Isabelle Lydia Masozera, the host of Prime Time Live on Rwanda TV, begins her Gorilla Highlands blogging today. Izy’s Blog has no pre-defined frequency or topic but if this first post is any indication, we should brace ourselves for a hilarious ride!
Never had I thought there would come a time in my life when I would want to explore myself. Overcome my limitations… Conquer my fears…. Embrace my potentials… Walk.
To some walking comes naturally. To me, not so much. My life has been one of convenience. While I can make it from my special hire taxi past the heavily guarded fence straight to my TV studio on Kigali’s Kacyiru hill, that five minute high-heeled stroll would pretty much be it.
Only two years ago I trekked for the first time—for about an hour in the gently rolling hills of Mukono District of Uganda—and I just barely survived. Afterward, everything in my body hurt… for three days!
In short, for the first 25 years or so of my existence walking had not been my friend. If I had to hike a mile or die I would simply say my last prayers.
And now here I was, at Lake Bunyonyi, staring at a hilltop so high above me that I felt it could have been at the edge of our galaxy… I tried to trace the steep path towards it with my eyes and almost got an anxiety attack.
45 minutes only, said my host Miha, with a big and somewhat naughty smile. He did offer me an easy way out—I could stay behind. But the team spirit (or was it peer pressure?) carried me along. I was not going to be a Betty Downer, nor a party spoiler!
I wanted to set an example. I wanted to push myself. I needed to see how much I could survive without any food or much water.
I almost tear up when I type these lines (I kid you not, almost).
You see, I was born Rwandan. I was raised to be gracious in nature, gentle in the way I carry myself; girls in my culture are not exposed to harsh labour or energetic activities. No, there had been absolutely no training ground for a situation like this!
The photos that show me climbing the steps at Edirisa look like action shots in the middle of a huge hike but in reality that was merely the beginning. We then walked through Bufuka Primary School’s simple grassy compound and then uphill to Bufuka Church of Uganda, a windowless brick structure. A short downhill stroll followed, a deceptive mirage before the real deal.
Oh my word. That slope was steeeeeeeeep.
45 minutes after our departure, as the SafeMotos team was reaching the peak, the rest of us had only managed a quarter of the journey.
I took my water sips extra sparingly.
Half the way, I was honestly thinking about turning back but our guide Vianney had all kinds of mental tricks up his sleeve. He convinced me that it was much harder descending than ascending and explained the physics behind his fib. Reportedly, there would be excessive bending of the knees, and without a walking stick I was bound to lose balance and roll downhill.
An hour later we were still pushing upwards. I was kept alert processing what Vianney had told us: that no Mukiga would have chosen a lady who cannot walk. They don’t go for the vanity of beauty, they appreciate women’s hard work in the fields, and one needs to, well, walk there. For a split second I imagined myself dying single, surrounded by cats and goats, and almost cried again. Then I recalled, extremely proud and relieved, that I had been born Rwandan and that my immobility doesn’t limit my marriage prospects!
Vianney wasn’t my sole motivator, my group came up with all kinds of tricks to distract me from my suffering, like stopping to apply makeup, or taking selfies every other minute, or a sudden mannequin challenge allowing us to catch a breath. I froze like a statue as the camera moved, and that was my last happy, relaxed moment.
Because what followed I could not foresee.
Within 15 minutes my veins felt like they were pulling close to each other; my kneecaps were falling out; my feet were in excruciating pain; my heartbeat was louder than Bakiga drums. I had secured not a seat in hell but a sofa set, one with pillows and soft cushions laid out for the sinner to pay for her lack of fitness.
Not only was Vianney motivational and fun, he was there for me when it mattered most, and his name is bound to stay on my lips for as long as I breathe. When he threw me on his back he may have saved my life. But seven minutes later my shame consumed me. I thought about what my 5-year-old daughter would say about Mummy being carried like that.
I asked to be put down. And on trembling legs with my arms lifted towards the sun I passionately whispered to myself (imagine Lion King soundtrack playing at the back of my head, with amplified roars): “I am a Masozera!!! … OK, not Masozera the Great but rather Masozera the Medium. Or maybe Masozera Something in Between. It doesn’t matter. My father grew up in the Gorilla Highlands, went to school nearby, and shared stories about the wilderness with me, about Mt Muhabura and other volcanoes! My ancestors reigned over these lands!!! I shall go forth and climb and conquer these mountains, hills and valleys. My feet will launch into a thousand steps that will bravely take me to the top of any slope that is, was or might be!”
2 hours and 35 minutes later (I guess) the feet that launched a thousand steps reached Arcadia Cottages. The view made it all worth it, the wind blow-dried my sweaty skin, and the sun kissed away my tears (of joy).
It was at that moment that I realised that to conquer oneself is the greatest triumph of them all. I thought of all the corporates I know in Kampala in Kigali, of the cars and boda bodas they resort to just to avoid stretching their legs even a bit … Oh, the passive leisure sins of my colleagues and friends!
I got inspired to share my story and show the world that we have to push ourselves beyond the ordinary to birth the extraordinary. How do they say? “One small step for a Vianney, one giant leap for Masozera Something in Between”?
text: Isabelle Lydia Masozera
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