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Monday, June 15, 2015

The Bus Incident

This summer I’m sharing a PSF-owned house with two other MPH students, Kristina and Tiffany, and a fourth-year med student, Eli.  We recently received another housemate, Bromley, whose dad used to work in administration with PSF.  She’s only sixteen, but thanks to her family contacts and a lot of gumption on her part, she is building her nascent resume at Rwandan clinics. She says she wants to get her MPH someday.  I don’t think she’s going to have any trouble doing so.

Eli is a new addition to our group – he only arrived this week – but the rest of us have become a pretty tight team, especially when it comes to planning our weekends.  So far we’ve explored Volcanoes National Park, braved the open-air market at Kimironko, and sought out Kigali’s best restaurants.  This past weekend, though, was a different kind of adventure.

It started uneventfully.  We decided to take a trip to the western province to check out Lake Kivu, a pristine freshwater lake nestled between northwestern Rwanda and eastern Congo. We set out Saturday morning by bus and arrived before 4pm at Home St. Jean, a beautiful little hostel overlooking the lake. For $14 each, we got clean rooms for the night with private toilets, hot showers and complimentary soap. The restaurant service was a little slow, but otherwise we had no complaints.  We had found heaven on earth for an obscenely reasonable price.

The next morning we took a boat to Amahoro Island and back before hopping a bus to Kigali. We were dusty and tired, but happy.  We settled in for the three-hour ride home.

Then, about an hour into our trip, the bus stalled and steam started gushing from under the hood. No one seemed perturbed – breakdowns happen often in Rwanda. The driver pulled over and hopped out to inspect the damage while passengers dug out their cell phones to let their friends and family know about the delay. The driver had his phone out too, and I assumed he was calling another vehicle to come pick us up – until I heard him say, “Urazanye amazi!” Bring water?  Really? He expected us to make it to Kigali with a busted radiator? I started to ask the people around me if this really was the plan.  Meanwhile, the driver was poking the floor with a stick and steam had started to fill the front end of the bus, slowly at first, and then…

BOOM. Something burst, and a brownish jet of hot water shot up through the floor. A woman screamed, and suddenly there was mass panic.  Passengers started shoving each other to the ground in an effort to get out the door. I tossed my backpack out the window and started trying to climb out after it, but my shirt snagged on something and I left dangling halfway out the window screaming “STOP STOP STOP” while people shoved me from behind. Kristina was in the back of the bus with her hands over her head. Tiffany leapt out a window on the other side. Bromley, the only sane one among us, had recovered Tiffany’s iPhone before making her way calmly out the side door. I think everyone – myself included – had assumed the whole bus was going to blow.

When the dust cleared, it became apparent that the panic was causeless.  I don’t know enough about buses to explain the jet of water (respond in the comments section, please?) but it turned out that all the driver needed to do was release some pressure that had built up in the cooling system and send for a jerry can to replenish the water that was lost. Less than an hour later, we were all back in the bus and headed home.  We made it to Kigali without further incident.

Back at the house we recounted what happened to Eli and laughed until we cried.  I really couldn’t have asked for better travel companions.  A lesser group would take a break from weekend travel, but not us.  We’re already gearing up for our next adventure.

Akagera Park, anyone?

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