Leaving Rwanda for the last time was a little like entering it for the first time; rushed and confusing. Due to the fire at Nairobi airport, I cancelled my flight to Dar via Nairobi and instead went straight to Zanzibar via Addis Ababa. I always swore I would never fly on Ethiopian Airlines but, like most things in life, given a certain set of circumstances, I gave them a try and they were excellent. Not only were they early, the food was fantastic and I had the best chicken curry somewhere over Tanzania.
A few days in Zanzibar to meet lovely friends, recharge, eat my own bodyweight in seafood, cry a little about not being in the forest any more, and practise being a backpacker – I swore I’d never carry a backpack ever again after my earlier backpacking efforts in the days of yore – you are so conspicuous and immediately entered into the ‘gang’ of backpackers whether you like it or not (guess whether I like or like not) – but after some convincing by friends that a small suitcase would be troublesome on buses etc. I (again) broke my vow.
So here I am surrounded by Peace Corps volunteers (sorry Nick) chatting to me about how rubbish the food is in Kenya and how farmers refuse to invest and expect everything to be paid for them. Oh dear. As we’re going to be on the same train for three days, I think I’ll hold my tongue. On this occasion.
We’re all going to be getting the Mukuba Express from Dar es salaam to Kapiri Moshi in Zambia. It leaves soon and I’m very excited.
I think my first day as a backpacker has gone fairly well:
Got up ridiculously early? Check. Had to break out of locked guest house and nearly miss ferry? Check. Stupid unhealthy food for breakfast (emergency ration mini Dairy Milk)? Check. Break ‘no bananas in your bag EVER’ rule? Double check (ug). Use Internet cafe? Check. Hunched over laptop playing loud movies? No! Oh dear. I was doing really well.
When I got off the ferry and everyone was trying to take you somewhere. Anywhere. In their taxi, a man gave me a card about being prepared for god. This was just before I got my train ticket handed to me. How did he know this was my first day as a backpacker?
Note from the author: I’m writing this (and future) post on an iPhone 3GS which has been dropped around 365 times and may give up at any time) so have no idea what this post will look like…
I leave Nyungwe tomorrow and head for Kigali for my last week of work and the shutting down of my Rwandan life. And it’s time to stop thinking about the politics of war and claim and counter claim in this region. Well, almost…
Today is D-Day in Eastern DRC for anyone carrying a gun and calling themselves anything other than the UN or the Congolese army.
This time the UN has teeth and everyone is wondering what will happen next. Whatever does happen, it can be sure that the poorest will suffer the most. Obviously. As mentioned elsewhere, over five million people have died over the last twenty years as a result of this war. And even though the UN appears to be trying to bring an end to it, inevitably there will still be thousands of people displaced in this next phase. And so it goes on.
The timing of the BBC New article yesterday on Rwanda recruiting children and others is also rather interesting don’t you think?
Today it’s also been reported that an oil exploration outfit from the UK is planning to trample over the incredibly important Virunga National Park in DRC of which borders are shared with Rwanda (and Uganda) and is home to the small mountain gorilla population I’ve had the greatest of pleasure of seeing some of.
Now that we’re all depressed, let’s move on.
After 18 months of living here with just a few forays out of the country, I’m starting to wonder how it’s going to feel when I leave. Warm, I hope. I’ve been cold fairly consistently for the five months I’ve been living on top of a hill (2345metres/7693 feet). And whilst we’re in the middle of the dry (and slightly warmer) season, the last two days have been damp, dark and cold.
I’m incredibly sad to say goodbye to my friends, colleagues, baboons, and the forest itself (some of these categories can be interchanged). But it’s time to move on and I’m incredibly excited about the future and returning home (after a little holiday). Especially now that I’ve learned Nick Cave is playing at my local theatre around the time of my birthday. Going to a gig is a sweet luxury I’ve missed – as long as Zoe manages to get tickets, that is…
The warm glow of a new – yet to be realised – adventure (starting in Zanzibar!), has yet to be ignited in me. Instead, I’m fighting to (unsuccessfully) bat back goodbye tears. There is so much going on inside my head: saying goodbye to friends, leaving the cocoon of my volunteering life, stepping out of a uniquely constructed and controlled environment into what? Wracking my conscience over what I have and have not achieved, what could I have done differently? Have I learned anything? And on and on.
And in the end? I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. It’s been an incredible experience. I just have no way of being able to articulate it at the moment. All I can say right now, is that sometimes it feels like I’ve been holding my breath for a very very long time. I don’t think this is specifically to do with my mental state; I think it may be to do with where I live.
After 18 months of volunteering in Rwanda, I shall soon be tripping off on a five week holiday on my way home. I will gradually be wending my way down to the bottom of Africa via some beach time in Zanzibar, a three day train journey across Tanzania, a four day canoe camping safari in Zimbabwe, more trains and, well, you get the picture. I will then fly home from Cape Town.
Having found generous friends to take my two suitcases home, I’m free to wander off with my backpack. But what to pack? I’m not known for austerity and hate to be without my lotions and potions. That said, I’m determined to join the ‘under 10kgs carry-on luggage’ backpacking fellowship while still packing a few little luxuries. Granted, I’m not going off for a year, but I think there is much the same for a short trip like this as well.
Below is my 10kg backpacking list (OK, it came to 10.2kgs) tips and links to sites I have found particularly useful. I remain unsure if I really need my rain jacket as I will be travelling in the dry season and I think one shirt may be too little. On the other hand, my make up brushes, bronzers and two pairs of sunglasses are essential! I would love to hear your ideas, tips and comments on whether you think I have this right or not.
gadgets and general kit
Duct tape – uber useful for lots of things.
String – for makeshift washing line.
One adaptor for iphone and Kindle charging – mine isn’t fancy but will work in most places. I don’t have any other choice but you can buy more complex (but usually heavier) ones online etc.
Small pair binoculars – essential for birders like myself but optional!
Small camera – I dispensed with SLR kit some time ago. I love photography but hate carrying all the kit when travelling around and the attention it draws to me. I have a Canon Powershot S95 Fantastic little camera.
TWO pairs of sunglasses – I’m rather particular about sunglasses and HATE squinting (terrible for ageing lines!). I’ll wear the sport ones when canoeing and when sun is really bright. Otherwise, I love my Ray Bans. Both pairs have polarized lenses. Essential in my book.
Head torch – don’t leave home without one! A must for power outs, reading etc.
Kindle – remember you can add travel guides to this. I don’t hear the best reviews of guides on Kindles but there is no room for any actual books in this packing list.
iphone – after some consideration, I’ve decided to DHL my laptop home and keep my old iphone as my only ‘true’ gadget. I have apps on it which will greatly enhance my travels. These include a diary app called Day One to keep a record of everything along with photos, The Sasol Birds of Southern Africa guide, and Star Walk, for gazing at unfamiliar stars. Possibly the best app ever.
On the subject of phones, I will also be getting an SIM which covers the countries I’m going to.
Eye mask and good ear plugs.
A handheld fan. Oh yes.
First Aid Kit
Antihistamine pills and cream for all those bity things and the reactions to them. I NEVER leave home without these.
Tea Tree oil – an excellent all-rounder anti-bacterial for cuts and so on without being a gooey cream which often helps infections fester. I am planning on making little Fucidin H pouches of cream from drinking straws though (see 13). Mainly to see if it works.
A generic penicillin good for parasites and other nasties.
Malaria drugs if necessary.
First Aid Kit
Immodium Melts for emergencies – they work really fast. I don’t bother with rehydration sachets and all that malarkey. Coca Cola and a salty meal do the same.
Vitamins – If you get run down easily.
Pain killers/anti inflammatories
For women – you DO NOT want to get thrush or a urinary infection hundreds of miles from a pharmacy with infrequent access to the loo so get the necessary drugs. Some women chose to have little/no periods when travelling such as taking the pill all the time or having a coil fitted. Otherwise, take tampons with you as a back-up as these are hard to find.
Make – up Kit – prettifying stuff (danger: indulgence section)
One neutral eye cream and an all-rounder palette eye shadow if you can’t bear to be without it. Keep neutral. My eye palette has a highlighter for the whole socket and a brown that doubles as an eyebrow shaper. A little bit of sparkle is also nice for a beachy evening.
A small lip gloss and bronzer with blush keeps you looking fresh and dewy rather than dry and pruney.
If you can’t imagine life without a make-up brush (like me), keep to a minimum and either break off wooden handles or buy small travel ones. I’ve kept one brush for blusher and eye sockets as well as a small multi-purpose and tiny eyeliner brush. Pah! To you scorners!
Touche éclat – do I need to explain?!
A few bits of jewellery. Nothing expensive that you will miss. You are BOUND to buy stuff when you are away. Try and match things up.
A small travel perfume. Oh yes.
Body bronzy sparkly oil – really good on that dry skin!
Backpack is a Deuter Women’s Act Lite 35+10 that I bought on a visit to South Africa a while back. There wasn’t much choice but now I’ve used it a few times, I can strongly recommend it. Empty, it weighs just 1.4kgs. and it easily adjusts to your back length and is not easy for sneaky hands to get into. It has all the usual features you’d expect from a mid-range pack but it doesn’t have a rain cover. Some people like rain covers to foil nimble fingers more than as a rain deterrent. I have a lock and cable for mine so I can also tie it to things. It’s a longer thinner pack so when fully packed, it goes 11 cms over the usual allowance for length of 56 cms. I’m not that worried as I can just wear some of my kit while boarding.
A light cotton shoulder bag (with a zip!) is really useful for when not needing your whole pack and can fold up easily into the pack.
A small bag to wear at all times for easy access and protection for cash and so on but try not to carry everything in one place.
I have packed clothes into a makeshift packing cube (it’s actually the bag my mosquito net came in). It really does reduce creases in clothes so I put things like shirts and trousers in here.
The rest of my clothing and gadgets have gone into dry sacks. When rolled, they take a lot of air out as well as being useful for organising and not getting stuff wet… did I mention the canoeing?!
Keep all sizes small (under 100mls and no more than 1 litre in total is the general rule). You can always buy more.
I LOVE Dr Bronner’s Magic Soap. It lasts for ever as you only need a few drops and it’s fine on your face, as a lather for shaving and even washing your clothes in!
Good sunscreen. I have a separate sunblock for my face as I burn really easily.
A small proper hairbrush is a luxury. No doubt. But I’ve tried those little plasticy ones and they make my hair stand on end. I hate them.
A small mirror and tweezers to help you keep a check on turning into a swamp woman.
Clothes that match and have multi functions are best. Think about where you are going and how modest (men and women!) you might need to dress. Many cultures find things like scruffy hair, shorts and flip flops to be quite offensive. These should often just be for the beach. I’ve mostly chosen brown, green, blue clothing due to wildlife watching when I go canoeing. Light clothes and khaki are not a good idea. They also show up the dirt more.
One long sleeved shirt, quick drying, with collar – this shirt will be great when canoeing.
Versatile active wear trousers that convert to shorts – I’m not a big shorts wearer as they can often be inappropriate when travelling so this will do.
Thin cotton (Hammer Time!) trousers with elasticated bottoms– not my regular choice but great for when on the move and using toilets you’d prefer not to drag your trouser bottoms on…
One pair of leggings – really versatile and double up as bed wear.
Long skirt – I live in this skirt and it goes with everything. It’s not a real pack down item but what the hell. In general, skirts are way better than trousers – see above re toilets…
Halter neck red dress – this is definitely a luxury item as it has a lot of material in it but will be perfect for ‘beach to bar’ in Zanzibar.
A thick fleece for chilly nights (which can be layered up with T-shirts and rain jacket)
A small cardigan to compliment most tops
Two vests with support – great for hot nights!
One swimming costume – a bikini would take up less room and dry faster but I would rather die than be seen in a bikini
A cotton sarong that doubles up as a towel. Travel towels make my skin crawl but most recommend these. I’m happy with my sarong as it has three roles; towel, sarong on beach and leg cover when canoeing
A long versatile scarf to use as head covering or layering or sarong (if real sarong being used as a towel on the beach.
A rain jacket – probably good of windy/wet on the Zambezi!
Five pairs of knickers
Two pairs of socks
Two bras – not cotton as cotton can rub when you get hot and sweaty. Not pleasant.
Shoes – flip flops are a must, my Keen waterproof toe protectors will be perfect for canoeing and general use and bumpers (Campers) for when it’s chilly. Due to canoe shoe needs, sadly, there’s no room for pretty little sandals. Otherwise, these would definitely be in there!
Ever since I can remember, I have shown little promise in the institution known as ‘saving’. As a child, occasions such as Easter would acutely reveal this fact. No sooner had the wonder that is known as ‘Cadbury Chocolate Button Egg’ been presented to me, I would immediately set about ripping it apart with no particular strategy in mind. I would then gorge myself until intoxicated. When I would finally recover from this reverie, I’d find my sister surgically removing one or maybe two pieces of an egg shell and then secreting the significant remains behind her perfectly dressed dolls. Occasionally, I’d find her checking on her booty, like a squirrel carefully tending to its acorn larder which much last all winter or else…
This attitude tormented me no end. Why on earth would you save stuff? For what possible reason other than to drive your younger crazy?
According to my mother, I’ve always been adept at sourcing funds for my immediate pleasures. When I was still in nappies – so the story goes – we were at a picnic and I kept disappearing and returning with sweets. On investigation, mum found that I had figured out that if I took empty Coke bottles to a food kiosk, someone would eventually notice me standing there and reward me with the greatest drug of all – sugar!
This aptitude for fuelling my addictions continued into later childhood and included charging my brother for ironing his shirts so I could buy a quarter of sherbet lemons or bon bons. Then I got my first job at the age of eleven picking eggs at a battery farm. Clearly, I would do anything for money. Since then, I’ve never really been out of employment and much of the time I’ve had more than one job to fuel my needs. Unsurprisingly, I moved on to greater addictions such as cigarettes and Dorothy Perkins. I never saved a thing.
So as you can see, I am not a saver. I’m an instant gratification-er. I am an addict who thinks only of her next fix. As the weekend approaches and being almost vice-less, I’m trying to figure out a way to make meringues in a makeshift saucepan oven and cereal bars from some old muesli and honey. Buying things when I visit Kigali tends to end in the same kind of ugly scenario as I’ve painted above (see Easter). Within 24 hours of my return to the forest, the stack of chocolate I planned to eke out over a week or two has disappeared. The wine? Gone. The fancy cheese? Gone. And I‘m left with a few onions, some tomatoes, and a distended stomach full of shame.
So it has surprised me more than anyone, to find that having quit smoking six months ago (on January 5th to be precise), I have actually stuck to it (bar the requisite one or two drunken fags at Frandy’s house of cigarette sin). Since giving up the demon weed, I have also noticed some level of saving – clearly not when it comes to major addictions such as chocolate, wine and cheese, but hey, I’m only just getting into this way of thinking!
As I write this, I have just eaten my very last Alpen Summer Fruits Bar. I bought a few packs of these in the UK in FEBRUARY! How on earth did I manage this? There are other examples too; there’s the tortilla wraps, rose harissa paste, silken firm tofu and bounteous bottles of balsamic glaze. Hardly touched. In fact, last weekend I conducted an audit to try and figure out how I was actually going to work my way through these in the nine weeks I have left in Rwanda. I felt I was unlikely to use a bottle of balsamic glaze for every two weeks or a jar of Marmite every 10 days, so Frandy struck lucky and I have revealed the sum excitement of my weekends…
In truth, I believe this story is a familiar one to other volunteers like myself and may have little to do with a new found restraint on my part (we live in hope). If we weren’t hoarders before, we sure as hell are now. And I haven’t even started on the subject of how many lotions and potions are weighing down my vegetable rack-come-beauty-shelving in my bedroom. And my first aid kit would give any ambulance a run for its money. Although, to be fair, I am short of a saline drip and defibrillator.
Now that I’m planning a five week backpacking trip for when I leave Rwanda, I find I’m being quite laissez-faire with such things and shall be simply packing a few plasters, Anthisan and some painkillers (did I mention that addiction? No? Another time). Because, in the main, that’s all I’ve needed in the 16 months I’ve been here.
It’s easy to forget how you were in the beginning (if you’re not used to living in a place without shopping malls, a postal system or wealth) where you suddenly feel you have no compass and anything that represents safety, security or survival is clung to. Looking back at newly-arrived-in Rwanda-me, I remember being delighted by the ‘finds’ of first aid stuff I made from the volunteer ‘communal box’ at the volunteer office. I hadn’t quite the brain to figure out that the reason they were there, was that the departing volunteers, just like me now, found no real use for a sterile pack of needles or an eye pad.
And I think of the suitcase loads of things I’ve asked friends to bring out to me ranging from shoes to a tent. Much of which have been little used (did I mention my Amazon shopping addiction? Which I have maintained even from afar?).
My Rwandan flatmate’s sister lives in Canada and she asked her to send some items from home. These were: dried cassava leaves (to make isombi), a packet of tea, a bag made from kitenge material, and a cassette tape of Rwandan music.
At over 2300 metres above sea level in a rainforest, and in the rainy season, one can’t hope for too much in the way of warmth and sunshine. That said, this is a particularly cold and wet Sunday and the urge to lay in bed all day reading is strong. Billie Holiday is doing her best to soothe the situation.
She needn’t worry though. At 9 a.m. the day is already done. I’ve had a lovely morning birding with Oliver (my new birding pal) around the tea plantation before it started bucketing. I’ve seen some great new birds, heard some great stories and seen lovely skies. We saw a black-headed heron near the tea which I found odd as I always expect to see herons near water. Oliver explained how they like to catch mice and that they can sometimes be seen with their head on the ground listening for the little critters in their tunnels.
birding with oliver from my house
haven’t we got these bushes?
At the edge of the tea and along the roads are lots of rambling bushes that look very familiar to a Brit.
The blackberries (well that’s what they look like) are coming out and I momentarily get transported to a damp autumn walk through a Sussex wood.
We walked through the little village which ribbons along the road into the park and where I work. The rain never seems to subdue the kids here and they were furiously bouncing new found little plastic balls on the road surface. A dangerous game, given the speed the trucks race through at.
view to the village (and walk I make each day) to the honey centre
The story of this village is a little blurred. Apparently, they arrived around the time of the genocide as they were displaced, but no one seems to know where they actually came from. I guess you don’t ask. Or more likely; people do know but maybe I shouldn’t ask.
They are also due to be evicted from the forest as many others have been. To protect the park. There is some flexibility in the buffer zone around the edge of the park but no one is allowed to take anything from the park proper or indeed live inside it. Enforcing this is another matter and somewhat complex. The work of NGO’s like the one I work for is specifically to encourage alternative, approved and legal ways of gaining a decent living. No one said Conservation was easy and I have all kinds of complex feelings about this. the park itself is extremely important in so so many ways; including providing up to 70% of the water for the rest Rwanda.
People seem very poor in this village by Rwandan standards and work seems mainly in making charcoal and selling to passers-by in large rice sacks for four thousand Rwandan Francs (£4 or $6). This is half the price of charcoal in Kigali and many stop and load their pickups with it.
The alternative choice of employment is the tea factory where you will be paid 700 Rwandan Francs for a long full day of picking tea. That’s about 70 pence or around a dollar a day. Like everywhere in the world, the cost of living has gone up substantially in Rwanda and comparative to other East African countries, basic goods are expensive.
On the upside, the tea you see in these photos is tea which belongs to the local cooperative. They then sell on to the tea factories. I’m told that a good fast picker can earn up to 1,400 Rwandan Francs which is pretty OK by local standards . More on this later…
view back to where I live
Walking back from our rather soggy birding trip, the rain subsides and the sun comes out briefly offering up a magnificent sky. It is so beautiful here and my heart lifts whenever the sun comes out like this. Or an augur buzzard soars past, or the baboons come back, or a scops owl stares at me furiously when I disturb him from a night’s hunting by lamplight. Wonderful. Sometimes my luck aint all that bad…
On the day Bosco Ntaganda pleads “not guilty’ at the ICC (without being asked), you find me occupied with far more pressing concerns; ME and my inability to enjoy life even when it is going so well.
Things have taken a funny turn recently. Not ha ha funny but more the curious kind of funny. I’ve been planning and looking forward to starting this latest placement for months, here in the forest of Nyungwe National Park. But now that I’m here, am I jumping up and down with eagerness and enthusiasm? No, of course I’m not. Oh hang on, here comes that theme again…the gin & tonic enigma
I’m working for an excellent Conservation NGO on a great project in a super house that has hot water coming out of a tap, gas cooking, and an amazing big wardrobe in a lovely room with a window that looks out onto trees with birds in them. So why do I feel so glum?
I guess it could just be that anti-climax feeling you get when you’ve finished your last exam or submitted a huge piece of work. Or got someone to like you (oh, is that just me?!). Anyway, I’m now simply here and working and there are no more things to organise and plan for. I was living out of suitcases for weeks and now they’re packed away. It probably has nothing to do with the fact that I have incurred a few (stupid) minor injuries recently that have made me feel a little vulnerable. And a long way from a doctor and from my lovely friends in Kigali and home. Boo!
It’s also the beginning of the rainy season and I’m struggling with the cold. Even all the hardy rangers are complaining about it. There’s the occasional break in the torrential downpours and I get to see the wonderful view across to Burundi again. Then it’s gone. Yesterday, the hundred metre walk to work presented me with fog, then rain, then sunshine, then fog again. It’s utterly incredible how quickly the weather changes. And it’s going to be like this until June. Thankfully, I have piles of blankets to crawl under to go to bed every night but it is a bit of a shocker after Kigali. And there is no leaping out of bed in the morning. No siree!
Unsurprisingly, there are rather a lot of critters around here and in my house. Especially spiders… There is one rather large black spider who lives in a big crack in the kitchen where the tap comes out of. He mostly just has his legs dangling out when I pass by. But sometimes he comes all the way out to show off just how big he really is. I’ve found that if I blow at him he tends to retreat though. I’ve named him Robert in a bid at relationship building. It seems to be working on account of when I was rushing out the other day, I noticed a large spidery-type corpse in the sink where I had just been washing up and was dismayed to find no legs (as usual) dangling from the tap crack. Robert! I hoped he was just pretending to be dead, the way spiders do. So I got a fish slice from the drawer and carefully scooped him out of the sink and onto the kitchen cleaning sponge. When I came back the following day, he was no longer on the sponge and there were his legs dangling from his eyrie. Order was restored.
I am, however, saddened to report that I’ve seen no hind nor hairy leg of Robert for the past 48 hours. I fear the worst. And for my sanity. Is this what becomes of one when one enters the forest? I haven’t had any alcohol for over a week either. The shocking truth of my new life lays bare before you dear reader. It’s been two weeks. I’m here for six months. What, I wonder, will emerge after all that time?! At the rate I’m eating large plates of carbohydrates, I’m going to take a punt and suggest it won’t be a butterfly…
On the upside, I’m really looking forward to my lovely Kigali friends coming to visit for Easter. I’ve ordered wood for the fire, ordered them to bring wine and we shall go a-walking in the forest. Hope springs eternal I guess…
Valentine’s Day is not all hearts and flowers. Certainly not in my case anyway. Although I did have a pink handwritten note pushed under my door last week when I was staying on Lake Kivu. OK. So the note was a torn slip from a receipt book written on by a man I had just briefly met at the bar…but all the same, you gotta take credit when you can, right?
It was just after Valentine’s Day that I arrived in Rwanda exactly one year ago and I’m currently packing up my lovely home; not to return to the UK for good but to have a short (wonderful) holiday before I embark on my next placement which is also in Rwanda. I’m going to work with beekeepers in the Nyungwe Forest as a Business Development Advisor for Wildlife Conservation Society
So a lot of changes and a lot to reflect on.
I’ve been happier in this house than anywhere else I’ve lived since I left the UK in 2010 and I’m really sad to say goodbye to it and my guard and the rest of the people around here. Others have come and gone and now it’s just me, packing things to take back to the UK and things to take to Nyungwe and things to give away. Not since I left Brighton have I felt such a wrench. And I shall miss the whistling competitions with the bulbuls and the chats. Even though they always win. And the kites at the bottom of the garden. And Mr Pink. And the lizard who lives in the wall.
Valentine’s Day is also the anniversary of the failed uprising in Bahrain. It’s now two years since I watched tanks roll into Manama from my office window, and young men being fired at with (British made) teargas in the streets. Little to nothing has changed since then and many people remain in prison for speaking up for their rights. It’s a crying shame.
The good news is that I’m now living in a country that has been voted ‘the second most romantic country in the world’. The bad news is that this doesn’t seem to have rubbed off on me… I had assumed that when men told me they loved me after making them a cup of tea or chatting in the street, that they simply liked me. That it was just a translation thing. Maybe I’ve been wrong then?
Of course I’m excited to be moving on and I’m really looking forward to getting to know the baboons (who, I’m told, hang about my new house in the forest) and all those new experiences waiting for me. But for now, Valentine’s Day is a time for reflection.
Two years ago when I was making plans to leave Bahrain, could I possibly have imagined that I would now be about to start work for a conservation NGO in a rainforest in Rwanda? Not likely! Am I happier now than I was then? Certainly. Although I wouldn’t say ‘happy’ was really the right word. Let’s not get carried away here! But I definitely feel like I’m living.
Rwanda is such a beautiful, fascinating and troubled place to live. It can often beguile and infuriate almost in the same moment . There is so much to occupy your mind with. And whilst I’m fearful of not having a secure financial future, I have to remind myself of how miserable I was when I did have one.
It was such a lovely morning with so many birds in full song swinging from one enormous colourful bloom to another. And I managed to tick off a new bird species (to me) before I’d even got half way round. I’d intended the day to be allocated to walking and swimming which I find always aid thinking but there was a such a lot going on it was difficult to concentrate on internal matters.
Pulling away from the lake to go up and over the hill, each bend offered another great view of the still lake shimmering under the paths of cormorants flapping furiously on and on.
double toothed barbet (not author’s photo!)
By the looks of all the freshly caught sambaza (small fish) in buckets carried on the heads of the women moving carefully down the hill, perhaps the cormorants were evacuating to new pastures. Given that the fishermen are out all night every night with their bright lanterns to fool fish into swimming towards them, competition is fierce on the lake.
A young dog came bounding down the lane to catch up with the women and took such a fright when it saw me, it ran into the trees. We all laughed.
When I got to Cormoran, I remained the sole occupant of the lakeside for two exquisitely peaceful hours and it reminded me of how impossible it is to be outside and alone in Rwanda. Even in your own garden. I lay still on the sun lounger and observed the arrival of various kinds of brightly coloured lizards onto the warming rocks, a pintail quarrelling with a greenbul and all the other bird life enjoying the bright morning just as I was. And I thoroughly enjoyed my eye-level view of a colony of small ants living in the log table next to me.
There was so much going on that I felt like I was in my very own nature documentary; especially when a black and brown striped rodent of some sort came leaping across to grass on a sortie. What more delights were to offer themselves up? I looked at my watch. It was 9.30am.
ACME Lake Kivu lizard
Soon enough, people started to arrive and, inevitably, the lizards shrunk back into the shadows, the birds packed away their bunting and David Attenborough refused to return my calls. Only the ants seemed to take no notice, carefully carrying my accidentally-on-purposely discarded grains of sugar to their nest on the other side of the log.
It appears that not all grains of sugar are the same. Some are very small which one ant can lift without apparent difficulty. However, some grains are a little larger which requires up to three ants to carry. When this occurs, they seem to career off course from the nest in unexplained complex manoeuvres. Watching them, I was reminded of Laurel and Hardy in The Music Box trying to move a piano up a flight of stairs. Suffice it to say, ants are now my friends.
I then spent the rest of the day flopping in and out of the lake trying to swim far enough out to make the little fish leap out of the water in fright. The water was so still and a perfect temperature, it felt like being in one gigantic swimming pool (albeit a little green). Many people prefer not to swim due to bilharzia in the lake but I don’t believe this is a serious threat unless you wade through the reeds. Don’t miss out if you’re reading this in Rwanda and have never gone in. It’s glorious.
I finally dragged myself away in the early evening as it would be getting dark soon and a storm was grumbling around somewhere. The return walk was just as eventful with the finale of the day; seeing a large otter (probably spotted) fishing below me and lying on his back while biting at the fish in between his enormous paws. I’ve never seen one on Lake Kivu so was delighted with my very own catch of the day.
I got back to my room just as the storm hit and thoroughly enjoyed the warm shower on my lake soaked, sunburned skin.
So much has happened since I last made an entry! How time flies. But I won’t bore you with my travel tales, car breakdowns and unmentionable infestations…
I want to talk about watching TV in my local beauty salon.
I’ve been going there ever since I arrived in Rwanda. It’s easy for a girl to let herself go and I have certainly joined in with the greasy hair/no make-up/sandal look which, when combined with that cute vintage style dress which looked so stylish back home, now makes you look more like a campaigner for the Republican party in the US of A.
All these sloth-like behaviours are forgivable. What cannot be forgiven is to let your feet go and to develop elephant foot! Yeuch!
Given the fact that it is kinda always summer here (smiley face) and there are no baths to languish in, elephant foot can set in pretty quickly in you’re not on top of your game.
That’s where the Umubano hotel’s beauty salon comes in. For four English pounds, you get to have your feet soaked, scrubbed, sand-papered, massaged and (if you have been a very bad girl/boy and let things to get out of hand) cheese-grated! You know who you are. Bridget.
You can then walk out with the prettiest, baby-soft little digits all painted happy colours. This lasts around four days before the rot starts to set in again…
But I haven’t even told you the best bit; the salon is always packed with (mainly) women and men being buffed and preened and it’s just great to sit and gawp at everyone (who is also gawping back at you). Women are always having wonderful things done with their hair with the occasional shriek from a hot iron being applied a little too enthusiastically. And if you’re really lucky, you get to witness a bit of a falling out over the result of a haircut.
Whilst all this is going on and I have no idea what words people are using, it still feels a bit like we’re all together. In the salon. And we all witness (and hope for dramatic) events together.
There’s a kind of silent war between the male hair stylists and the female elephant foot removalists. The men occupy the rear of the salon and always have the football on the telly. Any football. At all. They also seem to always have possession of the remote.
However, when the time comes for The Bold & the Beautiful to be on, one of the women strolls into the male domain and retrieves the remote with no resistance. I wonder what must have gone before for this peaceful handover?
The Bold & the Beautiful is of course dubbed into French and is utterly utterly awful and therefore addictive to watch. Naturally. Whilst I can’t speak French (obviasalement), I am lulled into it and my Kindle remains a revolving ink pot.
The foot goddesses moon into the mirrors behind their clients to watch B&B in the reflection and the room quietens down bar the odd snort of disgust from the hair men and the rasping sound of horny feet being filed…
Tonight, Bobby Ewing pitched up (I confess, I know little of this programme and have only seen it at the salon) and it was wonderful hearing his dulcet French tones “je suis perdu!”
On seeking a clip on Youtube this evening, I’ve discovered this TV show has been running since the Elizabethan times and the clip below has the same actors from all those years ago; before the Botox and hair dye (for the men) but I guess the Botox was a necessary requirement to dampen down those absurd facial gestures.