In Rwanda, there is an undercurrent of constant motion. Bicycles balancing enormous sacks of potatoes, full sets of furniture, jugs of water. On the road, streams of motos. Children on foot with a goat. Armed men in uniform goosestepping in single file. Women with buckets of wet cement on their heads going up and down the bamboo construction scaffolding. Women with babies tied on their backs. Congolese refugees hawking roasted corn cobs from the gutters. Even at night there is movement, undulation of voices, vehicles, or music from a radio. The entire landscape thrums with a collective breath that tugs at its horizons.
At the bottom of this hill, my father tells me, the local truck drivers claim there is a ghost. We are on our way back to Butari on the wide paved road guided by the reflection of an occasional painted center line. Down the hill, a solitary row of yellow streetlamps marks the turn at the bottom. The ghost is said to be a beautiful woman who appears in the middle of the road. The fated drivers are at once captivated and terrorized so that they lose the road, miss the turn, upend their trucks in the tight groves of eucalyptus that hover at the edge of our headlights in the black night. More trucks have crashed here than anywhere else on this road, the only truck access between the country's two largest cities.
Based on a map, Rwanda is 9000 miles from my home state, but in that moment I could have been a child listening to my older cousins tell stories of the ghostly women on the Union Pacific tracks, engineers driven mad by the haunting perfume that lingers in the engine as it hurtles through the phantom shapes toward an uncertain end—tracks washed out or the trestle failed. Or perhaps it is the story of the White Lady of Spring Canyon, her husband or lover lost below in the coal mine, leaving her in perpetual mourning to take revenge on the luck of the living.
Our world is not so large if we dare to look, our shared stories moving through similar shadows and spaces of reality, specters of story nuanced by universal circumstance or chance. The motion of reality captured in story, fiction undercut with truth, offers up a reflection of ourselves that reaches, at the very least, 9000 miles in either direction.
"Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't." ― Mark Twain, Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World