Friday, 18 December 2009

Snow! :op

So exciting! Love snow. Didn't get much of this in Africa. Enjoying it here in my mother's village in Northamptonshire. Magical.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

RV Weekend

Well hullooo readers!

Been a while. Just returned from a Returned Volunteers (RV) weekend at Harborne Hall in Birmingham, where you may remember I did my pre-departure training just over two years ago. Before leaving Rwanda I didn't really think I'd want to go to an RV weekend, but since being back I realised it would be nice to have a weekend away and re-visit the ol' place.

It was extremely strange walking back through the door. Smelled just the same, looked the same. A fond familiarity. There were 50 or more RVs from all over the world: Ethiopia, Malawi, Tanzania, Ghana, The Gambia, China, Mongolia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Mozambique, Cambodia, Guyana, Indonesia and even Pakistan (whose programme office shut recently due to the escalating political problems).

We kicked off at 6pm with an excellent exercise called Just One Thing where we each brought one thing that was special from our time in placement. Many of us also wore national dress - so I got to air the mushanana that Jasmine made me one last time.

Talking of that mushanana, it was made for my colleague Léon's wedding and I found a couple of clips the other day. They're poor quality but I could never upload them before because of the internet speed:

Léon & Janine getting married.

At the reception the wedding party sing a traditional wedding song to the guests.

A quick snippet of the speech I gave - not knowing I was going to be asked to make one!

So, it was really nice to get to wear it again and to see everybody else's dress - the clothes from Ethiopia and Pakistan were extremely beautiful.

People brought a whole range of different items with them. Some that stand out were the scarf that one lady had to wear to cover her head and shoulders, and how it made her think about how lucky her and her daughter (and women in general) are in Britain, and the amount of freedom we have. Someone else brought a toy truck made out of old tins, which the kids of five and six made in her village. How many other kids that age do you know who could make such an intricate item with flip-flop wheels and a movable steering wheel? I took my two Rwandan masks. Most masks were Congolese, so it was hard to find something that was actually Rwandan. These you buy traditionally in pairs: a man and a woman, which I like to think represent Nyabinghi and Ryangombe, the spirit cults from the North and South, respectively.

Rabia was also there, we met last Christmas in Sierra Leone, where she was on placement. So we shared a bottle of wine and a catch-up. Vicki, one of the facilitators, had also done a two-year placement in Rwanda, then six months in Mongolia. I met her when she went back on holiday to Rwanda and we had a pancake fest. So, again, it was great to catch-up as we know lots of the same people.

Saturday was a string of workshops looking at re-settlement issues, careers advice, job issues, what support VSO offer etc. It was useful but long, and sometimes a bit repetitive. I'm not sure why, but it did feel a bit flat. I remember pre-departure training having a lot more energy - mostly nervous excitement - which of course RVs don't have. But at the same time the trainers seemed a bit more sedentary, and there wasn't any silliness. No WAAAA! games. I'm not sure that just because we're returnees, that we've completely lost our sense of fun. A few silly games would have helped to lift the mood a bit. After all, most of us really miss our placement countries (you could tell from the Just One Thing exercise) so we're perhaps even more in need of cheering up than outbound volunteers.

Thankfully, we completely made up for this in the bar. The red wine did flow. Rabia and I befriended Elizabeth & Oli, Anna, Dan and Alex and between us we formed a pub quiz team. We did extremely badly, but were too distracted by salt 'n' vinegar crisps to care! :) 

That part of the weekend was great: letting off steam and returning to a social scene of vols where we all had so much in common, as we'd all been in Africa. It's great to have some new friends, and Anna lives near Gloucester so I'll go visit her next time I'm there.

Finished today around 11am after a talk about getting involved in VSO and fundraising. Was interesting. Still thinking that if I can't get a job in the New Year I'll just re-apply for a short-term placement and keep building up my CV until I get an offer.

Had a bit of a green twinge at the end, though. They handed out postcards that we write to ourselves with our aspirations on, then they post them to us in six months. That's a lot of postcards to hand out each year, and it didn't mention 'recycled paper' anywhere. Then they asked us to fill out expense forms if we were donating our transport money, but they'd already asked us if we wanted to do that by e-mail before the course - so, again, not very eco-friendly.

Drove home and feeling a bit anti-social again. I was slipping back into UK living pretty well, but that's thrown it all in the air again. Now I just miss the people I met and wish we were heading to the bar tonight. That's a bit pants, but I do feel better in other ways. It's good others are as directionless as me right now, although many are returning to old jobs or to study. But it's good to feel normal again in terms of where I'm at and what I'm doing.

There was one lady there who is outgoing, on her way to Rwanda. It's very unusual to have an outgoing vol at an RV weekend, but she was between courses. As she was staying at Harborne anyway, she wanted to come. I wondered if it would be a bit negative for her - 'warts and all' - but she seemed fine, and still enthusiastic to go even after having that very realistic insight. I was the only Rwandan volunteer at the weekend, so it was nice to chat to her and look at the map of where she'll be working.

It's been a bit of an African day, actually. The shower ran out of water this morning - luckily just as I was finishing. That hasn't happened since Gikondo. Then I got back to Mum's to find the power was out on the lights upstairs, so I'm sitting here writing this by candlelight. Oddly, it's quite comforting - if you sort of ignore the carpet, radiator, cold weather and Queen-sized bed.

Anyway, will update more soon. For now, that's about my limit.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Armistice Day & Remembrance Sunday

Today was Remembrance Sunday. The photograph below is our war memorial in Guilsborough, opposite the church. Each year we have a parade which comes up the High Street for the church service, then back down through the village to the Ward Arms, our local pub. Before the church service, Mum and Merrick (the Tower Captain for Guilsborough) were inside ringing.

Sorry for the poor quality of this video, it was cobbled together from fairly dubious footage, rehashed through a mincer of file conversions.

It stands as a (pixelated) record of village tradition.

My great grandfather, Thomas Alfred Sewell, was injured in the 1st World War and stayed on at Ypres, where he met and married my great grandma, who was a nurse. He remained as a grave digger with the War Graves Commission and helped found Poelcapelle Cemetery.

Great Grandda' Tom

Sadly, he contracted a disease from the bodies and died aged 40. Because he wasn't in active military service they buried him in Ypres Town Cemetery. In 2005, the town of Ypres wanted the land back to bury local people so Nana, Aunty Jean, Dad, myself and my partner at the time all went over to reinter him: three generations. Great grandma's hair was still sitting on top of his coffin in a bun. 

My paternal grandfather served in the Middle East and North Africa during the Second World War. My maternal grandfather was a farmer in Leicestershire. Many Polish refugees were given temporary shelter on his land after the war. My mother says she remembers sharing a fresh apple with one little boy.

It is a little strange to think that, growing up, we were always told to 'ask our grandparents' during projects on the World Wars at primary school. I don't think we realised at the time that we were the last generations to be able to do so.

See Also: 

Retreating, Part I: Ypres, the Menin Gate and Last Post. 
Horsing Around: German remembrance plaques.
Auschwitz I: the main camp.
Auschwitz II: Birkenau.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Bonfire Night

Remember, remember the 5th November, gunpowder, treason and plot );o>

Do you know the rest of that poem?

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,

The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
And what should we do with him? Burn him!

Had an excellent Guy Fawkes Night down Hollowell Field where they have the Steam Rally each year.

Went with Mum, Merrick, my brother William and nephew Damian, our friends Kate, David, Hannah and their son Harry. Had a huge feast beforehand of baked potatoes, cauliflower cheese and lasagna to keep us warm.

It's always spectacular at Hollowell, especially for the size of the bonfire, which was apparently 89ft this year. There were three Guys on top.

Here's the moment when the top Guy fell:

More fireworks :)

Much fun had by all, though after African weather I almost froze me toes off!

Monday, 2 November 2009

Samhain in Fife

Happy New Year!

[This was my first blog post after returning from Rwanda.]

Well, I had a lovely weekend up in the middle of the Scottish hills. Started out on Thursday in Auchtermuchty with Andy, who hosts both the Deaf Association and Single Parents Network websites. Hadn't seen him since the music festival back in August '07, shortly before I went to Rwanda.

After a six-hour drive, in which I only tried to pull out into oncoming traffic once, I got there and promptly sobbed on the sofa! Pumped full of antibiotics, absolutely knackered, and missing home like a homesick thing - all a bit pants. But I soon perked up, and he fed me lots of nice pasta, cheese and biscuits :op

The next day we drove over to John & Kitty's farmstead out near Crail, Fife, with a beautiful view of the North Sea. Spent Friday night relaxing with Andy, Peggy, John, Kitty, Free and friends, including a lovely guy from Belgium called Thorsten who flew over specially for the occasion.

[NB 2013: And later rescued me when I was grounded by snow at Schiphol!]

John made a wonderful smoked mackerel and leek soup and we ate and drank merrily - I finished my antibiotics (from the monkey bite) that day, so started on the wine.

On the Saturday I had a bit of a lie-in, a warm bath, and went for a wee wander. About three miles down the road I suddenly found myself staring at a Sam2 surface-to-air missile, a Green Goddess, and a secret Cold War bunker. If you happen to be passing, you might like to pop in to Scotland's Secret Bunker. I didn't have any cash, so I didn't go in, but it was a bit eerie and, as I was walking up the drive, the siren you hear on the website went off - extremely disconcerting.

I wandered back and people started to arrive. Lots of people! The house was full of Pagans in the festive spirit, with oodles more food, and booze and cloaks and staffs aplenty.

The ritual itself was lovely. There was a labyrinth in the garden for meditation and we formed a procession from the front of the house to the back where the Samhain fire was lit and the quarters called. Many of us had drawn sigils which, after remembrance of the dead and welcoming in of new life (Samhain is both for those who have passed and those who have just arrived), we burned along with last year's corn dolly. Then there was an alter in the house for candles and individual remembrance.

After the ritual, we set about the serious business of feasting: venison stew, pies, sauces and dessert coming out our ears. The chocolate mousse cake was almost as good as the one at Giudi's hen party, but certainly nowhere near as appreciated.

It was a surreal experience. Going from goat brochettes and one solid meal a day to being surrounded by people discussing what to dip in a white-chocolate fondue, amidst bowls and bowls of food with ingredients from all over the world.


Made me a little sad when I thought about all the people who wouldn't be eating that night. All the kids that belong to our single parents. I thought what Emmanuelle’s face would look like if she saw all those iced cupcakes and chocolate brownies. I thought about how fast the sweets disappeared at my work leaving do; even how my colleague pounced on the chocolate éclairs and locked them in a draw the first Christmas I was there, announcing that he'd finish them off when he got back (they were meant for everybody!) ;)

So, it was a bit odd seeing this huge pile of food and knowing that everyone around the table did this on a regular basis. Lot of people I would have liked to have seen there, hands full of scotch eggs and mouths covered in chocolate sauce.

After most of the guests had left, came the most wonderful experience of all. John & Kitty have a hot tub in the garden. It was a perfectly clear night with the moon and stars out, and crisp wintery air. Perfect for immersing ourselves in the warm, bubbly waters. There were even rubber ducks and squirty creatures, so a water-fight ensued.

When we were finally too wrinkled to float anymore, we got out, toweled down and took our turns in Kitty's 'rainbow shower'. BUY ONE! YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO!!! Oh, it's so much fun - pretty lights. That's something I've missed actually: totally random and silly inventions that contribute very little to world progress but are joyful to existence non-the-less. The rainbow shower rocks.

Then hot chocolate with Amarula before bed. A taste of home: 'The Spirit of Africa'.

Errr, talking of home, just talked to my baby on the telephone, long distance. The boy one is in Kampala! He's gone to pick up a passport!! Minor issue, he needs a birth certificate and the hospital he was born in was demolished, so he's got to spend tomorrow trying to tackle the administrative system. But I'm amazed. He's actually got on a bus and gone there and is doing all this and everything because... nkwagala nyo.

I've currently got Andy Gold's classic on repeat *blush*

Ermn, anyway, side-tracked. Got up late on Sunday and had a bacon and egg fry-up. Headed over to drop a friend off in Saline, then over to Glasgow to see my extremely good friend Tas and her family.

Tas is the most amazing artist.

We had a great night and ended up with the vodka until 4am. Drive back was long, but I stayed awake and got back twenty minutes before dark, which was ace. Took a hot shower and caught up on e-mails - and D.

Feeling good, actually. Really enjoyed the ritual and the hospitality of Fife and Glasgow. Still a bit rocky, somewhere in between places: heart over there, head over here, and frequently swapping places. Miss everyone crazy big time, but knowing D's out there feeling the same and having the wonder that is the Magic Number(tm) which lets me call everyone for 6p per minute, is really helping.

Some mighty strange news regarding Rwanda and the Green Party by the way. I know someone via Sign Language who is a friend of one of the people involved in setting up the party. She says every time they try to get enough signatures to register as a political party it gets sabotaged. She's expressed her concerns over Rwanda's claim to democracy due to this. Does seem a bit heavy-handed to be beating up Greenies. Watch this space and see what happens, I suppose, but it's interesting to know that they're giving it a go. With 99% destruction of the rainforest in Rwanda, I think it would be an excellent party to have on the ballot papers.

Right. Tomorrow I begin the soul-destroying routine which is 'signing on'. Amazing that we have it - that people who don't work also don't starve. That's great. But it's still mortifying.

Food and an early night :)

Sunday, 11 October 2009


Well, I had my first proper leaving wobble tonight.

Been an amazing couple of days. The Holy Jah Dove's gig at One Love was utterly fantastic. Beyond words. Kassim's last gig. Him and Lies fly to Belgium on Tuesday. Both he and she shed a few tears, and all of the band were there. They played three hours straight and, when it came to their hit Maguru, they stretched out the dance for a full ten minutes! How they didn't pass out with exhaustion, I have no idea. But my gods, what an amazing send-off.

Here are some pics from the gig at BCK (thanks Paula):

Kayaga fronting.

Patrick playing.

Kassim (right).

L-R: Paula, Steve (playing his last gig) and Sonya.

And from the actual last One Love gig! (Thanks Lies):

Me and Lies after hours of dancing.

Lies & Kassim in the centre of a band photo shoot
with Holy Jah Doves.

I danced my heart out. My hair turned into a waterfall (was really hot inside). Just an awesome night. Got home around 4am and fell into bed. 

Last night I was tired and only intended to go out for a short while. It was a house party over at Lies and Kassim's place in Kiyovu. The food was out of this world: fried fish, soma, goat, rice salad, ibirhy - huge spread. Had a lovely time and such big hugs at the end. Can't believe they're leaving. Lies has been here six years!

Ended up swinging past Giudi and Maxime's place in Kisimenti on the way home as it was another house party for Maxime's birthday. Loads of people, and I arrived just in time to sing Happy Birthday.

I made the mistake of joining the waragi train, and Cathryn and I ended up stumbling out in the early hours. I got home around 5am and proceeded to get a full eight hours' sleep.

I'm absolutely gutted I'll miss their wedding. Like Giudi says: 'we're family.' But they're giving a repeat performance in Canada next year so if I can get a job by then I'll go.

Family pics:

Me and Giudi at SoleLuna.

L-R: Anja, Cathryn, Me & Giudi at J's house.

L-R: Me, Pierre, Giudi & Jo at Jo & Pierre's pizza party.

Today, D came over and I introduced him to baked beans on toast and Dexter

D hiding behind his hat.

We watched a couple of episodes, then walked down the road for beer and food. He took me to the place that makes the amazing fried pork and I stuffed myself silly.

But that's where I had the wobble. I just thought about missing the wedding and all the Single Parent Network stuff that's taking off, that I wont' be here to see.

I ended up crying on him. Was the first proper leaving wobble I've had. Went for coffee with Cathryn at Chez Lando yesterday and was hit by a wave of nostalgia and 'holy crap - two weeks!', but tonight was the first real 'noooooo!' moment. Going back to no house, no job, and no network of local friends after I've had such purpose here, so many extremely close friends, my neighbourhood and my man.

It's an awful concept, and it all hit me at once.

D surprised me. He's got absolutely no interest in visiting the UK, we'd talked about it before, but he suddenly said he'd be willing to work towards it - save up, take a look at the paperwork for a visit.

I think I'm going to try and hook up with our friend from Eyecon when I get back. Someone who knows D, who knows me. Who will understand what I'm feeling. There'll be Jo and Pierre too, and all my other friends who are back. Think I'm really going to need them. This is my home now, and, like when the UK was my home, it'll be hard to leave. But I'll do it, and I'll manage. Nothing is an absolute end, just a transition.

Can't believe it'll be my leaving do next weekend. I hope time drags its feet.

Lies summed it all up in a word though: Turikumwe. We are together.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Here, There and Everywhere

So, that was the home stretch of my stay completed. Lots of eating and relaxing. Dad was raving about a TV programme called The Street (which, according to IMDB, has been going since 2006) and I managed to catch an episode at Mum's. It was indeed a most excellent, hard-hitting drama. Also played a lot of omweso as I bought Mum a board for her birthday.

On Tuesday 4th I began my whirlwind comeback tour of the UK. It began with a train to Bath Spa, where my good friend from uni, Graeme, picked me up and took me for drinkypoos. Had a lovely time wandering around. It's a beautiful city, full of old Georgian buildings and quirky shops. We went to a most excellent little pub and sat in a rowing boat, which had benches and a table in it, positioned in a small pond. He taught me how to play backgammon.

On the Wednesday, Graeme cooked me one of his legendary vegy fry-ups with halloumi cheese (squeaky cheese) and we went to Bristol to another boat called The Apple, which is a cider bar on the Avon. We met up with another friend from uni, Vikki, who got married to Dai in Vegas whilst I've been away. We drank Brother's Strawberry Cider, then went into town and met up with Dai for more drinks, a Subway, and more drinks :op

Was a lovely evening and we caught the last train home to Bath around 11:15pm. The next day was laaaazy. Graeme took me to see his workplace, then we had a leisurely drive over to Stroud to meet some of Graeme's friends: a talented drama teacher called Em, and her equally talented partner, who makes reconstruction costumes for films, musicals, and U2 tours. Also met their friend Fi, who I did an astrology chart for last year. Always nice to meet people you read for and find out that you were accurate. It was a lovely evening, Graeme was a whiz in the kitchen again, but I drank waaaaay too much (did you know they now do Castello del Diablo in double-bottle measures?) and ended up visiting the basin later in the night. Strangely, I felt absolutely pucka the next morning. Talking of pucka, Em had an extremely funny track that some band had done by slicing up clips of Jamie Oliver doing his cookery programme. May have been Cage - but I can't remember. It was hilarious, I've been searching for it on YouTube ever since but to no avail.

The next day I got a National Express coach to London (nine pounds with online advanced booking!) and a bus up the road to Camberwell, where Jo & Pierre (my next door neighbours from Rwanda) live. They brought me chocolate, I took them waragi :op

Had a fab night in their gorgeous apartment, and went for drinks at the local multi-story car park which had been converted to a rooftop bar for the summer. You could see the whole of London from up there. It also sported a modern art exhibition. As we left, we went down the internal ramps and looked at all the stuff on display. Great idea for disused space. Took some photos, which I’m sure will follow shortly.

We ended the night at a local Turkish restaurant. The food was divine, but I heard myself saying something I would never have thought I'd say in a million years. I was complaining about too much service!!! From one extreme to the other: in Rwanda no service, in Camberwell too much! Two Turkish waiters took it in turns to come and check on us literally every 10 minutes. One started with small talk: "Are you having a good evening?" but then carried on into full-blown conversation: "Where abouts are you from? Oh yes, lovely part of the country..." He asked us twice if we wanted a fan as it was a bit warm, then brought one anyway even though we'd declined. It was quite funny.

The next day, I hopped a bus down the road to Lewisham to catch up with Cassie and Sean. Cassie's a really close friend from uni, and her husband Sean used to work with my ex Phil in Reading. Phil and I were witness and bridesmaid (respectively) at their wedding and they've had a little boy, Ryan, in the time I've been away. He's the most adorable guy in the world, though rather cheeky. Oooh look, new person... *smack* - hand on boob! :oO 

Cassie's a bit knackered, though. She's a nurse, and she'd been on night shifts, meaning she got home and looked after Ryan all day too - about 30 hours without sleep. She'd had some sleep the night before I arrived though, and we all went to the park over the road for a picnic. It was really lovely, and we came home with beer, take-out, and Blade: Trinity. They thought it was better than the second, but even thought the second was somewhat pretentious, I still felt it was better than this. The acting really did fall flat in parts, but lo and behold, Ted Bundy was very watchable and didn't look at all like a mass murderer with all that facial hair and styling gel ;)

Was sad to leave them the next day, time goes so fast. The whole trip caught up with me a bit and left me feeling rather sensitive when I got to the ticket office at Lewisham station. It was quite noisy and, when I asked for a one-day travel card, I thought the guy hadn't heard me and that he'd said "what?" So I repeated "one-day travel card please," to which he retorted, "yes, I know what one is darling, but which zones?" - really snide tone of voice. I said I wasn't from London, I didn't know, and all zones please. He then wouldn't believe I wanted all zones and kept asking where I was going. I said I didn't know, and he said he was trying to save me money, again in a really overbearing voice. I stuck with "all zones" so that I didn't have to worry if I wanted to go somewhere outside the centre. I sat feeling tearful all the way into London. Gimp.

I felt like I needed time-out, so I made the most of the travel card and went to Charring Cross, where I jumped on a tube to Leicester Square. I had a vague idea that it would be really nice to go to the cinema, and they have really big ones in Leicester Square, but when I got there I kind of changed my mind and ambled in the direction of Chinatown.

I kept on going until I got bored and hopped a number 25 bus to Oxford Street, but almost immediately leapt on another bus to escape the crowds. I ended up in St. Paul's, where I stopped to admire the cathedral and walk around the gardens before grabbing a Subway and heading back to Oxford Circus by bus. I stopped to brows HMV and then headed for the underground, where I bought a pen and piece of paper from a kiosque guy called Muhammad so I could keep track of my journey. It turned out that his family live in South Africa and he pops back occasionally.

I took the Northern Line to Baker Street, only, when I surfaced again, I was right in the middle of a line of riot police and a thousand blue-and-white striped Chelsea supporters chanting at the top of their voices from an adjacent pub. Thought I'd best leave them to it, so jumped on another bus to Euston Station. Unable to spot any cinemas en route, I tried to think of what else I'd like to do with my day and suddenly The National Portrait Gallery sprung to mind. I'd always wanted to go, but never been. So I asked someone at Euston which bus I needed and he directed me to the number 91 stop to Trafalgar Square, where I bought an ice-cream and wandered to the gallery.

I love portraits. The really old ones from the early ages to around the start of the 1800s. They have a fantastic little headset that matches numbers on the paintings, giving you a guided tour for only two pounds. The top floor was my favourite place ever, I could have spent hours there, but I only had about four before closing, so I forced myself to be selective. I've decided my favourite portrait in the entire gallery is the one of painter James Barry.

Having said that, my heart gave a little flutter when I entered the room and saw Mary Shelley, Byron and Percy Shelley lined up together. Although I've never read any Mary Shelly, I loved both Byron and Percy's work in my mid-teens. Shelley's The Cloud is still one of my favourite poems ever and I'd like the first four lines of the last stanza as an epitaph one day (not just yet though!).

It gave me a thrill to see them all up there - the pictures always used on my old Wordsworth Classics tomes. I bought Byron's on a postcard in the shop, but was somewhat disappointed that they didn't have cards of Mary or Percy. It would have been nice to have all three. I also enjoyed seeing the Brontës in paint, etched by their brother. Especially the cracked one of Emily, which is quite haunting. I guess I like portraits so much because they are the closest thing to glossy magazine pictures of your idols, only they tended to be far more talented and intriguing than those who appear in glossy magazines nowadays, known for their literary ability rather than their latest film releases; enigmatic in what was never known, rather than splattering everything across the front pages. Says she, who keeps a blog...

So, I had a lovely time at the gallery and treated myself to game pie and ale at a pub down the road: The Coal Hole, before walking over Waterloo Bridge (the title of one of my favourite war movies ever) and looking down on the National Theatre, where they have a huge fake lawn outside. Also a giant table, lamp, and sofas also made to look like hedges with loads of real people sitting on them. From there, I took the 171 bus back to Camberwell. Buses have become so much easier since they installed an automated system to tell you where you are.

Felt I got fair use out of my ticket. Chilled out with Jo, Pierre, and the TV.

The next day, I was back on the buses to Angel, to meet up with my second cousin Alx and her lovely husband Pob, who got married two weeks after I left the country. Alx sent me a wonderful parcel of goodies last Christmas, so I reciprocated with Rwandan goodies. Had a lovely night, went for a beer in Angel where we bumped into one of Alx's colleagues (who also happened to be Errol Brown's daughter) and then they took me to Wagamana's noodle bar. Was a bit spooky though, at their home in Hertford they have the same floor as Jo, the same cushion as Jo, and the same piano, but in light wood rather than dark... weird.

Had a lurvely time, then went into work with Alx on the train the next day, got a bus to Victoria and another train to Birmingham New Street to meet Dad. We drove up to Carlisle to see my Aunty Jean and enjoyed a day of trundling around the Lake District to Ullswater, Keswick and Cockermouth via Castlerigg stone circle - one of my favourites :)

On the Friday, we drove back down to Birmingham. I did quite a bit of the driving and regained my confidence. People often get nervous about motorways, but I prefer them to country lanes, you can always see what's ahead and you're all moving in the same direction :)

From there I got a train to Long Buckby. I pulled in just as Mam did. We went home to get Merrick and had a big steak dinner down The Pytchley. We didn't go to bed, as I needed to be at the airport by, so we sat up watching TV and drinking coffee. Left around 3am, Merrick drove us.

An exhausting but most excellent gallivant.

Country Gal

Hollowell Reservoir

After Mum's Birthday on the Friday, I spent Saturday chilling out with my nephew, Damian, who remembered me even though he was four when I left and is six now! My brother was also there - pictures of both at the Sunday Family BBQ.

Couple of brief things I forgot to mention from the first week: my friend Daniel Moses was on the flight out of Kigali with me. Live here long enough and you're guaranteed to know someone on every flight - small world.

I also failed to convey the sheer wonder of my first hot bath. I'm more of a shower gal, but I felt a proper soaking was required. It was more of a slow steeping actually, with plenty of Lush bubble melt. The water was brown when I got out, and all that colour I thought was a suntan...well...

Mum's also got a bath. A veeeery big bath. It's one of those full-on jacuzzi jobbies with underwater lighting. I like the blue light. Feels like you're bubbling away in a cauldron. Great stuff, and perfect with a nice glass of wine.

I also had a wonderful time wandering the fields down to the Duck Pond, and across to the reservoir. The landscape's changed a bit, though. Someone's built a new housing estate on the country lane leading to the fields and, at the other end - Hollowell Reservoir - a family of minted toffs have moved into a house built on our old neighbour's land, and they've put up a security fence!!

This means that you walk around the water, then you can't get back onto the main road unless you know the code. Which I didn't. Thankfully, a car came up behind me so they opened automatically, but it's a wonderful example of the horribly prissy rich twonks who move into villages and think they are more important than the land they're living on. A return to the days of lairds and peasants: huge big walls around their sudo-mansion, dogs, CCTV cameras, security gates on a public access road - disgusting. One of the locals up the pub was saying we should protest: take it in turns to superglue the code pad. He reckons after replacing it a few times they'd give up on the idea. Whereas I don't agree with vandalism, it's a sorely tempting notion. More money than community sense. The land was there before they were born, it'll be there after - why do they feel the need to go dictating who can walk there and who can't? Generations have enjoyed that particular walk, then they move in and spoil it for everyone.

Other than that though, everything's as I left it. Nice thing about the countryside, add a few horses here, a lamb or two there (or llamas! apparently they make excellent sheep guards) but nothing much every really changes. It's a beautiful constant.

I also spent a day walking around Market Harborough as I needed to see Ed and pick up some dreadlock materials for Lies. He runs Dreadworx, which is a fantastic company for all your dread-head needs. [NB 2013: sadly now defunct] He first started it from the village we grew up in, but has now got his own shop in Harborough called The Black & White Board Stores: 26 Coventry Road (opposite the Co-op, above the dry cleaner's). [NB 2013: also now defunct]. He sells everything from snowboards to mountainboards, and a whole range of accessories.

Also managed to fit in a dentist appointment. I've had a twinge in my gums for a while, which I put down to a wisdom tooth coming through. I managed to find a lovely dentist in Harborough, through The Three Swans pub and over the road. They saw me within the hour. They confirmed it was just a wisdom tooth cutting and said that my teeth were in excellent condition. The apprentice was amazed that at 28 I have no fillings, and asked what my secret was? To which the dentist ventured "brushing and flossing?" I nodded. "Works, doesn't it," he said with a smile. I've always been lucky with dentists. Last time I hadn't seen one in five years and got the prognosis: "immaculate" :)

To celebrate, I went straight back to The Three Swans and had a delightful meal of chicken stuffed with apricots and chestnuts, wrapped in bacon. Stopped just short of rubbing it on my face, and washed it down with half a Bombardier.

Also had fun driving. Merrick, Mum's partner, is a driving instructor, and took me out for a wee spin. I felt nervous as hell. I only passed my test a year before leaving. In that time I became an extremely confident driver as I had to commute every day. Twenty months out of the driving seat is a long time though, and I felt extremely nervous. Despite never having driven in Rwanda, I actually did end up trying to drive on the wrong side of the road - twice! No fatalities, thankfully. :oO

We also went to Lubenham to have dinner with Mum's friends David & Kate, who have a son, Harry, about the same age as Damian, so they played whilst we had a BBQ and drank wine. Was a lovely evening.

So, that was relaxing. I spent a lot of time in awe of Broadband. Overdosed on YouTube and photo sites. One of the world's greatest luxuries.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

First Week Back

Gloucester Folk Museum

Right, time to begin the catch-up I suppose :)

Dad and I had been planning my return trip for about three months before Mum’s Birthday. I used the Socor travel agency in Kigali, up near KBC bank. On the whole they were pretty helpful, although, when I finally went to buy my ticket, I did feel somewhat invisible as everyone in the room carried on their conversations as if I wasn’t there. They focused on office gossip rather than on the customer and then they lost my phone and e-mail address so sent my e-ticket to Martine because we’d been booking our flights together and they remembered her contact details.

I had no idea what happened to my tickets as Martine had limited internet access, so she didn't forward them instantly. I ended up having to go all the way back to their office to sit there with my laptop whilst they re-mailed it to me from the other side of the room. Bit of a pain in the arse, and completely defeated the object of e-tickets saving time over printed tickets, but, essentially, the details were right. Although the price had gone up considerably in the two weeks between my first quote and actually buying the tickets, I was starting to get excited.

The weeks flew by and I got a taxi from town to come and collect me at around 4pm on Saturday 18th July. He stopped to refuel at Gikondo garage and I feared I might die before reaching the airport: chatting away on his mobile and idling his engine whilst the tank was being filled! The gods of health and safety were on holiday themselves that day ;)

But, we got there, and I started smoosing in duty free. I met a woman from Capacitar International who works with trauma victims and knows Father Murenzi and the Komera Centre, and another lady who is a haematologist and trains people how to use specialist blood testing equipment at the hospital – she even trained Pierre. I sat next to her on the plane and we spent most of the journey chatting about life, the world, and everything.

[NB 2013: She also taught me that the fastest possible bleed-out occurs in alcoholics. An aortic aneurysm or something similar. Fascinating stuff.]

I got to Kigali airport just as the sun was starting to go down, and treated myself to a large glass of Amarula Cream whilst watching it from the comfort of the big leather sofas. I couldn’t really imagine what I was going back to because it’d been so long, but I enjoyed watching the people and the traffic going past: a lasting image of the place I was leaving behind.

The flight was pretty uneventful: Kigali to Brussels via Entebbe, then a quick 20-minute hop over to Heathrow.

I was horribly underwhelmed by Brussels Airlines, though. The food was congealing and, in this day and age, having tiny monitors down the central isle on a long-haul eight-hour flight is just not on. Kenya had personal entertainment systems and the food was much better. Kenya Airways, in my not-so-humble opinion, earned their slogan: “The pride of Africa” (for their safety record if nothing else) but I would have expected much more from a major European provider. Their staff could at least have cracked a smile instead of the glum back-of-a-bus expressions they touted.

When we touched-down in Brussels, I saw rain for the first time in two months. It was a wonderful sight, but one that sadly lost its novelty value over the coming weeks.

On the hop-over flight to Heathrow some guy had sat in my window seat. Usually, I wouldn’t make a fuss over such things, but it was my first time home in almost two years - damn right I was pushing him to the isle. I sat with my nose pressed up against the glass as we did a spectacular descent over central London: Canary Wharf, that giant pine cone thingy, the Mayor’s Office, Tower Bridge, and all the way down across Kew Gardens – it was spectacular.

Dad and Marilyn were waiting for me on the other side of customs with a banner and balloons. They bundled me into the car and took me for a full English breakfast at Reading Services (glam, eh?). It tasted divine, but the first thing that blew my mind was the speed of traffic on the motorway! Well, firstly how big and shiny all the cars were – and how numerous – and then how fast everyone was driving! Took a good couple of weeks for that to wear off. Little bullets of multi-coloured alloy fired along a straight tarmac barrel. Scary.

Dad lives in Gloucester within easy walking distance of the centre of town. I spent the first couple of days just wandering around in a total daze. It was p’ing it down with rain, which quickly lost its appeal; the cold, wet, grey kind of rain. At least in Rwanda it has the decency to throw in some thunder, a bit of lightning, and a mud slide – and it’s still warm enough to drink a beer outside. Rwandan rain is just more sophisticated than that half-hearted, continuous drizzle stuff we get in the UK ;)

I quickly bought shoes and some clothes and tried to unwind by attending a singing bowl meditation at the local hippie shop, which was a mistake. I thought it would relax me and help me to unwind, but it didn’t. I used to go to FWBO Buddhist Centres when I lived in Croydon and Colchester, attended the Metta Bhavana and Mindfulness meditations and got a lot out of them, both experientially and socially. This one was a bit odd, more like listening to a one-woman concert. I like the bowls when they run the wood around them and they hum, but the gonging of them grates on me. 

I’m just getting into the vibe when ‘clunk, ping ping, clunk’ – it’s like trying to drift off to the chimes of Big Ben in miniature. Didn’t do it for me, and I wasn’t quite ready for the obligatory general chit-chat about whose nephew’s done what, who shops where, or what the papers say about climate change. I’m glad I went, but I was also glad to leave. I took a wander down the road and sussed out Gloucester Folk Museum, which was good for a couple of hours.

I also treated myself to going to the hairdresser, which is something I do about once every six or seven years. Only, I almost tore my hair out trying to find one. Some new EU directive says that hairdressers aren’t allowed to dye your hair without doing a 72-hour patch test, which includes any products you bring with you. This same ruling also seems to have led to a national henna crisis, as shops like Body Shop stopped selling it as they feared they couldn’t test the product accurately, or something to that effect. So, not only could I not find the henna I wanted, I couldn't find anybody willing to do it even if I could! Although, oddly, Lush still sell it, but I wasn't sure what you did with the bars.

Thank heavens for hippie shops and Barton Street. One box of ‘mahogany’ henna powder and a Jamaican hairdresser equalled the best conditioned hair I think I’ve had in years. It was lurvely.

I always get fed well at Dad’s. He and Marilyn are great believers in decent veggie fry-ups and we went to our favourite Indian where we had a meal just before I first flew to Rwanda. It was a lovely, relaxed way to begin the holidays. Then, on the 24th, we did Mum’s Birthday and I stayed on with her.

Oh, and, after all this time, I finally got to see the third Pirates of the Caribbean. Thanks Julie, I fair enjoyed that :)