Friday, June 3, 2011

Kigali International Peace Marathon

Living in an impoverished nation has led me to understand the lowest depths of humanity I have ever seen in my life. I see children collect drinking water from puddles of mud, I see fist fights break out over a scrap of "food" that was left behind in a pile of garbage. While I consider these behaviors drastically different from my own, I realized that it all boils down to the same philosophy; survival of the fittest. Sure, I only drink water that has been boiled to kill the germs and you'll never catch me digging through garbage, but when I first arrived I was just as lost in this world. I didn't understand how to do anything for myself or for others, I didn't know what was socially acceptable or expected. Basically I just did whatever I had to do to get by, to survive. You could say I'm still doing that, but with a little more tact after months of living here. I'm no different from those villagers committing what an American would call "savage" acts, because we are all using the skills we know to survive. And it's not their fault that they only have a handful of skills, two of which being collecting water and sorting garbage. Those creatures conditioned to survive in their environments are the strongest. Well, I thought of myself as fairly resilient before I arrived, only to realize that outside of my own environment, the plush bubble of America, I'm just dust in the wind. Since then I've learned an immense amount about my own limits, and the people of this country have not failed to keep surprising me as well.
A week ago I attended the 7th Annual Kigali International Peace Marathon. This 26 mile race was started as an intiative of peace and good will in Rwanda. It encourages participation from other countries as well, a concept quite new to the desperate nations of East Africa. Runners had the option of completing the full 26 miles, a half marathon of 13 miles, or a relay of 6.5 miles. I was lucky enough to spectate the marathon, offering my support and encouragement to friends along the way. The spectrum of runners represented in the race for peace was truly inspiring. There were participants from East Africa, Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, America and probably everywhere else in the world. It occurred to me that serious marathon runners travel the globe for the sole purpose of training and running in marathons. It made me proud to know that Rwanda hosts one, I think it's a very significant gesture to the world and this country can seriously afford some allies. Watching the race from the time it began at eight in the morning well into the afternoon I thought about my measure of the survival of the fittest. The physical struggles of this literal race paralleled the obstacles that people face every day in the race of life. People do whatever they need to do to survive, or in this case, cross the finish line. Some people in particular were awe inspiring. One man finished the marathon at the ripe age of 73! Everyone cheered his graying head as he took his final strides at the end of the race. Another person finished the race and collapsed in emotion, tears streaming down his face as he called someone on the telephone and started babbling in a language I could not understand. I can only imagine the circumstances behind his life and what that race must have meant to him. A child finished the race without shoes no less, and a husband and wife finished the race hand in hand...each of them wearing a flag to represent the nationality of the other, a Rwandan man wearing a Japanese flag and a Japanese woman wearing a Rwandan flag. There was another twosome that crossed the finish line together holding a rope to keep them in sync. It was a bit later that I learned that this person was blind but determined to run the marathon anyway, and so their companion guided them through 26 miles of darkened victory. And as if all of these people weren't inspiring enough, one Rwandan man; a victim in the Genocide who lost his leg at what could not have been more than 15 years old, finished the marathon on one leg and a crutch. The cheers that rippled through Amahoro Stadium in Kigali when this man crossed the finish line, when this man moved mountains, was indescribable and infectious. I could not help but cry tears of pride for this man, who proved that our limitations on life truly are figments of our imagination. You really CAN do anything you set your mind to.

The Kigali International Peace Marathon is up there with the most interesting things I've experienced in my service so far. I've concluded that survival is not only dependant on physical strength and skill, but on the strength and size of your heart. I don't mean to regurgitate a message from a lame greeting card, but I honestly believe this. The things I have seen people do in this country, regardless of how crazy they may seem, are being done out of love for something or someone. It's fascinating to live in a place where everyone has a life definining circumstance, no one is just ordinary, and that makes for one tenacious population of survivors.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Grass? Not Always Greener

Instances are rare that I am overwhelmed with undeserving gratitude for the conditions of my school and village. I definitely feel like I am supposed to be here, in this exact moment, doing what I am doing, but the day to day taxation that is my village inevitably wears on me. Every now and then I can manage to separate my thoughts from the twisted perception that is my village, I can step outside of myself so to speak, and be thankful for what I have instead of being aggravated by every little thing. It usually takes some form of incomprehensible mishap for me to feel this way, and this instance was no exception. Today, for the first time since I’ve lived in my village for four months, I visited the primary school.

Feeling especially inspired after a five day training conference in beautiful Kibuye by Kivu Lake, I asked one of my colleague’s wives; a primary teacher in my village, to help me learn Kinyarwanda. This being my third language I’m learning, I’ve found it’s normal to hit a plateau of vocabulary and phrases when speaking. I’m determined to take my Kinyarwanda skills to the next level so I asked Regine for help because she had offered graciously when I first moved here and like a snobby egomaniac I said no. The problem with this arrangement is that she asked me to meet her at her school, in the middle of the day, when all of the kids or savage little barbarians as I see them, are hanging outside the school during “recess”. Luckily on my way out of my own school’s compound I ran into Regine’s husband who said he would accompany me to the school. I was so relieved, no matter who I was with the kids would have taunted me, but being with anyone was better than being alone. Or so I thought, as we approached the gate of the primary school my colleague shook my hand to bid me farewell and apologized for not taking me directly into the school, at which point I was thinking why are you apologizing you have the ability to change that fact right now? Even he did not want to deal with the pandemonium that is the primary school recess hour. I stumbled up a hill and walked through a dust covered haze of stares, screams, laughter, poking and prodding. Children love to try and pull my skin off, and touch my hair, I’m so different from them. Also if any of you reading this blog know even the slightest about me, I don’t like kids. So naturally I became an English teacher in Africa. But when I say kids I mean dirty little rascals running around asking me for money with snot hanging halfway down their faces. I actually like my angsty teenage students.

After making my way through the confuddled masses another primary school teacher grabbed my arm and pulled me into a doorway, like a spry young man saving an old woman from being hit by a bus. The teacher led me to Regine, who took me to her classroom where we had our lesson. But before she had a chance to shut the mongrels out they were busy passing around a bucket and dipping their hands, spoons, cups or whatever other foreign objects they had into the bucket and using that as a vessel to carry “food” into their mouths. I finally saw the true product of free education in this country. I couldn’t believe how frustrated I was over the fact that my high school students were forced to eat rice and beans nearly every single day, when these children were eating something completely unidentifiable by my standards and out of one communal bucket while sitting on the dirt floor. This is poverty. My students have a cafeteria with tables and chairs and individual bowls and utensils. My students are royalty to these poor kids just 15 minutes down the road. The reality is the my school, a boarding school, has more funding than what is typical so they have amenities like a cafeteria, a library, they are even building a chemistry lab currently. Also the higher your grade level the more expensive your school fees are in this country. This means that those kids slurping mush out of a bucket are paying next to nothing while my students are taking ¾ of their parent’s salaries – if they even have parents that is. But undoubtedly the saddest thing about this whole experience, the way the primary students behaved, was how normal this routine had evidently become. So in this experience, I saw what was on the other side and swelled with relief thinking about my situation at my own school. As far as the Kinyarwanda lesson, I really enjoyed it. We mostly worked on pronunciation and new vocabulary. I hope I can commit to regular lessons with Regine or anyone else willing to help me, so that maybe for a few minutes every week those kids can see that I am a real person. They can stop being afraid of me and stop taunting me and maybe see the way I carry myself and behave. And maybe in five or six years they will be diligent and sophisticated enough to attend my high school on the other side.

Friday, March 18, 2011

You Can't Always Get What You Want

As Americans we reserve the feeling that we are entitled to have control over everything we do. Example: traveling. If I choose to take a bus from one city to the next, who is to stop me?  Petty problems that obstruct travel abilities in Rwanda would never be acceptable in the states, and I find I have to deal with this issue everytime I go as far as 10 minutes outside of my village. Rain, bad roads, broken down vehicles…these are typical. If I paid for a bus ticket in the states and the bus was cancelled because of bad weather, I would demand my money back. That concept is completely lost here. Instead of practicality there is a lot of frustration in the art of just sucking things up.

This weekend I left my site to visit the bush on the other side of the country, and I must say it’s quite different. I traveled to the Eastern part of Rwanda where it is hot and flat (er). I’m used to rain several times a day, cold mornings and nights, and mountains 360 degrees around. I only spent 2 days in the East, but I could tell it was a different world. Traveling back to the south at the end of my weekend, however, was not. On Sunday morning I caught a taxi van to Kigali, where I caught another taxi van to the bus stop in Kigali, where I took a bus to Butare. Four and a half hours into my trip I reach Butare and look for a taxi van to take me to Munini, a small town about an hour away from my village. The taxi services aren’t running for some official reason or another, I heard a rumor about police check ups? I wasn’t sure what that meant, I just wanted to get home. I contemplated paying for a hotel room in Butare and catching a taxi in the morning. I would risk being late to class but taking a taxi is about 9000 Francs cheaper than the alternative, a moto, for 3 hours. I decided to wait a few minutes and shop for some things I desperately needed at home, only to be disappointed by all of the closed shops. Sundays. I guess I hadn’t learned my lesson yet, on Sundays most shops are closed and if they are open, hours are limited. At this point it was closing in on 5 pm, well after shopping hours. So now I’m officially frustrated, just wanting to get home as fast as I can so that I can get on with my life minus the eating and bathing and using the restroom because I couldn’t buy anything I needed. But at least my home had a bed, I wanted to crawl into it and forget about the day, but the truth was I was still only half way done with my journey. Butare is the closest city to my village, but that doesn’t mean it is close. I still had 3 hours minimum of traveling left to do.

Thankfully after about 20 more minutes of desperately asking several locals about taxis heading South I started to see moto taxis returning to their usual post to offer rides. A moto ride from Butare to my village is a minimum of 10,000 Francs and at this point in the night there was no way I would get home before dark. I cracked and decided to take one anyway, figuring that spending 10,000 Frw on a trip home was more practical than spending 5,000 Frw on a room and then having to spend more on a taxi the next morning anyway – and probably missing class. I was determined to make it home, so when my moto driver was speeding along like a crazy man I didn’t tell him to slow down, to be honest I was hoping he would prove he had a lead foot anyways. I was just thinking we were making good time when it only took 40 minutes to reach the beginning of the dirt road when we spun out of control. A flat tire, at dusk, in the middle of nowhere. I tried to tell my driver in my very limited Kinyarwanda that it was imperative that I get home before dark, and that I needed another driver asap. I think he understood me but chose to ignore me anyways, I was stranded on the side of the road with him as he called every person he knew in the area searching for a scrap of leather large enough to plug the massive hole in his tire. Fast forward 30 minutes, and the tire is “repaired”. We were only about 40 minutes outside of the city at this point and I had to fight a serious hunch to just go back to Butare and stay the night like I originally contemplated. But then I would have to pay the driver for taking me nowhere, pay for a room, pay for travel the next day, and possibly missed class. My bull-headedness took over as we set out for my village, second try. So really I should not have been surprised when the tire blew out again after another 40 minutes. A moto traveling to my site is like a skateboard going down an escalator, it’s just not stable. What was worse about this time was that this was truly the middle of nowhere, the middle of the forest. I laughed to myself as I helped the driver push his moto up the hill towards my site in the dark, for an hour. It was such an unfortunate series of events it was as if it were cosmically on purpose. Laughing about it was all I could do to stop myself from crying. And don’t even get me started of the locals gawking and laughing at me, there is nothing more entertaining to a Rwandan than a foreigner in trouble, this I can say with full confidence. After our trek to the nearest village I see the sign and read Cyihanda…thankfully I knew of another volunteer living in Cyihanda. I had never met her before, and she is leaving Rwanda in 13 days, but I called her up and she was happy to help me. I don’t know what I would have done if it would have been 2 weeks later. I tried to pay the moto driver 5,000 Frw, half of what I promised him for taking me a third of the way and making me push his moto up a hill for an hour. Even still paying 5,000 Frw was too much, but I felt bad for the guy, he was stranded too. But he didn’t accept this. He started making a huge scene demanding that I pay the full price and insisting that it was my fault for his tire blowing out. What am I, a wizard? Thankfully the other volunteer was very persuasive in Kinyarwanda and she corralled a entourage of townspeople that were supporting me and not the driver. But he wouldn’t back down, he started getting physically aggressive with some people and that’s when we decided to just throw the money on the ground and run. I was so exhausted that that decision made complete sense at the time.

The upside to this horrific tale of travel is the rest of my night spent in Cyihanda, specifically in a perish that is run by a large church that has rooms for people that need it. The volunteer helped me find a room, which I didn’t have to pay for. Then a woman at the church named Katarina fed me and gave me tea, showed me a bathroom where I could bathe, and gave me some essentials to keep with me on the rest of my journey. I ended up getting some food, water and toilet paper for free when I was so upset about not being able to buy it earlier in Butare. I remembered just a few minutes before I arrived at the perish I was arguing with locals about traveling the rest of the way to my village that night. They were trying to persuade me to stay and I was just insisting that I was too close to quit now. It’s possible to travel at night but not advisable, and although I was adamant about getting home they finally convinced me. In the end, I got everything I needed from that perish, including a minute to calm down and just look at my situation. I ate, bathed, cleared my head and slept well before taking another moto to my village the next morning, getting home just before my first class started. So I guess it’s true that you don’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes (and take a breather and trust the people that have been living in the village their entire lives as opposed to a few months and thinking you know everything) you get what you need. It’s funny because in Kinyarwanda there is only one word used to express needs and wants, and there is no variation between the two. But last night in one of the most fickle situations of my experience here so far, I truly understood the definition of that word.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What the Hail?

Despite the quintessential weather of my typical rainforest village in southern Rwanda, I sat wide eyed through what can only be described as an apocalyptic hail storm last night. The wind started to pick up in the afternoon, I can’t remember the last time I saw a blue sky at 3pm. Rains began to fall as dark clouds smothered the atmosphere, the calm before the storm was always my favorite part. But then, something different happened. The rain didn’t illicit it’s usually dull pinging noise off the tin shingles of my roof. Instead it blasted against every surface of my home, offering a harsh ruckus of noise in return. I sat upright listening in my living room. A cold draft swept underneath my door and encompassed my bare feet and hands. There was a serious chill in the air. My curiosity led me to the door, which I opened only to be violently pelted with nickel sized hail. It was hailing in Rwanda. It was hailing in Rwanda? I wish I would have taken a picture to prove it but once I got that door closed there was no way I was opening it again. The hail collected in heaps on the ground outside, it actually kind of reminded me of snow, of what a Pennsylvania winter might look like. Except it was dangerous snow that could give you a concussion. Also, try pitching an ice cube at a tin pot, multiply that sound by infinity, and put that sound inside the echoing walls of a cave. THAT was my audio for the night. I couldn’t listen to the radio, I couldn’t concentrate to read, I couldn’t hear myself think so I just sat and stared until it was over. I know nothing really about meteorology so I don’t know if it was all that out of the ordinary to hail cats and dogs here in East Africa. There’s probably some cold front/warm front/rainforest/equator/monsoon season combination that made the skies unleash such fury. All I know is that I never want to be stuck outside when it decides to happen again. Just being pelted for a minute was unpleasant enough. Lastly, please excuse my nauseatingly cheesy title of this entry, I couldn’t help myself.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Part of the Solution

The now baron hillside of southern Rwanda.

I can remember art history classes in college. The exams were usually a combination of obscure pieces that we as students had to describe in detail considering their form, medium, movement, etc. The catch was that my professors always liked to choose the most abstract works to compare and contrast, Kandinsky and Caravaggio aren’t exactly in the same ballpark. For some reason I always liked finding ways to connect these works, however, just for the sake of argument it was fun. But seeing legitimate connections between artists that came from completely different worlds with supposedly completely different motivations behind their artworks was interesting too. It affirmed the idea that regardless of when or where these works were created, historically, they can only exist together. One without the other is pointless. Without an exhibit A to compare to exhibit B the values of exhibit B are lost. We need opposition to find identity in this world, to grow.
I thought about this again this weekend as I hiked to the market near my village. The travel time is over an hour, but the views of the rolling hillside make up for it. There are just miles and miles of lush farmland, exquisitely terraced into perfect patterns. Once in a while there is a house or two, but that is the rare exception. Once I arrive at the market I’m already in a different world. The villages in the rural southern part of the country, like mine, are very small, so instead of having a market in each one there is a type of regional market for several of them. And it’s ginormous. People buzz past on bicycles carrying sacks of potatoes, rice and beans. Children swarm me as I try to make my way through the crowd. Rabbits, pigs, chickens and goats wander aimlessly while picking at old kernels of corn left behind from last week. Market day - pandemonium. It usually takes the same amount of time to buy food at the market as it does just to walk to the market, the crowds are overwhelming and besides, everything is slower with me because I’m a big American spectacle in the middle of their normal Rwandan market. This time as I was leaving though, a truck pulled over to the side of the road and offered to give me and my groceries a lift. He explained to me that his name was Christopher; he was the mayor of the town next to mine and the nephew of one of my Kinyarwanda teachers from training. I realized I had heard of him before, and so I told my shopping buddy Media to hop in. On the way Christopher asked me if I enjoyed the scenery here and I started babbling on about the beautiful view of the hills as seen on the way to the market. He asked me if I saw any houses, and I replied that there was a few but barely any. I sat in the truck stunned as Christopher explained why the hills appear the way they do.
Before the genocide in 1994, the hillside was jam-packed with homes. Rows of neighborhoods filled the hillside, and the only hint of farmland was a family garden here or there. Families typically lived in close proximity to each other, with each generation setting up camp year after year. There were hundreds of houses, some mud brick with grass thatched roofs, and some wooden or cement. During the war, those involved in the genocide torched the houses at night, burning their victims in their sleep. Some tried to flee and were attacked, either to be killed or just permanently disfigured. Barely anyone from this hillside survived, a few houses stand in an open sea of sorrow. Christopher’s family was a victim of this crime, and out of six brothers, he is the only one that survived. Him and his mother, whom he carried for hours away from their burning house in the dead of the night.
His words cut into me with aggressive reality. This was the first time I had even heard a Rwandan use the word ‘genocide’ in conversation. On top of this being the first time we met I had no idea what to say. And since he was speaking in English my friend in the back that only speaks Kinyarwanda couldn’t enlighten me either. I stammered for a moment, trying desperately to maintain a good impression while being supportive and empathetic. I asked him, “what did you do after that?”
Not once did Christopher’s solid expression break. It was difficult for me to tell if he was still grappling with the situation or completely at peace with it. He replied quickly, “I became a part of the solution”. He described to me in detail his feelings after losing everyone in his family but his mother, his neighbors and friends. He told me how angry he was for a month or so, cursing everything around him and wishing at times that he would have just died as well. And then, he realized that every problem that we face in life is really an opportunity to rebuild. He decided to be a part of the solution, instead of the problem. Christopher finished secondary school with extremely high marks, got a scholarship to attend one of the best universities in the country, studied political science and is now the mayor of a major town in Rwanda. Not to mention he owns his own vehicle, which is a serious accomplishment. He still takes care of his mother and he’s also starting a family of his own as of last year. Comparing my “problems” to Christopher’s made me feel nauseas. I expressed that to him, and in his normal fashion he told me that I am no less of a person just because I haven’t lived through a traumatic war or lost family members. It is not the problem that defines us, but the solution that builds character. Everyone faces problems in different degrees, and how we are conditioned to handle those problems is a result of our environment. A genocide in America would not transpire the same way as in Rwanda, or Australia, or Finland, or Morocco. Once again, despite where and when two people face a problem, no matter what the problem is, the result of that problem can be the same. In opposition we co-exist, and only in that way. We are different yet the same.
I have not had many moments as profound as this here in Rwanda. I was truly amazed by Christopher’s attitude and tenacity. It’s still difficult for me now to wrap his explanation around my mind as I replay it over and over in my head. We are different yet the same. That’s impossible! I could never be as courageous as Christopher, could I? But one thing I could conclude is that in my day to day life, I can emulate his philosophy. I can always be a part of the solution. In the past couple days it has sort of become my mantra, I’ve found myself questioning in several situations, is this working towards a solution? If anything, it keeps my motivations in check. So thanks for the pep talk, Christopher. You should seriously have your own TV show.  

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

National Heroes' Day

Today, the first day of February, is Heroes’ Day here in Rwanda. It is a national holiday dedicated to respecting and remembering all of the courageous soles that gave so much of themselves in order to better this country in time of hardship. And Rwanda has had a lot of hardship. Just so you understand where these veterans are coming from, here is the gist on the history of a broken nation:
Rwanda has an oral tradition, so its history was never written down before Europeans arrived.  The Portuguese arrived to the Eastern African coast (present day Tanzania and Kenya) around 1500.  They retained general control of the area, including trade routes, until Arabs dominated the area starting in 1700.  Slaves started being taken from present day Rwanda in the 18th century.  For the next 200 years, approximately 50,000 slaves would leave Zanzibar Island (where all Rwandan slaves would likely have been detained) per year. 
In 1890, Eastern Africa was broken up between German and British control.  Germany took control of present day Rwanda and Burundi.  From 1890 to World War I, Rwanda was colonized. 
Then during World War I, battles erupted between the Germans and Belgians on Rwandan soil.  After the war ended, a League of Nations mandate declared that Rwanda-Burundi be under the administrative control of Belgium.  This decision is a major reason why one of Rwanda’s national languages is French, why there are direct flights from Brussels to Kigali, and why the famous “Hotel Rwanda” was a hotel owned by a Belgian airline at the time of the genocide. 
The Belgian government decided to start a system of differentiating Rwandans into intelligent, ruling Rwandans (Tutsis) and lesser, laboring Rwandans (Hutus). Rwandans developed identification cards with a line specifically for their “ethnicity.” 
The 1950s were a period of independence in Eastern Africa. Kenya, Uganda, and the Congo were all pushing for independence from colonial powers. Increased resentment towards Tutsis continued due to their preferred status and different viewpoints on a path towards independence. After the attempted assassination of Kayibanda (Hutu), the “Hutu Revolution” resulted in the deaths of approximately 100,000 Tutsis, with an additional 150,000 Tutsis fleeing to neighboring countries. 
Belgium decided to split Rwanda and Burundi, and Rwanda was officially independent in 1962. Unfortunately while Rwanda was independent, the country did not change from its colonial past with ethnic matters.  
In 1990, a Tutsi-led group called the Rwandan Patriotic Front started a civil war in Rwanda which eventually led to the devastatingly tragic genocide in 1994.
This year's Heroes' Day will be celebrated under the theme 'Let's be brave in our determination to develop Rwanda'.

Some of the Rwandan heroes remembered today include Major General Fred Gisa Rwigema , remembered for being a patriotic and charismatic leader who sacrificed his life to liberate Rwanda. Also King Charles Leon Pierre Mutara III Rudahigwa, remembered for being patriotic and expanding and protecting the kingdom's territorial integrity and its people.

Other heroes include Michael Rwagasana remembered for promoting national interests, and Agatha Uwilingiyimana, the former Prime Minister who strongly opposed the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. She was killed by the militias.

No country on Earth has ever made such a comeback as Rwanda has. In just about one decade the civilians which now refer to themselves only as Rwandans, have developed plans for education, business, policies, and infrastructure. Not only have they developed plans, but they are carrying them out with success. It’s apparent that this nation still has a long journey ahead of them, but they are as ambitious as ever. I’m proud to be a part of it. I once asked a friend here how to translate “you’re my hero” into their native language of Kinyarwanda, and she told me it was impossible to say because in this culture a hero refers only to someone that was killed for their courage. Well, in American culture anyone that possesses courage and has the gumption to act on that courage is a hero. Every citizen of this country working towards a better tomorrow, my colleagues, neighbors and friends; everyone is a hero to me.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Just Relax.

I knew a boy in college that mastered the art of the lackadaisical lifestyle. Regardless of the smattering of irresponsible conquests that was said boy's life, I always envied his ability to chill out, even under pressure. And oh, he spent countless moments coaching me on this, trying to convince me that what I'm not doing right now I can worry about tomorrow. Well those words don't really mean anything to someone as frantically sprung as me, being wired all the time is just part of my genetic makeup. I never thought I would take reckless boy's advice a few years later in East Africa.

While living in the rain forest is exceptionally beautiful, it definitely makes travel a challenge. In order to get to my house in the middle of southeast bush, Rwanda, from Kigali you must take a 3 hour bus to a nearby city, a 2 hour taxi to an even smaller "city" and a 1 hour ride on a motorcycle several thousand feet up the side of a mountain. Now go ahead and picture a motorcycle driving up a mountain. It's not cheap either. Needless to say my nerves get the best of me every time I strap myself to the back of that death-mobile as I like to call it, and you're not strapped in by any means. It's just you and the driver going like a bat out of Huye. Anything could happen. But then again, anything could happen walking down street, or getting caught in a rain storm, or cooking a meal. Accidents happen, but on the moto they're rare. It's similar to people that are terrified to fly when they have a much higher chance of being in a car wreck. It's just not logical. I just needed to relax.

And seriously, that does the trick. Taking a breath and enjoying the view along the way is a much better alternative to giving my poor fingers blisters from gripping the seat as tightly as I possibly can. Trusting the balance perpetuated by the speed of the moto instead of adhering my thighs so strongly against the sides I have a bruise from my hip to my kneecap. Relaxing is better than having a panic attack. I would know, I'm like the queen of panic attacks. Besides, I have something to help me rid my fear once and for all. It's not everyday that a girl is so lucky. I had been waiting, and hoping, that he would come along. And then after just a few moto rides to and from a nearby city I felt compelled to say those magical words that everyone is desperately waiting to hear, "Will you be my permanent moto driver?". Yes. I have a personal driver named Innocent, of all names. He's considerate and kind and drives safely and slowly. I can depend on him to wake up at 5 am to come pick me up on time and he's always waiting by the phone. The deal sealer in Innocent's case was his advice to me the first time we every shared a ride together, "You need to relax." Oh really? Must be in good company. And just to clarify relaxing does not insinuate not being cautious. However it does mean allowing yourself to experience life the way it was intended to be experienced, not gripping anything to death but gripping life itself. Relaxing.