It Could Be Worse
Trip Start Apr 01, 1979
78Trip End Ongoing
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When I had told the operator that I wanted to go to Kabarore, he gave me a puzzled look. "Kigali?" No, Kabarore. "Small." Yes, it's small. "Hmmm." And then he smiled. "1000." Highway robbery sir, that's an absolute travesty, a shame that you would try to take advantage of this out of towner. No, I won't pay more than 500, not a red cent more. "1000." Okay, no problem. I paid. Less than $2.
So there I was, stepping out of the tiny van, dust swirling from a moto spinning its wheels behind me. I stepped left as a cow meandered by. He looked at me, probably wondering how this stupid white person had ended up here. I looked around. There were a few small shows, two places that said restaurant, and a RITA. The RITA's are the Rwandan government initiative to bring internet into the most rural areas. The connection speeds are good, the rates low, and the places are usually bursting with customers. Goodness knows what they do with their time there , passing the time more than anything, and then back to their lives, back to their farms and herds, back to selling their wares in the open air market... shoes, tomatoes, four, rice, machine parts, dried fish.
I reached for my phone to call my friends. They are nearby, they see me. I see Shira walking up to me, waving her hand high. She is smiling brightly, skin darkened by the sun, but white like a sheet of paper in this setting deep in the dark continent. I hug her, and she directs me to a small restaurant where she and Claire are passing the time with a coke. A pleasant surprise awaits as Martin, my German sleeping companion from Butare, is also present. We exchange hugs and smiles, and quick stories from the road. We slurp down cokes and fantas and talk about what to do. The first suggestion is to go somewhere else, not 20 minutes after I've arrived. It's already late though, nearing 6 pm, so those plans must wait for the morning.
We instead head out for the market, to take in the sights and smells. I'm carrying my backpack and a sleeping bag, the ready traveler. We are like a "mini-invasion" as Martin points out, four white people walking together in this tiny village. We grow a trail of kids behind us. Most just want to watch, others with a more adventurous spirit come up to hold our hands. On the way out of the market, I try to step down on to the path. There is a sharp drop-off of dry earth littered with small stones. My tennis shoes immediately lose traction control, slipping underneath me. I struggle to regain my balance, but suddenly I'm caught in a cartoon, my feet shuffling forward and back on a sea of marbles, I'm lost, wait a foothold, then nothing, then I'm tumbling to the left, my legs splaying out to my right. I'm on the ground. The chorus of hoots begins in front and covers the nearly the entire length of the market. Not only has something funny happened, but to a white person! And not just any white person, the one in the grouped, weighed down with that pack and carrying his soft pack. And down he has crashed! YES! YES! YES! Wait til we tell everyone! Just wait til I tell the fellas, oh yes, oh how magnificent!
Of course I'm laughing too, brushing off the dirt and carrying on. I raise my hands to the sky, acknowledging the acrobatic nature of the fall. They laugh. We keep walking. Soon, we're at Claire and Shira's house, if it can be called that. It is clearly a mini strip mall, with three store fronts now converted into living quarters. We enter from the back, passing the pit latrine. The structure is plaster walls with cement floors. There are two rooms with a bed in each and a table in one. There is nothing else. Clothes are piled in stacks along the walls. They say the lights work, sometimes. They at first went to the communal wells with jerry cans for their water, but it was full of bilharzias carrying snails. They now pay for a water delivery from a spring somewhere outside of town. The water still must be boiled, but at least comes without visible parasites.
I ask them about their school, and they shrug. They are teaching, if you can call it that, three days a week. They have nothing to do on Thursday and Friday, and they never hear from their headmaster on those two days. They have 8 hours each spread out over the other three days. The rest of the time they sit in the staff room. In the staff room there are tables and chairs, with a couple mattresses on the floor where teachers periodically nap. There is no internet, no library, no nothing. I don't hesitate to ask, "Are you happy?" They nod yes. They are happy here, but only want more to do, more work, more classes. I nod.
As darkness descends their houseboy, who they share with their neighbor and pay a salary of $5 a month, comes in with dinner. It is rice cooked with tomatoes and garlic. Delicious. I walk out of the house, mostly full, and into the dark night. The nights are always so dark here, as not a street light shines for miles. Here in Kabarore, with only a tiny town polluting the sky, there is little to do, but a lot to see. For I look up, raising my eyes to the dark sky. The moon is nowhere to be seen, but Venus is almost as bright. It is a clear night, and the stars glow above me. I can barely make out constellations, since the most prominent stars are drowned out by the multitude of others that I would never be able to see at home.
I walk across the yard, and come to rest under the avocado tree. The ripening fruit is hanging down almost low enough to touch my head. I feel content. This is a beautiful place, a place of peace and tranquility. A place where one can easily enjoy the simple things in life, the night sky, a nice meal, a quiet stroll. This is a place to really find yourself, to see the nitty gritty of Rwanda and Africa, to truly experience the life of the average person here. And thank the heavens that I don't live here! Kayonza doesn't have much, a few shops, a few dingy bars and restaurants, a poor school with good students and limited resources by American standards, but, man oh man, it could be worse.