I’ll run you through my morning. Today is market day in my little town Gikongoro. I had to take an invitation for some HIV training I’m doing at the end of next month to a school about 40 minutes motorbike drive out west into a rural village which borders the rainforest. As I bend my way around the hills I normally have to avoid scattered gap-toothed goats and small children who play perilously close to the road. But on a Wednesday there are hundreds of new obstacles. These are the bikes that jitter along the roads which if they were cartoons would have droplets of sweat flicking off their agonized faces as they struggle up, down or round the hill weighed down with sacks of potatoes, coal, banana branches, aforementioned goats or squawking chickens. Vested men heave them up and over. They are no cartoon and sweat dribbles down their faces and arms as they watch me sail by on the motorbike. A mass of baby-carrying women balancing baskets of avocadoes or pineapples neatly on their heads and teenagers carrying multiple bags of bread or deep-fried cakes pound the hills surrounding my town, all making for the central market on a Wednesday morning. Old men in blazers but without shoes, smoking pipes saunter along the road to chat and gossip. Some will have walked for hours. Many are carrying a single branch of bananas which once sold, earning less than a pound, but enough for them to tide their family over another week, means they will be on their way back home again. The exodus starts in the afternoon. The same brightly swathed, barefoot ladies and Manchester United shirted boys start the descent back to their hill.
Today, as I rode to the school, I saw a man carrying a saw on his head, longer than he was tall, as he passed by the children playing on the verge around his feet. I also saw a guy trying to strap a stepladder on to the back of his bike. Vertically. These are the little things I see all the time, but I never mention anymore because they are no longer very surprising to me. Most of the time I don’t even notice, but every so often you are reminded that yes, even though I go to an office and I work, and then go home, eat dinner, relax and go to bed, things really are different here. You forget that most people back home needing to transport 20 kilos of coal, would borrow a van from somebody.
It was one of those mornings where I felt really reflective, which is why I’ve been able to write this. For a while now I’ve wondered what I could write about on here, because for me everything is the same, or else I’m busy with trainings and meetings and workshops that I don’t think will be that interesting. But today the sun was shining down on the hills – even though right now, just a few hours later the roads have turned into rivers and the rain is pelting down – and everything looked glisteningly green. I arrived at the school which shares its grounds with a primary school and was immediately swarmed by over a hundred tiny children amazed at the sudden appearance on their turf of a motorbike riding mzungu. I’m sure I came close to running some of them over – they were everywhere! Behind the wheels, in front of the wheels, next to the brakes, touching the clutch, hooting the horn. I gave a little boy a lift down the dirt track at the end and I could see in my wing mirror his mouth wide open in scared glee as he sat, proud as a king behind me.
Then back at the office, I bumped into a couple of guys I haven’t seen for a while. On managing to hold a 4 minute conversation (I’d like to say 5 – but that would be exaggerating!) with them in Kinyarwanda, one remarked –“You’ll have to take a Rwandan name soon, you are almost a national!” To which I replied I already had a Rwandan name – Umulisa, given to me by another friend. It apparently means “A person who makes others happy”, which was very sweet. They laughed and slapped my hand and wished me a good day, asking if they’d see me down at the stadium for football later.All feels like it’s fitting into place. I have been here for almost 7 months. Time is seriously slipping through my fingers. I am enjoying (almost) every moment, loving my job and my small town, and now believe that if I wasn’t returning home to do a MSc next year, that yes, maybe just maybe I would stay another year. My mum will be pleased though that that will not happen just yet...