Monday, August 17, 2009

4 Nationalities, 3 Passports, 2 Car Accidents, 1 More Police Stop....Just Another Day in Rwanda!

Thursday morning the alarm starts ringing at 4:00am. Every day in Rwanda seems like it is a lifetime. By 5:30am we're pulling out of the driveway on the way to Rukara through Kigali. All roads go through Kigali. We are heading to Rukara to do a training and maintenance/repair class for the health care workers from Malaria No More who received 50 bikes from Project Rwanda last month. In the car is Matt Rendell, a Brit, an amazing author here doing a story on Team Rwanda. He is an incredibly fascinating man with a life of adventure we all dream about. He is headed back to Kampala to meet up with Paul Sherwen (yes, cycling geeks, that Paul Sherwen) and then home to London. We are leaving him in Kigali to catch the 10 hour bus ride back to Uganda. New to the crew is Julius Schneider, a volunteer from Germany, who just landed in Rwanda Tuesday. I do believe he is on serious sensory overload as there hasn't been a second of down time since his feet touched Rwandan soil. He will be covering for Max while Max goes back to Paris for 6 weeks to recover from the "Muzungu, Amafaranga" infection we both are experiencing. So soon it will be Au Revoir to my favorite French mechanic, my main man Max. Rounding out the testosterone in the Explorer is Omar and Evan, volunteers from America working on stories for Project Rwanda. Oh, and once again, the sole chick factor...me.

Only about 30k into the trek on the Road of Death, just as the sun is coming up, an accident. A truck missed one of the hairpin curves and ended up in the ravine. Luckily it was a ravine on the inside of the road and not the outside, which is a steep drop no one is coming home from. Seeing accidents like this always remind me how dangerous the driving in Rwanda can be. Matt and I continue our conversation while the four boys sleep scrunched up together all in the back seat of the Explorer. At times like this, I need a camera!

We make a quick stop in Kigali, meet up with Kiki, who has secured the Jaquar bus ticket to Uganda for Matt and give lots of hugs and goodbyes and send Matt on his way. Max jumps in the front seat and in goes the Iphone and we are jamming to music that makes me realize I actually am 43. For some strange reason, it is exactly what I want to be listening to. Max is definitely rubbing off on me!

By 9:30 we are cruising down the final 10k of dirt road to the Health Center in Rukara. We're technically late, but this is technically Rwanda so they cancel each other out. As we pull into the center I see about 40 bikes all lined up. I see Max's face. He's going to need cigarettes. Whatever Max needs at this point, Max gets! Julius is simply looking like a deer in the head lights and Omar and Evan are bracing for the onslaught of kids and stares and shouts of "Muzungu". I'm just worried about getting on my laptop and onto the internet to check on Max's Visa so he can leave on Sunday. The beauty of air cards in a cellular country! Max's Visa has been at the Department of Immigration for the last three weeks, because it was incorrectly stamped when he entered and he has "officially" overstayed his welcome according to the laws of Rwanda. We have been there four times, taken four passport photos and paid 50,000 RWF ($100) and still don't have a passport. No passport, no France, no France, Max is going postal. We are both completely in need of a break. No passport today and Blondie Muzungu might just go Postal!

As Max gets to work wrenching, Julius follows suits, Max and Omar start documenting with pictures and I sit on a stoop surrounded by 20 Rwandans all curious about the lime green Dell in my lap and my heated conversation with my contact at MINICOM (NGO issue...can't discuss...end up in fetal position). According to the update on the website, Max's Visa is ready. Until Max's Passport is in his hands that chicken hasn't hatched. Another call to the American Embassy to confirm I can pick up Jock's passport there. (You know you travel a lot when you run out of pages to stamp in your Passport and have to go to the Embassy to have them add more). And one email to Jock to check on the progress of Adrien's Passport which is supposed to be sent from the Irish Embassy in Kampala, Uganda to Pretoria, South Africa so Adri can ride in the Tour of Ireland. Adri will be the first Rwandan to ride in the Tour of Ireland and ironically, the Tour of Ireland was Jock's last professional race. How amazing is God?

Oh, damn....the cigarettes!

Three hours and 39 bikes later our little road show packs up and rolls out. Max has shown all the patience in the world to the Rwandan health care workers but as soon as we get in the car, he just shakes his head and says, "Stupid". I agree, sometimes it's disheartening to see how fast a bike can be destroyed. These are bikes that would last the average American a lifetime, however, for some strange reason, Rwandans destroy the bikes. Perhaps it's the lack of really good mechanics. I am not sure exactly why. The riders are extremely hard on their equipment as well. I saw our guard one day taking steel wool to his biking shoes to clean them. Would you ever consider using steel wool to clean shoes? I think that is what frustrates Max and myself most is trying to keep bikes, cargo and team, running.

Next stop....feed the boys. It's almost 2:30 when we pull back into Kigali. There is no way any of us can deal with Immigration and the Embassy on an empty stomach. There's an amazing restaurant in Kigali, Afrika Bite, which is traditional style African food served buffet style with drink for 3,000 RWF ($5.50). Great place for four starving young men and one bitchy hungry old chick! We literally inhale the food, two plates each, and we're on our way to Immigration.

As Max and I walk in we are number 3071 and they are on number 3053. I leave Max and head to the Embassy. Omar, Evan and Julius wait outside with the car at the curb for our quick getaway while I strip down of all non essentials to get through the three security ports at the Embassy. I walk in with the clothes on my back and my passport. No phone, wallet, keys, nothing....the more you bring in the more they have to confiscate. Ten minutes later I hit the curb with Jock's passport and back to Immigration.

We are now number 3061. As Max and I wait, I am on Facebook with Jock letting him know I have his passport and getting info from him that yes, the Irish Embassy released Adrien's visa and passport and it is on it's way to South Africa. Two down, one to go....number 3071....ten minutes later we're out the door. The chicken has hatched! Max is going home. I have never seen a kid so relieved in his entire life.

We head to MTN Bourbon, the only place that has ice cream in Rwanda I believe, and celebrate. As we're leaving we witness accident number two. A RAV 4 in a Rwandan ditch. These are not any ditches. These are deep, stone, edge of the road, troughs from where a car will never return. I see the car and wonder how anyone could have made it out alive. I don't want to look. It's 4:30 and I am chasing daylight on my own drive home on the Road of Death.

Just when I begin to relax and feel good about an amazingly productive twelve hour day in Rwanda, I'm pulled over. I'm 50k from home and I'm busted. I wasn't speeding. I was simply trying to pass a truck blowing diesel exhaust chugging up this hill. I pull out and they see me. I do not have my driver's license. It's in my other bag at home. This is not good. I try to explain to no avail. They want the driver's license. Of course they do not understand English, so Max gets out of the car, lights a cigarette and next thing I know I'm standing in the middle of a heated argument in French. All I know is Max is irritated and is trying to reason with them. Finally Max looks at me and says they will take 50,000 RWF ($100) for the "punishment". At this point, darkness is closing in and I just want to get us home. Fine, 50,000 RWF I'm out of here. Give me my ticket and I'm on my way. Wait, no ticket? No receipt? I give them 50,000 RWF and walk away. Max just says get in the car. This did not just happen. They just pocketed the money. Welcome to third world reality. On top of that, I cannot drive. Max, Omar and Evan all forgot their licenses. The only person who has a license is Julius who has been down this road one other time and has only been in the country 48 hours. This is not good.

As I'm sitting in the back seat with Omar looking like he's going to vomit and Max even clutching the side of the door, I realize this is not going to fly. I will have to take the chance and drive. Better me in jail and alive then being accident number three. Omar looks at me and asks quietly, "Will you PLEASE drive?" Twenty kilometers down the road with Julius all over the road, weaving to avoid the people I have had enough and make him pull over. I am driving the rest of the way. It's dark and generally the police go home at dark. I know I'm late, Jock is texting me wondering where I'm at.

I finally hit Jock's. It's almost 7:00pm, it's dark and I'm going straight back to his closet for my last stash of wine and I'm not sharing....okay, maybe a swig for Jock. Just another day in Rwanda.

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