Friday, August 12, 2016

A peculiar social outing

Traditionally, at the ASP a social outing is organised between the end of the first week and the start of the second, to allow lecturers of both weeks to attend, and have some informal time with the students.
So while I could not attend the outing in Dakar two years ago, I decided to plan my trip in order to be able to participate this time. So I left Geneva, where I live most of the year, in the morning of Friday, flew to Istanbul, then from there a 6-hours flight to Kigali. Even if I did pay for an economy class ticket, I was given a business class seat because all economy class ones were occupied, and it was an unusually relaxing trip. As I arrived at the airport in Kigali at half past midnight, someone was waiting for me, but he told me that we also had to wait for Esmeralda, another lecturer, coming with a later plane. We then got a ride to the University guest house where we lodged, and in the end we went to bed at 2, and the plan was that the bus had to pick us up at 7:45.
My colleagues called me at 7 since apparently we had to meet at the building where the lectures take place, and we started walking there; then after a few phone calls we were told to go back to the guest house; at 7:45 it looks like our bus had just left from the hotel where the others lodged, half an hour on the other side of town.
Knowing all this, I could have slept at least one hour more!
Finally the minibus with the other lecturers (most of them familiar faces) arrived, and we jumped in. After a few minutes in the steep, windy streets of Kigali (I still do not understand if this town has a place where one can actually walk, distances seem enormous!), we get out of town, and at the second uphill turn we see a large bus, with "University of Rwanda" written on it, standing in the middle of the road, and many students taking pictures at the side. Well, that was our other bus, and our students. Someone said "une petite panne", and we also went off our small bus. We did not realise we were about to spend the next seven hours in that place.
The driver tried to restart the engine in a quite noisy way, but with no success. Then someone went to a nearby tree to get a branch, and tried to open a little door, giving access to the fuel reservoir.
The local organisers, plus people who were in charge of that trip from the ministry side, were frantically talking in their phones, to find a solution. The school organisers, on the other hand, proposed to use the working minibus (the one used by the lecturers) to take people back to Kigali and there rent some private minibuses, but I guess the local organisers wanted to find a solution by themselves. There was some embarrassment, while the students were anyway enjoying their time, still taking a lot of pictures among themselves, and with us.
After a couple of hours a car came, with the principal of the college; he had an oil tank, since apparently the problem was due to oil missing in the fuel composition.
Adding the oil did not help, and time was passing by. At some point another minibus arrived, and a guy with a proper blue mechanician suit and proper tools, who started to work directly on the engine.
The second minibus was however not big enough to accommodate all students.
A few more hours passed, and the problem was that the available time was running short; it would have taken more than two hours to reach the destination, and here it does get dark shortly after six.
Finally the engine started, but the noise was quite strange, and it was not very advisable to travel for several hours on hilly roads with that unreliable vehicle.
In the meantime, a car had left to start the trip with the lecturers who had to catch a plane on the same day. Another car also arrived.
So, it was decided that the non-Rwandan students were fitted in to the two available minibuses, and most of the lecturers in the second car. The destination was changed, to a place that was supposedly only one hour away. The Rwandan students, plus Ketevi plus another victim (myself) had to wait for yet another minibus. Initially everybody was supposed to wait for this third bus, but since its request involved a complex bureaucratic procedure, we left the others go (at around 2PM), so that they could get to the new destination on time. Sick of being at the side of the road for so long, we decided to walk down, and have a beer. There I must say that the Rwandan students were great, smiling despite everything, joking among themselves, and happy to share a beer or two. I thought that after all I did not care about going to the excursion, and the main reason why I was there was to talk to people, and spend a god time with them.
At around 3PM , almost seven hours after the bus broke down, the third minibus arrived. We got on board, and after a few minutes we received a phone call: the alternative place that was supposed to be one hour away was actually more than two hours, and we would not have made it on time.
Then the Rwandan students proposed a yet alternative solution: first, stop somewhere to have some skewers (brochettes) and roasted corn; then go to see the caves in Musanze. When we got there the caves were of course closed, but the students knew someone working there, and we made a private, clandestine tour, accompanied by a security guard with a gun!
Then night arrived, and our minibus driver came down the mountains like crazy, and we were in Kigali in time for a late dinner.
As per the title, I never had such a social outing for a conference; however I must say that the fantasy and enthusiasm of the students largely compensated for the lack of flexibility of the official, bureaucratic organisation.
Is it a proxy for how Rwanda works?

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