Pretty Good day

Saturday 9th February 2013

2013-02-09 09.40.18

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!)

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

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.IMG_4803

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.

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The Price of Everything

4,000 Rwandan Francs is nearly five British Pounds or six American Dollars.  And below is a list of things you can buy for this or under…

FOUR sacks of charcoal

EIGHT 500g pouches of UHT milk

ONE pedicure

TWO lilos from Simba

TEN return trips to town on the bus

ONE AND ONE THIRD of a chicken (live)

EIGHT days of unlimited internet

ONE plastic patio chair

TWENTY small tins of tomato paste

ONE skirt custom made (not including material)

TWO loaves of brown bread from La Galette

FIVE twelve hour night shifts of a house guard

FOURTEEN Fantas

FIFTY SEVEN eggs

EIGHT small Primus beers

ONE THIRD of a bottle of Elvive shampoo

ONE bar of Swiss milk chocolate

TWO and a THIRD grapefruits

FIFTEEN days of a houseboy

ONE way bus trip to Uganda

THREE weeks parcel storage

TWO plastic buckets (with lids)

TWENTY lighters

EIGHT packets of cigarettes

et le temps perdu…

Dear Diary

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.

Image

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.

Enjoy…

 

everybody knows

This weekend, it will be two years since I left the UK so you find me in reflective (read: navel-gazing) mood. I’m sitting alone in the courtyard at Civitas waiting for my chips-salad and fish brochette to arrive whilst knocking back a Primus and smoking a Dunhill Light. I’ve only just placed my order so I have plenty of time to indulge in my favourite subject; me.
Around about now I should have been finishing my contract in Bahrain and heading back to the UK, having earned enough to free myself up to do something less-boring-instead. But it didn’t work out that way (I shall spare you the details) and I’m sitting here in Rwanda as a VSO volunteer by way of a six month stint of working in Switzerland. I have eight months left here and then who knows?

Nicky and Kit get hitched

There have been so many endings and beginnings and difficult choices along the way and I wonder what will come next. During my time in exile everyone has been getting married or pregnant or ill or leaving or dealing with grief and all those other big life issues that you wish you weren’t so far away from. Happily, I was there to see Nicky and Kit  get married but I have missed and will continue to miss so many other events. I find this difficult to deal with although the visits of friends seriously takes the load off. We all know how I need to be brought into line from time to time…

I’m not sorry that I no longer have the work life I had before (see ‘before’ and ‘after’ pics) and I am hopeful that this period in my (mid) life will lead to more fulfilling times.

Before

After

We shall see (and for those observant blog followers, one point is awarded if you remembered that this is the purpose of the blog and two points are awarded for linking this to the ‘Gin & Tonic Enigma’).

What have I learned so far? Not much, but this much I do know:

  • You can never have too many adaptors.
  • The BBC is a mouse-like government machine. How did I ever think it was anything different? That said, last night a (BBC) iplayer saved my life.
  • Plastic bags are incredibly useful things.
  • Having a UK passport means you’re free. I visited home last year and joined some friends on a demo that thronged through the streets. It was exhilarating. Marching for what you believe in without consequences (usually) is a right to be cherished and fought for.
  • I crave solitude more and more and find this surprising.
  • The soothing qualities of good linen are not to be underestimated
  • I will NEVER get used to cockroaches.
  • Cute vintage dresses in Brighton metamorphose into miserable Mormon dresses as soon as you arrive. Anywhere.
  • I never want to ‘Work in Development’ and talk about going to the ‘Field’. Pah. The New Colonialism is a sick pup in need of urgent attention.
  • Not all birds sing the same song but there is a dawn chorus wherever you go.
  • I miss my dog.

The Heart of the Matter

(Dear) friends of mine came to visit recently and we tripped around this little country of Rwanda enjoying camping with impala and warthogs up at Mutumba Hills in Akagera National Park and driving all the way to the other side of the country on the same day to stay in Gisenyi at the beautiful Palm Garden Resort set on Lake Kivu.

Palm Garden Resort Gisenyi

I had meticulously planned the trip so when we whizzed past a refugee camp full of children playing football on the road from Musanze to Gisenyi, we were taken aback. I knew of the camp’s existence but didn’t know where it was. After having a jolly old holiday time, it was a sudden sobering reminder of a seemingly never ending and tragic tale going on in this part of the world. As we neared Gisenyi, we neared the border with The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); so near that I received a welcome mobile network text.

welcome to DRC

The debate over the latest activities in Eastern DRC which has caused the need for this and other camps to be set up in the region, is hotting up. A much anticipated publication from the UN on whether Rwanda is involved in the recent activities or not has been delayed to some speculation here and here and rebuffed by the Rwandan government here.  The Rwandan government vehemently denies any involvement and tempers are flaring in Kigali and Kinshasa.

The more I read on the DRC, Rwanda and their strife, two things are becoming apparent. One: that I am deeply ignorant on the subject, Two: that it is an incredibly complex web of wars, genocides, colonialism, and greed. The horror the horror, indeed.

I read Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad as a good Anthropology student (and guilt-ridden member of an old empire) a long time ago but it is back on my reading list as I try to fathom some kind of narrative as to how, in 2012, the miserable story grinds on.

If one knew, he wondered, the facts, would one have to feel pity even for the planets? If one reached what they called the heart of the matter?                                                                                          ………………………………..Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter

Historical context is everything although the way phrases like ‘heart of darkness’ are lazily/ignorantly thrown about when referring to African wars and corruption is problematic for me. If you feel as naive as I do and you’re interested in grappling with this story at the heart of Africa, and, I would suggest, the heart of everything, below are the books which have been recommended to me.

I’m currently reading the exhilarating and illuminating book Blood River by Tim Butcher about his epic journey through the DRC following in Stanley’s footsteps. For fiction, I’m reading A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul set in Kisangani. Next on the list are Jason Stearns’s Dancing in the Glory of Monsters (he also writes an excellent and thought-provoking blog here), Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost and the highly recommended Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.

Have you read any of these? Are there others you would recommend? And what order should I be reading these in?! Any advice gratefully appreciated.

And if you can’t be bothered with any of the above then I suppose you could always stick Apocalypse Now (Redux) on. 

The End.

Peace in Kigali

The Kigali Peace Marathon took place recently and a number of VSO volunteers took part in it. Unfortunately, the best I could do for peace was walk the 5km ‘Fun Run’ circuit. Better than nothing I suppose.  The Kofi Annan contribution if you will…

Alice who was running 10km in the VSO relay team stayed at my house the night before and made sure I got up at 6 a.m. to get to Amahoro Stadium in time for the 7a.m. kick-off.  Otherwise, helping with peace may have had to wait awhile.

We stumbled up to the stadium and pinned our numbers onto our T-shirts.  Whilst trying to dispel the feelings of foolishness in just walking, we set off all together; the marathon runners, half marathon, 10km relay and the 5km ‘Fun Run’ and me & Katharine…

It was fascinating to be walking about the closed off streets of Kigali and to see the reaction of people on the pavement who I doubt had planned on watching a marathon and seemed more intrigued than anything else.  My walking partner and I were laughed at a fair few times and encouraged to actually run. Oh the shame.

It was great to see a good number of women running and doing really well.  Away from the leaders (also known as ‘Kenyans’) there were a fair few girls running with no shoes (on tarmac) and no bra.  This was somewhat incongruous with the big stadium setting and I hope that in time this will change.

That said, other than the more professional runners and the white contingent, footwear in general was quite random.  I heard the man in football boots coming from behind me a long time before he arrived!  It was really inspiring to see so many people taking part and doing well in spite of their limited kit. When Katharine and I were overtaken by a chap with one leg and on crutches (he was doing the half marathon to great applause) we felt we should probably step up the pace and get on with it!

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it’s the simple things in life…

Dear Diary,

It has been some time since I last made an entry. Forgive me.  I have been feeling really tired for weeks and wondering  if it was my age as well as my advancing  anti-social tendencies (which, I feel, are intrinsically linked; wherever you are and whatever you happen to be doing) which has stopped me from joining fellow volunteers for fish brochettes, beer and japes around town.

As further symptoms developed (I’ll spare you the details) I decided that praps something else was afoot (as well).  So I looked up ‘medical services’ in my volunteer handbook (with blue binder, colour coding sections and everything!) and selected the ‘Belgian Doctor’ from the small list of recommended physicians.  “Amoeba’s” he explained.  Naturally, my thoughts drifted back to those days of darkly etched wooden benches in the biology room at Tanbridge House where the truth of life was revealed to us in odorous ways.

This was preferable to the information that greeted me once I fired up Google.  I was given three days of antibiotics and worming tablets (!) and strict instructions to avoid alcohol.  It felt really strange to know that I had been harbouring stowaways who were (literally – no I don’t mean figuratively!) sucking the nutrients out of my body.  In order to deal with this unsavoury reality, I resorted to calling them my ‘pet parasites’ and in order to excuse self from dining/drinking etc. explained that “we’d taken a vote and I had lost and we were going home for a group nap…”

After the copious amount of drugs were completed, I felt much better than I had in weeks.  For about four days.  And then I felt worse than I had the first time round.  I went back to the Belgian Doctor. “Lactose Intolerance” he said.  Excuse me?  Pets harbouring test revealed they had gone so this, he felt, was the reason.  Righto. So I have been laid out for days with the alleged lactose intolerance feeling very very sorry for self.

Being ill when living alone is always rubbish;  as pointed out frequently by me to friends back home, “I could die and nobody would know”.  But being ill and living alone and away from friends to guilt into stopping by with an egg sandwich (with no running water, no bath, no couch) a girl can get to feeling downright miserable.

Happily, I woke up this morning feeling much brighter; both physically and emotionally.  This was actually at 5 a.m. as I could hear the toilet cistern filling up. Water! So I rushed about filling all the buckets and every other vessel I could find and celebrated by having a three kettle bucket bath which includes hair treatment, hair conditioning, body scrub, leg shave and foot soak!  I jumped back into bed and listened to the dawn arrive whilst finishing my book.

A good day already and it was barely light.