Monday, 30 June 2014

Swimmingly Good Monday

Aaah, it's a tough life. Worked the entire weekend away, so decided to hold my Monday meeting at Nyarutarama Tennis Club, which has the largest pool (I think?) in Kigali. Also the most expensive, but I felt like a bit of pampering.

I'm feeling awesome for the exercise. Got there a little early and did some lengths. I am so out of shape. All this beer and sitting at a desk is doing nothing for my health. New resolution: concerted exercise at least once a week and a change in diet. I ate an entire tub of Nutella last week...

Just trying to survive the business start-up phase at the moment. Everything else will sort itself out in the fullness of time.

Mondays ain't so bad.

A productive meeting and a beautiful sunset on the way home.


Just what the doctor ordered. I'm feeling relaxed, but sleep deprived. In the two years I lived in Rwanda before, I think I had maybe three really vivid nightmares. 

The first one was by far the worst. I woke to find myself sitting bolt upright, with this strange apparition standing at the end of my bed.

[7th December 2007]

Eventually, I guess I must have dozed off.

The next thing I know, I’m awake, bolt-upright in my bed. Literally, I must have sat up and then woken – terrified because there’s someone in my room! I’m not sure what the hell’s going on. My eyes adjust to see a headless African woman in a red shirt standing at the end of my bed ‘looking’ at me.

After a yelp of fright, I’m desperately fumbling for the torch whilst shouting ‘WHO ARE YOU? WHO ARE YOU?’ For want of a weapon, I'm kicking my foot at it. But it didn’t move...  I got the torch on and shone it straight ahead.

There was nothing there.  

I promise you, I'm not someone who spooks easily, but these dreams were so incredibly vivid. There was a person standing at the end of my bed. Not a shadow, not a coat on a chair... a person. I could see every detail clearly.

The past couple of nights I've slept terribly, which is odd, as I usually drift off quickly. Last night, I woke to see a man standing next to my bed. Exactly as happened before: I gave a yelp of fright and started screaming 'WHO ARE YOU? WHO ARE YOU?' like a woman possessed. 

I thought I was being burgled and screaming at him might make him go away. Instead, he smiled, reached his hands through the mosquito net, and gripped my arm!

Then the room was dark again and there was just me in bed. I was terrified. I reached for my phone and lay there with the light on for a long time. 

I have no idea whether I was actually screaming or not, but I think I heard our guard walk past the window. Maybe he was checking, or maybe he was off to the loo. It was more the fact that I was shouting exactly the same thing as before that really spooked me.

Anyway, I'll expect the men in white coats round tomorrow.

I blame it on Lindsey's pancakes.

In an attempt to find something other than pasta and rice to eat, I've taken to making flour-based food. My friend Lindsey up in Killin makes them with turmeric, nutmeg and cinnamon. I couldn't find cinnamon, so I make them with cardamon instead, which is possibly my favourite of all the spices.

  • 1 egg
  • Four or Five tablespoons of plain flour
  • Spices
  • Mix in enough milk for a thick but runny paste
  • Pour the batter into a frying pan with very hot oil

Then I add bananas and honey.

Makes for a yummy breakfast, but nutmeg is renown in folklore for causing crazy dreams.

Not that I wasn't crazy before I started making pancakes, but I don't think it helps.

The other thing I did yesterday was this:

I had completely forgotten how difficult it is to eat a coconut!

Just getting into one is quite an accomplishment.

As this is turning into a food-related post (I've been here just long enough for the cravings to start kicking in...), there are few pleasures in life as simple as fried egg on toast. Black Pepper is probably my second favourite spice, after cardamom.

Less mentally agressive breakfast than pancakes.

On the way back from the pool, I discovered this! It caused my spoon to sparkle like Excalibur. Can you guess what it is?

Ice-cream! Or some such variant. Slightly more like a slushy, but still quite nice on a hot afternoon in Kigali. I think it's sort of chocolate.

And, finally, I've started craving these. I don't ever remember having a boiled-sweet addiction last time around (gosh, sounds like pregnancy!) but I can't seem to stop buying them. They're like Werther's Original (in fact, I suspect they were just re-branded for the UK). Not something I'd ever usually eat, and I'm trying to find a substitute for the sake of my teeth. Think I just really need to start cooking better, which will happen once I sort out my domestic arrangements. 

For now I think I'll just pop another Alpenliebe and shake it all out. I'll probably burn off the calories worrying about my business. Maybe I can feed them to the apparition and we can hold late-night poker matches over a bottle of waragi. 

My roomie can be the croupier.

Man... I really need some sleep.

He's so diddy! About the size of my little finger.

Saturday, 28 June 2014


Text to Jo this morning: 

EPIC FAIL. Which numpty totally forgot it was umuganda today and went out shopping? Doh!

The last Saturday of each month is umuganda. It's basically national community service day, when everyone gets together in their local community to do something like plant trees, build a road, tidy up. The best way to describe Rwanda on umuganda is sort of like Spain during siesta: nothing is open, you can't get public transport, and the streets are deserted.

There's me, having lived in Rwanda for over two years, tramping up the street thinking 'Ooh, I wonder why all of those people are sitting on the village green listening to that man talking?'... 'Ooh, I wonder where all the motos have gone?'... 'Ooh, I wonder why there's no traffic on the street?'

I was wandering about because I had run out of food. I decided to check out Sawa City, as Jo said it sold good bread. I managed to hook a moto up to the MTN Centre to grab some cash, but then I couldn't find a moto to take me to town. There's usually half-a-dozen of them outside the gate.

As I was standing there, scratching my head, this guy came up to me and told me about a new restaurant opening near where I live. He handed me a voucher for a free goat brochette, so I think I'll check it out.

When I finally managed to get a moto, I headed down to Sawa City which was, of course, closed.

In a quick change of plan, I decided to wait it out in Brioche, so on we went to mumugi (town).

It was, of course, closed.

As was all of town. Not a soul on the streets.

I felt like a complete melon. 

Luckily umuganda ends at around mid-day, and the staff at Brioche took pity on me, taking my order so that my food was in front of me dot-on twelve. I treated myself to their club sandwich and a pot of tea. It's a really nice place to hang out.

I sat and read my book, munching on a baguette, until most of town was buzzing again, then decided to head over to UTC and shop at Nakumatt. This is a Kenyan chain store which revolutionised Rwanda shortly after I first arrived in 2007. 

When it first opened, you would see dozens of Rwandans and Muzungus alike bumping into each other because they were so dazzled by the display of white goods (washing machines, fridges, toastie makers, televisions) - it was like snow blindness. 

Today, I relived that experience. There are now twice as many washing machines, fridges, toastie makers and televisions. There is also a shoe shop, a bookshop, clothes, children's toys, an entire floor devoted to garden furniture, and... well, just about everything really. 

It used to be the really expensive place to shop. I still reckon you can get vegetables cheaper at the market, but quite a lot of it was cheaper than T2000 (the big Chinese supermarket), and I managed to buy a giant bag full of stuff for under £30. I'm definitely going to head there for shoes in the near future.

I pinched those from a Google Image search, but it truly is quite incredible. The quality has improved a lot since I was last here. There's something comforting about knowing Nakumatt exists. I hardly ever shop there, but at least I know that if I desperately need something, they're pretty much guaranteed to have it.

I stumbled out of there barely able to carry the bag I had taken with me (you remember plastic bags are illegal here, right? Groceries come in cloth or paper bags - great for recycling).

Managed to do a circus-style balancing act on the back of a moto. I know it's naughty, but I couldn't resist doing a little covert filming, just to show family back home my neighbourhood. Not great quality or camera work, but this is my daily commute. The area is known for its big posh houses, but, as you can see, we do a bit of off-roading to get to our place. It's like living in a council estate in Bath, with all its magnificent facade. Normal people still live behind all of that stuff.

I had a bit of a sore bum when I got back. Having balanced a half-hundred weight of shopping on my lap and travelled over just about every speed bump in Kigali, I think I crushed my coccyx. Serves me right for not doing umuganda, I suppose.

Filled this with rice, flour, vegetables, fruit (including mangoes, bananas, green peppers, courgette, a grapefruit and a coconut), fresh brown bread (sliced before my eyes), (liquid) milk (now quite prevalent in Rwanda), toiletries: shampoo, conditioner, soap, body lotion, eggs, some fizzy pop and a bottle of this stuff. 

It's marakuja (passion fruit) cordial made in Rwanda. One of those quintessentially Rwandan things like peanut butter, cheese, and ikivuguto (sour yogurt). I'm sure it used to be about FRW 1,800 for a large one, but it's now about 8,000 in T200. Maybe I'm exaggerating, but I remember being quite shocked at the price. So I treated myself to a mini bottle for 2,800 as it is really nice.

Plus, I can make it last a long time with all the water from our mega filter. I'm going to get all geeky now. I just find it fascinating that chalk candles can turn yellow tap water...

...into crystal clear drinking water. I mean, that is pretty impressive, right?

One of the down-sides to sharing a house is that you sometimes need to be a little protective over your food. The line between what's communal and what isn't gets a bit blurred, so I've started only buying for myself. Especially when you have that craving for a cheese toastie, you don't want to get to the kitchen to find your cheese is there but there's no bread. So, this is pretty much my pantry.

I always make sure to have something sweet in there. Either chocolate sent from home, some chocolate biscuits from Ndoli's, or a tube of sweets. It's almost as important to have a treat cupboard as it is to remember to top-up the water filter.

The other thing water is good for, is making tea. This made me laugh: Highland Tea (made in Rwanda). What I found particularly interesting is that this is about 300 francs cheaper than the leading brand, only it's so much better! Rwandan tea tends to be pretty weak. I think this is to do with the teabag. The leading brand seems to have a slightly smaller bag, plus a piece of string attached to a paper tab, so that you can take the bag out without needing a spoon. I think that's what you're actually paying for. These, on the other hand, are just bog standard square teabags. But they seem to allow the tea to move around better, leading to a stronger cuppa.

Excuse me for being anal - I am British. Still, 300 francs less and you get better tea. What's not to like?

Talking about better deals... We always used to refer to MTN as the Missing Telephone Network. I used to get so pissed off with their service that I once wrote a poem about it, basically suggesting that if there was one other competitor in Rwanda, they'd lose all their business.

How wrong was I? There are now two competitors: Tigo and Airtel. What have MTN done in light of this? 

Improved, it would seem. 

Airtel ripped me off a blinder. I have a receipt saying I bought one month's internet from them on 27th May. Yet it stopped working at midnight on 25th June. I was fiddled out of a whole day's internet!

In desperation, I went down to the MTN Centre. The staff were lovely, kitted me out for less than Airtel, and hopefully it will work for the full month I've paid for.

With both Airtel and MTN I get 1.5GB a day usage. With Airtel, I could only stay connected for long enough to use about 500MB of that, and only then if I sat in a very particular spot in the garden. With MTN I am happily typing this from the desk in my room. I love it.

So, some things do change for the better. 

Quite a lot, actually.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Beautiful Gift

Quick catch-up of the week just past. Had a lovely time on Tuesday exploring a new hotel near Sonatubes. My friends Jo and Eva are in charge of marketing and management, respectively. After pizza at the weekend, me and Amina went for a mosey round. There's something quite strange about being in an empty hotel. It's due to open to the public shortly.

I got a little lost and ended up at another hotel next door called The Rainbow, where I discovered a swimming pool I never knew existed! I'm definitely going to return.

The Rainbow is cheap and cheerful, but this new hotel, The Gift, is going for all-out luxury. It was originally two houses which have been converted, and the finishing is beautiful, all marble tiles and intricate ironwork.

I think there's about eighteen rooms: singles, doubles and luxury, a conference room, lawn, and a bar area with stunning views across Kigali.

The bar is still being built, and the restaurant chairs are awaiting covers. It's fascinating to see what goes into the opening of a hotel and all the little details that need to be considered. 

Panoramic - click to enlarge.

Michael, the French chef who was also at pizza, managed to rustle up some finger food. We relaxed on the porch, being ladies wot lunch.

There's even a gym. I'm hoping that if I can find them some business I might get a gym pass. I could do with some exercise, and just imagine throwing yourself in that pool afterwards! Yes please.

Then it was home for some proper grub. I created a variation on my pasta dish using noodles, chili, honey, and peanut butter. Went down rather well.

Yesterday was busy. I met up with an old friend, Gerard. He used to be a waiter at our most frequented bar: Stella in Kisimenti. The bar is no longer there (travesty!) - well, it is, but it's changed names, which means it's not really the same - and Gerard is now head waiter for a big hotel down the road. It was really good to see him again. We had lunch, and I told him all about the new hotel. There may have been a little headhunting involved...

Then it was on to the Post Office where I picked up a bundle of clothes and toiletries before popping upstairs to see my mate Jean, who runs the Panafrica Bar. I'm helping him out with some marketing, and he's helping me out with beer and Wimbledon. There's a private room at the back of the bar with a widescreen TV, an electric plug, and a panoramic view of Kigali. I intend to spend most of next week working there whilst watching tennis.

What the hell's the 'world cup'?

Last night was a little strange. I managed to swing a pass to the Goat & Gorilla, which is a bar at the British Embassy. Went with a couple of friends, having last been there with Kieran. Back then it was very quiet as everyone was at a leaving do for the head of DFID, so I wanted to see what it was like on a regular night. 

Let's just say you can smell the public schooling. A couple of nice conversations (naturally amongst the smokers - you find out everything over a cigarette break. It's not good for your health, but it's great for your social life), but mostly people stuck to their tables. My friend and I decamped to Top Towers Casino up the road afterwards. We'd never been in there, and there's a bar on the very top floor with a three-hundred and sixty degree view of town. 

The bar itself is really odd, as there's practically no lighting. As my friend pointed out: 'good for people having affairs.' On the up-side, it improved the twinkley-light view of town.

We decided it was G&T o'clock and treated ourselves, eventually taking motos home. I flopped into bed at the rather respectable time of 1am. Plan to have a working weekend as I have some stuff to do for a UK client, but intend to designate Monday my day off and spend it poolside somewhere nice.

Chin Chin

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Pizza Party

After last weekend's hangover, I swore off alcohol for the week. Mission very happily accomplished. So, what's on my mind this weekend?


May 2009
Me, Pierre, Giudi & Joanna

Five years ago, my friends Jo & Pierre used to throw pizza parties at their house in Gikondo, having built a custom-made pizza oven for the purpose. The only thing they hadn't bought was a bottle opener.

August 2009
Anja & Pierre opening wine Kigali style.

But half a decade has passed, and Jo and Pierre are parents now. Surely if they were to hold another pizza party it would be a subdued, sophisticated affair... right?

Wandering Around Gikondo.

You can see why they need the 4x4. 

Jo and Pierre's house has changed a little. There's a spanking new driveway, a nice new roof, hedgerows, and a lovely covered area to keep the pizza oven dry.

View from the house.
All you need for a party.
Hmm... is something going on?
Some sort of sporting event, perhaps?

The pizza oven is truly spectacular, complete with sink and preparation area. Eat your heart out SoleLuna! Even Vie Veneto doesn't have views this good.

Stoking the fire.

Avid readers might remember that once upon a time I adopted three kittens from Jo. Her cat Mweru was the mummy. Unfortunately they are long gone, but Jo & Pierre have taken in another cat, who is strangely similar to Mweru's brother Kabibi. This one doesn't have a name yet, simply Cat (injangwe). The reason he reminds me of Kabibi is that he's totally brazen, nose in everything.

Hmmm.... pizza, you say?
I'm having that.
Because I'm puuurrrrfect.

Somebody even cuter than the cat is li'le Zuba herself.

Zuba: Do you like beer?
Me: Yes, I do.
Zuba: I like milk.

Indeed, so it would appear...

Amata Addict

The nice thing about having a pizza oven is that you get to make your own pizza. My friends Amina and Asna came with Amina's kids Danielle and David, and an American development student who is staying with her, called Jerusalem. We were joined by Jo & Pierre's friends Fidens, Frederic and Alice, and Michael. Plenty of pizza for all!

Sundried tomato, pineapple, basil, ham, mushrooms,
red pepper, olives, and Kenyan 'pizza cheese'.

Let the mayhem begin! And, errr... please could I swap my marakuja juice for a bottle of Mutzig, ekonje?

First you roll it like this...

...then you roll it like that.

Stretch it out.

And stoke up the fire.

It's quite artistic making your own pizza. I went for ham, cheese, basil, mushrooms and olives.




It was totally scrummy! Stuffed my face with pizza, and cake for afters, then the Mutzig slowly mutated into a bottle of fabulous red wine as day turned to night. We also had a jamming session with Zuba's box of musical instruments. I don't think the neighbours are talking to us anymore, but it was a lot of fun.

Music Provided by Rav4
The Rav4 Boogie

So, who you gonna support now England's out?

Kigali by Night

We started at around 2pm, and by 10:30 we were all a little peckish again. Cue home-delivery Indian from Zaaffran. Feeding frenzy mark two. Commence long, intriguing conversation with Fidens about Humanism and evolution. Fascinating guy who has cycled around Asia.  

Plus, I got a stem of Queen of the Night to take home with me. It's a form of Night Blooming Jasmine, and it's intoxicating. You catch wafts of it around Rwanda at nighttime. It is truly enchanting and apparently it grows really easily from a cutting.

We eventually headed for home around midnight. I hopped a moto with Fidens and they raced each other through the empty streets. I closed my eyes and giggled like a lunatic. I don't think I will ever grow sick of night rides through Kigali.

One week without alcohol was a pleasure. Making up for that week without alcohol was also a pleasure. I supped my share of beer and wine, and perhaps partook of an Intore or two. Woke up marginally the worse for wear this morning, though nowhere near as in pain as I was last weekend. This was a respectable hangover.

So, what will I be doing next weekend, I wonder....