On our last day I woke up early, my body used to getting up for early tours and flights. I watched the sun rise up over the hills outside and went upstairs to buy some water and ask what time we needed to check out.
I was completely distracted from my errands, however, when I turned a corner into the lobby and there was Mama Yves, standing by the check in desk. She yelled and gave me a huge hug and stroked my hair and spoke in rapid, excited Kinyarwanda. The woman at reception laughed and said, “She says she missed you!”
Mama grabbed my hand and led me to the kitchen, where she’s working now that she’s not at the house, and started doling out a huge plate of breakfast and I laughed and asked her to wait for a moment and then ran downstairs to gather the others. There was another happy reunion and then we all sat down to a delicious breakfast of ginger tea, fruit salad, toast, and crepes.
After breakfast we moto-ed to the house and picked up the bags we’d left there and gave Issa a few more hugs. Then we went back to the hostel to pack up our stuff and move it into a storage room for the rest of the day.
I broke off from the group and hopped on a moto to N.’s, as he’d asked me a few days ago if I’d be able to stop by. My driver took me a bumpy route to Gikondo, where N. met me on the side of the road and helped guide me through the maze of streets to his compound. I’d met one of his roommates on our last day in Kigali, but he told me that the other one wanted to meet me too and that he’d promised I’d come by.
I’m still amazed by how friendly and welcoming everybody in Rwanda is. N.’s first roommate, who I’d met before, gave me a huge hug and called out, “Muzungu!” when I arrived.
The other roommate shook my hand and ushered me inside. Him, N., and I sat on the floor and listened to music and looked at photos and joked around until, at about 11:30 a.m., I told N. that we’d better head back to the hostel to meet the others.
He stopped me, “Is it okay if we’re late?” He asked.
I felt myself furrow my brow. I wanted to be back in time to see J.P. and Julius, who were swinging by to say hi on their lunch breaks. “Well how late? You need to get ready? You don’t need to dress up for J.P.,” I joked.
“No, you must stay for dinner!” He insisted.
It turned out his roommates had teamed up to cook lunch and that I was a guest for the meal. I stopped teasing and started trying to express my gratitude.
N. set up a table mat on the ground and wiped it clean, and then his roommate brought in an impressive array of dishes: rice, a beef and tomato stew, beans, and ugali, a sort of dough made from cassava flour and water. I commented that it smelled good and for some reason everybody thought that was a very funny thing for me to say. Then we sat cross-legged on the floor and dipped into the steaming meal.
Before I left, N. took my camera around the compound and took photos of his roommates and neighbours, and of me with his roommates and neighbours, and then got his roommates and neighbours to take photos of him and me. Then we loaded them onto his computer to immortalize the morning.
N. and I moto-ed to the hostel and made it there just as J.P. was climbing out of his car. We sat on the porch of the hostel and talked with him until he had to run back to work for the afternoon. Then Julius came and we decided to go to a nearby burrito restaurant for lunch.
N. and Cedric, a friend who works as a manager at a Kigali TV station, met us there and we all sat around and ate our wraps, tomato juice dripping down our wrists. N. and I shared one, since it was technically our second lunch. I snapped a photo of the happy family, everybody smiling except A., whose mouth was full of rice and guacamole.
Julius, D., and Cedric had to leave after lunch, and so the six of us remaining wandered slowly back to the hostel to sit around and hang out until our flight time. A. stopped at a little open air bar on the side of the road and challenged a man there to a game of pool and we all sat around and acted as his adoring cheerleaders. He won 2/3 games.
We spent the rest of the afternoon sitting at the hostel, chatting and waiting for our departure time. At 5:30 we transited to the airport and, after a round of hugs and promises to see each other again, us four Canadians disappeared into the airport. As we sat at the gate in Kigali, waiting to board our flight to Brussels via Nairobi, I asked Noah if he was sad. Sad to leave Kigali, he said, but now that we were officially on our way, he also felt like it was okay to start getting excited for home. I agreed.
It’s been about 20 hours of travel now and we still have another five to go, but it feels as though we’re in the final stretch. Since I started writing we’ve officially made it across the Atlantic, so if we had to make an emergency landing right now, we’d end up in the Martimes. There is something comforting about knowing that, 2,677 metres down from where we are now, there is Canadian soil.
Sitting here, in the in-between of flight, all I can think is how incredibly lucky I am to leave one beautiful place and head towards another; and for all the people who said “Goodbye” in Kigali, and the ones who greet me in Ottawa and say “Welcome home.”