How far is far? ( part 1)

Every culture has their ‘Marmite’ moments. You know the kind of thing, something you either love or hate. For me Rwandese descriptions of distances can be Marmite Moments

Earlier this week I made a trip to visit a school linked to Walthamstow School for girls, where i am a community governor. Encouraing emails from the headmaster assured me it was ‘close’ to Kigali, and ‘not very far’ and easily could be ‘done’ in a day.

We left at 7 for a meet in Kigali. The meet happened almost an hour late. And I was greeted by the news that we had to see the diocesan rep first. Apparently ‘close’ to Kigali included a small town in the mountains some 3 hours drive to the south! We drove through torrential non-stop rain and eventually arrived. I was clear that I needeed to turn to Byumba that night with the car (kindly loaned from a friend who needed it and the driver the next day). Once again I was assured ‘all would be well’. After all I was the outsider and i assumed my hosts knew what they were saying.

Obviously distance and time are understood in the same way as our 45 min meeting turned into a very nice 2 hour lunch and discussion on the nature of education. Is it a world wide truth that Roman Catholics always have the best wine?! Anyway, having left at 7, it was now 2 in the afternoon, still raining and not yet near the school. As we set off again the Roman Catholic cleric looked wistfully skywards, ‘mmmm, you may stay overnight, I am not sure you will make it in the mountains?’ This was the first I had been told of mountains, overnight, or making it! But by now i realised if ‘close to Kigali’ was 3hrs by a good road, what ‘close to Gikongoro’ was would be way beyond my understanding.

We then had another 3 hours of dirt roads, mountain tracks, flooded bridges, impassable mountains, second routes and mud like you had never seen. Twice we retraced our steps only to take an even more difficult road. At every point my protestations to return to get back that night were met by reassurances it was ‘not far now’! I have rarely prayed as hard, with more feeling, or in the face of fear as we went deeper ‘off road’ with people I had never met and who spoke very little English.

Eventually, still raining, we got to the school. In total an 11 hour drive to get ‘not very far’! A short but moving visit with songs, dancing, inspections, and much laughter. It was nearly 8pm before we set off, but it was still raining!!

Once again I was assured that Kigali was ‘not far’, and ‘very close’. But now I was wise to it and understood the local language. But then leaving the village we stopped at the top of a 1km steep slope of moving mud and wondered what do……Still raining, pitch dark, no map, and I suspected at least 40km to a tarmac road!

….. will finish off with the next post!






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