Mr. Mundeli, his daughter Myriam and Myriam's young son arrived right on time at 7:30 to pick me up in a taxi. We drove the familiar road to Giti, the first half hour on paved road. Turning right onto the dirt road we headed toward Lake Muhazi where our annual festival will again be held this year. Short of the lake we turned left onto the road heading up into the mountains.
It was not raining, but it had been and we soon came to a section of road that is difficult when wet, because the East African clay turns into a very slippery goo. Sure enough, the car fishtailed back and forth as the tires, which never have much tread left by the time they reach Rwanda, lost traction. We spun to a halt. The driver backed down to take another run, again unsuccessfully. The driver and Mr. Mundeli were considering sending for some boys nearby to push us up, when the van containing the members from Remera drove up behind us. The driver, Pierre, came over happily to shake my hand. We and I have used his services many times, he’s honest, and a safe driver – a valuable combination.
The drivers studied the patch of road ahead like mountain climbers would a challenging face. They planned a trajectory that might allow enough traction to make it through. I rolled my window up completely since the mud was going to fly. The driver gunned the motor and we careened up the road, fishtailing and slipping from one side of the road to the other as the steering wheel spun, first hard right then hard left. We narrowly missed slipping into the ditch, which was deep enough that we wouldn’t have made it out again without a tow truck, and finally spun free of the deep mud and onto merely shallow mud one which we could continue upward.
The rest of the trip to Giti was routine. We arrived a little before 10:00 and were able to get organized and begin services around 10:15. The members seemed very encouraged and happy to receive my visit, and Mr. Mundeli later confirmed that they were. After the recent upset in various church associations, it was comforting to see a familiar and trusted face.
After opening hymns and a prayer, the deacon in Giti Jean-Baptiste Sibobugingo gave a sermonette in Kinyarwanda. There were announcements the chorale sang two songs, and then I gave a sermon translated phrase by phrase from French into the local language.
We finished by noon and all went outside for our traditional group photo. We then talked for half an hour or so, while the ladies finished laying out lunch.
I had the chance to chat with the Mundelis’ son Patrick who recently returned from an internship with the BBC in London. He spent 3 months there during which he read the news in Kinyarwanda for the BBC World Service programs in Rwanda. His family and friends could recognize his voice, or course, so he came home a minor celebrity. I asked him what surprised him about London. He said the architecture hadn’t surprised him, he’d seen it all on television, but other things did surprise him. The subway system amazed him, "there is a whole other city under the ground!" he exclaimed. He was impressed with how efficient the tube was, but it struck him as quite unnatural and dangerous to ride trains under the earth. He was surprised by how hard people worked and how they rushed about to get things done. He was also surprised at how expensive everything is.
The discipline and etiquette impressed him. He’d been told Westerners were very independent and that they cared little for others. “But when old people get in the train or on the bus, other people stand up to give them their seat: this would not happen in Rwanda!” he said. I didn’t tell him I wasn’t sure that would happen in New York either….
Over lunch a group of us talked about many things. Someone asked how the commemoration of the 911 attacks had gone. We discussed world events, especially what is happening currently in Libya and Israel. We reminisced about my first visits to Rwanda some 15 years ago, then in the company of Bernard Andrist, the Swiss pastor who was my African mentor. I asked them to tell me what the menu would be for the Feast of Tabernacles. They said they had to eat what was locally available so there would be rice and beans, potatoes, white yams, bananas, goat meat about every other day, and some occasional beer, both the local banana brew and the European style. The meat and the beer are great treats, rarely enjoyed the rest of the year.
After lunch we cleaned up the hall, and packed things up. Mr. Mundeli and I were going to take the taxi to Lake Muhazi to have a look at the festival site and make sure things were properly prepared. But other events intervened. Rain clouds gathered. The taxi driver had been careful and fairly deliberate on the way up, but either because of the threat of rain which would make the road treacherous, or like a horse quickening his pace when headed for the barn, he began driving more quickly, though the road of course had not improved during the day.
We make several jarring landings in holes, so I wasn’t surprised when in the village of Rutare, we had a flat. A very fine rain was falling by this time, but we had to get out so the driver could jack up the car. He had a jack, but no handle so he turned the crank with a screw-driver, not the most efficient process.
I took a few photos while waiting which of course attracted lots of attention in such a remote place. Pretty soon there was a crowd of mostly boys behind me staring at the small screen on the back of my camera. When I turned around to take a photo of the boys they jumped in fright, as if a dangerous animal had rounded on them. Most of them scurried off to a safe distance, but one stood his ground, and was rewarded by seeing a photo of himself, which caused him to smile.
A moment later a large man pushed his way through the boys and charged up to me. What was this going to be? He looked me in the eye a bit belligerently, and then stuck his hand out like a challenge and said “bonjour!” He smelled strongly of banana beer and unwashed clothes. I said bonjour in reply but didn’t take his hand. Patrick took a step over and said quietly, “he has problems” meaning those of the mental kind. Mr. Mundeli kindly intervened, and called the fellow over to the other side of the car, correctly guessing that the fellow simply wanted to have his photo taken too. After seeing his photo on Mr. Mundeli’s camera, he went back to his banana beer. We made our escape.
The spare tire was not the same size as the other three which made for an interesting ride. A few minutes later, I motioned to the driver that something was wrong with the spare. I could hear and feel that is was working the bolts loose and would eventually come off if he didn’t tighten them. We pulled over and he did so. With all the loss of time and the state of the rain and road, I suggested to Mr. Mundeli that it might be better to see Muhazi tomorrow, and he agreed.
Finally nearing the floor of the valley once again, we came to the deep-mud section of road which had expanded considerably due to the rain. We slipped and slid the last kilometer, at one point sliding entirely perpendicular to the road before stopping. Since there are not guard rails or even shoulders, sliding like this is not a comforting experience. I breathed a sigh of relief and said a silent “thank you” when we finally reached the pavement. We had to stop one more time to tighten the bolts on the spare tire, but we did make it back safely to Kigali as the sun was setting.
I should sleep well tonight.
Today dawned overcast and cool.