Quiet. It’s always quiet, though. That’s the thing. About 25 minutes after reports started moving through SMS and Twitter of tonight’s grenade attack(s?) in the city center, everything was…normal. Unless you wanted to catch a bus from the center of town, of course. There, I hear, the road is sealed off, and nothing is moving.
I was supposed to meet a friend for dinner and I called to see how the traffic was; there’s been nasty traffic into town all day thanks to some repaving going on, and this would only make it worse, I guess. “Everything seems open,” she said. “It’s really…quiet. I never know when these things happen, because it’s always quiet.”
She’s right. I never know, either. The first news I have is when a Rwandan friend calls me and says, “Hey, how are you?” And I start chattering away…before he or she gets to the point and says, “Are you ok?” These are not Kigali friends; they are two, three hours outside the city. I say, “Yeah, I’m fine, why?” They say, “I heard there were attacks.” I say, “But it’s so quiet… Everything seems fine.”
There’s always a man playing a loud radio here next to where I stay. It’s in Kinyarwanda, but I feel like by now I should be able to recognize the words for, “Grenade attacks in Kigali.” But I don’t, or it’s not on the radio, or something, and so I log on Twitter. I find out a little bit about what’s happening. And when it looks like it’s true, when I corroborate, again, that my friends several hours from the city know more than I do about the place that I live, I make the calls.
I call all my Kigali friends. Are you ok? Where are you? Are you home? My Rwandan friends advise me to stay home, and I say the same to them; my expat friends decide we can probably still make it to the restaurant.
I can’t say we’ve gotten used to grenade attacks. We haven’t had as many as Burundi, where people seemed almost not to hear them sometimes, so maybe there’s still some habituation to come. Of course, we’re all hoping it won’t get to that point.
But every time I make these calls, I have a peek into a different world. I’ve been here kind of a long time, by expat standards. I have close friends here, and it’s heart-breaking and soul-stomping to hear them say, “I’m afraid. I’m really afraid.” I believe that this will be like the other grenades, and we’ll all go to sleep nervous, and wake up less nervous, and a few days from now feel normal again. But I won’t convince my friends of this. Of course I won’t. I’m not Rwandan.
And so when the text messages start beeping, my adrenaline kicks in. I think about who I might be able to get papers for, and how. I think about who has passports and can get to Uganda or Congo, and who would run with nowhere to go. I think about who I know at the Embassy who can help in a desperate situation, which is no one. I was alive in 1994, after all. I know what we do and what we don’t do.
So then I think about where my friends live, and what they’re crossing if they haven’t made it home. I think about whether their kids are at friends’ houses, at home, or at boarding school, or were out with friends maybe catching a bus across town. I think about all the things I can’t change or fix or solve. And then to everyone I call, with a useless earnestness, with a tone so firm I must believe my voice can change the world, I say, “See you tomorrow.”