It is April 7th and I am back from the Congo and stuck in Gisenyi once again. Buses out of the city have been cancelled because it is Genocide Memorial Day in Rwanda. I intended to spend only one night in this town, but I have been here for four days.
I’m not the longest resident tourist, though. RT and GJ have been here for a week. And at breakfast today I met Gabriel, an American who broke his leg coming down Mount Nyirangongo and who has spent the last ten days in Gisenyi recovering.
Plastic bags are illegal in Rwanda, so Gabriel has fashioned himself a device out of tinfoil, tape, and garbage to protect his cast from the rainy season. The tinfoil is smeared with gobs of red, and RT asks in horror whether this is blood. “No”, he says,” it is just the remnants of the hamburger I had for lunch one day.”
The ticket seller at the bus station tells me there is no bus from Kibuye to Gisenyi. “You will have to catch a bus back to Kigali and then catch a bus to Gisenyi from there”, she tells me. This means that I will have to backtrack to central Rwanda to catch another bus back west to the Lake Kivu region. “Are you sure”, I say, “because in Kigali they told me that there is a bus every morning to Gisenyi”. The ticket seller makes a quick phone call on her cell phone and tells me that I am right. “Meet me here tomorrow at 9 am and I will sell you a ticket. The bus leaves at 10 am”.
I ask a few more people about the bus and am told that the bus to Gisenyi leaves at 8 am, 8:30 am, and 9 am. To be safe, I decide to get to the bus station the next morning at 7:30 am. I am used to the pre-dawn departure schedule of the bus companies in Tanzania and I am relieved that the bus is leaving relatively late.
The next morning, when I arrive at the bus station I am told to go wait at a nearby gas station. There are about five other people sitting on a small wooden bench. I put my huge backpack down on the floor and sit down next to it. Everyone stares at me. One older man asks me where I am going. He is also going to Gisenyi and confirms that the bus will leave from the gas station at 8:30.
I wait and wait and wait some more. At 8:30 I am told that the bus is just around the corner and that it should be here “soon”. At 10:30 the bus finally wheezes and rattles to a stop in front of me.
Most of the buses in Rwanda are sleek new minibuses that hold about a dozen people and leave on schedule every thirty minutes to ferry passengers between major cities.
This bus is old. From another generation. There are rows of benches with enough room to comfortably hold three people on the left side of the bus and two on the right. I’m squished between three women, an old man, and a baby. I’m lucky to get a seat. There are at least thirty people stuffed into the aisles. One man is carrying two squawking chickens under his arm.
The road between Kibuye and Gisenyi is unpaved and muddy. The bus is large and awkward and we slowly wind ourselves around Rwanda’s hills. We stop every twenty minutes to pick up more passengers. It seems impossible that they will all fit into the bus, but we all shift and make room. At every stop, hawkers try to sell snacks, reaching up to pass pineapples and peanuts and cookies through the windows of the giant bus. The woman sitting next to me piles five pineapples onto her lap, balancing them next to her sleeping toddler. She tells me this is a good place to buy pineapples and asks why I am not buying any.
Hours pass and I am hot and hungry and tired. My leg starts to cramp up and the toddler next to me spits a wad of gum into his hand and shows it to me proudly. He puts it back into his mouth and wipes his hand on the man sleeping in front of us.
In the late afternoon it starts to rain and we stop under a tree to wait out the worst of it. After a few minutes, we continue on and I can see the volcanoes in the Congo out of the dirty bus window.
The bus finally pulls into Giseyni at 4:30 pm. The town is dusty and hot and we all push against each other in our rush to get off the bus.
The distance between Kibuye and Gisenyi is approximately 94 kilometers.