It’s funny. What’s funny? Well, life’s funny. The way life goes and all that. As you know, I’m a musician. I’ve been making music since I was twelve. I’m 29 now. I’ve always, more or less, hoped I could continue with music and maybe even live from it. And what do you know, since the beginning of this year I have been able to create a regular income by composing soundtracks for dance pieces and for video works, next to to doing occasional concerts…
It’s fun. My job’s fun. Even though I try not to see it too much as a job, I have to look at it that way sometimes. I attend rehearsals of dance companies, I discuss my music with the choreographer, I get to know the life in big theatres (with big organisation and big egoes)… I get artistically challenged because writing music for dance, video (or just projects in general) is different from ‘just doing my thing’. Off course, I get to do my thing, but I have to respect the wishes of the choreographer as well, which is fine for me, by the way. I have to make sure that the dancers get into the music and respond to it in a way that suits them fine while performing… It’s interesting.
It’s cool. I go places because of these assignments I get. At this moment it’s mainly Den Haag (NL) I have to go to. I’ll put some pics of my trips later on.
Anyway, just wanted to share this. It doesn’t always have to be heavy and philosophically questioning, right?
1 PRIMEVAL SWAMP – EARLY DAWN
"It is very early in the dawn – blue light filters through the jungle and across a foul swamp. A mist clings to the trees. This could be the jungle of a million years ago."
What happens when your girlfriend flies off to the heart of darkness for three months as part off her medicine studies? That’s right, you bribe your future mother-in-law for air miles, undergo all possible injections against malicious viruses, take pills that make you even more psychotic, take three trains to Brussels to hastily arrange a visa and you join her for three weeks for an unforgettable experience full of gorillas, African-Africans, diarrhea and Impalas. This is the story of two Belgians and a fistful of Impalas in Rwanda.
2 EXT. PLANE – DUSK
"A darkly painted plane ROARS over low paddies and jungle before emerging onto an open plain. It crosses a barbed wire and sand-bagged perimeter and lands in a heavily fortified, concealed compound."
Getting to Rwanda, a tiny country in the heart of Africa, is surprisingly easy. You get on a plane in Brussels at 10 AM on a calm Saturday morning and 8 hours, two bleak meals, three glasses of red wine, and bunch of Renee Zellweger movies later you land in Kigali International Airport. No sand-bagged perimeters, no Bob Geldof nor Robert Redford, only a modest paved road and a very seventies looking arrival hall. Intimidated and nervous, I tried to pave my way through a crowded mass of people, anxiously looking for Julie, who luckily was as visible as me. I remember feeling very uneasy and excited; I was expecting the unexpected. I had to leave all my psychological comfort behind – I was in a place where I couldn’t hide behind smartarse jokes and post rock attitudes. It took a few days and a lot of Mutzigs to shake off my ballast and to feel comfortable, but once tranquility settled in, I had the most enjoyable trip of my life.
Imagining sleeping tents where Ralph Fiennes is breathing in my neck or Meryl Streep reciting romantic wisdoms, I was quite appalled that African life is surprisingly romanticized in Hollywood movies. Our residence was, by African standards, very normal: a dusty house made of soil, improvised bricks, and roof shingles. No signs of usable furniture, one thin mattress with quite a distinguished body odor, and a bunch of garden seats. The next three weeks I would mainly sleep on floors, shower with a bucket of cold water, drink beers and Fanta citron, read a bunch of fantastic books I ignored for too long, wander around town, listen to the air raids in my stomach, and get scared of every mosquito bite I got. This was a holiday after all.
3 EXT. FULL VIEW – DAY
Happy wandering in town the first days launched terrorizing attacks on my senses. I never thought that human chaos and politically incorrect combinations of colored shirts could render such an interesting view. I’ve got the urge to take a snapshot of every millimeter of Rwandan soil, every fluorescent shirt, every african sitting in a tree or carrying a baby; nothing was like I how I was used to it. Too shy to get my camera out, I breathed in and out and just observed. It seemed a Sisyphus task to document every emotion anyway so I hope you are happy with this random collection of thoughts and photos.
Kigali Highway Patrol reports a heavy car accident on Kigali turnpike. Road conditions are very basic in Rwanda: if the road is paved, it sure will be surprise the driver with unexpected holes, descents, and suicide Ugandan bus drivers. Not famine, AIDS, or lawnmower maintenance problems are the most frequent death causes, it’s ordinary car accidents.
DISSOLVE TO :
Even strolling around Kigali offers enough near death experiences to keep you happy. In a George of the Jungle fashion it resembles a true circus act: balance between minibus and bicycle taxi collisions, graciously jump over mud pools, fly away from Eugène Soprano and Deadly Money Exchange Association, disappear a few begging children, and get freaked out by some heavily distorted bodies (three arms anyone?). It’s a very tiresome expedition, being white obviously resembles a great deal of Euros and wild investment opportunities generating opportunistic short half-life friendships and routine small talk conversations.
Then you turn round a corner and you witness the most breathtaking building construction site: the work of Kigali modern artist Jean-Baptiste Connerotte. According to art historian and fishmonger Jean Chapeau, an influential Rwandan art connoisseur, "It reflects the ongoing struggle of Rwanda against its own mistakes, well laid out as a brutal choreography — fierce power and inevitable tragedy – of good and evil" (Kigali Daily Express, October 22nd, 2003).
4 NEW VIEW – ON THE P.B.R.
Lance water skiing to "Satisfaction."
So once in a while we escaped the dust and smog and dirt and poverty. Note that there’s hardly any tourism in Rwanda; genocides are generally not a tourist magnet. Only once did we encounter two safari-lovin’ Lockheed Martin employees on a day trip to the unique mountain gorilla resort. One can wonder why the hell Lockheed Martin employees travel to Rwanda, carrying enough photo equipment to kill a water buffalo, but we were friendly and didn’t mention the war. So we grabbed our day packs now and then and drove out of Kigali to be confronted with astonishing scenery: dead buffalos and hoards of impalas (more about them later).
Africa is without a doubt the continent of legends and myths. According to our Bradt guide (not related) lake Kivu was formed when an adulterous African female called Donderklomp woke up one night, walked outside, wished she was drunk, thought about something she said and how stupid it had sounded, she decided to piss, but she couldn’t stop, hence creating the Kivu Lake overnight. When I was a 8-year old beauty I imagined the diameter of the African sun to be enormous, only to be split in half by the neck of a giraffe. It’s all a blatant lie!
Thirteen mountain gorillas (Sabinyo-group, fluent in 4 languages, transylvanian being the most important) in the wild. We arrived well prepared: a rapid update of our transylvanian language skills, a cooking course called "Creative with Bamboo," and two weeks of African mattresses, generating enough itches in our pubic area that we were scratching our crotch like true mountain gorillas do. Our quick integration-into-mountain-gorilla-society-plan didn’t work as planned. The persons in question looked utterly bored and were not at all impressed by our cheap imitations. So fuck you and your mountain gorillas Sigourney!
Africa is well known for its dramatic sunsets and Rwanda is no exception. After a full blown night of cheap zebra imitations, Impala jokes, and Sigourney Weaver, we woke up at 5.30 AM only to witness what must have been the front page of the "romantic escapist calendar 2003-2004". So yes we went on a safari for two days; yes we saw thousands of Impalas; and yes we
saw no other animals at all, the Impalas must have eaten them all. Bastards.
5 CLOSE ON KURTZ
Rwanda’s electoral commission confirmed that incumbent president Paul Kagame had won the first presidential elections since the country’s 1994 genocide in which 800,000 people were killed. Even George Bush Jr. would agree that winning elections with 94.5% of all votes would look rather silly, especially for someone coming from the minority Tutsi group. Kagame is a former leader of the rebel army who "liberated" Rwanda during the genocide. That he slaughtered thousands of people, repressed any opposition with dubious means, and is known for his illogical rhetoric is a public secret in Kigali. The masses cannot voice any critical opinion because they are too nervous to speak freely and so everyone sings along to cathy election pop in bars, discos, and restaurants. This includes your favorite Rwanda reporters Hendrik and Julie. Paralyzed by large quantities of Mutzigs we were invited by local politicians in Kibuye to join their party. We never say no to parties so in no-time we were dancing on the tables,enjoying the all-you-can-eat buffet, and drinking Ugandan Gin, together with 250 male politicians. We are happy to forget about political correctness anytime when offered a couple of free beers and a good meal; we’re Belgians after all. While we were singing along with Rwandan war songs, people were laughing at us, calling us silly names and thunder and lightning was casting over the Kivu Lake. This was, without a doubt, the most surrealistic evening in my entire life.
All endings are built up to a climax. I don’t understand why. The last day, we drank too much, had a terrible hangover, said goodbye, and caught a plane back to Belgium. Pretty ordinary really.
It was not our intention to write a travel guide/dairy or a political analysis, we’ve packaged those resources for further reading here:
Blog about our trip to Rwanda; Pictures and unreadable dutch scribblings
University of Pennsylvania – African Studies Center: Rwanda Page
Bradt Travel Guide: The best travel guide on Rwanda, witty, honest and well researched
About the authors:
Julie Lafontaine is 26, studies medicine and looks like Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark, except for the nose. She likes Africa, cornflower soup, reading and writing, sleeping and the co-author
>Hendrik Dacquin is almost 32, works as an internet researcher and he looks like Urbanus, except he’s taller. He likes watching Julie drink cornflower soup, reading and writing, traveling and the co-author.