Alphonse (58)


My first hitchhiker is Alphonse, the guard who protects the house of Charlotte, a former colleague in Rwanda. I’m staying at her place to work on the motorbikes and prepare for the big trip. Because of a little cold but most of all because of the very enjoyable time I had in Kigali, I finally hit the road, three days after my scheduled departure.

As a test, the day before my departure, I take Alphonse as my first passenger. He’s a nice, gentle person with a prudent smile, always dressed in a blue overall and black Wellington boots.

Before he gets on the motorbike I ask him if he’s used to ride on a motorbike. He nods. But when I drive off I feel his firm grip on my waste. After a sort drive around the neighbourhood we ride back into the entrance gate of Charlottes house. When I shut of the engine, Alphonse only remark is that the bike has a lot of power. I should have known that he is not a man that is very temped by earthly goods. He’s a member of the Seventh day Adventist church. When we talk about the subject he very proudly announces to me that they don’t drink and don’t smoke. Alphonse tells me he doesn’t have any problems to abstain and adds that it saves you a lot of money and misery. Although I’m the worst example of abstinence, I must agree with him on this one. Alphonse is not the only Adventist in Rwanda or Africa. The Adventist church is growing at an enormous pace on the continent. According to the Adventist church they have now almost 700.000 followers in Rwanda.

With some proud in his voice he tells me that a few months ago the big boss of the Adventist church, Ted Wilson came to Kigali and they made a two-week event out of it. I also recollect that memorable party. Every evening the sound of cracking and booming speakers could be heard in every valley and on every hilltop of the city. Nowhere you were save from the manic preacher with their dramatic voices. But when I hear Alphonse talking about his faith I understand a bit better all these people who voluntarily let their ear canals be terrorized. It is in a lot of cases their only grip on life. After our conversation he gives me a blessing and says that he will pray for me. I’m not a religious person but this somehow reassures me and gives me some peace of mind.

The next day, just before my final departure around midday, Alphonse returns from church. (Adventists celebrate the seventh day on Saturday) He’s smartly dressed with a light blue cardigan and a nice shirt, the first time I don’t see him in his normal overall.

Right when I want to drive off a heavy smoke starts to come out of my motorbike. Just when I start to doubt if Alphonse blessings really work, Vincent, a doctor, former colleague, and also a Kawasaki Klr 650 owner, who will join me for the first kilometres of my trip, finds the problem. One of my luggage straps is burning against my exhaust. After a quick repair and some nervous laughter I’m set to go.

We drive out of Kigali straight into the hills, direction Musanze, up north. A few kilometres outside Kigali, Vincent and I say goodbye. I now have to wait for another month before that other doctor, long time friend and motorcycle buddy, Willem Declercq will join me in Kenya. As I’m driving through the green hills of this country I realise how much I’m going to miss this little country. Just when I completely drift of in my melancholic memories, I get a cold shower, when a police officer with a speed gun pulls me over. For the first time in Rwanda I’m getting a speeding ticket! My plan was to cross the border with Uganda the same day. But a speeding ticket would make me have to go to Musanze, pay the fine and come back to pick up my driver license. It’s physically impossible to do that and still make it in time before the border closes (around 6 pm). After 10 min. of pleading and asking for forgiveness, the officer lets me go with a warning, making me a happy man. I’m still smiling when I cross the border with Uganda. A heavy thunderstorm makes me check into a cheap hostel in Kisoro.

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