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"Seven weeks to look, see, learn, and share some skills in Conflict Resolution…
For over a year this journey has gradually been coming together. But the seeds were sown over 40 years ago when serving in Tanzania with the Peace Corps."  

July 20, 2007 - Kigali

Macho cabs and side streets, cell phones, shukrani ya Oprah and if time being white and safe, african art, Claudine, and basketball

The car taxi , as opposed to motorcycle taxi system in Kigali is very good when you have to go somewhere specific and have some money to burn. A three mile cab ride into the center of town might be Rwf3000 about $4.00. The bus is Rwf150 or 25 cents. Rwf2000 on a bus will get you a three hour ride to Gisenyi.

No one can go very fast in this town due to the traffic, the motos, the bikes and the people walking along and on the roads. Kigali and most of the country that I've seen is hilly, hilly , hilly. Squeeze the hills closer together in Cincinnati, drive through the mountains of West Virginia. This is a town of nearly a million stetching over many hills. The main arteries are paved two lane roads with deep drainage ditches on each side. The side streets are dirt and bumpy and rutted, and dusty at this time of year. A taxi driver will take you anywhere in this town for a price and will not hesitate to go through terrain on which North American drivers would easily justify their purchase of a four wheel drive SUV or maybe a high clearance pickup truck. I've been in a Toyota Corolla or its African equivalent with five people and the drivier wove through the rutted obstacle course with a wonderful elan. Not only can the driver get through these streets which in the rains must be even more of a challenge, but they have the ability to find the customer. There are no names to these lanes. I asked one friend how they defined where they were off the main road. "Oh, I tell people it is where you get water." I think I'm catching on now. With the advent of cell phones, a resident creates a network of several taxi drivers who get to know him by name and where he lives. The lane I stay on is about six feet wider than the car. It is impossible to turn around. The knowing driver always reverses into this lane for the fifty yards and toots his horn when he arrives. I believe it is important that he be able to display his skills in this. No lane too narrow, no lane too long, no lane too rough, forward or back. Yesterday I spent a lot of time and resources in taxis. I will ride the buses and walk today.

The cell phone has affected Africa to an extent I cannt have comprehended before coming here. Not everyone has a cell phone, but even people earning below the average wages has a cellphone. It seems to have greatly improved communication and you don't have to suprise people with a visit so much as in the past. Many arrangements can now be quickly made. People who earn about $180 a month can have a cell phone. Steet vendors sell phone cards to extend your minutes. Everyone knows how to code in the card except me. In the past steet vendors sold candy and gee gaws, few still do this. It's phone cards, Baby. Somebody is making a lot of money. I paid about $45 for my phne and it has helped immensely to coordinate my trip. People don't over use their phones to the extent we see that happening in America, but on a three hour bus ride, I overheard at least 10 loud conversations none of which I understood. A personal computer is inaccessible to most, but not the phone. Coming down a rural road last night, my travelling companion stopped the car and ran into a little mom and pop store that had no electricity and bought a phone card for me so we could coordinate our arrival in town with someone at a restaurant. I read recently that a cell phne magnate in Mexico was richer than Bill Gates. Could be.......

Shukrani ya Oprah

The other day I lit into Paris and Oprah and was reminded by an Oprah loyalist that Oprah had indeed selected some students from this area to attend her school in South Africa and that she is sensitive to the problems in the Congo. My hat is off, Oprah.


Last week two African American quakers and I chatted through the evening and when one heard that I had been in the Congo, she expressed the feeling that it would be too dangerous for her to go there. I asked why, and she looked at her friend and smiling said, "Should we tell him about the Devil?" She explained that African Americans are recognized that they have money and can be in danger, physically , but a white American would be less exposed in the same place, because they are white. No one will attack a white person for fear of the wrath of the authorities which will certainly descend upon them. I had mentioned earlier that I had never been harrassed in Africa. They also informed me that I would be safer in the American ghetto for the same reason. You may get cussed at but you won't get killed. A lesson in humility and awakening of my ignorance.

Basketball

I took a walk in Gisenyi last week and passed near a catholic school where a well maintained asphalt topped basketball court was being fully used, actually three courts side by side. On one court a full court game was in progress, and suprise, suprise, two girls were in the game, mixing it up with the boys. I would never have anticipated this. I congratulated those girls. Shyness was there talking to the white stranger, but there was none of it on the court.

On the third court were some rather tall young men with some very good moves, obviiously learned from watching game films from Europe or USA. Three of the boys were in the 6' 8" variety and though a bit lazy at times looked like they could be trained. I spoke to their coach who was just beginning the practice. He said they had had only one contact with outsiders. A spanish coach had given a clinic there. He said, you should come this afternoon, the big team will be here. Unfortunately I missed that one as I had to leave for the Congo that afternoon. College recruiters, start looking at Rwanda, they are big and they have some weight to go with the height.

African Art

I succumbed to the art of Congo. Beautiful work which I will have to carry with me. Sorry Marie, I know you don't like that stuff, I will sell it when I get home. The Congolese are masters. There were several truck loads I didn't buy.

Claudine

Claudine works at the house where I stay in Kigali. She is a sad, shy, intelligent young woman, victim of the genocide. She cooks and cleans and washes my clothes. She anticipates things that even I do not know I need. She is one of the reasons I took the taxi yesterday to give her some opportunity to relax. She guided me through town, showed me where many of her family who were victims are buried in mass graves. Twenty thousand people were killed in this part of town only 14 years ago. We often eat together, speaking English and French and Swahili. She only gets paid when the house has guests. We have developed a strange communication and trust in the past week. But don't worry , Marie, everything is platonic.

 

 

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