Friday 27 January 2017

On With The Show

Had a lovely day yesterday. Paella tasting at Casa Keza, my friend Maia's bar. Sangria and iced coffee flowed freely.

I haven't updated as I have had my head in editing for the past couple of weeks. Almost 160,000 words, 566 pages. Now that's done I can relax a little. Spring cleaning the house. Planning for a birthday bash in a couple of weeks. Haven't had a house party here before and it's a lot to organise. Hoping to have a fire pit and a barbecue. 

Also booked a trip to Maasai Mara next month with my friend Tracey, who runs Overland Travel Adventures and came for New Year. 

I'm taking in a lodger for a couple of weeks, so he'll be able to look after the cats whilst I'm away.

Lots of things to look forward to.

Sen kitty has recovered very well from her sad ordeal and has been helping me edit.

I've just dropped her off at the vet this morning to get her belly shaved like her sister.

Sophie After The Snip

Always feel so guilty about that, but she is an amazing vet, and Kigali doesn't need any more unwanted babies. 

She's with the same vet who saved her before. The vet has rather fallen for Sen (who she named Harold, after Harold Finch from Person of Interest). There is a small chance Harold might stay with her. Part of me feels sad about this, because she loves playing with her brother and sister - they're the best of friends again. But part of me is delighted at the prospect. Three cats is definitely a lot more work than two, and there couldn't be a safer, more loving home for her in the whole of Rwanda than with the vet. She's asked to keep Harold overnight. I'm going to suggest she keeps her over the weekend. See how it goes.

In other news, my tuning hammer arrived. I've set to tuning up Lirika, but I still need some other tools so that I can adjust the dampers on the bass section.

Tuning Kit
Tuning a piano is a lot harder than I thought, though it's made much easier with an app called TuneLab. You just load it onto your phone and away you go. But most of the keys on a piano have three strings - any, or all, of which could be out of tune. So you have to start by tuning the middle string, and then trying to match the other two (the unisons) to the first. 

In order to clearly hear the middle string, you need to dampen the two on either side, which you can either do with a temperament strip (long strip of felt) or with rubber dampers (things that look like barbecue skewers above).


It takes a really long time because the tuning pins are extremely sensitive. You only have to tap slightly to raise or lower a step. You can spend ten minutes or more trying to get one string to hit the right pitch, then you need to tune the strings on either side. 

I was really surprised because the guy I bought it off didn't think it had been tuned in ten years, yet the majority of the strings were sharp by almost a semitone. This suggests someone tuned it by ear, and their ear was either sharp or they knew that it wouldn't get tuned again in a while. The surprising thing was that the notes had held for so long. A piano frame holds around 20 tons of string tension, so it's impressive it hadn't gone flat. It had hardly been played, though.

It's been a really fascinating experience. I just hope the post doesn't swallow the rest of the things I've ordered. I never thought of myself as being particularly technical, but the inside of a piano is so beautiful. People light up when they see it. Many locals haven't seen a real piano before. 'Piano' and 'keyboard' are used interchangeably here, and invariably mean an electric keyboard. Two people have already asked me where you plug it in, and became fascinated when they learnt it doesn't require electricity. 

I just wish my playing matched my progress in piano maintenance.

Had a guest come to listen (I think I knew her mother).

I've also had some new furniture made for the house. A bookshelf, kitchen table and new bed. Plus I've fulfilled my dream of square mosquito nets - almost. I've had both beds fitted with frames, only it's proving impossible to get the nets made. I've just ordered one from eBay (thank you free international delivery). Hoping it fits.

And, on a final fun note, apparently Leonardo DiCaprio is in town with Miss World and Miss America. Had to laugh. They stayed at my friend's hotel, Five Volcanoes, but she wasn't there at the time. Apparently the tour company keeps these things very hush hush. But a few months back her daughter made national news at the gorilla naming ceremony when she took hold of the President's hand and followed him everywhere. She only saw that online afterwards. Bless her.

So, life in Kigali is good at the moment. Need to find some clothes to wear for my party. Think I'm going to have to get them made. Everything's looking a bit threadbare at the moment. Considering a short trip to the UK around July, but nothing definite yet.

We've also had some really impressive storms lately. Plenty of thunder and lightning. Causing a lot of damage in the villages, and I lost power for twenty-four hours. The kind of storm where you find yourself sitting in the dark, whistling the theme tune to Jurassic Park.

Sunday 15 January 2017


My Boy

Well, it's been a very difficult start to 2017. Without tempting fate, I hope this means brighter days ahead.

Last Monday broke my heart, it really did.

I won't recount the story, I'll just share an update I posted on Tuesday:

Absolutely heartbroken. Yesterday was a truly awful day. As most of you know, I reared four tiny kittens found abandoned in a bag in Kigali. They were so small they needed syringe feeding and bum wiping. I wasn't going to keep any of them, but couldn't keep to that policy after parting with the eldest two to someone I thought was a responsible, cat-loving person. Sophie and Howl (the smallest two) are now well and truly mine.

The eldest two seemed to be doing fine. I took Sophie & Howl to visit a couple of weeks back, and the vet who vaccinated them said they had been playful and healthy.

Then, yesterday, the new owner contacts me to tell me the sad news that the eldest boy fell down a 12 m pit latrine and died.

The part of the story that took longer to come out was that this happened a week ago last Friday. She apparently tried to get him out, couldn't, and left him there for two days until he stopped crying.

She only thought to contact me when it was far too late.

I was distraught. I knew that I had to see for myself whether there was the slightest chance he might still be alive. I contacted WAG, which is an animal shelter for abandoned pets here in Kigali. Two of their volunteers, Lauren and Olivia, agreed to come with me for support. I cannot stress how grateful I am. I could not have done this without them. They carried me through it.

When we arrived at the house, the woman wasn't there, so her staff let us in thanks to my friend Senga, who drove us over there and negotiated our entry to the compound.

We were headed straight for the latrine when we heard mewing.

The girl kitten was lying by the drive, shivering with cold and foaming at the mouth.

Olivia stayed with her whilst Lauren and I went to the latrine. We knelt on our hands and knees in waste, lowering a lamp down on a 12 m piece of washing line.

It was so hard to see anything down there, but we took turns peering in and swinging the lamp. There was no sound and no movement, but we could not clearly make out his body. There were things that looked like they might have been, but nothing definite. As they had started using the pit latrine again, Lauren made the practical observation that perhaps his body had been covered.

We were faced with a very immediate decision. I wanted to lower my phone down with the camera rolling, but it would have been extremely difficult and we were running out of daylight. Meanwhile, girl kitten was in desperate need of medical attention.

"She's not sick," the staff insisted.

Until she vomited in front of them.

Alongside WAG, I am forever indebted to Dr Arum and her husband (who is the mountain gorilla vet). They have just moved from Musanze to Kigali. I texted to tell Dr Arum what was happening and she responded immediately saying they were on standby. If there was the slightest chance of bringing boy kitten home alive, her husband was willing to smash the toilet and climb down into the latrine to get him.

We rushed girl kitten to their surgery where she was placed on an IV under observation.

After so much sadness, it was incredible to meet supportive, animal-minded people.

Thanks also to mum, who listened to me sob down the phone at midnight after several rounds of beer therapy.

Feeling much stronger this morning. The woman is asking when she can have her kitten back. The answer to that is never. I just have to be in a calm enough frame of mind to say that to her.

Dr Arum sent news this morning. Girl kitten had a very rough night, but she's stabilized and eating like crazy.

Wish it could have been a happy ending for both, but very much looking forward to bringing her home to her brother and sister.

I still find it hard to think of that pit latrine without welling up. My big boy stuck down there, calling out. It would have been so easy to lower down a bag with food in it and pull him up. Or for the owner to send down food and water until help arrived. She had the numbers of three vets I'd given her, and didn't call any of them - or me.

Just can't forgive that.

Feeling much stronger now though.

Girl kitten came home a few days ago. She had been poisoned by something, not sure what, and the vet said if we hadn't brought her in when we did, she'd likely also be dead.

Previous owner isn't contesting this, but did say it was okay because she would 'get more'. I urged her to go to WAG and get training in how to care for animals before she does that.

Girl kitten, who was called Fifi, but I renamed Sen (because she was Spirited Away to a far off place, and returned, sadly without her friend), and who is known as Harold by the vet (actually, it's now double barrelled: Sen-Harold), is recovered and eating well. The vets have offered to spay her once she's put on some weight. She was so much bigger than them when she left. Now she's a little bit smaller.

Sen as a tiny kitten, sitting in the middle of the food tray whilst Sophie & Howl eat around her.

It's not been easy. Although she's only been away a month, it's as though Sen doesn't recognise the house she grew up in, or her brother and sister. She hisses every time she sees Sophie & Howl. I'm swelling with pride at how they have handled it. Howl in particular has never lost his patience once. He simply lies as close as she'll let him, edging closer when she isn't looking, and bringing her things to play with. Sophie has been just as good, but I think she's getting tired of it. She's started hissing back when Sen hisses at her.

Yesterday was a breakthrough. Sen played with Howl for the first time.

This morning, they all ate from the same bowl without incident. Sen's closest to the camera.

It's progress. Though three kittens is a world more destruction than two. I'm forever tripping over them and picking things off the floor. It's nice to see her returning to a playful little fluffball. I just hope Titi's found Christiane, Mao, Sula and Ishuheri up there in the Heaviside Layer.

Happier Days

Friday 6 January 2017

Happy New Year

Beautiful Bright Moon
Happy New Year. Sorry for the lack of updates. A mixture of complete normality (nothing to report) and festive recovery.

Howl, Festively Recovering

Although, I must be honest, Christmas and New Year really aren't a thing in Rwanda. It's nice in some respects because there's less pressure and commercialism, but in some cases it can be extremely underwhelming.

Nakumatt's attempt at a Christmas section. Nobody could even tell me where the wrapping paper was.

About as impressive as my attempt at courgette cake, though it did taste a lot better than it looked.

Made with a homegrown marrow.

Like I say, Christmas and New Year have been really quiet. I spent Christmas at CasaKeza, my friend Mia's café. It's a Spanish tapas restaurant and she makes extremely potent sangria.

Spent the night singing carols around a bonfire with friends Pieter, Dory and Lulu. Then stayed after hours helping Maia wrap her daughter's Christmas presents whilst drinking whisky. Crawled home at 4am. Lucky I live next door.

Dad sent over a parcel of presents - including a vast quantity of chocolate and something for the kitties.

And Santa Cat (AKA the kitties) left something for me in my bed.

Spent Christmas Dinner at my friend Pieter's. He cooked a nice spread and even had a tree. I had to retire early due to hangover.

Pieter's Cat Umva

Most of my friends sensibly left for New Year, but my friend Tracey came from Kenya for the night, along with her friends Olivia and Saira. Olivia had just stepped off the plane from Australia and Saira only a few days before. They're staying with Tracey in Nairobi but wanted to see the gorillas. We'd booked into a restaurant called Heaven, which is usually really lovely, but New Year was not so good. They basically put on the same buffet you can eat any day of the week in any restaurant in Kigali, and the place had all the atmosphere of a retirement village. We decided to eat, then high tailed it across town to a much nicer bar called Pilli Pilli, which is on top of a hill overlooking town. We saw the fireworks at the Convention Centre.

Sometime in between all that, Jo hosted a pizza night at her place. She has a gorgeous garden with a pizza oven and the booze always flows freely. It was a nice relaxed evening teaching the kids to throw a frisbee and making flower pizzas with Zuba.

I got a lift home with Maia as we live close to each other, but just as she was dropping me off, she got a call from a friend asking if we were going to the I Am Kigali festival, so we decided to check it out.

It was so bizarre. A rocking live music show... in the car park of Rwanda Revenue Authority.

Bit of a mind bender: "Yay! Music!" - "Ugh, taxes." - "Yay! Music!"

But it was a good night. There was a whole troop of Burundian drummers.

A great display of traditional drumming.

And very modern dancing.