I thought this was a mosquito at first, but then it settled down to snack on my melon, and we just sat there chomping away together.
The end of the dry season was very hot, as always. Regularly 30c a day. The rains have started to come now, so it gets quite chilly at night.
The lecturing has been going well, but things have not been great in other respects. A couple of months ago the UK Department for International Development (DFID) was assimilated into the Foreign Office. Instead of honouring existing contracts, they started slashing budgets, and my retainer with the survivors' organisations went with it. So, I might still work for them on a contracting basis, but no more retainer, which is upsetting as there was another year to run on that. It's particularly galling that I didn't lose my job to COVID, but to my own bloody government. Typical Tories.
So, the future is a little uncertain employment-wise, but I'm thinking of taking a couple of months off to write another novel. I'm not feeling too stressed at the moment.
Restrictions here have relaxed a bit. We had a 7 p.m. curfew at one point, but that was lifted because more people died in panic rush-hour traffic than from COVID, so it's now been lifted to 10 p.m. This is also helping restaurants who have been seriously suffering from lack of custom. We're all wearing masks and socially distancing, but it's definitely nice to be able to have an evening meal again.
top that a friend brought back from Dubai.
My friend brought me some clothes back from Dubai. It's been over two years since I was last in the UK and Rwanda is a difficult place to get clothes. Unless you want everything made from kitenge (which is nice - in moderation), you have to scour second-hand markets for something that fits or pay Harrods prices for Primark quality in a shop. So, when Jo went to Dubai we were all thinking 'yay, pants!' Myself and another friend went online to H&M and Next and started loading our shopping trolleys. We were so happy - until we reached check-out.
Some ridiculous law means Dubai online shops only accept Dubai-registered credit cards! We were staring at new clothes, but we couldn't purchase them. A friend of a friend eventually put me in contact with her boss, who has a Dubai credit card, and she had to go in and purchase my underwear for me. Slightly embarrassing, but when needs must. Just can't believe they're turning away business at times like this. I like Next, but part of me wouldn't be surprised if they go under with a sales policy like that.
The only place that would accept my order was Amazon Dubai, as I have a UK Amazon account and card. But the stock available was terrible. Both Amazon and Next were out of 90% of the clothes in my size. It was extremely depressing. So, hobbling along until I can get back to the UK to shop... whenever that might be.
In the meantime, there is alcohol... a Moscow Mule at NowNow, with Jo.
Drinks at Kigali Heights with Solv.
They have a cocktail menu to make you blush:
Slightly more appealing than the Manor's Irish Car Bomb.
Plus a nice view of the Convention Centre in the background.
Solv currently has a very cute lemon-yellow Beetle. It's a lot of fun driving around town with her.
My lovely friend Meg sent me some chocolate.
My dad also tried sending a parcel of chocolate, which actually got here in under three months. Though, as I mentioned in the last post, Kigali Post Office is pretty dire. It used to be that you paid around £30 a year for a PO box, which entitled you to £1 off parcels. So, because there's no household post delivery here, you have to go collect things in person, and you pay the post office for your parcel. It used to be 500 francs for a PO box and 1,000 if you didn't have one. Then it was 1,000 for a PO box and 2,000 if you didn't have one. Now it's 2,000 for everyone, regardless of whether you have a PO box or not.
So, there is now absolutely no reason what so ever to have a PO box. For the sake of maybe 5,000-10,000 extra on parcel charges a year, they're blowing off a guaranteed 30,000 because no one is renewing their PO boxes.
Last time I went, I was one of only two people there and it still took over 15 minutes before the person at the desk acknowledged my presence. It's excruciating trying to get your parcel. So, the bright sparks at the post office decided to introduce a home delivery service. You can now get a parcel delivered to your home for the bargain price of 6,500 francs!
Just to put that into perspective. I can get home delivery from any shop in Kigali for 1,500 max. Sharma Supermarket delivers for between 500-700 francs. You can get all the way across the entire country by bus for less than that.
Why on earth would anybody pay such extortionate rates for post office delivery?
I have no idea who their head of marketing is, but I think they're missing a few marbles. Providing it's not a wisdom tooth extraction, I would honestly rather go to the dentist than the post office.
Aaand relax. I went for a pedicure for the first time in my life. I'm not a huge fan of being touched, and I have very ticklish feet, but it had to be done. I hate wearing shoes and the past couple of years my feet have been getting a bit hard. Solv suggested a place and I decided to check it out. Foot spa, massage chair and scrub. It was delightful and my tootsies are lovely and soft again. All for under £10. Will definitely be going back.
Speaking of green lights - do you remember the most haunted hotel in Kigali?
So, someone's made a valiant attempt to renovate it. It's got nice, new cladding and actually looks pretty normal now. I was going to take a photo to show Harris, but I forgot, and by the time I left the restaurant, it was dark. I stopped to take a photo anyway and, nope, it's still the creepiest building in town...
Green stair lighting? Honestly? Unbelievable.
Stay out of room 1408.
Actually, following on from that other post and Andy - some sad news. So many wonderful nights in Kimironko with Andy, Chris, Coco and the band. But, with all the bars closed, the curfew and no live music, they've been seriously struggling. Andy decided to relocate his family back to Burundi in search of work. I roped my lovely friend, Emmy, into driving them to the border. Seriously sad to see them go. Beautiful people!
This was the scene at the border. He had to get special permission from his embassy to cross.
Got a lovely picture of them back in Buj, having made the journey safely. That's birthday cake on the kids' faces.
Continuing with music news, and the title of this post...
Something quite special happened the other week.
Five years ago, I had to vacate a premises quickly after the landlord's family discovered he was gay and went psycho-homophobic on him. He helped me to find the place I live in now, but whilst viewing a few other places, I found the most incredible piano in the basement of one of them. This kicked off the whole piano building adventure I later went on.
I never forgot that piano. It was the most delightfully Gothic thing I had ever seen. I can just about play the intro to Corpse Bride, and when I do, I imagine I'm playing it on that piano - in the middle of a thunder storm.
Problem was, although I never forgot the piano, I had no idea where the house was, so I couldn't find it again. A couple of years ago, I asked my friend if the owner of the house would be willing to either renovate it or sell it, but the answer that came back was no. The piano belonged to his family or something, and he didn't want to part with it. I always secretly hoped that once we started the Kigali Keys project, the owner would see that and be tempted to contact me again to talk about restoration.
Flash forward five years and that's exactly what happened.
Only, it wasn't the same guy. Turns out the real owner of the piano is a hotelier in Burundi and a UN worker based overseas. He's currently weathering the pandemic in Kigali. Five years ago he sublet the house to a guy who was renting out rooms. So, the guy I met was not the owner and couldn't have sold me the piano even if he'd wanted to.
The actual owner did indeed get my number word-of-mouth from someone who knew about the Kigali Keys project. I almost cried when we pulled up and entered the house. I recognised it immediately. I knew exactly where I was and exactly what was in the basement. I turned to him and said 'I've been here before.' A very strange conversation ensued, in which I showed him a picture of the inside of his own piano, even though we had never met before, and he explained the story of subletting the house. It was an incredible moment. And, although it wasn't the Gothic Emile Vits he wanted me to repair, he allowed me to race downstairs to look at it.
It looked as lovely as it had five years ago, but when we took the front off, it became apparent that a mouse had made its home there. Still utterly beautiful to me, though. A 130-year-old birdcage piano. I didn't even know what that was back then. I had no idea what I was looking at, but I knew I loved it.
Now, of course, I do know what I'm looking at and I know it would be an extreme labour of love to repair this. There's so much wrong with her. Having just lost my main source of income, that's another consideration, but... well. There's more to the story.
So, there are two pianos in this house. The other - also exactly where it was five years ago - is a 1968 US spinet. I remembered it, but it didn't captivate me in the same way the Emile Vits did. And, again, I couldn't have told you what a spinet was back then, or what a complete pain they are to work on.
A spinet resulted from the Great Depression. People were downsizing to smaller homes, so pianos downsized to fit. They're a fraction of the height of a standard piano, and the action (hammers) are dropped down below the keys. This is why they're so difficult to work on, because the key bed obscures your view, so you can't see what's wrong with the action unless you take it out, and the way the action is put together makes it very difficult to get out. With a normal upright you can just lift the action out, fiddle about, pop it back in and check if it's working. With a spinet, it's a real struggle to remove it, so you'd better be sure it's fixed before you put it back in.
Suffice to say, it was a challenge. But I went for it. Three days of concentration - two at his house and one at mine - and by the end of it, we had a working piano, and it sounds wonderful. A lot of the videos I watched said repairing a spinet wasn't worth it because the quality of the sound wasn't good, but I was super impressed by this one. Wasn't expecting it to sound half as good as it did. Well worth the effort, and the sheer look of joy on the owner's face was just wonderful. A really special moment.
He told me he was here during '94 and both pianos were on the street in Kayovu, not far from the Belgian Embassy. He bought them off the soldiers. They were both damaged but became more so over the years as he couldn't repair them. He himself had learned to play whilst training as a priest, but because the spinet was so damaged, he hadn't played it in over twenty years. Now it's making beautiful music again.
He's just gone to the UK to visit his daughter, but when he returns, he's letting me take the Emile Vits to have a closer inspection. We'll discuss it after that.
I'm tearful as I type this. I have no idea why I was so captivated by that piano, or why I was so insane as to take my own piano apart to learn how they work, or why fixing pianos has become such a thing for me.
Although, it has taken a couple of days to recover. Saturday was eight hours of heavy lifting and hard work. I've hardly done any exercise since COVID, so my muscles were screaming at me. I was stiff as a board the next day, but happy.
Treated myself to tiramisu with a long spoon (yes, that's a Black Books reference).