Anyone who has ever traveled South most likely has taken I-75. And anyone who travels on I-75 knows, and dreads, the 2-3 hours of Atlanta traffic looming in the distance as they cross the border into Georgia. Traffic can be so bad, that people will schedule their travel at insane hours of the morning just to avoid the brunt of it. I know the pain of Atlanta traffic, because that was my daily commute just a few months ago.
Working in Atlanta, you have to get used to traffic and construction. It’s just a way of life there. My morning commute of less than 40 miles could take up to 2 hours on any given day, even more if construction was happening (which, let’s be real, is always happening on 75 or 285). Once I moved closer into the city, I still faced a commute of about 20 miles that could take anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes. I would schedule my day around traffic: when I left for work, when I went to the gym, where I went for dinner, etc.
It was a built-in part of my life, so when I finished working in Atlanta, I was relieved that I didn’t have to sit through any more bumper to bumper mornings or weave in and out of traffic to avoid the slow lanes or big trucks. I was looking forward to a season of life in Rwanda where my day didn’t revolve around my commute or transportation to work, but I soon found out I was gravely mistaken.
Let me give you a glimpse into what my commute can look like these days. When we first moved to Rwanda, we lived in Rwinkwavu, a tiny village in the East of the Kayonza District. The most traffic this village gets right now is the occasional, off-season, tourist truck on its way to Akagera National Park, a well-known safari. Rwinkwavu is the furthest village East that has a Shooting Touch court. If you stayed in Rwinkwavu for practice, your commute consisted of a nice 20-minute walk through the neighborhood and down the side of the hill to the court, located next to the local library center. If we had to travel to another court, the commute was not so forgiving.
We would have to leave anywhere from 45 minutes to 90 minutes before practice, depending on the court we were visiting that day. Our first step would be to grab a motorcycle taxi and take a 20-minute ride to the nearest town, Kaborondo, which has a bus park. After a moto ride on some of the worst roads you’ve ever seen, (they will make you thankful for those hours spent in traffic because of construction, trust me) we would venture into the bustling center of the bus park and try to find an almost full bus that was heading to Kayonza. If you couldn’t find a full bus, you could be waiting over an hour, because the buses here are not on any schedule, but will wait to leave until they are completely full. And when I say completely full, I mean they cram close to 30 people into a tiny bus smaller than a 15-passenger van. Once the bus is full, or you were lucky enough to find one that was already on its way, you’d sit crammed on the tiny bus as it made stop after stop on its way to Kayonza.
The closest court to Rwinkwavu is at the Health Center in Nyamirama. The commute to this court on a good day is 30 minutes. It has taken me over 90 minutes on numerous occasions to get there. But, if you keep going, your bus will eventually take you to the bus park in Mukurange, which is the center of the Kayonza District, and most people refer to it as just “Kayonza.” We have a court here as well located next to a youth center, and after you hop off the bus it’s just a quick 10-minute walk to get there. Our fourth court is in Rukara, which includes getting off the bus in Kayonza and finding another moto taxi to take you 30 minutes further North, to our court situated out in the country side, next to a Catholic school.
To travel from Rwinkwavu to Rukara, the longest distance between any two courts, you’d pay about 5,000 RWF, or $6.00 round trip. The commutes are not that expensive, but more than most people here can pay for, and a fair amount of our weekly budget when we’re only living on about $500 a month. They can be long, cold at night, and sometimes a little unnerving as the motos and buses don’t heed many traffic laws and speed by people and bikes and cars very fast and extremely close at times. They are in close, cramped quarters most of the time, and on no one’s schedule but their own.
All of that to say, I didn’t quite get the relaxed commute I was hoping for here in Rwanda, but I really don’t really mind. I’ve come to love the nightly moto rides through the country, thinking or listening to music or a podcast, or just enjoying the beauty of the country I’m in. The bus rides are a great opportunity to meet new people and pick up a few new words of Kinyarwanda. Thankfully, we have since moved to Mukurange, and now spend less time and money on our commute, but the city offers its own set of challenges and obstacles.
I’m sure as settle here in Kayonza we will figure out all the tricks and tips to the most cost effective, time efficient commute from one place to the next. We’ll make friends with a few moto drivers and bus guys, and will work out a system that works for us. But until then, I’ll enjoy my time sitting and waiting, reflecting and thinking, listening and observing; next to 29 of my closest Rwandan neighbors.