Wednesday, 13 June 2018

On a High

Had such a lovely night last night. Headed over to Ubumwe Hotel with Harris to watch the sunset over a cold Mutzig. I've posted about this place before, but it really does have a stunning view of the city. Once the light faded, the hills filled with lights. Kigali at its best.

Then we decided to walk all the way home. It took about an hour, down through town, out along the highway and up into Kacyiru, talking and listening to music the entire way.

Sunday, 10 June 2018


Oh my goodness me. What a weekend. 

In honour of Harris and Chris being back in town, we headed to PiliPili, a beautiful bar with a swimming pool overlooking the city. We were joined by my friends Maja and Vincent and my housemates Dana and Sasha. Rwanda recently banned shisha, but something entertaining that's just arrived at PiliPili are these pitchers you can tap yourself. Pull a pint from your chair. Vincent demonstrates how it's done.

We started out as seven, but by the end of the night we were reduced to three - Maja, Vincent and myself, decamped to Ogopogo, which is not only a cool name for a bar, but also the Canadian equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster. Quite how it swam all the way to Rwanda is a mystery, but hey ho. 

There used to be a saying that 'nothing good ever happens after 4 a.m.' When you pass your mid-thirties, that gets revised down to 2 a.m. That's about the time my tequila-neck-lick friend found me and tapped me on the shoulder. We're just friends, but after drinking for six hours, my greeting was way, way too intimate. Like, smack your face against the wall in the shower next day, intimate. Yeash. My ability to adult just disintegrated. 

I eventually untangled myself and ran away on a moto. The next morning my whole head felt like shattered glass. I had the hangover from hell - worst in a very long time.

Which was a problem, as my friend Sameer had extended an offer to go up to see a very ancient forest in the north this weekend. We had a group all set to go, but then things happened - someone left the country, someone's family was arriving, someone injured themselves. It sort of fell apart, so me and Harris invited Sameer down to Kigali instead. All I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and cry, but that wasn't an option. 

Thing is, one of my closest friends is a doctor, and it's a medical fact that hair of the dog actually does work. Who am I to refuse doctor's orders? 

Turned out to be one of the best nights ever

We started off joining my housemate Dana, and soon-to-be housemate Adrien, at a club in town where there was a live band, but the band weren't that good so Adrien suggested we head to Metallica where he knew of another band playing. 

Me and Sameer first met at rock night, and we'd always been curious about Metallica. We'd been hoping for a metal bar, but they were always advertising jazz nights, so we never went.

We arrived around 10:30 and it was a little subdued, so we took a table and ordered beer. It definitely wasn't a metal bar, but by the time we'd finished our first beer, an absolutely incredible Nigerian saxophonist had taken the stage. I've never seen anyone play the saxophone in Rwanda before. He started out slowly but then brought the house down with an incredible rendition of Despacito. We were all on our feet by that point, and it just got better and better. There was a five-minute guitar solo at the end of Hotel California, and the night wound down with La Bamba and a medley of all things Bob Marley. We danced until we couldn't stand. Hands-down, the best live music I've heard in Kigali for a very long time.

It was just one of those weird nights where you drag yourself out, not expecting much, and it turns out to be utterly fantastic. The lead vocalist kept addressing the crowd as 'you beautiful people', so we played Marilyn Manson's Beautiful People on the way home in tribute. It was a really eclectic night. Best part - I woke up feeling excellent this morning, with a big smile on my face. Amazing what a night of dancing can do.

I say, I like your hat sir!

Friday, 8 June 2018

Pre-packing Prep

One week to go before I head for the UK. First time back in two-and-a-half years. Finding it hard to wrap my head around that. Not sure what to expect or how it will feel. Little anxious about leaving my cats behind. 

It's been a very busy couple of weeks. I got a last-minute contract with a UN department, to give capacity-building training to over 40 heads of civil society. We covered Sustainable Organisational Development, Policy & Advocacy and Resource Mobilisation over a day and a half in a hotel in Nyamata. It was a really impressive hotel with a huge swimming pool.

Those guys above are from the Rwandan National Union of the Deaf, who I used to work with between 2007-09, helping to compile the first Dictionary of Rwandan Sign Language. I worked with a different group of people back then, but these guys still knew my sign name even though we'd never met before. It was really lovely to meet them, and I plan to reconnect when I get back from the UK and brush up on my RSL. 

Definitely been working for the wrong people all this time. This was my first time working directly with the UN and the government. Not only was there a free bar, but also a bubble bath. Bubbles and beer. It was quite a treat.

More from the trip:

Preparing for, and delivering, the training took a lot of work, then there was the follow-up report. I had a small editing job to do for GIZ, the German development agency, when I got back, then... nothing. 

It's really uncomfortable going from a state of being constantly busy to having nothing to do except prepare for departure. Sitting here cradling Netflix on my lap, watching a lot of Deep Space Nine, reliving my teenage years and remembering conversations I used to have with school friends about the storyline. 

Went out for a drink with my housemates the other day. One of my housemates is interning with GIZ and her boyfriend is interning in Abuja, so sometimes hops a flight over to visit. We went to Friday cocktails at a friend's cafĂ©, where they also have a yummy tasting board, but we'd scoffed it before I thought to take a picture. 

Hibiscus & Rosemary Gin Fizz

We headed to a bar next door where we had a few beers. Around 1 a.m. myself and my second housemate were flagging a bit, so I offered to walk her home.

Kigali is considered one of the safest cities in the world. As we walked, my housemate was saying how safe it is, and I said 'Well, there have been a few moto muggings...'

No sooner were the words out my mouth than a moto drove past and snatched her bag! It all happened extremely quickly, and thankfully she let go, so walked away with a bruised arm rather than a bloody nose, which is better than the last time this happened. Still, it was a bit shocking. I took her down to our local police station, where I knew one of the guys on duty. He was really lovely and took our statements. He told us this was the first report of a moto mugging in Kacyiru.

The same night, another lady had her bag snatched and a couple of days later her night guard managed to get it back for her. Among the stolen items were my housemante's bank card and driving license, so at least she got those back, if not the phone and cash.

Another friend, Chris, is also back in town and staying at my place. She left her car parked outside a friend's restaurant whilst she was away for a couple of weeks. A mechanic was supposed to come and collect it but never did. Whilst she was away, someone stole her radio.

It feels like theft is on the rise. There are reports of gangs armed with machetes robbing people walking up Mount Kigali, and people have been warned not to hike there at the moment. Unfortunately, the response from authorities is to make it easier for citizens to own guns. No one in their right mind needs an automatic weapon. Which means only people who are not in their right mind will have them. 

Arms are defined as firearms and their ammunition, grenade and other explosives used as arms as well as nuclear, biological, chemical or toxic weapons.

Feels like rather a step back in the fight against GBV too. As this article explains, 80% of partners killed by gun violence in the US are women. A guy comes home drunk from a bar and punches his wife, that's one thing. He comes home drunk from a bar, holding a gun...

Where's the option for 'Hell no'?

Lot of women I've spoken to feel rather horrified by this prospect. Arming the public doesn't seem to have worked out well for other nations. Being a Brit, we don't have many guns but there's still violent crime. The difference being, the number of people you can stab before being stopped versus the number of people you can shoot, is usually much fewer. 

Anyway, moving on to happier topics, Chris brought me a massive stash of goodies.

We headed out to dinner with Harris at SoleLuna and I managed to get a better picture of the flowers. 

Extremely glad to have my drinking buddies back. So many people have left recently: Maia, Johanna, Lynette - good when a few return. Went for a drink at PiliPili with Harris and saw the beautiful sunset in the first picture, and looked at this lovely view.

Also, some sort of religious holiday appears to have taken place as these little works of art popped up along the road. I've never seen street art in Kigali before, and it was all swept away by the following day.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Pimms O'clock

 Beautiful view from Harris's balcony.

He's left for the next couple of weeks to attend a conference in Europe. 

We spent his last night watching movies on the balcony and drinking whilst waiting for the taxi. Think the takings at CasaKeza will plummet whilst he's away. Miss my drinking buddy.

It's been a party kind of month.

Since Maia left, her friend Victor has taken over the running of the restaurant. It was his birthday, so there was cake and, being from South America, a large quantity of tequila.


Ended up teaching my friend Christian the neck-lick, which is something I haven't done since I was twenty-one. You rub a little of the lemon on your neck to make the salt stick, then put the lemon in your mouth. The other person licks the salt off your neck, downs the tequila, then takes the lemon from your mouth. It's fun. I learnt it with the British Army in Germany. 

In return, he let me wear his cap and glasses so that I could look like a librarian (apparently). The glasses are fun - fake lenses. I need to get some to make me look smarter.

In between the parties, rain has transformed my garden. A self-seeding butternut squash and, what I presume to be, potatoes on their way. All thanks to Gizmo the garden elf.

Had a rare water and electricity outage the other day. Glad it didn't last more than a day as I don't think my bucket-for-one emergency reserve is enough for four people and five cats. Got a full house at the moment.

Also had a thoroughly enjoyable ladies' night. I've become part of a WhatsApp group filled with ladies who dine - and drink. Mostly friends from the development sector. We splashed out on a very nice French restaurant called L'Épicurien. It's pricey (£15 for the duck) but it's absolutely worth it. The food is very tasty. Afterwards, a few of us wandered over the road to Mamba. We missed the live music but the place was packed and it was a lot of fun. Few people I knew there, and was joined by my friend Sameer from Gisenyi who was down for the weekend. Afterwards, we headed to Nyamirambo to meet up with Maja, Vincent and Mac in a bar for one last round. Made it home at a respectable 2:30 in the morning.

Mamba Club - we have a bowling alley, who knew?

The next day Jo came to pick me up to go to PiliPili. Had I been in the UK, I probably wouldn't have watched the Royal Wedding, but something about being an expat can occasionally turn you more British than you normally feel. It's a chance for Pimms and strawberries, neither of which are easily found. Sat watching the screens, and listening to a table of Americans behind talking about Limeys and explaining - with confidence and many mistakes - the structure of the royal family. Still, it was a nice, boozy afternoon and everyone was united in cheering for the kiss. No sooner did I get home than there was a call from Johanna and Sameer. We convened at CasaKeza for sangria and a strange night telling ghost stories.

Pimms O'clock

Sunday, 20 May 2018


In my last post I mentioned the flooding in Gisenyi. More than 200 people have lost their lives and almost 10,000 homes have been destroyed in one of the heaviest rainy seasons in a long time. After posting about it on Facebook, I started to hear more stories from friends, so I wanted to share. The first two are from my friend Jo. The second one shows the road we drove along to get to Lake Bunyonyi last October.

We’re coming to the end of the rainy season, which has been particularly heavy. Over 200 people have died in Rwanda as a result of landslides and falling buildings.
On Monday morning an old house in my garden started to collapse after 12 hours of heavy rain. Luckily no one was hurt and we spent the day emptying the house and moving out the person who was living there. We’ll knock down the rest over the next few days.
I’m very grateful that we get to sleep in a comfortable bed each night surrounded by solid walls.

My friend Meg runs the Kinamba Project down the road. She posted this.

After prolonged heavy rain for days on end this is what happened to part of our boundary wall over the weekend.

My own neighbour started building a house a few months back and one entire wall collapsed whilst I was away in Gisenyi. A live electric wire landed in our garden. REG have since made it safe, but it's still coiled up over our garden wall. 

There used to be four walls to this house.

Back in 2015, I was an honoured guest at my former guard's village after raising funds to help him rebuild his home after it had been washed away by floods. I still remember his face the night it happened, when he sat on my back porch and I thought someone had died. When he eventually told me what had happened, I realised I had to try to help. I'm extremely lucky to live in a solid, cement house that isn't likely to wash away any time soon *touch wood*.

My friend Sameer, up in Gisenyi, also sent me some pictures. The floods rerouted a river at the end of his garden, bringing down a wall and washing up two bodies. He lives on a tea estate which has lost a large area of land at significant financial cost, and made many of the mountain roads impassible.

This used to be a tea field.

There are definitely significant challenges that come with living in a land of a thousand hills - especially when it rains this hard. Thoughts go out to everyone who was affected and has lost loved ones.