Travel: Where East meets West

Driving down along the dangerously narrow highways of Burundi, amidst wild oil palms growing on steep hillsides, cyclists zoom down the winding lanes of death with the speed of a devil and the zeal of a racing car.

Driving down along the dangerously narrow highways of Burundi, amidst wild oil palms growing on steep hillsides, cyclists zoom down the winding lanes of death with the speed of a devil and the zeal of a racing car.

They focus their stare on the road far ahead, wearing their free wills on their sleeves and their magnetic instincts on their limbs just in case a vehicle turns the next corner in a split of second and threaten to obliterate their lives and their beings to hell or heaven.

The image on the road to Bujumbura promises a city full of wildness and abandon, but the image that opens to the distant eye at the beginning of the descent into the lake shore city is perhaps one of the last surprises of the journey.

Bujumbura is like a wide swath of ancient civilization that decided to settle close to a body of water. It spreads out as far as the eye can see, the only form of order being its lack, its thinness and closeness to the ground pronounced.

Its people seem not be in a hurry to conquer the clouds and seen content to keeping as close to the ground and water as possible. Perhaps, it is the biting cold in the slopes.

But as one completes the descent they are hit by a wave of fierce heat. It bakes the tarmac and sends the residents to seek solace in the late afternoon in ridiculous but comforting sizes of beers, on the sides of the same tarmac, with their unvarnished wooden chairs and tables.

They seek to bring their temperatures of their surroundings down by imbibing cold lagers only to raise their own temperatures.

The city’s roads have seen a facelift away from the heavily potholed ones a few months ago, but the chaos of human and motor traffic and the impatience to get to wherever you are going before everybody else is reminiscent of downtown Kampala.

The police are in a hurry to catch a law breaker so that they can get the opportunity to break the rule themselves. Their flaking blue almost school scout uniforms cannot help matters. However, the unofficial uniform of Burundians is easily the exotic colour-laden mosaic of the Kitenge.

It holds the parts of the shirt and knits the pieces of the dress into an impressive flag of a free African spirit.

As dusk falls, the heat wave intensifies, a bit like at the coast, topping thirty degrees, as a thin layer of sweat decorates those who feel like it and those who do not like the idea of carrying sweat around.

The night, especially during the weekend is a troop to the bars where the huge beers are recycled, as patrols shake along to rumba, French music, Kidumu and a witling of  a Kenyan, Ugandan or Tanzanian song.

kelviod@yahoo.com

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