Oct 7
jen_blog Jennifer Moroz

I’m writing this from Dar Es Salaam, on my last night in Africa. I’ve been here for four days, staying with my good friend Teal from journalism school, who has been living here for two years now and is settled in with her family. We’ve done nothing touristy-just vegging, catching up, wandering around town a bit, swimming in the Indian Ocean.

It’s been a perfect antidote for what I’ve been feeling - exhaustion following a hectic final few days in Rwanda and sadness that my time in Africa has come to an end.

It’s been a long, drawn out goodbye.

It started last Tuesday with our class field trip to Kigali which yes, finally did happen. A bus was there, as promised. And it was the right bus - the only one big enough to carry both classes.

It also happens to have a story behind it, which is worth telling here. As the story goes, President Kagame was giving a speech on campus one day and students in the audience had bursary money on the mind. Specifically, they wanted more of it. So they chanted - or mumbled-the French word “bourse.”

Something was obviously lost in the translation, though, and Kagame delivered not a “bourse” but a “bus.”

A big, beautiful, new school bus.

The gift probably didn’t thrill the money-hungry students too much at the time, but came in rather handy Tuesday when we needed to get 55 of them to Kigali at the same time.

Did I mention that the bus even had gas in it?

And there was a driver to go with it?

It was almost too good to be true.

All we needed now were the students.

I’d told them to get to the university by 7:30. We’re leaving by 8 latest, I’d said, hoping desperately that was true. If we left much later, our schedule would be royally screwed up. And I was determined to not let that happen - not after rescheduling everything after the bus mess-up last week.

A handful of students were there at the appointed time. Others were scattered around the campus and town, and Lee and I set about trying to herd them up, texting and calling and relaying messages through their classmates that if they weren’t here by 8, we were leaving without them.
The effort took until 8:30 when we had about 50 of 55 students on board. Others, we’d discovered, were already in Kigali and would meet up with us there.

That was enough for me. Time to go.

It would be tight, I figured, but we still had time to do everything. I didn’t, however, take into account the stop the bus driver made not five minutes later in the center of town. The students had, unbeknownst to me or Lee, arranged to stop at the local supermarket to get snacks. Before we could figure out what was happening, the doors of the bus had opened and students were streaming off, scattering in all directions.

I don’t often lose my cool, but I was really losing my cool. Where did they think they were going? We had a SCHEDULE to keep!

Lee and I got off the bus and started ordering students back on, but it was too late … they were too far gone.

We had to do something to get their attention. Fast.

I found the bus driver, who also had wandered off, and asked him to start the engine. And once he’d done that, to start driving.

That would show them.

The driver revved the engine and started pulling out onto the road amid screams from the students on the bus. We were leaving their friends behind! Wait!

Students suddenly appeared out of store fronts, running toward the bus.

Operation Tough Love was working perfectly.

We stopped to pick them up, then started up again. More screaming. A pregnant student was running behind the bus. We figured we’d better stop for her, too.

But she was the last. That was it.

Which left Oscar, a second-year student, who had to jump on a moto to catch us at a nearby intersection where we’d arranged to pick up Melissa, who also was joining us.

They were all finally on the bus. And miraculously, they all managed to stay put until we got to Kigali. And they started to sing, which immediately put me in a good mood.

But the once the bus doors opened again in Kigali, the chaos continued. Several times during the day, I questioned the wisdom of taking 55 students on a multi-visit field trip.

It was like herding cats all day.

Our first stop was the offices of Umuseso and Newsline, sister papers known for getting into trouble with the government. I got off with the first-year students, leaving Lee on the bus with the second years, who were going to visit TV Rwanda.

It was 11 a.m. We had two hours and one other newsroom to visit before meeting back up with the second years for lunch and our afternoon session together at the high Council on the Press. I also had to fit a noon interview with the Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture in there. (I needed to speak with him for a story and this, of course, was the only day he could do an interview)

It was, by all accounts, an ambitious schedule.

Here’s how it played out:

11:15 We finally get to Umuseso because it turns out that the bus dropped us off at what one student THOUGHT was the right place. It wasn’t. We had to walk to the right place, because the bus was already gone.

11:17 After filing up a narrow staircase, through a warren of small offices and cramming onto a small porch, a secretary tell us that the papers’ editor, Charles Kabonero, isn’t here. We’ll have to wait.

11:25 I’m panicking about time and convince another editor to speak to the students until Kabonero shows. He kindly agrees, despite recovering from malaria.

11:45 Kabonero shows and wows the students immediately. He later makes a comment that Rwanda really has no media stars. He’s close to one as far as they’re concerned. The students are enraptured. I have 15 minutes to make it to my interview, and though I can’t understand much of what Kabonero is telling them (in Kinyarwanda), I understand that it’s going to take more than 15 minutes.

12 noon. Kabonero and the students are still going strong and I have to go, so I pull the class president, Philos, aside. You’re in charge, I say. Make sure you get everyone on the bus by 12:30 to get to the next stop on time. Melissa will meet you at the New Times, and I’ll meet you soon after. Text me if you have any problems, I add. Of course, I think, there WILL be problems.

12:02 I quickly and politely excuse myself, telling Kabonero that I’d see him later in the day at our afternoon panel discussion on media ethics and the law. Then I fly out the door and into traffic in search of a moto.

12:30 Turns out the Minister of Sports’ office isn’t that close to the Umuseso newsroom. I arrive a half hour late - looking, as my mother would say, like who-shot-Aggy. I am sweaty from running and the combination of wind and moto helmet have not done good things to my hair, I realize as I catch my reflection in the doors of Amohoro stadium. It’s one of those days I thank heaven that I’m not in TV. I race up to the minister’s office, where I was sure I would be turned away or told he had left the office. The guards chuckle as I rush past.

12:32 The minister will still see me! He is in with someone, but will fit me in soon. He doesn’t want to keep ME waiting, his secretary says. I feel a surge of guilt and relief.

12:35 While in the bathroom trying to make myself look somewhat presentable before my interview, Oswald, the class president for the second year students, beeps me. They have finished at TV Rwanda, and need the bus to get to lunch, he says. But the restaurant is a 10-minute walk away, I say. Too far, he insists. They need the bus. (Or as Oswald puts it: “I think you will tell the bus to come and get us”) I have no idea where the bus is. Nor where the first-year students are, for that matter. Hopefully on their way to the New Times to meet Melissa. I tell Oswald to call Philos to figure it out. (Have I mentioned how great class presidents are here? They do everything to make your life easier, from distributing class assignments, spreading urgent messages to the class within impossible timeframes, to miraculously making DVD players appear so you can actually show the class the movie you brought with you from Canada to see)

12:50 The interview begins and the minister is as gracious as can be - about my tardiness and about my cell phone, which rings for five minutes straight as he’s walking me through the growth of cycling as a sport in Rwanda.

1:20 I exit the interview and check my phone to see who’s been calling. Melissa. She’s at the New Times with the first years (phew) and wants to know whether the students I’d worked with to get their stories published should hand them in to the editors. I’d been hoping to make it there to be there when they handed them in, but there’s no way I’ll make it now. I tell Melissa to tell Melissa to go ahead and submit them and I’ll follow up with the editor later that day at our afternoon session. I’ll meet you at the restaurant for lunch, I add, before rushing out the door to catch another moto.. We have just more than an hour to eat and get to our afternoon session. Fat chance.

1:30 My moto miraculously passes the school bus. I use some rusty Kinyarwanda and a slug to my driver’s shoulder to get him to pull over so I can jump off and join the class.

2:00 We make it to the restaurant and herd the students through the buffet, then try to get them headed in the direction of the bus. Their sense of urgency is generally low. My sense of frustration is generally high.

2:30 We’re supposed to be at the High Council on the Press now. We aren’t.

2:30 Still waiting for lollygaggers at the bus.

2:40 Still waiting.

2:45 Still waiting.

2:52 Finally, we take off.

2:53 We stop again to pick up a stray student.

3 pm. Finally make it to the High Council on the Press, half an hour late. Not bad under the circumstances, I think. Patrice, the executive secretary of the High Council is there and has been waiting for us, so I apologize profusely. But Kabonero and David from the New times - two of the panelists - aren’t there yet. So we’re sort of on time.

3:15 pm We finally get started. About 40 of the 55 students are there. More trickle in as the session goes on. They ask some great questions and get candid answers about the press law and press freedom in Rwanda from all three panelists. It was all worth it.

5:45 We finish up as it’s getting dark out and file back outside, where we take pictures. This is officially the end of my teaching stint. For Melissa, it’s goodbye. She is staying in Kigali and this is the last time she’ll likely see her students, for a long time anyway. She is teary as the bus pulls away. The students, who adore her, press their faces against the windows and watch her shrink in the distance.

6:10 After picking up some drinks and snacks, we head back to Butare. The singing resumes, this time with dancing. I’m exhausted, but happy. Also sick (the cold I’d been contending with was getting, all of a sudden, worse). I settle into a conversation with Felix, a student in my second-year class who also happens to have a national music hit about the fight against AIDS. He tells me that it’s important to him to convey a message with his music. All his songs are educational, he says. Then he enumerates the benefits of tai chi.

8:10 We arrive in Butare, at last. The bus lets me and Lee off early, near the house. The students are continuing on to campus. All of a sudden, this is it. Goodbye. I won’t see them again. It’s much too rushed, I realize, but think, at the same time, this is the best way to do it. I stand at the front of the bus and wave, tell the students to keep in touch. The bus pulls away, its windows filled with their faces and waving hands.

It wasn’t, in the end, goodbye. Philos called me the next day, as I was running around, submitting my final marks and doing last-minute shopping, to tell me that the first years wanted to throw a going-away party for me, but didn’t know I was leaving so soon. They didn’t have any time to plan now, but still wanted to do something. Could they, he asked, take me out for a Fanta that night?

How could I say no?

I suggested we meet at the New Sombrero Club, because I’d passed it every day on the walk to school and have always wondered what it’s like inside. Outside, there’s a sign that reads: All drinks, All the Time. I figured it must be good.

It isn’t, really. It’s actually pretty dead.

But the night’s events made it fun, anyway. The second years ended up coming, too, and a few of them actually brought a video camera. They had to do a short music video for Lee’s class and their original subject had fallen through. So they decided to shoot my going away-then put it to classical music. I suggested something a little more upbeat (I’m not really a Mozart type of girl), but who knows whether they heeded my suggestion. I guess I’ll find out soon enough. They promised me I’d get to see the final result.

We ended up in a back room, which suggested this place had a former life - one that lived up to the sign outside. It was painted black with images, in fluorescent paint, of bodies gyrating on the walls. A disco ball hung idly from the ceiling. Apparently, the New Sombrero Club used to be THE party place to go in Butare, before getting shut down for reasons I still don’t quite understand. Now Safari down the road is THE place to go. The only place, in fact.

As we drank sodas under fluorescent lights (the blacklight still worked, but the videographers nixed it), Philos got up and made a speech, followed by Jean Pierre, who read from the Bible (after first asking me whether it would offend me). Ildephonse was next up, and after the short speech he gave thanking me, I almost forgave him for missing half my classes. Then Prudent got up and pulled out a gift - a mobile of African figures - and presented me with two cards. It was hard not to cry reading what they wrote.

After a couple of hours, the party wound down and I said my final goodbyes before heading out into the rain. (By the time I left, the “mini” rainy season had begun - not to be confused with the “freak” mini rainy period we’d had just after my arrival or the real rainy season, which starts in February).

I headed straight to the Hotel Ibis to say more goodbyes, this time to the non-students I’d befriended during my time in Butare.

The goodbyes continued into the next day, when I left Butare. I was spending my last night in Rwanda at the Rwanda Initiative house in Kigali. I couldn’t have asked for a better sendoff. Melissa and Lauren had organized an early Canadian Thanksgiving dinner, turkey and all.

Melissa had tracked the bird down — not an easy thing to do in Kigali, apparently - and then waited while it was killed. Maria, the cook in Kigali, then prepped it and Lauren cooked it. To go with it, they had mashed potatoes and gravy and cranberry sauce and stuffing, plus some goat brochette to add a little taste of Rwanda. Enjoying this feast was a mixture of Canadians and Rwandans, most of whom were experiencing Thanksgiving for the first time. All my Rwanda Initiative colleagues were there, both from Butare and Kigali. So was David from the New Times, two hilarious guys who run a youth magazine and speak non-stop hip-hop, Melissa’s coworkers from Flash FM, where she was doing newsroom training, plus the new head of the Canadian consulate in Kigali, Anna Maria Scotti, and her husband, Bill. (We’d met them a few weeks earlier at the official Canadian residence, where there was a cocktail party to welcome them to Kigali).

A few of us finished the evening off at Kigali Business Center (KBC), which is not a business center at all, but a raging nightclub. My last night in Rwanda ended the next day, at 3:30 a.m., when I fell into bed.

I was exhausted the next day when I woke up. The morning was a little more rushed than I’d like, because my flight had been moved up several hours. I was to be there at noon instead of 2:30.

I should have known better.

Of course, the plane wasn’t going to be on time. In my two months in Rwanda, nothing had been.

I’ll tell you, it makes it a lot tougher to leave Rwanda when Rwanda won’t let you leave.

I dragged myself to the airport and waited two hours in a line that was, originally, ten people deep to check in (one thing I will not miss about Rwanda is the culture of butting in line) before being informed that my flight was delayed. The plane, it seems, hadn’t yet arrived.

And trying to pin airport staff down on when exactly it would arrive was no easy thing.

Hours passed. The wait was punctuated only by the free “sandwich” we got from Ethiopian Airlines (slab of lunch meat on stale roll) for our troubles, and Melissa’s arrival. I was supposed to have flown out long before she even got to the airport for her flight to Kampala, but I was still waiting when she checked in at 4. At least I had someone to pass the time with - for a few hours, at least.

I was still waiting for my plane when Melissa got on her flight at 6.
The plane didn’t arrive until 7 pm - a full two hours after my original flight was scheduled to leave, 4-plus hours after the rescheduled flight, and seven hours after I’d arrived at the airport. And we didn’t board until an hour after that.

I still didn’t want to leave.

But by then, I was honestly ready to go.