Thursday, 6 December 2018

Breaker of Things

Found this cute little critter the other day. Love the colours on it. And just rescued two mantises in as many days from the cats.


It's been a busy few weeks. My friend Emma, a former creative writing student, came to visit and we went out for the night. She lives a bit out of town and doesn't get into Kigali often. She's part of a beekeeping operation and brought lots of wonderful gifts, including fresh honey, soap, a candle and lip balm.


Did some baking with my trusty bucket oven. Harris left some sheets of lasagna, so I finally put them to good use. Had to make the white sauce using Blue Band, but it tasted really good.


Also went to help my friend Bonani tune his piano. He used to be the manager at Kigali Music School, but that sadly ran out of funding and had to close, so he's setting up his own place in Nyamirambo. Someone gifted him a 1980 Swedish Nordiska. Couple of strings missing and out of tune, so I'm giving him a hand with that. Once I had finished tuning, he took it for a test drive and completely floored me. Very talented guy.

Then, on Tuesday, my lovely friend Tracey arrived with a special guest. Tracey runs a tourism business in Kenya. I last saw her in March last year when our friend Celia was leaving Africa. We had a girls' weekend away at Maasai Mara. At that time, she was heavily pregnant - and still running safaris. What a star! This time, she was coming to Rwanda to start another tour, and brought along baby Gabriel.
He wasn't too sure about me at first, but we bonded over shoes.

 And a love of chocolate pancakes.

'Emperor's Mess'
Gabriel's Kikuyu name translates as breaker of things, and he sure lives up to that. He just looks so damn cute whilst he's at it.

Luckily, he didn't manage to break a cat - they're too smart. But the boy's got get-up and go. It's nice here though, because whichever restaurant you're in, people are always friendly and smiling when they see a baby. We took him to the German Butchery, and the next day over to CasaKeza to meet up with friends Maja and Vincent.

But his absolute favourite pastime was the garden tap.


Unfortunately, I'm now suffering the consequences of last night. There was rather a lot of rum and sangria consumed, and I managed to completely knacker my foot again. Just stood on it slightly wrong and the Achilles tendon tore again. Fairly distraught about that, as I've spent three weeks in physio and was really starting to get somewhere. I was almost walking normally, and now I'm hardly walking at all. Annoyed it happened a second time at the same place it happened the first time. Maybe this is a sign not to drink at CasaKeza any more? I hope not.

Tracey and Gabriel were up at 7 a.m. to start their safari, so I'm having an extremely lazy day in front of Netflix. Rather happy, as it looks like I have another contract before Christmas, which would be most welcome.

Monday, 19 November 2018

The Hypochondriac

So proud of my friend Pieter, who runs Thespis Consulting. He directed a play at Kigali Cultural Village last night with an all-Rwandan cast. Molière's The Hypochondriac:

A French play by Molièr, spoken in English, performed by Rwandans, directed by a Dutch guy.

How much more international can you get?

I've put the programme online here

It was actually my first time inside Kigali Cultural Village, which is just at the end of the road with Marriott and Serena on it. It's a collection of several tents for events. Really beautifully lit as you walk in.

I meant to ask Pieter before I left home whether it was posh or casual dress. I assumed casual, but as I walked in, there were loads of people in ball gowns and suits. It's only when I followed them, I realised I was in the wrong tent - someone was getting married! 

Quick about-turn. I eventually saw a tent with the EU sign outside and assumed that was probably where a production of Molière would be taking place, if anywhere.

I was right, and just like the TEDx talk, there was a full house.

I had absolutely no idea that the play was from the 17th century (1673), so 345 years old. It was only the second time I'd been to the theatre in all my years in Rwanda. The first time was Butare Deaf Theatre back in 2008. I'm not counting Ugandan cabaret at Pasadena in this. 

Theatre here is often a showcase of dance, drumming and visual arts, and in the villages it usually contains an HIV awareness-raising message, as a lot of theatre is commissioned by NGOs to spread health messages in rural areas. It was really interesting to watch a European play delivered in a European style, with a few amendments. There is one soliloquy where a guy is telling his reluctantly-betrothed how beautiful she is, and that was delivered in Kinyarwanda, comparing her soft skin to the gorillas in Musanze, and her slender neck to a giraffe... 

There was a lot of laughter throughout the performance, and the jokes came across well, which was impressive as it's quite wordy English. But, as Pieter explained, the play may be over three-hundred years old, but the themes are universal and still relevant: parental pressure to marry someone you don't love, a rich guy being surrounded by friends who adore his money more than him, someone pretending to be sick for sympathy... everyone can relate.

For most of the actors, this was their first time in front of a live audience, and they did superbly. 

This is my friend Pieter sitting to the right of the stage. They put the play together in five weeks, which was really impressive.

Afterwards, I took a little wander around the tent - it's really nice in there, showcasing various Rwandan craft makers.

Reception desk with reed mats, agaseki peace baskets,
bark cloth, milk urns, drums and spears.

Imigongo paintings, traditionally from magic huts.

After the performance Pieter and I went for drinks and dinner at the top of Ubumwe Hotel, which has a fabulous view of the city.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

TEDx Rugando

Went to a fantastic TEDx event last night in Kigali. It was hosted by Westerwelle Startup Haus


This place is in a building close to Lemigo Hotel and it has an incredible rooftop view. 

(panoramic, click to enlarge)
(panoramic, click to enlarge)

On one side you had a clear view of Kigali Convention Centre, which is currently the most expensive building in Africa.

On the other side, you can see the Parliament building. Since 1994 bullet holes have been plastered over on residential properties, but they left a massive shell crater in the side of Parliament as a reminder. If you look up as you drive past, you can see it.


They were still putting the stage together as I arrived, but the place soon filled up. It was a really good crowd - looked like close to 100 people.


It was a really nice venue, and kudos for the funky lighting setup.

There were six speakers and two TED videos. My only criticism is that it would have been nice to have more information about the speakers on the programme, as the info on the website really focused on their business backgrounds rather than their idea and what they were going to talk about. Quite a few of us turned up expecting it to be more of a business promotion event and it was really pleasing to discover the diversity of speakers and topics. It was a really energising evening - as a good TEDx talk should be.

The first speaker was Kevine Kagirimpundu, co-founder of Uzuri, Made in Rwanda shoes, explaining how she took her love of fashion to the high street with the help of a local shoe maker. Next was Betty Tushabe, who founded Spoken Word Rwanda. Her talk chimed really closely with my own TEDx talk, in which she spoke about being forced to study law because of her mother's expectations, then finding her passion for policy making later in life - that 'click' moment.

There was music by Rwandan singer Mike Kayihura, performing a mixture of cover songs and original work. Captivated the audience - really beautiful voice.

The two TED video were Andrew Youn, founder of the One Acre Foundation who are very big in Rwanda, on how we can end poverty, and Wanuri Kahiu on the importance of art for art's sake.

The second half of the session featured Clement Uwajeneza, who masterminded Irembo, a government services portal, with the ambition of making all government services accessible to everyone, cutting out trips to government offices and reems of paperwork. 

Norbert Haguma, co-founder of AfricaGen, talked about leapfrogging technology in developing countries. This is a big topic at the moment. The West took centuries and an industrial revolution to get to where they are technologically today, whereas Africa is in the strange position of having that technology (internet, computers, iphones) but a large portion of the population still using Bronze Age equipment to farm fields and cook with. Leapfrogging is how you bypass the need to replicate an industrial revolution by introducing non-technologically advanced populations to the technological solutions we have today. It's called leapfrogging, because you're jumping over industrial evolutionary steps to fast-track progress. This is why it should take less time for developing countries to catch up to developed ones than it took for developed countries to become developed. During his talk he mentioned the Great Green Wall, which is a project I'd heard about some years back, but didn't realise was still going ahead. It's a project to plant trees across 8,000 km of Africa to stop the progression of the Sahara Desert.

The last speaker was Gael Vande Weghe, who recently published an aerial photographic journal of Rwanda's diverse ecosystem, This is Rwanda. The talk was accompanies by many beautiful examples from his work.

During Norbert's talk about the future of technology and artificial intelligence, I felt like a Victorian woman listening to a lecture on the potential of electricity. Such a sense that we're so far behind what we're going to become. Exciting, yet unnerving.

Betty Tushabe, founder of Spoken Word Rwanda

I bumped into a couple of the speakers on the roof before they were due to go on. I didn't envy them their nerves, and we laughed about that universal sense of panic every performer gets before stepping on stage - and how that's multiplied tenfold with TED because you know it's being recorded. It was nice being in the audience this time.

A really excellent evening, very glad I went. Plenty to think about. Hopefully the first of many TED events in Rwanda. The talks should be available online in a couple of months. I'll post them once they're up. For now, you can see more at #TEDxRugando

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

The Great Chicken Incident

Aaah. So good to be back.

Didn't realise how stressful the TED prep had been until I got home. My friend Chris had managed to keep the cats alive, and we went straight to CasaKeza for a few beers - and pudding.

My newfound relief at having survived Europe exhibited itself in the form of snogging a friend. I don't think we're all that compatible, but he always seems to be around when I'm tipsy. Nice guy, very forgiving. We all walked back to mine in the pouring rain.

It's been a mixed bag of a month so far. Had a huge contract on, helping to compile a 125-page global immunisation report. It comprises many examples of best practice around the world, from Pakistan to Sierra Leone. All in a folder, in no particular order, and half in French. Had to jiggle it all together into a decent publication. Kept me extremely busy, but handed in the first draft the other day.

Which means I now have a lot more time.

Went out with a good friend the other night to listen to some live music. Ended up in a seedy bar across town, attempting to have a conversation whilst a dozen blokes tried to muscle in. We eventually left, but not before I gave my number to one of these dodgy guys who had followed me from the previous bar and was declaring undying love. I think I was just a little flattered, he really was quite charming, and a personal trainer, so also rather buff. But obviously he then started texting and calling a lot. And obviously I had sobered up by then.

I was half tempted to reply. I have a list of three questions:

1. Where do you stand on abortion rights?
2. How do you feel about gay people?
3. What do you think happens after death?

If the answers are, "ban it, kill them, our Lord Jesus Christ will save us," at least I know my decision to ignore them was justified. Should a bar-crawler ever score a hat-trick ("It's a woman's right to choose, I'm cool (or I'm bi), and I happen to think we live in an existential simulation..."), then I would probably swallow my tongue in shock.

If I had more energy, I would have asked. But right now, I'm good with not knowing. I've got way too many things I need to do at the moment.

For instance, I have just this evening baked bucket lasagna.

Fairly impressive. Garfield would approve. Although, I do admit to having used Blue Band to make the white sauce. It wasn't exactly toxic, but I wouldn't recommend...

 I also tried my first ever guineafowl egg today. They were selling them at the grocery store so I thought I'd check it out.

I must admit, I do like a good egg, and this was very nice indeed. Good colour, rather large, flavoursome. Well done those guinaefowl!

Before I got on the plane back from Schiphol, I popped downstairs to arrivals and went to the supermarket there. I stuffed my bag full of treats, including chorizo, marzipan and a shed load of pesto:
I haven't seen pesto in Rwanda for ever. A lot of things are a bit sparse here at the moment. One of the major supermarkets, Nakumatt, has gone belly-up, and instead of floating off like a good defunct retailer, they're clinging to the premises - presumably so that no one else can come and stock it with food.

Hence, this:

Their marketing plan is just to take the few remaining products they have and space them out widely across the shelves to give a sense of fullness. You're completely sorted if you want cereal, rice or sardines. They're totally good for that. Anything else, not so much.

What else has been going on?

Well, my foot is still fecked. I've started physio. My lovely therapist, Peter, inflicts pain on me three times a week, then rubs it better with hot rocks. He also makes me stand on a jelly button and try to balance...

I'm not quite there yet, but I am getting better. I've really lost a lot of muscle mass on my left leg. Essentially, I need to try and build that back up. He's given me a rubber band to assist...

Ignore the bottle of whisky behind.

He's really a fab guy and I look forward to our sessions. We had a good discussion about the state of world economics today. I was venting my annoyance as the University of Rwanda has just whacked up their tuition fees. I support a friend through uni there and really wasn't expecting this. But my accountant has pointed out that school fees class as a donation, and donations are tax deductible. Not a huge comfort, but better than nothing. 

Had a fairly awful experience the other day. My little boy one, Gizmo, went missing for two days. He's never done that before. Obviously, I was panic-stricken as I know how much he likes his dinner. He's a real tough little guy, too cool for school. He likes a cuddle, but he'll only cuddle when the other cats aren't watching - he has a rep to protect. Though when the fumigator came last month, he was so terrified he hid in a closet. I eventually found him and coaxed him out. It was that image I had in my head when he went missing - him hiding in the closet - no longer the tough nut but a scaredy-boy. He would have died of embarrassment if the others had seen him, but I know he needs a little reassurance now and then.

So, him going missing was traumatic.

Made a thousand times worse by a little shit across the road.

I went to my local shop to ask if they'd seen him. I stood there describing which cat it was (the black and white one) and how long he'd been gone (two days).

Then this little boy walks in, maybe about ten years old.

He explained, in good English, that his mother is the lady who sits outside the shop with her sewing machine. He then proceeded to tell me that two days ago, my cat killed one of their chickens, and it will cost FRW 10,000 to replace.

Which cat?

"I don't know, I can't remember the colour. Uh - white... and black?"

Obviously the thought of Gizmo killing someone's chicken was awful. And my mind instantly ran to the conclusion that they had killed my cat for killing their chicken. He said he didn't know where the cat was, but that didn't convince me, because I knew he was probably thinking I wouldn't pay him if he admitted the cat was dead. 

I felt terrible for what had happened and my hand was halfway into my wallet before doubt crept in. Something didn't seem quite right. There are chickens walking up and down our street every day. I've seen my cats watching them, but never attack. They tend to bring home most of what they kill - usually rats. I would have noticed a chicken. 

And why only mention it now. You know it's my cat, you know where I live - why not knock?

I told him to wait for my neighbour to come home and to explain to him what happened. Meanwhile, I went home and texted my neighbour to explain my doubts.

Very glad I did. He went to the shop to see what was going on. The woman and her son don't even live in our neighbourhood, so they can't lay claim to any of the chickens roaming about. My neighbour spoke to the shopkeeper, and it seems the general consensus is, they made up the story. Seems the boy was listening to me talking about my cat and saw an opportunity.

It just absolutely maddens me that someone would take advantage of a situation like that. Someone desperate to find their cat, and you convince them they owe you money and let them believe the cat might be dead. 


The morning of the third day, I got up, all ready to print missing posters and walk the streets, opened the door - and there was Gizmo. Licking his balls as though nothing had happened.

Honestly, cats. Who would do that to themselves?

Very glad to have him home, aren't we guys?