LIKE the rest of you I have heard and even experienced the neatness and orderliness of Kigali before, which is why I unreservedly support the people at Kampala Capital City Authority in all they do, and hope all our local governments follow suit.
But of course not every corner of Rwanda is as neat and orderly as Kigali, just as not every bit of the United States is as slummy as some parts of Washington DC (yes – they have slums there too). Nevertheless, last week I was surprised by evidence of that famed orderliness even in the extreme corner of the country.
I found occasion to hop into a taxi running from Cyanika to Musanze and even as I approached the jalopy I was put out by its appearance, the crazy-eyed hand-on-the-horn driver and his filthy tout shouting at us.
Still, I boarded it because my options were limited at that point, and just as it set off I was firmly but politely instructed by the driver, the conductor sitting behind me, and the tout standing outside of the vehicle, to fasten my seat belt.
They didn’t do it the way air hostesses do, but because they could tell I was a stranger they accompanied their words with gestures and finger pointing. My neighbour, a Congolese fellow (he said, “Mimi mni mu-Congo-man”) even reached across and tugged at the seat belt.
The taxi hurtled into the road as we jointly struggled with the worn, highly ineffective seatbelt, which eventually relented and went into its clasp but thereafter presented absolutely none of the tension that provides its safety component.
They obviously knew it was useless, but were all steadfast in ensuring I wore it – which I found odd.
We bumped and rumbled down the road at an unhealthy speed as I generally affirmed to myself that I was in the usual rural, upcountry setting on my beloved continent, going by the sights outside, and wondered why we didn’t generally go further faster, in development.
Then, after a few kilometres, I noticed an unusual element before me – and it wasn’t the vegetation, the buildings, the roads, or the clothing of the people we whizzed past – it was the boda bodas.
I had to concentrate a little before I understood why they looked different – and it was their helmets.
Over here, I am quite accustomed to seeing boda boda riders with helmets loosely perched on their handlebars as they whizz past cars to the left or to the right, nudging life expectancy limits.
Over there, however, not only did they have the helmets on their heads, EVERY boda boda had TWO helmets on it – one on the rider’s head and the other on the head of the passenger or lodged on the handlebars.
All the way from Cyanika and through Kigali, the helmets appeared in doubles.
And, confounding me even more, almost ALL OF THEM had helmets of matching colour – either both blue or both green or both red…
And yet, as incongruous as the non-functional but mandatory seatbelt, not a single bicycle rider – and there were very many of them – from Cyanika to Kigali wore a helmet even if they carried passengers and rode along the main roads…
Strangely inconsistent, yet somehow fitting with the way we do things on this, my beloved continent.