Sunday, 28 October 2018


What a crazy week. After a couple of months of rehearsing at home, it was finally time to head off to Luxembourg to give my TEDx talk on informal v. formal education.

I left around 8 p.m. on 22nd October, arriving in Luxembourg around 10 a.m. the following day, after a quick change at Schiphol. Thankfully, it was the same time zone, so I wasn't battling jet lag like a couple of the other speakers. My lovely friend Harris, who got me into all of this in the first place, arranged for his friend, Shilton, to collect me from the airport and take me to the hotel in Esch-sur-Alzette.

Shilton is from Albania. He very kindly brought a warm coat and a large bottle of Albanian hooch. So, by 11 a.m. we were driving down the motorway, me with a mouthful of honey mead fortified with rakija. It certainly kept the chill away.

Talking of chill, I don't actually own a coat. I very rarely leave Africa, and when I do, I'm usually met by family at the airport with something warm. When I arrived in Luxembourg, it was 4c and I could see my own breath. I was torn, because I was cold, but didn't really see the point in buying a coat that I would only wear for a week. I went for a wander up the high street and couldn't find anything I liked for a price I could afford, so vowed to remain wrapped up in the bundle of shawls I'd brought with me. This is what helped me survive.

Ham and cheese croissant, pistachio bun and hot chocolate.

Esch-sur-Alzette Heigh Street
I had a bit of a nail incident on the plane. I'd allowed my nails to grow long for the talk, then one broke really badly, very close to the finger. Luckily, there was a nail parlour right next door to the hotel and a lovely Vietnamese woman magically made it all better. Can you tell which one is plastic?

There was also an orthopaedic shop on the high street, selling ankle supports for buggered Achilles tendons. So, all in all, Esch was a useful place to be stationed.

Harris was jetting off to Kazakhstan for a WHO conference (not to be confused with a Who concert), but we had time for one meal before he left. I managed to stumble across a gorgeous little Lebanese place called Hotel Le Cedre, which did a huge spread of dishes and proper Lebanese coffee.

Then there was just time to take Schindler's lift back to my room and soak myself in a long, hot bath before bed.

The next morning, I had a leisurely breakfast before hopping the train one stop to Belval campus, where the talk was taking place, and where our dress rehearsal was scheduled to begin at noon.

Belval is a really strange place. Impressive on an industrial scale, as it was built on top of an old steelworks.  



Caught between steampunk and Mordor. Visually impressive but, as someone pointed out, there are no green spaces for students.

We were in the Maison du Savoir building, in an auditorium that looked a lot like the one we would be using on the day, but green rather than red. It was a long day - a full run-through of speakers, performers and timing. Started with a warm-up around 12 p.m. and finished up at 7:45.

MC Phil

My dress run-through didn't go swimmingly. At one point I forgot a line and may have said 'shit'. This was the first time I'd ever given the talk in front of anyone, so it was a bit nerve-racking. Everyone made it through though, and we headed out to a very nice restaurant for food.

Shrimp Gnocchi

Tanja & Chris
It was a long day, but the atmosphere was so incredibly supportive and it didn't take long for me to find people with the same sort of crazy. Many of the speakers had already met at the previous rehearsal on 8th October, but others like myself and Chris - who flew in from America - were meeting everyone for the first time. Such a diverse group of people talking about such different topics.

The next morning was a free period. The hotel didn't provide a laundry service, so they sent me up the high street to a dry cleaner. They charged a fortune, but promised my clothes would be delivered to the hotel the next morning. 

From there, I hopped a train to Luxembourg. There's a lot of street art around the city, and the autumn colours were really starting to show. They also have those wonderful European double-decker trains where you can sit upstairs.

It didn't take long to get to Luxembourg, but when I arrived, I couldn't find Tourist Information. I followed the sign, but ended up in a ticket office where the woman's response to "Hello, is this Tourist Information?" was a curt, "No, here's a map of the city," before turning away.

I wandered a couple of blocks with the map, but my leg was really starting to ache and it was very cold, so eventually I turned back, opting instead to head to Belval for a burger before my one-on-one coaching session. People say the old part of the town is nice, so perhaps I'll go back sometime when Harris can give me the guided tour. If it is very beautiful, it's well hidden. Everything else looks fairly industrial, although there were some pretty, misty forests flying in from the air.

The one-on-one coaching session was really just a last chance to go through the talk. Mine was with Jan, who was the main organiser. He was very encouraging, although I did miss a line again. Frustrating. I do a lot of training with adults, and usually I'm fine talking in front of people, but the problem with TED is that you know you're not only talking in front of people, but you're being recorded for all of time. This adds an extra layer of 'Oh, holy crap.'

Still, I muddled through it and went back to the Lebanese with Chris that evening. He was staying nearer to the venue, so left before nine, after which I found the lovely company of Susanne and Helmut back at the hotel bar. We stayed up drinking and chatting.

The next day, 26th October, it was back to Belval for the live performance. Unfortunately, the dry cleaner absolutely ruined the lovely fabric I had taken them. My dad and Marilyn had bought the material whilst on our holiday to India, and my friend Shema had tailored it. I had two tops traced in gold detail so that it glittered. Their chemicals had managed to strip all of that detail, plus my top for the performance, which I'd worn to the dress rehearsal, smelled terrible. I spent the first part of the morning hand-washing it in the toilets and trying to dry it under the hand dryer. Not impressed.

We were all there by about 11 a.m. for food and a final warm-up, plus a much-needed chance to face-down the stage and convince ourselves it didn't frighten us.

Sitta warming up with her band.

Youri warming up for his dance performance.

The Jean-Guillaume Weis Ensemble
It was a very long day, but absolutely worth it. Again, everyone was so supportive of each other. There was lots of high-fives and fist pumps going on behind the scenes, and Ferrero donated a large basket of chocolate to keep everyone going. 

Despite mucking up my dress rehearsals, my actual performance went perfectly. I was extremely happy with it, and I'm looking forward to seeing the glossy, edited version that gets released in a few weeks. For the time being, if you would like to see it, my talk is still available on livestream. You can watch all three sessions here:

I had been slightly dreading doing the talk, but looking back, it's one of the best things I've ever done. Really happy to have made new and interesting friends, and to have been a part of the first ever TEDx at the University of Luxembourg. The after party was absolutely brilliant. They had wine fairies who kept topping up your glass even if you'd only taken a couple of sips. Sitta, who had been performing during the talk, sang with her band throughout the evening. There was much laughter and shenanigans, and a lot of very kind feedback from the audience, including one Rwandan lady who came to say 'mwiriwe'. An intense amount of preparation, but it really paid off.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Mostly Motorbikes

Nobody panic. I'm still alive.

Feeling much better than in my last post. Health is back to normal (minus an Achilles tendon), and I feel like I'm almost, just about, maybe on top of my work. There's a lot of it, but the one I was panicking about most - the really big contract - is to compile a publication for a major international NGO, and everything was sort of in one huge folder with lots of stuff missing, wrongly labeled or in French. Like a nightmare jigsaw puzzle of words and statistics. I wouldn't have been panicking, only the TEDx talk I'm off to do this month knocks about a week out of my available time. On top of that, I'm editing a major e-course on gender-based violence (GBV), which is not the most uplifting subject at the best of times, only now the online editor has started swallowing stuff I'm working on. 

The other problem with the first project is that I'm working for someone I hugely respect, and I don't want to mess up. Not that I intend to mess up usually, but it adds an extra layer of pressure. You know, when you want to do a really good job, not just for the money, but to prove you were the right choice for the contract.

Very, very deep breath. Smile. Move forward. Make it look easy.

The picture up top is me giving my TEDx talk in Luxembourg whilst simultaneously tuning a piano in Kigali. Thanks to the joys of pre-recorded technology. Although, it took several attempts to get a good enough recording with my webcam, and to upload over a slightly shonky 3G connection. Got there in the end, though.

I leave for Luxembourg on 22nd, arrive 23rd and participate in the dress rehearsal on 24th, ahead of the actual event on 26th, then leave for the Hague on 27th to recover with a huge quantity of beer. 

The last post was going to be titled Mostly Motorbikes, until I got so down about everything. So, returning to that theme...

There was a random exhibition of Royal Enfield motorbikes at PiliPili the other week. Nice to see. They're temporary, but the Rolls-Royce is a permanent feature.

I've also started attending a monthly entrepreneurs' lunch where local business people get together and catch up, talk about stuff like taxes, accounting and advertising. But everyone's really nice, so it's fun, and there's such a diverse range of companies. Also, they change the venue each month, so you get to visit restaurants you haven't been to before. This month was Borneo, which sells huge portions of rice and noodles at very cheap prices, although their GPS pin was pointing to Rwanda Revenue Authority, so three of us ended up standing outside the tax department trying to figure out where we were going.

Last month I met the guy who runs Rwanda Motorcycle company, where they import parts and assemble motorbikes in Rwanda. He offered us free plywood for the pianos, so me and Dés went to take a look at their warehouse. It's out in the industrial free trade zone, which I'd never been to before. Extremely beautiful, set on a hill surrounded by wetland and thick vegetation, but extremely expensive to have a place out there.

Workhorse for carting goods about the villages.

FRW 1.7mil (£1,500) of city bike.

The touring model.

It was really impressive to see, just a shame more of the parts can't be manufactured in Rwanda. That's one of the big problems, importing the materials to make parts often comes to around the same, or more, than importing the parts ready-made. We found the same with the pianos and bass strings. 

They invited me to learn to ride a motorbike in their warehouse. I might take them up on that, although a friend did remind me how accident prone I am, so I'd need a good crash helmet.

As I was heading home, I found this stunning Harley parked outside Frulep. A very rare sight in Rwanda and it attracted a lot of attention from passersby, especially the moto drivers.

Went to let off a little bit of steam at Rock Night, which is really quiet nowadays. But friends Sameer and Maja came along, and found Gil and Christian there. Two cool dudes who can really rock an inflatable guitar.



Adjourned for pudding across the road with Sameer after.

A lot has been going on with the piano. I was going to write about it, but, to be honest, that's what the piano blog is for. So I'll just show this beautiful view from a client's house, and these pretty flowers.

Not quite as big as Moma Mantis, but I found this cute little critter climbing about near my washing machine. I absolutely love these guys. There's something spookily intelligent about them. It's impossible to creep up on a mantis. Apparently they have the ability to turn their heads a full 180 degrees. But just try it, they register motion instantly, and they look at you as though waiting for you to say something. I find them fascinating. I'd love to hold one, but I've never been brave enough. Those guys can move very fast.


So, tomorrow, I'm off to sit in my usual spot at CasaKeza whilst my house is fumigated. Have to make sure the cats are out and they don't spray the piano, then can't return for at least four hours. Still, needs to be done. A chance to get on with some work in the sunshine and drink plenty of coffee.