Sunday, 25 January 2015

Banana Beer

Banana beer brewed by nuns in Nyamirambo.
Lethal stuff.

I'm having an 'I love Rwanda' moment. They happen quite regularly.

Just been a bizarre week. Not going out at all this week as I've drunk my quota for 2015 already. Days are blurring into one, finding it hard to remember what I did when.

Friday night I went out with a lovely lady who I worked for briefly last year. She's had a rough time. Worked for the same organisation for about five years, and they've just given her five months' notice as they're cutting all their staff. Went to cheer ourselves up with pizza at Sole Luna - actually, I opted for salmon gnocchi and it was heavenly - with chocolate mousse for pudding. Then we headed to Kisimenti to continue drinking. She really wanted to go dancing, but I have been a bit knackered from late nights recently. Will definitely take her out once I've caught up on sleep. Though I'm not entirely sure where you go dancing anymore. Will let her lead the way. 

It's always really nice when a contract colleague turns into a proper friend. 

Last night my neighbour B got back to town. He worked at VSO whilst I was here. Took really good care of me, helped me move house and rescued me when my tap fell off and water fountained all over my kitchen. Then, a few weeks after I moved into my house in Kanombe, I'm waiting for a moto into town when suddenly the VSO van pulls up and he runs across the street to greet me. Five years and he recognised me instantly! 

I must admit, I recognised him too. I always liked him. So it was really amazing to discover he's my next door neighbour. A couple of months back he joined the UN and he's now based in Sudan, so there was a big party at the bar over the road, Mama Nina's. Had a lovely time. Discovered the lady I was sitting next to was the aunt of a former volunteer but they'd never actually met. I took a photo and Facebooked it over to her. Kigali - where everybody knows everybody.

Out with friends at Mama Nina's.

Earlier in the week I'd been invited to a volunteer reunion. Was really, really strange. Sitting at the table with the staff, some I hadn't seen in over five years, yet they felt like family. There were about thirty volunteers in-country when I left, now there's around ninety, including a lot of Kenyans, Ugandans and some Rwandans. Fascinating night, and so good to catch up with everyone, though I don't know any of the volunteers anymore.

Spent over an hour on Skype this morning catching up with my friend Cathryn back in London. She's getting married to a diamond geezer later in the year. We were volunteers out here together.

All of which brings me to tonight. Went out in Nyamirambo with my friend and landlord, IC. Was supposed to be meeting some other friends but they had a medical emergency and couldn't make it. So we wandered up the road to find this bar we'd heard about. It's run by nuns who brew and sell this incredible banana beer. You're only allowed to buy a litre at a time because it's so potent. Took it home via brochettes at a fabulous little place that I love but can never remember the name of. It's a wooden bar covered in fairy lights. Very pretty, nice music, good food.

Very briefly saw LL. She's been unwell, so wasn't out. But introduced her to IC, who is my wingman on all things to do with character judgement, because I - apparently - have none. 

Random note, but if anyone's interested in LGBT interests in East Africa, check out Bombastic Magazine, it's been created by Kasha, a Ugandan activist. Really interesting insight.

Had a lovely evening at his place, drinking said banana beer and chatting.

Totally awash with love at the moment. I have so many wonderful friends. Both B and IC have vowed to find me somewhere to live if I need it. We shall see where we get to in a month or two. I'm in no hurry to leave this place just yet, but I could do with a cut in rent. If Jo can get the house behind hers so that I can move in, that would be fantastic. Might hold out here for just a little longer. Rather move straight to Gikondo than move into a stopgap. Tired of moving. But I also really like this neighbourhood. It's nice having B and his friends next door in case I need help with anything, and it's a really, really safe and quiet place because it's all ex-military. Plus there's every type of shop on my doorstep if I need food, beer or printing services.

IC's got another house in the same neighbourhood. Going to take a look this week and think about it.

But none of this really feels like it matters too much, because I know I have such lovely friends who have my back. Really does mean a lot, and I love living in Kigali, whichever end of town I end up.

Anyway. That ends my mad week of social overload. Refusing to leave the house this week. Need to write, work and sleep.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Nyamirambo Nights

Saw this and couldn't help laughing.

Went over to Nyamirambo yesterday. It's the part of Kigali that never sleeps. The Muslim quarter, but also the hardest drinking, up-all-night, do-what-you-like side of town.

Lady Luck lives over that side, and as I still had a French photographer in my house, I decided it would be easier to go there to work on this research proposal we're writing. We've decided to focus on whether international funding priorities on MSM are further marginalising gay women. There's a call for papers backed by an NGO here. I think it stands a good chance, because nobody else is writing about it, and it's highly relevant to development at the moment.

Anyway, she wasn't kidding - she actually did cook for me! Very well. Goat and rice with salad. 

We started drinking, then her friend turned up, fresh off the plane from Nairobi, with a massive bottle of Amarula. She also had a couple of small bottles of wine, which she gave to me! Weirdly good wine for aeroplane wine - or perhaps I just haven't tasted wine in such a long time I've forgotten how it's supposed to taste?

Aaaand then we really started drinking. Went out to this back street Congolese bar. Nyamirambo is famed for the place where everybody and anybody intermingles. Most of Kigali looks superbly developed. My French photographer, who's been travelling around Africa for the past six months, can't believe how good the roads are and how clean it is. It's true - it's a great city. But step off the tarmac and you're soon on dirt roads through the land that time forgot. It's a stark contrast, but I love it. Little wooden cook huts with no lights, just the coals burning inside, the smells, the people sitting on doorsteps, talking, traders with armfuls of clothes they're trying to sell to passers by.

The only thing that I'm not so keen on is the sanitation. First time in a long while I've had to tackle eye-watering pit latrines, the ammonia so strong you have to hold your breath whilst you pee. No toilet paper, no ventilation, no drainage... blah. It's fairly hardcore stuff.

image source

image source

Nyamirambo or Camden Town?
Love the painted shop fronts.

image source

So, yes - the Congolese bar. Think my friend was a little worried what I'd think of it, but I loved it. We were then joined by some other people. Nice group, except my friend's ex turned up with her partner and was just a slight arsehole. The alcohol talking, but I stalked off to play pool with some guys on the other side of the bar. LL joined me, and proceeded to play a very good (for five bottles of Mutzig) game.

"Was trying to impress you," she grinned.

"Oh, I'm already impressed."

I dunno. We were having a queer old time of it. But I must admit, it's a double deformation: white and bi. I'm not sure if her ex hated me more for simply being there, or being there and white? Would the eyes have narrowed just a fraction less had I been Rwandan? I sensed a little bit of one-upmanship going on, her ex trying to control the conversation and how quickly we were drinking, LL with her arm around my shoulder, denoting ownership. To be honest, I didn't mind playing along. Soon ignored the ex and started snogging again. (Perhaps the Australian 'pashing' is nicer, it sounds more passionate). 

It was refreshing to be surrounded by people as happy with who they are. Ours was a table of love and laughter that night, which fascinates me why we drew such stony stares from a table of old women behind. They had been just as full of love and laughter as us a while before, then I suppose they saw who we were, and after a while their faces changed and the stares got harder. Firstly, I'm thinking 'You're wearing the veil and you're pissed as a newt - you want to judge me, really?' and then I just felt sad. Whilst our table was still full of love and laughter, they had chosen to kill theirs.

What a pity.

Still, love and laughter aside, jealous exes are something I can do without. Not only that, but all the lesbo lingo gives me brainache. One thing about being bi is that you don't tend to conform to type. You go with whatever feels good at the time. You love whoever you love, for their mind or their looks or their energy. What's between a person's legs is secondary, you're going to have fun either way. 

Speaking exceedingly bluntly here, what pisses me off about overtly lesbian cliques is their readiness to fight against discrimination, whilst at the same time developing a whole new language of discrimination. Femmes, butch, studs, chapstick - sounds like fairly innocuous descriptive terms, but that's never how they're used. I fear for young people coming out. They're told to 'find themselves,' but really, they're given a finite list of expressions to choose from and conform to. 

Can't be doing with it.

Just as many damaged people here as back home on the scene. Thankfully, just as many smart ones, too.

Gripe over.

As for me, dunno what I'm doing. 

Still having a dilemma. Me and LL are likely to be working together later in the year. I'm a bit older, and supposed to be wiser, but, frankly, she's far more professional than me half the time. Cue drunken slur:

"I very much want to work with your organisation, I very much want to take this job I've been offered, and I am definitely flirting with you. Is that a problem?"

Apparently not.

She asked if I wanted to stay over. I was ridiculously tired, drunk and ready to head home. But photographer dude has finally left for Gisenyi (back in ten days), so I have the house to myself again. Going to get it cleaned up and invite her over for movies (no, seriously, like 'cooking,' no euphemism there) and to help me decide which of my two massive beds we should wear out before I have to leave this place.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Lady Luck

Urban - First Bar of the Night

I am SO hungover.

I woke up dead this morning.

Where do I even begin?

So, I was at this conference a while back about Human Rights. Halfway through a speech on the government's approach to MSMs (Men who have Sex with Men - that's apparently the new terminology, but it sounds more like a packet of sweets), female sex workers and the war on HIV, this stunningly smart individual stands up behind me and starts taking the speaker to task over the lack of support for the wider LBT community.

Turned around so fast I got whiplash. Firstly, because you never hear that issue raised, and secondly, well, she was very well dressed.

At the end of the conference I made a beeline over there and got chatting. Offered to take a look at her organisation's strategic documents and offer some advice - smooth, huh?

Forget LGBT, I have long since known that I am this:

The problem with being attracted to smart people, is that they're often smarter than you are.

My perfectly innocent proposal eventually turned into some flirty texting, at which point I put down my phone and ran through all the reasons that wouldn't be a good idea. Eventually I ran out of excuses and we set a date to talk through the papers. I reasoned I could always pull the professionalism card if I needed a get out of jail pass.

Things did not start well.

Two hours late! I was literally about to go home - the entire phone network was down. Couldn't call anyone, couldn't text them - hence I waited so long. Sitting there thinking 'Great, stood up at Christmas, stood up in the New Year.'

Turns out she did have a good enough excuse, and had been trying to contact me.

Soon forgiven. 

She is smart as they come, funny, entertaining; though the sexual dynamics were a little interesting. We're so similar in some ways, it's disquieting. Similar views on relationships, life and neck ties. 

We talked until the bar closed, then went down the road and continued talking until that bar closed. 

By which time I was a little (read: LOT) drunk and so was she.

We were the only two customers left. She had said it was a friendly bar, so I decided to test just how friendly. We ended up snogging across the table. I must say, it was one of the best drunken (read: SOBERING UP FAST) kisses I've ever had. 

Très yummy. Only, once I regained my senses, I had this song going round and round in my head.

That would never happen here. It's not Uganda. Still, I do have a history of indiscretion when I've been drinking and the urge takes me, or when I'm sober with a model on my arm in a dodgy part of town. Self-preservation out the window. 

I just think this is such a fantastically progressive country compared to so much of what's going on at the moment. It hasn't fallen to any of the silliness of Uganda, Ethiopia, Russia, the Bible Belt or even the UK's UKIP. You still get bigots and homophobes, but it's not state endorsed. There's a place for people, like my date, to stand up and speak out. She's one of about four out activist lesbians in the country and she's brave as all hell. Quite well supported, too. They ask her to speak at ministries and NGOs. There are so many reasons to love living here, and that's certainly the icing on the cake. Long may it continue.

Anyway. I crawled home at 4am. 

It's now 1:30 and I'm still struggling. Gotta sober up so I can go out and do this again tonight. Off to a social networking soirée. Think I might stick to Fanta.

My Couchsurfer's three days has turned into six. Nice guy, but looking forward to getting my house back. Lady Luck has offered to come over and cook for me. I don't think that's a euphemism, I think she actually does intend to cook.

I'm happily entertained at the moment. No strings, no expectations, no melodrama. Possibly food.

Just what the doctors, and nurses, ordered.


Saturday, 17 January 2015

Can't Beat Coffee

Had a lovely night out last night. CEO of the organisation I've hopefully got that contract with for June/July (depending on programme funding) was leaving, so went out with friends. Some I knew, some I didn't. Was a lovely night. Went to the Ethiopian that used to be near my house about five years ago, but has since relocated. Really lovely. There was a fire pit and everything. The food is really good, and they make coffee the traditional way, with a sprig of tena adam, a herb which aids digestion.

It was a really nice night, and we ended up at a place called Ogopogo after, which is perhaps one of the few bars I didn't know. Picture at the top - beautiful cascade of fairy lights.

A thoroughly lovely night. 

Things are looking up a little. Been approached for a potential contract in March, too. NGO I'd like to work with, going to go for a chat in a week or two. Amazing where a bit of cold calling can get you. Fingers crossed.

Housing situation still a bit up in the air, but I refuse to worry about it yet. Landlord wants to get together to discuss it, but whatever he's offering the rent will be the same. Might as well bite the bullet and leave on my own terms, save some cash, even if it means a couple of months of hassle finding a new place. I think I've just given up taking anything for granted anymore. Roll with it, see what happens.

Damascene's been harvesting the sunflowers in my garden today. Felt a bit of a pang, given that I can't explain to him what's about to happen because of our language barrier. Sure he'll be fine though, he's been with the house for a long time. I'll definitely miss the vegetable plot. And him, of course. He's been the best housekeeper I've ever had by miles.

Ai Weiwei?

Going out for a drink Monday night with flirty texter. Someone I met at a conference a while back. Supposed to be offering some 'professional advice'. Yeah, see how long that lasts.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

On The Move - Again

Nothing ever really runs smoothly, does it?

Found out last night that my landlord is being forced to sell the house I'm living in.

Mixed feelings about this. I love the place. It's been a joy to live in. But it is expensive.

He wants me to keep renting until the place is sold, but I'm paid up until the end of February and that seems as good a time as any to move on, rather than sitting around wondering when I'll have to pack.

A friend has kindly offered me a room if I get stuck, and another friend is in the process of trying to buy a house. If she gets it, she'll rent it to me at seriously knock-down rates. I won't hold my breath, but fingers crossed.

Either way, I don't need to make any rushed decisions.

In better news, I've been offered a job over June, July and possibly August. It's quite a nice contract, which would earn me the title of Country Director - always good for a CV. So I'm hoping that goes ahead. 

I've decided to give myself until the end of that contract before re-evaluating my business overall, and possibly applying for international development jobs off the back of it. I'm also thinking about bringing in a partner on my business, so that I can keep my company running whilst undertaking other projects that may involve travel. Tax demands are big here, not a month goes by without having to file a return of one sort or another, so administering a business is hard work. Not something you can do with only one eye on it. A partner would be helpful. I'm going out tonight to talk it over with a trusted friend and get some advice. Being a CEO and a Country Director could be entertaining.

Right now I'd just settle for Housed.

I have the aforementioned Couchsurfer staying with me at the moment. Took him out drinking in Nyamirambo last night with a friend. Good time had by all, but ended up getting to bed at 3am. My housekeeper then woke me up, cleaning, at 6:30! Good news is, I'm completely over my tummy bug and can imbibe with the best of them, bad news, I had meetings all day and I now feel like I'm about to pass out with lack of sleep. 

Ah, just like the good old days.

Also got a weird flirty-text thing going on with someone I probably shouldn't (no, not D - give me some credit!). Not sure I'm taking it anywhere, but it's very flattering. 

Busy week ahead: leaving party, crashing a work party, looking for a house.

Life. It's nothing if not challenging.

Feeling blessed for the support of family and friends at this time.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Day Tripper

Little Birds on my Porch

I had fun today. Went to a conference to see what that group of HR activists got up to after I'd finished talking Disability Rights with them. Fabulous day and great networking opportunity. I was really touched to see a display of the work I'd done with them up on the wall, and some brilliant responses written up.

I was surprised to learn how many deaf people are happy and don't consider themselves as worse off at all. "Disability" is a label used by society but a lot of people who are called disabled prefer to decide for themselves.

I learned about the disability policy in Rwanda and it complimented our focus on Human Rights.
I was surprised that Rwanda has its own sign language.

After the presentation I realized I would do the catagotizing activity differently.

How cool is that? It's so rewarding to get people thinking, and even more rewarding to find out that you've had a possitive impact.

Towards the end of the day there was a presentation on sexual minorities and HIV prevention. When it came to Q&A's this incredible woman stood up and took the speaker to task over the national focus on gay men, with no mention of the wider LGBT community.

Certainly got my attention.

We had a really interesting conversation over nibbles afterwards, and I'm thoroughly looking forward to meeting up for a drink in a couple of weeks to continue that discussion. Going to have a read through a strategic plan she sent me and see if I can offer any useful input. 

Very much admire her way of thinking.

Got a full week ahead. Couple of meetings, hopefully leading towards work, which I'm in desperate need of at the moment. That and water - almost at the bottom of my water butts, despite the rain. 

Little worrying as I have a couchsurfer arriving mid-week. He's a photographer going round the world comparing poverty and economic development by photographing the rooms of 18-30 year olds (article/video). Sounds like a fascinating project. He's arriving from Nairobi, and I can't wait to hear about the other countries he's visited.

Getting into practise. Just had a beer, which I haven't dared do since my tummy bug. Seems to be back to normal now, but going to cut back as it's done wonders for my waistline. Also cutting back on cigs. Didn't smoke yesterday. Realised it's more out of habbit than because I actually enjoy it anymore. 

Busy practising planking at the moment - just coz.

I mean, what else do you rent a big house for if not to plank when you feel like it?

Life is good but quiet at the moment. I've become highly antisocial lately. Perhaps having a house guest will draw me out of myself. 

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Pottering Along

Yay. Finally got my ID card. I officially exist. Had to have my photo taken, provide my signature and my fingerprints. 

There's been a few attempts to introduce ID cards in the UK but all have met with mass public disapproval over privacy and ID theft. I do worry a bit here about identity theft and online security after asking the Bank of Kigali "What happens if my online account is hacked?" Their response: "Have you given anyone your log-in details?" - "No." - "Then it is impossible for your account to be hacked."

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. 

Anyway, I do think an ID card can be useful at times. I have a friend in the UK who doesn't drive and hasn't got a passport. He has trouble sometimes proving his identity, and an ID card would help with that. And, let's face it, if someone's going to steal your identity, they can already do it with any number of documents you already have.

Still, I'm not that fussed either way. If it makes my life easier and gets me discounts to see the gorillas, I'm okay with that. Equally, I also have a driving license photo card and a passport, so one more proof of identity seems a little excessive. Especially one involving fingerprints.

In other news, for Christmas, Santa seems to have brought me the present of alcohol intolerance!

Went for dinner with my friend last night (very nommy, at Zen).

"Have you lost weight?" she asked.

"Yes, I was throwing up quite a bit."

I'm fine now, I hasten to add. Or, I thought I was. It's a common bug, lots of people had it over Christmas. You feel absolutely fine, eat fine, no problem. Then you wake up randomly in the middle of the night to be sick.

I hadn't had a drink since a couple of days after Christmas, when I was last sick. So I treated myself to a glass of red wine. I wasn't sick, but my stomach hated me for it. So, looks like alcohol is off the menu for a few more weeks. Probably another reason I've lost weight.

In lieu of alcohol I have become a committed smoker, which is something I need to address. Stocked up on boiled sweets and chewing gum. Spending a lot of time writing at the moment. Cracking on with a new novel and busy typing guest posts for blog promotions ahead of my next release in February. Writers are notoriously unhealthy creatures: coffee, nicotine and alcohol, little exercise. I will sort that out eventually.

Finding it hard to get back into the swing of work after the holidays.

Delivered a talk to a group of young human rights activists last week on Disability & Human Rights. That was good fun. Started off in Sign Language. When it became clear no one understood a word, I posed the question on PowerPoint 'Is anyone in this room disabled?' After much shaking of heads there was a laugh of relief when I loudly exclaimed 'Well, that's a good start!' Nice re-introduction to the world of training and workshops.

Had a lovely time with Zubadoo on Tuesday. Minor emergency as her mummy had to go to a meeting out of town and was delayed. No other mummies available, so Aunty Me did the school pick-up. We went for ice-cream at the MTN centre and Santa delivered a couple of books which we sat and read. The Shark in the Dark is now a firm favourite. Came back to mine and set up the projector for a Beauty and the Beast marathon. It was a lovely day, and nice to spend some time with little one, who insists she isn't that little - she's 'a little bit big'.  

Not much else to report at the moment. 

Pottering along.