12p.m. on a Tuesday
I’ve just arrived in Kigali, Nyabugogo Bus Park to be exact.
My biggest problem is that I only speak English. The people here speak French, Kinyarwanda and Swahili.
I never watched the movie Lost in Translation but I imagine it was something like this. So how and why did I get here?
Well, I just got on the bus to Kigali after a friend told me there were opportunities for people who could speak and teach English. He lied. No one seemed interested in English or anyone who spoke the language for that matter.
My problems had started right at the border. I had some little money and watched in horror as it shrunk to the Rwandan currency, the francs or mafaranga as I came to learn.
In total, I now had 2,500 francs to my name. I needed help going through the checkpoints and almost everyone there spoke anything but English. Any attempt to inquire about several things was met with blank stares or at best unyielding smiles.
Back to the bus park; I had come expecting to meet a friend and had thought I would crush at his house until I got a job. Unfortunately, I went where we were supposed to meet and he wasn’t there.
No, I didn’t have his number so I couldn’t call. What was I going to do? Nine hours on the bus had left me not only fatigued but hungry too. I needed a place to stay and food to eat, not later but soonest.
I walked around the bus park, hoping to see a familiar face, none came up. I went to a kiosk, to see if I could find something to eat. The prices were so high. A decent meal meant I had to part with almost all my money. I couldn’t afford to do that. I could stay hungry for a couple more hours, I figured.
10 minutes later, no familiar face still. I went over to a motorcycle stage, where men were calling out to passengers. I figured these would be the easiest people to talk to.
All I heard were choruses of “Kinyarwanda, Kifaransa and Swahili.” Back to square one, communication problem.
I then decided to talk to anyone and everyone until I got help. On the bus, two travellers had said something about attending a revival/crusade in Rwanda.
I could hang with them until I found my friend. But they seemed unwilling to help. They said something about having to call someone first to come and pick them up and when I turned around, they had disappeared. Dead end there too.
So I couldn’t go to their church but surely, there were other churches in Rwanda. Churches welcome anyone, right? The problem would be how to get to them.
Scanning the faces around me for a kind soul, I settled for two gentlemen who seemed to be in their 20s. “Hullo,” I said. “Do you speak English? I need some help.”
“Small English,” one replied. I breathed a sigh of relief, as though my problems were over. “First, I need to go to a toilet, I told him. Then to a church.”
“Yes, toilet,” he replied. I didn’t trust that a stranger would help me easily and my doubts grew when it took us about seven minutes to get to the toilet. Was he planning to snatch my bags and take the little money I had? I wondered. Turns out he wasn’t.
In fact, he later paid for my motorcycle fare to a church about 15 minutes away from the bus park, after I told him my predicament. No place to stay and no money.
At the church, several people spoke English quite well and they were very kind. But they could only do so much. They told me they would have helped if I had a phone number of a relative or address, none of which I had.
They directed me to a nearby school where they said I should try for more help. At the school, the headmistress seemed eager to help but communication was a challenge. I had to draw or use gestures a couple of times before she understood what I was saying.
Seeing that I was not getting much help in that direction, I said a quick thank you and wandered off. It was coming to 4 pm and I still had no place to stay and I was starving.