You call that white - do you? I would say it is cream, at best, you would never pass in that at my home meeting" I was able to retort with a chuckle "Well, It matches the condition of my soul - it's not exactly white either!"
I love that in Kenya, all signs are "kind."
Sorry, Friend T. V. Palmer, you may not swim at the Sun N Sand Resort.
Mombasa was intended to be jet lag recovery and cultural adaptation time. The first worked beautifully, the second was delayed by serious surrealism. I did end up doing some God-work. Turned out that a trauma healer was a useful thing for our group and I did a hastily scheduled trauma healing workshop for 30 Kenyan women which was well received. If I had been able to alter my schedule I could have done a tour of USFW groups in Western. They were VERY hungry for information about how women can help women heal from trauma.
Sufferin' for Jesus
I Landed in Nairobi on the Last day of June. An afternoon's wait in the airport connected me to a puddle jump flight to Mombasa on the Indian Ocean, close to the Tanzanian border. (which is good since the other border is Somalia) An after-dark ride in a taxi through Mombasa town took almost an hour. Mombasa is a city of four million. It looked really poor. When we got out, jet lag took me off to bed without much attention. When I woke up I realized that I was not in Kansas anymore - I was at the Sun 'n Sand Resort. Seriously Five star, but African: which means you have a bidet, but the hot water only works sometimes. The property is a Disney-like, Arabian Nights theme. A series of outdoor salt water pools connected by flowing "streams" and slides. Poolside bars and in pool bars. All with a view of the Indian Ocean.
I was here to take in the FUM Friends Women Triennial. The site was chosen buy the Kenyan Committee, to give the 350 Kenyan women an experience "as close as possible" to an American Conference!
Oh sisters! America has nothing this wonderful!
I spent my first week sufferin for Jesus.