images from the road

i’m barrelling down the highway east out of kigali, jammed tight between the wall of the taxi-bus and the hips of a plump woman in full african splendor – hand-sewn skirt and matching puffed-sleeve top in bright orange, her hair braided snugly to her head.  my head droops and nods and bangs against the rattling window.  as we round a curve, shadows bend to stripe the pavement, thrown from the west by trees and pedestrians.  my hip crunches against the wall of the bus.  i shift my shoulders.  my neighbor makes a tsk tsk sound through her teeth.  the bus swings wildly to the left, shadows bend again, sardine-can passengers grumble.  i stare longingly up at musha moutnain and the steel roofs of apagie school glinting in the sun above the road.  10 minutes longer.  i close my eyes.

sounds: the hum of rubber tires on pavement, the din of reggae on the radio, the rush of hot air past an open window, the murmur of voices chatting three rows back.  the bang of knuckles against the ceiling.  a shout from the driver- ‘arasigara?’ (=someone getting off?) ‘mmmm’ (=uh huh).  squeeling brakes, sliding door, grumbling passengers, and i’m off, out, free.  the long ride home.

two weeks later, two weeks before, last year, today.  the bus rushes past open fields of sugar and sorghum, past green hills patchworked by plots of banana and coffee plantations, through a tunnel of dancing eucalyptus trees.  at the narrow shoulder stretches a column of people.  men walking.  men on bicycles with all manner of stuff strapped to the back (water jugs, 50kg bags of potatoes, goats, people, steel roofing, chairs, you name it).  women with wide woven baskets of fruit balanced on their heads.  children in primary school uniforms running playfully, dangerously close to traffic.

beyond the crowded shoulder runs a 3-foot deep ditch for water drain-off during heavy rains.  the foreign firms (chinese? german?) who built the road weren’t kidding around.  considering all the litter that rwandans throw out bus windows (plastic bags, cookie wrappers, water bottles), it’s a wonder this ditch is always clean.  but one friend pointed out that kids like to make toys from the empty bottles, so maybe the trash gets reused, or maybe just carried away by the rain.

beyond the run-off ditch lies a new trench meant to bury the fiber-optics cable that will soon wire the country.  heaps of freshly-dug red earth swallow the workers digging it.  mile after mile, we pass them, thousands of them, barechested, swinging pickaxes, to the waist in dirt, men, women, not a back-hoe or tractor in sight.  a human machine.

further on, past the pedestrians, the run-off ditch, and the cable-trench, way out into the extensive fields of the maraba coffee cooperative, i sometimes get a glimpse of farmers in blue uniforms.  like their colleagues in the trench, they work in droves, in lines, organized to the point of beauty.  200 men with 200 hoes lined up shoulder-to-shoulder to clear a field, moving across it like an elaborate 200m-wide machine.  behind them, i watch three maybe four hundred others march single-file across the plantation carrying bundles of grass on their heads like ants.  it’s minutes before we pass them all.  scenes from a bus window.

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~ by aliciawolcott on July 4, 2008.

One Response to “images from the road”

  1. I finally got the courage (remembered) to leave a message for you on this site. I had sent you a birthday card back in April, and got a message from your mother that you were in africa. Then, I meant to make an important phone call and try to figure out the distance between where you are and Conakry. My sister is in the Peace Corps and is placed there to teach AIDS awareness. She just finished her 6th month – a 4th of her 2 year committment. I had planned to tell her where you were, but I got real busy as the school year ended. Well Happy Birthday none the less… and maybe I’ll exchange some word with you in the future.
    -Wendell
    Raleigh,NC

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