With neatly terraced hillsides, rolling mountains with tropical vegetation Rwanda looks like the Africa I’ve come to know and love. Hard working people in the fields, bicycles, hand and donkey carts move goods from source to market to home and colorfully clad women using their heads to carry vegetables, bananas, water, firewood, grass and just about everything else. It’s piciture book Africa in Action. Sometimes I pull over and stop just to watch and listen. Though my serenity quickly gives way to mayhem as the kids, ladies and locals appear by my side. Now the role is reversed. I’m the show. They just sit, watch and stare.
Can I blame them? I’m in awe of their surroundings, lifestyle and movements. They of me, I guess, too. An alien on a spaceship landed and stopped on their turf. Do they dare touch? Talk? Tread closer?
“Boo!” I sometimes softlly shout at the waist high members of my audience. They quickly scurry down the hillside or behind the legs of the grownup members of the standing room only crowd.
I’m on stage. But I don’t feel that way. My performance? I just be myself. I ask questions, hoping there’s an English-speaker in the crowd. Conversations start and evolve. Other timres, I simply narrate. Providing a minute-by-minute or step-by-step monologue of what I’m doing; always sure to identify any of my worldly goods that I might be using: helmet, gloves, earplugs, keys, camera — you get the idea. Sometimes this generates laughter. Othertimes, it’s a parrot-like response as the locals under their breaths nearly lost in the ambient atmosphere repeat my phrases. I say, “these are my gloves,” and I hear “my gloves.” It’s cute. It’s funny. More than any, it’s traveling though Africa on a motorcycle taking time to mingle with the locals.
It seems to me that the locals have an interest in their country that goes beyond political, economic or any other national pride that residents of most nations exhibit. No. Rwandan people seem to care. Either that, or they’ve been seriously oppressed, brainwashed and are motivated by some form of dictatorial fear. But I don’t think so. You see, Rwanda is the cleanest country I’ve visited in some time. What’s more, it hit me wihtin an hour of crossing the border. For me, my curiosity peaked. Why is Rwanda so clean? Determined to learn, I was amazed at what I learned.
The Rwanda I discovered?
Wonderfully green and clean.
Heading toward the volcanos – lush green rain-forested mountains of power! The dry bush and savannah of Tanzania is now a distant memory.
Notice you don’t see any roadside trash in these pictures!
Sometime in the last two years the Rwandan governement banned plastic shopping bags. At the airport, visitors with duty-free or other goods brough in from abroad are advised and directed to deposit them in designated trash bags prior to leaving the airport. Caught outside the airport with one of these bags is in violation of Rwandan law.
Brilliant! Though I failed to mention in early blogs while travling through South Africa and Namibia, one South African company, though hasn’t gone far enough, has started charging for shopping bags. At any of the Pik N’ Pay supermarkets in Southern Africa the checkout clerk will ask you if you want a bag. If so, she rings it up. Though at a modest cost of 10 or 20 cents, I saw this as a great step toward elimnating those annoying pieces of plastic that seem to get caught in the wind and end up everywhere: “blocking out the scenery and breaking my mind.” I’ve always held to the truth that when it comes to responsibility and behaviour modification, money is the perfect motivator. Spam and useless e-mail would be eliminated if we had to pay for each time we hit the send button. If we have to pay for plastic bags, perhaps less people would buy them and there would be an incentive to reuse the bags or even better, use sacks of natural fibers — and use them again and again. Plastic and glass bottles should all carry a deposit fee. This discourages the brainless throwing of them out the windows of busses, trucks and cars.
Whether luck or wisdom, Rwandans recognize how nasty bags can trash a beautiful scene. And they’ve done something about it. Even better, the last Saturday of the month is a community clean up day. From 8am until noon, local communities clean up their homes, their streets, alleys and shopping areas of any and all trash. It’s community action and partnerhsip. All to keep Rwanda clean. And it’s working. I only hope that other countries take and interest and act similarly.
I entered Rwanda from the southeast. Now I’m venturing Northwest to the Volcanos National Park where I hope to catch a glimpse of the infamous and perhaps most-endangered species in the world: the mountain gorillas. And my journey to their habitat only reinforces the clean, if not pristine, environment that Rwanda seems to have worked hard to create.
Kudos to Rwanda and its citizens!