Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Kimironko Market Part II

What a lovely week so far. 

Firstly, I learned to make chapattis. They're so simple - just flour and water. But very filling, and good when used as a sandwich with cheese! 


Yellow because I added turmeric (and black pepper). Nommy.

Tucked into this monster pineapple for afters. Sporting a bit of a crazy hairstyle.

On Monday morning I headed over to the Rwandan Orphans Project. I bumped into the manager at Immigration a while back, whilst collecting my visa. It's just up the road from me, but far enough to feel like another world. I haven't been out of Kigali since I got back, and it was really nice to get (a little further) out of town.

They're transitioning from an orphanage to more of a re-homing centre. There's about 70 boys there, and two social workers. They take in kids who are on the street or have been separated from their families and try to reunite them over time. They also have a great agriculture project underway, growing and selling vegetable.

Out of Town

They have an impressive, ecologically friendly, outdoor kitchen. The bit in the middle is made from volcanic stone, so it stays warm for hours after the wood stops burning, saving on fuel.

The dry season has been pretty harsh this year, and Kanombe is notorious for its water shortages. Not just bad for the vegetables, but also for the day-school kids whose fees help to support education for those children whose families can't pay. When there's a drought, instead of coming to school, the kids stay home and carry water for their parents as most of them also grow crops.

Afterwards, I had to hop on a cyclo (public bicycle) to the top of the road to get a moto. I always feel really guilty about cyclos. The guys have to work so much harder than moto drivers, yet their fees are much cheaper. I tipped him well.

Cycle to the Motos

After that, my landlord took me for a look around KLab. It's a bit like The Office, but packed. The Office was so quiet I assumed perhaps there wasn't a demand for communal office space in Kigali, but every desk at KLab was full. It's such a nice place: there's a cafe, and an outdoor balcony with a spectacular view.

I hadn't really eaten by that point, so headed home via Novotel for melange, which is expensive, but the food is incredible.


Got home to find some food of my own growing. I asked Damascene to plant the garlic which had been propagating in my fridge. Seems to be coming along nicely.

It is nice to have someone to help around the house. He's particularly handy at hanging curtains, and it's lovely to come home to a nice, clean house.

Thank you Damascene

Nice, clean kitchen and full water butt.

Curtains hung.
Yesterday I had a very productive meeting between my company and an NGO who seem set to engage us on a project. It would be our first official contract and would see me breathing a sigh of relief. Shan't count my chickens just yet, though. Need to submit a proposal this week.

Afterwards, I finally made it to Kimironko market. Went for a wander round with my lovely associate, Ella. She was explaining all the stuff I didn't recognise, and helped haggle down the price on a few things. Kimironko truly is vast, and the colours are beautiful.

Large calabash traditionally given to women by their
mothers on their wedding day.
Apparently it's very bad luck to break one.

I bought a nice basket for my fruit and cutlery.

Had a bit of a bedding crisis. My friend Christiane was visiting from Kibuye and needed a place to crash for the night. I was very excited as she's my first overnight visitor. I only had one set of sheets, so put them out to wash, which Damascene did admirably. He hung them on the line and the heavens opened.

Rainy season has come a little early this year.

By the time I got home from the market they were drenched.

Yet no water coming out our taps... strange.
So I did a mad dash up to Ndoli's in Kisimenti. Bedding here is horrendously expensive, and my beds are unusually large. I did look for a duvet at Kimironko, but couldn't find one big enough. Thankfully Ndolis had a set of sheets just about big enough for my room, which is the one I put Christiane in.

I almost broke myself on the way back. First time I thought I might have overdone what I can carry on a moto. Giant bedset and a very heavy bag of goodies and treats. 

But it does look nice. Which is more than you can say for my other room. I cannot find anything that fits. Think I'm going to have to get something made, my friend knows a place that does made-to-measure sheets and quilts, but I think I'll need to save up. 

For the time being I made a temporary shelter from some rugs I bought for sitting in the garden, and a sheet that didn't quite reach the edges. It was the first night I've slept in the master bedroom. It was surprisingly comfortable, but huge. Like sleeping inside a cave. It's a bit darker at night because Damascene's porch light isn't outside the window, but I think I prefer the cosy feel of the other room. Plus this room is en suite, which would be better for guests when we have water (not when we don't, as the other bathroom is better for bucket baths).

We used the same blankets to sit outside on the porch, drinking and talking into the night. I've really missed that. It reminded me a lot of when Martine and I used to sit on her porch in Nyamirambo, or when Cathryn and I used to sit on mine in the house that is now Buffalo Bar. Was so good to chill out and put the world to rights.

Made pancakes for breakfast, before she headed off to catch her bus home. When I get the chance I'm going to go West and visit her.

Meanwhile, I'm having an extremely lazy day. Developing my proposal, catching up on e-mails, and about to tuck into Human Food.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Beautiful Day


Two updates within a week? Whatever is the matter with me?

I'm just having a complete wave of 'I love Rwanda' today. 

It is such a wonderful place to live.

I went out last night. My friend B set me up on a blind date with his best friend. First time I've done something like that since agreeing to go for drinks with a person who called the office I used to work at and liked the sound of my voice.

About as successful, too. But it was fun all the same. There was the obligatory hanging about, wondering if you've been stood up, then the 'where shall we eat' question, followed by the obligatory cheezy nightclub: Le Must.

The Living in Kigali entry for that is quite entertaining:

Apparently, Le Must originally started out as an exclusive members-only club, but has now opened its door to the man in the street... The little inside club is regularly crammed with about 50 people too many and the tiny dance floor can be crossed in a mere split jump, but it can be a nice change to the expat-saturated Papyrus and Sundowner… inside is a bit overwhelming and trips to the toilet are a traumatic experience after about 1am. Seriously. Scary shit. Go in pairs to clear a path.

I didn't attempt the bathroom, but did enjoy the patio outside. We had fun, and I'm sure we'll see each other around, but no spark. Also made slightly awkward by half their family being at the same bar. 

Le Must. Picture from Kigali Out. Nuff said.

Anyway, I got home at a fairly humane hour. Is it sad that I breathed a happy sigh of relief as I slipped into my slippers and curled up with a book? 

I was suffering slightly this morning as I made my way to Kimihurura, first to one of the ministries, then to Rwanda Revenue Authority, where I learned all about (or, rather, was confused completely by) the tax system. Turns out I could have registered as a sole trader after all. I didn't need to set up a company! If only RDB had explained that to me.

Never mind. Bit late now, and I'm quite enjoying being a CEO. Sounds kind of cool, and it's the first time I've ever run a company, so it's been a good learning experience whatever happens.

Had a couple of fabulous meetings with NGOs and the public sector this week. Still feeling quietly confident that this might actually work before I run out of visa in January, though I'm sure the time is going to fly.

Anyway, Kimihurura isn't a suburb of town that I know very well. It's quite green, there are big gaps with fields between some huge, impressive government buildings. It's been really hot today, well into the 30s but dry, rather than humid like Laos. I just found myself walking along the road, gazing out at all that green, and the big blue sky, and beaming back at it. I really am feeling a lot of love for this country today. No particular reason, just one of those days when life is very good.

I came home to this big, beautiful house I live in to find that Damascene had cleaned it for me. I sent him down the road to buy us both ice-cold Fanta, and reclined in my favourite room in the house - the office. I just can't believe how lucky I am to live here, even just for a little while.

I've really been enjoying my Kinyarwanda lessons, too. Got a pile of homework to do for next week. Jacques works me hard, but it's really refreshing to be learning something again. I haven't been in formal education for several years, and the type of free courses I did in the UK to buff my CV were about as challenging as Tweenies. It's really nice to face a real brain-bender.

By this time next week I need to be able to recite the following fluently:

Mwiriwe. Nitwa Marion. Nkomoka mu bwongereza, ariko ubu ntuya mu Rwanda i Kanombe kandi nkunda urwanda cyane. 
Good afternoon. My name is Marion. I'm English, but I live in Rwanda at Kanombe, and I like Rwanda very much.

It's a toughie, as nko isn't so much a sound as a breath over a glottal stop, and w (in urwanda and mwirirwa) is more of a g. Phonetically it's very easy for an English speaker to spell, but pronunciation is a whole other matter. People keep saying 'learn Swahili, it's easier' (shorter words), and it's spoken throughout East Africa, but I dunno, I just kinda like Kinya. I guess because I've already got a running start with the moto drivers. Although, how's this for a point of crazy:

Telling the Time in Kinyarwanda

The 24-hour clock begins at 7am, rather than midnight. It's based on the dawn. From 7am you start counting the hours: one o'clock, two o'clock, three o'clock etc.

You do this with the word Saa (hour): first hour, second hour, third hour.

And you do it by interchanging Kinya (K) and Swahili (S):

7 o'clock: Saa Moya (S) 
8: Saa Mbiri (K) 
9: Saa Tatu (K) 
10: Saa Yine (K) 
11: Saa Tanu (K) 
12: Saa Sita (S) 
1: Saa Saba (S) 
2: Saa Munani (K) 
3: Saa Cyenda (K) 
4: Saa Kumi (K) 
5: Saa Kumi n'imwe (K: literally 'ten plus one') 
6: Saa Kumi n'ebyire (K: 'ten plus two')

To indicate whether it's AM or PM, you add mugitondo or nimugoroba.

What makes it tricky is working out how many hours from 7am you are, and which number system you use for each. Just because you can count to twelve in Kinyarwanda doesn't mean you can reel off the time so easily.

It may be a while before I can glance at my watch and tell someone what time it is, but it is fascinating stuff.

Finally, I stopped off at the post office on the way home today. Bit of a puzzle - it says I have a parcel in the book, but nobody could find it. I left my number, and I'm hoping that they do find it and that they'll call to let me know.

I also went to get a new lock for my PO Box, as I've lost the key. Everybody there is so nice, but we did have one of those funny conversations:

Hello. I need to get the lock on my PO Box changed as I can't find the key. 
What is your PO Box number? 
I give my number. She writes it down.  
- thoughtful pause -
Nobody can change the lock on a PO Box.

Preempting this response, I've come prepared. I helpfully point out:

The PO Box is registered in my name. This is the company name, and this is my name. Here is my passport as proof of my identity.

Nice lady looks up the name on the PO Box, checks it against my passport.

Well, I can get you the letters from the box, but you are going to have to change the padlock yourself. 
How do I do that when I haven't got the key? 
- thoughtful pause -
I will get someone to change the lock for you.

You do have quite a few conversations like that. I was contemplating it on the moto ride home, and I think it's all down to Poirot (as, I suspect, are most things). My reasoning is that, from a very early age, I was aware of a culture of mystery in the UK: Agatha Christie, BergeracJonathan Creek... we spend half our lives trying to figure out how something (or someone) gets out of a locked box. 

This is the answer to customer services in Rwanda - more Poirot.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014


Selfie Central: Me, Asna & Amina

Gosh, it's been yet another week between updates. Been so busy. 

Had a lovely night last night. I was invited to this gorgeous lady's graduation meal at Classic Hotel. Very honoured, and lovely to meet her family and be a part of her big day. 

In Rwanda, on graduation, students remain far more sober than they do in the UK. It's very much a family affair. There are soft drinks to begin with, then a meal (goat brochettes and chips) then friends and family make their speeches, building up to Mum and Dad, who were clearly extremely proud of her.

Congratulations lady, here starts the rest of everything.

Also this week, I have been on the waragi train. A former VSO, Sarah, was in-country for a couple of weeks. It was her birthday on Friday so we went to Republika for a meal. We've had some incredibly impressive thunder and lightning lately, and the heavens opened. Towards the end of the evening it started to clear and we adjourned to a bar in Kisi. There were glitter balls, toilet paper confetti (don't ask) and... yes...War Gin.


Republika was a bit of a blast from the past. I used to spend a lot of time there before, but this was the first time I'd been back. Still looks exactly the same, but the prices have gone north. Worth checking out if you're ever in Kigali, very relaxed place up in Kiyovu.

Only way to cope with a hangover like that is Lost Bread (French Toast) with Nutella. It's my default rescue remedy.

What else has been happening?

Went back to the Gift Hotel to help Joanna test the menu. That was lots of fun. They do a fabulous hot chocolate. Officially opening in about a week.

Engaged a professional Kinyarwanda teacher to try to improve my limited moto-haggling abilities. One of the first things I asked him to teach me was 'Do you know where [place] is?' - 'Are you sure?'

All too often you get on a moto only to discover they haven't got the blindest clue where you actually want to go. After each lesson I write up what I've learned in coloured pen (thanks Mum!) and pop it on the wall above my desk. I still really struggle to retain and recall vocabulary, but at least with directions I get to practise every day, so it's starting to come more quickly.

Went to Nakumatt and bought myself some children's books to practise reading.

Maguru and the Gorilla
The Battle Between Fire and Water.

Talking of books, I have one out myself later in the year. Hired a local photographer, Alice Kayibanda, to take some publicity shots. Hate having my picture taken, but she was really good with me. Didn't turn out too shabby. Got the results back this week.

Sure some other stuff happened, but it's a bit of a blur. Still courting potential clients. Going quite well. Off for lunch at an Italian in Nyarutarama this afternoon to talk web design with the head of Three Stones Consulting. Hopes of chocolate mousse.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Baby Photos

Eeep! I want to share some baby photos. I'm so excited! Pulled a courgette out of the fridge the other day to find a caterpillar munching through it. Created a little habitat for it in a bowl and fed it some more vegetables. Didn't hear it munching for the past couple of nights and assumed it might have died. Went to have a look, and found this chrysalis. Can't wait to see what it turns into!

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Big Business (Centre)

Me and Pierre
(Both somewhat hungover...)

Just realised it's been a week since my last knee-scraping update, and what a week it's been!

Yesterday morning I headed over to the new conference centre they're building in Kigali. It's huge, and egg-shaped. Bit like the London Mayor's office. Anyway, my friend Jo works with the architect's wife, Eva, who is also one of my consultants. Her hubby agreed to give us the grand tour, so we donned hard hats and fetching dayglow jackets, and went for a look-see.

(click to enlarge this awesome panoramic)

Adjoining Hotel

Wedding Roundabout
where people have their wedding photos taken

The Royal Suite
still needs a bit of work doing to it

Up On The Roof

Stopped off at Meze Fresh for burritos afterwards.

Thanks so much Jo, Pierre and Eva's husband for a fascinating experience. There's something a little bit weird about wandering around a construction site. I'd only glanced at the building in passing on a moto, and it looks far more finished from the road than it does up close. Still can't quite imagine what it will all look like once complete, but it's a statement if ever there was one. Few more pictures in this album.

Nice end to a very hectic week. Both Pierre (Jo's husband) and I were a little worse for wear. I met up with an ex-VSO, Sarah, the night before. We were catching up over a few beers at Chez Lando. A few beers turned into quite a few beers when we were joined by a photographer en route from the DRC to the UK for a funeral. Entertaining debate on world politics. Formed an impromptu labour party conference.

After he left to catch his plane, we headed to The Lemon Tree and bumped into - surprise, surprise - Pierre on a night out. I know I always say this, but I honestly hadn't drunk that much in a long time.

Compounded by an impromptu night out on Thursday, too. I had an introductory meeting with an agribusiness client in town. It went well. Two hours later, I'd learned an awful lot about mushroom growing and was feeling very enthusiastic. That evening, the CEO invited me over for drinks. How can you refuse a Belgian who used to run a microbrewery in New York? The beer was very good.

Entertaining night. Along with mushrooms, they also grow artichokes. The only place in Rwanda you can get them, and the first time I'd ever eaten one whole from the stem. Apparently it's a big thing in parts of mainland Europe, but Brits just don't really do it. You pick off the leaves and dip them in warm butter until you get to the 'heart' in the middle, which you eat whole. It is absolutely delightful.

My new favourite food.

This morning I cooked my other favourite food - or at least my favourite hangover cure. Coffee with lost bread (French toast) and Nutella. Honestly, it's the only thing that gets me back on my feet.

There is another interesting dish I've just served up on my office desk...

Every now and then I hear it rustling, which is a good sign. 

I pulled a courgette out of the fridge at lunch and discovered a fat green caterpillar has munched a hole right through it. The caterpillar was still there! I was amazed it had survived. I've only recently turned the fridge down because my water was turning to ice!

I thought if it had survived that, it deserved a little TLC. So I've created a caterpillar habitat in a bowl with plenty of courgette. S/he/it is chomping away happily. I'm hoping to open the door one morning and discover what type of butterfly it has become.

After all, there is an opening for house pet at the moment, since I evicted this from my bathroom this morning.

T'was a biggun. When I first moved in it appeared from behind the sink and came running towards me to say 'hi' during my morning ablutions. I flicked water at it and it's been hiding in the doorway ever since. My friend says if you mix baking soda and sugar together and leave it in a jam lid, you find them dead next morning. I dunno. I can't kill it. Something that big has a personality and everything.

Found it in my wash bowl this morning. Released it into the garden. Good luck, comrade!

I am absolutely loving my house. I can't describe the joy of going to sleep at night without any noise. Waking up the next morning and wandering around in my pants, yawning and scratching my belly (I'm such a bloke in the mornings).

We have serious water issues, though. Usually it comes on from midnight for a few hours, and Damascene fills up all the cans, but the past couple of nights we've had nothing at all. You can buy it from a pump up the road, but mostly you're just really careful how you spend it. My water filter is the most important thing, for drinking water, then wash water, then toilet water (often you pour the wash water down the toilet after use). It's incredible how much water flushing a toilet takes.

Still, it made me smile when I went for drinks at my client's house. He lives in a posh neighbourhood - huge house -  but also no water. Doesn't matter how much money you have here when there's something like 20% under capacity on water. 

I'm planning to go drinking with my landlord some time this week. Need to get a few quotes, but I've mentioned going halves on a water tank before and, as Jo pointed out, if he buys the stand and I buy the barrel, I can sell the barrel when I leave - if not to him, then to someone else.

So, in brief, what else has happened this week?

Well, I've had a meeting here...

...and a meeting here.

Went to the Post Office and got lots of chocolate from home! Result.

They do like their religion at the Post Office.

I've just signed a former BBC Africa country director to my associates list. She's incredible at all thing miltimedia and funding related, but since doing that I've had two random meetings with Rwandan filmmakers. Her medianess is clearly rubbing off on me. Seems to be a lot of opportunity for creative types at the moment. One of them, Ella, has exhibited internationally, and was responsible for this :)

Très cool. She's the one with the impressive afro, hanging out of the sunroof of her extremely shiny beetle.

Had to glam up myself on Friday for a photoshoot. Hired a local photographer to do some publicity shots for a book I wrote, which is due out later in the year. 

Oh, and I've started Kinya lessons. Thought it was about time. I annoyingly have just enough Kinya to argue with a moto driver and make people think that I can speak it, which gets very embarrassing when they start talking back and realise I can't.

Got a lovely teacher, and the lesson was two-fold as I paid him extra to translate between me and Damascene. I have a live-in domestic who has a house next to my kitchen. He speaks no English, I speak no Kinya - it's been an issue. He's been here for four years, and he's very trustworthy and fairly hard working. I can't really replace him, and I don't really want to, although, if I'd had a choice from the beginning (he came with the house) I would have opted for an English speaking domestic twice a week to do laundry and cleaning. There really isn't enough work to keep him occupied, and I've never enjoyed managing house staff. It just doesn't come naturally to a muzungu.

Anyway, there were a few issues to resolve, like my landlord forgot to mention I'm expected to feed him. He used to cook for him, and take a portion for himself. I don't want to cook for him, and I don't need him to cook for me... awkward. So I've upped his pay slightly to help cover that. He also gets one day off a week now. Today - Sunday - was his first time. He came to tell me he was leaving in the morning, as though checking it was really okay. When he originally asked, I think he was expecting one day off a month 'to see family,' but not only is it morally right that he should have a weekend, I also secretly enjoy knowing that I have the entire compound to myself for a day. Nothing worse than a guy with nothing to do wandering around your garden.

So, it's been a jam-packed week.

I am over the moon with the house. Feeling really at home already, and loving the office. Not heard about any of our tenders yet, but have three more on the desk, including one that was sent directly to my company. Lots of positive meetings. I'm starting to feel confident that it won't be long before something gives.

Despite the hangover, and working solidly through the weekend, I am extremely happy at the moment.