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.......
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.
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.
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 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.