January 13, 2020

Heat Shimmer

Less of a wall, more of a heat shimmer.

Seeing a guy like me cycling around their corner of the world is still pretty unusual I gather, hence the intense stares, paired with the equally vivid frowns or smiles, depending. I can be summarily described as a mzungu, which is Swahili for a white person, but really means staggeringly-more-lucky-at-birth—I can hear the word echoing here and there, like it’s my new name. However, return the stare long enough and this mzungu thing becomes less of a wall, more of a heat shimmer.

A group of children wearing their white and lightsaber blue school uniform is running alongside as I pedal slowly, throwing at me all the English they’ve been learning so far. Good morning. What’s your name? Hello, where are you from? A boy leading the pack to my left enthusiastically repeats my reply, “Canada!” He doesn’t seem too sure what or where that is, but we don’t care, do we?

“Where are you from?” I ask in return. “From school,” he says, his grin widening. My own joy expands just as much, since it’s arguably the best possible answer to my stupid question.

This is not a place where one should listen to any track by A Winged Victory for the Sullen, because more interesting sounds abound, for sure, but also because gravity is pervasive, overwhelming without artifice; in the alien greens, dark with life, that swallow my gaze all around; in the broken voice of the older man wishing me safe travels; in the subtle manners of this woman, her hands dirty from unmechanized field work, who offers an elbow tap charged with unexpected warmth; in the majestic beauty of an alarming number of young adults, who would burn the cover of Hero Magazine to a crisp; in the sudden gust of wind whispering that there’s more than a chance of rain.

Better hurry.

[Kigali, Rwanda]