Muzungu with a flat

Managing this project feels like standing under a hailstorm of confetti that you use to create a puzzle, an elaborate, multidimensional puzzle, each piece a critical part of the bigger picture. Each, a tiny detail that must be picked up, examined, discussed, assigned, and double checked to ensure that it is where it must be for the puzzle to make sense, to be of use to these good people.

Nothing, even in this day and age where everyone here has a cell phone, gets done easily. What should take a text message, takes a 45-minute drive culminating in hordes of small children encircling us as we try to get to the school’s office to speak with one teacher.  A teacher who cannot pay their cell phone bill. They touch my arm and my hair. I greet some of them, those who speak some English. We exchange ‘good mornings’ and smiles, then into the office. The children gather at the door and stare. The teacher we must meet isn’t there, but is on his way. We wait. He arrives. A brief and easy dialogue later and we have accomplished our task, and we’re back out into the crowd of children. We get into our car and they mob us. As we slowly drive away, they bang on the back of the car. I make pushing gestures with my hands to get them away from the car as we increase our speed. They run, and laugh beside the car, too close as we thump into big potholes. I try to shoo them away, but they laugh and jump on the bumper.

We must get back to town. We have a meeting and a forty-five minute drive.  Only 45 minutes.

Unless we get a flat tire. . And there was. Rental cars in Rwanda cost about $600 a week. Yes, a week. And we stay for months. So, most of us low budget NGOs go with private rentals which are considerably cheaper, but riskier. We have privately rented 3 different times. Two of those times found us by the side of the road, with multiple mechanical failures and this time with a flat.

When a muzungu gets a flat, it is an event. The bicycle taxis slow down, those without passengers stop, the walkers pause to look. Some of them also stop to look.

We empty the bins of equipment to get to the spare and to find the jack. There was a spare, but no jack.

Personal space is different here. People stand very close. Breathing on your neck close. Searching all conceivable compartments, still no jack.

How far to town? One of us must stay with the equipment. Me, of course. OK. I’m up for it. It’s day-time and although there are dozens of people walking the road, I’ll be safe. I’m resolved. I’ll read my phone and wait and ignore the stares and requests for money.

Then Don found the jack. Immediately the crowd, by now 10, reached for it and began as a group to change the tire. Two guys wrestled with who would hold the jack, another 2 wrestled over the spare. They hoped that they, the winners would make a little money. The persistent ones began changing the tire. Don wasn’t exactly shoved out of the way, more squeezed out. While the 2 changed the tire, the other 8 gave advice and stared, stared at the guys changing the tire, stared at me, stared at Don, stared at our pile of equipment on the roadside, looked into the inside of the car.

They finished quickly enough. There were handshakes all around; everyone congratulating and smiling at everyone. Their young men’s hands were strong and gritty.

We paid the two guys about $5.00, got into the car, waved and off we went to sort through the next pieces of confetti.

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