09 May 2006

to a new city

I always found Kigali to be a comfortable little capital, unlike, say, Nairobi, which is big and sprawling and dangerous and crowded. In Kigali, you can count on running into the same people all the time and knowing almost every reasonably sized street and never needing more than twenty minutes to get anywhere, even at rush hour. Initially I got "driving in Kigali" headaches from the glare and the honking and the people everywhere on the road, but I got over it pretty quickly and came to know Kigali's streets pretty well. I am far from being able to claim that I know all or even most of the city, but I make a mean map of downtown (plus vital things like MINALOC and the airport). I made one for Kristina when she came, complete with directional arrows for the one way streets, and she photocopied it when more people came because, what can I say, it was accurate. And few maps of Kigali are, because Kigali is built on hills and so no road is ever straight.

My point, however, is that Kigali is pretty small. This is not a bad thing. I love the size, although I can imagine that if I lived in Kigali it would start to feel kind of claustrophobic (not that Kibuye was better - it was maybe 15,000 people and about 14,800 of those spoke neither English nor French, but I had Kigali to escape to).

At one point, one of my guards asked for the money to buy a cow. There were delays and complications and in the end, I refused to allow the delays to continue - the price had already gone up once. The bank in Kibuye needed several days to process checks from Kigali, I didn't have the money lying around right then, and I was on my way out of town for a while, but I wanted him to have his money. So I offered to give him a ride to Kigali so that he could get the money straight from the bank we used and then he could come back to Kibuye on the minibus, which I would pay for.

He had never been to Kigali before. It is 2 hours by minibus, 125 km, 1200 francs (about $2). And he'd never been.

I saw Kigali in a whole different way that day. Not the way I saw it on a break from Kibuye. Not as I saw it the first time when I was coming from chaotic airports in the US and the Netherlands. I saw it as it might be if you'd never been more than 60 km from home before: the crowded bus terminal, the tall buildings, the sidewalks.

It's a perspective I will never really have. I am deeply grateful for the traveling I've done in my life and I'm sure I would hardly consider so much traveling if I had not started by traveling, but I do sometimes wonder what it would be like never to have stepped off a plane in Africa. What would it feel like the first time? What would it be like if it were not familiar? New places don't feel all that different from the old places once you've done a certain amount of travel. The earth is the earth, the world over, and people are people. I keep looking for something new, even as I retreat back to the familiar, but I'm not sure I'll ever find it.

I wonder what Asia is like...

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