my travels around the world

The Bus Ride

So I was headed to the town of Nyamata about 30km south of Kigali to visit memorial sites there. This is the tale of my journey.


This is a typical Rwandan bus.

First, a few things about Rwandan buses. This seems to all be true both for the public buses in the city and for long distance buses around the country. I have heard that the local slang for buses translates to “squish”, which if true, is very apt. A Rwandan bus is closer in size to a 14 passenger van a looks something like a VW bus. There are four bench seats in the back each designed for three butts, which means that the bus isn’t full until each bench has four butts on it. The front holds two passengers in addition to the driver. Each bus also has two people who are working, the driver and, for lack of a better word, the conductor. The drivers job is obvious, but the conductor has multiple jobs: 1. collect money or tickets 2. control the flow of people getting on and off the bus 3. make sure the bus is always full. When a bus comes to a bus stop, you stop to let the passengers off, and then you wait until the conductor can convince enough passers-by to get on the bus to fill it again. When multiple buses are the the same station (which seems to be almost all the time) the conductors with proceed to argue/try to badger people onto their bus rather than the other buses. Occasionally this becomes physical and the potential passenger is actually akin to the rope in a game of tug of war.

So my bus ride to Nyamata. After my first squished bus ride to Nyabugogo station, the main bus station in Kigali (more of a giant parking lot ringed by bus companies and filled with buses, passengers, and venders with the order of a rugby scrum) and finding/buying a ticket, I got on the bus 5 minutes before the scheduled 10 am departure. I was one of about 8 people on the bus. (If you did the calculations above, a bus holds 17 passengers.) Of course, you need a full bus, so we waited until about 10:15 or 10:20, when the requisite 19 people were cramed into the bus.

I have the pleasure of being cramed between a gentleman about my age on my left and a young woman with a young child strapped to her back on my right. I think if I had lifted my left butt cheek a little bit, I would have officially been spooning with the man sitting next to me.

Our driver maneuvered the bus through the chaos, and we were off… to the service station. We backed into to get something done to the back of the bus. Not sure what, but it was done fairly quickly. However, the conductor decided he needed to get out of the bus, when he opened the sliding door, it jammed. Open. So a mechanic comes over with a wrench and a tire iron and bangs and twists for a while to get the door to close. They close the door, open and close it a few times, and it sticks again. More banging and clanging. More and the door final seems to be moving smoothly. We take off on our way to Nyamata again.

After a few minutes of weaving through the traffic around Nyabugogo (which is also a town/district in Kigali), the conductor decides that it would be a good idea to test the door and see how it closes. It doesn’t. So now we are weaving through traffic with a door that is wide open. the conductor borrows a passengers cell phone, types a number off of his own cell phone to call a guy for the service station to come fix the door again. We pull over to wait. The guy from the service station who “fixed” the door before hopped on a moto taxi and came to once again fix the door. Once he pulls up, the is more work that goes on, and finally the door is unstuck. So we try opening and closing a few more times, and the door this time sticks about 2/3rds of the way open (a new position). More work. Ok door seems to be ok, opens and closes fine. And we are off. As we start to pull off of the curb, the conductor opens the door a few more times for good measure. Open. Close. Try to open. Stuck. Tell the drive to wait. Lean out the window to call the mechanic back before he gets on a moto to head back to the service station. More banging and clanging. The door opens, the door closes, the door won’t open again. Fix. Open, close, open, get stuck open about an inch. At this point, the driver and the conductor decide that the door on the left handside of the bus will have to work. It opens and closes smoothly (and has the whole time) but if you want to get out you have to climb over all the squished people to get there.

So we pull out and we are off. Then the baby next to me starts to cry. And, more or less, in my right armpit the mother begins to breast feed.

At 11:30, we arrive in Nyamata, 30km (24 miles) south of Kigali. An exciting beginning to my journey (and actually only slightly after I assumed we would arrive.)



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