At the bus station I wait. Lots of buses come and go. There’s a dude in an Arsenal football shirt fielding all the activity. Perhaps he works here. Or perhaps he’s just another helpful and interested guy. Anyhow, I tell him the shirt’s cool, but he should have picked a Northern English team. His mate suggests Chelsea. I tell him that’s Southern too. What about Manchester?
Several buses come and go. I keep showing my printed ticket. Another tangent into technology, but this is unbelievable: in Senegal in 2007 there were no tickets, and few buses, never mind timetables. You turned up and waited for a sept-place (an old French five-seater car with a bench of seats added into the boot) to become full. This could take twenty minutes or four hours.
Eventually Arsenal Man guides me to an arriving bus. We speak entirely in French. I like this about the Western Provinces. I get to practice. Kigali is entirely Anglophone.
There’s a scramble for seats. I end up with a particularly uncomfortable place in the aisle, where benches are folded out after everyone has sat down so that no space is wasted. This, of course, means that the aged vehicle is heavy. We leave the bus station and almost immediately begin navigating the switchbacks up the mountain. The bus judders, likely struggling in first gear, but just about swings around onto the next section. I’m reminded of driving my newer but equally powerless 1.2litre Ford KA on the Hardknott and Wrynose passes in the Lake District.
This makes me think of rurality. I reckon I’d be blissfully happy on a bus this rammed in the English Lakes, listening to the chatter of those journeying beside me and smelling their chewing gum.
The mountains are black silhouettes now against a navy sky. The cool breeze catches my face through the bus windows. The engine is straining. Physically, I’m uncomfortable. Mentally, I’m at peace.