Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Federer and Fabric

Been a relaxing few weeks. Had a fantastic time watching the Federer v. Nadal Australian Open Final. Woke up in time to see people asking about it on the expat/immigrant forum and when I saw who was playing I knew I couldn't miss it. I don't have a telly, so I headed to a local bar. Met up with some lovely people including an aid worker who was flying out a few hours later. We were the only two Federer fans, so it was quite a triumph when he won. We decamped to CasaKeza for drinks and, having been drinking since 10am (thanks international time zones!) I fell asleep on the couch after seeing him safely back to his hotel. The staff at CasaKeza know me well, and simply left me there. I woke up just as the owner came home, so managed another round of tinto de verano before wobbling my way home.

Working from CasaKeza - My Outdoor Office

Also went to a fun event at Impact Hub, which is a rooftop cafe with screening space. A young documentary maker was showing his piece about Rwanda's Reading Culture which, as a writer, interests me hugely. It was a good night. Met more lovely people, and there was a panel discussion afterwards.

View from Impact Hub

Swung home past Maia's house. After one panelist's comments about using technology to get people reading, it was great to see these young ladies engrossed in a story on their tablet.

Life here is really very lovely, though there have been a couple of strange moments. I'm organising a birthday party this weekend for myself. Called the caterer to come and make brochettes, and ordered a couple of crates of beer from my local shop. But it's been about a year since I left Rwanda and my clothes are looking a bit threadbare. Rwanda has increased tax on second hand clothing, which has also prompted a mass increase in cheap Chinese imports which don't usually come in the same sizes western and African women come in - or a style you'd ever want to wear. 

The only other option is to get something made. The problem with that is, your choice of fabric is usually igitenge, igitenge, igitenge or igitenge, which is printed African fabric usually in bright colours and complicated patterns. It can look absolutely lovely, but I know from experience that it's not something I would wear if I went back to the UK, and it doesn't work with the sort of tops I generally wear. So, I went in search of a non-igitenge fabric shop and managed to find one inside a huge shopping mall that has been recently built.

Shopping malls are going up all over the place at the moment, and there is now a directive that all NGOs and businesses operating from residential houses must move into purpose-built office space. They say it's to free up housing in the city, and I get that, but I think it's also to try to bring a return for the companies who invested in building the malls. Shopping malls don't make a massive amount of sense because there isn't much variety in business here, and the majority of people don't have expendable income to burn. Shops are usually: clothes, food, tech. If you're operating from a market or a small street stall, your prices are going to be lower than people who move into a shopping mall, because shopping mall overheads are expensive. So you move into a shopping mall, have to put your prices up, and everyone still goes to the market because it's cheaper. 

It leads to scenes like this:

That's the shopping mall where I found the fabric shop. It's pretty much empty apart from one floor entirely devoted to imported clothes. From a distance, they look tempting, but out of about twenty shops I couldn't find a single thing I could, or would, wear.

I did find the fabric shop though, and it was glorious.


I found some beautiful material and took it to a tailor that had been recommended, along with some old clothes I was hoping he could recycle. Unfortunately, as often happens, they measured me for the size they thought I should be, rather than the size I actually am, and instead of an elegant, floaty top, I ended up with something resembling a polo shirt. If it had been an igitenge top, I'm sure they would have done a fine job.

It was a bit disappointing. So I went back to buy more fabric and told my woes to the owner, who promptly called up another tailor. I'm hopefully collecting my outfit tomorrow. Fingers crossed it's a bit better. 

In other news, I found a fabulous little place called Books & Convenience in town, run by a Rwandan author and book lover who currently lives in Gabon. Hoping to meet up with her next time she's in town.

I saw they had Howl's Moving Castle on sale, and couldn't resist buying a copy (my cats are called Sophie & Howl).

Talking of which, my pride of kittens are doing very well.

Also went to a talk at CasaKeza by ImagineWe, a Rwandan publisher who launched their first children's book last year. Really talented group. It was a complete pleasure to hang out with them and other new friends, including one of the panel members from the documentary and a totally fab Kenyan lady who came to interview me about the writing courses I run. She works for a media company and was due to head home after our interview, but I managed to convince her to stay on a day longer to come to the book talk. It was a really lovely night and much sangria was consumed and books talked about. Great write-up here.

Beautiful Moon from CasaKeza Garden

In other news, I've had a major breakthrough with Lirika. I have learnt so much about pianos over the past couple of months. I've tuned her (twice - once in the wrong direction due to an over-pull slip up), I've glued three broken elbows, repositioned six damper spoons, reset a popped bridle strap, removed a tuning pin and restrung it, adjusted let off, and learnt the really hard way why a pitch raise is important. I can now reinstall the action in under an hour (down to about five minutes - significantly better than my first attempt). And I haven't managed to break anything *yet*. Though I did manage to destroy an entire tin of tomato puree (best not to ask). I even took my first steps into the world of piano repair, called to a Korean church where their pianist had (and I have absolutely no idea how) managed to cut five strings. I removed the broken strings and identified the ones he needed to order. Not as easy as it sounds as each key has a number, and most notes have two or three strings (unisons/a 'chorus of strings'). Because the hammers are set at an angle, it isn't always obvious which number string is missing. Piano repair is a lot more physically demanding than I expected, but I'm really enjoying it. 

Did hit a bit of a problem, though. My cheap eBay tuning hammer did really well on 95% of the tuning pins, but on the bass section it began stripping the pins rather than turning them. Tuning hammers are just socket wrenches, and socket wrenches come in a star shape, whereas tuning pins are square. You can see the problem from this picture. That really shiny pin in the middle is not new, it's old, but the wrench has shaved its corners smooth.

If you can't turn the pin, you can't tune the string. I really wanted the piano in working order for my party, so I set out in pursuit of a hardware store someone on the immigrant forum told me about. Eventually found the place and made another friend. It's run by a guy called Rocky, originally also from Britain. He was so helpful, letting me take expensive equipment home to try it out. When nothing worked, he sent me to a metal worker he knows. I took one of the tuning pins with me to show him (the first time I'd ever removes one), and he agreed to make me a square tuning bit for around £10.

Standard Tuning Hammer

Custom Made Bit Fitted to a Ratchet Handle

How cool is that? It's worked on everything except one, extremely buggered, pin. She still has a few issues, mostly with the damper spoons, but I'm hoping to fix that today. Eventually I'll replace the pins, and I'd love to restring her entirely, but not just yet. My friend and I are still looking for a broken piano to try building one. We need a string frame to use as a template. Unfortunately, no one has come forward with a piano we can use. If we can't find one soon, I'm thinking about using Lirika. She would become the mother of all pianos in Rwanda, but it would mean taking her apart entirely. I cringe at this, after all the work I've put into her, plus I was rather looking forward to piano lessons, but if we do this, I'll put her back together with a full set of new pins and strings. 

Looking Good
Regulating Kit
Tuning Kit
Last Remaining Problem

Going to spend today adjusting the spoons. For the most part, she sounds really lovely, and I feel a little teary-eyed when I play her and realise I did this. I've never considered myself particularly mechanically-minded or capable, but for some reason, pianos just seem to click. 

I'm enjoying a last, lazy day as I have a lodger arriving tomorrow. A consultant staying for two weeks, which works out perfectly for me as I'm off to the Maasai with friends in a couple of weeks and he can feed my cats whilst I'm gone. Trying to get my head around lodger, party, safari in quick succession.

Finally, sad to hear actor John Hurt passed away. He is often remembered for Shooting Dogs, a film about the Rwandan genocide. This is him on location whilst they were filming. I wasn't here at the time, but my friend Lies was and even got a photo with him!

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