It was late at night and chances of finding whoever could give me directions were slim. In rural Rwanda, people go to bed very early. In some villages, it’s hard to find someone walking around after 8 p.m.
I was driving my two passengers past scattered houses. Houses that looked abandoned. There was no sign of life in them. Dead silence and darkness enveloped the entire area.
I had a feeling I wasn’t on the right track and I didn’t like that feeling. Nonetheless, I ignored my persistent pessimism and kept cruising from one hill to another. I didn’t know where I was. Even worse, I wasn’t sure whether the road I was navigating on was guiding us to our target destination or leading us astray.
The area I was in borders Burundi and trespassing into that territory could spell disaster. I was in a dark cloud of uncertainty but being the only man in the car, I put on a brave face.
I had been lost before. When it happened, I discovered a hidden gem. Getting lost became a blessing in disguise. Sometimes, it takes a wrong turn to get to the right place but pursuing an off-track path near our southern border is probably the only exploration I wouldn’t want to be part of.
I was trying to get to Cana Formation Center, a serene retreat facility built on a hill known as Nyarushishi in Kibeho Sector. I had been to Kibeho numerous times before but never through this area. My usual Butare-Kibeho road was temporarily closed. As a result, I was unable to reach the Holy Land via the route I know like the back of my palm.
The only alternative I had was to drive towards Kanyaru and branch off the tarmac somewhere near the border. That’s exactly what I did but several kilometers after deviating from Kanyaru road, the way split into two arteries. I didn’t know which one would lead me to Nyarushishi but my gut told me to take the right one. Isn’t right supposed to be right?
My two passengers didn’t know this area either. The nearest place one of them knew was Kugitikinyoni. My Wi-Fi router had lost signal and I didn’t have any offline navigation applications. I made a few phone calls to my friends in Kigali trying to find someone who is familiar with the geography of Nyaruguru but my Kabeza-based friends seem to know nothing found beyond Nyabugogo.
The farther I drove, the more doubtful I became but when I saw a Rwandan flag at an administrative office of the local cell, I was relieved. As long as we were still in Rwanda, we could afford to get lost. One kilometer or so after the office, a new building was under construction and details of the project’s construction permit shown by its signpost gave us more assurance that we were indeed in Rwanda. I stopped at the gate expecting to see a security guard or two but there was no one there. Dead silence and darkness everywhere.
There was a bridge after the construction site. I crossed it hoping the gentle stream flowing below that bridge wasn’t the boundary line separating Rwanda and Burundi. Then, one of my passengers received a text message from Econet Leo, a Burundian telecommunications company. Econet Leo was warmly welcoming us to Burundi and offering to help us roam and stay in touch with family and friends back home.
I made a quick u-turn and dashed back to the other side of the river. My next stop would have been Butare but luckily, I saw someone staggering back home near the Rwandan flag mentioned above. I stopped and asked for directions.
The lone staggering night owl rarely seen in rural Nyaruguru confirmed my worst fear. The right turn I had taken earlier happened to be the wrong one. However, the other side of the river we crossed is still within Rwanda but close enough to attract attention from a telecom tower erected on our neighbors’ soil.
No, we did not cross the border illegally. When we finally made it to Kibeho, I wondered how far would I have driven towards the wrong direction had Econet not been kind enough to alert us.