Sunday, 29 May 2016

Karongi Nights


Rwanda is absolutely stunning.

Sometimes you look at the landscape and it renders you speechless. 

So lucky to live here, for as long as I'm allowed to.

It's been a long week recovering from the bonfire incident. On top of the hand, I've had a mild bout of bronchitis, probably from all that shisha. Have not been feeling great, and poor Paul has had to amuse himself around town for a couple of days. 

Started to feel a bit better mid-week so decided to venture to Karongi (formerly Kibuye). It's an absolutely beautiful part of the country, and Paul really had to see it. I was still a bit fragile and needed to stop in to get my dressing changed before we could go, so we hired Senga to make the three hour drive in comfort, rather than battle our way through Nyabugogo bus park.

On the way we stopped off at Chutes Ndaba, a waterfall named for an ill-fated honey collector who reached out too far for a sweet treat and fell into the falls. The moral being: don't be greedy.

Senga at Chutes Ndaba

We continued on to Karongi and Hotel Bethany, on the shores of Lake Kivu, one of the world's three exploding lakes. The government has just opened a new energy plant to extract the gas. It's said there's enough methane down there to power the country's energy needs for four hundred years. Very exciting stuff.

Bethany is utterly magnificent. The restaurant is right on the water and at night the traditional fishing boats drift out onto the lake, singing and lighting their gas lamps. It's an incredible sight.



In the evening, I watched a roll of mist sweeping up one of the islands. Eerie. Followed by dry lightning storms. Karongi is renowned for impressive electrical storms and loud thunder.

We had a nice view of the lake from our rooms. You can get rooms right on the water for around FRW 30,000 per night, or standard singles for 20,000. Unfortunately, the bathrooms are really basic. Some have a bath, others a shower, some only have scalding hot water, others cold, and some days no water at all. The beds are big and comfy though.

Bathroom Could Use Some Work

Another issue is the mosquito infestation. There's no netting on the windows. Although I can't prove it, I have a sneaking suspicion this is where I contracted malaria last year. The staff did offer a bottle of bug spray, but it was about as effective as air freshener. Window netting would definitely make a big difference.

Despite its issues, people flock to Bethany because it has one of the most beautiful views of any hotel in the world. Unfortunately for us, the Ministry of Finance had also flocked there for a conference and we spent our first night with pillows over our faces trying to drown out the ear-splitting music. This is the second time I've been there when they've turned the bar into a nightclub. The DJ seemed unaware that you can play music lower, without knackering the speakers, allowing people in the bar to dance whilst other guests slept. As it was, I'm fairly sure there were people in the DRC begging them to turn it down.

The next day we were back to peace and serenity.


Bethany do a lovely plate of sambaza, the small fish from the lake. We nibbled on them before heading out on a boat trip of the islands.

Bethany from the Water




Paused to admire a colony of cormorants. When they fly, they do so just above the surface of the water, their wing tips almost touching.




We also stopped off at Amahoro (Peace) Island for a little walk round.



Then it was home again as the sun was setting, for a nice cold beer by the waterside.


Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Disaster Strikes

Well. it's been a somewhat painful week. 

Went to a film festival at Juru Park, which is right up on top of a hill in Gikondo, looking out across Kigali. It's a beautiful place. I went last year, and this year Jo took over helping to manage it.

It started out lovely. Lots of activities for the kids and acrobatic displays.

I took some blankets and we spread them out on the grass. Everybody I know was there: Paul, Isaac, Lan and Nadine (two of Cindy's friends from the night before, looking just as hungover as I was), Khaze, Maia, Jo, Sande and a wonderful surprise turn up by Maja and Vincent. It was wonderful - blankets full of friendship. We didn't actually see a single film at the film festival, we were too busy quaffing beer and watching the sunset.



Daylight gave way to firelight as we found a secluded spot. Take note of this fire, it features heavily later on. 

It was such a good night. We drank, ordered a shisha pipe, laughed - just Paul, Isaac, Khaze, Vincent, Maja and myself, away from the crowds. 

All The Girls Together: Khaze, Maya and Me
L-R: Maya, Isaac, Paul, Me + Vincent behind.
Me, Maya, Vincent and Khaze
Me & Isaac

We spent about four hours just hanging out in our own private camp before it was invaded by intore dancers and those who had actually been watching the films.

Some of us joined in the dancing, making a procession around the fire. Then, unfortunately, disaster struck. I lost my footing and put my hand down to cushion my fall - right into the fire.

Maya was standing next to me and pulled me up quickly, but the damage was already done.

I spent the next twenty minutes with Maya and Isaac pouring cold water over it before the event organisers drove me and Isaac to the hospital. Instead of King Faisal or Polyclinique du Plateau, the two main emergency hospitals I know, he directed them to Hopital La Croix Du Sud in Remera. They did a fairly decent emergency job. I spent the entirety of it with my face pressed against Isaac's chest. Although it was the alcohol that had caused this, it was also the alcohol (and shock) which saved me. I remember very little about the hours of skin-stripping. 

Flash forward to sitting in a café buying Isaac a meal at half one in the morning, amazed he could stomach anything after watching what had just happened!

Maya, me and Khaze Dancing.
Last Known Photograph of my Left Hand Intact.

To give Croix Du Sud their due, they were extremely cheap. Treatment, tramadol and a tetanus jab cost a grand total of about £10. Went back two days later to get the dressing changed and got change from a fiver! 

Things started to go a little wrong at that point. My temperature was steadily going north, and I thought there was a suspicious smell from the dressing. It had leaked all over my bedding, which I assumed was probably normal under the circumstances, but something didn't feel right. I tried to explain my concerns about my temperature to the nurse, but no one seemed to listen. He didn't even take my temperature to check. I was told the wound was clean and that a high temperature was normal.

The next day my temperature had gone from 37.9 to 38.8 and my head was swimming. I took myself off in search of a second opinion - to Polyclinic Du Plateau, which was the default clinic back when I was a VSO. They treated me last August when I got malaria. They're more expensive (£15 for initial consultation and between £17-26 per dressing change) but they really know their stuff.

The second nurse at Croix Du Sud hadn't used any salve, so the dressing was set to the wound like concrete. It took three hours to remove the bandages. 

I was told part of the wound was green, and that this was not a good thing. Miracle man, Nurse Moses, cleaned me up thoroughly and prescribed a course of antibiotics.

This cured the temperature pretty quickly, but it was too late to prevent complications. When I went back they found that my fingers were infected. It took another three hours for Nurse Moses to peel off all the manky skin with a pair of tweezers. 

Had I known what was about to happen, I would have taken the tramadol, or a bottle of waragi, and tried to knock myself out cold. Unfortunately, I had no prior warning. All I had in my bag was a 30mg tab of codeine, which didn't even come close.

I was extremely brave for the first hour and a half, but for the last stretch another nurse came in to hold me and stroke my hair. I think you can still see teeth marks in the desk. 

Still, it had to be done, and it's been plain sailing since.

I won't inflict these pictures on anyone, but if you would like to see the damage, here it is. Fingers before and after Moses removed the infected skin.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Oh, What A Night


Abandoned Paul  for a night out with the girls last night. They gave him special dispensation but it seems I've already worn him out.

It was my lovely friend Cindy's birthday. We've known each other for years. She was working in a shop in town back when I was a VSO volunteer.

Me & Cindy, Fresh-faced Girls back in 2008

Who would have thought, all these years later, Cindy would grow up to be the owner of several kicking nightclubs in Kigali? 

We started out with VIP treatment at Bar 514 (opposite Rosty in Kisimenti). There was the most incredible band playing - the same guys that rock Mille Collines on a Thursday. Best live music I've heard in ages. They play there each Friday, so go check them out.


Like Paul, I was absolutely knackered and not really in the mood for a night out.

"I'll just go for one drink..." I said.

The music swept me away, and Cindy's friends were so much fun. We danced solidly until the band finished, indulging in a range of exotic shisha flavours. 



During the final song we invaded the stage and rocked out with a rendition of Happy Birthday To Ya (Happy Biiiirthday).

Then it was on to another of Cindy's, rather iconic, venues - Papyrus. This is a national institution, like Sole Luna or Republika. I'd been to Papyrus a couple of times since being back, but never to the nightclub underneath - Envy.

On our way there, Cindy received a call to say the President's son was there. When we arrived, the place was teaming with casually-dressed bodyguards. We saw him partying with former Miss Rwanda, and did a whole lot of partying ourselves. Girls will be girls. At one point we played a very drunk game of 'who can slip the most ice cubes down a dress,' then I remember being blinded by a bottle of champagne sprayed in my face (and a very *ahem* chivalrous guy who was trying to chat me up diving for cover behind me rather than using himself as a human shield - don't call me, I won't call you either!).

The wallpaper in the bathrooms was worthy of the carpet at old Cadillac. I was slightly mesmerised.

Though some of the decor I really must ask Cindy about...

We partied the night away, and there was far too much alcohol involved: gin, wine, champagne, whisky...

It was a totally excellent night. Can't remember the last time I danced so much. Had so much fun, and that 'one drink' turned into an all-nighter. Crawled home to bed at 4am, leaving the others still partying hard. I'm so out of practise.