Friday, 31 March 2017

That's a Wrap


Actually found some pictures of me from the film shoot.

Hanging With Karabona

Chatting to Desiré
Got the final filming done yesterday. Involved me walking down a long road and standing, staring at the view of Kigali whilst perfecting a 'turn with a smile' which will probably appear more as a grimace. I hate being filmed! 

Beautiful View of Kigali
Walking home from filming, I popped into a bookshop beneath Ubumwe Hotel. I'd seen on their Twitter feed that my book was apparently on sale there. As far as I know, it's the first time I've been stocked at a bookshop I wasn't signing at - just because they wanted to sell it. It was such a cool feeling to walk in and see it stocked alongside some really well known titles. Hugely grateful to Haepi Bookshop. Made my month.

Stopped off at CasaKeza on the way home. I'm currently a teetotal, non-smoking, vegetarian angel, at least until tomorrow. After a particularly painful night out with Maia, I needed to give my body a break. Back on the bandwagon for April though... maybe just the booze. 

Thankfully it was non-alcoholic cocktail tasting day when I turned up. I got one with cherries in.

And whilst I got cocktails, my cats got a bird. They are little killing machines. They bring in countless lizards and cockroaches, but birds are new. They're usually fast enough to escape. Hoping this will be a rare event.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Lights, Camera, Action

I've got a little project on the go at the moment, so I've copied today's post direct from my project page. If you have any musical friends, I'd hugely appreciate a retweet or link share once the video goes live. We're aiming for the Made in Rwanda Expo at the end of the year.


Meet Gaston.

We've just spent the entire day racing around Kigali filming the team who are going to try to build the first Rwandan piano.

It's been a long road to get here. My friends who were going to help me make the fundraising video suddenly found themselves in the centre of a personal housing crisis, so didn't have any free time. I met a fantastic guy from South Africa who's a really accomplished film maker, but he was a bit out of my price range. Then Gaston was recommended to me as he'd done an Indiegogo film for someone else. I was really impressed by his work and he was within my budget, so we're making it happen.

We started out with a return performance by Paco, who is one of Rwanda's foremost pianists. I asked him to come along to show what a piano is capable of. Even a fifty-year-old upright. Lirika is a 1968 Russian instrument, and she will provide the template for our own model, effectively becoming the mother of all Rwandan pianos.

It was a blazing hot day, so we were all sweating by the end of the interview. I slathered on sun lotion and we hopped motos (public motorbikes - main form of transport in Kigali) over to Karabona's workshop.


Alex Karabona is a Rwandan metal worker with a small foundry. Essentially, everything rests on him, because if we can't forge a string frame, we can't build a piano. All pianos have a string frame, or harp frame, inside, and some hold up to twenty tons of string tension. If it bends even a fraction, everything is lost. The first thing we'll do if we raise the money is take Lirika apart and give the frame to Alex to see whether he can recreate it. He's feeling confident, and he smiles all the time, so I'm confident that he's confident.

From there, we continued on to Desiré's workshop on the other side of town. Desiré is the carpenter who is going to try to figure out the piano action. If we can build both string frames and actions in Rwanda, we might be able to produce an affordable instrument. For every part we need to import, the price goes north. But along with the string frame, the action is extremely complicated. We won't know for sure that we can do it until we take Lirika's action apart. 


We had a very funny conversation when I asked whether Desiré had any jacaranda wood we could show, because I was hoping we could make the piano from jacaranda. It's very strong and very light in colour, which would make for naturally white keys without having to resort to plastic coverings. 

Desiré looked at me and said he didn't know what jacaranda was, but suggested we use umusave.

I didn't know what umusave was, but it looked right.

I said I liked it.

Gaston smiled and explained 'umusave and jacaranda are the same thing.'

Always reassuring when two people speak different languages but still understand what the other is thinking.

 Umusave/Jacaranda (left), Pine (right)
Both Locally Sourced

Finally there was me. Mostly I'll be trying to stay out of everybody's way, but I hope to rock up at the end to string and tune the new piano. I hate being in front of the camera, so we did my interview last, racing against the setting sun so that I didn't have too much time to think about it. Hopefully it'll be okay. We've got a few last things to shoot in town tomorrow to provide some filler for the video - make it recognisably Kigali. Hoping to have the finished short ready to roll next week. Watch this space. 

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Taper Cat Girl

Sen and Sophie helping to dry my jeans - by sitting on them.

Not much to update at the moment. I'm currently on sale at CasaKeza - six signed copies of an old novel (new one coming soon-ish).

Cats are taking over my life - still. Though I'm not entirely sure why Sophie has one foot in her water bowl whilst she drinks. Not entirely normal. Special needs cat.

From little kitties to big cats, some more snaps from the Maasai trip. You can also read Tracey's write up here.

Been doing more cooking. Love this plantain pie idea (#14) but I grate the plantain as it's always really fresh, and have to make do with Rwandan gouda-style cheese. It's still pretty good, though. Served up with fruit and Nutella.

Frustrating times at the moment. The two guys who were going to help with the fundraising video have had unforeseen housing issues and been unable to assist. I've been meeting with other film makers and the cost of a short video is astronomical. Did think about doing it myself, but for this you really want a professional job. Going to bite the bullet. We need to start fundraising soon otherwise we won't have time between (hopefully) getting the money and building the piano for the expo at the end of the year. It's a challenge, but I'm up for it.

Continuing my run of hermitisation. Only been out a couple of times, both resulting in late nights (early mornings) at CasaKeza. So many people having birthdays at the moment, including the lovely Lulu.

Yes, she is actually covered in cake.

Plus midnight brownies to soak up the alcopop.

Just for kicks, I decided to join the kitchen staff for an evening. There was a big event on and it was chaos, so I donned a pinnie and sweated my all at the sink for a couple of hours, switching turns washing, rinsing and drying. It reminded me of my early twenties, working my way around Australia. Quite a grounding experience. 

Been writing a lot and watching some movies. Watching The Wire again and every five minutes it's - "Wow, that's Littlefinger from Game of Thrones," and "Oh, that's half the cast of The Walking Dead." That series really was a golden ticket for just about everyone who was in it.

Really enjoying the music of Desi Valentine and Dorothy, thanks to other viewing.

Also splashed out and bought a new writing desk. I now have an empire in which to distribute cold cups of coffee and broken rubber bands. Life is good.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Play On

Well, it's been an interesting week.

Feeling much more myself. Haven't done any socialising yet, but did book my first, and probably last, piano lesson with Rwanda's foremost piano teacher. I'm definitely not gifted at playing, but it was fun. Amazing to see Lirika being played by a professional. Got a bit emotional knowing she sounds that good because of the work I've put into her. The reason it's probably my last lesson is that I think I'll be taking her apart shortly.

My friend Karabona reckons he can cast a frame, and my friend Deseré is totally up for the challenge of the woodwork. All that's left is to raise the cash. I'm meeting with a couple of media friends this week to see if they'll help me out with the crowdfunding video. Think we're probably looking at around £5,000 for the prototype. We plan on making a few mistakes.

One thing I wasn't expecting was the level of negativity I've received from established piano makers and parts suppliers. I contacted a few asking for advice. Whereas most were just brutally realistic, some were downright bubble-bursting, such as this UK string manufacturer:

Sorry to dampen your enthusiasm but there are plenty of people like you who have the dream of building their own piano, but you are not likely to succeed.

I was asking for a quote for strings, but even if we get the cash I wouldn't buy from them

Just makes me glad I live in Rwanda. Yes, we try things and sometimes they fail, but at least there's a lot of enthusiasm here. People willing to give things a go and get involved in new ideas. 

Another minor triumph is that I've fulfilled my three-year ambition of having square mosquito nets. I've had the frames for a month or so, but couldn't find anywhere to make the netting. Ordered off eBay and it finally arrived. Makes the bed feel ten times bigger. Love it.

It's the little triumphs.

Also been doing some cooking. Keeping myself well fed.

Bucket Baked Cauliflower Cheese
Bean and Squash Stew
All of this with help from the kitties, who are now about six months old.

Not masses to report. Hopefully got some work on the horizon with GIZ, the German development agency, and thinking of joining a scrabble club (more for the nibbles and wine than anything).  Otherwise, just enjoying being homey.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Master Criminal

One entertaining detail of my travel that I left out was the slightly awkward moment at Nairobi airport where I was asked to put my hand on the finger scanner. 

Almost a year ago, I accidentally fell on a bonfire (because no one does that intentionally). As a result, I have no fingerprints on my left hand. Everything works fine, except for a slight contracture on my pinky finger, which makes playing the piano slightly irksome, but the prints have yet to make a return, if they ever will.

I did seriously consider a profession as a master criminal, but apparently even your scar tissue is unique to you, so still traceable.

Anyway, anecdote over.

It's been a strange few days. I arrived home in Kigali high as a kite.

It was beautiful to see the flat, droughty plains of Kenya replaced by lush green mountains and lakes. And just as lovely to have my friend Senga waiting outside with his kids to drive me home.

Tracey was going to bake a birthday cake for me, but that was still a bowl of flour with a couple of eggs in it when I arrived. Luckily, she managed to finish baking it just as I landed back in Kigali, and sent me a picture. Hey, it's the thought that counts.

Looks delicious.

Ever since getting back I've been in a really funny mood. Funny without the haha. Waspishly out of sorts. Friends keep texting and I'm not replying. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's because I had such a fantastic time, though I've also returned to a fantastic home so I'm not sure why the upset. Perhaps it was all those early morning starts catching up with me. I did sleep for about ten hours. Perhaps it stirred up old feelings of self-doubt. Last time I came here from Nairobi I was only passing through, visiting friends for a few weeks. Three years later I'm still here, with no intention of leaving. Maybe a combination of everything. I just feel like being a complete hermit at the moment. 

The feeling's passing but still coming and going in waves. I think a large part is that I've been on the go since December. So much happening with trips to Mara and the gorillas, a teaching gig, a full-time proofreading job, a party to organise and two novels to edit. Now, I have nothing much planned. Feeling slightly purposeless. 

There's plenty on the horizon. I start teaching again in a week or two, plus I'm throwing myself into the piano building idea.

Karabona, my metal working guy, came to visit today, and he reckons he can make the frame. Though we're not totally sure what from. I assumed it was cast iron, but it seems more like some sort of resin, and it sounds like plastic when you tap it. Karabona is suggesting we try aluminium. There was a manufacturer using that years ago but for some reason discontinued. Not sure whether it was because of sound, cost or strength. 

If anyone has any clue what this stuff is, I'd love to know.

Something plentiful in the USSR about fifty years ago.

The only thing I do feel in the mood for at the moment is the piano project. I've just started a new blog about it called Kigali Keys. Meeting with a couple of friends next week to discuss a crowdfunding campaign. The frame is the last piece in the puzzle. Now we should be able to put a proper budget together for the prototype. 

I've tried to find a broken piano everywhere in Kigali, but it's looking 90% certain that if we go ahead with this, I'm going to have to take Lirika apart. Not looking forward to that at all, but it may be the only way. 

I've booked a piano lesson on Sunday, which may be my first and last.

As for the moody blues, I'm sure I'll get back into the swing of things soon. I'm just enjoying being incommunicado. I had my phone off the entire time on holiday and Flight Mode has become my new best friend.