Friday, 19 January 2018

Chocolate Avocado Kitty

Tis the season of chocolate avocado mousse in Kigali. It's raining 'cados from my tree, often very loudly onto a tin roof in the middle of the night. Here's the recipe:

  • 3-4 ripe avocados
  • 2-3 tablespoons of sugar, or a large dollop of honey
  • 1 tbs of cocoa powder per avocado
  • 1 lady finger banana, or half a big banana

Blend until fluffy and pop in the fridge for 30 mins.

I've heard it said that avocados are worth a lot of money in the west at the moment. Shame I can't convert my wealth.

Work-wise it's been an absolutely mental start to the New Year. I've just been commissioned to ghostwrite someone's memoirs. My first time ghostwriting an entire book. I've also done editing work for one large development agency, got another NGO on the books and an invitation to tender for a third international client, plus work with two local publishers. For the first time in a long time, I'm finding it difficult to juggle everything and may need to turn down work or subcontract it. I honestly didn't realise you could make a proper living from freelance editing. It does help living in a second-language English country. And it does take up a lot of time, meaning less for my own writing, but I'll ride the wave.

Another thing that's gone a bit haywire is cats. I'm feeling overwhelmed. Sen came back from the vet doing just fine. Like computers, there's a problem, you show it to someone and it works perfectly. She's now back home after a few days of being spoilt by Dr. Arum.

Before my kittens came home with me after being abandoned outside a Kinyarwanda lesson, I used to have a feral black cat. She ran off hissing the moment she saw the kittens, but she's now returned with kittens of her own - one black, one tabby. They looked really hungry and it was too hard to feed mine and not give them anything, so now they've moved into the garden. They're still very wild though, and I'd like to keep it that way - I really don't want more cats.

Then, a few nights ago, I was having a beer with one of my Airbnbers when we heard really distressed mewing. We found this tiny little boy, just separated from his mum at about six weeks old. Possibly thrown over the wall. I took him in and cleaned him up. He cried solidly for two nights - got no sleep at all because I no longer have a spare room to put him in, he stayed in my tiny apartment and pooed over everything.

On the third night he saw the other kittens and ran off after them down a drainpipe that connects the back of the houses. The other kittens just abandoned him down there as a massive thunder storm struck. He sat in the drainpipe crying in the rain for a couple of hours, then finally came back out and hid behind my house. I went and collected him - he looked so very lost.

Anyway, he stopped crying since then and focuses more on eating, pooing and playing. He's incredibly affectionate. I don't want more cats, and I did try to give him away on an expat forum, but there were no takers. Thankfully he's weaned, but there's a little work still to do on potty training. I haven't named him yet, but this one's a keeper. Found almost a year to the day since we lost my other boy kitten.

Scruffy Kitten
New, Improved, Fluffy Kitten

The others have all just had their rabies and triple vac boosters this week. They used to be so good about vaccinations, but Howl's now decided he's a bit of a wuss and takes a huge amount of coaxing with food to come close enough for the needle. It is quite amusing to see their reactions to the kittens, both mine and the wild ones. My cats are about four times the size of these little bundles, but they jump like they've just seen concentrated evil.

Return of the Black Cat
And Her Kittens

Washing Day

Had an absolutely lovely catch-up with Jo and Nicole over all-you-can-eat Japanese buffet at Kiseki. Stuff yourself silly for a fiver. One of my new favourite restaurants.

Friends Maia and Harris also just got back from holidays so we met up last night and I drank way too much. Suffered the worst hangover in a long time today, whilst showing some lovely people around our piano workshop.

Met up with Shania, my former cleaner who's just gone back to study in Butare. She brought be a huge bunch of bananas and drew me a lovely picture to say thanks for the support. I've been making a lot of banana smoothies and banana bread along with the chocolate mousse. Glad to have housemates to share it with.

Also had a very impressive fruit salad with muesli breakfast before a business meeting the other day. Bourbon has improved a bit.

So, things are going well. The council finally, and very definitively, shut down our noisy neighbours. The charity who were running a late-night bar and music venue from a residential house. It's been blissful since then. I was starting to think I was going mad and that the noise had always been there, but now I remember it always used to be a wonderfully quiet neighbourhood. It really was them. One of the guys involved is the son of a very famous Rwandan singer and, from social media, it looks like he's trying to pull strings with the Justice Department and Mayor of Kigali to reopen the venue. I hope they stick to their guns - and the law - and continue to uphold the peace.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Settling into 2018

Brought a little bit of India back with me. Not just in the spiritual sense, but in the culinary. Stocked up my spice rack from Sharma's in town and attempted to recreate some favourites. Managed a stunning aubergine curry and had a crack at pakora, but really need gram flour for that.

It would be so easy to be vegetarian in India, but Rwanda's a really tough place for quality fresh vegetables. The contrast was brought home both there and in Nairobi. Those countries have so much flat farmland and can grow a lot of produce, whereas much of our stuff is imported or grows small and rots quickly. Decent frying pans are also very hard to come by and extremely expensive. I am making a concerted effort to cook more, though.

Stayed in for New Year. I was going to head to CasaKeza, but they cancelled their event as 90% of their clientele is out of the country at the moment. It also rained heavily the entire night, so my couch and a movie looked like a much more appealing option. Skyped mum and dad at midnight, which I hit two hours ahead of them.

We're only five days in, but I'm not entirely convinced by this year.

Had my first moto accident ever today. Motos are public motorbikes, the main form of public transport around the city. You hail them like cabs and climb aboard pillion. I've had a couple of near misses in the past but the majority of my journeys are uneventful.

Rwandan Motos

Luck ran out today. My driver pulled out of a busy junction and misjudged the turning space he needed to get around another moto which was waiting to turn towards us. He didn't leave enough room for my leg to pass the back of the other, stationary, bike. I was texting and thankfully looked up in time to put my hand out and shout 'stop', at which point my driver did a weird little wobble and the next thing I know, we've both dismounted, but the bike has fallen over and is trapping my lower leg. It was more undignified than anything, lots of busy traffic speeding past.

When my driver finally pulled the bike off me, we went to the side of the road. There was a policeman there, but as nothing was damaged he just shrugged and we all went on our way. I think years of falling off horses has taught me to get straight back on. I also think the fact I was texting means I was so relaxed when it happened that I more sort of stepped off the bike than fell. No bruises.

Got home with my shopping thinking, ooh, nice cup of tea and a sit down. But 2018 had other ideas.

Yup, this is Sen vomiting blood all over the patio.

She's had some problems for a couple of months - severe breathing difficulty and coughing a lot. Our lovely vet put her on medication, which worked wonders. We finished the course and I went off to India. When I came back, the cough had returned, so we started another round of the medication, only she started throwing up her food a lot. Today was the first time there was blood, so I bundled her into a taxi and took her back to the vet, who's keeping her in for observation. Also returned from India to discover she's dislocated her front paw, but there's not much that can be done about that here, and she seems to be walking without pain. She's a remarkably purry, happy cat considering everything she's been through. It's only one year since her brother was killed and she almost died of poisoning. I wonder how much that affected her health, as the other two are fine. They all had their rabies jabs yesterday, and the vet laughingly says we should get a frequent shopper discount as we're there so often. Fingers crossed for Sen's speedy recovery.

Put some fairy lights in the garden to cheer myself up.

Sooo, yeah. Hmm. Other than mental moto drivers and vomity cats, it's good to be home. Glad I took out a subscription to Netflix, though it's a pain in the ass that in 2018 you still can't buy internet online in Rwanda. My bank's online banking system is also kaput at the moment, so you can't buy electricity online either, and, although Rwanda is (according to the newspapers) striving to become a 'cashless economy', I still had to queue at the one open Post Office counter (next to the three closed ones) for half an hour to renew my PO box for the year. The day PayPal makes it to Rwanda I may just fall to the floor weeping.

Happy New Year
We'll be with you in an hour.

Right. I'm off to make that cup of tea, have that sit down and cuddle my two remaining cats.

Friday, 29 December 2017

Kashmiri Carpets

Just a little addendum to the Delhi leg of the trip. I forgot to mention that we visited a traditional carpet factory. Due to ongoing unrest in the Kashmir region of India, many craft shops have set up in the capital, selling handcrafts to sustain the families living back home. We visited Village Arts in Lado Sarai: /

We were treated to a display of how traditional rugs are made. It was then explained to us how you can tell whether a rug is handmade or machine made. There's a magic trick. If it's handmade, the rug changes colour from light to dark as you rotate it.

Thursday, 28 December 2017


To keep with tradition, we drove from Jaipur to Delhi airport the next day, completing the Golden Triangle. It was a long haul, and sad to be saying farewell to our driver, Anand, after all those miles.

We headed through Delhi airport to departure, past their elephants. We learned on our tour that if the elephant's trunk is down, it signals 'welcome', and if it's up, touching the forehead, it means 'hello'. Our plane eventually left for Mumbai (Bombay) as the sun was setting.

After such an incredible journey, something was bound to go wrong. In this case, it was The Strand Hotel which happened to us. When we arrived at Delhi, Vistara offered to put us on an earlier flight, which would get us in two hours ahead of schedule. Fantastic, we thought. Marilyn promptly phoned the hotel to tell them about our change of plans. They said that was fine. But when we arrived, there was no taxi waiting.

We stood for over an hour calling the hotel, calling the driver - they didn't seem to know where the airport was! Eventually, we gave up and took an Uber. Mumbai airport is fantastic for that. They even have a dedicated team of people who can help you book an Uber if you don't have the app. Within minutes, we were on our way. 

Things got progressively worse once we reached the hotel. Instead of 'We're so sorry about the mix up,' or 'let's get you checked in,' the guy behind the counter proceeded to start a massive argument with us, even calling in the Uber driver to give him a dressing down for daring to pick us up! He kept insisting it was our fault for changing our flight, even though we'd given him our new flight details. He kept telling us our taxi had been waiting, as arranged, at international arrivals.

Why? We were always coming from Delhi.

No part of our original flight or our new flight had been international.

Eventually Dad said 'Do you want us to stay or not? We can find another hotel,' at which point he grudgingly took our passports and gave us the keys. The staff continued to be miffy with us the entire stay. Rude doesn't even begin to cover it.

Honest to goodness, it was Fawlty Towers without the laughs.

It soon became apparent that the place was falling apart. They were using one of those toilet bricks you find in urinals as an air freshener to mask the stench of burnt rubber. It was so overpowering that I flushed it down the loo. Dad's room smelt strongly of mildew and there was mold growing in the fridge. The front of his aircon unit fell off the wall when he went to adjust the temperature. Even the wiring was taped together, and the sockets sparked when you plugged anything in.

Would you order room service from a menu like this?
Sea View
The place was a mess, and the staff were offensive to the point of being caricatures. We'd booked through because it had good reviews, but it seems the reviews on Trip Advisor were more accurate. Basically, everything stated in the one-star reviews is what we experienced. 'Go here only if you have nowhere else to stay,' pretty much summed it up. If it hadn't been so very late at night, we would have found somewhere else, but we'd just travelled all the way from Jaipur, via Delhi, and we were absolutely knackered. It was a real comedown after our fantastic stay at Dera Rawatsar, but we were determined to make the best of it. There were definitely many other things to explore in the area. The hotel was right on the seafront, just down the road from The Gateway of India.

Across the road is the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which is renowned for a terror attack which took place in 2008, when 200 hostages were evacuated through the windows.

The next morning - Christmas Day - we headed out in search of breakfast and found a gorgeous little café around the corner called Basilico. Free wifi, good coffee and the most mouth-watering cake collection you can imagine. I opted for their shakshouka, which was absolutely delicious. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up.


After that, we hit the extremely busy streets of Colaba Market. This is one long road with jewelry, pashmina, trinket and clothes shops all the way down it. As I mentioned before, I hadn't been out of Africa in almost two years and was in desperate need of some clothes. I also wanted to do some gift shopping, so parted ways with Dad & Marilyn, who went off to explore the CSMVS Museum. I walked back to the beginning of the market, bought a cheap wheelie case, and promptly began filling it.

Halfway down, I happened to glance to my right and see a door with a delicately calved hand, palm facing me. What is this? I wondered, pressing my own palm to it. Inside I found a tiny, dimly-lit room with a lady dressed in red behind the counter. It smelt exquisite in there.

Turned out to be a foot spa. I'm generally not one for massages, but the place seemed so unusual, as though the shop might disappear if I left, that I handed over my money and made my way upstairs.


I floated back down the stairs about forty minutes later. The place is called Sabai Spa and if you ever find yourself lost in the hustle and bustle of Colaba Causeway, I absolutely recommend it. Quite divine.

Meanwhile, Dad & Marilyn had managed to track down Nataraja - and his foot.

That night we headed out to Pizza Express to stuff ourselves with food and beer, enjoying Christmas without the trappings and pressure of western commercialism. Bar a few Santa hats and some tinsel, India is a lot like Rwanda in its observance of Christmas. You sort of know it's happening, if you look, but it's extremely easy to ignore. Not the three-month advertising campaign it's become in the UK. Dad said he lost all Christmas spirit this year when he opened his front door to find a loan company asking if he needed to borrow money. So many people getting into debt and feeling pressured to provide a good time at all costs. Not sure that's the message that was originally intended.

The next day was our last in India. We checked out of the hotel and left our bags at reception. Dad & Marilyn were flying back to the UK, and I was headed back to Rwanda, but our flights weren't until the wee hours, so we decided to fill some time by booking a sightseeing tour of Mumbai. The first stop was Mani Bhavan, Ghandi's home and headquarters for seventeen years.

This is the room he lived in, with his bed and spinning wheel. There are some truly fascinating parts to this museum, including a letter he wrote to Hitler, and an entire room showing key points in his life reconstructed using models. After visiting his cremation site at Raj Ghat in Delhi, this felt like a fitting conclusion to our trip. A chance to read much more about his life and works.

Our next stop was a Jain temple. We were allowed to look around the courtyard and the aisles to either side of the main room. It was interesting, but the first rule on the notice board was:  'Women who are menstruating must not enter the temple,' at which point you've really lost my interest. Woman parted her legs and birthed you into this world, you'd deny her access to a temple because she's on her period? It's all very well to say 'respect tradition', but if that tradition doesn't respect half the world's population, perhaps it needs rethinking. FGM is a tradition, after all. At a certain point, things need to evolve. 

From there we visited the Hanging Gardens of Mumbai. Perhaps slightly disappointing, as it conjures images of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the world, and it's really just a park built over a giant water storage facility. Possibly oversold it in the naming there, but still a nice stroll.

Our route also took us past the Tower of Silence, which is something that lives up to its name, only you can't really see it through the trees and it's not open to the public, so here's a picture from Wiki and an artist's impression.

It's a Parsi (Zoroastrian) place for the dead, where they expose bodies to the crows to be stripped of flesh. 

From the intriguing to the really odd, our next stop was a local laundry. I'm not entirely sure how this first became a major tourist attraction, but it is strangely captivating. It's an area of town where all the hotels and businesses send their sheets and uniforms for cleaning. Rows upon rows of laundry drying in the sun, and people up to their elbows in soapsuds. You just park up by the edge of the road and look over the wall at it.

Mumbai traffic is a lot like Delhi traffic: fairly stagnant, so we languished in the back seat looking up at the buildings going by whilst meandering our way back to Colaba Causeway so that Dad & Marilyn could experience the joy of a Sabai foot massage.

That last one is the home of Mukesh Ambani, the richest man in India, complete with pool and helipad. It houses one family and has a staff of 600 to maintain it, though depending on which driver you talk to, that quickly rises to over 1,000.
Whilst Dad & Marilyn enjoyed their massage, I did a little last-minute clothes shopping, then we all headed round the corner to our favourite café for coffee and cake.

After that, it was about time to take another taxi to the airport. The sun was setting on our holiday, both literally and metaphorically, as we headed down the Queen's Necklace, as the buildings around the bay are known.

We had quite a bit of time to spare, so had snacks and did some duty-free shopping before final hugs and heading our separate ways to departure. I timed it just right, arriving at my gate just as boarding opened. Although, we did then sit on the tarmac for over an hour. 

The flight back with RwandAir was much smoother than the flight there, although I had a Mumbai arrivals experience when I rocked up at 5 a.m. in Kigali - my taxi driver didn't show. Despite clearly stating a.m., he'd convinced himself I was arriving in the afternoon. Luckily, there was another taxi there who transported me to my door. 

An incredible holiday. So much packed into two weeks. I still think Chand Baori was my favourite sight from the whole trip, and Goa for its laid-back, colourful atmosphere. Jaipur was also extremely interesting, and Mumbai seemed markedly reserved in comparison. Very much enjoyed our adventure. Now I need to sleep for a week.