Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Where has the time gone?

I have just 10 days left in Rwanda. 32 days left in East Africa. 32 days till home. Where has the time gone? Just five months ago I was beginning to pack, and working my way through an online grammar course. I was saying my goodbyes to friends and family, and spending many melancholy moments with Ollie. Where has the time gone?

The last few weeks have been a blur of dinners out, weekends away, lazy afternoons (on account of my having very little work to do) and nights out with my girlfriends. We’ve formed a sisterhood of like-minded ladies. Don’t be fooled. It’s not all pedicures, boytalk and sunbathing. We drink beer and watch football, though not without getting distracted by our dinner. Men feature very low on our agenda. Any Kigalites reading? I strongly recommend Shokola – I’d not eaten houmous since the new year, and it tasted every bit as sweet and wholesome as I fondly remembered. See there, distracted by food! I salivate at the drop of a hat these days. Food I’m looking forward to eating:

Mum’s vegetarian lasagne

Dad’s vegetarian chilli

Tex-Mex – my Mexican-American friend from Texas sympathises

Cheese - stinky cheese, mature cheese, cheese that melts!

Good bread – brown with seeds, crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside

The list is long so I’ll stop there. Despite the Rwandan stodge – potato, matoke, cassava, rice, beans – I’ve lost weight here. Mostly because my culinary imagination is going at full speed, burning calories as it goes.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What A Mug.

Friday evening, Linda and I decided we were very much in the mood for a night out, and salsa at the Sun and Moon sounded like just the ticket. We arrived fashionably late at 9pm, to discover an empty dancefloor. We ordered a couple of beers and waited for our friends to arrive. Before too long we had a full table, and were comparing Rwanda's choice of beers - Primus (cheap and cheerful), Mutzig (masquerading as a European, therefore more expensive), and finally Amstel (not half bad!). Finally a few die-hards made it to the dancefloor, and one by one we followed. At one point Linda wandered back from the toilets munching on a piece of pizza - she'd smelt something tasty and made friends with the owner of a Hawaiian. Nice work!

At midnight, feeling merry, some bright spark suggested we make our way to Papyrus - sort of what the Wedge is for Bristol students (for those of you who know it). It's the place you end up in when you're tipsy and in need of a dance past midnight. You'll regret it in the morning. The place was rammed, but somehow we found a table. Linda then convinced a waiter that it was my birthday, so we shared a free dessert. Word spread. Before long the owner was sauntering up to me, wishing me happy birthday and offering me a free bottle of wine. Yes please!

Several hours later, bouncing around in the back of a taxi negotiating Kigali's many dirt roads, we felt content with our Friday night. Linda's dirt road is considerably longer than mine, so, feeling chivalrous I offered to be dropped off at the corner and walk the rest of the way - about 200m to my house. As soon as I turned the corner, I heard heavy footsteps behind me, and before I could do anything I was pushed onto the road. Two men shoved me this way and that, whilst I (perhaps foolishly) struggled. If I'd known they only wanted my bag I may have just given it up straight away. With the bag around my neck I finally gave in. I ran most of the way home, hysterical. My sobbing awoke my housemates before I had even reached the door. Unfortunately my keys were also stolen so I spent the night in the living room, and the morning feeling sorry for myself whilst our locks were changed (for a cool $100). Camera. Phone. Keys. Purse (most of its contents had been spent on beer and taxis). Saddest of all was the bag itself - a Mulberry satchel worth around £400, unearthed in a ramshackle charity shop in Woodford Green for £5. I'm feeling its loss.

Three visits to the police station later, I'm no closer to obtaining a police report for my insurance claim. The first time, (what looked like) a prisoner interpreted for me, with limited success. The second time, the 'man that writes the reports' was away watching a football match, and the third time, the 'man that signs the report' was nowhere to be seen. Curious system.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


My friend Linda, organiser-extraordinaire - rented a jeep and planned to take me and a couple of friends to see the chimps at Nyungwe National Park at the weekend. With a full jeep - two Kiwis, two Brits and a token American - we called a couple of Rwandan friends for directions. My google image print-out, displaying about five roads in all of Rwanda wasn't going to get us there. Granted though, there may only be five (tarmacked) roads in this country. The friend exclaimed "Oh no, it is not possible, you have never been there before?". We didn't much fancy the thought of getting stuck in the backcountry and spending the night in the (very small) jeep. Change of plan. Kibuye it is! So I rushed back into the house and grabbed my swimming costume and a towel, looking forward to a weekend beside Lake Kivu.

After two hours of hairpin bends, climbing into the rural highlands, and then descending to Lake Kivu, we alighted at Hotel Bethanie, the lakeside resort for Presbyterians. A night of beer and cards followed, whereby we all took turns in having our nationalities ripped to shreds.....being a dual national I tried to sit on the fence, but my accent gave me away.

After a sleepless night in a tiny double bed with Linda, kept up by a huge storm, we enjoyed a lazy breakfast with some strong coffee. We then took a boat across the lake to Peace Island - complete with a small cafe, campsite, and seemingly all the muzungu we'd seen at our hotel. 11.30am, we decided, was not too early for a beer. Pubs open at 11am back home after all. And so we sunbathed, jumped off the jetty into clean, turquoise, pleasantly luke warm water, and swam around the island, all the while trying to avoid a very hairy, very big man in a pair of very small and very tight y-fronts who had taken a shine to Linda. Luckily, around 1pm we were the only ones left on the island, so we had some lunch and dried off in the afternoon sun. My chips and salad were a little disappointing. Asking for them to leave out the carrots left me with a small plate of onions and mayonnaise...I miss Greer food.

Just as the clouds were gathering we hopped into the jeep and made our way back to Kigali. Whilst dozing off, we took a corner and the wheels locked on the wet road, sending locals standing by the side of the road flying and the car in an almost 360 degree spin. Luckily nobody was hurt, and the road was empty. I stayed awake and alert after that, and was relieved to return to a rainy Kigali, a little burnt, but very relaxed.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I went to the market to buy some fabric to have a dress, bag and laptop case made. Do you approve of my choices?

Out of Kigali

It's been a while since my last update. Let's just say I've been preoccupied with doing things that are update-worthy. I spent the weekend in Butare with my housemate and a couple of Rwandan blokes. Butare is Rwanda's second largest city, but a provincial university town by Western standards, home to the National University of Rwanda and its 14,000 students. Kate and I, for the purpose of discounted accommodation, were a married couple for the weekend. We decided we'd adopt and have a 'rainbow family'. I'm a whole lot less PC since living in Africa. I'll have to clean up my act before coming home, but then now that David Cameron is PM...

After visiting the National Museum - a pretty collection of baskets, beads and reconstructed huts, which successfully skirts Rwanda's recent history - we went to a surprise party of a friend of a friend. What an odd affair it was. It was held in a sort of outdoor pavilion attached to a pub, and we waited around for a couple of hours till the birthday girl arrived. After the initial commotion of "surprise" and the presentation of a funny looking cake (a whole banana and half a papaya stuck to its icing), the event quickly simmered down to a formal and dry occasion. We sat in rows facing the head table where the birthday girl was seated, were each served a soda, and subjected to some God-awful game. We were each given a number, and when our number was called we were asked to perform a task, sing a song, answer a question etc. I was picked on - my number was not called - to tell everyone what my greatest fear was. I said it was 'dying of an allergic reaction' (a blatant lie) - met with silence, exchanged glances and a few giggles. Oh well. Me and Kate escaped to the (dank) toilets at around 11.30pm, and called the boys to meet us out front. Phew!

Back in Kigali, it's been a slow week. I've had very few, if any students, and for two days now I've not had a classroom. Someone has taken the key and run to Butare. They try their hardest to stop me from working. They're succeeding. Monday I took the afternoon off work to accompany my housemates (who work for a charity called As We Forgive) on a trip to a village on the outskirts of Kigali to witness the work of a local association for survivors and perpetrators of the 1994 genocide. The community had gathered at the house of Violet, a 40 year old survivor with three children. They cleaned up her yard, presented her with gifts of food and provisions, and made a collection to pay off her debt to her landlord. A perpetrator also spoke. He had spent 10 years in prison, and through As We Forgive training, had stopped fearing survivors and instead sought forgiveness. Both survivors and perpetrators had put together their land, and were planning on farming it as a cooperative.

It's a hazy day in Kigali.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The pace of things

It's a slow and rainy Monday. I hear my friends and family are enjoying a lovely sunny Bank Holiday. Rwanda decided to make Saturday their Bank Holiday, but strangely enough the banks were open. Go figure.

Sunday my housemates and I all made the early morning English service at St Etienne's. We often cave and end up going to the 10.30 at Christian Life Assembly. Yes, the name does give it a way. Dubious, dubious church. Apart from taking me way outside of my Church of England/Catholic comfort zone (band, waving of arms, thousand strong congregation, you get the picture) the preacher made jokes about incest throughout his sermon. His parents are first cousins, and apparently his clan has been intermarrying for centuries. It did at least jolt me from my mid-sermon nap. St Etienne's is still a little too spangly for my liking. Graham Kendrick hymns are the order of the day - any friend from Marylebone will know where I'm coming from 'Shine Jesus, Shine' *Clap Clap*. The Catholic church, strangely, feels much more familiar, a part from not being allowed to take Communion and having not memorised the order of service in advance. I feel like more of an observer than a member of the congregation.

I awoke this morning tired. Film followed by skype followed by late-night emailings. Yawn. Luckily, I was able to take a two hour lunch break, including one hour for nap-time. My new(ish) house is just around the corner and down a dirt road from work. I could probably stay at home and never return, but I have to fight the lethargy. Oh the pace of things! I do at least have a new project, doing some research for Aegis Trust and the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre. It's good to be donning my history hat again, though I miss the Bodleian. Even the History Library would do. Books, good books in particular, are a scarcity here.

It's been raining for over an hour now. And when I say raining, I mean raining. Nothing quite like an African shower. I wish my shower had this kind of water pressure, just a wee dribble.