Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Long Weekend

It's been a good couple of weeks. The mango tree in my garden came into bloom. Unfortunately, mangoes don't really grow well in Rwanda and rarely get bigger than the size of your thumb, but the flowers truly smell like the fruit. 


Caught up with Pieter again and went for lunch at Terra Café next to my house, which is fast becoming a favourite. They don't scrimp on the houmous.

In cat-related news, Gizmo has discovered the joys of the washing basket.

Can you spot the cat?

Dad and Marilyn sent this lovely 3D cat card. If you haven't checked out my dad's blog, it's over here.

Just another day in paradise.

Monday was a public holiday for Eid al-Adha, so I took advantage of this to visit my friend in Gisenyi. Since my mum and Merrick are coming to visit next month, I took this opportunity to rent a car and get some driving practise in. I've only driven once here a few months back, so thought I should brush up. Hired this lovely RAV4 automatic and headed up via Nyaringarama to collect my friend Nick, who is a Peace Corps volunteer. He was meeting friends in Musanze, which is a town I pass through to get to Gisenyi, so I dropped him off and had coffee. It was really nice to catch up.

Very fond of that car, it looked after me there and back. It's safe to say I have my driving confidence back, though car rental is a real problem here. It's extremely expensive, made more so by the fact that most of the car rental places are based in Kigali with no offices in major towns like Gisenyi, Butare, Musanze or Cyangugu. This means that usually you have to hire a car for all the days you're away from town, which adds up quickly. You can't just drive to wherever you're going and drop it off. 

Thankfully, my friend Emmy knew a guy who was willing to rent it to me and come to collect and drop off, so I only had to pay the days I was driving. Very grateful to him.

It's been a lovely few days. Arrived Saturday and just got back today. Had a wonderful meal with neighbours, Vikram and Helaine. Picture at the top. Vikram also works on the tea plantation and they were recently married, so she's moved out to join him. It was an evening of fabulous food and a lot of laughter. Oh, and copious quantities of Old Monk rum. Their house used to be the estate club house, and although all the houses have a mini bar, theirs is a little bit impressive.


I still find it a little complex getting used to a house with staff. My friend has a cook, a maid and a gardener. Although he says 'just ask them for anything you want,' I never do. Thankfully, he bought a kettle last time he was in Kigali, so I can make tea in his room without having to disturb anyone. Did you know, Yorkshire Tea - which sources a lot from Rwanda - now comes in biscuit flavour?

Also went out with Vikram and Helaine to a bar on the lake and discovered this incredible flower called Bengal Clock Vine. It's huge and very pretty.

And had fun with beetles. This would have been an amazing shot if it had been in focus, but he's much better at photography than I am, so check below.

Also went to his friend's restaurant in town, Indian Spices. It's really quick, affordable food. Comes in little dishes that don't look like a lot but are extremely filling, complete with jaggery to help with digestion. Going to have to pick some of that up from Sharma's. The rose lassi was absolutely to die for. It had little, crunchy ice crystals in it, which were perfect for a warm day. Absolutely worth a visit.

We also stopped off to buy some local fish. We were going to have a BBQ, but ended up frying it instead. The reason I mention this is that, one, it was fantastic fish, and two, my friend has an ice box in his car. Where the spare change box usually is - it's an actual, electric cooler box. I mean, seriously.

Driving home through Gisenyi with our frozen fish.

Whilst we're on the topic of Gisenyi - in Ebola news, what a difference a week makes!

When I drove up, I brought him some supplies from Kigali, including a thermometer gun. The estate has just put in place measures to help prevent the spread of Ebola, should it ever cross the border from neighbouring Goma. There was an outbreak there recently. A really sad case of a gold miner returning home on public transport, who picked it up on a bus and unfortunately infected his wife and baby daughter. Really awful story. Rwanda even briefly closed the border until the situation was fully understood. 

Anyway, we were playing around with the thermometer gun on Saturday, when I arrived, trying to work out how it functioned. Curled up to watch an Al Jazeera panel report on it Monday night, and by Tuesday morning - Ebola is curable! Science is a fucking incredible thing. Such amazingly good news.

Just a note on the Al Jazeera panel report, though. It is a little bit odd listening to a crisis report on a town five miles from where you're watching telly, but what really struck us was that the three specialists they had on talking about Ebola were all white Europeans. One of the points they brought up was the lack of trust among many Congolese people towards health workers. A lot of distrust for the vaccines. Would it have killed them to find a Congolese health professional to participate in the discussion? Might have gone a long way to helping to build trust. Al Jazeera - your programme airs in Congo. People watch your show there.

Anyway. Doesn't detract from the wonderful sense of hope at there possibly being an end to this awful health issue. 

In non-Ebola related news. I spent a lot of time editing another novel. I have one out tomorrow, so this will come after that. It was so nice to sit on the porch with my proof copy, marking changes. Beautiful sunny day, my mug of biscuit brew in front of me.

It was a shame to drag myself away this morning and return to Kigali. My friend has just been transferred to another estate near Karongi today, to cover for someone on leave. He'll be there around a month. On the upside, it's only about two hours from Kigali, compared to three to Gisenyi, so more chance of partying in Kigali. Took a final snap of the processing plant before driving home today.

In other news, very excited that my friend Maia will be back in town soon. She sent me a picture this morning. She's currently on a friend's boat, swimming around the Greek islands. Jealous? Moi? Bet your ass I am.

Sunday, 28 July 2019

Lazy Weekend

Little bit of sad news to start off with. Hobnob didn't make it. She did well for another week but then went into a sudden decline. She died safe and warm at our local veterinary surgery last week. All really sad about it, but her final days were spent comfortably. We were privileged to have known her.

In wildlife-related news. Found a huge fruit chafer beetle. Relocated it outdoors, where it took a shine to my pants drying on the hedge.

Went for drinks with my friend Chris and witnessed the most incredible blood moon. I thought it was a firework when I first saw it. The picture doesn't really show, but it was huge. Really deep red that rose to become white.

And went for a lovely home-cooked meal of potatoes, salad and isombe (cassava leaves), made by my friend Pieter. A nice afternoon spent relaxing and catching up.

Woke early on Friday to a pretty sunrise over my back yard.

My friend from up north came down to visit for the weekend and spoilt me rotten. We've been on a food and cocktail binge. Discovered giant prawns at Zen, and daiquiris that tasted like lemon drops. They were delicious, and right up there with the Hut's passion fruit mojitos.  

We had the laziest Saturday on record. Lounged until around 1 p.m., then took a leisurely drive out to 1000 Hills Distillery, which is a place I'd wanted to visit for a while. It was a nice hangout, with a beautiful view of the valley, and friendly staff. They have about five pages of cocktails and one page of food, so we set about sampling the wares.

It was interesting. They've certainly got the alcohol part down, but infusion still has a way to go. They make coffee liqueur, macadamia nut liqueur, rum and whiskey, but they all taste pretty similar, except for the coffee, which is almost strong enough to dampen down the pure alcohol taste. The slight difficulty is that they make all of their cocktails with their own spirits. They look fabulous, but taste-wise, nowhere near a Zen daiquiri. Still, it was a very pleasant afternoon, and we finished up with food and a trip back into our youth with a couple of shandies. 

Being a cat momma can be hard. Sometimes you just have to put your pride aside and smuggle a small box of chicken bones home. 

In the evening, we went out for a drink with friends Chris and Solvejg, then spent another lazy morning with breakfast at Terra Café, which is a lovely little place next to my house. Didn't have far to walk. Then home for a nap on the couch before he headed back up to Gisenyi. Laziest weekend in a long time.

Things up there are interesting at the moment. Ebola recently spread from DRC to Uganda, killing a child and his grandmother. That was swiftly contained. Then worst fears were realised when a case was reported in Goma, a major transport hub near the border with Rwanda. There's only about five miles between Goma and Gisenyi. The rumour is the guy was a pastor, who thought it was a good idea to go lay hands on people in an infected Ebola region, then evaded checkpoint tests by taking paracetamol to suppress his fever. Others say he used different names at checkpoints to avoid tracking. Not sure how much of that is true, but it's a minor miracle no one else he came into contact with caught it, as he was travelling by public transport. Unfortunately, he has since died.

I'm likely to go up to Gisenyi again in the next few weeks, but think I'll hire a car and get some driving practise in, or catch a lift with friends. We've decided, although the risk is extremely low, it's probably best to avoid public transport for the time being. Many of the buses going south carry people who have crossed from Goma, and until the situation is completely under control, it's probably prudent to find alternative means. 

Anyway, I'm going to go and do some more sleeping, and possibly Netflix, with the last of my Sunday. Yay for lazy weekends.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Hobnob and Trumpet Trees

In a non-tea-related post, meet Hobnob.

My friend Jo came home one evening to find her sitting outside the front gate. You can't see from that picture, but  she is seriously emaciated. You could feel every single bone in her body, and almost touch your fingers together through the back of her spine.

Jo took her straight down to our lovely local vet, Dr. Arum. The examination showed she was starving, but she needed to wait to see whether it was just lack of food or whether there was an underlying condition causing this. Jo has other cats but no spare room, so she brought Hobnob, named by her daughter, over to my house. I had a spare room to keep her separate from my other cats, who are all vaccinated.

My friend Nick was staying with me. He lives up near Nyaringarama but was in town for a wedding. After I put my cats out for the night, I went and collected Hobnob and brought her in to snuggle on the couch with us as we started the new series of Stranger Things. When I opened the door to the spare room, I honestly thought she was dead for a moment as she was just lying there. Then she breathed and so did I. When I went to bed, I moved her into my room. She is such an incredibly affectionate little thing, I thought she'd feel safer with someone there.

Please ignore the dry food, I was feeding her small pieces of fresh meat and some mince. I quickly educated myself in starving cat nutrition. You've also got to be careful and keep an eye out for refeeding syndrome. When someone has been starved you can't just give them a big meal. The vitamins and minerals needed to digest food are depleted or exhausted, and without them the body can shut down when it encounters food. So, you need to start by offering around half the daily number of calories that a healthy creature would eat and include the vitamins and minerals needed for digestion, which, thankfully, meat has most of for a cat. Dry food is a bad idea as it's much harder to digest and dehydrating, which is bad in an already dehydrated animal.

She drank lots of water but was so weak she could hardly walk, so she wasn't able to use the litter box to begin with. The next morning she'd done two huge poos and had a wee, which was a really good sign. It meant her system was functioning.

We spent a couple of days cuddling and watching movies, and she was soon able to use the litter box. Because she's so affectionate, we wondered whether she might have belonged to someone. Many people get animals when they move to Rwanda, but a lot of expats leave them behind when they go. Or she might just have got lost. If she was a house cat or home bunny she might not have had much hunting experience and been unable to feed herself properly.

Arum had shaved off her matted fur and given her a bath, but there was still a strong, sickly smell about her. She was too weak to wash herself, so it was a really wonderful sign on the second day when she did this.

She also rolled over for a tummy rub. All she wanted to do was stroke, but I felt a bit nervous, it was like touching a furry skeleton and I was terrified I would hurt her, but she's a resilient little thing.


I had already arranged to go back to Gisenyi to see Sameer, but I delayed another day to spend more time with her. On the final evening, Jo and her daughter came to collect Hobnob. I helped put her in the car. She was recovering well and showing no signs of disease. Jo is keeping her. I would have done otherwise. She's going to have a really happy life, but even knowing that, I had a little cry after she left. I'm fine in an emergency - feed, water, clean, cuddle, repeat - but once it was over there was time to reflect on how awful it was. Poor little thing was suffering, but still so loving despite it all. I'm really looking forward to seeing her again next time I visit Jo. It was just so lucky she ended up outside her door.

Talking of Jo, we had a really lovely day on Wednesday. She has a tourism business in Gisenyi, specialising in cycling the Congo Nile Trail. In my bid to avoid the bus, she agreed to drive me back to Kigali after a training session with her staff. I had a lazy morning, and breakfast with Sameer after he'd done the morning rounds, then Jo picked me up and we went over to her office.


Nice guest room.

Cycle details - pedals as towel hooks.
I really love this wash basin.


(panoramic, click to enlarge)

Like Sameer, Jo has a lovely garden with lots of flowers.


That last one is called ikijojo in Kinyarwanda (little Jojo). Its other name is brugmansia, trumpet tree, angel trumpet or pseudodatura. It's both a poison and a hallucinogen. I often wonder whether there's some connection between this and the traditional imigongo paintings that look really trippy. Locals say it'll either kill you or send you mad. Sameer told me that this plant is the antidote, but we're not sure what it is.

The day after I got back to Kigali, Sameer had a meeting here, so he stayed over. We had a lovely meal at Lalibela, washed down with Belgian beers at the rolex shop in Kimi. It's been a really nice week, if a little exhausting with all the travelling and gin, but I'm blessed to know such interesting people and to live in such a beautiful country.