Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Mostly Motorbikes

Nobody panic. I'm still alive.

Feeling much better than in my last post. Health is back to normal (minus an Achilles tendon), and I feel like I'm almost, just about, maybe on top of my work. There's a lot of it, but the one I was panicking about most - the really big contract - is to compile a publication for a major international NGO, and everything was sort of in one huge folder with lots of stuff missing, wrongly labeled or in French. Like a nightmare jigsaw puzzle of words and statistics. I wouldn't have been panicking, only the TEDx talk I'm off to do this month knocks about a week out of my available time. On top of that, I'm editing a major e-course on gender-based violence (GBV), which is not the most uplifting subject at the best of times, only now the online editor has started swallowing stuff I'm working on. 

The other problem with the first project is that I'm working for someone I hugely respect, and I don't want to mess up. Not that I intend to mess up usually, but it adds an extra layer of pressure. You know, when you want to do a really good job, not just for the money, but to prove you were the right choice for the contract.

Very, very deep breath. Smile. Move forward. Make it look easy.

The picture up top is me giving my TEDx talk in Luxembourg whilst simultaneously tuning a piano in Kigali. Thanks to the joys of pre-recorded technology. Although, it took several attempts to get a good enough recording with my webcam, and to upload over a slightly shonky 3G connection. Got there in the end, though.

I leave for Luxembourg on 22nd, arrive 23rd and participate in the dress rehearsal on 24th, ahead of the actual event on 26th, then leave for the Hague on 27th to recover with a huge quantity of beer. 

The last post was going to be titled Mostly Motorbikes, until I got so down about everything. So, returning to that theme...

There was a random exhibition of Royal Enfield motorbikes at PiliPili the other week. Nice to see. They're temporary, but the Rolls-Royce is a permanent feature.

I've also started attending a monthly entrepreneurs' lunch where local business people get together and catch up, talk about stuff like taxes, accounting and advertising. But everyone's really nice, so it's fun, and there's such a diverse range of companies. Also, they change the venue each month, so you get to visit restaurants you haven't been to before. This month was Borneo, which sells huge portions of rice and noodles at very cheap prices, although their GPS pin was pointing to Rwanda Revenue Authority, so three of us ended up standing outside the tax department trying to figure out where we were going.

Last month I met the guy who runs Rwanda Motorcycle company, where they import parts and assemble motorbikes in Rwanda. He offered us free plywood for the pianos, so me and Dés went to take a look at their warehouse. It's out in the industrial free trade zone, which I'd never been to before. Extremely beautiful, set on a hill surrounded by wetland and thick vegetation, but extremely expensive to have a place out there.

Workhorse for carting goods about the villages.

FRW 1.7mil (£1,500) of city bike.

The touring model.

It was really impressive to see, just a shame more of the parts can't be manufactured in Rwanda. That's one of the big problems, importing the materials to make parts often comes to around the same, or more, than importing the parts ready-made. We found the same with the pianos and bass strings. 

They invited me to learn to ride a motorbike in their warehouse. I might take them up on that, although a friend did remind me how accident prone I am, so I'd need a good crash helmet.

As I was heading home, I found this stunning Harley parked outside Frulep. A very rare sight in Rwanda and it attracted a lot of attention from passersby, especially the moto drivers.

Went to let off a little bit of steam at Rock Night, which is really quiet nowadays. But friends Sameer and Maja came along, and found Gil and Christian there. Two cool dudes who can really rock an inflatable guitar.



Adjourned for pudding across the road with Sameer after.

A lot has been going on with the piano. I was going to write about it, but, to be honest, that's what the piano blog is for. So I'll just show this beautiful view from a client's house, and these pretty flowers.

Not quite as big as Moma Mantis, but I found this cute little critter climbing about near my washing machine. I absolutely love these guys. There's something spookily intelligent about them. It's impossible to creep up on a mantis. Apparently they have the ability to turn their heads a full 180 degrees. But just try it, they register motion instantly, and they look at you as though waiting for you to say something. I find them fascinating. I'd love to hold one, but I've never been brave enough. Those guys can move very fast.


So, tomorrow, I'm off to sit in my usual spot at CasaKeza whilst my house is fumigated. Have to make sure the cats are out and they don't spray the piano, then can't return for at least four hours. Still, needs to be done. A chance to get on with some work in the sunshine and drink plenty of coffee.

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Mostly Woe

First off, huge thanks to my friend Ineke from Belgium. She brought plenty of piano supplies (talcum powder and eye protection), chocolate, cat toys and rum. Extremely grateful, as are the cats.

Night out with L-R: Ineke, Keriin, Maja and Keza.

This is mostly a post of extreme pain. I'm having a fairly crappy time of it at the moment.

Two days ago I had a really bad dose of food poisoning. No idea how I managed that. All I cooked was pasta with vegetables, but the next morning I emptied myself in both directions and proceeded to go downhill from there. Ended up in the polyclinic around 9 p.m.

Last time I suspected food poisoning, it was malaria. This time I suspected malaria and it was food poisoning.

Couldn't raise my taxi guy, so took a moto to the clinic, desperately trying not to fall asleep on the back. Then my taxi guy found me. He took a lucky guess at which clinic I'd gone to, and came to drive me home. Didn't charge me, and even went to buy my meds. He's such a lovely guy.

And a lucky guy. The moment I got back through my front door, I was spectacularly sick - all the way down the hall and into the bathroom. Didn't think I had anything left inside me, but turns out there was plenty. Thank goodness my house is all concrete and tiles, and I didn't do that in his car.

Miserably sat in a puddle of my own puke, texting my doctor friend Harris to tell him I was dying.

We had a good laugh about it, then I managed to find my bed.

Polyclinique du Plateau at 10 p.m.
Never seen it so quiet.

Fond Memories.
Last time I was here, I had malaria and I was looking after someone with typhoid.

The Polyclinique didn't really come through for me on the foot, either. They sent me for a DVT scan, established I didn't have that, but that's where their curiosity stalled. Telling me what it wasn't didn't explain what it was, so I sat at home Googling and came to the conclusion that I'd ruptured my Achilles tendon.  

The edema wasn't clearing up, so I booked myself in to see the Belgian Doctor. The Belgian Doctor is twice as expensive as the Polyclinique: 30,000 v. 15,000 but she sent me for a second ultrasound that was only 10,000 instead of the 30,000 before. So, not bad really. Only this scan, at MEDIHEAL (ho, ho), was a bit more conclusive. I have indeed torn my Achilles tendon. The good news is, it's partial not complete - so no surgery required. The doctor recommended physio, and after a couple of nights of sleeping with my foot up on a cushion, the swelling has gone down a lot. 

I'm currently feeling much better - or I would be if it wasn't for the noise.

I'm losing my sanity big time.

Last night pretty much tipped me over the edge. Here's my post to the local community forum (I've had an ongoing thread about noise for a while).

The other week, in a fit of desperation, I got on a motorbike at 1 a.m. and went to find the club. I recorded it and sent that recording to the police and City Hall. I also sent a letter to City Hall asking for help. Two weeks later, I still haven't received a response.

Being the Land of a Thousand Hills, sound is a real issue. It echoes across valleys and up the sides of sectors like an amphitheatre. My next door neighbour, whose house is about ten feet away from mine, is kept awake my Inema Arts Centre at least once a week. I cannot hear Inema at all. We both get kept awake by the clubs in Nyarutarama, only I seem to hear them more nights than he does.

My Rwandan neighbour refuses to contact the police to complain about the noise (or anything else), telling me that, as a foreigner, it's easier if I do it. The result of me always being the one to call is that I start to look slightly mad. Especially when the police arrive to listen after they've finally turned off the music.

And yes, it is driving me somewhat insane. There are community security guards on almost every street in Kigali, yet I've walked home before and seen them sitting there, sleepily ignoring the fact there's a club belting out music at 2 a.m.

To be fair, if I had to sit up all night watching the road, I might welcome a bit of music too, but given that Kigali has strict noise regulations, how hard would it be for community guards to go and ask clubs to turn it down, or off, or set fire to the speakers?

Instead, it's left to sleep-deprived residents to get woken up in the wee hours, umm and aah about whether this is a police matter, finally build up the courage to call, only to be told there's nothing that can be done and please could you let the policeman on duty get some sleep.


My brain is fried.

But I've been really touched by the responses from people online. One lovely lady has put me in touch with a guy who does soundproofing.

I seriously don't want to leave my home. Other than the noise, I've always been very happy here and really like my neighbours. Plus I have five cats, and moving cats is a nightmare. I'd like to exhaust all other options first.

Although, one guy is advertising a stunning piece of land on an island in the middle of Lake Birwa... bet you could get a really good night's sleep there.

Tempting... very tempting.
So, yeah, I'm not in good shape physically or mentally at the moment. Hideously sleep-deprived and facing down a massive editing contract - good money, but lots of work - whilst at the same time preparing for a whirlwind tour of Europe. On top of which, I've just realised I've made a big mistake with the piano stringing, which is going to take hours to fix, and I have the fumigator coming on Tuesday as I discovered bedbugs in the guest room. I freakin' hate bedbugs. 

I'm feeling tired, rundown and rather overwhelmed.

Has anything good happened?

Well, yes, but I'll save that for another post.

I need to go lie down.

Oh yeah, and Rwanda's most famous elephant just died.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Mostly Pianos

Bit of quiet time recently. Been busy stringing up the piano. Just finished the treble section with the help of some guest stringers. We've been inviting friends and local musicians to come and put a strings on. You can read about that here and here.

One of the guest stringers was André, who is lead guitarist in my favourite Kigali band, Viva Beat. That's where the picture of me and Harris was taken in the last post. They are absolutely fab, so it was a real honour to have him come and put a string on.

Dés and I also did a little interview with BBC World Service, which you can listen to here. This is a picture of Désiré in my home whilst we were recording the interview. We're really grateful to have been given the coverage, though it adds a little pressure to making it work.

Also been discovering my practical side, working out how to replace felt with leather and how to cut that to precisely the correct shape for the frame. Figured out you could do it by tracing the frame with masking tape, transferring that to the leather and cutting around it. All those days in art class at school learning to trace around my hand obviously weren't waste.

In other news, my foot still hasn't healed (heeled?). It was going okay, until I misjudged the shower step and tore the ligament again. Hurt like hell, but thankfully recovered much quicker and I'm back to where I was just before I did that. Dosed up on diclofenac and ice compresses the past few days, but now doing okay.

Mmm, the yummy pills.
The fluid around the foot just isn't quite shifting, so I limped down to the doctor on Saturday and he referred me across town to Legacy Clinic for an ultrasound. It turns out my leg is a boy! 

Err, no. It was a DVT scan for deep vein thrombosis and any vein obstructions, just to make sure that it was just a muscular issue and that I hadn't seriously damaged myself. Thankfully, all came back clear and it was a really good clinic. Just turn up, pay £30, take a ticket and in you go. Results within fifteen minutes. Excellent healthcare.

Blue and red show my vein and artery.

I didn't think there was anything majorly wrong with me, but it was nice to get peace of mind, especially as I will be doing a lot of air travel next month. 

Today, I put music on whilst stringing the piano and got so engrossed in the work that I completely forgot about my foot. Realised I was having a little boogie and that it wasn't hurting, so I think I'm on the mend. Which is good, as when it first happened it led to me waking up in strange places because I couldn't walk home...

The kids' playroom at my friend's restaurant. I'm a little concerned the unicorn is giving me the eye. 

Nice thing about waking up in a restaurant is that you don't have to go far for food. 

Speaking of which, my ex-roomies left a ton of stuff when they left, including a half-eaten bag of semolina. I didn't realise that was pretty much the same as couscous, so I was Googling what you could do with it. I stumbled upon an American breakfast dish called 'grits', which is like a quick-form semolina pudding. I think they call it 'grits' because it's like eating grit. I'd heard of it, but had no idea what it was. It's actually pretty good. So, I've been eating a lot of grits for breakfast. World cuisine, huh?

Had a slight oopsie when a friend came to visit. She misjudged reversing out of the drive and this happened.

Africa never ceases to amaze me. Whilst I'm standing there thinking 'Oh shit, we need to find a jack, call a tow truck, hire a crane...' five men appear off the street (a moment ago completely deserted), gather up some rocks and manhandle the car back onto the road. Job done.

I shall leave you with this entertaining cartoon from The Guardian. Having pulled out of Europe, mostly on grounds of immigration, our Prime Minister has now decided that what the UK really needs is stronger trade alliances with Africa.