The First Car Ride

When I was about 9 years old, my parents packed up our lives and moved my brother and I to Rwanda Africa. “Why?” might you ask? Well my father and mother actually met in the Gambia while my father was traveling Africa. Since then, they have always wanted to return the place they once lived as young adults. You see, my family and I are members of the Baha’i Faith. It is an independent world religion that promotes a message of unity, equality, and peace in the world. Similar to other religions, an important aspect of the Baha’i Faith is service. My parents packed up their lives and moved abroad for this purpose and I am very blessed to have grown up in a pioneering family. It has allowed me to able to travel, meet amazing people, experience diverse cultures and see the world as one big human family.

1996 – Day 1 in Rwanda

One of my first memories in Rwanda, was being picked up from the airport by my uncle in his old school, red Toyota land cruiser. After loading up 3 adults, 2 children and 8 suitcases, there was very little room for my brother and I. My uncle told us we could sit in the back on top our suitcases, with his tools and a dusty spare tire. Now, as a kid from Canada, this was a big contrast from having to follow rules and traffic laws. Here I am sitting behind the seats, without a seatbelt, bouncing along the terrible roads, hitting my head on the roof, staring out a dusty window at the insane minibuses (taxis) flying past us and my parents were OK with that? It was AWESOME!!! My brother and I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing, who would have thought our first car ride would have been so crazy… that is… until we got stopped by the Gendarmerie (Military Police). No less than 15 minutes into the drive, our humor and excitement quickly vanished and turned into fear. As I glanced out window, a group of tall men with stern faces, wearing army fatigues, beret hats, holding AK-47s slowly approached us. My first reaction was to hide! My brother and I frantically tried to squeeze in between the seats and suitcases. “Passports si vous plait” one of them demanded. My mother responded “Oui monsieur, pas de problème” as my father reached into his bag, pulled out our passports and handed them through the window. I’ll admit I was surprised and terrified all at the same time. First of all, I never knew my parents spoke another language (French), which was pretty cool actually… however, this was the first time in my life I had ever been up close to a real solider, let alone a group of them with big guns! All the glorified war movies and Super Nintendo games did not even come close to preparing me for this, these guys were serious. The solider began flipping through the passports, looking at our photos while talking to my parents and uncle. As the solider looked at my photo, he realized that there were children in the car, although he couldn’t really see us. “Vous avez les enfants avec vous?” the solider asked as he curiously peered through the front window trying to spot us amidst the mountain of suitcases. “Oui monsieur, j’ai deux fils.” All I could hear were the footsteps as the soldier approached the back of the truck. My brother and I took one look at each other and cringed… we were going to get caught! The soldier peered through the dusty rear window, and saw us in the back… I froze and was certain we were all going to die or go jail or something. To my surprise, with a big smile he hollered, “Abana Muzungu hano!” My parents, uncle and the soldiers, all burst out laughing, leaving my brother and I perplexed. After a brief upbeat conversation, a few more jokes and laughs, we were waived through the checkpoint and continued on our way. As the intensity of the situation died down, questions were racing through my mind…

“Mom, what does ‘Muzungu’ mean?”

Click here for Part 2: The First Day of School

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About the author

Vafa Anderson is a world traveler, photographer, musician and digital artist. He enjoys sharing the beauty and diversity of the world through his stories and art.