Seeing as now murram roads are doing the disappearing act in Rwanda, and as soon we might have to visit other countries to get a nostalgic glimpse of them, I thought I’d look back to the good-old dust, mud and potholes, even if in other areas. I remember especially 1983, when I travelled by road from Kenya to the then Zaïre (D.R. Congo). That, then, was some journey!
To everybody in her neighbourhood, Kenya of the time was a European country. That is why the straight-talking Mwalimu Nyerere, then president of Tanzania, used to urge his citizens to visit Nairobi if they wanted to see London. Spells volumes about the ambitions of some African leaders of the era, but who are we to judge?
Reminds me of the snide remark that Tanzanians used to fling at their Kenyan neighbours. In nasty reference to the corrupt Kenyan administration, Tanzanians used to call Kenyans a ‘man-eat-man’ society. Then one crafty Kenyan thought of a retaliatory rejoinder and Kenyans started to refer to Tanzanians as a ‘man-eat-nothing’ society. Both sides rested their case. Now, though, a mole tells me both sides have agreed on ‘eat-man’!
Anyway, after gliding smoothly from Nairobi, we arrived in Busia around seven in the morning, after which we entered the rough-and-tumble that was travel on Ugandan roads. From Busia to Kampala – a journey that today takes three hours – we made it in the evening, with every bone in the body rattled out of its location. On the second stretch the following day, midway our bus hit a gulley of a pothole and gently rolled onto its side, spilling its load from its rack.
Passenger, bus and load we all slept where we fell until morning when the driver roused us out of sleep to help. We all struggled to ‘wake up’ the bus but it was not until mid-morning that we managed to put it back on its tyres. By the time the bus groaned its way into Mbarara, it was already nightfall and we put up there for the night. The following day I was lucky and got a lift to Rukungiri, via Ntungamo, whence I was hosted for the night.
I’ll never forget the following day, a Thursday. I woke up early, having been warned that the only means of travel I’d hope to get to the shopping centre near the border with Zaire, Kihihi, was Chihanda’s Stout pick-up. Luckily, my host negotiated and got me a place. Many passengers who’d booked their places earlier were left behind.
Exactly at 11 a.m., I was ‘load-borne’ on my ‘shuttle’. ‘Load-borne’ in the sense that I’d to perch on the merchandise on the back, the two ‘VIP seats’ in the cabin having already been taken. Perching bird-like was not new to me as I knew that you absorbed the shocks on the bumpy road by rising with the vehicle and remaining suspended as it came down, only to softly bring down your weight onto the merchandise again, as it steadied.
At a particularly bumpy patch, however, I was taken unawares and thrown up high in the air. When I came down, the pick-up was no longer directly under me and I hit my bottom bang onto a rock in the road. The shock stunned me momentarily and when I finally shook my head, I could barely make out the laughter of the other passengers, as they pointed fingers back at me. I lifted myself and ran and jumped back onto the pick-up, but to this date I have the sciatica nerve to remind me of the accursed day.
‘Accursed’ because my troubles were only beginning. In Kihihi, I immediately got a lift to Nyamilima, inside Zaïre. But before reaching Ishasha border post, I expressed my wish to answer the call of nature and my benefactor stopped his Suzuki Samurai so that he and his passengers waited for me. Behind a bush, I chose a particularly dry savannah mound, where the grass looked driest and very brown. As I started my business, I sensed the grass making an imperceptible move…..
Then a small area detached itself from the rest of the grass and started to rise. A head defined itself and ever so slowly, so lazily, turned around to look back at me. I froze. Like a zombie, I tiptoed backwards through the bush and continued until my back hit the car.
I felt arms lift me and put me back in the car. “Luckily, she was not hungry,” driver and passengers whispered with relief, “and she is not breast-feeding.” I slowly opened my eyes.
The lioness was now standing and watching me, the wet spot high on her hind back shimmering in the setting sun. Her haughty look haunts me to-date.
Again reminds me of an anecdote that Museveni quoted later, in Nairobi, during peace talks with the Okelos. It was about an old lady and a black ant. When the lady eased herself on the ant, the ant sneered: “Lady, I’ve weathered stormy torrents of rainfall. So, what can these feeble trickles do to me?”
Me, I love wild beasts – and insects!