Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Time for a Break

It's been a while since I gave an update. It was fairly quiet during July as we were back in full lockdown. That's lifted now. But I mostly stayed home, did some writing, some editing, played piano and watched movies. 

I've been amusing myself with YouTube. I filmed a
brief desktop tour of Rwanda and the final day of writing my latest novel, which is now over 530 pages long. I'm not sure if I'll carry on with YouTube, it's a lot of editing, and not a writer's natural medium, but it's been interesting. I also got myself fully vaccinated with Pfizer. The first jab was plain sailing, but the second one was a bit harder, as my local clinic had run out of the vaccine and the process at the main vaccination centre was a little tricky to navigate. But managed it eventually and have my certificate of vaccination.

My garden briefly became the film set for Arachnophobia, until someone explained it's caterpillars instead.

When the restrictions eased, I went out for a lovely meal at the Hut with my friend Solv. 

Repeated a few days later with cocktails at Soy.

Caught up with my lovely friend Nicole, who had just got back from Germany. Gorged ourselves on panini and ice-cream at Delizia.

And we did a girl's boozy brunch at NowNow. 

Breakfast Mimosa

But it hasn't all been fun and games lately. I haven't left the country in three years and I'm pretty burnt out. There's been a major building project going on behind my house. Someone said it's a hospital, but some nights it's 24-hour building work. Three nights last week it went on until 4:30 a.m., and when you contact the council nobody responds, so nobody knows when it will end. Even my neighbours have been texting me how distressing it is, but there's nowhere to turn and complaints are just completely ignored.

On top of that, I got a $200 fine from the tax department. As of this year, every business owner has to allow the government to install monitoring software on their computers. It is called EBM (electronic billing machine) software, which keeps track of business receipts. It's the law and we all have to do it. If you have a Mac, you have to buy a PC, because it doesn't work on Mac. If you feel uncomfortable about giving an external party access to your personal computer/data/files, you need to buy another laptop specifically for EBM software, and make sure it connects to the internet at least once a week to avoid having to reinstall it.

The kicker is, it's illegal to remove the software from your computer without prior government permission. So, when my laptop crashed at 8 p.m., I was faced with two options. Go without my computer for several days and hope that the EBM department would rescue me (a department so understaffed it took me three months to get the software in the first place), or reinstall Windows and let them know what happened the next morning. 

I opted for the second option. Which was a good idea, because it took me two weeks to get anyone from the EBM department to respond, and when they did, they said they had 'too many other people' to deal with to write me an e-mail! Then slapped me with a 200,000 franc ($200) fine for removing the software without permission!

This, on two hours' sleep from the day before.

Unfortunately, it typifies the general customer service attitude you run into so often: 'the customer is always wrong, and probably lying.' 

There was no fraud involved, no deception, no money lost (other than in fines) - but instead of, 'Oh, sorry to hear your computer crashed. Let's help to get your EBM software running again,' I received a charge sheet listing me as a 'suspect' and told to sign my name at the bottom.

I didn't. I fought tooth and claw, and eventually they revoked the fine, but it was stressful in the extreme and completely unnecessary. 

After three years without a holiday, and so many sleepless nights, I just snapped. Spiralled into a pit of complete burnout. 

Thankfully, my lovely friend Jo took me out for cocktails at the Convention Centre, talking me down off the ceiling.

I was ready to pack a suitcase and sell up, but I've been talked down to 'a long holiday'. Which is far easier said than done at the moment. The UK has gone mental and is forcing people to pay almost £2,300 for ten-days' quarantine in a bog-standard hotel. So, I'm having to plan my route back to the UK through countries that accept non-EU vaccination certificates and allow me to quarantine and test either in a hotel or at a friend's house. It's exhausting, but I really need a break, and Christmas with family is sounding mighty good right now.

The other major hassle has been finding a house sitter. One of my cats has asthma and needs medication every couple of days, and the occasional emergency injection, so someone needs to be here. It's really hard to find house sitters in times of COVID, but then I stumbled upon a lovely site called Nomador. Within a couple of hours I got a message from this lovely American lady who is trying to get back to Kenya. She got locked out during COVID and wants to hang out in Kigali whilst she sorts her paperwork out. She's happy to house sit for a couple of months. So, things seem to be aligning well - hopefully not jinxing it by saying so. 

I am so ready.

Beautiful, clean room.

I'm currently doing a massive clean-out of my house. Got a pile of washing, but currently no water. But I'm taking it in my stride. Things that were driving me crazy last week now seem much more manageable. I still have to deal with the EBM department tomorrow to reinstall the software, but now that I know that I'm leaving, I think I'll be okay. Just breathe through it. I love my life in Rwanda, I love my home, my friends, how beautiful the country is, but customer service just isn't a thing. There's a famous Rwandan YouTuber called Theo, and he did two videos, one in 2016 and one in 2020, and nothing has changed with customer service. It's restaurants, shops, institutions, public services - and it's exhausting.

The despondency extends to e-mail, too. No one ever replies and there's no accountability. You spend your life chasing people to get the simplest stuff done. 

So, yeah, I need a break. I know these frustrations exist everywhere in the world, but it really is pronounced here.

In other news, I've been doing some editing of children's books for my friend's publishing company.

Simba has a 1,000 franc (70p) deal on English shortbread - so I've been living off that. I am now 90% shortbread and 10% glutinous rice flour (I've been experimenting with sweets on YouTube).

My shopping guy went out to buy 'cheese' the other day. Usually, cheese simply means 'gouda,' which is the standard Rwandan cheese. Instead, he came back with 'cheddar'! Rwandan-made cheddar. It's exceedingly mild, looks more like red gouda, but it does taste slightly different, and that's a win. Goes much better on a baked spud than the other stuff, so I'll be buying that from now on. 

Found a bottle of wine named after my aunt. It was fizzy and good.

My cats have learned to levitate and do yoga.

How does he sit like that?

How does she sleep like that?

Even before my computer crashed, Windows was a pain in my butt. I've formatted two old laptops and devoted them to backup storage. Let's just say it took a while...

So, that's pretty much what's been going on lately. Just as I am preparing to leave, I got a call from the French Institute today, looking for a piano tuner for their grand ahead of a concert at the end of October. Although it feels almost inconceivable, I hope to be on a plane by then, so can't do it. But I have been training up a piano apprentice lately. A really talented guy called Ndoli - amazing pianist. So, hopefully he can help them. 

Just signing off here with a fundraising appeal for the local animal shelter in Kigali, WAG. These guys do fantastic work and have helped me out many times. Their manager helped save Sen's life (my cat with asthma) many years ago, when we had to rescue her from a really awful situation. They really do devote their lives to helping feral and abandoned animals in Rwanda. Anything you can give is appreciated.