After a hearty breakfast (I couldn't count on lunch) I changed some money in the neighborhood and got squared away for the day. At 9:30 Ndao arrived with his Rav4, and we started out toward the little village near Kayenzi, where a congregation meets. The air was incredibly clear, as one rarely sees it, except perhaps after a rain. All the colors were bright and sharp under the equatorial sun backed by an azure blue sky.
We drove to the edge of Kigali to an Engen gas station which we often use as a rendezvous point, and picked up Mr. Mundeli who had come into town early to buy some supplies for our upcoming activities. We then drove out of Kigali on the good paved road toward Gitarama. We passed the road to Ruhengeri, the one we take to see the mountain gorillas on the triangular border with Uganda and Congo, and drove on few more miles over marshes and streams whose waters will eventually end up in the Nile, then up into high hills until we reached the turn off toward Kayenzi.
From here the road is dirt, although it has radically improved over the past few years. We drove on normally for several miles until we came over a hill and quickly slowed to stop short of the scene of an accident which has just occurred. A bicycle lay crumpled and jumbled with a motorcycle. The wounded were still on the ground. We got out to see what was happening and if we could help. As we got out a soldier or policeman arrived carrying an AK-47; several people spoke with him about what should be done. Mr. Mundeli asked if we should lend them our vehicle, and I said we should. We unloaded our things quickly as he explained that they could transport the wounded in this vehicle. They picked up one fellow who was unconscious and limp as a rag. His face was covered in blood and his clothes were smeared all over. He was breathing red bubbles; I hoped there were no internal injuries. He was dragged into the back seat of our vehicle and another person got into the passenger seat up front.
Another unconscious victim was carried to another similar vehicle which had also stopped to help. Another fellow was walking around holding his bloody hands delicately as if they hurt. The make-shift ambulances headed off toward the clinic in Remera not far off, which I have visited several times and where good work has been done through Dr. Greg Swartz’s dental non-profit Smile Rwanda.
Mr. Mundeli and I shouldered our bags and began walking to the next village cross roads a mile or two farther up. When we arrived, we walked to a shop with an awning and stepped out of the burning sun into the shade. This is a case where burning
is not hyperbole. On the equator and especially at altitude one’s skin can burn in less than half an hour. After a while Mr. Mundeli called Ndao. He said he has arrived and had just unloaded the wounded people, as soon as he could find someone to wash the blood out of the vehicle, he’d come back. It took about half an hour. Of course several passing village children stopped to stare at the Mzungu. Mr. Mundeli and I discussed differences between Africa and the West, attitudes toward work, and toward time and its use. He went to university in Belgium so he can compare.
Then we discussed social trends. He expressed surprise at some trends happening in the US and wondered why American would let those things happen. I explained the shift away from Christian values and toward humanist and socialist values, and the demographic shifts engineered by various politicians. He was puzzled why anyone would want that to happen. "For their own perceived advantage", was the only answer I could give.
Finally Ndao arrived with a cleaned out car and we continued on. I used some hand sanitizer several times from then on. Proximity with blood generally makes me nervous due to health risks, especially so in Africa, where there is a high density of blood borne illness. There are periodic outbreaks of hemorrhagic fevers like Ebola and Marburg in East Africa. AIDS is a menace; according to the UN over 200,000 people in Rwanda are HIV positive, and it’s a pretty small country. Hepatitis B is very common and can be serious, and no good stats are available for Rwanda. You can even catch normally vector-borne illnesses like malaria, dengue and West Nile from the blood of infected people. So I move away from blood if I can.
We rumbled on down the road, turning onto a piste
that got narrower and narrower until we finally had to park the Rav4 and walk a few hundred yards downhill to the little church hall. In fact it’s a structure that Mr. Mundeli built to serve the farm plots he owns around it. It serves as a sort of farm building: a place to store farming tools and later the harvest, a place where he keeps a cow, a place where he can lodge people in need temporarily and where his watchman stays to keep an eye on things – very important. He has set aside one room which has been cleaned and painted very nicely to hold their Sabbath services. About a dozen people attend here, most walking about a mile from their homes which are located in different directions from this central location. They walk an hour to and an hour from services every week….
The setting is beautiful, in the middle of farmland, no sound of traffic passing, just birds and the occasional human sound. We sat down in the little hall and talked. I ask how each person was doing and their families, how the crops were looking this year (not good, and this will probably be the second bad harvest). They asked about my wife and daughters whom they remember from a family visit we made in 2006. It was a very nice time of fellowship.
To mark the occasion, Mr. Mrs. Mundeli had secured a Coke product for everyone: Coke, Grapefruit Fanta, Orange Fanta, or tonic, which I usually select. We sipped our sodas and talked and just enjoyed one another’s company. I asked if I could see the cows, so we went to have a look. Then we took a group photo in front of the hall. We walked over to some bee hives in a stand of trees 50 yards or so away. The watchman caretaker is in charge of them, so through Mr. Mundeli’s translation I asked how the process works.
He said he builds the hives and puts them in the trees, and the bees just come to them. They instinctively look for places like this. The hive looks sort of like an opaque fish trap; one side of the hive is narrow with an opening for the bees, the other end is wide and closed with a removable door. When the time is right, he builds a smoky fire underneath the hive which makes the bees lethargic then he opens the door and cuts out slice of honeycomb. Nature’s bounty!
We walked back up the hill to the vehicle and waited as the path in front of us cleared. A little village girl in a dirty dress came up and stared at me with big eyes as I took photos. She said in Kinyarwanda that she wanted me to show her the photo. So I asked her to step forward and took one of her, then showed the screen. The bright sun made it hard to see the small screen, so I’m not sure how well she saw herself but there was some recognition and a big smile.
I said goodbye to everyone until Saturday and we drove farther up the hill. On the way we crossed paths with a moto-taxi driver who had been at the accident site, we stopped and he gave an update. The bicyclist had a passenger on the back and was coming down the hill, probably going too fast as often happens. He swerved into the path of the motorcycle driver, coming up te hill which caused the head-on accident. I imagine they met head to head at 20-30 mph. The motorcyclist didn’t have a license so there will be no insurance payments. A mzungu doctor happened to be at the clinic and examined them. The bike rider who cause the accident was the one worst hurt. That was the report.
We drove on to the place where the Mundelis could catch the bush taxi to their home in Kayenzi. Ndao and I drove the 90 minutes back down the mountains to Kigali, arriving at the hotel about 14:00.
I’ll have a working afternoon and a leisurely evening tonight. Due to flight schedules, I’m having a lighter schedule at the beginning of the trip. Things will get busier once we move beyond Rwanda, so I’ll enjoy the lighter schedule while I can.
I woke early this morning in spite of myself, and started the day while it was still dark and quiet outside. As soon as the sky begins to brighten, the motorbikes and bush taxis start running: revving, honking and zooming by.