Saturday, 18 November 2017

India Bound

My visa for India came through today. Meeting up with Dad & Marilyn in Mumbai, few days on the beach in Goa, then the Golden Triangle over Christmas. Can't believe it's almost been two years since I was last with them in the UK. I plan to eat until I have to book a double seat on the flight home.


It's been a fabulous few weeks for cocktails. Done plenty of testing sessions ahead of the cocktail bar launch at my friend's restaurant. Had a round at my place, then one at the restaurant which descended into a mad game of Who's in the Bag? You put the names of famous people in a bag. The first round, you can use words to describe the person, the second round, you can only mime the same people, then the third round, you have to use only your hands like a puppet show over the back of a chair. The team with the most names at the end wins. The prize for worst person to have on your team goes to Jo, who put forward Zinedine Zidane.

This is Victor's workspace in my kitchen:

No, but seriously, who needs everyday grenadine?
Victor setting up for cocktail testing night.

We ended up dancing like lunatics around the bar after everyone else had gone home, then Maia and I headed out to Fuchsia and Sundowner with our friends Harris and Ash.

Spent the next couple of days lying on my couch groaning and bug watching.

My little shed apartment has also become the last bastion of sanctuary for lizards. My cats have a horrible habit of catching them and biting off their tails. I try to rescue as many as possible. Found this little guy cowering in my shoe.

Talking of cats, things have been a bit traumatic with Sen lately (the kitten who was poisoned). She's had a respiratory problem the past couple of months and it got particularly bad yesterday. It's been extremely hard to get veterinary assistance. Most of the vets have been out of the country, out of Kigali, or busy elsewhere. Managed to get one guy to take time out from treating wild animals at Akagera. He gave her a heart worm injection and a course of doxycycline, but it hasn't helped. The lovely Dr Arum came last night. She saved Sen's life after the poisoning. She's given her some anti-inflammatories and suggested some other tablets, which we'll try tonight. Hoping she gets better soon.

It's well and truly the wet season here at the moment. Some really big downpours. Temperatures have been as low as 14/15c at night, so lots of fluffy socks and jumpers. But it has led to some impressive rainbows.

 And some very cute, cuddled-up cats.

Things are also going quite well with piano building, though we're still having massive problems sourcing wire for strings. Des is making the keys at the moment. You can read more about that on the other blog.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Bleeding Heck

My new housemate is a cocktail expert. I'm currently getting no work done. He's testing things out for a local bar. This was a coffee, KahlĂșa and vodka mix with marshmallow.

Need a bit of cheering up. Just had a really awful experience.

A guy posted on a local forum about donating blood in Kigali. He's here for a short time and wanted to do something to help. I got in contact and said I'd go with him. My dad's a lifelong blood donor and I used to do it years back, before moving to a malaria zone.

I went to ask if it would be possible to donate, as I had malaria in 2015 and in the UK you can't give blood for three years afterwards. Which doesn't make a lot of sense because Coartem, which they use to treat malaria, kills the parasite dead. A week after the treatment, my blood tests came back clean. Three years seems a very long time for something that is usually cured quite quickly.

Here, that wasn't a problem.

Instead, they wouldn't take my blood because I'm mildly asthmatic.

I've never encountered this before, and I've never had any problems giving blood in the past. When I showed my blood donor card, I was handed a sheet that had a checklist of health questions: cancer, heart disease, pregnancy - but not asthma. 

It wasn't so much the weird reason that upset me, it was the way I was treated. The doctor, or nurse (not sure which), spoke only in French and directed all questions to the the guy I was with. She hardly looked at me and didn't ask me any questions.

From my friend's translation it seemed as though she started off saying I could donate, but there was a risk, then said I couldn't, then said I could come back and speak with a doctor another day.

Yet the Red Cross say:

Asthma [is] acceptable as long as you do not have any limitations on daily activities and are not having difficulty breathing at the time of donation and you otherwise feel well.

When I tried to talk, she talked over me, so I just decided to leave.

It was a horrible experience, and completely counter productive in a country with a major blood shortage (ironically, due to malaria).

There are some other weird things about donating blood here. Like an article that says women can't give blood during their period or for seven days afterwards. I'd never heard that one before. The Australian Red Cross even answers the question 'Can I donate blood whilst on my period?' with:

Yes. Menstruating doesn’t affect your ability to donate. Enjoy your relaxing time on the donation couch and a guilt-free snack afterwards.

Seems every country has got some weird set of rules, and sometimes weird staff, designed to put people off donating blood.

If there was a legitimate reason, fine, but talk to me - the person in front of you - and explain it politely rather than making me feel bad for wasting my time, money and goodwill coming to see you.

Don't think I'll be going back.

Anyway, at least that means I can binge out on chocolate and pour myself a beer now. 

Had a lovely time at Jo's the other day. She threw a bonfire party where everybody had to bring a tradition. There was a bonfire with a guy, mince pies and several 'traditional' drinking games, including ibble dibble, where people end up with soot all over their faces. A really good night.

Creepy Guy

Friday, 3 November 2017

Up High


White sangria. It's a thing in Rwanda. Packed with mango and strawberries. Very refreshing.

Baby bunnies are also a thing. Packed with cute.

Rock night. That's also a thing, but not so cute. 

Had a fabulous, drunken night out with Maia, Lynette and our friend Manu, the Spanish guy who was living above Maia's place. Then she had to kick him out so her bar manager could move in. Now I have both Spanish Manu and bar manager living in my house - temporarily.

Not entirely sure how that happened.

Actually, Manu runs a very cool expedition business. Check out the video on his website.

Maia convinces me to do a lot of things. Not all of them entirely sane.

"Wouldn't it be fun to waitress here?" she once told me, talking about her restaurant.

"Sure. That would be kind of fun," I said. "I must have been about twenty-one the last time I was a waitress."

Me: What's the dress code?
Maia: Not too goth.

Fourteen hours later...

No, seriously. I worked for fourteen hours straight.

Right from breakfast orders through to washing the final dishes.

It was physically exhausting, I ached the next day, but spiritually fairly rewarding. I have huge admiration for her staff who work (sensible shifts) every day. It's also fun to see the reactions of expats and Rwandans alike, to be served by a white waiter who isn't the owner of the bar. I don't think I've ever been  served by a white person in a bar or restaurant in Kigali. You get very few backpackers here, so no budget travellers looking for bar work. It highlights the expectation that mzungus are all NGO workers or business moguls. Not that I'm suggesting outsiders should take local jobs, but I like to challenge preconceptions.  I also think the diversity of a capital city's bar staff is a good indicator of how multinational that country is in general.

Also - broke the tip jar.

Got paid in food and gratitude.

Baked in Banana Leaves on a Bonfire

Got to see yogurt being made.

And Maia made me the coolest thing, whilst impressively tipsy. It's amazing it didn't take her eye out. 

It might not look like much, but it's revolutionised my life. It's not Uri Geller's calling card, it's an iPhone stand for when you want to Skype your family. Stops my arms getting tired. 

Towards the end of my shift, we took in two nice blokes who showed up on the doorstep very lost. Porrick and Tony were camper-vanning around East Africa. They'd heard there was a campsite near us, but it must have closed a couple of years ago. They ended up staying a couple of nights at the restaurant and treated me to a nice meal.

Maia's other bright idea was to turn my old, awful pit latrine and guard house into a swanky self-contained apartment.



The most impressive thing is the bed. As it's a small hut, Maia suggested saving space by creating a floating bed. I was sceptical at first, but it's worked out fantastically.

I've been getting really crafty. I made this little box for my undies, and glued some nice fabric to the back of the shelves. Solved the problem of curtains with my new best friend, Velcro.

The mosquito netting proved a bit of a challenge, but I've got it sorted. My neighbour now has a fantastic tailor working at her shop. With a little translation help, she managed to hem an old net I had and I velcroed it to the ceiling. Ironically, I did manage to superglue myself to the superglue tube in the process, but hey, who needs three layers of skin?

Pretty Damn Cool, Right?
From the Inside
Mosquito on the Outside

I was planning on renting it out, but it's so nice that I've decided to move in here myself. Hence the two guests in the main house. I'm deciding whether I want to let rooms. I've lived by myself since moving in here in 2015, so it takes a bit of getting used to having people around, but with my own bathroom and miniature kitchen (I'll photograph that next time), I think I could cope. 

I've already had one visitor pop by.

Terrified Mouse Attempting to Evade Cats.

The only question mark over this is my neighbours from hell. Back in August, a charity moved in next door. They decided the best way to help street children in Rwanda was to open a cafe to raise funds. They found a Danish donor who agreed. So, a group of young men, having had their rent paid for them, set about doing what all conscientious young men do, and turned it into an ear-splittingly loud late-night music venue. They've been making life miserable ever since.

It got to the point where I called the police out. It was either that or I was going to be arrested myself for setting fire to their sound system. The neighbours didn't give a damn about the noise. Their donor didn't give a damn about the noise. It was a last resort.

All I can say is that the local police and Kigali City Council have been absolutely sterling on this issue. Really excellent. Took the complaints seriously, sent people out, gave numbers to call if it happens again. They really have been extremely good, threatening to remove the sound equipment and even close them down if they don't sort themselves out. Rwanda is strict about noise pollution. It's not that I don't enjoy a good night out myself - total rock fiend - just not in the middle of a residential area. 

So, we'll see how that goes. 

Meanwhile, I'm enjoying pretending to sleep in a tree house.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Lake Bunyonyi

Just back from a stunning weekend at Lake Bunyonyi in Uganda. I've now used my East Africa visa privilege on all three countries: Kenya for Maasai, Rwanda for living (and gorillas) and Uganda for lakes. Whilst my home country of the UK is busy putting up barriers between countries, Africa and the EA have the much brighter idea of free movement.

Went with Jo, Maia and their daughters Zuba and Taia. Jo drove us up there. It's only a couple of hours. When I was a VSO people used to talk about Bunyonyi lots, but I never actually made it. I've only been to Uganda once - Kampala, back in 2008. Visited Godown and spent a couple of days in the capital. It was really nice to get away from the city this time. Here's our drive towards the lake:


We stopped off at a gorgeous hotel called BirdNest for lunch. Right on the very edge of the lake.


Whilst the girls ran off to play with the donkeys, the adults got down to some serious menu perusal. Bunyonyi is famed for its crayfish, so eating crayfish is obligatory. I had them with tagliatelle and a fabulous bottle of Castle Milk Stout. We're a bit limited for beer in Rwanda, so this was a nice treat.


We were headed for Byoona Amagara, which is an island, so you have to take a boat to get there. It began to rain heavily as we were finishing our meal, so there was nothing for it but to order desert... and another bottle of stout.

The rain eventually eased up and we decided to brave it. 

By the time we reached the jetty it had stopped completely and the sun was attempting to shine through. We threw our stuff on board and had a lovely fifteen-minute trip across the lake.



Nobody Panic - Those are Doll Feet

Byoona is fairly incredible. The accommodation is built like traditional open-fronted huts.


This was the view from the hut I was sharing with Maia.

Mist in the Morning

Amazing design, but a little bit nippy at night. That area of Uganda is much colder than Kigali. We needed plenty of extra blankets. But the food was fab. They have a bar area with a communal guitar, so I taught the girls how to tune it. Both Zuba and Taia are very musical. We also discovered grated potato pancakes and stuffed ourselves silly. The electricity was a bit hit and miss so everywhere was covered in beautiful lanterns.

They're also big on ecology. All the toilets are eco loos which separate out your wee and poo and compost the dry stuff. The shower was solar powered, in a little log cabin which is open around the top so you can look out at the lake. Unfortunately, there wasn't much sun, so the morning birdsong was interspersed with 'Oooh! Aaah! Oooh! That's cold!'

Bathroom Suite

Sadly, we hadn't been there long when Jo had to leave. She runs a tourism business and one of the people on her tour had fallen off his bike and needed to go to hospital. She had to race back to Kigali to help organise their medical care. Not a very relaxing weekend for her.

Maia and I took the girls exploring on the island, searching for dwarfs and the forgetful old lady who keeps leaving her hair (vines) caught in the trees.

Passion Fruit

We got down to the water and found some boats.

The next day, we headed down to the lake to swim. I love swimming in lakes, and Bunyonyi is one of the few lakes in the region without hippos, crocodiles or bilharzia. It's also the deepest lake in Uganda and the second deepest in Africa. Apparently, its name means place of many little birds. There were certainly plenty of black and white kingfishers. 

After a dip, I joined Maia on shore to crack open the prosecco. We headed home to dry off and warm up. Whilst they watched a film, we had a little nap on the porch until the girls woke us up wanting to go 'rodding' (six-year-old for rowing). 

We climbed aboard a little wooden dug-out, like the ones we'd seen on our walk, and off we headed to explore the islands. The girls did most of the rowing whilst I got to grips with steering, using my paddle as a rudder. 

Byoona in the Background

The girls also treated us to a traditional dance display, which they've been learning in school. We made costumes out of our shawls.

We had an absolutely lovely couple of days and Jo drove back to pick us up from BirdNest. Her client was okay and had taken a plane back to the UK. We're going to plan another weekend away soon so that she gets a chance to relax. We had another yummy lunch before setting off, and possibly more milk stout...

Being a Mummy is Tiring
More Beer!

 Back to the city and a sensible climate. Looking forward to more adventures.