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Monday, March 11, 2019

4 days, 3 countries, 2 borders, 1 graduation: A thousand kilometers of East African roads

Early Wednesday morning, we packed and cleaned and loaded our car with our foster-son John, his fiancee Paula, their son Jeremiah, and John's mother , our former neighbor, Coslianta, for the all-day drive from our town of Nyahuka near the western border of Uganda with Congo, to the capital Kampala. Hot air blowing in the windows, Jeremiah taking it all in wide-eyed to process later with his mom, stops for the usual fast-food of roasted chicken on a stick and greasy chapatis folded into thin plastic bags, speed bumps and small towns and papyrus swamps and conversation shouted over the noise of a Landrover diesel and the open windows. Scott had decided to treat us all to the Fang Fang hotel, an older Chinese-run establishment in the center of town so we would be close to the graduation ceremonies the next day.  Once we settled in the rooms we regrouped at a restaurant for the celebratory graduation meal, including John's sister Aidah who grew up with Julia and lives in on the outskirts of Kampala, and another foster-son Ivan who now studies nursing in the area. We all asked John questions about his life, allowing him to give testimony to the faithfulness of God in providing for him after his father died and brothers pushed him and his mother off their land. Thanks to good advice and mentoring from then head-teacher Isingoma Edward, after a good six-year preparation from Christ School at O and A level, he took his math skills to a business college and studied accounting.  It is a rigorous course, and I remember visiting him at school at one point and worrying over his health. But he persevered, and after several attempts and retakes (which is standard) passed the CPA exam. That meant he was one of 444 new CPA's certified in 2018 for the entire country of Uganda.

negotiating for lunch

festive dinner

Thursday we were up and out early, as the CPA crowd are counter-culturally sticklers about time. We were to be in our seats at the much fancier hotel a block away by 8 am, for the ceremony which would end at noon. This is actually a pretty inspiring process, seeing someone we have known since he was one year old become the 5th total CPA in our district of 250,000 people. CPA's are the backbone of integrity, the essential guardians of the process of development. Pray for John now as he manages the funds of Christ School, BundiNutrition, Hospital grants, and much more. Hundreds of families, thousands of people, depend upon the accuracy and incorruptibility of this work.

By Thursday afternoon, we left the family in Kampala and it the road again, trying to make it to Mbarara by dark. After a few attempts we found a lovely reasonably priced roadside hotel. We scrutinized the 6-page menu to choose our dinners, only to find out that not everything in Uganda has changed: only three choices were actually available. We ate our roasted chicken and chips in a banda surrounded by flowering bushes and the deepening night.

Friday morning we got an early start for the actual Uganda-Rwanda border south of Kabale, unsure if it would be passable. Due to a diplomatic dispute, Rwanda has forbidden its citizens from crossing there into Uganda, and Uganda had had miles of trucks backed up. We still hoped it would be open for foreigners and for once were thankful for our Kenya tags. It was a ghost town, only a handful of people, no lines. . . but thankfully OPEN.  But no matter what is there, rule #1, you can't rush a border process.  The stamping, waiting, immigration, customs, scrutinizing papers, checking the car, buying new insurance for the new country . . it takes 1-2 hours regardless. And kudos to Rwanda, they checked our temperatures even though there was no actual questions about Ebola exposure.

This perfectly demonstrates where we are here: computerized systems in place, but without the kind of IT support, electricity constancy, training, reliability to make them useful, so the old-fashioned make-do of holding a ribbon to type it in manually. Aspirations of efficiency overlaid with the reality of innovation and spunk.

 We were in Rwanda before noon, the odd switch from driving on the left to the right, the neat paved roads, the orderly towns, rice paddies, terraced hills, noticable decrement in French signage and clay-tile roofs in favor of English/Kinyrwanda and Mbati (corrugated metal roofs). Soon we could see the city of Kigali approaching, a hilltop metropolis of paradoxical wealth. Rwanda runs a tight ship. Rules are followed. It feels like an anomaly, every motorcycle boda with only two passengers and BOTH wearing helmets without fail, extremely conservative speed limits followed closely. I think the sense of predictability and security appeals to Westerners, as there are many in Kigali, with impressive hotels and abundant restaurants.

Kigali in the distance

every single boda, helmets and limited to one passenger

clean streets, bicycles transporting milk . . we saw a billboard for "the land of milk and wifi" which sounded pretty idyllic

In Kigali on Friday we visited missionary friends we had met though our Kijabe/RVA days, another dual-doctor family with kids overlapping ours but younger, and spent the night with yet another family whose daughter was in Julia's class. Through these families we connected with a group of visiting surgeons returning from Goma in the DRC full of stories, and a woman who was moving to a remote hilltop mission station in South Sudan (and who wanted to tour the former president's home-turned into an art museum, which had a lot of genocide history associated). It was an evening to remember the richness of the community of fellow pilgrims and be inspired by what others are doing: hydroelectric projects, outpatient clinics, sewing business for poor women, training pastors, agriculture support, funding hospital buildings, leading Bible studies, chairing an international school's board, etc. just from that group.

Saturday, the final leg of travel, up and out just as the sun rose, with a stop to stock up on water and snacks and fuel for the car because we've done this road before.  Once you leave Kigali and head south, options thin out. Soon we reached the Rwanda-Burundi border, equally slow for no apparent reason as we only saw five other people pass through in the hour-and-a-half we were there. But there were three police inspections including looking through our things in the car in the hundred meters between the border buildings and the final gate, there was the fun of resorting to Swahili with the Kirundi/French speakers to change money and buy insurance, there was the very cheerful Rwandan border clerk who wished me a belated happy women's day. 

Burundi at last, a palpable shift in level of development. Our team uses the hashtag #beautifulburundi and it truly is, rolling hills, lushly green, red clay, winding roads. It is also a place that has suffered, and that remains suspicious. We had at least a dozen police-stops.  Two asked for sodas (euphemism, small amount of money). One went through an entire car inspection, signal lights, brake lights, etc. A couple looked at our import papers.  Most just smiled, wanted to try out their English, entertained themselves with our answers and our car. We began each encounter with "Amahorro" the Kirundi word for peace, used as a greeting, and that surprise generally set a comfortable tone.

Between the border, the curvy roads, the constant police checks, progress is steady but it takes about 7 hours to get from Kigali to Bujumbura. A taste of the roads below:

And finally, our destination since we left "home" Wednesday, Randy and Carolyn Bond's home in Bujumbura. The Bonds are our team leaders here, working with Hope Africa University as Dean of the Medical School (Randy) plus Pediatrics professor, and professor of English (Carolyn) plus running a virtual guest house of respite for our other team in the hills as they come to the city, and many other visitors as well.  We've had long talks, meals, processing and debriefing, talking about the future, meeting their friends, participating in Church and a small group worship time, and just catching up our friendship.  More on Burundi next post! But these connections make the miles worth while.

 Bujumbura International Community Church

View from the Bond's looking north over the outskirts of the city


Hunter Dockery said...

Sounds like a journey to see all the seeds you have planted over the many years and how they have flourished and grown to bless the land.

Judith Shoolery said...

How wonderful to see a few of the blessings you have offered multiplying and continuing on in new and wonderful ways. I pray for your good health and stamina as you go on pouring yourselves into the fray. May God bless you and your dear ones.