On the Rwandan Road


yolande_blog Yolande Cole

The moto‘s engine cuts out on the gravelly slope we are traveling from Kibuye, and in the sudden silence all that’s left are the velvety green fields of banana plants, the startling blue of Lake Kivu and the dusty, windy path we are coasting down.

After a summer in Kigali, I’m so used to the constant soundtrack of the motorcycle hum that I’m taken aback by this moment of muted travel. I lift up my scratched visor, realizing that I’ve also spent the last few weeks observing a city through the dusty film of a clunky green helmet.

After leaving Rwanda, I’m spending a lot of time thinking about the things that I will miss about living in Kigali. Zipping around this modern East African city on a motorcycle is one of them.

As our main mode of transportation, most of us Rwanda Initiative interns became accustomed to the daily drone of these two-wheeled taxi engines. To get around town, we would flag down a passing green or blue-vested driver, agree on a price and climb on, sporting the styling green helmet that passengers are required to wear. We’d then zoom towards our destination, humming around immacutely-paved roundabouts, passing florescent-vested traffic cops, and buzzing by the zebra-marked crosswalks in the downtown.

Thanks to strictly enforced traffic regulations and the excellent quality of the major roads, the transportation system of Kigali is very well-developed. While some moto rides made me hold on a little tighter, I felt a lot safer traveling around this city than in some of the other East African cities I passed through on my way to Rwanda.

Kigali roundabout

In Kampala, my motorcycle taxi rides involved terrifying dips into person-sized craters, constant weaving through oncoming and exhaust-spitting traffic, and drivers with a penchant to drive really, really fast.

So in Kigali, the newly paved roads, helmets, law-abiding moto drivers and pedestrian-yielding traffic came as a pretty nice surprise. It’s just one aspect of this city that is strikingly modern and developed.

The impressive quality of the roads also makes bus travel outside the city pretty simple, apart from all those hilly highways. As soon as I crossed the border into Rwanda, I immediately noticed both the absence of pothole-ridden highways and the more moderate speed at which the bus was traveling.

On a bus headed from Kampala up to northern Uganda a few weeks ago, my friend and I sat sandwiched next to a local woman as we waited for the bus to depart. We were feeling nervous about the ride after hearing dubious reports of bus journeys in the region. Our seat companion soon assured us that not to worry, the buses were driven “recklessly, but steady.”

After providing us with these comforting words, she proceeded to load a week’s worth of shopping into our already crowded bus bench. Items she bought or considered purchasing from lurking vendors included two loaves of bread, a soccer ball and a stack of cotton underwear. By the end of the journey, she had bananas, meat sticks and a bushel of large bulbous mushrooms protruding from her handbag. It was more amusing than unsafe – we got to our destination just fine. But the reputation of some bus drivers was enough to make us nervous.

In Rwanda, about the worst reputation the drivers seem to have is of cranking the music to unreasonable and somewhat deafening volumes. For the most part, things don’t seem to run that much differently from back in Canada. Except all the bus passengers are speaking Kinyarwanda, the driver sometimes stops for a wheel of cheese at the local fromaggier, and the radio’s blasting the Rwandan call-in show of the hour.

There’s also a whole lot less personal space. But this isn’t such a bad thing. Bus journeys almost always spark interesting conversations between us and our seat neighbours, who are welcoming and curious to know why a group of Canadians are living in Kigali.

Coasting down the hill towards an orphanage we are visiting south of Kibuye, looking at the seemingly endless hills jut like teeth into the lake, it strikes me that the journeys have been one of the best parts of my internship in Rwanda. Whether it’s starting up conversations with friendly strangers on long distance buses, or accidental adventures on our daily motorcycle commutes around the city, I will miss these moments of travel through the very suitably-pseudonymed “Pays de Milles Collines”.

And after crossing the border to neighbouring roads, I’m definitely gripping on a little tighter.

One Response

  1. briancarlsonbc Says:

    Props goes

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