Tuesday, 17 April 2018

DRC Take Two

Oh, this is going to be a long catch-up.

Where to begin?

Well, the saddest news. Had a leaving party for Maia the other week. After eight years in Rwanda (and a daughter), she has decided to explore pastures new... in Bristol. She grew up in Spain with several nationalities, but has never lived in the UK. For some reason, she thought this would be a good idea. We tried to warn her about the weather and the politics, but she just wouldn't listen. So, we bought her a huge cake and had a big farewell bash at her restaurant, before adjourning to a house party and crawling home at 4:30 in the morning. It was a decent send-off and wishing her all the best as she meanders her way to Blighty via a yoga retreat in Southeast Asia... yup, maybe Bristol is the right place for her. Next time I see her, she'll have grown a beard and dreadlocks.


Victor is in charge of the restaurant now, so it's still a home away from home, and Harris and Chris are back soon. I still occasionally waitress. Even got my own official pinny. Had a birthday party there the other week for some young volunteers. The birthday boy was an incredible guitarist and stayed after hours to play for us and have a sing-along.

Looking up the Words Online

Treated myself to a day working at the best ice-cream shop in town, in Kigali Heights. Really is incredible ice-cream. Got caught there in the rain and, randomly, Maia turned up and gave me a lift home. What will I do without her? 

Also reconnected with Flo, a French friend I haven't seen in over a year, despite living in the same city, and with Maia & Vincent from GYC, so my social life is still afloat.

Went to another book event, too. This time the Caine Prize for African Literature, which was run in conjunction with Huza Press, who published an excellent anthology of adult short stories by Rwandan authors called Versus. Well worth a read. The Cain Prize received its first Rwandan entries last year and held its first workshop here this year, up in Gisenyi. Writers from across Africa, and a few British literary agents. An entertaining night.

The piano project is coming along slowly. Done a lot of restringing on a piano whose strings keep breaking, and took our own action to Chillington to request help with the metal frame. More about that here.

Taking the Action for a Ride

Then something a bit crazy happened. When me and Maia were in Bukavu last February, I spotted a grand piano from the hotel balcony.

In a strange turn of events, my favourite priest happened to know whose house it was - the former Mayor of Bukavu - and put me in contact. So, on Friday I took the bus down to Cyangugu, a seven-hour trip which winds through Nyungwe Forest (one of the contested furthest sources of the Nile). It was a wet and foggy day as the rainy season has been very heavy this year, leading to flooding and occasional landslides. News reports say that over forty people have been injured last month and 600 animals killed by the weather.

Nyabugogo Bus Park

Fog and Rain Through Nyungwe Forest

Remnants of a Landslide

Rice Paddy

Emerging from Nyungwe, the south is swathed in tea fields, and from the hotel there was a lovely view across Lake Kivu to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

View from Hotel
View from Bar in Town

Rwandan foreign residents can cross the border on a piece of paper called a CEPGL, so the next day I took a moto to the crossing and walked across the bridge between the two countries. The route crosses the river Rusizi, which flows from Kivu (one of the world's three exploding lakes) to Lake Tanganyika.

Things are a little different in Congo. The motos (public motorbikes) don't have passenger helmets, and the roads have huge potholes, which makes for a fun, if slightly hair-raising, journey along muddy streets. I made it to the house in one piece, and was welcomed in to look at the piano. 


It's an August Förster from Czechoslovakia (which became the Czech Republic in 1993). From the serial number, it was likely made around 1945, so around 73 years old. Sadly, it was in extremely bad condition. The tuning pins were severely rusted, the strings themselves were gone. Many of the keys, and the entire action, need replacing. You can see more pictures here.


I put in an offer of $500, but they felt this was too little. I'm not prepared to go higher because of the huge cost of restoration, and we'd also need to get it across the border and up to Kigali, which is no small fete. Still, it was really interesting to see it, and to consider its history of it. There's a journalist who thinks he remembers playing an instrument that looked very similar for warlord Laurent Nkunda,  but we're still not completely sure it's the same one.

My favourite priest was also on his way down to Bukavu. After viewing the piano, I headed back to my hotel in Cyangugu and met up with him and his sister for a drink. They convinced me to go back across the border for a last drink before the crossing closed at 10 p.m.

It was a bit spooky walking back by myself. During the day it's very busy, with people coming and going between Rwanda and DRC, but at night it's completely empty. At least that meant no queueing. I got quite a grilling by the border guards, who were a little surprised to see a mzungu crossing four times in one day.

The next day, I took the bus back up to Kigali. This time, it went via Kibuye, so I had a lovely view of Lake Kivu all the way there.


Unfortunately, like a dingbat, I left my internet hotspot behind in the hotel room. This is what I love about Rwanda - it's so small and connected. Within about an hour, a friend reminded me of another friend in Cyangugu, who went to the hotel room, retrieved the router and put it on a bus to Kigali. It arrived today at a grand cost of FRW 1,000 (about £1). So grateful. 

Absolutely knackered after the trip, but even though I didn't get the piano, it was still an interesting exploration. I'm really proud of myself for making the crossing on my own. I don't speak any French, and the difference is immediate. The moment you cross the border, it's French and Swahili, whereas I function in English and enough Kinyarwanda to get by. It's good to test yourself in these situations sometimes, and to step out of your comfort zone. I must admit, I like the feel of Bukavu very much.

Arrived back to a bit of drama. About six months back, my neighbours moved out. I was quite grateful at the time as they had six kids who used to enjoy shouting at each other extremely early in the morning. Someone else bought the plot and added an extra story. As usually happens here, people start building, then run out of money and wait until they have more money before continuing. In the time it's been empty, the rainy season has taken its toll. The daub is cracking and apparently my other neighbour says one of the walls collapsed. Over the weekend, their electricity cable fell into my garden in a thunder storm and my guests (who were taking care of the cats) had to call the electricity company to make it safe. So, it's now coiled over my back wall.

Made a bit of an impulsive decision this morning. I put in a bid for a contract to do the annual report for an NGO back at the beginning of February. They contacted me at the weekend to invite me to an interview. I was supposed to go this morning - first at 11:30, then at 10:40, then they called at 9:30 to tell me to bring a PowerPoint presentation and a breakdown of costs. The last bit was confusing, as the breakdown was included with the bid. I decided to withdraw. It wasn't enough time to put a presentation together, and I hate turning up to these things unprepared. I just kept thinking 'this is how organised the interview is, what would it be like working for them?' I'm still knackered from the DRC trip and had to weigh how much I want the money against how much I want the hassle. One of my New Year's resolutions was to only pursue jobs I really enjoy. I think this would have been a real headache, and I could see myself stressing, desperately trying to get everything ready with no notice, and not getting the job anyway. Or getting it, and the job being even more stressful than the interview.

I texted Maia for her advice, which was: 'Yes, I think you go with your intuition. If it doesn't feel right don't do it. When you are desperate for dosh you will suck it up. When you are not desperate, pick and choose what you wanna do!'

The momentary regret over whether I did the right thing soon wore off with a second cup of coffee. Thankfully got enough editing and ghostwriting to tide me over.

Another thing I've done recently was to book a holiday to the UK. I haven't been back in almost two-and-a-half years, and I would like to remember what my family look like. Going mid-June to the end of July. Looking forward to it.

I've booked to go to an undergrad reunion in Reading. It's sort of ironic that I took Deaf Studies and now I'm a piano tuner. Also a bit worried that I may not remember how to sign, as it's been almost ten years since that was a part of my work and my life. It will be interesting to see how much language you retain when you don't use it.

Looking forward to catching up with a few good friends, including one of my tutors who I haven't seen since graduation back in 2002. Will be a trip down memory lane, if I can manage to purchase a ticket. The online booking system is a mess. Just keeps spewing error messages at me. As one friend said: "Who knew that Reading Uni could make something so simple so complicated..ugh!" - Really? I think we all had our suspicions ;)

Anyway. That's most of what's been happening lately. Sitting here listening to the thunder approaching. I like the rainy season usually, but this year has been serious. Cold, very wet - and you can't plan around it. When you travel by public motorbike, you often find yourself diving for cover halfway home, or unable to make a meeting. My days consist of hanging out washing, bringing it in, hanging it out again. Looking forward to the sunny days ahead. 

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