Monday, 29 February 2016

Going Green

Ah, who can be down when you have an office like this?

I spend Mondays at Novotel, by the pool, eating scrummy melange. It's a start the week treat. The hotel is no longer Novotel, but everybody still calls it that. 

I've had a fairly tough time since the last post. I was suffering terribly when I first got back. I seem to recall this happening last year, too. There's something about January/February that I'm massively allergic to. I was living off a diet of antihistamines, vitamin C and neti nasal irrigation. Went down to the clinic as I was wheezing like - well, like someone suffering horribly from asthma, which I was. My trusty Salbutamol inhaler wasn't doing the trick. The hospital was packed, but thankfully you can buy just about anything over the counter here. 

I got one of these, which is like the finger food of the medicine world - it's so much fun to use. It's a little purple spaceship that dispenses something like the old Becotide, to help protect your lungs. Really made a difference. And they also sold me some strange cough mixture, which I later read is supposed to be for the relief of pneumonia or something. After one dose, I didn't cough again for three days!

A local guy came to clean my house the other day and I've been a bit better since then. The lady who rented in my absence had a dog, so maybe that's had something to do with it. 

Damascene also came to sort out my garden, which had been turned into a sesame seed production plant. Looking forward to sowing some vegetables at some point.

And this is Jo's birthday present to me. Something I've wanted for a really long time - Night Blooming Jasmine. Apparently it grows like wildfire, but it's one of the most wonderful plants in the world. When it flowers, you can smell it from worlds away. A really heady scent that I associate with long evenings in Kigali.

So, yes. I will admit to having been a little down due to ill health - both the asthma and a vicious tummy bug. It's finally starting to lift, though. I'm breathing freely again and my spirits are lifting. I probably should have waited until now before tackling RRA (Rwanda Revenue), but I didn't. I went there and promptly burst into tears as they piled on yet more fines. This time for Corporation Tax, which nobody had told me anything about. That's the continuous experience with RRA - the only time they bother to communicate with you is when they're charging you for something they didn't bother to communicate to you. Apparently all new businesses get training now - but I didn't.

Still, I've learned my lesson. I realise what I did wrong and how not to do it again.

It was also amusing to discover that when I applied to deregister from VAT, they apparently closed my entire business! Utterly bizarre. But, also not terribly surprising. They happily reopened it again in order to fine me. *rolls eyes*

On to things that make me happy...

Cool Bug Picture

I built myself a blanket fort. This was actually inspired by Zuba, who likes to turn my furniture into a hide out when she comes to visit. Only, it's got a slightly more practical use.

My publisher asked me to do a narration for them. I haven't heard whether it's been accepted yet, but I thoroughly enjoyed doing it. Thing is, acoustics are important when recording. You can sort most problems out with Audacity, but the cleaner the initial recording, the better. Some friends who do this more regularly explained they sometimes sit in the clothes closet to record, or hang up blankets, as these absorb unwanted echo and outside noise.

I didn't end up using the fort in the end, but you never know when it might come in handy.

As well as voice over stuff, I've also had my first editing client. I set up a proofreading and editing service. I put up a website just because it was easy to do. Couple of days later a local academic Googled 'proofreading in Rwanda' and, tadah! A customer. 

As my own editor warned, it isn't the best paid work in the world, but it's certainly not to be sniffed at. Plus, I find it strangely therapeutic. Probably because you can do it on your own, sitting by a pool.

I've also written up a creative writing curriculum for a friend who is turning her house into a college, opening in June. Thought I'd give it a go.

Banner in the Post Office - Oops!

My landlord's son, who lives next door, is now teaching me weekly Kinyarwanda lessons. Though, in truth, we sit and chat in English rather more, because I'm a terrible gossip. But it's really nice to have something to challenge me each week. It's about time I could say more than 'a cold beer and a brochette, please.'

I've finally finished my latest novel and set to editing it. It's the most complicated plot I've ever written. Most of the time I can wing it, but this actually needs serious fathoming. I have flip chart paper, sticky tabs (thanks Mum!), an assortment of pens, and a fat cushion on the floor to stop my arse from aching. 

I am finally starting to lose a little of my UK Christmas podge. Discovered this utterly fantastic new service in Kigali called Fresh Basket. They deliver fresh fruit and veg direct to your door. I used something like this in Cardiff years ago. Truly wonderful produce, and really friendly service. I have tons of leafy greens to make salad, some broccoli, kale and sweet potato to sustain my soup fetish, cucumber and tomato for sandwiches, onions, bananas, avocado, even mango jam! But my favourite is the fresh herbs. My whole house smells of mint. It's scrummy. Had to fill a bowl with water to keep everything fresh. 

I can't wait to get cooking with all of this. I feel a little squee of joy at the sight of all that fresh, leafy salad, which is really hard to come by. I'm trying to nurse my body back to health with wholesome foods.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Flappy Birthday

Beautiful sunrise in Kigali.

I have developed a soup fetish recently.

Even necessitated buying some spoons to eat it with.

Making it with any vegetables I can find: cabbage, butternut squash, potatoes, carrots, fresh coriander, seasoned with celery salt (left behind by renting lady), garlic, fresh ginger and black pepper. I've even branched into home made hummus.

Been doing lots of writing. Managed to add an extra 23,000 to my current manuscript since I got back. Mostly typing on my lap under the cool shade of the porch. It hit 34c the other day!

It was also my birthday yesterday. Spent it over at Jo's with her very own version of Grebo, the stinky, slightly annoying but ultimately affectionate neighbourhood furball.

Fun was had with candles in the wind...

And I managed to amuse Zubadoo and her friend Taia with origami birds and paper napkin lotus flowers. Hey, I'm a cool aunt. Yes, there may have been gin involved - what of it?

Jo made an absolutely outstanding vegy lasagna and we sat and stuffed our faces. She was holding a poker game later that evening, but unfortunately I've been so under the weather with my cold, and was asleep on my feet due to garbage disposal shenanigans waking me early (long story), that I chickened out and came home to watch trash TV, drink beer and Skype home. Feeling a bit better today but still acclimatising - from UK winter to tropical heat. Takes a while.

But a lovely, relaxed birthday with my favourite ladies. Yay me - I'm 35!

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Kigali Cough

Morning everybody, from my beautiful papaya tree.

It has been a madly productive couple of weeks. I promised I'd spend more time writing this year, and have managed to add a nifty 10,000 words to my latest novel over the past four days. Also been to Immigration, to try to find out why 'Author' is on their Occupations in Demand List (ODL) in the hopes it may lead to work. Set up an editing operation and even found time to drink cocktails with Jo.

Cheezy hello - reunited with my program logistics manager, Vincent. Lots of beer and Bond 7 on the porch whilst catching up. In order to write more, I've declined a second contract with the human rights organisation I was working with last year. Bit of a scary prospect having no guaranteed income at the moment, but it's a temporary state of affairs (I hope)! My friend Maja, who was Program Assistant last time, will be taking up the reins with Vincent this year.

He's helping me to find a new mosquito net for my spare room. The old one seems to have gone walkabout - or been swapped for another room. 

Don't get me wrong. I am extremely grateful to the lady who rented my house whilst I was away. I could never have afforded to go home for so long if she hadn't, but I seem to have acquired  a spare cow poo painting (tradition art - very pretty), an old pair of shoes and a bag of clothes, and lost three books (upsetting - they were good ones!), an extension lead, a set of keys, my frying pan, all of my butter knives (not the forks, or the teaspoons - just the knives) and a plunger. Really, who takes someone's plunger? Don't even want to think what that's unblocked in the past.

Ho hum. Spent money on replacement kitchen items. Getting a little fed up of T2000. It's a major Chinese supermarket in town. The restaurant upstairs is outstanding, but the shop itself is abysmal. Everyone shops there - but I have no idea why. I think because it used to be really cheap. Now the goods are still really cheap, but they cost a fortune. They sell the most unbelievable trash in there, like a hideous table with 'Merry Christmas' stickers on (looks like an ex-promotional for Coca-Cola) for over £800, or a simple glass coffee table for close to £1,000. You just know when you lift it up the legs will fall off. I've already blown up one of their extension cables simply by plugging in a kettle. It's startling to realise the pound shops in the UK sell better quality goods. Really puts the economic disparity in clear perspective.

Pause to admire amazing bug I found... 

Despite there only being a two hour time difference between Rwanda and the UK at the moment, I did struggled a bit. I think it's because it was dark by about 4pm when I left, and it gets dark at 6pm here (not to mention it had snowed in the UK and was 30c here). It meant that the moment it got dark, my body thought it was only 4pm and stayed awake. Found myself sleeping in until stupid o'clock for a full week. 

Bit better now, but only because I'm usually woken by snot. Mid-reach towards the wad of tissue stuffed down the mattress. I have the dreaded Kigali cough. It's always attributed to the dust of dry season, but I'm not convinced. Kigali has become an oasis in recent years - every inch of earth planted with ornamental shrubbery. It's reduced the dust a lot, yet still there is coughing. I reckon it's plant pollen of some sort.

I'd forgotten (as you do with things that only bother you a couple of times a year) how bad it could get: wheezing, itchy eyes, streaming nose, wet cough. I laugh when I remember my friend Hirut explaining the history of Sierra Leone, about how most of the colonists died from fever whilst the locals were unaffected, simply because their immune systems couldn't cope. But I know this affliction is indiscriminate. The day is punctuated by the sound of me and my Rwandan neighbour blowing our noses. I'm trying to harmonise. 

This morning I heard her kid coughing until he was sick. I felt so bad. Here's me with my neti pot, salbutamol inhaler and veritable pharmacy (I take a cocktail of antihistamines, 1000mg vit. C, zinc and ibuprofen before bed). I want to rush round and dose them up, but I'm horribly paranoid about handing out anything other than aspirin, in case someone has a bad reaction. 

For the first few days I was also paranoid I had malaria again - that causes coughing. There's apparently an upsurge in it (I think I joined a trend last August) because the rains didn't come as heavy this year. I would have thought more water would mean more mosquitoes (my Congolese colleague always used to say that 'rain causes malaria'), but apparently no, they thrive in dust bowls too. There do seem to be more mosquitoes about, or maybe I'm just hyper aware of them now. Having said that, I've sort of resigned myself. There isn't a whole lot you can do about it, and it really wasn't so bad - easily treated.

Anyway, first couple of weeks back - ignoring cough and pilfered books - going well. Lovely to have my own space. I'm currently doing all my own washing and dishes. I need the exercise (rather porky after the UK), so I may just call Damascene every now and then to de-dust the house and tidy up the garden. See how things go.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Up Above The Streets And Houses

Well, farewell UK for another year. It's been a blast, and gone so fast! You can read all about my UK adventure under the UK 2015 tab. Dad dropped me off at Premier Inn, Gatwick on Monday night, ready for my 10:10 flight back to Kigali, via Istanbul.

I didn't plan this, but I appear to be completely colour coordinated with the room.

This was my fist time flying Turkish Airlines. They were incredibly cheap. I had a 30k check-in allowance and a 7k carry-on. I rocked up with nearer 40k check-in, expecting to pay a small fortune, but they deducted my lack of carry-on from my check-in and didn't charge me a penny extra! For that alone, they win my vote.

I usually take videos of the journey, but I didn't this time, despite sitting by the window on both flights. I regret that. Istanbul was utterly beautiful - and huge. Arrived in the evening, and the land was swathed in mist, with snow-capped mountains towering in the distance, circling down over a beautiful blue bay. Totally gorgeous. Possibly one of the prettiest landings I've seen. 

Scoffed baklava at the airport. I was excited to be eating it in Turkey, but unfortunately they'd displayed it above the pizza, so mostly it tasted of pepperoni. My computer seems to have eaten the picture I took of it.

Left Istanbul after dark, and that's when I realised how big it is. Beautiful lights - looked like they were floating in space, with dark patches of water between them.

My friend Senga was at the airport to collect me, and we swung home via a bar to pick up Mutzig to drink on my porch whilst catching up. Jo had stashed food inside, so I didn't die of starvation in the night.

Still adjusting to being back. It's sweltering here at the moment and people say the rains didn't come. Whilst the UK is underwater, Rwanda is drying out. Glad I brought back lots of light clothes with me.

Another sad change since I went away - they've razed Ndoli's! My local shop since my first days of volunteering back in 2007. They say it's moved to Sonatubes, but to me it's the end of an era. 

You can't see so well, but the building is ready to be demolished.

There is also a terrifying sight in my garden...

Yes, those are hundreds and hundreds of baby avocados!

This is what happened last year...

Not sure I'm quite ready for avocadogedden again just yet.

Still, lovely to be home. 30c at the moment. Bright sunshine. Took coffee out onto the porch. Managed to smuggle back a decent cafetiere, and the coffee in Rwanda is always decent.

Perhaps I've just been lucky, but I reckon my bout of malaria last year gave me super-human immunity to colds. Snuffled a bit from dust and central heating whilst back in the UK, but haven't had a cold at all, despite being around people with colds, and sat on aeroplanes for hours. Long may it continue!

Monday, 1 February 2016

Colesbourne Park

Had a lovely day out at Colesbourne Park (posted about before) where the famous snowdrops are out in force.

Dad Wandering Through the Snowdrops

Yellow Snowdrops ;)

I've always thought that little house by the water would make an amazing writer's retreat.

The path to the door of this church is tiles with tiny gravestones.

Can't Make Out The Words

Even snowdrops on the altar cloth.

Ice House

Totally glorious day, with tea and cake. Though the weather is unusually warm - there's even blossom out in Gloucester park.