Monday, May 16, 2011

The Bakiga Window: Oil Tanker Traffic Jam

An audience forms to watch an oil tanker reversing in Kigali, Rwanda.
One thing that strikes you about Kigali, having visited the city briefly on three separate occasions over the course of the last three years, is that it seems to be filling up with vehicles. During my first visit in April 2009, the roads were busy, but due to their orderly layout and good upkeep traffic seemed to move freely.

It is Saturday April 9th 2011 and we are stuck in another traffic jam in one of Kigali's increasingly crowded streets. This time we are waiting for an articulated oil tanker to perform an uphill reversing maneuver through the narrow gates of a compound on the opposite side of the road. 

One positive aspect of all these traffic jams, it could be argued, is that they are a sign of Rwanda's increasing march forward economically. That said, drive a few miles beyond the city limits and non-commercial vehicles are exceptionally hard to find.

The thing that I enjoy the most about traffic jams in Kigali is the opportunity that it provides to stop and observe life. Small peculiarities that do not exist in London that may flourish here, in turn making London look peculiar: babies sat on grass verges entertained  by any bits and bobs, young boys with milk churns tied to their bikes and hundreds of people walking at a leisurely pace as they go about their business.

As our driver comes up with an action plan, the most amusing thing about the whole scene is the crowd that has formed to watch this minor spectacle. Some of the crowd are laughing. Some are stroking their chins and discussing how they would have done something differently. Some are trying to direct boda-boda drivers around the obstruction. Some are even offering help to the driver.

I am reliably informed by some of the Kinyarwanda speakers that no one is cursing the driver of the lorry. Of course, in London, people would be screaming, shouting, sounding their horns and swearing. The police would have been called. Here, people either wait patiently, or casually turn their vehicles around to find an alternative route.

This is precisely what our driver does as we head off to the One Love Café.

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