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Big City Life

by | Monday, 5 Jun, 2017 | 4x4, Africa, Africa Sky High, Gear & Tips | 7 comments


Words and photos by Shane Quinnell and Videos by Tarryn Quinnell unless otherwise credited.

The road in front of you moves with the speed, volume and apparent randomness of an ant’s nest. Motos (bikes) laden with anything from one person carrying what looks like sixty kilograms of something to an entire family, appear from every direction. Some pass right, some pass left, some head straight for you. Trucks and cars jostle with each other and their smaller rivals including the aforementioned motos and the bicycle taxis which are complete with retrofitted, rainbow coloured backseats. People are everywhere. Winding through the madness and darting through the traffic like hares. It’s a dog eat dog world where the big dogs drive straight. If you are the smaller dog, and you want to survive, you weave your way around and out of the way.

Looking out from Badger into the the jaws of Kigali traffic. Photo: Tarryn Quinnell

There is a heavy scent of diesel fumes from the trucks and buses, mixed with the scent of dust which seems to permeate every major third world city. It is LOUD! Cars are revving and hooting, music is playing and the countless people are talking. Invariably as we pass, people start yelling, cheering and then shouting. Sometimes they yell “MZUNGUU! (White),” sometimes “GIVE ME MONEY!,” and often they shout things in their own language which are completely alien to us while  giving a giant thumbs up to show they think Badger is awesome. Heavily armed cops and security guards stand on corners in their suits, rifle in hand or drive through the city keeping the peace.

This was the first impression we had of Kigali. We drove in on a Monday afternoon after having first had to swap to the right side of the road. Oncoming traffic was now on the left; it was daunting. As with most large African cities, it is large, busy and hectic. Upon arriving, driving through town and even simply being there seems to require a level of bravado similar to what Tarryn possesses. As they say “dynamite comes in small packages.” She took on the adventurous challenge with a slightly crazed delight saying, “It’s like learning to drive for the first time, again.”

Welcome to the carwash. Actually the basement of an uncompleted building it is now a hive of activity with over 30 people washing cars of all variety’s, mostly expensive.

As with most experiences though, “things are not exactly as they first appear.” Scratch a little deeper, spend a few more days there and try to relax and the “Big City Life,” in Kigali starts to make sense. The sharp edges begin to smooth.

Shane Quinnell

Team Tane

As with most experiences though, “things are not exactly as they first appear.” Scratch a little deeper, spend a few more days there and try to relax and the “Big City Life,” in Kigali starts to make sense. The sharp edges begin to smooth.

Our guardian angel and friend. Fabrice welcomed us with open arms to his house, country and culture.

We were fortunate to be given not only time but the real local experience by our new friend and host Fabrice, whom we found on Couchsurfing. With Fabrice we hit the local markets and spots, got Badger washed and repaired at locals workshops and even went to a party with his family and friends. We soon learnt to anticipate a large crowd around our little Jimny, Badger, each time we stopped. Sometimes, the crowds were so large we could see nothing through all the faces gathered around.

Shane shows photos of Badger in action to one of the minor crowds we have become accustomed to. This time at an Engen service station.

With the gift of time and understanding we realised that life in Kigali is really not that different to life in any other major city in the world. People are moving and shaking. Going to work, making deals, earning money and trying to stay afloat. Stepping into the party we went to with Fabrice, which celebrating the 19th birthday of Fabrice’s soon to be Brother-In-Law, was like stepping back in time. It was almost an exact replica of the parties we used to have at university; people singing, dancing, drinking beer and hurling hilarious abuse and just enough recognition at the birthday boy in impromptu speeches.

Frabrice’s soon to be Brother-In-Law’s 19th Birthday party, Kigali style.

Some things are different. The water at Fabrice’s often intermittently turns off for a day or two meaning that you have to use a bucket to wash and flush the toilet. Fabrice also hides his smart flat screen TV in his bedroom every night while he sleeps as apparently sometimes people dig through house’s concrete walls to steal them. Go figure. Finally houses have an indoor and outdoor kitchen and appliances like washing machines are very rare; most clothes washing still being done by hand.

The elements which at first intimidated us remained but as we came to understand and more importantly accept them, they lost their edge and we lost our apprehension.  Yes, the roads are a bit nuts and it is loud but this is just the energy of Africa talking, singing. It is a reminder that Africa is unlike most other continents in the world, it is more alive.

Badger being repaired. Note in true African style no welding goggles are used. At least this guy is wearing sunglasses… Sigh. A typical crowd can be seen behind.

Without the fog of apprehension, you soon realise Kigali is clean, free of waste and generally highly functioning. Even the plastic packets which plague most third world cities are missing thanks to laws against them. Some of its ways may be different to what we are used to but they work. They are no worse and no better, simply unalike. The truth is, in many ways Big City Life in Kigali is like life most other major cities in the world city, Joburg, Sydney and Vancouver included. It has the same energy the same vibe. It simply shines these through a different cultural light.

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