To Giti and back

Trip Start Apr 10, 2008
Trip End May 12, 2008

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Sunday, May 4, 2008

Pierre, our usual van driver from Remera was half an hour late this morning. We left at 8:00 instead of what we'd planned. Pas de problème, c'est l'Afrique!  We were 11 in the van which, technically, had a capacity of 15 including the driver. There were the 4 Americans, 1 Kenyan, and 5 Rwandans from the Kigali area, plus Pierre. I've seen as many as 29 passengers, including children, in such a van; it seems there's always room for one more.... We weren't really packed in, but there is very little foot room for some seats, so several hours in a bush taxi like this can end up seeming longer, because it's difficult to shift positions or stretch one's legs. Dr. Kirkpatrick sat next to Pierre driver so he could get the full view out the windshield, and I sat next to him to give what commentary I could as we traveled.
Just before I got in the van, I started taking off my suit jacket. "You must keep it on" Patrick Mundeli and James Sibobugingo told me quickly. When I asked them why, they said, "to protect your shirt from the dust." It's true that it hadn't rained in several days, and the roads up to Giti are very dusty, and I would be by the window. I reflected a moment. Did I want to arrive hot and sweaty in my jacket or cooler in a white shirt lightly powdered in burnt orange colored dust? I kept the jacket for the trip up, and would wait to see for the trip back.
Patrick and James are teachers who live in the Kigali area. They speak fairly good English and French as well of course as their native Kinyarwanda. They're very helpful to visitors; communications would be difficult without such translators.
The drive up to Giti took about 2 ½ hours, over bone-jarring roads. The views of the green mountainous terrain were breathtaking, especially the higher we went. As we arrived, preparations for services at the hall were already in high gear. The Mundelis had already arrived from their village of Remera and they, along with Mr. Sibobugingo had directed the organization, and everything was nearly ready. We greeted the brethren, shaking hands and chatting either directly in French or through Patrick and James.
The visitors, guests of honor were seated to the right of the slightly raised platform where the speakers would stand or sit. Since my last visit they had bought some school-type desks made by a local woodworker. This made it easier for the adults to take notes. Others including older children sat on wooden benches. The younger children, of whom there were many, sat on mats on the floor.
Starting around 10:30, we sang three hymns in Kinyarwanda, the visitors either following along as best we could in the local-language hymnals or singing from memory in another language. After the opening prayer, the chorale sang a short selection to welcome the guests, and then Mr. Mundeli came to the pulpit and welcomed everyone on behalf of the Rwandan congregations. He asked me to come and introduce the visitors, which I was happy to do, explaining why each had come and what they would be doing during their stay in Rwanda. I also gave a brief overview of my current pastoral trip.  Then Mr. Mundeli spoke again, giving some explanation about the church in his country.
This was followed by several pieces of special music performed by the chorale, all its members wearing their matching dresses and shirts. They looked very nice, and sang beautifully with the rich African harmonies found here.
Then Mr. Sibobugingo announced Dr. Kirkpatrick for the sermon. After having consulted with Mr. Mundeli, we made the decision to have a double translation format. James and Patrick can translate simple concepts from English to Kinyarwanda directly. But something as intricate as a sermon, with its specialized vocabulary and abstracts concepts is quite a challenge. Mr. Mundeli's command of French and Kinyarwanda is excellent. That means that although it's more time consuming, our double translation gives the most accurate translation.
So, Dr. Kirkpatrick sat at one end of the speakers table. He would speak a sentence or phrase in English. I sat next him to him, and would translate the English phrase in to French. Mr. Mundeli, who sat next to me, would then translate the French into Kinyarwanda. We have done this for the few visiting elders we've had in the past, and it's not ideal due to the gaps between phrases, but it's the best we can do, and in any event, they don't receive that many English-speaking speakers (in all the history of the United Church of God here, there have been exactly 4).
Next week Dr. Swartz will speak, and since I'll be gone by that time, James and Patrick will have to do the best they can.
Dr. Kirkpatrick spoke on the topic of "What is the Greatest Sin?" and it was an excellent sermon. He gave something very similar in Cincinnati on the Passover Sabbath. The message can be access on our UCG member website. I highly recommend hearing it.
After services, Dr. Swartz presented to the Rwandan members a beautiful photo album containing photos of the Columbia Missouri congregation which has generously contributed to the dental project and to various needs of brethren in Rwanda.  It also contains photos of members here that Dr. Swartz has taken during his visits, of which this is the fourth. While a team of ladies prepared to serve lunch, I set up my laptop and showed the video over view of the work in francophone areas. The church members especially enjoyed the scenes of Rwanda of course, but also paid special attention to the scenes of the Feast of Tabernacles in France. One evening during the festival a folk-dance troupe had performed old regional dances in wooden shoes (called in French sabots). The Rwandans were fascinated to see French people clomping around and yipping and yelling as part of their round dance. I don't think these Africans, for whom dance is an important, living part of their culture, could imagine that Europeans ever did anything of the sort. They stared in rapt attention.
Then we had lunch prepared mostly by Mrs. Mundeli. They had killed enough chickens from their own coop to feed the whole group of 70 or so who were present. Also on the menu were boiled eggs, bread and margarine, cheese, and soda pop. Mrs. Mundeli apologized for the limited menu, explaining that she works full-time as a teacher and had gotten together what she could after work, killing and cooking all the chickens, and transporting it from her home in their bush taxi. I reassured her that we very much appreciated her dedication and effort and told her the meal was just fine. Rwandan chickens are not fed, they fend for themselves. So there's a lot less meat on them, and it's less tender than what Westerners are used to eating. It was a good reminder for us visitors, about how much we take for granted in the West. Dr. Kirkpatrick quipped later that he thought Rwandan chickens were athletes and could probably bench-press at least 100 pounds....
By the time we finished our late lunch, it was times to start packing things up and preparing to leave. The sun sets very quickly on the equator, right at 6:00 pm, and it's much safer to be off the roads after dark. We needed to leave by 4:30 at the latest.
As we took care of final organizational questions and repacked the vans, Flavia Everman told the children several simple and humorous folk stories from the US. She collects such stories and is invited to tell them at school functions around her home, so she was right at home entertaining the children. She had them squealing with laughter at the stories (told through a translator) and the accompanying gestures.
We were on the road right at 4:30. I took my jacket off this time. Going down the mountain went a little faster than going up, but the roads had not improved any. Both our doctors were very tired with jet-lag and accumulated fatigue, and would have nodded off, but every time they were nearly asleep, we'd hit an especially deep hole or rut and they would bounce (literally) back to consciousness.
We arrived back in Kigali at 6:30, night had already fallen. It's quite interesting to drive through an African town or city at night. The traffic is dense and slow-moving, and the voluminous vehicular exhaust is very visible in the cooling air. There are few if any street lights, so what illumination there is comes from headlights, occasional neon signs, fluorescent lights inside shops and the flames of little alcohol lamps on tables full of wares for sale at the side of the road. Crowds of people, the bright colors of their clothing muted by the shadows, walked determinedly toward their homes for the night. I find such scenes quite exotic, but also, I'm not sure why exactly, strangely comforting. It feels as if the African night is a sort of cocoon enveloping us in a cushion of protection.  It feels that way to me, though that is not, I realize, the reality. Nighttime is not really a safe time in most places on the continent. It's best to be home or at least inside during the dark.

When I got to the room my white shirt was not noticably dusty, but thinking about the roads we traveled, it could have been.
We had a bowl of soup and a beer for dinner at Chez Lando. We all sat under the stars in the popular barbecue pit, relived the day, and discussed the plans for the next day. Dr. Swatz, Flavia, Rahab and Mr. Mundeli will start out at 3:30 am to visit the Mountain Gorillas in the north of the country. Dr. Kikpatrick and I plan to visit some genocide memorial sites, so we won't have to get out of bed at any heroic times!
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