As I mentioned in the last post, I live next door to an abbey so I’m friendly with the priests in town. One of them invited me on a trip to the Rwandan-Tanzanian border, about 80 miles from my site, to see the waterfall there. I gladly agreed.
So, we set out in the morning on New Year’s Day to get a twegerane (bus) to the regional town where we caught another bus to the border town. Western Rwanda is mountainous and volcanic with elevations above 6000 feet in most areas. As Eastern Rwandan heads into Tanzania, though, the mountains gradually get smaller. Tea fields and rainforests give way to banana plantations, rice paddies and open grassland. Then, the border is formed by a wide, slow-flowing brown river which winds through a valley and drops off a precipice to form a waterfall near the town of Rusumo. The river is called Akagera, meaning loosely “Where does it reach to ?!” because the river eventually joins the Nile and so seems to never come to an end. Rwandans living in this area long ago despaired of ever finding the river’s limits.
This big, slow-moving river turns into a waterfall which is more impressive than its height alone would indicate. For one thing, dense, broad foliage grows closely packed in to each side of the river. Looking at the trees made me think of the unknown, impenetrable forest from Heart of Darkness. Conrad describes the sensation of contemplating the dense forests of central Africa this way: “the earth seemed unearthly. We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there — there you could look at a thing monstrous and free.” Doesn’t Conrad write beautifully?
Of course, this particular point on the river is also a very developed and busy international border crossing so the effect was incomplete but still striking.
We spent some time enjoying the novelty of being on the border — “Now I’m in Tanzania, now I’m in Rwanda. Now I’m drinking water in Tanzania, now I’m drinking water in Rwanda,” etc. — and got a meal in the border town. We then visited the priest’s family in a nearby town.
Traveling is never all that convenient or comfortable here but traveling with a Rwandan goes a long way towards making it better. First, no one calls out “muzungu!” on the street when you’re with a Rwandan. Second, you can communicate easily and quickly to find out things like bus schedules and itineraries. Third, you can give your camera to the Rwandan person because they can take all the pictures they want without getting hassled. So, traveling with a Rwandan is the way to go, for sure.
So, it was a really fun trip. Apparently, though, since we both went to bed early on New Years Eve in order to get up early to leave the next day, we’re going to be lazy this year. Whatever happened to “early to bed, early to rise,” Rwanda? Anyway, 2013 started out well … we’ll see where it goes from here.