Making friends in Gisenyi
Trip Start Feb 20, 2007
38Trip End Jun 2007
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I had arranged to visit Yves, the artist that I met in Kigali, at the hotel where he was working
I was warmly welcomed in, however, but unfortunately learned that Yves was still in Kigali, and that it wasn't sure whether he would return today or tomorrow. I left my bags at the reception in the hope that he might return later, and set off downtown to occupy myself for the afternoon. Gisenyi is a pleasant little town, especially considering the ugly nature of most border towns I have visited. The roads are mostly unpaved and dusty, with the usual run-down looking buildings along their side. I saw hundreds of prisoners wearing bright pink uniforms being marched around town to do public works, always only guarded by one armed man. It was a little surreal to think that most of these men were probably in pink because of being genocidaires. Along the side of the lake there were big, expensive looking hotels, and beautiful sandy boulevards by the beaches that lined the lake
I returned to the hotel and was told that Yves should be coming later, so I said that I'd head out again for a while and wait for his arrival. Primus, the national Rwandan beer, (which is delicious) has a brewery about seven kilometers outside of Gisenyi. My guide book said that it was possible to show up and ask for a free guided tour, which usually comes with a free beer after. As there wasn't much else to "do" in Gisenyi, I hopped on the back of a motorbike taxi and drove out to the brewery. On arrival there, however, I was told by a grumpy security man that there was no way I could have a guided tour without submitting a written request before, and implied that I had some cheek showing up "aussi brusquement"
When I got back to the hotel later I learned that Yves had missed his bus and that he wouldn't be arriving until the morning. I got my bags and was walking down to town to find a local fleapit in which I could rest my bones when one of the hotel staff called after me, telling me to wait. It turns out that Yves had called, and had arranged for me to stay at the hotel that night, free of charge. I protested, saying I didn't want to be a hassle, and that it wasn't necessary to do that for me, but he was insistent that I should stay. So I was led up to a big room, with a marble floor, huge double bed, satellite TV, complete with en suite toilet and a BATH, and a large balcony overlooking Lake Kivu. I couldn't believe my luck, and actually danced with joy when the door was closed after me
The next day Yves arrived in the afternoon and we moved my stuff down to another hotel, as I couldn't keep living in five star luxury for more than a night, unfortunately. He introduced me to a friend of his, Simba, a skinny, energetic, talkative, charming fellow, who works as a DJ in the local nightclub, and also runs a bus company owned by the same man who owns the Hotel Belvedere. The three of us spent the night drinking away, having great conversations about anything and everything. It was lovely to be in the company of Africans, who I could call friends, and not that of white backpackers. As much as I love Western company when I'm away, as it does provide an escape, it is nice to drink with Africans, as I am in Africa, after all. We made plans to go to Goma, in the Congo, the next day; Simba knows the town very well and he would be able to show me around. See the next entry for details of my trip to there.
The next night we were to go to the nightclub where Simba works, which is the only one in town, located in one of the big hotels
So I spent a few days with Yves and Simba, and got to know a few more of their friends in town. It was lovely to partake in normal activities like sitting around drinking, driving around in cars going nowhere in particular, chatting, joking and laughing. Being with them often reminded me of weekends during my transition year spent in France, perhaps because of the feelings of being part of a group that I didn't know, with everyone being interested in me because of my being from somewhere else, but eventually including me in the group banter. We didn't really do anything worth recording apart from the night clubbing and the trip to Goma, but the days spent there with them were some of the most enjoyable of my whole trip so far.