The Moment Begins Now.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Two Hours Traffic

Movement is the most dangerous part of my day.  It is also the most exhilarating. Often, we take the experience of going somewhere for granted, hopping into our cars or getting on the bus with nary a thought as to the beauty that exists in the act.  Beautiful in the fact that there are rules, laws and order. It’s easy to take movement for granted, until you are forced to engage yourself in the infrastructure of Rwanda.

The Kanye-West Mobile

The people’s choice for transport is the Matutu, a converted mini-van with  added benches for increased human capacity. To add  interest to your day, people watch or feel a little more a part of Africa, I hop a Matutu. African Mama’s load into the bus, chattering and laughing with animated conversation while balancing their young ones on their laps or over their shoulders. Professors and students cram in side by side and exchange formal pleasantries. Clubbing girls, adorned with big sunglasses  and large amounts of chewing gum apathetically enter and mumble for the driver to turn the music up.   Fares are handled by the Conductor, who carries a wad of bills and hops out at random, unmarked bus stops or street corners, enticing passengers through use of a gentle shoving, to choose THIS minibus, as opposed to the dozens of others. Granted, there are subtle differences, if one is picky. Those with a flair for the artistic have transformed their caverns of steel and rust as moving tributes to favorite T.V. shows, Rap Artists and Sports Teams; from Kanye West and Sean Paul to Manchester United and Prison Break. Costing a pittance (180 RWF, $0.30) for a lengthy twenty minute ride downtown (it’s stops ever 1-5 meters for more passengers), the Matutu is the economical and integrated way to move around Kigali.

I never fully understood the allure of motorcycles until I first sat on a Moto-Taxi. Like farming and tending your crops connects you to the land, riding one of these Japanese Mini-Bikes connects you to the thrill of movement. You feel the repercussions of speed; as air whistles through your clothes during the jerky accelerations, dust and exhaust pitches up at you on the dusty roads and the constant hum of the street life permeates the government-mandated helmet (safety first) perched atop your head. The degree of separation between you and the world is lessened on a Moto, enabling you to chat with others at long red-lights, or for the driver to give slow moving pedestrians a well-intentioned comment as they whiz by, millimeters away from danger. It’s the connectedness, openness and the sheer joy of Moto’s that draws you in.

My first Moto ride was on the third night in Kigali. Slightly drizzling, and completely on the opposite side of town, we were only able to direct the Moto to our neighborhood (Nyamirambo), not knowing where we lived. It was like getting into a taxi in Edmonton and only knowing you lived in St. Albert. Charles, my Moto-driver, however spoke English and we chatted amiably the whole way.

What is your name?” He asked over the roar of the engine and splatter of the rain around us. I replied, yelling over the noise. “HEAVY???” he screamed in response, beside himself in laughter as he pointed at the compressed shocks over his front tire as we whizzed down a busy thoroughfare. “YOU SURE ARE!!!” he chided, as he convulsed in obvious joy over what he thought my name was.

After 42 minutes (what should have taken 15), three phone calls to friends and two stops to ask for directions, we ended up miraculously at our guest house. We paid our then disgruntled taxi-drivers and, still pumped off the high of riding a motorbike for that long, pledged our allegiance to the two-wheeled creatures.

Now, we are veterans of the Moto circuit, making friends through simple Kinyarwandan banter, and an obviously display of manners (upholding the stereotypical Canadian attitude of "please" and "thank you's"). For the seven minute ride to work in the morning, we have stopped the arduous process of haggling for the local fare (paying $0.87 instead of $0.70, gasp!), instead appreciating the subtlety that an extra 100 Rwandan Francs could mean to the driver.

Moto Like A Rock Star

 As I hopped onto a Moto recently, I greeted the driver and began to say, “Nyamirambo” when he cut me off by kick starting the engine, drowning me out. As I began to buckle the helmet tightly, he looked back with a knowing smile and said, “Merez Station (a block away from home).” We laughed and I yelled to him as he shoulder checked and gunned the engine, kicking up thick, black-smoke from the tailpipe as we swerved and wobbled out into the mid-afternoon rush hour traffic,

Tugende, Inshuti!” (Let’s Go, My Friend!) 

1 comment:

  1. haha nice two hours traffic reference! Dude, you are such a good writer. Where do you find the time?