Apart from insulting the President, the quickest way to find yourself severely injured in Rwanda is to make use of the ever-present wheeled mosquitoes, also known as motos. These taxis for those who can’t afford a real taxi (typically costs RWF4-8,000 for a minor trip, vs. 300-1,000 with a moto) roam throughout the country, but they’re particularly dense in Kigali, where every street corner is teeming with a gang of the blue-clad, morose guys waiting for customers.
Horrible as they may be (most foreign organizations here have a ban against using them – the casualty statistics don’t lie), they’re also exceptionally convenient, fast and ridiculously cheap compared to any other way of getting around town (yes, the town buses are cheaper still – RWF200 for most in-town runs – but between the b.o. and the claustrophobia it’s at least as detrimental to your health as a stint on the back of Evil Knievel’s joy ride from hell). When your car is out of circulation and you really, truly need to get somewhere, the motos are pretty much the only way of getting around town.
So, today I had to go to pick up our car (yes, THAT car) from a pre-sale paint job all the way across town in Nyabugogo – the hairy armpit of Kigali. The first guy I asked for the ride outside my office at Carnegie-Mellon refused my otherwise reasonable price (heck, I just wanted to pay what I’d paid four hours earlier to do the same trip in reverse), but then handed me off to an evidently less picky/more desperate rider and declared, “he’ll take you.”
Just as I was putting on my ill-fitting helmet (all motos must provide their passenger with a helmet – more often than not, it’s a strapless, shapeless, cracked and nasty affair that is strictly of ornamental value) and got on the back of his bike, Mr. Moto’s phone rang. As he gunned the tiny engine and popped the clutch, a swift flick of the wrist wedged his cheap-o phone between his cheek and his helmet, allowing him to jabber away while negotiating his way between buses, cars, other motorbikes, and pedestrians on our way to Nyabugogo. Yeah, well, whatever. I’ve been here long enough to shrug that one off. No, what spooked me was when his argument on the phone got so heated that he felt compelled to add in hand gestures like an aging Italian to get his points across – that left him with a phone stuck to the side of the face, clearly absorbing most of his mental acuity, and only one hand on the handlebars to negotiate cobblestone and the lorries with week-old dead fish and building material surrounding us.
But luckily, the conversation eventually ended, I directed Mr. Moto to the seedy corner where my car was being painted, and I survived the fifteen minute ordeal across Kigali, which ended up costing me a mere buck and change. Life, as they say, is cheap…