(I've changed the name from "Rants" given that I can't really rant about many things that frustrate me here, at least not without getting into some sort of trouble. As such, you'll have to wait for the book.)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Stranger in the Night



Flash forward to the present. I’m in Rwanda for the week. The dust has settled on our return and we’re back into our routines. Things have been generally good and I think Kiran is happy to be back in the crèche. After some respite from travel, it’s now catching up to me. Kigali this week. Possibly a trip or two to the field next week. NY next Friday. Sigh. 

A weird thing happened last night. I went for my run in the area where our house is in Kigali as I normally do (except this time I’m staying in a hotel since our house is under construction). As I was coming back it was getting dark. In Kigali it’s generally not a problem to run after sunset these days. There is crime and it may be getting slightly worse but overall it’s not too dangerous so long as you stay in the right neighborhoods. As I was in my last kilometer I passed a woman in the dark who, by what I could see of her running gear, was probably American. She obviously figured it was safe too.

Around that time the power went out. On the main roads, Kigali is blessed with street lights that actually work – but only when there is electricity.My experience is that Kigali has relatively few power outages, certainly compared to Bujumbura, but this one didn't really come at an opportune time. 

As I turned down the road to the hotel, the dark became darker. I slowed to a fast walk. The dirt road is a precarious place to run when you can’t see where you are stepping. I’ve had a few twisted ankles, even during the daylight, so I wasn’t going to take chances here. However I soon began to hear some steps behind me. Given that I was already walking at a brisk pace, I found it odd since Rwandans (and I think Africans in general) tend to walk more slowly and with far more grace than Westerners. 

I turned to see if I could catch a glimpse of my follower but it was impossible. This particular stretch of the road, with high walls on both sides, I couldn’t even see my feet. I had passed a couple of guys when I was still on the main road and I was wondering if one of them had followed me. I’m generally not paranoid but I do try to maintain a healthy vigilance when I do things like this.

I decided it would be best if I started jogging again and take my chances with the uneven road. Within seconds, as I heard my follower break into a jog as well, it was clear to me that, for whatever reason, he was trying to catch up to me. With the power outage, the thick darkness in this particular stretch of the road and the fact that no one was around, I knew that I was particularly vulnerable.

I looked ahead to see if I could make out where the hotel was and I could finally see the faint, generator-powered light near the gate. I picked up my pace further and I heard my follower do the same. It was now a race to the gate. About thirty meters before I arrived at the parking area in front of the gate, the power miraculously came on. I could now see where I was stepping and I guessed that my follower would fade back. I reached the gate and looked back. I could now see him and, strangely, he was still running towards me. I slipped inside the gate and down the steps towards the outdoor reception desk. I retrieved my key from the receptionist and made one last look up at the gate before proceeding down the hallway towards my room. He was still there, standing at the gate staring down at me, possibly wanting to see if I was really staying there or if I had just ducked off into the first place I came to (which I would have). 

Empowered by the security of my surroundings, I decided to go back and confront the guy. Was he just entertaining himself (sometimes people here do weird stalking things but don’t really mean any harm) or was he after my phone and ipod? Either way, I wanted to know. Also, I knew I was going to need to go out the gate to get food a bit later anyway. I set my things down on the bed and went back out. I didn’t see him at the gate so I trotted up the steps to see if he was around. I could see a few figures in the semi-darkness but none of them appeared to be my guy.

As I left the hotel a half-hour later, I opted to accompany myself with a magazine rather than my computer just to be safe. Never saw the guy after that so who knows. In any case, no big shift in how I view security in Kigali. I still think it’s safe-ish. In a little over a week I’ll be jogging in the even safer Central Park. Crazy.

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