Day 31: Kigali homecoming

By the time we landed in Kigali Monday night it was dark out and we were two hours behind schedule. We went through customs, found our bags, and lugged them out into the dark air. Outside the airport was the usual pack of drivers and loved ones, waiting to pick people up and drive them into the city. We trudged by wordlessly, eager to find a cab and get to our hostel.

In Tanzania, I learned to ignore the various tour operators, hotel advertisers, and taxi drivers that swarm you at entrance points to the city, so when a man called out to us, “Hey guys!” I decided not to turn around. But then I heard Kirsten and Chelsea screaming behind me.

I swung around as they broke into overjoyed laughter. There, dwarfed beneath cast-aside bags and bear hugs, were N. and A. I yelled and ran to join in the reunion frenzy.

N. and A. told us they’d been waiting for three hours, since 5 p.m. As we gathered our stuff and headed to find a taxi for all of us, I tilted my head up to the Kigali stars and laughed, not because anything was funny, just because there was too much excess happiness inside and I needed to let some out into the cool night air.

We arrived at the hostel together, a giddy tangle of young people. Noah, Chelsea, Kirsten and I checked in and got keys and then all six of us went down to our room. I fished out some Rwandan Francs that I’d been saving in my money purse and Noah went for a beer and Fanta run and we all found spots on the floor and bunk beds and talked and looked at photos from Tanzania and everything felt comfortable and easy and rose tinted.

At about midnight, our bottles drained, we decided on a late-night excursion to the house that had been our home for the course. It really speaks to how amazingly safe Kigali is that even after midnight we felt no hesitation going for a 40 minute walk. In all the cities we visited in Tanzania (and in some parts of Ottawa, for that matter) we never would have done that.

The air was beautiful and cool outside and the stars were bright. We walked down the Meridian, past the Umubano Hotel and to the sign for the Adventist Dentist (Noah and I laughed. It’s tradition.). Then we turned down a quieter cobblestone street and strolled past some NGO headquarters, across a street, and to our old driveway.

We knocked on the gate, even though it was late, just in case Issa, our old security guard was around. A new guard opened the door, and just as I began to apologize and back up, embarrassed, A. stepped up and started charming the new guard in Kinyarwanda, and then disappeared onto the other side of the gate.

He returned a few minutes later with a sleepy Issa, who looked surprised and delighted. We all exchanged big hugs and promised to come back the next day to pick up some items we’d left there.

When we left the compound, the new guard locked the gate behind us, a clattering reminder that we’d only belonged there temporarily.

But we weren’t quite ready to leave, so we sat on the cement driveway and talked a little about life and searched the sky for the orange glow of Mars. I felt a combination of nostalgia and peace, a quiet acceptance of the way time constantly moves forward.

As Noah put it, it felt like rereading a book that had once been a childhood favourite.

N. and A. hopped on motos home from there and after a group hug, Noah, Chelsea, Kirsten and I walked back to the hostel. The beds were comfortable and I fell instantly asleep.

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