Saturday, June 21. Kibuye, Rwanda.
The breeze is soft and the air mild on the restaurant terrace at Hotel Bethanie, a modest, Presbyterian Church-owned resort on the shore of Lake Kivu west of Kigali. I’ve escaped to have a day and a half to myself – a respite from dormitory living at Shirley’s house. The lake is gorgeous, a bit hazy, and the view reminds me of Puget Sound. The bird calls are exotic, like the soundtrack from Hollywood movies set in the dense African jungle. The cry rings out, more like a trilling rebuke, as if to say, “Bugger off, I got here first!”
I’ve hired a private driver, Kenyatta or “Kims” to his friends, to bring me here. I considered a public bus, but was warned against it. The landscapes on the drive to Lake Kivu were lush and peaceful in the morning sun. Terraced hillsides built on all sides of great, bowl-shaped valleys. Eucalyptus and banana trees, so healthy and erect their leaves resemble the blades of a windmill. Women carrying huge loads on their heads, babies papoosed to their backs.
We cross a mountain pass, very twisty-turvy, stop to observe a waterfall. Kims is easy to be with; he chats a bit, but never too much. We arrive in Kibuye in early afternoon.
From the terrace of my room I see a number of small islands and a covered motorboat, something like Humphrey Bogart’s rig in “The African Queen,” with several men on board in orange life jackets. Lunch at Hotel Bethanie is atrocious: chicken in a thick, chalky nut sauce that tastes out of a package. Next to me sits a cheerful Aussie and her companion, an African man. They don’t seem to know one another well. Could it be she’s a Shirley Valentine – enjoying an exotic African sex tour?
Laziness is the day’s leitmotif. A nice indulgence after four weeks of constant movement. Late in the day I take a three-kilometer walk from the hotel and two young men, Moses and Tomas, introduce themselves and walk half the distance. Both are studying to be electricians and eager to practice their English. I’m an exotic here, and attract attention wherever I go. We pass local offices for Oxfam and other relief agencies, funky cafes and a beauty salon. A young man with a machete stares, not in a friendly way. So eerie, given that this was the murder weapon used constantly during the genocide.
In my room at day’s end, I hear a beautiful sound coming off the lake. It’s an African man singing a kind of “field holler” as he steers a row boat toward shore. At first I assume he’s just outside my window but in fact he’s several hundred yards off shore. The sound carries, pure and intact.
My waiter at Hotel Bethanie, Steven, has agreed to take me to church tomorrow. I’m hoping the music will be great, as it was in Elat, Cameroun, when I visited there in 1989 and saw the village where my mother was born and my grandfather operated the Frank James Industrial School for the men of that district. Fishermen are out on the lake, their lines cast in great wide arcs from their boats.
Just called my 94-year-old Dad, who sounded happy to hear from me. He doesn’t know I’m in Africa – I don’t want to worry him – so it’ll be interesting to see his reaction when I see him next and tell him. No TV reception in my room now and no connection in the hotel’s bare-essentials Internet café. Dinner – grilled tilapia soaked in grease, pomme frites – is just as appalling as lunch.