On The Simple Splendor of Sunset
Nearly an hour had passed since I had called a moto driver to retrieve me from my friend and fellow volunteer’s home. I made an effort to tamp down my annoyance and inwardly smiled at the humor of the situation as I had just been praising this particular driver for how quickly he usually showed up. I wasn’t in a rush to get home but I avoid traveling at night and as the hour approached 6:00pm, the sun was already descending. The trip back home would normally be under 30 minutes but with the fading light, moto drivers are usually forced to take the rough road to my site at a much slower speed. I picked up my phone to call. Again.
Ndaje, ndaje (I’m coming, I’m almost there) Andrew answers the phone assuring me that he will arrive soon. The sound of air rushing by indicates to me that he is at least en route so I return to waiting ‘patiently' for his arrival. A few minutes later I step outside and bid goodbye to my friend. Climbing on the moto, I exchange greetings with Andrew and thank him for coming to retrieve me. Tugende? (Let’s go?) he asks. I quickly secure the helmet under my chin and give a response in the affirmative. Over the past 10 months of living in Rwanda, I’ve amassed my fair share of moto rides. Toward the beginning of my service, I found riding on a motorcycle somewhat unnerving and clasped tightly to whatever part of the bike I could wrap my fingers around. I quickly began to find my balance and relinquished my grasp on the bike and even began finding the rides somewhat relaxing…somewhat. I felt as though I reached expert status when I could comfortably text or read an e-book or even take a call while my driver skillfully zips over wooden bridges and dodges herds of goats. So, this particular evening, I expected to have an uneventful ride back home, perhaps getting in a few more pages of a book I recently began reading.
But there was something different about that night.
All the beauty and magic and divine splendor of nature seemed to coalesce at the very point in time and in the very place where we were. I almost didn’t register the bumps and jostles of the ride as I stared out over the familiar yet completely foreign landscape through which we rode. I looked up at the sky and it appeared as though the sun had paused in its descent hovering in the mystical space between dusk and dark, spraying the horizon with a fascinating combination of pinks, oranges, and reds all blending in an out of one another as though unwilling to part from their own colourful company. The wind exhaled a cool yet comforting breeze carrying the scent of earth and water and life. My breath caught as I examined the shapes of the hills on every side, not green and grassy as they were during the day but varying shades of grey, blue, and brown depending on how the shadows danced around their curves pirouetting gracefully into the coming night.
For a fleeting moment, I considered attempting to take a photo of the images before me but the thought was quickly banished as a I realised that no image, however skillfully wrought, could capture the sentience of the beauty in and around us. As the motorcycle began a downward descent, Andrew clicked off the motor and let the momentum of the moto propel us forward as he guided the vehicle through the villages along the road. Suddenly, the only sounds were those of the wind bearing us forward, the leaves of the banana trees waving us onward, and the people moving up and down the road mostly indifferent to our presence. There is a proverb widely quoted in Rwanda which posits that while God spends the day wandering the earth, he always returns to Rwanda to rest at night. And this night, it was as though I had been privileged for the first time to see God himself settling down among the rolling hills, stretching out across the horizon, sighing with pleasure at the beauty of his creation.
Rwanda ni heza, I whispered to Andrew. Rwanda is beautiful.
Cyane (very much so). Cyane, he replied with such deep conviction, pride and love it brought tears to my eyes.
As our journey continued, I strove to soak in all the simple and magnificent splendor of the scenes before me which I feel as though I have seen a thousand times before and yet never before like this. Lights clicked on over shop fronts and inside homes and I recalled the news story I’d read of how the residents of this cell had demanded electricity be installed after going a long period of time without it even as surrounding cells were being given access. I felt a sense of pride their actions. Although I’m not a native resident of the place I now call home, I felt a camaraderie with a group of people who ostensibly follow the same patterns of life yet raise their voices to demand more from life for themselves and their children. We rolled past a night market busy with customers coming to gather the necessary produce for the evening meal. I smiled inwardly remembering all the times I’ve been met with a combination of shock and disbelief when I explain that ‘yes, I know how to cook' and that I ‘no, I don’t mind eating alone’. My eyes are drawn upward again and I’m surprised by the evident stasis of the sun. It feels like, for some undisclosed reason, Mother Nature has given me a VIP ticket for the most exquisite show on earth. The moto rolled calmly onward, weaving and winding down the road, moving ever closer to my destination. Reflecting on those moments, an adapted version of the children’s book Goodnight Moon seems an apt way of describing the scenes flowing past.
Goodnight hills, goodnight fields, goodnight children rolling wheels.
Goodnight bikes, goodnight lights, goodnight sunflowers growing to great heights.
Goodnight builders, goodnight mothers, goodnight babies pressed against shoulders.
Goodnight roads, goodnight stones, goodnight buzzing and ringing cell phones.
Goodnight schools, goodnight tools, goodnight abacekuru sitting on stools.
Goodnight goats, goodnight cows, goodnight voices from inside the house.
Goodnight neighbours, goodnight friends, tomorrow we will see each other again.
I know very well that I will never see this place again just like this, in this moment. As sentimental as I am, I’m glad to know the beauty of that night was reserved only for that space and time. I’m grateful I was there not only to bear witness to the boundless artistry of creation but also to have been one small thread in the exquisite tapestry that is Rwanda.