a night out

october 24th

dusk is approaching as i bound down the hill, close on amanda’s heels, my much-used yet lightly-packed knapsack flapping against my back.  we’re racing against the now rapidly setting sun.  where’s the moto?  i hear a hum, but it brings no motorcycle.  we’ll get one at the main road.  kids pop their smiling grubby faces from behind shrubs and banana plants, or snap their heads up from intent firewood-gathering to shout hellos.  i wave without slowing my pace.  there’s no time for hugs now.

we round a bend in the red dirt road and let loose a gasp of relief at the sight of two smiling moto-drivers headed our way.  urgency expedites the bargaining process: ‘how much?’ i jump on the back.  ‘5000.’  he hands me a helmet.  ‘you have petrol?’ amanda is already peeling away down the hill.  ‘mmm.’ ‘let’s go.’  we fly down the dirt road, hit tarmac at the junction, but rather than scrunch into a bus as i’d normally do for the trip to town, i adjust myself behind the moto-driver and settle in for a long ride.  ahead, amanda throws her hands in the air with a cheer and i hoot back.  we’re off.

there is no emergency – no bad news from home or local military uprising or anything that would oblige me to spend six times the bus-fare by taking a motorcycle 45km to kigali.  and there is no more rush.  now that we’re on our way, we’ll easily make town just after sundown. i relax on my perch, feel the wind at my ears and hum of the engine beneath me.  scenery whips past: first the eucalyptus trees lining the road, then musha mountain off to the right.  soon small mudhouses become banana plantations.  nyagasambu market flips into view and is just as quickly gone.  i look down at the road streaking by below me and i could be flying, i could touch the surface if i reached my foot out, i could grab a branch off a tree if we moved closer.  the wind swallows me, the mountains dazzle, the sky above makes its nightly change of dress, and i’m in it.  amazing.  i must buy a motorcycle.

night falls quickly here and soon i’m enveloped by a canopy of stars.  off in the distance, storm clouds are lit by spatters of un-foreboding lightning, but the wind in my ears masks the accompanying thunder.  we turn a corner and there is kigali – thousands of city lights promising the night’s entertainment.  we hit remera and rush hour traffic.  my country-bred driver starts to wig out – he’s used to dodging mud washouts, ditches, and goats, not honking flashing mini-buses.  ‘here’s fine, we can stop here.’  ironically, we dismount in front of the bus depot, where, spirits flying from the ride, i pay the driver and amanda chats easily in swahili with our busman friends.  our night out has just begun.  later we’ll go for dinner, drinks, and dancing, then breakfast at the serena hotel.  it’s a splurge, a gift to ourselves to celebrate having finished two years of teaching.

dinner is potato wedges at the local hotspot formerly known as ‘mango’.  there’s a pool table in the corner and a large group of university students heartily celebrating the end of their exams.  drinks are at a dive bar around the corner where we meet up with adolphe, a friend from kivu writers whose new song has just been recorded and released on the radio (see a home-recording here), and adolphe’s friend armand, who studies civil engineering at the kigali institute of science and technology.

it’s nearly 1am by the time we arrive at ‘one love’, a rasta joint with music (reggae, east african, and hip-hop, mixed) and dancing outdoors.  the place is lively and packed with young professionals, thankfully not the groping kind, and we kick up our heels and get down with our bad selves, until the electricity goes out at about 3:30am and the party moves to ‘cadillac’.  i haven’t been here in a while, for good reasons.  it’s the nightclub in kigali, made somewhat famous when ewen mcgregor stopped in on his african road trip (remember?).  though poorly ventilated and usually packed to brimming with sweaty sleazy guys, tonight the dance floor is relatively sparse, enough to move without being slammed into in any case.  the music is ok, and i know the dj so it soon gets better.  a taxi-driver friend of mine, fils, is also there dancing (he’s the one who bribed the policeman last year if you recall), and we have a good time.  before i realize it, it’s 5:30am and dawn is filling the sky.  amanda and i get motos (amanda actually drives hers) back to the guesthouse, sleep for an hour, shower and change, and then head for the serena hotel.

this is the ritz of kigali hotels, swankier thank even the milles collines.  breakfast is all you can eat for $20, a massive sum but worth it.  there’s mueslix, cereals, dried fruit, sticky pastries, five kinds of cheese (i miss cheese more than anything), smoked salmon, sausages, omelets made to order, crepes filled with fruit and chocolate, lovely rwandan coffee.  we stuff our faces for three hours, until i think i’ll burst, then stuff our bags with pastries and head out, our bellies weighing us down, but our spirits still high with the perfect evening we’ve had.  just as we’re slowly making our way to the bus station (on foot because it’s the community work day and local transport isn’t running yet), my phone vibrates.  it’s a text message from mossi saying he’ll meet me in zanzibar!  woohoo!  it’s been a great weekend!

p.s. when we finally got back to musha, exhausted and stomachs bursting, it was pouring rain.  we decided to take a walk in it, not up the mountain, but along a footpath running flat about halfway up the mountain, with stellar views of the valley.

~ by aliciawolcott on November 7, 2008.

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