Saturday, 31 May 2014

Partied Out

Oh, la.

Sleepy lady.

Had a lovely day yesterday with Jo and Zubadoo at Novotel. This is a posh hotel in town where, as VSOs, we would pray to get a conference because the melange (buffet) is absolutely superb.

We sat by the pool stuffing our faces and catching up, right next to the Rwandan national football team and their new British coach.

Then Jo did me a huge favour. We drove over to Kimiharura to collect some furniture. My house mate's colleague, Linda, is leaving Rwanda and was selling off some stuff. My housemate thought I might like a desk for my room so that I can work more comfortably, and the desk and chair were going cheap. So we managed to bundle them into the car and take them back to mine - only, the desk doesn't fit through the door of my room!

Ho hum. Looks like I'll probably sell it on Kigali Life or Living in Kigali.

Driving Around Kimiharura

Took us a while to find Linda's place but we made it. As we were leaving, she invited us to her goodbye party that night. Jo couldn't go, and I explained that I was suffering a little from the night before and would probably be asleep by then.

Cue VSO reflexes. Although I fully intended to sit home on a Friday night and complete my business plan, somehow I found myself sitting in a Lebanese restaurant with housemate Richard, his lovely partner Nadine, and an array of international students and workers. 

The Lebanese is close to Papyrus, and it's also a shisha bar. It seems the only time I smoke hookah is in Kigali. It used to be apple flavour, washed down with bean tea at Hirut's house. This time it was lemon & mint washed down with Primus and a falafel wrap. Very nice place - relaxed. They even had a gift shop on the way out, where you could buy a breathtaking array of bongs.

Then we walked it off, via the off license for waragi (Ugandan 'War Gin'), and eventually found our way back to Linda's house for the goodbye party. This is where the night took a distinct turn for the absurd.

Bumming cigs off my new friend Maxime and getting progressively merry on punch (which may have contained meths, ruffies, or a combination of the two), I noticed a tall, handsome guy dressed in black, standing by himself at the end of the porch. Wondering if perhaps he didn't know anyone, I went over to introduce myself.

Me: [Paraphrasing] Hi, are you new here/on your own/in need of social support? 
He: [Paraphrasing] No, I'm okay, just hanging out here... [verbatim] You're Marion, aren't you?

... err... yes.

He then proceeded to tell me most of my life story from five years ago!

I think I did my best impression of a goldfish: mouth open, eyes agog.

It was like meeting my own blog incarnate.

He: You don't remember me, do you?

Damn, I dearly wish I did. I hadn't the heart to tell him that I spent most of those two years inebriated, and if I remembered where I lived it was a miracle.

This is the second time this has happened to me in a year. I'm starting to worry. My mate Paul is constantly astonished at my poor memory for details he claims are unforgettable. Given my misspent youth, I think I tried particularly hard to draw a veil over many of those details.

Still, I was totally fascinated.

Then I started telling him a story to do with a journalist I used to know - and before I got halfway through, he completed it word for word.

At the time I thought he was psychic.

Now I realise I probably told him the exact same story over a beer the first time we met. 

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the entire reason I blog.

Because I can go back, type in a name, and 90% of the time work out where I met someone and how much fun we had. There are only a couple of entries on him: one was a Holy Jah Doves gig at BCK, possibly salsa, but mostly it was at the American Embassy Ladies Nights - which is probably why he asked me if I remembered them. 

31 August 2009: [The American Embassy was] a lot of fun, couple of marines and another English guy called H--- who is out here researching NGO efficiency. Quite a fascinating conversation.

Well, he is no longer researching NGO efficiency. He's taking contracts for the World Bank on cross-border security issues and has been hopping back and forth to Rwanda for the past five years!

He's also not English, though with an accent like his I refuse to accept his Scottish heritage.

I dearly wish I'd written down exactly what we talked about - because I bet it involved the same story I repeated to him last night... Five years to come up with new material, gosh, I'm out of practise with this socialising lark. Not sure if that means I should do more of it, or just quit?

Either way, it was a fun surprise.

Sure I'll bump into him again - Kigali ain't all that big.

It's certainly strange being back on home turf without recognising any faces. I don't feel like I belong in Kieran's world, or entirely in my housemates' (their friends all seem so young!). Might take a while to find my feet, but I am glad I went out last night. 

Anyone want to buy a desk?

Friday, 30 May 2014

Goats and Gorillas

Look how sparkly Kigali is! Ultra mod buildings and all. Though I'm out of shape - walking from the post office to Kigali Bank had me totally out of breath. We're apparently 300ft lower than Nairobi, hence the warmer weather and mosquitoes, but the hills make it feel a lot harder. Had to stop at Simba for refreshments.

My Facebook status yesterday:

Opened an account with the Bank of Kigali on Monday. They said 'Come back on Thursday to collect your chequebook.' Today is Thursday. I went back. I collected my chequebook. It's Kigali Jim, but not as we know it. Gobsmacked :D

I'm still incredibly impressed by how efficient things have become.

From now on my posts are likely to be a bit more text-heavy, as it's hard to take photos here. Tried to get one of the deep furrows in the road, but there are always people walking along it, so here's one of the path from my house - without the ruts. Reminiscent of Gikondo all those years ago.

It is nice here, though there's a grassland space next door where all the local kids play (and scream) most days. There's no such thing as a lie-in. Thinking I will press on with starting my company, then see about saving for a larger house which I can sublet myself. For the time being, this is perfect.

Quick snap inside our water filter. Mine only used to have two candles, but we're hydrating a family of four, plus guard, Jado. 

So, it's been a funny couple of days. A friend was in town - the outgoing Commissioner General of Burundi. Very interesting guy, worth reading about his work there. We sank a few beers at his hotel and caught up.

Then, last night, I managed to swing an invite to the Goat & Gorilla, which is the (not so) secret bar at the British Embassy. I think it's every Thursday, and the last Thursday of each month (last night) is live music, but you only get in if you're on the guest list.

Little bit of nostalgia. It's been more than five years since I was there last. It used to be renowned for the extremely cheap price of drinks, but sadly no more. Though they do offer draft Mutzig, and very good goat brochettes with ibirhy (potatoes). 

After that, it was off to a post-conference do at Mille Collines. Sadly arrived just as the band were packing up (they sounded good). We drank a couple of glasses of Merlot poolside, before finishing up at Serena for a cheeky bottle of red with another tax inspector. 

Don't ever let anyone tell you tax is boring - these guys go to work with bodyguards.

Pool at Serena

I can confidently say that I have drunk more alcohol in the past 48 hours than in the past month. It's as though I never left Rwanda.

Only slightly depressing thing I guess, is the rampant sexism in this realm of International Development. It's still very much a man's world, by body count alone.

I learned that:

  • I have a 'fantastic pair of breasts'
  • I'm an 'attractive woman'
  • Men feel the need to apologise when they are 'talking about complicated things' [subtext: which you probably don't understand/wouldn't find interesting]

Damn you, vanity, the first two are fairly flattering, but, no, I was born with a brain, and occasionally I do enjoy using it - so, please, continue talking about storage options for cross-border import items. I am actually learning something.

The most interesting thing of all?

Not one of those comments came from a Rwandan - all mzungus!


So much for Western equality, eh? 

Anyway, it was a very interesting night, and nice to mingle with people from all over the world: Rwanda, UK, Japan, Sudan, Ireland (Jerry Adams appeared to be a freedom-fighting folk hero to one African delegate). 

Me: When I was young I remember being caught in a bomb scare in London. There were lots of them, people were very afraid.
He: Yes, but you understand why he was doing it? 
Me: If I'd been blown up, I wouldn't have understood anything. 
He: [Pause] Yes, good point.

A surreal night, full of fun conversation and entertaining one-liners.

Despite the offer of a comfortable room, I decided to make my way home, walking the streets of Kigali at midnight. There was nobody about. It was a strangely lonely experience.

Just as I was starting to think perhaps I should have stayed, a moto pulled up beside me. I love moto drivers. They can get you out of any situation, and I haven't forgotten how to nap on the back of a bike. It's a very long way back to Kagugu, and it was a cold night. Slightly annoyed I managed to lose my favourite cardigan somewhere - possibly in the chauffeur driven vehicle, possibly in one of the bars.

I also learned that there is a protocol to riding with a political bigwig. You have to sit behind the driver, so the gunman in the passenger seat (who thankfully wasn't with us that night) can protect you. 

A sobering thought.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Home Sweet Home

Internet set up in just one day - impressed? You will be.

Just had a lovely message from an old colleague:

I'm so glad to hear that you have finally landed in your second home! Warm welcome!

There aren't words to describe it, but a blank blog isn't that entertaining, so I'll try.


Only, it's home with added awesome.

Met by my mate Jo and her gorgeous (and clever) wee daughter Zuba (Kinya for Sunshine). They bundled me into their swanky new motor (above) and took me across town to my new home. Then we met up with Zuba daddy, Pierre, at India Khazana. Like, seriously, where else would you go?

Though food choice has rocketed since I've been away. All the old favourites are here: Khazana, Lalibela, SoleLuna, but so is a Korean and Zen, a Japanese! Totally spoiled for choice.

You know you're in Rwanda when you're
supping Primus at India Khazana!

On the way to meet Pierre at the restaurant, we wound down the windows and played 'the wavey hand song' at ear-splitting volume whilst singing so badly it's a wonder we weren't deported.

The wavy hand song, by the way, is Zuba's favourite - a very high honour indeed Mr. Sinatra.

[And for anyone who hasn't seen it - wrap your eyes around Newport - genius!]

Before we headed out, my new housemates heroically managed to hang a hook for my mosquito net.

Mahoro, Richard and Sally

The net is on loan from Pierre and Jo, only... it's pink!

I'll never live this down.

Anyway, with a belly full of Indian and a back pocket full of pink notes to match my pink mosquito net (both on loan from Jo & Pierre), they dropped me home. Wee Zuba doing the wavy hand (and legs) dance on my lap. Zuba cuddles are just the best.

So, next morning I was up early - though not as early as my economist and UN house mates who were out the door before seven!

I had a bracingly cold shower (because I'm a numpty who doesn't understand how the electrics work - figured it out now though) - and straight into town with a To Do list that needed folding three times before it would fit in my pocket.

The path to the main road from here is a deeply rutted, rocky dirt road. Thankfully there are plenty of motos, but it's like off-road trail riding. Seriously exciting.

FRW 500 (50p) for something like a fifteen minute scoot into town, which I thought was incredibly reasonable.

Everything still looks totally familiar - only new, and improved. The centre of town is sparkly with tall buildings, there's something being built by the Wedding Roundabout that looks suspiciously like a silver alien spaceship! I'm rather in awe.

Given that you used to have to set half a day aside to do banking, I was expecting to get about two things on my list ticked off. Instead, this is what I accomplished yesterday:

  • Took a cold shower (I can't get the electric shower head to work, and Richard's right - it gives an electric shock if you touch it... hmm, mains electrics and water.... that cannot be a good idea.)
  • Opened a bank account in FRW at the swanky new Bank of Kigali. I get my chequebook on Thursday, and a VISA card in about three weeks.
  • Made my first ever international ATM withdrawal in Rwanda there too.
  • Changed my Kenyan Shillings into Rwandan Franks at Forex.
  • Marvelled at how developed and sparkly the centre of town now looks!
  • Opened a PO Box (PO Box 5145, Kigali, Rwanda) - please don't send me anything expensive or heavy otherwise I'll probably have to pay duty. Books and small things should be fine though.
  • Got an AirTel SIM for my phone. I discovered in Nairobi that I can no longer access voice mail from home, so my UK number is defunct for the time being - those who know it, switch to my Rwandan one, or just Skype me. 
  • Got an AirTel (Yes! Rwandair seems to have disappeared, but MTN is in competition with AirtTel and Tigo!) modem for my laptop. £20 a month 3G with 1.5GB daily data limit. Not a bad deal. When it works, it's incredibly fast.
  • Bought towels.
  • Bought food.
  • Went to Rwanda Development Board (RDB) to ask about starting a business. Was told I needed to go to Immigration and get my work permit first...
  • Went to Immigration to get my work permit, was told I need to set up a business first with RDB...

Confused. But I understand that either way I need a police clearance CRB from home, so I'll start with that.

All of this in one day!

The Post Office was fairly entertaining. It's moved from its original site, but the two guys who used to run it five years ago are still there. One of them is a bit grumpy, and the other one is very tall and never says a word. The second guy was sitting outside, and I recognised him instantly - he seemed to remember me, too. There was much smiling and hand shaking.

Anyway, as the slightly grumpy guy came to tell me they had closed for lunch and that I would have to come back in an hour, the tall guy had already gone into the office, processed my form, and returned with a new lock for my post box. Take that, grumpy guy!

Apart from the confusion over applying for a work permit, everything else ran like clockwork.

New, improved Kigali!

Kigali, only better!

Or perhaps it's just beginner's luck? ;)

I don't care. 

I have a beautiful new office, where I will plan world domination.

My Office

Office Assistant

View from the Office

Had a hearty breakfast of Rwandan cheese with Rwandan banana and Rwandan coffee with Rwandan honey. Delicious. 

I have a fridge full of beer, an internet connection, and a dinner date tonight with a friend. There's also talk of cabaret later in the week and all good things. 

Now I've got the big stuff out the way (post, banking, housing) I'm taking a few days off before tackling the rest. I intend to do sweet FA but enjoy myself, soak up the sunshine (cool 27-29c) - possibly at Nyarutarama swimming pool - and rock out to UB40

Time to have a little fun, ladies and gentlemen.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Hello Kigali

Last flight compilation for a while: Nairobi to Kigali this afternoon.

I know it's not great quality, but the sky is so beautiful and I feel privileged to live in an age where I get to go up and photograph it like this. What would our ancestors have thought?

The second song is Maguru by Holy Jah Doves, a Rwandan band I used to mosh out to when I lived here five years ago. Kassim of Belgium fame was a founding member. You can also find a translation of the lyrics online. It's an adaptation of a folk tale.

My ride to Kigali.

Hello Rwanda!
A fond fairwell to Malaika (Angel) who came to see me off, and a big hug from Mary, who wouldn't let me put Malaika in the boot of Abdi's taxi (the guy who found me the horses) :(  

Garden Panoramic - (Click to Enlarge)

I am glad I can finally say I've seen Nairobi. Despite the security issues (getting out of the shower to the sound of automatic gunfire and getting patted down each time you want to go to the shops) it was surprisingly green, and very welcoming. Loved the drumming, the horses and the elephants, not so keen on the high price of living.

Ending with a song that has now become my anthem to East Africa. K introduced me to the music of Miriam Makeba, and I've had this one on repeat ever since. Welcome home to the continent of dance. Guma guma!

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Farewell Kenya

Last post from Kenya, for tomorrow I fly for Rwanda, where the lovely Ms. Jo and co. are picking me up in their swanky new car and driving me to my new digs. Can't wait to see them!

Yesterday was a fantastic day. Celia and Tracey (of chocolate samosa fame) came over for a pudding party. K made her trademark Mango Crisp, and we had a go at dishing up Welsh Cakes. I sent her the recipe back in February when visiting my friend :JR: in Cardiff. I also sent some of the ingredients, including a small packet of baking powder which, on reflection, I'm surprised customs didn't consider suspicious.

It went down a treat, and we laughed the evening away, Tracey and I over a bottle of wine, the slightly more healthy among us over herbal tea.

So glad to have met these ladies - they are wonderful. As Tracey pointed out, if I hadn't sent her an e-mail about her website over LinkedIn, they would never have met K, and none of this would ever have happened!

Percy, Welsh Cake Taster in Chief

In an equally serendipitous turn of events, my two very good friends Cathryn and Cassie, who both live in London, randomly met the other day at a tube station. I put them in touch via Facebook, as Cassie recently bought a house, and Cathryn is about to sell hers. Cathryn & Danny had just been to a Nine Inch Nails gig and were heading home,  whilst Cassie and hubby Sean had missed their train so ended up on the same platform - where Cathryn recognised her from the Facebook pics! That's impressive, even with a teacher's memory for faces!

Meanwhile, in Nairobi, my awesome moto dude, Peter, let me take this easy rider picture of him. He's such a nice guy, always based outside Oilibya Petrol Station on Peponi Road, near Spring Valley Road. If you ever need a reliable moto driver in Westlands, drop a comment and I'll give you his number. The guy made my stay so much easier, and always waves when he passes you on the road with another customer.

I might not be where I want to be; but where I am
today is not where I was yesterday.

Today was another splendid day, spent with K in Brackenhurst tea fields. We went for a wander through the sun-soaked swathes of green, the point at which our familiar brew begins life. 

Panoramics - Click to Enlarge

Hmm... National Geographic?

Houses where the pickers live.

Tea Flower
Then we took a wander back to the centre for lunch, cake, and a cup of... yup, you guessed it, tea! 

After which, we sprawled out on the beautiful lawns to stare at the sky and watch the world go by. That was until K mentioned there was a playground with swings near the car park - at which point we ran like children to play on them. 

On the drive home, we managed to snap one of K's favourite landmarks. Funny to think that shop signs would all have been hand painted in the UK back in the 30s and 40s, yet it's all plastic and laser print now. In Africa there's still room for intricate artwork in advertising.

We finished off at the Zen Garden, an extremely nommy Japanese restaurant. We ordered a range of appetisers as we were still full from lunch, but they came in huge portions. We stuffed ourselves, and had a hilarious drive home trying to avoid potholes and speed bumps lest we disturb our pregnant digestive process. 

Going to need to sleep this one off me thinks.

This may be my last post for a while. My new house doesn't have wifi, so I need to get a dongle connection set up before I can blog again, and the amount of blogging may be dependent on data limits. But I'll get back to it as soon as possible. Stay safe and happy 'til then x