Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Down a hill, without any language skills

Ok, so I have to be honest. I know it sounds a bit impressive that we're in Rwanda, but we don't have it that hard. Rwanda is known as "Africa Lite," basically an easy version of what people picture as "Africa." It's clean, fairly easy to get around, and there is a large community of ex-pats here to make you feel like home isn't too far away. Sure we run out of water at times, and go through many a power outage, but we have toilet paper and internet and our iPhones work.

I'm a total wimp, and I've been doing pretty great here. I've been driving around, which has been stressful because of not knowing where I'm going, but the driving itself is not anxiety-inducing like it is in India. Many of the roads are not paved, and while that's bumpy, it's fine. When people ask how I'm transitioning, I feel like I'm able to reply, both honestly and enthusiastically, "great!" I usually follow with the caveat that there may be a day when I don't do great.

It was bound to happen. Today is that day.

With all the kids in the car, I followed a friend to another friend's house, where I've never been. It wasn't far, and it wasn't far off a main road, but I didn't pay close attention to where I was going because I was following. But, due to the normal and universal circumstances of motherhood, my friend had to leave an hour early to pick up a sick kid, and I was left to drive home by myself. Which shouldn't have been a big deal.

But I went downhill when I should have gone uphill. I blame it all on Simon. He is my navigator and he totally fell asleep on the job. Anyhow, I was not on a paved road and it was narrowing quickly. It wasn't bumpy; it was mountainous. On these types of roads, it's very hard to turn around, and usually better to just keep driving forward until you get out to another road. So, I kept driving. Down. I heard the bottom of my car crashing against the mountains sticking up out of the road. Charlie and Annie were playing some sort of squealing game, which works wonders on my sanity. I ended up in a valley, surrounded by a large number of Rwandan children screaming "Mzungu!!!" (white person) Truly, I couldn't have looked anymore Mzungo than sitting in my car on a road that was never intended for vehicles with four wheels, nearly crying, and muttering under my breath. I had to stop my forward progress when I came to a bridge that was narrower than the width of our car. I had steep ravines about one foot from each side of my car.
Accompanied by my adorable yet annoying audience, I completed a one-million-point-turn to go back up the hill. My audience followed, laughing and begging for money. And then I got to the part of the road that was narrow, mountainous and both dusty and muddy. The tires started spinning. Rwandans were howling with laughter. My kids were looking uneasily amongst themselves. I scanned the crowd, and was pretty positive that no one in this valley spoke English (why should they?) or drove a car. Certainly, if they were able to drive, they'd be too smart to bring a car where I'd attempted to bring one.

I called Ben and asked him to pray for me. I wanted to ask for help, but as I had no idea where I was, I couldn't very well direct anyone to my location. In Kigali, there are street numbers, but no one knows them or uses them. I'm actually not sure what they're for.

A guy (an answer to prayer?) flashed his wallet at me, giving me a glimpse at what I think was a driver's license. So, desperate, I flung my door open and let a stranger in my car with my keys and my  4 kids. (Mom, how are you doing?) 

I had mixed emotions as I watched him grind and spin the tires deeper into the dirt. 1) Vindicated, that it wasn't just me, and 2) ashamed that I'd brought my car down this stupid path that wasn't a road.
Eventually, he got out of the rut and took off up the hill. I scrambled up in my flip-flops, after my kids, and was given back the keys and the driver's seat.
My new friend having not much more luck than I.

the rut I was stuck in.

help to the rescue!

After a morning like that, it's ice cream for lunch.
And, still, I had no idea where I was, or how to communicate with anyone in the vicinity. But, I did learn my lesson. I announced to the kids: "New rule: we never go downhill, only uphill." I called Ben and began shouting the words on random signs I was passing, but ultimately decided to just keep driving. Uphill.

I ended up on top of a hill that seemed to be overlooking Kigali, which meant I'd gotten myself outside of the city (I think). So, I went back down to a backseat chorus of, "Mo-om, we're going downhill!! You said we can't go downhill anymore!!!" I found a mototaxi driver and called Ben. Between my mototaxi driver and Ben's kinyarwanda-speaking waiter, we arranged for me to follow the driver to a location I knew. Guys, it took a long time to get there. I have no idea where I was.

Anyway. I truly love it here. But today, Africa got the best of me.* Although, I can't blame Africa. I was the one dumb enough to not ask for directions before I left the driveway.

For those interested in the details, we drive a pimped-out Rav4 with sweet rims but not enough seat belts. It's the school's car, but they've allocated it to our family. We are currently exploring some changes to our transportation situation, but doggedly making this work in the meantime.

A mototaxi is a motorcycle that operates as a taxi. That is how Ben generally gets to and from work. It works great for one person, less great for 6 people.
mototaxis waiting for riders.

Next on my to-do list: find a kinyarwanda teacher.
There are many ways that my amazing husband is like my amazing dad (aside from the new vocational similarity). One of my favorites: they answer the phone when I call. Even if they're in a meeting.
*Africa didn't beat me, because Africa is not my opponent. Today, what got the best of me was my own foreign-ness, ignorance, and insistence on independence.


  1. Ok, now that I am breathing again, I am glad you are safe and I love you very much! Next time I see a picture of your sweet kids eating ice cream cones when I wake up in the morning with the caption of "What's for lunch after a rough morning" I will know it might be more than the 4 kids are driving me crazy kind of day! I love the detail in which you described this adventure and I too am thankful that Ben like your dad will answer your calls during meetings!

  2. What a great story!! My heart was racing! Thanks for sharing. Danny and I are so interested to keep learning about all you're doing there!

  3. I am not trying to one-up you, but reassure you that you are not alone. I got lost for over an hour in Detroit while looking for the convention center. I had English street signs, and big, distinct landmarks like casinos and a bridge to Canada. I finally drove by the convention center, gave up on going inside, and went to my hotel at which point I realized I had forgotten my suitcase at home. I may have cried for a while. And had a beer later.

    You are a big mzungu, but that is okay because you have a humble heart. And sometimes strangers with driver's licenses helping us when we are helpless are sent by God to remind us that he is there.
    Lots of love to you and your family.

  4. Sorry this is so belated...but I don't think I ever commented on/responded to this awesome (and awful, and terrifying, and brave, and beautiful, and PTL-good-ending) story! Thank you so much for sharing it with all of us (including pics!) And thank you for continuing to share your life in Rwanda with us. My heart is drawn closer to the Lord. And my affection for you continues to grow, which shouldn't be possible, because I already adore you to pieces. Much love from Texas!