Rwanda Part One: An Introduction

I thought sleeping under a mosquito net would feel different than this.

There’s something survivalist about a mosquito net. A thin bit of webbing that keeps you from disease, maybe death. In countries like Rwanda, they can be made from anything, from chicken wire to wedding veils, but the one I’m under is a standard-issue bit of gauzy white fabric. It drapes around me on the bed like a poorly assembled canopy, and I feel less like David Livingston and more like I’m sleeping in the bed of a nine-year old girl.

John has taken to calling it my “princess bed.” He cavalierly leaves his net knotted on the ceiling above him and smirks at me from his bunk as we get ready to crash for the night.

I tell John, not for the first time, that I hope he gets malaria.

Perhaps it’s the surroundings. Instead of dirt floors and open windows, we’ve been put up in a gated bungalow with an impeccably manicured lawn. The ceilings are covered with patterns of polished wood planks that give off a ruddy glow in the dim lamplight. Only the blank white walls hint that we’re not in our home country – an American establishment would never allow a rented establishment to not be decorated with some unmemorable piece of art.

We are at a hotel in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital and the only piece of the country that can really be called a city. I will only later learn how impressive our lodgings are, though the fact that we’re two blocks away from the President’s residence is a decent indicator that we might be near the upper end of the spectrum. 

I have never been to Africa. As a child, growing up in a progression of Baptist schools, traveling to Africa to do mission work was held in almost comical reverence, mostly because it was basically guaranteed you would be killed by tribesmen while you were there. Middle-school-me would have estimated the rate of African missionaries who died the past year in spear-related incidents to be somewhere between 80 and 85 percent.

It would be easier to laugh off my earlier ignorance if it was followed by a point in which the trait disappeared, but that version of me would only be slightly less prepared than the one who is in Rwanda now. My preparation for this trip had consisted of getting immunizations and locating Rwanda on a map, the latter ending up being a proposition that took several seconds longer than is really acceptable.

This is driven home by the discovery that my too-quick perusal of the documents Zoe Ministries sent me meant that I missed their packing recommendations, which included the stipulation that team members wear long pants for the duration of the trip. I am confronted by the reality that I will be wearing the jeans I arrived here in for the next eleven days, a matter that creates real concern with the rest of the team, since they’ll be spending almost all of that time crammed into a bus with both me and these pants. By the end of the week, the jeans will covered in so much dirt and mud that they'll more resemble a science experiment on the origin of life on earth than an article of clothing.

But I don’t know that yet. For the moment, after 24 hours of travel, I am only aware that it is three in the morning and I am seven time zones away from home. I collapse into the bed and drape the gossamer fabric all around me for protection. John shuts off the light, and we lay there in the darkness, with only the distant sound of the motorcycle taxis that pepper the city puttering by. 

I listen hopefully for the sound of a mosquito in the silence, but there is nothing. It seems  John is safe for one night, at least.