Monday, May 08, 2017

A Trip to Burundi and BBQ Goat

Well since I'd broken the seal on going to sketchy country's borders then turning around, why not another?

The Burundi border was super close to Kigali. I want to say the drive was 1.5 hours tops one way.

When I got in the cab Kayitare had the radio on and was listening to news concerning Emmanuel Macron winning the French presidential election. The only words I recognized were Clinton, Trump, American, Le Pen, and Macron. My driver's English is pretty serviceable so that has been great. On these long road trips I've been able to pick his brain a little. I asked him why was France important to Rwanda and he gave a pretty surprising answer.

So as I've stated previously Rwanda was a German colony first then Belgian. Never belonged to France. However French is one of the languages spoken in Belgium and it seems that it is fairly popular here in Rwanda. After Rwanda gained independence my understanding is that France involved itself in the affairs of Rwanda just because it was a French speaking country.

Anyway long story short France seems to have picked the wrong side in the civil war that resulted in the Rwandan genocide, and is accused of training the militias that did all of the killing. Its soldiers also fought the army that ended the genocide. So the relationship between the two countries is still pretty frayed, with France not even having an ambassador in the country according to Kayitare. 

Fred said he was so tired from driving to Uganda and DR Congo with me that yesterday he didn't work and just rested. Hey man I don't play.

Whelp. To the road!

Next time you want to complain about your job think of the lady whose job it is to carry a big bundle of sticks on top of her damn head while walking along the side of the highway.

And I can't wait to get on the road again
On the African road again
Goin' places that I've never been
Seein' things that I may never see again

There aren't a heck of a lot of street signs around these parts.

We arrived at the border without incident. Let's talk Burundi. The US State Department gives them a ringing endorsement: "Political violence persists throughout Burundi in the aftermath of the country’s contested elections, an attempted coup d’etat, and debate over the President’s eligibility for a third term." I've read that this border is so closed that they wouldn't even let UN food assistance through. Now that's a closed border. "I'll give you a bite of my PBJ if you let me cross this border."

So I didn't feel that bad when I asked for an entry visa and they told me no. No, I'm not crazy enough to actually go into the place I just wanted the stamp in my passport, but no dice. Kayitare said that he would be in even more danger in Burundi than I would be. As we passed the Rwanda side of the border into no man's land, the Rwandan police took his ID card and the car's registration to keep him from trying to cross into Burundi, for his own safety. Now that's real.

Kayitare did awesome though and tried his best to advocate for me with the Burundian immigration office people. They replied that no it was not possible and that I should have applied for a visa beforehand with their embassy in DC. I did not find it necessary to tell either side that I had already done that and had been denied. I'm a bad, bad man.

A random guy hanging out at the border told us that the only foreigners allowed in are Chinese people because the Chinese government supports the regime. Ok, let's call it agree to disagree and turn around.

Close enough.

The highway didn't have much traffic on it at all. Well it's a highway to the border and the border is closed, so now that makes a lot more sense.

Kayitare suggested stopping for a refreshment. Yes let's. He suggested a hotel that we passed but I'm all hoteled out. Let's keep this real, now. His next suggestion was Bar Gahembe. Now we're talkin'!

This place was a whole compound. I was impressed.

My companion doesn't do beer but he ordered a wine. The serving ritual was hilarious. The waiter brought a whole platter of stuff over to our table. He first set a box of wine on the table and then proceeded to pour some into a little empty whiskey bottle. I assume he was doing this for an exact measurement. Then he set the wineful whiskey bottle on the table, cap screwed on, alongside a wineglass. Classy. "A pint of your worst wine for my friend barkeep!"

I could see delicious smelling smoke rising from a building across the courtyard. My fearless guide was raving about how fresh the goat was around here. They bring live goats here, butcher them, then grill them right up, no freezing the meat or anything. I initially refused but after a couple more insistent offers...  you know where this is going.

If eating here doesn't make me sick then I may be immortal. Why oh why was I cursed with such sterling manners and concern for the feelings of my fellow man? It was really good but I'm pretty comfortable with weird meat. It was a little gristley at times which might not suit the average chicken nugget connoisseur. There were a few hairs on it and I pondered if I'd rather they came from the goat or the chef.

I was shooing flies while I sat but mercifully I haven't dealt with many mosquitos at all. What else can I tell you? Oh it was 500 Rwandan Francs per skewer which is about 60 cents. In the bathroom there were ants all over the place including on/in the urinal. You know what they say, live by the pee, die by the pee.

After we left I was like "that place was awesome I wonder how many Westerners have even been to that place?", imagining myself as some sort of modern-day Marco Polo of Africa. Kayitare replied "oh there's lots there on the weekends." Sigh. I guess I can't name the place after myself on American maps after all.

Back in Kigali I visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre. It was pretty rough. There's a whole section devoted to the stories of individual children who were killed.

The whole thing seemed to be a cascade of failures from western governments, the catholic church, and basic human dignity.

To end on a lighter note, Rwanda has sparkly gorillas on their banknotes.

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