And so it goes...
It goes that time comes when I’m seized by this irresistibly compelling ritualistic urge to pay homage to my soil. And when it strikes, I must thither go post-haste, for my soul will never rest (don’t get ideas!) till it sees the slopes of Mt. Muhabura.
The urge is even stronger when spurred on by a chance to hitch a ride on a car that, if used, is not mechanically abused like those that have been turned left-hand from their original right. In those abused, read the Dubai hand-me-down jalopies whose tyres, in old age, rebel and go straight even as you are negotiating a left turn on a steep incline – where “straight” means off the road and towards a literal ‘cliff-hanger’!
If you’ve ever seen the twists and turns on the way to Musanze, you get my drift.
Anyway, that’s how I found myself atop Buranga hill, beholden to and smitten by, as always, the expanse of vista that stretched before mine eyes. Imagining more than seeing, at a distance to the right, the ‘terraced’ twin lakes of Ruhondo-Burera, ringed in by the hills that border Uganda.
Straight ahead and towards the left, the chain of volcanic mountains with their summits shrouded in clouds, telltale sparks from Mt. Nyiragongo regularly piercing the sky to the west. The shimmering asphalt road snaking its way through gleaming iron-roofs, to disappear in the hills of Bigogwe, one of them complete with its ‘breast’, Ibere rya Bigogwe.
And, to cap it all, the street-light posts (a night marvel, with lights on) continuing their uninterrupted journey from Kigali all the way to Rubavu, to stop dead at the DR Congo border.
That spectacle will charm you, however indifferent to Mother Nature you may think yourself.
Yet the charm to beat other charms is Ruhengeri town in Musanze, more so if you knew it in the 1950s, like donkey-years-old yours truly. For, with its spotless cleanliness and dirt-free, orderly crowd, wide streets, storied structures and world-class hotels, it’s not the Ruhengeri you knew.
Gone are the black volcanic-soil streets and roads, dusty or sticky depending on seasons but always cosy for lice that colonised your feet, toes and hairs, however meticulously you scrubbed your body. Gone, too, are the kids with bulging navels on ballooned-up tummies and grime-caked faces with running or ‘mound-blocked’ noses, a ceaseless feast for swarms of flies.
And increasingly history is a crop of aging adults with cracked feet, set at an outward angle, that boasted ‘knock-berried’ toes (amano y’ubuhiri, victims of jiggers), as they boasted no acquaintance at all with shoes.
Ruhengeri: gone is the “Yuk!” that’d likely have been your involuntary reaction, which’d have been only a little less impassioned any time up to the mid-1990s.
Today, wonder of wonders, trucks water that loathsome dust away, wherever it may attempt to rear its ugly head!
Which reminds me: Kigali residents, anyone of you know that, long before our army of broom-manipulating experts appear to furiously sweep away any stubborn litter (bless their work), such trucks will have mopped this capital’s streets in the dead of night, as you blissfully snore away?
But we aren’t done with our journey of re-engagement with the soil.
The 27-km stretch of road from Ruhengeri to Canika (“Cyanika” to proponents/students of Bavuga, Ntibavuga!) is glaringly un-Rwandan, being worse for wear. This, in a land whose lexis is allergic to a whiff of the word “pothole”. That whiff, gladly, will soon be history, word has it.
In any case, it can’t get anywhere near dampening the ecstasy of taking in the view of the majestically gigantic mountains that loom all over you, to your left. Nor can it, the view of the elegantly tall-slender hillocks that seem to play hide-and-seek with Lake Burera, to your right.
With these views competing for attention, Canika appears to annoyingly come rushing to you, like a noisy kid interrupting an interesting conversation to cling to your legs.
And noisy, Canika is. And cling to you, it will. Now a blusterous beehive of activity in construction, it is set to play host to a one-stop border post and an international market that will turn the harsh hustles of cross-border activity into distant history.
Detach yourself from this din and a short distance towards Mt. Muhabura you’ll be in Umudugudu Amajambere (-jya- to you), the soil that’s cradle of my pedigree.
Once here, look around. From Mt. Muhabura to the hills across in Uganda, to those to your South-East in Cyeru, to those beyond Ruhengeri and to the chain of mountains that join Mt. Muhabura, they all rise to hug the sky and form a womb, wherein you’ll be sealed. You’ll be in a world of your own.
When you finally tear yourself away and depart for your Kigali, it’ll be as a re-energised, if not reborn, creature.
A communion with this soil reveals many of its secrets and enriches your life.
But, remember, this is but one ‘soil’ out of the myriad other ‘soils’ of Rwanda.
And so it goes...