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The 5 A.M. Race

The 5 A.M. Race

The following transpired at 5 in the morning somewhere in Rubavu District. Nightshift fishermen were coming back to the shore after a whole night of fishing. Each team was propelling three boats connected by long eucalyptus rods. Why do Lake Kivu fishermen build three-in-one vessels? That’s a story for another day.

Their boats are engineless. No engine, no problem. They are set in motion by paddles. One stroke at a time, the paddlers swing faster and faster, turning their powerless boats into charging locomotives.

They paddle in unison. They do so while singing. Singing boosts their morale and enhances their chemistry. Their rhythm is on point. The splashing sound of their strokes add flavor to their melodies.

As mentioned above, the fishermen featured in this story were on their way back home after working all night long. I didn’t go to work with them. From the manicured garden of La bella Lodge, I saw them sailing to their work stations in the evening of the previous day. Through the powerful lenses of my binoculars, I saw them casting their nets at sunset.

For some reasons, their activities looked staged to me. The whole scenario sounded theatrical. In my thespian world, one of them was Simon Peter, son of Jonas while his colleague was John, son of Zebedee. When Peter, John and the rest of the crew started waiting for their traps to catch something, I retreated to the warmth of my lakeside room.

Waiting is the only boring part of the intriguing fishing process. Although I claim to have learned the importance of patience from fishermen, I still struggle to wait. Well, this time around, I was observing them from my comfort zone while sipping some wine. Then I went to bed when the waiting began. After all, I had to save energy for the much anticipated early morning showdown.

Yes, I didn’t participate in fishing. Instead, I challenged Peter, John and Co. to a race. I joined them in the morning when the waiting part was over. All I needed was an action-packed experience.

When we were ready to go, their massive boats and my small dugout canoe were lined up side by side. My little thing looked like David infront of Goliath. I had teamed up with a young water sport wizard, namely Augustin Muhawenimana, from the local community. He is one of those boys who have turned the lake into their playground.

When the trigger was pulled, Augustin and I took an early lead. Minutes later, the gap seemed to grow bigger and bigger. Our vessel was lighter. It glided effortlessly. "This is easy. We are winning." I thought.

Right when I started celebrating prematurely, the three-headed monster gained steam. The ever-motivated fishermen started unleashing their fury and closing the gap. Maybe the nightshift squad gave us a headstart in order to make it fair. They knew we couldn’t match their paddling prowess.

On my side, Augustin did the heavy lifting. At some point, I put the paddle down and used my water-proof camera to take pictures. At the end of the race, I was proud of our performance despite finishing last. Not all victories come with a gold medal.

The author is an adventurer on a mission to discover what Rwanda has to offer. Follow his awe-inspiring expeditions on Twitter @GeoExposure.

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