Some of the most interesting parts of my time of Rwanda were traveling to and from various cities.
Though we clearly didn't cover the whole country, we began in Kigali (the capital), traveled to Kayonza (where Hannah's village Rwinkwavu is) on Friday, traveled back to Kigali on Tuesday and then on to Volcanoes National Park outside of Musenze, where we did a gorilla trek (more on that later this week!). On Wednesday, we headed down to Gisenyi, which sits on the gorgeous Lake Kivu. And on Friday, we did our last trip back into Kigali.
Because the road systems are limited, travel doesn't always occur in what would seem like the straightest shot. And if you're using public transportation, like we were, then you usually have to route your travel through the main cities or towns. Even so, our longest drive was only three hours. The country is small.
In between cities, we mainly rode in public buses, using taxis only to go short distances within a particular city or town. Their public buses are genius. About the size of a small moving van, they manage to seat eighteen people who are getting in or out at various stops. Their genius is in the fold-up seats that happen at the third seat in each row. When these are folded up, there's an aisle leading to any seats behind. When they're folded down, they're...well...seats. Of course, this may require you to fold up your seat and smoosh yourself awkwardly up against the person you were sitting next to in order to let someone out, but even so, I admired the efficiency of their system.
I was rarely wearing a seat belt on these journeys, whether I was on a bus or in a taxi. The buses don't have seat belts at all. The taxis have them, but only in the front. The law requires that front passengers have a seat belt but says nothing about back passengers. So, for the most part, in the back seat, they're either gone or they don't work. I got used to it eventually, though I'll admit that I hoped for a working seat belt each time. But the people I was most afraid for were not those of us in the vehicles but those on the outside.
Along the sides of every road were people walking, riding bicycles, pushing bicycles, riding motorcycles.
("Motos" are a major source of transportation, and I'm a little sad that I didn't ride on one, even though I was also a little terrified to).
And while there are sidewalks for this sort of thing in some places in Kigali, outside the cities, the side of the road is just that - the side of the road. And many of the roads are not paved. They're just dirt, so rain has caused huge divets and potholes. Because of these, drivers don't follow a straight path on the road. They're swerving (quite adeptly, actually) all over the place to avoid the largest holes. Sometimes this swerving brings them gaspingly (I made up that word because it adequately expresses my mental state in those moments) close to pedestrians (including tiny children) on the side of the road. I'm still amazed that I didn't witness anything terrible, but I determined that the people who live here grow up with this transportation system, so they're used to it and know what to do. I was always grateful when a car or bus gave a warning honk as it drove through a particularly busy area or one where small children were playing.
In spite of my fear for everyone outside the car, I so appreciated the experience of looking out the window at such an interesting country. The landscapes were gorgeous, of course. But more than that, I was constantly in awe of the people that I saw walking to and fro, to and fro, to and fro. The physical labor involved in carrying out daily life - getting water, carrying crops to the market, walking to school, walking to get food from the market - is incredible and humbling.
I have resolved to be more grateful for the ease with which I can get from place to place and acquire the things I "need." I have resolved to be grateful each time I turn on my faucet and pour myself a glass of water. But, as Hannah and I opined, that will last a few weeks. And then I'll forget, and I'll find myself complaining about having to walk to the little market a couple blocks away to get toilet paper when we run out. And then hopefully a little bell will ding in my head and bring me back to gratitude.