Christmas 2009 is here! Yea! It’s a time for merrymaking; guzzling and dancing. And I can assure you that it was not so different during the mid 90s. During those wacky 90s Aggrey and I were new to this beautiful country.
We had managed to settle in Kigali city. Aggrey was still that very skinny lad, who shared accommodation with me. Our house in Kiyovu of the poor was always clean, thanks to our houseboy.
Every morning, our dining table was decorated by our daily bread. When I mention the word “bread”, I hereby refer to dry cassava chips. This was usually escorted down by dry black coffee.
At mid-day, we would board the taxis from the NGO Gikondo compound, where we worked and head back home for our lunch. Usually, posho and peas plus a few pieces of meat decorated our lunch table.
Despite the fact that we were paid in hard dollar currency, the cost of living was very high. That is why sometimes, you would find us taking local greens for lunch. The leaves are commonly referred to as “doodo”.
Supper was not part of our life. Instead, we would retire from work at around 7pm and head right to Nyamirambo for a couple of cold Amstels. If we were lucky, someone would buy some brochettes.
It was usually goat or chicken. Depending on the size of our pockets, we would extend the drinking spree up to 1am in the morning. The following morning, it was business as usual.
The cycle became monotonous. Until Christmas season! We needed a change. The answer was to take the Christmas season all the way to Gisenyi. The idea seemed very exciting indeed.
This is because Gisenyi was supposed to be the photocopy of Cape Town. We had heard stories about the lake Kivu and the wonderful beaches. We had heard a lot about the beautiful palm trees.
We knew that lots of roasted fish were waiting for us. And what about the discotheques? Yes. Gisenyi was the place to visit.
With a few connections that we had made in Kigali, we managed to borrow a Toyota Carina. During the mid 90s, the who’s who around town was supposed to be an owner of a Toyota carina.
In fact it was next to impossible for a bachelor during the mid 90s, to find himself a bride if he was Carina-less. Apart from the Carina, the bachelor was supposed to own a Fridge in his house. Not to mention a video!
Anyhow, we borrowed the Carina and got prepared for a trip of our lives. Aggrey and I were still very single.
So we hooked up a male colleague for company. On that Christmas Eve morning, we set off as early as 5am in the morning.
The roads were still very bad and that partly explains why we took 5 hours to reach Gisenyi. Another reason why our journey took so long is because of the numerous roadblocks that we encountered along the way.
This was for our own good since the defeated army of killers was still at large.
But the main reason for the delay is because the Carina we were driving was just an imitation of a car. It was in a dire mechanical state. Every 20 minutes, we had to stop the car so that we could feed it with cold water before it could burst out in flames.
The driving shafts were at the verge of falling off. Each time we made a sharp bend along the winding roads, the shafts would cry out for mercy.
The braking system was horrible. We had to apply brakes by pumping the pedal at several intervals. This implied that we had to keep a good distance between ourselves and the vehicle ahead of us. This really perturbed the impatient drivers behind us.
The fuel gauge was mal-functional. That is why the car refused to climb the last major hill before slopping down to Gisenyi town.
The gauge still showed that the fuel tank was full. However, the real story is that the carina had sucked the tank clean! We had run out of petrol.
Aggrey and I had to run around looking for people to push the junk of a vehicle.
After an hour of puffing and pushing, we finally arrived at the heart of Gisenyi. We pushed the Carina up to a Petrol station. The pump attendant eyed us in a very bored manner as we approached him with our dirty linen.
We then asked him to fill the car with petrol. However, the attendant told us to vamoose as he had run out of petrol himself! What a way of starting the Christmas season!