Over this weekend I gave myself an early Christmas present and spent the weekend in our very own resort town, Gisenyi (or Rubavu if you want to nitpick) with a few friends.
Other than the torrential Saturday afternoon rain storm and the early Sunday morning disco music that annoyingly started at 6 am and ended at eight (perhaps the Gisenyi-area police hasn’t yet jumped on the noise pollution bandwagon; methinks they should) the trip was uneventful. That is, until it was time to get back to Kigali.
The Kigali Coach bus ride from Gisenyi to Musanze was as scenic as usual and as we entered town a light drizzle started coming down. It was then that I noticed something peculiar, the driver wasn’t engaging the bus’s windshield wipers.
I didn’t think much of it as we stopped at the bus park and dropped off and picked up more people. By this time the light rain was coming down a bit harder.
As we were about to embark on the second leg of the journey, and with dusk settled in, I saw someone working in the bus company’s employ do the strangest thing. We took a handful of washing detergent and spread it liberally on the windshield. And without much ado we were off and still the wipers didn’t work.
I got more and more nervous until I couldn’t hold it any longer. “Why aren’t you using the wipers”, I asked the driver loudly. “Their fuses blew”, he said, “but don’t worry, I’ve talked to one of my fellow drivers and he told me that there is no rainfall in front of us”.
To say I was shocked would be an understatement. I ordered him to stop or I would call the police. He parked by a nearby petrol station and then, amazingly, tried to convince me that everything was okay. What made it even more amazingly shocking was the behaviour exhibited by the bus’s other passengers.
The majority of them remained mum and one even had the guts to tell me stop complaining and to get off the bus. “Stop spoiling it for the rest of us”, he sneered, “why are you imposing yourself on us”?
Finally the driver, in a huff, drove back to the Musanze bus park and we disembarked and got on another bus. During the entire five or so minute exchange, only one woman actually spoke up in my defense.
Interestingly enough, it rained cats and dogs the entire journey. It would have been impossible, nay suicidal, to drive without wipers. This driver was willing to risk not just our lives but his own, as well, in the hope that his friends understood meteorology. The loud-mouthed fellow? Nary a peep from him.
This got me thinking, why did no one else raise an alarm? I know I wasn’t the only one who felt uneasy. I believe that this was an example of two character traits that many Rwandans exhibit; an unhealthy respect for authority and the fear of raising one’s voice and standing out from the crowd.
If we look back at our history as a people, this national trait has caused us nothing but pain and heartache. We see what is wrong, but we then hide our heads in the sand and hope that whatever storm is on the horizon will leave us whole. But as our history has shown, those storms rarely do. You’d think that we’ve learnt our lessons, but something tells me we have a long, long way to go.
We should feel hopeless however, for we are the change we have been looking for. 2015 can be the year that we, individually, make a change. 2015 should be the year we find our voices.
It should be the year we stop accepting poor standards. It should be the year we stop meekly accepting policies that are thrust on us without proper consultation.
We always talk about how ‘we deserve better’. But we often forget that unless you agitate and fight for the rights you deserve, they will not be handed to you on a silver platter.