An old veteran of this city, losing my way on one of its streets? Incredible!
Yet that’s exactly what happened the other evening at the Sonatube roundabout, on the road from the city centre through Rwandex to the airport. I found myself headed for Kicukiro Centre, instead, when my destination was Nyarugunga, via Giporoso.
No, contrary to your unsavoury guess, I hadn’t touched a tipple; I was soberer than a monk.
That aside, in modern GPS parlance, “Sonatube” roundabout is simply KN3 and KK15 Roads junction. The City Centre-Giporoso road is KN3 Road that’s joined by KN5 Road.
However, tell that to an old geezer like yours ‘centenerianly’ whose sense of direction is fixated on spots where trees once hosted many birds like Gitikinyoni or were marked by permanently foul sludge issuing from hospitals like Kumunuko or by bill-boards advertising things like Goodyear (Gudiyari) tyres, all of them now a thing of the past, and it’ll sound like Greek to us.
What was I doing on this road, anyway? I’d counted it off as a death-trap and sworn never to use it again.
Well, today, wonder of wonders, it’s no longer the driver’s nightmare it was! It’s smoother and wider than KN5. Interestingly, though, few minds have as yet bent to that.
Not surprisingly. Before, death-trap, truly it was.
I remember once in 1997 driving my wheezing jalopy – picked from those left by fleeing genocide fugitives – along that road, when “driving” was a misnomer.
Rather, it was wrestling it out with motorists, motorcyclists, bicyclists and their passengers.
Not forgetting pedestrian-dare-devils who weaved in and out of this mess of metallic mortal menace as if their lives counted for zee, to turn it into veritably blood-letting mayhem.
Survival of the fittest didn’t begin to define the venture into this death jungle!
That 1997 and in this street mayhem, then, I was absorbed in these thoughts when suddenly a motorcyclist from the left cut across my path to the right.
I screeched to a stop but the impetus swung my passengers and me onto the concrete median strip on the left. To, ‘luckily’, be stopped by a wobbly lamppost, whose lamp had long forgotten what lighting was all about.
The chaotic scene touched off was straight out of hell!
To the left, the death of bicyclist and passenger, who happened to be riding by. Complete, moreover, with calabash of local brew (urwagwa), straw on passenger’s lips, now all in pieces and spill. In front, on the concrete median, where they’d been swung by the collision impact, lay motorcyclist and passenger, skulls shattered.
Across the median on the other one-way and one-lane street, shattered glass, twisted metal of vehicle pile-up, victims of fallen lamppost.
Well, police, disciplined then as now, was immediately at hand to sort out the mess. But count the lives lost at the hands of one careless motorcyclist, on that accursed road.
So, that this street is wide, lit up in evenings and smoother than others that were created or recreated before it is very interesting, when you look back.
With its narrowness of the past, even as double-carriageway, who’d have thought that it’d be so? That space would be found through those jammed, ramshackle buildings that seemed to be hanging on cliffs?
That it’d be possible to hack a way through modern, concrete, storeyed buildings that’d later been planted right amidst those shacks?
It has taken time, alright, but of course we knew it’d come to be.
Hadn’t we seen the City Centre-Nyabugogo (KN1) Road miraculously mutate into a spacious double-carriageway, where before it was a two-way but practically one-lane street? Don’t we remember how concrete, storeyed shop- and office-buildings seemingly protectively hemmed it in, as if to dare anybody who’d entertain the idea of disturbing them?
I thus was rather happy that I could be befuddled by the dazzling lights at the KN3-KK15 roundabout. In fact, it’s a wonder we old fogeys still find our way around!
The killer old days! We have come a long, long way.
And it’s not only in terms of roads. It’s in overall progress and wellbeing, to the point of going for the top: satellites. But most buoyant fact: the speed. In the life of a country, twenty-five years hardly counts for a day.
If in doubt, look around.
How many countries have been at peace for close to a century and are still at our level of those twenty-five years ago, if not worse?
Still, it should never escape our mind: poverty still grinds us. Complacency should, therefore, have no place here. As the local saying goes, “imbuto y’umugisha isoromwa ku giti cy’umuruho” (to harvest luck or progress, we have to sweat for it). And so, sweat on, we must.
In terms of roads, the network of relatively wide, smooth and visibility-enhanced streets and highways are not the end. As our people grow more and more affluent and the country gets more and more visitors, so must the transport system burgeon and get sophisticated with them.
To be spurred forward, at no time should our past escape our mind.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.