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…

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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.


Light Enough To Travel


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

gadgets and general kit

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.
  • Sleep sheet.

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

    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. IMG_5887 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 IMG_5889whole 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.
  • One long sleeved T-shirt for fending off mosquitoes and the sun (I like Craghoppers NosiLife.
  • Three short sleeved T-shirts for general wear
  • 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!
  • And one hat!  One with a brim is best.

Great links

Never Ending Voyage

Lost Girls World

Lonely Planet

are we there yet?

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.

everything happens to me

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

birding with oliver from my house

haven't we got these bushes?

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

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.

charcoal skies

charcoal skies

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

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…IMG_5145

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.


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.



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.



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.

a day in the life

My alarm goes off at 06.15 a.m.every day although I am usually awake from the dawn chorus, nay, cacophony of birdsong from around 5.30 a.m.and then the sound of the Motos beeping opportunistically for customers; their tiny engines whining at exactly the same pitch as a mosquito in the dark.  I get up and tie the bed net up to keep it pure of pestilience.

Then I pad to the kitchen and boil the kettle; once for a cup of tea and a ‘shower’, or twice for a cup of tea, a shower and hair-washing; it’s amazing how far a kettle of water can go when you don’t have a water heater.

My shower is a red plastic bucket of which I have become rather fond of, given the amount of time I spend with it. I have just about perfected the two-kettle shower which often also includes a foot soak and scrub! Thank heavens I have small feet (see size of bucket).

Food in general tends to be complicated. Partially as there are just two electric rings for a cooker and no storage and things go off pretty quickly. So I have opted for luxury-in-a-box – Alpen Berries. Imported (along with most things), this box costs the equivalent of around £6.60/$10 when it would cost less than half that back home. I eat it slowly…..

Just lately I have dispensed with wearing make-up. Everything else seems to take so much longer in the morning or is it just an excuse? Either way, I have a shock when I see my reflection. No make-up, and hair scraped back because of the heat is not doing a great deal for my looks; such as they are…
Then off to work. Below are some pictures to show you my commute (the alleyway I walk along next to my house and a nice lady and the road I where my job is.


Altogether this takes five minutes and I arrive at 08.00 in time for prayer.
At the bottom of this post is the desk I sit at and if you play the clip, you will hear singing in the background. I must have recorded this on a Tuesday as this is when the team (of three) have ‘big prayer’. It lasts for about an hour and I don’t join in (it’s all in Kinyarwanda). Although I do on every other day of the week. We sing a hymn in Kinyarwanda (of which I am only learning very slowly), then our boss explains what has been happening and what we need to focus on for the day (in english, for my benefit), and then a prayer is said invoking the will of god to support us to successfully perform the tasks just described by the manager.

I am never asked to say a prayer myself and there is no pressure to attend the morning prayer. But I like to join in all the same.  I find it quite a bonding and peaceful way to start the day.

From this morning, things will change. I’m moving house and will be living next door! I will miss the alleyway commute and all the ‘good mornings’ or ‘bonjours’ from my fellow commuters.