day twenty-two: kigoma

travel far, travel deep
kigoma town is starting to feel a bit more like home. i recognize people on the street, am developing favorite places to eat, finding new places to sit and watch the bay every day, and getting a settled feel for Tanzania like i didn't take time to in Rwanda or Burundi. it's nice. travel is not only about moving--when you stop moving so much physically, you start to travel in a different sense, deeper into local culture, deeper into relationships with people, deeper into the regular life of the place you came to see. instead of riding 80 kilometers, you ride down the street, and when Chas greets you from underneath a shady tree, you stop and talk awhile. you memorize a couple words from your guidebook in Swahili, then go out and try to use them with the lady frying Tanzanian ebleskeebers in the morning. you go back to the same restaurant, the waiters smiling at you because you made a very foolish joke using Swahili and gestures yesterday, and you order your new favorite cake, and try the other kind of juice. gradually, you start to feel a bit like a regular.

are you a regular? are you going to stay for a few years, or a lifetime? probably not. there are some who do. but compared to the You who stopped in towns like this just to buy a bottle of water, and none of the faces there ever became more than strangers, You are pretty regular. and fundamentally, always moving, always looking for a different place to sleep at night, for people you can trust, it gets tiring. it's good to settle in a town for a few days, and really get a feel for it, so you remember it as more than a point on the map when you move on.

that's what i'm doing here--still traveling, but traveling deep instead of far. maybe it's practice for when i finally stop these 5+ years of travel, and stay somewhere long enough to be a real regular. i wonder what that's like. wonder if i can be a regular after so much of irregularity. i know part is me is well ready. and part is scared. and i guess that means it's the right move--not backwards, but forwards, whether far or deep. if you feel that way, it's right.

the rest of the story

when i started this trip, i had two main purposes: to travel, and to write. the thing is, these blogs weren't my only or even my main goal in writing--they were to be a kind of side project to the main one, which is the reworking of blogs written over the last year and some in Uganda into a book format.

well, things change. not only have i spent a lot more time on these daily blogs than the book, i've started another book entirely... which i don't really want to talk about. suffice it to say, i've realized either project will take me longer than i have left in the vacation, and i'd like to finish them both.

but wasn't i going to have a book done by the end of the trip? i had so nicely planned out: i'd ride bicycle in the morning, thoughts a-stewing, then spend the afternoons writing all those stewed up thoughts, body tired but mind active.

and it's true, that's exactly what happens--but what i failed to account for was the travel aspect of it. meaning, a 40-day trip through East Africa turns out to be more exciting and attention-grabbing than reworking stories about the year that came before it. so what i think about, and want to write about, are not those old blogs but what is happening here and now.

thus the failure to get even halfway through initially reading the blogs i want to make into my book, much less start editing, rewriting and adding to them! i could do it: it would just mean ignoring everything around me, staying in one place, and holing up in a room to write, breathing outside air only to eat or rest. i wouldn't mind doing that, but East Africa... the road... it's rude to ignore them.

so i've accepted the book is not getting done. i've accepted, too, that this other book is not getting done. what is getting done is a lot of travel, new experiences, and daily blogs forming all that into something intelligible, to you and to me (writing helps me reflect on and understand what i've experienced). and that's worthwhile. so the books, book 1 and book 2, they'll get a bit done--i do still have plenty of free time, and more will to write than experiences to cover it--but basically, they're being forwarded to the initial period of joblessness in the states, and the emotional/experiential inertia of africa that is sure to be washing over me during that period.

in the meantime, there is so much more of africa to see--

i spent most of today holed up in my room writing, only coming out to eat or when the power failed and my battery ran out. i was working mainly on the new book... something i'm very excited about, but a little too early to actually talk about, in case it falls flat for some reason!

well the train
is officially not running. waiting around at the scenic old train station this morning, some officials finally told me 'it might be starting in february or march.' when i asked if february could possibly mean early Feb, like Monday, they said "yeah, maybe, you can check back then."

i've been in africa long enough to under the Schrödinger experiment's local implications: how you observe the situation changes what you see. in other words, i think there's actually zero chance of a train coming on Monday, or next week, but because i asked like that, he said maybe. when i asked if there'd been any schedule set, he said not yet. translation: it ain't coming, baby, it ain't coming for a long time.

which means another part of the loose itinerary for this trip (along with being able to bike through Burundi) has fallen through: without that train, there is a long, long ways between here and Dar es Salaam. more than i feel like biking, or would probably have time to even if i tried. the bus ride is a grueling couple of days, followed a week or so later by an even more grueling one through kenya back to uganda. not sure i'm ready for that, much as i want to see zanzibar and spend some time on the ocean. lake tanganyika is a pretty nice second...

but i do have this friend who can get me a free ride on a dump truck heading back to the coast, with a driver who probably doesn't speak any english, which also sounds interesting...

so i don't know where i'm going, yet. far travel or deep travel are my options, basically: see some more lovely places on their surface level, or get beneath that with the place i am. i don't know what i'll do, but that doesn't bother me: Kigoma's nice. maybe i'll just stay here...

day twenty-one: kigoma

the old man and the see
the first moment i set eyes on the waters around Kigoma, walking sleep-bleared out of the captain's cabin on the Ruremesha, i knew i wanted to be in them. i considered just swimming in to shore before the port opened, actually, to get the required money to pay my visa fee and avoid all that red tape.

the red tape took most of the morning, and finding a guesthouse took me a lot of the afternoon, so i didn't get around to it yesterday. i did meet some nice Spanish girls that evening, and over drinks with them decided to find a swimming spot today.

so we did: took a packed mini-van out over windy dirt roads to a picturesque little fishing village, and from there walked, waded and stumbled over a rocky beach to the shady side of a little peninsula, not a soul around except for an old man toying with his boat.

i guess he got more than be bargained for, choosing that spot, because the girls proceeded to take all their clothes off like it was business as usual, and i followed suit. we all crawled into the lake, stones too slippery to do otherwise, til we could slip into the water. it was delicious. the old man stayed in his boat the whole time, watching.

it was a perfect day for swimming, sunny and beating hot, perfect place, beautiful and no one else around, and the lake water was just the right amount of cool for a good, long swim. it was hard to believe we were in a lake and not the ocean, aside from the absence of saltwater (which you never really notice until you're IN saltwater), but on the far horizon you could make out the green lines of the Congo, a lot more distant here than they'd been near Bujumbura.

we swam, we sunbathed, we laid out in the sun on hot stones. i've gotten fat enough in Africa to kind of float again, instead of sinking like a stone the way i used to, so swimming is a lot more fun, and i'm just discovering the joys of laying in the water, barely moving, weightless and careless, drifting.

the girls had a ferry south to catch later that day, so after a final dip we hiked back into town, them speaking Kiswahili like a blue streak at the locals (i felt like a tourist)(i guess i am), had really tasty bowls of wali daga, rice and fish local style, while the taxi filled up, and then one of the hottest, most uncomfortable taxi rides of my life coming back into town.

they left within the hour, but it was really nice spending a night and day with some other long-term travellers, and a reminder to me to be more friendly to foreigners. i guess the old man was happy too.

i snagged a couple pictures from Carolina's camera before they left:

The shore of Katonga fishing village, our little peninsula in the distance.

The little peninsula with the beach where we swam.

Yours truly, old-man beard hidden by camera angle.

no one to sing my theme song with
the two girls, Cristina and Carolina, had been travelling six weeks together, and as we spent time they reminded me of all the good things about travelling with another person. at the restaurant in the morning, they ordered different foods and tried each other's. the night before, they'd ordered one beer at a time and both drank, so it was colder. as we hiked out to the beach, they spontaneously started singing their theme song, 'Thats's the Way I Like It' (KC and the Sunshine Band), whereas i've got no one to sing mine with...

little things like that. i started off this trip pretty excited to be solo, to be free, to go at exactly my own pace and do exactly what i like, and i don't regret it. i still think it was the best choice, but i'm realizing it'd also be really fun to travel with someone else who traveled the same way. i guess with someone is less about self-discovery and more about fun: you are necessarily pulled more into each other's world, but it helps as an escape and chance to reflect on the one you are travelling through, whereas going solo you are just always in that world, except in the immediate escapes of music, bad fantasy novels, guesthouse rooms, etc. i could see they traveled well together, interested in doing the same things, both relaxed and independent, giving each other enough space. best of all, they've completely avoided the mzungu-spotlight by sharing it, and being able to laugh at it, whereas it's been a real nuisance for me.

anyways, this trip is a solo one. but the times i've shared it with others--eliot and shaun, tom, cristina and carolina--have been a nice break from me.

the rest of the day
i spent exploring Kigoma, talking with local folks, looking for good places to eat, relaxing. i'd gotten in a little too much nude sunbathing on the beach, and the white areas (wearing the same clothes every day for biking, i now have dark-brown areas and white areas. sandal straps have made my feet zebralike) ripened to a sensitive pink. i sat with some university students home for the holidays, saw a nice sunset from a hilltop, had my first plate of wali maharage, rice and beans, and fell asleep reading my trashy fantasty novel.

good day.


day twenty: lake tanganyika - tanzania

more red tape
awaited me like a bloodthirsty swarm of insects when i got to Tanzania, but this was partially my own doing. as we sat in the port that morning, waiting for it to open up so we could dock, i decided to check if there were visa fees for entering Tanzania--a good while after, of course, i could get any money in case they were more than i had.

well, they were--i had 30 US dollars, and the guidebook said they needed 50, cash only.


so i asked for advice from the skipper and the goods-counter, who had nothing much of value to say, but did pass on my plight to the waiting immigration officer, so before even explaining myself i got a lengthy speech on how disappointing it was to meet someone of such high status (his words) who hadn't researched the immigration procedures of the place to which he was visiting. i felt like i was in high school, and had the yeah-yeah-stuff-it-you-suit kinda its-early-morning-get-me-into-Tanzania attitude to match.

and like a high school delinquent, i got my fair share of woe: first, they agreed that, rather than ship me back to Bujumbura, i could go get money in town. but they'd only take US dollars, so i had to first withdraw local shillings with my ATM card, then go and exchange backwards to pay the entry fee. and it's 100 dollars, not 50. i probably haven't spent 200 so far this trip.

fine, it's at least doable, i thought. the only bank in town my guidebook said had an ATM refused my card, though. three times. the good folks inside the bank said that nope, if the ATM didn't do it, they sure couldn't. varmint poop.

i'd spotted another ATM, so though i figured if one network refused my card the others were likely to, i stuck the card in and answered visa, yes, english, yes, pin, yes, money, yes, wait...

wait longer... like a full minute...

this is where my last card got rejected... and...

the whirr of cash being mechanically handled! lovely, reassuring cash.

another half hour in the line at the bank, waiting for them to locate their dollars, and i was back in the port with their blood money, ready to legally enter the country. they agreed that i'd gotten the money, but unfortunately the paper quality of one of the bills was poor, so after discussion with their treasurer, they weren't able to accept it.

red. tape.

so it was back to the bank, morning getting pretty long now with me having neither legal status nor breakfast, then back to the officials who ascented to the new paper quality, stamped me, and sent me on my way. here's hoping the red tape i broke walking out that door was the finish line of the african tape i'll have to crawl through, though i honestly doubt it...

halfway point
if my trip is 40 days, and i think it will be, that means today i'm halfways through it today. phew. i've been in four countries so far, ridden maybe 700 kilometers by bicycle, managed a blog every day, a bit of work on the book, started another, and seen and done some things. in short, that means it's time for top tens.


10.had a beer at Hotel Rwanda

9. slept in a brothel, a captain's berth, and on a wood bench by the lake

8. rode my bicycle from Lukaya to Kigali

7. learned some things about myself

6. learned how to turn a dumpster into a bakery

5. had some very peaceful moments in beautiful places

4. learned some Kinryankole, Luchiga, Luganda, French, Kinyrwanda, Kirundi and Kiswahili

3. learned and experienced a lot about the Rwandan genocide

2. had some slow beers with local folk

1. left behind the stress + busyness of my previous job

followed, of course, by

10.oiled my bike chain

9. been physically injured

8. cooked a meal

7. taken a good picture

6. made it even halfway through initial editing of my book

5. used my phone to call someone

4. shaved

3. worn any shirt, jacket, pair of shorts or pants other than the one of each i brought

2. made some attractive local girl swoon for me

1. gotten malaria (so far as I know...)

and rounded out by

10.the first 30k of Rwanda

9. the coast into Kabale town

8. watching the stars on Lake Bunyonyi

7. sleeping with the drunk captain

6. the cold beer after 100kms from Kabale to Kigali

5. the push everybody from Lukaya gave me

4. sharing a meal with Anita + Willy in Bujumbura

3. the time i spent in the crypt of the Nyamata memorial

2. watching hippos on the coast of Lake Tanganyika

1. every moment

day nineteen: bujumbura - lake tanganyika

safety is the salt in my su-pu
it was time to leave Burundi. why? much as i was excited to see this place, and have enjoyed moments of it since, the lack of safety is oppressive.

maybe it's psychological: whether you are 'safe' or not i think is often just a feeling you have, not necessarily founded on facts, like saying "i feel very safe here walking the streets at night." you can feel very safe anywhere, til you're mugged, and muggings can happen in very safe places, like small town america. then after it's happened, you can feel very unsafe in a very safe place. psychological.

nevertheless, the unsafe feeling i had in Burundi was not mine alone: the streets of the city clear out by 4pm, and both the guidebook and the locals said walking them by night was asking to get mugged. the country is still recovering from an extended civil war and the resultant poverty, and seems there are a lot of people with not much to lose.

that poverty was a bit oppressive too--i don't mind rundown buildings, potholed roads with big lakes in the center of the capital city, etc., but being constantly asked for money and eyed when not asked, i got the feeling my interest-factor had switched: in all countries thus far, i'd been interesting primarily because i was white, and secondarily because, therefore, i must have money. here it was clearly that i have money, and my racial status took a firm second.

even that, it's okay: you can live somewhere not going out after twilight. you can ignore all the need, or give what you can to pacify feelings of guilt. you can avoid travel by foot or bicycle, be constantly aware your money or your things might get stolen--it's just not very fun.

safety is the salt in my su-pu, to borrow a phrase from Radio + Weasel. without it, the best soup--and Burundi seemed like a pretty spicy country--just isn't enjoyable, and that was my experience of Burundi. i wished i was african to experience it for a bit without being in the economic spotlight, but i'm not (much as i'm getting tanned enough to be mistaken for Indian sometimes). so i had my see of Burundi, and it's time to go, on to somewhere i don't need to always be conscious of my things, sit on the beach at sunset without worry, eat at an outdoor cafe without being eyed. hopefully that place is Tanzania.

the last breakfast
i had in Burundi was lovely, though--i caught the Trianon bakery, the one which had smelled lovely next door to my first guesthouse--when it was rocking in the morning, and had a still-warm croissant and a cheese pie with a giant glass of plain yogurt, served with sugar on the side. the place was packed with people, the bread was fresh and kept coming, the service quick and the whole joint obviously part of a nice morning routine for a lot of people. wish it could be part of mine.

those aren't stones in the lake
i realized: those are hippos. i'd taken them for some big rocks when riding past, but later when i sat down to watch the water under a shady tree, the rocks moved, and i realized they were giant pink hippos.


the only other time i've seen hippos up close was at a national park in Uganda, and we had to go a ways by boat to their wallow spot, and they were none too pleased to see us. these guys were right in the middle of a public beach, and didn't seem to mind the naked african boys in the water at all, though a passing canoe did raise their hackles a bit. i later saw some a distance down the beach too. hippos are one kind of creature that need to nothing to be interesting--just their being at all is impressive.

african red tape
the problem with african red tape is not that there's too much of it. i think there is actually less than you'd find when trying to do the same things in other countries. the problem is it's so damned knotted and disorderly.

case in point: trying to get a ship from Bujumbura to Kigoma. given, the passenger ferry is out of service, so i had to try to line up passage on a cargo ship, but still:

i go the day before to arrange things. the guardsman at the door sends me home speaking a lot of Kirundi and French like i understand it, but the import's clear: not today.

so i come back the next day, passing him before he has a chance to shoo me, find in the shipping company's whole office of 15 people one can speak English. she tells me to wait.

i wait half an hour. the person i'm waiting for hasn't come, so she tells me to wait somewhere else. i do. when that also brings no results, she takes me to an office we could've gone to immediately, where i'm told to come back with a stamped passport and they'd process my ticket. and to get to immigration early, because they sometimes don't stick around long.

okay. so i rode the kilometers back to my guesthouse, packed up in a hurry (i was past check-out anyway, but the good thing about messy african red tape is that check out at eleven can mean eleven thirty or noon--hakuna matata), rode back to the immigration office hoping to still find the guy there, so i could catch the ship, which wouldn't go again for a week or so.

i was told to wait.

i wait. no dice. the one semi-English speaking boy in the place says the official's car is out front, let's go find him. we find him in front of a bank a ways off; he tells me to first get my ticket then he'll stamp me. ratty P.

so i go back to the shipping office for a confrontation with the dour guardsman. the office is locked up for siesta or who knows what, and he again tries summarily to shoo me. i want to know when they're coming back, so i try my flunky French--something like "a quelle temps?"--to no effect, then Luganda "bajja komawo nga ddi?" to lesser effect, but he may have caught a couple words similar to Kirundi, because he answered back something, basically unintelligible, and i asked again in what must have been basically unintelligible ways to him, and we bantered and parried nonsense there in the sunny shut-down courtyard for a few minutes before i heard him say something like 'nana.' nana is close to Luganda's eight, 'munana,' which would have been quite disappointing (meaning 8PM, well after the ship and immigration officials would have left) except i also knew 7AM is 1 in Uganda, and if the system was the same here 8 would mean 2PM, which sounded about right for a siesta. "munana?" i asked again, tracing the figure eight in the air, and he got excited saying his version of the number, and wrote it in the dirt.

Gods be praised! communication!

so i thanked him--i know that much at least in Kirundi and French--and went for some hippo time before two.

at two, i again was made to wait til 3, paid for my ticket but the lady who could actually make the ticket wasn't around... around 3:30 i said i was worried the immigration official would leave, so they sent me with someone (who didn't speak any of my languages, of course) to get stamped out, ticket apparently unneeded.

well, the official wasn't there, despite his earlier promise he would be, so we waited outside with a guard smoking Sportsmans. the official shows up, is surprisingly good about stamping me out, then we walk to the gate of the port, where the old women in uniform take a real long time examining my passport, my lovely stamps and visas from other countries, pretending not to be able to find my stamp out of Burundi, all in a flutter about how faint the ink was when i pointed it out, etc...

they took about 10 minutes to check the already-official stamp. finally walking towards the ship, i wanted to express how red-tapey those ladies had been to my non-English-speaking cohort, so i gave my best "les mademoiselles!" with a lot of surprise/distaste. he laughed and said something i didn't understand, but rubbed his fingers together in a universal symbol: money.

ding. they wanted bribes. a lot of the people today probably wanted bribes. the guys who loaded my bike on the ship, passing it bodily over frightening gaps of water, also wanted bribes. that's the other problem with african red tape--not only is it knotty and disorganizing, the best and sometimes only way to unwind it all is with bribes.

well, i reflected, the better part of a day gone to getting a simple ticket, at least i had unraveled that tape without bribery. it was something of a pyrrhic victory.

the ship, of course, wasn't yet ready to leave, so i settled down to wait.

the wait was worth its weight
in gold: pulling out of Bujumbura port, the mountains of Burundi on one side and the Congo rising steep and verdant green on either side, lights of the city coming on as the sun set burning red in the west, the old familiar feel of ship travel... it was lovely.

this won't make sense to anyone who hasn't been on peaceboat
but the departure song from my last cruise started playing automatically in my head as we pulled out of the port... does that happen to you?

the skipper said
when i asked him if they had many passengers, "never!" then agreed i paid way too much, and apologized there was no place for me to sleep tonight.

the first mate said
i could use the bottom right bunk when i got sleepy, which i did, using my jacket as a pillow. it was really comfy, laying with my head to the gently rumbling ship, door open to Lake Tanganyika passing outside and the fresh night air.

then the goods-counter came back and apologized, but i was sleeping on his bunk and i'd have to get up.

the goods-counter said
that yeah i could probably lay on the wooden bench in the mess, since no one was going to cook, but on second thought there were some extra beds upstairs in the officer's quarters.

so up the stairs we went, me groggy from an hour or more's sleep and just wanting to continue it, carrying my sleeping bag and valuables like a refugee. we passed the helm with a real green-on-black radar screen, then found the captain.

the captain said
a whole lot of things i couldn't understand, being thoroughly drunk and a lot better at Kirundi and French than English. what i did understand was that he'd give me a place to sleep, but first i had to drink a beer with him.

in improv comedy, the basic rule is to never refuse a prompt. this was one of those times, so i waited as the captain drunkenly ordered the cook to get a beer from his sack, then sat me down right next to him on the bench and opened it with his teeth, talking all the while about things it seemed i should be responding to, but not understanding then, i could only nod and grin, buyng my bed.

the beer wasn't warm, it was hot. it burned going down my throat, tasting nothing like beer should, but you'll do a lot for a place to sleep, especially after you've already started. he also added some decent beans and rice, much to the cook's obvious displeasure, and talked to me for a long time, eventually getting around to what most african guys who talk to me for any length of time get around to: wanting to go to america, and couldn't i sponsor him/his children, and give him my contacts, etc.

i promised nothing but my contacts (which he forgot in the morning--i'm not sure if he was even awake when i got off the ship), feeling rather ill at ease and just wanting to sleep again, forcing myself to the bottom of the beer.

when it was done, he insisted i have another, but i refused, said i really needed sleep. he gave me a bed in a nice little room next to the officer's mess where we'd been drinking and trying to talk. then he closed the door and locked it from the outside.

so i was a prisoner
in a room with two sacks full of hot beer, but there was at least a bed so i decided not to worry about it. later i woke up too hot, and fiddling with the windows ascertained i could crawl out if need be, if the drunk captain lost the key for instance, or had sinister plans for me. knowing that, i went back to sleep.

an indeterminate amount of time later he unlocked the door and came in himself to sleep, leaving it unlocked. i used the chance to get some drinking water, though we were in the middle of a rainstorm, and came back to bed wet.

the now-unlocked door clanged in time with the rolling of the ship, which was probably the reason he'd locked it (the latch being broken), keeping me half-awake til i wedged it between my shoes, then passed out with the captain drunk asleep on the mattress next to me on the floor.

he may have groped me
in the night, but i just rolled away from his hopefully-still-asleep arm and kept right on trying to sleep. the morning came none too soon.


day eighteen: bujumbura

the burden of things
sometime early on in my solitary voyagings, i made a kind of rule about what i carried: i had to be ready to lose all of it. okay with the idea that at any time, any of it could be lost, damaged, broken, stolen, or some combination of the above. if i wasn't, i didn't take it with me.

so on this trip i have along a lot of stuff no one would really mind losing. i also have a nice little computer, my journal, someone else's tent, a credit card and the nicest bicycle i've ever owned. the tent ialready breaks the rule, since i promised to give it back to the guy who lent it to me, but everything else i am okay with losing. the bike i am planning to give to a friend before going back to america anyway, the journal is not that old (and most of what i write gets published here), other things like clothes, tools, books, etc. are expendable for sure.

the computer was a little harder to accept: i sold off my old one, added in what scarce money i had, and bought it, new and small and just right for me, a few months before leaving. it would suck to lose, but i've accepted that it might happen, and i'm not going to flip out if it does. the trip continues.

i made this rule because things are a burden. much as, for example, it is nice to have a nice camera along to take nice pictures of the things you see, that same nice camera may keep you in constant fear of it being stolen as you walk around, of it being broken as you handle your bags, of it getting wet, getting dropped, etc. put short, it's a weight on your mind and wet socks to the daily adventure of life.

accepting it may be lost frees you a bit: you still take care with it, still try to keep it no where no one will steal it, but basically you're ready for it in case they are. the trip will go on, life will go on. without this rule, my trip would be psychologically not very fun, because i'd constantly be worrying about this or that. this way, i'm free to think about whatever, free from worry about much more than the basics--what am i eating, where am i sleeping. i guess the basic experience i want on a trip is freedom--freedom from worries, plans, things needing to be done, etc. pure freedom to be as i please[1].

and on this trip i've come so far in that freedom as to feel the rule doesn't go far enough: that is, i've started wanting my stuff to get stolen. even accepting it might, it hasn't been, and all this stuff is a pain in the ass sometimes, honestly. if somebody snatched my bike, yes, i'd be relegated to public transport the rest of my days, and a heavy bag, but i wouldn't have to keep wheeling the thing in and out of guesthouse rooms, or worry about leaving it on the street when i go in somewhere.

it's not just the bike, it's everything: i sometimes wish--like today--that it would all disappear. that i had just the clothes on my back, and some money in my pocket. i guess i'd want my passport, too, so i could avoid having to spend days at the US Embassy trying to get out of the country, but that's it. no books to read, no computer to write with, just little old me and wherever i happen to be.

is that a funny wish? i guess it's one i could fulfill myself: all i have to do is leave it all on the corner of a street downtown, give it to one of the mamas begging for food with her baby on her back. but it's different doing it yourself and having someone else do it for you, isn't it? i think i've just accepted it might get lost so thoroughly that i'm sometimes surprised i still have it, and even the minimal care i give it seems like a pain. nevertheless, here i am dragging all my stuff through the narrow hallways of another guesthouse. i guess i'm not yet ready for the kind of really free travel Jesus talked about when he sent the disciples out, or that Buddhists monks do with only a begging bowl. too tied to material life for that. but now and then, i think they're the ones who really know how to travel.

[1]i think this is something that i share with my dad, who has come to love taking off on motorcycle for weeks at a time, with not much more than a general plan of where to go or what to do. i want to say we came to it by different paths, and vacations when my sister and i were still young were different, but who knows? maybe it is like father like son...

a spoonful of sugar
i think i talked while at Byoona Amagara about how the island made people think, and they either then got into the self-reflection that might have been the whole reason they went on vacation,or they left/drank themselves out of it, etc., because they were still afraid of that reflection. there are surely many other reasons to travel to beautiful places, but getting time and space to reflect on your life has got to be one of the main ones, and at the same time one of the hardest. like they say, wherever you go, there you are. you can't travel outside yourself. maybe people who time for self-reflection should ixnay the beautiful places and stay in border towns instead.

anyway, i'm starting to notice another effect of travel, one that comes after being on the road awhile. the period of time is not important: four days will feel long to some people, others need weeks, months. but at some point, you begin to wonder what you're doing. you begin to feel you don't have a purpose in society, that you are peripheral to the movement of every day life. i think this happens around the time that all the stress you had saved up from whatever you left has sloughed off, and your mind and spirit are a bit free again. the immediate purpose of escape, of release, of experiencing freedom is fulfilled. then if you are still on the road, the question is, why?

there are surely many answers to it: having always wanted to see such-and-such a thing; or doing what you're doing as a challenge (this probably applies a lot to bicyclists); having someone to meet or something specific to do later in the trip, etc. but there are also surely many travellers--like myself--who have no such answer. we are on the road, travelling, without really being able to say why is we are travelling. at least, there's no immediate answer.

and i have more to say about what kind of answers come, and what you can learn from travelling beyond the obvious seeing of sights, tasting of foods, learning of new languages, etc. but what i wanted to mention today was how extended travel can be the needed spoonful of sugar to make regular life go down. when you travel, you are always on the peripheries of regular life: you are a customer but not a worker, a guest but not a regular, a new friend but never an old one.

that life on the periphery--travel--makes you want a place. it makes you want people around you that you've known and will know for some time, some work that you can do every day, a regular bed to sleep at night with a pillow you're used to. it makes you want a home, to go home if you have one, to go make one if--like me--you don't.

and travel that way is a natural end to itself, and support to regular life: it puts you on the outside, free, and after awhile you want again to be inside, confined but comfortable, knowing your place in the world.

this feeling comes and goes on the road--for me it's strongest when i am looking for a place to stay, opening different guesthouse doors to peer in to rooms and wonder if they are mine, talking to the managers and wondering if these are my hosts for tonight, looking for the next place with every immediate thing i own along with me, feeling just a touch homeless--those are the times it hits me. and it's good: like a little sugar in the tomato sauce to balance the acidity, a little travel in the soup of life balances the restlessness we all have inside.

so travel can be that spoonful of sugar Mary Poppins sang about, herself something of a traveler, the one that makes the medicine go down...

the facts of the day
included biking most of Bujumbura looking for a guesthouse, as the nice one i was at had no vacancies for tonight; included giving some bread to mothers with children begging on the street this morning, then being overrun by them again in the afternoon, and refusing; included a long session with the Bastard King later in the afternoon, and being so frustrated with how poorly it's written i started a serious plan for a fantasy book of my own; supper--chips and rice with a chunk of beef and some sauce that tasted like ramen soup mix--with some Kenyans staying at my guesthouse, over beers of course; passing out on the bed and having to fight awake to take my malaria meds and brush my teeth. honestly, today was one of those days that will be a spoonful of sugar later.


day seventeen: kigali - bujumbura

HIGHLIGHTS: anita - how vomit turns to cheese - somatic composition - chance meetings on the night streets of Bujumbura

horizon fiasco, or, ratty ratty poop
i wake up at 6, am out the door by seven, saying my last goodbyes to the good folks who are awake at Rujumbura guest house, arrive a good hour early at the Horizon bus office, where i yesterday booked and paid for tickets, and sit there to wait for my bus.

people come, we chat in Luganda, i get some breakfast (hot sweet milk and margarined bread) with a new friend, come back and wait some more, bastard king in tow.

finally, we are told the bus is coming, and i roll my bicycle plus panniers out to meet it, start disassembling before it arrives because i know it will be easier to load that way. i get the two panniers off, and the front wheel, then stand there waiting for someone to come and get my stuff. instead the driver revs the engine, is talking on the phone and the manager who knows me at the same time, rolls the bus forward a couple feet. i wave at him, he waves back, and i'm a bit reassured knowing he knows i need to get on the bus, bike and all.

then he pulls away.

what?! it is not a parking maneuver: the bus pulls onto a busy Kigali thoroughfare and i know it's not coming back. they've left me, after i paid all that money and waited more than an hour for it to come. ratty poop. and me i wanted to go to Burundi. ratty ratty poop.

the conductor happens to be there so i give him some high-decibel words (partially because i've learned this is how you get refunds and free nights in hotels, and partially because i want to give out some high-decibel words) in the midst of a gathering taxi-park crowd.

he acquiesces, after some wording, says they'll put me up for the night and i'll go in the morning. lovely. but this is not the time to go quietly into the night, because i had my last day with Kigali, and i want to go to Burundi today. better yet, while waiting for the delinquent Horizon bus to show, i made friends with a guy from Kampala Coach (the big red monster buses that have so often nearly mowed me down) who said they would have taken me cheaper, and i know their bus to Bujumbura is still here, leaving soon. in other words, i want my money so i can go get where im going, and cheaper anyway.

no dice. more high-decibels. funky in-charge bus lady with the drawn-on eyebrows gives me a look, the decibals continue, eventually i convince the conductor to come with me to Kampala Coach, we work it out, all my stuff gets thrown on the bus last minute, bike just laid on the backseat grease and all, and we are on the road. the two white folks on the bus give me funny looks as i board moments before departure, probably realizing the bicycle and the arguments outside were mine. so be it: i got on a bus, and got on the way.

how i write when im getting sleepy:
witness the last sentence written before bed last night, from the blurb above: lvoely. but this is not teh time to coem up: ou spresh it until its socil

the ride i never took
by bicycle from Kigali to the border was gorgeous and punishing. i kept looking out the window, imagining how aching tired i'd be by the top of this or that hill, where i would have had to spend the night, how much more lovely those lovely views would have been in the fresh air, in the morning quiet, at the slow pace of a bicycle. how much lovelier even they'd've been coasting down the other side, fifteen minutes of fresh air and no pedaling, taking in sweeping views of Rwanda's garden-patchworked hills, greens and browns and silver eucalyptus, the air in my lungs full of their every scent...

then i'd get kind of sleepy, because it was a bus ride after all, and pass out through an unknown amount of punishing-by-bicycle steep uphill grades, wake up for a big town i would have been rejoicing to reach, pass out again...

a few miles before the border, road sweeping this way and that and our driver taking it at the highest possible speed, the girl next to me started vomiting into a bag i'd used for breakfast, which i knew had holes in the bottom. another nonaspect of travel by bicycle, along with the heated-in-the-sun smell of what passed through the bag being with us, windows-open, the rest of the way to Bujumbura.

probably the clincher, the killer, was not even passing through clouds in the mountains of Burundi, or the shift from mountain to lowland vegetation as we descended those mountains, the shift i'd spent days going through in Uganda--it was the first glimpses of Lake Tanganyika, and the capital city Bujumbura laid on on its northmost shore, a glittering mirror expanse in the middle of a dramatically flat stretch between steep-rising mountains.

out the bus window, it was beautiful. from a bicycle seat coasting that well-earned last coast down into town, it would have been breath-takingly, unwordably lovely.

so be it: my choice of bus travel was confirmed when, talking to locals after arriving in Bujumbura, they agreed it would not have been safe to travel that way by bicycle, nor would it be a good idea to cycle south from there into Tanzania. so at least i got to see it by bus, hurried and expensive and vomit-scented though it was. better that than an uninteresting five-day detour through Tanzania, or a too-interesting hold-up somewhere in the mountains of Burundi by armed thugs who left me with little more than my name, necessitating a bus ride anyway.

kristi + ian
the crossing into Burundi took a lot longer than expected, because customs officials and passengers on our bus bringing things back for sale had some disagreements, so i--being the solitary white person traveller needing companionship--made friends with the other bazungu who'd given me funny looks on entering the bus a few hours ago, Kristi and Ian.

we sat on a surprisingly-pleasant porch of boards laid over a drainage ditch, had some water and tried to avoid all the beggars, young, old and handicapped, who eyed us from the street.
there is something, we agreed, about border towns: they are always the seediest, the dodgiest, the most depressing parts of a country. i wondered out loud what it would be like to take a long journey stopping only in border towns. probably pretty wretched, i guess: likely to end quickly in theivery thuggery or muggery.

muggeral though the place was, it was nice sharing the wait with some people of similar perspective, especially Kristi, who was fresh from DC and not yet culturally diluted like her friend Ian and I. people like her are kind of anchors in my mind to the home i left five years ago--reminders beyond my sweetened or soured memories of what the place is really like.

in good time, the disagreers worked out their disagreements over beers, and we got back on the bus for the ride south, slight vomit smell having cheesed some during the hour plus baking session it had with no windows open.

willy + anita
Bujumbura was everything and nothing i expected it to be: edgier than Uganda or Rwanda, big decaying streets empty by late afternoon, bakeries and little groceries and cafes everywhere, friendly people and begging mothers with their children and army trucks and aging storefronts painted in French or Kirundi.

i was looking for somewhere to eat, having had nothing but a couple pieces of bread the whole day (and not wanting more in the bus), and after visiting the most local place the guidebook recommended, and confirming that it was written for people uninterested in actual Burundi, decided to start asking. at the very first place i asked, i ran into one of the conductors for our bus, who pointed me to a little place across the street.

entering the narrow gate, i saw lots of low tables surrounded with stools, some potted plants and little areas sectioned off with bamboo. it looked local, comfortable, and inviting. perfect. and on my right as i went in, some guys were drinking beer from glasses, and invited me over.

so i sat down, ordered a beer, and we chatted as best we could in the languages we shared. this has become one of my favorite things to do while traveling: sit down and have a random beer with some people drinking. it's the perfect way to get in the local culture a bit: the people you meet are uninterested in your money, the beer gives reason to sit together and fills gaps in the conversation (and makes it more interesting as more beers come), and you get to know each other. i don't really like drinking, but i really appreciate its place in Western and Western-influenced cultures: it is the social catalyst to friendship.

so we took ours in plenty, my empty stomach getting the alcohol quickly into my bloodstream, talking and laughing as the rain started, the lights cut, some ladies sat across the way from us, and the evening turned to night.

i was ready for food, and begged that we either order something or they direct me to somewhere i could eat. they did one better: Willy, who had the best English in the group, insisted we go across the way to a different pub close to his house. we did, but once we had our beers it turned out they again only served meat on a stick and fried banana, which didn't sound like a meal to me. so he went from offering to bring some food from his house to actually taking me there, and we again ran through the rain to just the other side of the courtyard, where he gave me a quick tour of his house. there was his room, a room for his cousin, a kitchen with a big guy i took to be a butler, and a living area with some rooms for his sister. it was there that we ended, and sat down on a nice sofa, TV going in the background (the power had come back). after a bit more drinking he brought some beans and rice, with a fire-roasted habanero pepper and some local cheese, muzigo (a love of mine from Uganda) over top.

the food was nice, but made so much nicer by having it in someone's home. it is a really special thing to be invited to someone's house in a foreign country, and be welcomed there like a friend, especially if it is unplanned. you see what they really eat, where they really live and all the things about life in that place you would never know staying in hotels and eating at restaurants. it's like being let in on a well-kept secret.

before we were done with the beans, his sister Anita came home. shy, slim, cute Anita... she might have been the highlight of the night! Willy convinced her to sit down, and we sat talking about her studies at university, her English better than anyone I'd so far met in Burundi. Willy had gone to prepare a place outside, and now--beans done--made us go sit outside to enjoy the night air, fresh cleaned by the rain.

sitting talking with them i gradually saw them as more than Africans or Burundians, but as real, idiosyncratic people: Willy, a bit high-strung and resistant to marraige at 40; Anita, smart and quiet and maybe 15 years younger than Willy but clearly the head of the household. The lights went out again, Anita fetched a candle, and we chatted more as Willy went to get his girlfriend Deborah from the street. i know these names sound like characters from an 80s soap opera, but i swear i'm not making them up. Anita is a serious Protestant, against Willy's (and by extension, my) beer drinking, but with a warm laugh and a curious mind about life outside Burundi. Deborah and Willy come back, and we sit and talk some more, then the fish is done and we all go inside for cassava bread (made better here than the dreaded twada of Uganda) and small fish in tomato sauce with eggplants. the food is really good, and we all crowd around a few plates, eating with sauce. we share a couple plates and all eat with our hands.

it's great: my very first night in Burundi, and i've made friends and been welcomed in to their home to share food. what more could i ask for?

it gets late, it's time to go for me and Deborah, and Anita walks us as far as the gate, giving me a small handshake goodbye (let me admit by this time that I'm a bit interested in the lovely Ms. Anita, and sad to say goodbye), then Willy walks me to the road, where he flags a taxi for Deborah and we all say good night, him inviting me to come over again anytime. and you know, i just might.

it is around then
that i remember the guidebook warns strongly against being out after dark, but it doesn't look that bad; my guesthouse is just a few blocks away. i decide to walk it.

and wouldn't you know the first person i run into, a sharp-dressed young man silhoutted in the flourescent light of a closed storefront, approaches me like we have business. shit. here's my first run-in with les petits bandits, the small gangs my guidebook says roam the streets by night, ready to mug anyone "daft enough to be walking the streets at night."

"Levi," he says. "what are you doing here?"

it's another one of the conductors from the bus! how random! and reassuring! we have a bit of a chat, him as surprised as i was that i just had dinner at someone's house, then we part for the night, and i manage the rest of the walk back unscathed. it's been a good evening in Burundi, and as i step back into my hotel room--the nicest i've been in all trip, with a view over thecity to the lake and a bakery smell in the air--I am liking Burundi more and more.

day sixteen: kigali

the drunken decision
didn't hold: i'd written some time back that, rather than risk life and limb biking into Burundi, i was going to leave my stuff here in Kigali, and just pop over for a day or two.

well, true to the natural of drunken decision-making, i decided a different course was better, and am leaving Rwanda tomorrow for Burundi, bike and all. when i get to the capital city, i'll find a safe place to stay and explore the place a bit. if it seems safe, and locals agree it is, i'll bike the rest of the way down Lake Tanganyika, following the road that hugs its shores, sure to be beautiful, one of the rides i was most excited for this trip.

if not, i'll board a bus again into Tanzania and Kigoma, and from there be on a train for the Indian Ocean, meaning the bicycle-riding section of my trip is mostly done, already. or, i might get a wild notion in me and continue on south to Zambia, or decide to bike some of the Tanzanian savannah... don't yet know. that's the nice part of travel without schedule or appointment: you don't need to know, until it's time to go.

ode to Rujumbura Guest House
the best guest house yet: cheap (40% of the cheapest one listed in the guidebook), clean, nice rooms (if you get lucky! 9B is spacious enough, with a good mosquito net and a better view of Kigali rising on a far hill), friendly people (who don't speak English or Luganda, and we have all the more fun for it), nice location a little ways out of town, close enough to the taxi park to go anywhere.

whoever made these toilets had too much faith in man
and women, because the pit hole is round and about the size of a water-bottle bottom, less than half what you normally see. and the cleaners must curse that builder every day, because many a poorly-aimed excretion becomes a drying pie for them come morning time. it's a mark of my africanization that, undersized hole or no, i am not among them!

the only good Luganda speaker in the guest house, is part of a syndrome my friend Kimuli is well aware of, occuring when you become too-good friends with someone at a place you do business, and they become a nuisance when you're trying to get something done.

he's also made me realize how i must sound to other people, as his less-than-perfect Luganda gets annoying to listen to after awhile, my ears having been spoiled with native speakers--that's probably what i sound like, only worse. so he's good perspective, though i'm getting tired of him asking to ride my bike...

letters home
i'm writing letters back to the kids, one for each country i pass through, because i miss them. i write in English and Luganda, and draw lots of pictures on the back so they can get a feel for what i've been up to. i miss them. it's going to be hard saying goodbye for good.

a note in case you're ever in Kigali town:
the post office is most inconveniently located.

today is a day of rest
before a sure-to-be busy one tomorrow getting to the capital of Burundi and finding a place to settle in. i spend it reaping the profits of a few days exploring the city, in that nice balance of newness and familiarity: wake up in my favorite room of the guesthouse, ride into town for some cafe time at a nice bakery there, bike a few kilometers uphill from the town center to reach the post office, go back to the area i know best around my guesthouse for a soda on the porch behind a little store with a great view of the city, a nice meal at the nun-run cafeteria nearby, and 30 minutes on the internet there posting my life for all of you who are interested to read. an uneventful, nice day--the kind you imagine you might have if you lived here. Kigali's nice, and Rwanda intriguing. someday, maybe i will.


day fifteen: kigali - nyamata - kigali -- on the resiliency of human spirit

to get out of Kigali, you climb. starting in the thick of city traffic, the fog of diesel and motorcycle exhaust, you climb into suburbs with less traffic but steeper hills, turn a couple of roundabouts with the bigger trucks and police cars wheeling at your side, stop for some water or the rare orange near what seems to be the top, then climb again with bike taxis and private cars further up, Kigali spreading like a postcard snap below, evangelical megachurches pass in the building, half-finished homes and hotels for the rich, and just as you are actually really reaching the top, legs rubber and lungs fire, a sign on the right says genocide memorial.

any normal person would ignore it, would give in to the animal cry for rest and air, but this was what i'd climbed the hill for in the first place: to get in touch further with the genocide visiting memorials outside Kigali town. i hadn't known of this one--i was headed for Ntarama and Nyamata, churches that witnessed massacres, now dedicated to their memory. i hadn't heard of Nyanza, but since i was here anyway, i turned and did the unthinkable: kept climbing, lungs afire and legs vulcanizing, up a steeper gravel road to a pink building at the top. i couldn't have gone ten more feet when i made it to their nicely paved sidewalk, nicely paved on a blessed decline, and coasted in.

a man out front connected me, still huffing, with a man inside who was "in charge of memory and documentation," who took me to the front, where i saw three long, low white-tiled platforms, headed with a wall of names like a tombstone.

he explained that this had been the site of a massacre early in the genocide, where people who had taken refuge with the Beglian UN peacekeeping force were slaughtered. the Belgians, he said, had made a temporary base at a nearby vocational school, and Tutsi people had gone there knowing they'd be safe. within a few days, however, the order came from above for the Belgians to relocate to a new site. when they began packing up, the people taking refuge there told them not to leave, as the killers knew where they were, that they would surely kill everyone once the UN had gone, or to take them along, but the Belgians refused.

the day after they left, the Interahamwe came and, not wanting to kill them close to international eyes, herded them up the hill where we stood, Nyanza, and in the space of three hours killed the better part of 5,000 people, who were buried under the mass graves i saw. around 7:30, they left off for the day, saying they'd come in the morning to check if anyone was still alive under all the bodies.

that night, the RPF, who had a small contingent in Kigali from the former peace process, came and rescued all the living, and took them back for treatment. the rest, the dead, were buried there after the genocide was over.

after he'd told me the story, i continued asking him questions, and finally asked him to tell me his own story. he did. it was horrific. i could see he'd told it before, but that the memory still pained him. at the end of it, maybe 15 minutes later, i was amazed that the apparently well-balanced, educated person here talking with me was the same who had lived through what i'd just heard.

i wish i could tell you his story, but he said without me having heard all the details, he'd rather i didn't. so i am respecting his wishes. but it is overwhelming to know millions of the people alive here today have similar stories, are living with similar ghosts, with one or two of what were families of ten or more. i find myself searching for it in the eyes of the older people i meet, the ones who must have known what was going on and taken sides, wondering if i can see there wisdom gained, or faith, or lingering horror or shock... actually, i don't know what i'm looking for. the thing is too horrible to be imagined, too big to be looked for: it's everywhere, and yet you can't see it, can't imagine what it have been and still be like for those who lived through it. you want something simple to grasp on to, like the man's story. i guess that's what i'm looking for today: something comprehensible about the genocide, not the overwhelming numbers and political forces talked about in at the Kigali Memorial yesterday, but something a bit more human, something i can grasp. maybe such a thing as genocide is beyond grasping, but like other mysteries you still feel you have to try, to establish a personal relationship somehow. the man had taken me a step closer to that, though their simple memorial of 5,000 souls, just 1/50th of the number buried at the memorial yesterday, was still beyond me.

i thanked him, for the explanation and more so his story, then got on my bike and rode. downhill.

the third push
it wasn't all downhill, but the next six kilometers or so were, a long gorgeous grade (punishing on the way back) down into swampy flats with a river looping through, the road passing by a series of bridges to the far side, another hill.

somewhere on the very bottom slopes of that hill, i may have exchanged greetings with a young boy and his brother started; they started running after me. we passed through a small village on the far side of the flats, and a ways father up, the boys still running, i exchanged some banter in three or more languages with a troupe of young men walking to work with machetes over their shoulder (echoing queasily the pictures of young men being trained for genocide, the Interahamwe, walking in groups with machetes or wood clubs over their shoulders). the front one started jogging to keep up with me, and the others followed suit.

it was uphill, so i was riding slowly, and they only had to jog, but what i expected to leave off in a minute or so kept going. up and up we climbed, me sweating under the weight of all my gear, them jogging and joking but sweating as well in the late morning sun, the kids still tagging along on my side of the road.

i kept peddling, they kept jogging, all of us now working too hard for words.

normally people running along with me like that is kind of annoying, especially when they are right behind me--part of the mzungu spotlight i am always riding in. this time something different happened: the climb got easier.

i physically felt like someone was pushing from behind. the hill hadn't let up any, and i looked to see if the kids were pushing my bike, and they weren't, but at moments now it didn't feel uphill at all. and i guess that is the magic of a push: doing it together makes it less work. i wondered again, as i sometimes do, about invisible fields of energy, and if many people doing something together doesn't have its own momentum, making it easier for all, something like the reason migrating birds fly in Vs. it's easier riding in a group of bicycles, too, than riding solo...

whatever the reason, the top was a long ways up, but didn't seem that hard to reach. the jogging troupe--still jogging after that whole hill!--didn't look that tired, but i knew they must be, to have run ten minutes or more carrying machetes in the hot sun. the downhill is where it gets easy for bikes, but i didn't want to just leave them behind, so i rode the brakes as we started to descend. even so, the pace picked up (by this time there was another biker in the group as well), and the front man, then all the guys, started running, sprinting to keep up.

they were doing all this just for me? just for the novelty of seeing a white guy on a bike? amazing.

i rode the brakes with them for awhile, then couldn't resist (and wanted to give them a reason to stop), so i let off and started really rolling down the far side of the hill, me and the other biker outstripping the pack, waving and swerving all the way out of sight.

would that happen in america? between complete strangers? never. knowing that, and feeling how much easier their running had made my own climb of the hill, i coasted the whole other side grinning, grateful for the push, and--genocide still on my mind--for the resiliency of the human spirit.

i can't help thinking the genocide happened in the wrong place. people are so cheery, so naturally ready to laugh and chat with you, it seems a contradiction that this very culture, this very person you are joking with, lived through 100 days of horror just 15 years ago. that he or she lost friends and family and was forced to choose, those who had a choice, between compassion and death, between ethnic hatred and life. others had no choice, and simply had to run and hide, or be cut down, or both.

and yet africa, Rwanda, is a place of cheery, bright-natured people: laidback, ready to chat, ready to enjoy every moment of life, no matter the circumstances.

could these same people have been murderers and murdered?

unbelievable as it is, the answer is yes. and it's a contradiction, a disjunct i see every time i approach a genocide memorial, or meet eyes with someone who's there. people are not hurt to be reminded of it--i don't think they can forget--but the first instant of happily greeting a mzungu is in the next instant overshadowed by knowledge of where i'm going, what i'm looking for, and a very un-african seriousness comes over their face, and then we have nothing to say. it is the one thing that absolutely cannot be laughed about, in a culture that otherwise wants to enjoy everything, and me focusing on that one thing puts me in a strange relationship with the people who both want to laugh with me, and want me to see and know about what happened here. there is no sense of invasion, no sense of Rwandans begrudging you entrance to these places: they are somber, but also pleased that you have come, that you have taken interest in the genocide. they want the world to know, want what happened to them never to happen again, so painful as it is they are pleased to show you the memorials, open to talking about what went on.

and i see that this genocide, and the ethnic wound it opened, was a tragedy for more than simply the senseless killing: it was a tragedy in putting something forever somber and painful in the otherwise jolly hearts of these people, an unforgettable tragedy in the lives of people who otherwise want to be merry everyday, to enjoy things as they come. Rwandans hold in their hearts the very brightest and the darkest that humans can be, and the whole beautiful, ravaged country holds that contradiction, lives it out in everyday life.

it is terrible, and fascinating. i want to understand this place deeper, this collision of the best and worst of the human spirit--not just to visit a few places in a few days, but to live and learn how to see Rwanda and its past as Rwandans do. its something we as humans need to do. i hope today is another step in that.

i come at last to the sign for Ntarama Genocide Memorial (the signs are not in English--throughout all the memorials i've been to, the signs are mainly in Kinyarwanda: they are first of all for the Rwandan people--but 'Jenosida' is easy to understand), and ride up a dusty road past obvious signs of foreign aid: the Nelson Mandela Peace Village (closed for the holidays), 25 houses built by Red Cross for child-headed families, an unlabeled school with a couple older white people sitting around a table farther off. i wonder if all of the Rwandan countryside looks like this, or if organizations have funded projects on this particular road because they know there is a steady stream of tourists coming to see the memorial, and they're out to maximize publicity. or if this is another expression of the guilt we as the international community feel for having stood back and let the genocide happen.

the church itself has been enclosed and engardened, covered with a giant, independent weather shelter, surrounded by a brick wall and guardhouse, and on the grounds have been added a concrete walls of names--mostly blank--a simple place to pray, and some lovely flower gardens. it is all well made and maintained; even as i walk in two or three women are cleaning the compound. i wonder how much the money spent here in memorial could have done to prevent the genocide from happened, have visions in my head of free food being handed out with leaflets on ethnic understanding and unity, with flyers debunking the entire Hutu/Tutsi division as a creation of long-gone colonial powers, a tool being used simply for power.

i have avoided the main display, wandering around the site with my thoughts. there are some other tourists here, and i want the place to be empty when i go in, want my thoughts to myself without the interruption of someone else communicating their experience of it on top of mine.
so when they have gone back to look at the flower garden, i step in the front door of the church. directly in front of me is a metal rack, four tiers high from floor to ceiling, of bones. of human skulls and bones.

i have never seen something like this, have seen only a few dead bodies in my lifetime, and a skeleton or two hung up in classrooms. these are real: these are the skulls of people murdered here, skulls with holes, with cracks, skulls missing whole sections, skulls caved in by the force of the blows they took.

i start to walk, walk slowly down the shelf of skulls, looking at each, seeing behind them, wrapped around them like ghost flesh the faces of the people these must have been, inevitably imagining at the same time their death, the blow that must have made this hole, the one that shattered that skull, wondering what happened to those still in good condition. i see before me the death of hundreds of people, see skulls too small to have been other than children, babies, often in pieces. above, below, more racks, more skulls, more bones. they are laid there with no words, no pictures, no explanation. none is needed.

i stand a long time, looking at those bones.

on the other side of the church, at the end of long rows of empty benches, is the pulpit, draped with a cloth in memorial purple and white, embroidered with the words: IF YOU HAD KNOWN YOURSELF, IF YOU HAD KNOWN ME, YOU WOULDN'T HAVE KILLED ME. and on both sides of church, lining the walls like silent witnesses, the stained, ragged clothes of the victims, floor to ceiling.

the effect was stunning: you almost felt those people, those owners and makers of the skulls behind you, were still here, were forever watching over the place they'd died. and the sheer number of the clothes, the way they bulged a foot or more from the wall on their racks, extras hung on ceiling rafters, all colors but all tinged with a rust you hope is dust but know, on looking under the top layer, is not--all there as witnesses, silent voices saying "this really happened, to us, right here. look. learn. never forget."

you can't.

i paid my respects at the altar outside, took a few healing minutes with the flowers and another walk around the place, the broken-down kitchen and the forgotten stumps in the rear of the grounds, wondering what this place had been like before the massacre, knowing it in spirit from all the other african churches i have been to, simple brick buildings for worship and connection to the lord above. this one has become something different, possibly still a place for prayer, but now a center for humans to connect with themselves, to see the horror we are capable of, and to leave carrying that knowledge, for good.

bread and cheese
horrors of Ntarama or no, my stomach is indefatiguable. i'd barely got to the main road when i knew i needed to eat lunch, so i found a quiet spot a ways from the main road, shaded by eucalyptus and bordered by a little path going farther back in the woods. there i sat to eat my lunch: bread, cheese (6 days old by then), carrots, an orange. it was my first orange, aside from the seedy tangerines you find in Uganda, in more than a year, and reminded me of home, of mass-produced mass-stickered florida oranges on refrigerated shelves in grocery stores, not that flavorful but what we'used to.

the stars of the show, though, were the bread and cheese. i'm always reading about people in olden times on long trips carrying loaves of bread and wheels of hard cheese, and now i see why: they keep, and they go lovely together: soft, dry carbohydrate-rich bread, flavorful, smooth, protein-rich fatty cheese. the carrots were a nice touch but unneeded, and i ate reflecting on how every bicycle lunch could be just bread and cheese and i'd be content. i let the food and breeze and trees mild the horror i'd just seen a bit, then got back on the road for Nyamata.

didn't turn out to be as far as i'd thought, just another five kilometers or so down the road. the original church was structurally bigger and nicer than Ntarama, now walled off with a high steel fence and ringed with the purple and white pennants of memorial.

i thought i was ready for what i'd see, since i'd been through Ntarama, but the inside of the church was again overwhelming: no skulls, no bones, no banners, no racks, just the wide semi-circle of the church benches, piled high with the clothes of the dead.

they were too many, actually: all around the pulpit, too, they were piled two feet deep, and in the back of the church, and around the sides, in every free space except the narrow aisles, were piled all manner of discarded clothes, feet deep and stained the rust color i knew too well from Ntarama. there, they had been hung on the walls, something like a display. here, they were laid thick on top of the benches, like people piled on people, gathered in silent prayer. it was unearthly. i felt so strongly the presence of those murdered people that i couldn't at first enter, and just stood in the doorway looking at the wide, empty room, at the leavings of 10,000 souls lost to genocide.

a bit father forward Mother Mary stood on a shelf above the crowd, tall, beautiful white face inclined downward, hands clasped in prayer. she was too symbolic to interpret: God weeping for the people here; symbol of the ineffective Western hand-wringing that let the genocide go on; Mother of Mercy stuck forever there praying for the souls of the departed; another aspect of the white colonial powers that lay at the root of the genocide, but did little to prevent it. i wondered how she had looked as the killing went on, as the grenades had been gone off in the crowded room, their shrapnel cutting the holes still letting in light from the ceiling, the killers swarming in through the broken metal door, machetes and clubs and knives swinging. wondered how they could have killed so many and left her, wondered if she, if all thought of god and divine justice, had been forgotten, or feared, or ignored in the work at hand. the box with the sacrements was broken, and on the altar lay several rusting metal implements, surely the tools of the massacre: a machete, a plastic-handled knife, a steel file with a spiked end. on the pews, the congregation was silent.

there were stairs down at the rear of the room, and i descended into a white-tiled underground chamber, in teh center of which was another rack of skulls, this one with some small artifacts, identity books still bearing the place to mark ethnicity--hutu - tutsi - twa - naturalized--though time or blood had wiped out the actual marks, wiped out ethnicity along with name, age, education, everything. in the bottom of the glass case, a single coffin. i was later told this was for a woman raped, then impaled from the bottom and left to die.

behind the church were the long rectangular platforms i'd come to recognize as mass graves, white with purple crosses made in the tiling. there were windows open on the end, and i bent to look in. a woman raking the grass on the other side of the compound motioned for me to go in. her motions weren't suggestive, giving me the option of going in, she was insisting i enter. so i walked to the middle, where there was a door, and went down.

this crypt was darker than the one in the church, was made of simple bricks, held metal racks of four or five shelves from floor to ceiling. they were piled with skulls, skulls and bones. if the rack at Ntarama had been overwhelming, this was more so, was ten or twenty times the remains of people seen there, sunk down in the earth with only a small rectangle of sunlight coming through the far window.

i walked slowly down the passage, bones piled high on either side, fimirs and arm bones and hips literally stacked three feet deep, skulls in single layers on other shelves, each single skull of those thousands a human life, a life lost to genocide.

a quote at the Kigali Memorial Centre had said 'he who saves one life saves the world entire.' how many worlds were lost here?

i got to the end, turned, and sat down with my back to the wall, facing down the long underground corridor, bones to my left and skulls to my right, just sat there with them for a time, not wanting to run from the spectacle.

i don't know if my relationship to death is healthy or fragile. i know it is something we fear in the West, something we deny whenever possible, with the extremes of life support and the cosmetics of the morgue. death here was undeniable, and the reasons for their deaths senseless, simple brutality in the name of an invented ethnic division, a line drawn in the sand of common humanity. some skin, like paper, still clung to a few of the skulls. with my hands, i felt my own skull inside my head, knowing it to be the same shape, the same stuff, eventually to be the same dry bone somewhere, life gone. but that i, subject to no dangerous racial or ethnic discrimination, and born into wealth these people had never known, and most of all not murdered before my time, have opportunities and chances in life these people never had, is that reason to feel guilty? is it reason to weep?

i don't know if my relationship to death is healthy, is a real acceptance of it like we rarely have in the West, or something fragile, just a veneer over the fear of my own coming end. there in the crypt i didn't cry, wasn't holding back tears. the display yesterday of the people who had stood up and risked their own lives to save others in the midst of the brutality, that had brought me to instant tears, will still if i think about it long. but the piles of bones around me, they were just bones, and i sat with them a long time, thinking of the people they had been, thinking of the lives they must have led, and how they'd died. i held someone's fimir in my hand for a time, held it to my own leg and saw that he or she must have been around my size, that the bone inside my leg must be about that same size and shape. i wondered at the difference between that dead thing and this living thing, me. wondered at all the hundreds or thousands of living legs those bones used to be, just those very bones on that lowest shelf of that one crypt i was sitting in, another crypt to either side.

i walked down into those too, saw the coffins full of remains, struck my head hard enough on one of them to wonder if i was going to join them, walked up again into the sunlight and sat on an empty cement flower pot at the rear of the church, looking at the graves and the grounds.

to my left, on the other side of the church fence, some men were talking, hefting red lumps that i took to be bricks. they were shirtless, and even from a distance i could see how well-defined their muscles were, how strong and healthy they must have been. i imagined the bones inside them too, thought of how so many of those who died here must have once been like these, innocent people discussing this or that on a weekday afternoon, laughing now and throwing down the dirt they had been holding, walking to the left up the road. would still be.

what is life?

what is death?

what does it mean to be alive, seeing all of these dead around us? knowing we too will die, in our own way, some day? are the genocide victims reasons to despair of this whole project of being human, or reasons to celebrate, to embrace our life and humanity, in all its capacity for good and evil?

the day before, in a cafeteria back in Kigali, i was reading a book, in which the author says:

"Significant images render insights beyond speech, beyond the kinds of meaning speech defines. And if they do not speak to you, that is because you are not ready for them [...] You don't ask what the world means, you enjoy it. You don't ask what you mean, you enjoy yourself; or at least, so you do when you are up to snuff.

But to enjoy the world means something more than mere good health and good spirits; for this world, as we all now surely know, is horrendous. "All life," said the Buddha, "is sorrowful"; and so, indeed, it is. Life consuming life: that is the essence of its being, which is forever a becoming. "The world," said the Buddha, "is an ever-burning fire." And so it is. And that is what one has to affirm, with a yea! a dance! a knowing, solemn, stately dance of the mystic bliss beyond pain" [1]

His words echo Neiztche's in The Joyful Wisdom, and an idea i've had for a long time. sorrow, death, they are parts of life, something to be celebrated as part of life. the food we eat, we must enjoy it knowing it died for us, must love living because we know it is hemmed on either side by death, that our very existence is luck and mystery.

but can this, too, this genocide and its legacy, also be confirmed with a yea! and a dance!? may be so. maybe this a real test of us as humans, of our ability to accept ourselves. or maybe i haven't yet understood what i've seen, understood what genocide means to human life. i think it needs a big, strong human heart to affirm this genocide, and to live with it in sorrowful joy. i guess that's what the Rwandans are doing, or trying to do. may they, and may we who know and swear never to forget, succeed.

[1] Myths To Live By, Joseph Campbell. Penguin Compass, 1972. pp. 102-103

affirming life
on the way home, in the very heat of the day, somewhere on the slopes of the longest climb, out of breath and out of water and dying for both, i stop at the place i see that might sell water.
it doesn't.

there is no physical room for disappointment or despair or the extended conversation the shopkeeper appears to want to have. i remount and keep climbing, lips parched and mouth dry.
i come to a more level place with a bar clearly selling beer. good enough. i stop, order the biggest beer and biggest water they have, wait in agony as the kid goes somewhere else to fetch it, pay more than he originally asked for because he messed up his English numbers, and sit with a sigh and a long pull of both on a chair in front.

genocide or no, beer is good after a long, hot ride. so is just sitting down. genocide or no, it feels good to be alive.

after i've rehydrated and rested enough to feel human, even, i get out my computer to try and sort out my thoughts of the day's sights. the shopkeep, a teenage boy, is there in a flash to watch what i'm doing. it doesn't take long before eight or more teenage boys are in all stages of peering and craning over my shoulders to try to read what i'm writing, none better than broken in Engish, but one trying to read aloud anyway.

i give up: there's no way i can write like that, and it's rude to ignore eight people's interest in my little computer so i can type unintelligibly in the black and white of Notepad. so i turn on the webcam, shock them taking photos and videos of themselves, then when the novelty's worn off open up pictures of home.

they crowd around as i point out my brothers, my dad, my mom and sister, the food we're eating, the house i lived in, our cars, a rock concert, all the normal details of american life that are so foreign and interesting to them, and we start to talk about my family. i am painfully aware they may have lost many of their own, when they were barely young enough to understand. we talk about cars, about women (looking through pictures of Okinawa, many of which featured me with an ex-girlfriend), about all the universally interesting facets of life.

and me sinking that beer, those kids craning over my shoulder to see the little pictures on the little screen, it was great. that was life, that was me and Rwanda getting to know each other over more than a tragedy in their past. i thought, yeah, maybe i can accept that history as part of life, maybe we can affirm it even as we move past, pushed anew to appreciation of the good and simple things in life.

i hope so.

i thanked them, gave them my e-mail address, shook hands and got back on the bike. i felt human again, but there was still the last, long, muscle-vulcanizing climb into Kigali before i could rest, still the sun beating down from the west. i set to it with gusto, knowing it is the difficult things that make the good things good in life.


day fourteen: kigali

this is a test:
when i say i went to the Kigali Memorial Centre, in Rwanda, what do you think it is in memorial of? i'm giving you a couple seconds.




i hope you have an answer by now. if not, lemme try again:

It is memorial of...
a) the recent election violence in Rwanda
b) the ongoing Rwandan civil war
c) the Rwandan genocide
d) the 1985 terrorist attacks in Kigali

if you didn't have an answer in the first few seconds, and answered anything other than c), we have a problem. a global problem, of forgetfulness--the kind that facilitates horrible things happening again. the Kigali Memorial is for the Tutsi genocide in 1994, the culmination of years of ethnic discrimination and smaller massacres, in which a million people were killed in the space of 100 days. if you don't know about it, find out about it. one of the best books i've read is about the genocide, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Familes, by Philip Gourevitch. pick it up, give it a read. he does it better than i can, and i don't want to mess up any details.

there is too much to say
about the Rwandan genocide and its presence today in Rwanda. there is too much even to say about my experience and consciousness of since coming to Rwanda. this is a country full of scars, of scarred people, a place of beauty and harmony skin deep.

think about this:
every person here over 15 years old lived through the genocide in one way or another--as refugee, as victim, as witness, as collaborator, as perpetrator--often more than one of these.

every person here over 30 understood what was going on, and was affected by the extreme propoganda of ethnic hatred that was being pushed by the government and Hutu extremists.

every person.

that means you could ask each one of them on the street where they were, what happened, how they survived the genocide, and they could tell you. how they had to run for their lives, how they were separated from family, or had to watch them die (sometimes forced to do the killing), how they were helped and/or betrayed by others, how in the end they survived until the RPF stopped the slaughter. every person--the bus driver, the old lady selling you popcorn on the street, the business suit walking downtown, they all have their story. it's not likely everyone would want to tell you their stories, but they have them. one man told me his today; another declined. i wanted to tell you that man's story, but he said without me knowing every detail he wouldn't want it told. suffice it to say as a child he lost his mother, father, four brothers and two sisters: his family was reduced to him and one sister, and the story of they survived is harrowing.

there is no way to deny that this genocide was real: there are statues, memorials, mass graves all over the country, real piles of skulls if you need to see them. there is nowhere that was not affected, where people were not killed. Rwandans are not trying, i think are not capable of, forgetting what happened. but the memory is clearly painful, and there is much to bring it up in every day life. some people are living in the same towns as known killers, with the very people who had a hand in the deaths of their family. many pass the places where friends or family were killed every day.

that is Rwanda, fifteen years later. i have never been anywhere like this, don't know if there is anywhere else like this. i wish everyone could see what i've seen, be where i've been these last two days, because it is unforgettable, it is a memory the world needs to have, that we understand how it happened and make sure--as we swore in 1945, three genocides ago--that it never happens again.

and even as you read these words,
what is happening in Darfur?

the gardens
the Kigali Memorial Centre was the first thing, the one thing i wanted to see today, to refresh what i knew about the genocide, to learn more, and get some perspective on the people of Rwanda. in case there was time when i was done, i had marked a few places in the city i wanted to go, but i wanted first to really see the memorial, the main one in Rwanda, see it thoroughly.

it is a beautiful place, on a hillside overlooking the heart of the city, an elegant white building surrounded by gardens and neatly cobbled open areas. i walked there with a university student who knew a bit more English than most Rwandans, who wished me well at the gate. he had already been there twice; according to a woman working at a different memorial site, many Rwandans come to these memorial sites, again and again.

entrance is free, but i rented an audio guide to the grounds, and walked around seeing different gardens symbolic of different things--Rwanda's historic unity, and division, and reconciliation; the special struggle of Rwandan women; a garden for children; a garden with symbols of memory. it was a bit strange to be told, via the auto-guide, what each garden meant, what the things in it symbolized. i needed no explanation for the garden of cactus--the symbolism of those plants here in healing Rwanda struck me deep.

the outside tour ends with a visit to the mass graves, where two hundred and fifty thousand people are buried. two hundred and fifty thousand. of course, you can't see them: it is two terraces of walkways around long, raised cement rectangles.

these are bordered on one long side by the Wall of Names--but the wall is blank, or nearly so. just one corner, not even one section of a long, long wall, has plaques with names inscribed in it. it's blank because so many of the people buried there are unknown, were lost along with everyone who knew them. somehow that long, blank wall was more horrible than knowing how many people were laid to rest there--the fact that they no longer even had names, that so many had died with no one to remember them. that is genocide: the attempted extermination of a whole people.

the audio guide said to pay my respects. i didn't know how: how do you pay respects to so many people? do you pray for souls 15 years gone? pray for justice or forgiveness for their killers? pray that it never happens again? yes. you pray for all of that, and pray that we, humanity, will never forget what happened here. what else can you do? nothing you say or wish can be enough. the facts are just too big.

the downstairs
was dedicated to the Rwandan genocide, to the torture, rape and murder of a million ethnic Tutsis and Hutu friends, starting from the genocide's roots in colonial times, and following it through increasing propoganda and violence to its horrifying peak in April, May and June of 1994, and into the aftermath that still continues today.

it was done in excruciating detail: pictures, trilingual explanations, artifacts, videos, survivor testimonies--all done professionally and horrifyingly well. i read every word, watched every video (some twice or three times), took my time to absorb every picture and detail there.

some people were passing through quickly, just glancing at each exhibit, others talking in low tones to their friends, others crying. the memorial is a hard thing to experience, and it was tempting to model what i did on what they were doing, as some kind of crutch to get through the exhibit. i resisted, took my time, let it be what it was.

i was alright, at first: i made it through colonial times, through independence, through the escalation of propoganda and previous massacres, into the account of the genocide itself, and footage of the violence.

it was about then that things started to get a little heavy for me--i didn't feel sad, or shocked exactly, or sick, but my stomach started to hurt like i was starving, and my head to feel too full, like it had been stuffed full of extra brains, and i started to feel dizzy, like i couldn't get enough air... i had to get out.

the centre is built knowing people might feel that way, and there are exits from each section straight into the gardens. i went and sat in the garden of cactus a long time, journaling some and just breathing, until i was ready to go back down.

* * *

i came back into the heart of the genocide, and faced it all, took in everything without again feeling overwhelmed or needing to cry. it was the next section, the stories of people who refused to give in to the madness, who risked their own lives to save others, that reduced me to tears. instantly. it has again right now. a Hutu man who hid people in a deep trench he had dug, covered it with boards and dirt and planted potatoes on top, feeding them every day from his fields using a refuse pail--a woman who had taken many into her household, and had to turn one more away, until that one left crying, and the woman said 'come back, or your tears will damn me forever,' and took her in, too--brave old men in the hills who fought armed Interahamwe with stones and arrows--an Islamic man who took a woman right from the hands of her killer and stood him down, who said "in the Koran, there is a verse that reads 'whoever saves a single life saves the whole world."

my God those stories made me cry, and are still making me cry-- their bravery and undefeatable humanity in the face of inhuman killing, all of these people being ready to die to help others, rather than just worring about their own necks. there were stories, too, of people who died trying to help others, who said they'd have to first be killed if the Interahamwe wanted those they were protecting. anyone who's seen the movie Hotel Rwanda knows the famous story of the hotel manager there who saved hundreds by keeping them in his hotel, but there are many more stories, and probably so many more untold. they were never done for the telling anyway.

i stayed in that section a long time--it was for me the one ray of hope in the place.
the exhibit continued through the aftermath of the genocide, and finally to rooms filled with photographs of victims brought by their mourners--room after room after room, and not even a start on the million who died. it was overwhelming. an inscription on the wall said "If you knew yourself, and you knew me, you never could have killed me." it was overwhelming. overwhelming that this could have happened, and that it really did. i needed air again.

the staff
were brilliant. as i walked outside from the first exhibition, just needing some time to clear my head, they stopped me and said 'you haven't been upstairs.' they didn't want me to leave without seeing everything--because they want everyone who comes, everyone who can, to know as much as they can before leaving. kudos to them: we all need to know about genocide, that we never aid or ignore it again.

the second floor
held two exhibits: one on genocides worldwide in the last century, another focusing on Rwandan children. i went first to that on genocide, and walked through rooms dedicated first to the Namibian genocide by the German army early in the century, then a room on the Armenian genocide in Turkey (oft sung about by System of a Down, an Armenian-American rock band), the Jewish genocide during World War Two, the Cambodian genocide in the 1970s, and the Balkan genocide in the 90s. Each display was detailed and moving, though they couldn't go into as much detail as the first exhibit downstairs. the point was that genocide was neither created nor destroyed in Europe during World War Two-- it is one of the most horrible things we are capable of as human beings, and something we have repeated many times during the last century, on all kinds of people by all kinds of people. it is a human phenomenon, and the exhibit challenges you to try to understand it, how people were capable of doing such things, challenges you to face up to it, and to carry what you've seen there forward with you, never forgetting the horror or the reality, that you might act to stop it from happening again.

i tried to make it through the children's exhibit; i'd read everything so far, but it was mid-afternoon and i hadn't eaten anything since a few slices of bread in the morning, meaning my mind was for it but couldn't properly concentrate, and i think what that last exhibit was trying to impress on me, i'd already felt, already understood.

i left as the rain started, feeling somehow unresolved, unfinished, but needing to go and eat, and probably having taken in as much as i could in one day. i bought some small mangoes from ladies selling them on the street, and stayed there with them for awhile, glad just to be around living, healthy, smiling Rwandans, much as my mind was wondering where they had been, what they had seen, who they had lost.

during the rest of the day everything i'd seen rattled around in my brain. i journaled some, thought some more, wrote about it, but the genocide is just too big to get a quick fix on, to come to an easy understanding of. i needed--need--more time.

a beer at Hotel Rwanda
so after a good lunch at the Nile Grill, a browse through the local supermarket and a sniff at the mainly-French bookstore, i headed to Hotel des Milles Collines (Hotel of a Thousand Hills, a nickname for Rwanda), better known from the movie as Hotel Rwanda. it was here that Paul Rusesabagina rescued over 1,000 Tutsi people in the heart of Kigali city, and kept them safe until they could be evacuated. i wanted just to wander through it, and try to imagine the history in those walls, but it's kind of creepy just to wander through a hotel, and Hotel des Milles Collines is still the best hotel in Rwanda, so there are plenty of helpful suited men around to keep you from wandering about.

so i had a beer. i walked down to the nicely made poolside bar, sat down and ordered a beer five times its true price (this was Hotel Rwanda, after all), and drank it slowly, watching the rain, trying to remember what i'd seen in teh movie four years ago in a temporary apartment in Tokyo, trying to imagine what it had all been like right there.

history is a slippery thing, and the movie wasn't fresh in my mind, so i mainly failed, mind just going back to the memorial earlier today, and people watching the rich and elite NGO and businessmen there. around the time i'd finished my Mutzig, they set up a projector and started playing one of the games of the African Football Cup, and i decided i'd had my beer. it was more symbolic than meaningful, but nevertheless i'm glad i did it.