Archive for November, 2010

Sven’s men got me singin’ the blues
November 30, 2010

My final week out here in Rwanda is turning out to be another quite slow affair. Moto excursions, to monitor the REAP English training for teachers, have been put on hold due to issues regarding the funding of travel expenses so I’m stuck in Nyakarambi, mainly working from home, with the odd stroll up the hill to the District Office for a bit of exercise!

I’ve actually just returned from a session discussing my VSO reference with the District Education Officer, Telesphore, having eventually pinned him down for half an hour and amazingly without any distractions from his mobile.        

The mobile phone culture out here is crazy. Incoming calls take precedence over anything and everything so if you’re in the middle of a conversation with somebody and their phone goes you’re just left standing there, mid sentence with your mouth gaping open, while they wander off and take the call. If you’re lucky they might return – that’s if they remember! It’s very frustrating and to us seems very rude, but not so to them.

Anyway all of my final reports have now been completed and submitted so I’m not quite sure how I’ll be occupying my work time for the rest of the week. My leisure time, however, is pretty much spoken for.

Tomorrow evening I’ve been invited over to Kibungo for a farewell pasta dish with Cathy and Louise and on Thursday I’m hosting a brochettes and beer evening at KMC as a  ‘thank you and goodbye’ to those I’ve got to know most closely over the last three months.  

My day hardly got off to the brightest start, having logged on first thing to find Sven’s Leicester team had stuck one over Forest in last night’s local derby at the Walkers Stadium. Apparently, according to Billy, we just didn’t compete and if it hadn’t been for a fine goalkeeping performance from Lee Camp the score might have been embarrassing.

I have to admit I thought it was a nice touch when Sven, who of course has both England and Notts County on his cv, remarked in his post match interview that perhaps he had made a few Magpies fans happy!    

Forest considered it too soon for either of their new loan signings, Aaron Ramsey and Marcus Tudgay, to start the game but I guess they’ll be taking a bow at home against Bristol City on Saturday. I wonder what the chances are of picking up the score in Addis Ababa airport!

  

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FC at UTC and breakfast with the Lion King
November 29, 2010

On Saturday, with December still a few days hence, I unexpectedly had my first encounter with Christmas at the sparkling UTC (United Trade Centre) shopping mall, home to the 24 hr Nakumatt super store, part of a Kenyan chain, which essentially serves Kigali’s expat community.   

The Nakumatt logo is an African elephant and to underline the point a large but undistinguished model stands guard outside the entrance to the store. It has now been joined   by two robotic Santas issuing jovial yuletide greetings as they rock backwards and forwards to the rhythm of a Bing Crosby sound alike version of Jingle Bells!

The Christmas welcome is completed by a somewhat tawdry looking artificial Christmas tree ordained with a few under inflated balloons and limp crepe paper decorations. In summary, nice try but no cigar!

Anyhow, having attended to a shopping list of luxury items such as Rwandan gouda, peanut butter and tinned sardines I returned to the Isimbi and settled down to watch the live Premiership action with a chilled Tusker beer (another elephant logo!) and a packet of Bellini Croustilles.

It turned out to be something of a goal-fest with Arsenal hanging on for a 4-2 away win at Villa Park, after looking like they were going to throw a comfortable lead away again, and a Man U demolition of Big Sam Allardyce’s Blackburn by 7-1, in which Dimitar Berbatov equalled the Premiership record of five goals in a game!     

Elsewhere in the sporting world Glawster dogged it out against Saracens to maintain their lofty fourth place position in the Rugby Premiership whilst Martin Johnsons’ resurgent national team received a reality check from the Springboks at Twickenham, but  down at the Gabba England’s cricketers were embarking on what would turn out to be an improbable recovery*.     

On Sunday morning I was woken by the familiar call to prayer at the nearby Kigali mosque  closely followed by choral harmony from its Christian neighbours. CNN was headlining ‘war games’ in Korea, a cargo plane crash in Karachi and winter wonderland scenes from across Europe. It seems back home everyone is bracing themselves for the earliest significant snowfall since November ’93!

Enough of that, it was pleasantly warm and the sun was shining as I set off for my final breakfast in Kigali, a tomato and avocado croissant with a large Americano, in the Simba café ,  Nakumatt’s only serious rival, which interestingly seems to be favoured as much by the black middle class as well as expats.

Simba, as the name suggests carries a lion’s head logo and the store is guarded at pavement level by two concrete felines whose design features, although scaled down, owe a lot to Landseer’s lions in Trafalgar Square. ‘Paw prints’ with the slogan ‘make your mark’ are set into the steps that lead into Simba’s dimly lit den.    

Some time later as I stood at the International bus depot, taking in the sights and sounds of Rwanda’s bustling capital for one last time, watched over by the circling kites and a low flying pelican, I marvelled at the speed with which the Kigali Tower centrepiece has been erected over the last three months and reflected that this young, clean, safe and upwardly mobile city has made great strides in the last fourteen years and is well on the way to fulfilling Paul Kagame’s vision of a hi-tech hub for the continent of Africa.

*The first glad tidings  I heard from the World Service this morning was ‘mission accomplished’; an astonishing Ashes comeback with Alistair Cook and Jonathon Trott breaking batting records left right and centre!    

Tying Up Loose Ends…(150 up!)
November 27, 2010

I’m spending my final weekend in Kigali.

Yesterday morning I caught the 07.30 International Express  from Nyakarambi and at 10.15 I arrived at the VSO office. Two hours later I left, having completed my ‘exit interview’, claimed my final expenses and said my ‘goodbyes’ to the office staff.

Down town I called in at the Ethiopian Airlines office to confirm my flights for next Saturday. All sorted but I can’t say I’m looking forward to kicking my heels for six hours in Addis Ababa airport before boarding the 02.00 flight to Heathrow!

Earlier in the week, back in Nyakarambi,  I had met up with Msafiri bemoaning Arsenal’s mid week defeat in Europe. He also confirmed that he has acquired a vehicle to transport  me to the airport next Saturday morning.  I think he is going to drive me there, which is a really nice gesture, considering it’s a six-hour round trip and Saturday is a busy day for trade!    

I was delighted to log on last night and find that Forest have pulled off two superb loan signings, Marcus Tudgay, a decent striker from Sheffield Wednesday, and Aaron Ramsey, an exciting and precocious midfield talent from Arsenal. Ramsey is recovering from a nine month lay off following a very nasty injury but hopefully during the eight matches, he is available for, he will help Forest cement a place in the top six of the Championship.

It’s less good news for Dexter Blackstock, a striker who I have a lot of time for, who will be out for twelve months following his injury in the latter stages of our win at Cardiff. At least the ‘acquisitions panel’ have moved quickly to replace him.

It’s less good news on the ‘Ashes’ front where England might struggle to come away with a draw from the First Test, down under. The pre series hype was never going to favour them. We don’t wear the ‘favourites’ tag very easily and the Aussies were never going to roll over despite what the media wrote.   

Hopefully things will turn around, as one of the things I’m  looking forward to on my return  is a few late night/early morning sessions of play courtesy of Sky Sports.

There was a rather surreal feeling this morning, sitting in my T-shirt sipping coffee in the ‘Isimbi’ bar as CNN announced severe weather and snow alerts across the UK. As long as it doesn’t interfere with flights I don’t mind, but below freezing temperatures will come as a bit of a shock.

It’s umuganda today so I’m confined to the hotel this morning, hence the opportunity to update the blog, at some length!  According to the stats this is my 150th posting, which is quite amazing. I have to admit I have rather surprised myself at managing to keep it going for that long.

Given this landmark posting and the weather conditions back home perhaps I should have followed the time-honoured Dandy and Beano format of coating the title font with snow and wishing all my readers a somewhat premature Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Anyhow I think at least celebratory lunchtime drink is called for. It’s warm and bright here in Kigali, the bars are opening up now and I think I’s better make the most of it!

Andrew the story teller (they call him the ‘Wandera’) & Alexis’ Corner (Part 2)…..
November 27, 2010

Last week all teachers, supposedly, were involved in the first week of a nationwide four-week training programme in English.

I spent the early part of the week assisting Andrew, course trainer at Nyabitare School. He is a well qualified Ugandan with a BA and Masters in English Language and Literature. He is hoping to be sponsored to study for a PhD in the States next year, possibly at Harvard.

His family home is on the Ugandan border with Kenya although he teaches at a secondary boarding school and lectures at the university in the capital city of Kampala.

Like so many people I have met he has a whole series of interesting anecdotes to share. Part of his name is ‘Wandera’ which apparently refers to the umbilical cord being wrapped around his neck.  He pointed out that many Ugandans are named after the circumstances of their birth.

Andrew is a young man with a passion for literature, a thirst for knowledge and a desire to better himself through hard work. Interestingly, one of the books his students have been studying  with him is ‘The Last King of Scotland’. We talked about the film version and Forest Whitaker’s portrayal of ‘Idi’ which he thought was very good although he maintains the storyline was over embellished!  

He is another devout Christian who for some time was destined for the priesthood. He is committed to supporting his family and as early as ten years old he contributed to the ‘pot’ by smuggling goods across the border from Uganda into Kenya. On one occasion in the dark of night he was pursued and tripped over, catching himself on a wire which cut his chest open.

He still carries the scars along with other more recent additions following a recent near fatal car crash in Kampala, when his ‘automatic’ failed to respond and he rolled it over, and also after falling from the back of a ‘moto’ when the road ahead dramatically subsided following a rainstorm. I told him he’s not the sort of guy I would like to have as a fellow passenger on an air flight!        

…………………………………………………………………………………..

On Thursday the District Office asked me to go out to the more distant Mpanga Sector to report the training at Kankobwa School. This was actually a timely break from the tedium that was beginning to settle in after three days of ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’, and the like, at  Nyabitare School.

It’s some time since I last rode pillion to Alex. He greeted me with his usual broad grin and a slap on the back. It was then that I made the mistake of asking how long it would take to our destination. ‘Forty minutes’, was the prompt response and we set off in a cloud of dust, at a rate of knots.

It’s funny how you get used to your ‘moto’ driver. Recently I’ve been with Daniel who I have to say drives in a relatively sedate fashion, carefully picking his lines and avoiding too many bumps along the way.

Although I feel perfectly safe with both, Alex is more of a speed merchant and goes for the roller coaster approach! Ten minutes in, he looked over his shoulder and pointed into the distance informing me that, ‘Kankobwa is at the top of that mountain’. Technically it might not have been a mountain but it was a hell of a steep, near vertical,  ascent.

Once on the top we made up for lost time. As we glided to a halt in the school playground and I dismounted in rather shaky fashion, Alex was grinning again and proudly pointing to his watch while announcing, ‘Forty minutes!’

On the return journey we unexpectedly drew to a halt outside Alex’s home. I had been an honoured guest some weeks ago and I hadn’t anticipated another invitation.

‘Welcome to my home,’ he announced, grabbing my backpack and crash helmet, before leading me down the slope, where a piping hot pan of rice with fish sauce was waiting on the table. I was provided with a bottle of Primus and Alex drank Fanta Coca, informing me that now he has a wife and children he no longer drinks beer.

We talked a little more about his fourteen years in the RPF, under Paul Kagame, where he made his way up from boy soldier to the rank of sergeant. After, he took me to meet the extended family, mother, father and sister-in-law, and to check up on his cows. According to his graphic mime the mother is yielding copious amounts of milk.

Alex proudly announced he is now the head of a five cow family, three at home and two grazing up in the hills.  He led me across to a small rondawel with thatched roof, home to his latest arrival a still small black calf. ‘It is a girl,’ he told me with another huge grin.     

With that we were back on the road for the final part of an eventful and memorable journey.         

North London ‘derby’ in Nyakarambi!
November 21, 2010

We have been promising ourselves a Saturday afternoon visit to KMC to watch a match on Msafiri’s big screen. Given that this weekend we were at a loose end in Nyakarambi and that Mark is a ‘Gooner’, the North London ‘derby’ seemed an obvious call.

Sod’s law decreed that this would, of course, be the Saturday afternoon that Msafiri had let his function room for a wedding party, so no football. Fortunately, however somebody else with an eye for the main chance had set up a 26 inch TV in a back room behind Uncle Innocent’s café.

We dutifully paid 200RWF entrance fee and took our place on wooden bench, hemmed in by about seventy football mad locals, and with a distant view of the small screen. About 75% of the crowd were Arsenal ‘fans’ and the rest were cheering on Spurs because they were followers of Chelsea or Man Utd.

The first half was a cake walk for Arsene’s team and the camera even caught him smiling. Perhaps it was too easy, because the second half saw an amazing turn around and Harry’s Spurs surprisingly found themselves 3-2 winners,  without really playing that well. A ‘game of two halves,’ if ever there was, and  Arsene was finally shown throwing his water bottle on to the ground in frustration!

To be honest all five goals were the product of dubious defending and who knows what Cesc Fabregas was thinking of when he stuck up an arm to let Spurs back in with an equalising penalty which provided, an out of condition, Rafael Van der Waart with his one and only meaningful contribution  to the game.

Game over and we repaired to the ‘front terrace’ of KMC to drown Mark’s sorrows and catch the dying embers of the day. As we watched the wedding guests, dressed in their finery, come and go we were soon joined by Msafiri sporting his ‘Tora Paul Kagame’ T-shirt and a long face. He is also a Gunners fan and had been watching the game up in his room.

Msafiri has taken to wearing a range of PK leisure wear since last Sunday when he attended a FPR meeting addressed by a local MP who apparently robustly refuted the findings of the recent controversial UN enquiry.  

Msafiri maintains he has never been into politics too much but understands the current standing and popularity of PK and, being rather astute, he clearly recognises that nailing his colours to the mast can’t be all together bad for business.     

He has been very friendly and helpful to us since we moved to Nyakarambi and is a bit of a local Mr Fixit. I had set him the mission of trying to find someone local who might be prepared to transport me and my luggage to Kigali Airport in two weeks time, at a decent rate, so I don’t have to struggle with it on the bus.

It seems he might have come up trumps and in typical African style, with a big smile on his face he declared that he could confirm arrangements two days before I’m due to leave. My response that I needed to know at least a week before leaving was met with another big grin and a, ‘Don’t worry Phillip I won’t let you down!’ Past experience suggests he won’t so I’ll just relax and go with the flow.          

On arriving home a  quick trawl on the internet soon put  the North London ‘derby’  into perspective. The result of the day was obviously down in Cardiff where Billy’s Boys beat the table toppers 2-0 to move the Tricky Trees into the top six of the Championship!

Mutesi’s World
November 21, 2010

‘Well I came upon a child of God, she was walking along the road, I asked her where she was going and this she told me………..’

Her name was Mutesi and she scribed it in the red earth with a stick to make sure I had got it. Mutesi was about nine years old, wore an easy smile and spoke a little English. She was carrying a small yellow plastic water container along the ‘road’ to Mushikiri.

Having seen my camera Mutesi was quick to ask for a ‘photori’. She struck a bashful pose and was clearly pleased with the end result as she stared at the display on the back of my camera.

Thereafter she walked beside me as we passed the simple clay built homes, many of them freshly rein this way for about an hour gradually attracting a number of adults, intrigued to see what all the fuss was about as their children giggled and pointed at their digital images.

Normally reticent people were suddenly lining up to have their photographs taken; a group of old men sitting with their sticks and chewing the fat in the shade of a tree, a young mother proudly showing off her one month old baby, a family group selling sweet potatoes by the roadside, a woman up to her arm pits in a bucket of mud for rendering the house, and women bearing huge loads on their heads.

The Rwandan people aren’t naturally ‘smiley’ but a bright and breezy, ‘Mwaramutse, amakuru?’ is usually rewarded with the response , ‘Ni meza!’ accompanied by a thawing of the features.

Similarly even those who consent to having their photograph taken are very wary and either stare blankly into the lens or avert their eyes. It was therefore really surprising and rewarding that so many people responded so positively to having a camera lens intrude into their lives and with a bit of encouragement most of them even smiled.

One lady, clutching a lovely pair of mangoes, posed for me in a resolutely dead-pan way but when I said, ‘Show me your teeth!’ she let out a huge guffaw, her head rocked back, face illuminated and mouth opened to display the lovely gap toothed smile that I was after.

My chance meeting with Mutesi had opened the door on to her world and provided a rare opportunity to capture her people going about their daily business.

‘We are star-dust, we are golden and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden………’

(Woodstock lyrics courtesy of Joni Mitchell)

Mützig and jambo with the lads!
November 17, 2010

Today was my final visit to Nyamateke School, to lead a training session on Classroom Observation, although I will be seeing the teachers again when they join with the staff at Nyabitare next week to start a four-week MINEDUC national English training programme for teachers. 

Sadly Wellars, the Headteacher, was not present today. One of his five children, a son, has gone down with malaria and he needed to take him to hospital for treatment. Fortunately, I understand it is not too serious.

Malaria is still rife and a big killer out here and we have recently received an email alert from VSO warning us that an unusually warm wet season has led to an increase in mosquitoes and reminding us to keep taking the tablets and bed down under our nets.

In Wellars’ absence Anaclet, a young teacher with good English, had been briefed to look after me and he was insistent that the headmaster had said he must take me for ‘refreshment’ after the session to thank me for my work.

Before we set off down the hill to the local ‘bar’ I lined all the teachers up for a group photograph outside the school and promised I would send them a copy on my return to England.

Six of us squeezed into the small, dim room with its rustic furniture and coloured poster of a smiling Shakira, adorning the wall. Things had gone full circle as this is where I had been treated to ‘Fanta Coca’ on my very first visit to the school.

This time around we were on the beer – well it is the school holidays! Once the bottle tops had been removed Xavier, ‘a good Christian’ according to Anaclet, said ‘grace’ in Kinyarwanda. Xavier later told me he had given thanks for the work I had done with them and asked God to be with me when I return to England – very touching!

Next I was told I had to partake of ‘jambo’ for lunch. Jambo turned out to be a tin of sardines with the brand name ‘Hello’. The barman cut open the small cylindrical can with a large machete and we all sat scooping the fish out with a fork before slurping down the remains of the tomato sauce!

As is often the case the best conversations are those over a shared beer and we touched on a whole number of varied but interesting topics. We somehow got on to university fees. All of my drinking companions were still in their twenties and keen to continue in part-time higher education.

Apparently a part-time university course costs around 450,000 RWF (£450) a year plus travelling expenses every weekend. It may not seem excessive to us but is prohibitive for many of them.

I tried to explain the English student loan system. Their faces displayed instant recognition and I was told the same set up had recently been adopted by Rwanda. All was made clear as they informed me that Paul Kagame is very close friends with an English adviser, Tony Blair!

Cows are never far away from the thoughts or conversation of Rwandans. They still can’t comprehend that we don’t keep cows as domestic animals in the UK!

It was explained to me that each year one teacher from each sector is nominated by his colleagues to receive a cow for his services to education. Last year in Nyarabuye sector it was, Seraphin, one of the Nyamateke teachers who received a Friesian cow from Paul Kagame (not Ankole!).

Ankole cattle with their enormous horns, whilst well adapted to East Africa and able to survive on limited water and poor grazing, are short on milk. Friesians which produce far more milk are gradually being introduced. Unfortunately Seraphin’s cow had not lasted long but he had been promised a replacement.

Anaclet had phoned my moto driver and rescheduled him to pick me up from the ‘bar’ not the school (a good advert for VSO volunteers!) and it was with some regret that I had to depart the scene so soon. I’m sure it is enjoyable interludes such as this that will remain with me for a long time when I return to the UK.

A severe dose of ‘man flu’…………..
November 15, 2010

Apologies to my ‘regulars’ for the lack of postings over the last week or so, principally the result of a severe bout of ‘man flu’ which I’ve managed to recover from with the help of an emergency cache of paracetamol, Strepsils and Lemsip which Dorothy had stashed away before her departure and for which I was very grateful.  

A moto-ride to O Sole Luna

Following my whistle-stop tour of the Volcanoes National Park and Lake Kivu I returned to Kigali and met up with my VSO colleagues who had been toiling through another week of in-country training.

I was running a bit late when I left the Hotel Isimbi and immediately realised that I had not allowed for the Friday night rush hour in the capital city. I decided to forget the matutu (mini-bus taxi) and take a moto. It was quite an exhilarating experience (one I wouldn’t even have considered when I first arrived here)  as we bobbed and weaved through queues of traffic, surging between the static rows, with a hair’s breadth to spare, in order to take pole position at the traffic lights.    

I made the rendezvous with time to spare and we enjoyed a really pleasant evening at a highly recommended Italian restaurant on the edge of Remera, called O Sole Luna, which provided stunning views from its terrace across the twinkling lights of Kigali (no power-cut that night) and more importantly a genuine wood fired pizza oven!

Service was a bit on the slow side, which is pretty standard anywhere – time is not considered important here, but well worth waiting for. My four cheese pizza even had genuine chunks of brie and gorgonzola!

At the end of the evening it was time for hugs and fond farewells with a number of very nice people who I have come to know over the last ten weeks and who I will not see again before I return home. I wish them all the very best for the remainder of their long-term placements.     

A rising temperature but the show goes on!

By Sunday afternoon, and a three-hour bus journey courtesy of International, I arrived back at Nyakarambi with a rising temperature, sore throat and streaming nose. A throbbing head soon joined in and basically I felt pretty grim for the next three days.

Unfortunately it coincided with my first two scheduled workshops which I didn’t want to cancel so I dosed myself up and ploughed on regardless. I wouldn’t recommend facilitating a four-hour session on creating an effective classroom environment as the best remedy but I got through and lived to tell the tale.

It was rather disappointing, given the work I’d put into the preparation, that only 50% of the staff showed up at one school and about 75% at the other. It is the school holidays (for pupils) but I had been led to believe teachers were expected to attend any in-service training that was made available to them. I’m still not clear whether their contracts oblige them to put in an appearance. Clearly some of them think it’s optional or don’t fancy the idea of a muzungu droning on about raising standards for four hours!    

Going Postal in Kibungo & Caribbean curry

On Saturday I visited Kibungo in search of our nearest Iposita (post office). These are a rare commodity in Rwanda. This one, quite a walk from the centre of town, is the only place that sells stamps ‘locally’ and is the sole repository for incoming mail.

None of the properties in Nyakarambi and the surrounding villages has a postal address and there is no postal delivery service so if residents or schools wish to receive mail they need to set up a ‘post box’ in Kibungo.

Periodically they then have to make a bus journey clutching the key to their numbered box with its little yellow door situated outside the main post office building, which incidentally doesn’t strike me as being overly secure.

It’s been a ten week odyssey to find and purchase post cards, and then locate the post office in Kibungo, which of course was closed by the time I arrived.

Fortunately there are two young lady volunteers living in Kibungo who will post the cards for me later this week. Cathy and Louise also kindly offered to cook me a meal and put me up for the night in their ‘guest room’. So it wasn’t a wasted journey.

We had a pleasant time shopping in the local market where they both showed how their Kinyarwanda lessons are paying off as they enquired about prices and exchanged pleasantries with the stall holders who now recognise them as local regulars.

A very healthy, vegetable laden, Caribbean curry (due to the presence of fresh pineapple) and rice went down very well later on Saturday night, followed by a rare treat of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk (made under license in Kenya). On Sunday morning they also kindly rustled up pancakes for breakfast I left for home. I must have looked in need of a good feed. Thanks for looking after an old-timer girls!                   

This week I’ve got four consecutive days of workshops, two on lesson planning and two on classroom observation. I’m pleased to say things have started quite well with an improved turn out today.        

‘Salon de Coiffure’ – African Haircut Sir?
November 5, 2010

For some time I had been thinking that a haircut was in order. Although I don’t have much hair, it has a tendency to grow in all the wrong places and after two months away I was beginning to sport what my daughters lovingly refer to as the, ‘Coco the Clown look’ (second only to the Bobby Charlton comb over in the pantheon of baldy hairstyles!).

As I was making my way back through Kibuye ‘centre’ towards the Home St Jean my eyes were drawn to a rendered building, painted in a lively shade of turquoise, with a sign above the open doorway announcing that it was a ‘Salon de Coiffure’. To reinforce the message two men’s heads were portrayed sporting stylish African hair styles.   

I decided to take the plunge. My opening gambit was, “Do you cut muzungu hair?”  to which came the convincing reply, “Yego!” and I was asked to take a seat.

So there I sat, in small town Rwanda, staring into a mirror bedecked with fairy lights while posters of Arnie ‘the Terminator’, the Back Street Boys, Chelsea and Manchester United looked down at me from the walls. Well, they all had western hairstyles so surely it shouldn’t  prove too much of a problem. To make a point I pulled out my VSO card, which has a passport photograph, and showed it to the ‘hair stylist’  to give him some idea of the optimum length, before finally stressing, “Not African style!”  

He smiled and set to work. There was not a pair of scissors in sight.  The whole job was done with an old set of electric hair clippers, with copious amounts of talcum powder and purple methylated spirit applied to my scalp throughout the procedure!

Well, cutting to the bottom line, I won’t need to dash to the hair dresser again before Christmas. I’m trying to kid myself that I’ve got the Bruce Willis look but it’s probably nearer to the Mitchell brothers. Anyhow it’s better than Coco the Clown and what do you expect for 600RWF (60p)?

Jean-Claude – ‘Batman!’
November 5, 2010

There is a lovely circular walk which follows Kibuye’s one –way system and affords beautiful views across Lake Kivu.

As is always the case in Rwanda there is a never-ending stream of people walking at the side of the road. I always go out of my way to greet them in Kinyarwanda and in most cases they respond with a smile, pleased that a muzungu has made the effort to use their language.

However at Lake Kivu, an area that has received a lot of international aid, there seems to be an expectation, perhaps born of this, that muzungu equals money. I was regularly approached by children and women holding their hands out and saying, “Give me money/argent/ amafaranga,” (just to cover all bases!)

I was also approached, in a friendly and polite way, by a number of young men offering boat excursions on the lake. Given that it is low season, they are trying to scrape a living at the moment and eventually I relented and agreed a deal with Jean-Claude.

His wooden boat with a canopy and bench seating for 30 odd people was moored near the Golfe Eden Rock, an up market hotel where I’d stopped off for breakfast overlooking the lake. It had an outboard, oars in case of an emergency, and most importantly life jackets.

I agreed what I thought was a one hour  jaunt on the lake passing close to  two nearby islands; Napoleon’s Island, so named because its shape resembles his hat, and Amahoro (Peace Island).  I was the only passenger so 20,000 RWF (£20) for a personalised tour seemed a decent enough deal.

It was bright and pleasantly warm as we set course for Napoleon’s hat, which as is always the case was further than it looked. It was close on an hour by the time we arrived at the base of the island where to my surprise Jean-Claude tied up the boat and indicated that I should get off.

I had not been expecting to land on the island and could have done without the steep ascent towards its summit, clambering over rocks, following little more than a precipitous goat track. After climbing for half an hour or so, in what was now quite hot sunshine, we approached the top and Jean-Claude signalled for me to stop.

The reason for all this effort was revealed as he picked up a few large rocks and hurled them down into a wooded area clinging to the slope. Thousands of fruit bats ascended, forming a huge black cloud of fluttering wings against a bright blue sky.

Jean-Claude smiled and proudly announced, “Bats, you take photograph!”  After throwing a few more rocks to maximise the effect, we began to work our way back down towards the boat, which eventually spluttered into life,  and we set off across the short distance to Peace Island.

Again I wasn’t expecting to stop, but as JC cut the engine and we coasted towards a landing stage he informed me, “You can get everything here, Fanta, beer, whatever you like!”

After our exertions climbing Napoleon’s hat the sound of a beer was pretty tempting. I invited JC to join me in sitting under a parasol on a small stretch of sand where we were served from a timber built bar/restaurant by the owner, Augustine.  

Jean-Claude was largely French-speaking and his English was just enough to get by whereas Augustine prided himself on his English and was keen to impress. As we drank our Mützig (iconje cyane – very cold) I asked him if he could give me a definitive version of ‘cheers’ in Kinyarwanda.

He scuttled off and returned with a piece of green paper, torn from his receipt book, on which was carefully and boldly written : ‘Kubuzima bwanyu, A votre santé (French), Anjoy yourself.’    

As I was settling the bill Augustine proudly presented his visitors’ book and asked me to sign. I can assure you not too many Englishmen have penned an elegy to the Pleasure Island Beach Bar, in the middle of Lake Kivu!    

My one hour boat trip with Jean-Claude had now extended to a little over three hours and there was just time for one more adventure!

With the mooring spot at the Golfe Eden Rock within sight, but still several hundred yards distant, the outboard coughed its last –  we were out of fuel. I readied myself for paddling the rest of the way but fortunately there was enough current for us to slowly drift towards a couple of boats that were moored at a nearer part of the shoreline, where JC was handed a plastic container with enough fuel to get us safely ashore.