Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

And so this was Christmas…
December 29, 2010

And so this was Christmas …

The festive season began with a blanket of snow and the mercury dipping as low as -12˚C over the Christmas weekend. There had been concerns that the weather might cause problems for those travelling to the Shire but thankfully not so.

During the last two days the Wintersmith has released his icy grip and overnight rain has all but erased the Christmas card backdrop against which the Yuletide festivities have been acted out.  

December 2010 may turn out to be the coldest since records began but comparisons with the long hard winters of ’46-’47 and ’62-’63 may have been a trifle premature – all will be revealed over the next few weeks.   

As always, I was pleased to find that Santa had left me a couple of books beneath the Christmas tree:

The Shadow of the Sun, by Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski, has been hailed the greatest modern work on Africa and a dazzling literary masterpiece. It contains the correspondent’s work covering a forty-year period, following his first visit to the Dark Continent in 1957, and was first published in English in 2001.

I have already dipped into it. The author has the easy style of an accomplished story-teller coupled with a reporter’s eye for detail.  His evocative writing will resonate with anybody who has spent time in Africa.            

For obvious reasons I was immediately drawn to the piece entitled A Lecture on Rwanda. In seventeen pages Kapuscinski manages to distil the historical complexities of the Rwandan crisis, leading up to and including the genocide, in an account that provides greater clarity than any I have previously read.     

Duncan Hamilton was a Nottingham sports journalist. Last Christmas I received his first book, Provided You Don’t Kiss Me: 20 Years with Brian Clough, an honest, sensitive and extremely personal biography of the great man.

This year I was delighted to get a copy of Hamilton’s authorised biography of another Nottinghamshire legend, and the world’s fastest bowler, Harold Larwood.

I’m already well into it and the author clearly deserved to pick up the 2009 William Hill Sports Book of the Year  award for his moving portrayal of the Nottinghamshire miner who later became synonymous with the controversial Bodyline bowling tactics used by England to nullify Donald Bradman and his Australian team mates in the 1932-3 Ashes series.  

England won the series 4-1 amidst a huge diplomatic row that threatened Anglo-Australian relations. Larwood, a working class national hero who had merely bowled in line with captain Douglas Jardine’s orders, was made the scapegoat. When requested,  by the MCC, to apologise he refused effectively bringing his international career to an end.

Ironically, Larwood later emigrated to Australia where he was welcomed, respected and held in high esteem for the rest of his days.         

I didn’t watch a great deal of TV over the holiday period but couldn’t miss the annual Christmas Day helping from the Royle Family. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with Christmas Specials, material that would have made a good thirty minute show was over stretched to fill an hour slot, compromising its overall quality.

Along with 10 million viewers nationwide, I also tuned in to the latest offering from Mat Lucas and David Walliams, Come Fly With Me. I found this spoof documentary, set in an airport, mildly amusing but probably less so than the antics portrayed in the Airport series about actual day-to-day life at Heathrow.

Lucas and Walliams have been criticised in the media for their use of racial stereotypes. The blacked up faces and accents were certainly a throw back to 1970’s comic offerings such as It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and Mind Your Language.  However I didn’t consider the humour racist, simply a little dated, and I certainly don’t think it warrants a six part series.   

Another Christmas TV highlight had to be the business minister, Vince Cable, temporarily putting his and the coalition government’s problems to one side for a moment, and taking time out to show some nifty footwork dancing a lively Foxtrot with  the lovely Erin Boag, in the Christmas celebrity edition of Strictly Come Dancing.  Well you have to get your priorities right!    

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I crawled out of bed on Boxing Day morning to catch the latter stages of the first day’s play in the 4th Ashes Test in Melbourne.  Australia had been dismissed for a meagre 98 and England were already fifty or so ahead, without loss, in their first innings.

I had been expecting a buoyant Australia, after their recent victory in Perth, to push England really hard for the rest of the series but they have fallen apart. England are now so firmly in the ascendancy again, barring an act of God, they should wrap up a four-day innings victory, and retain the Ashes, some time in the early hours of  tomorrow.   

Jonathon Trott seems to love playing the old enemy, having followed up his match winning century, on debut, at the Oval in 2009 with two more in this series. But, at the highest level, there are fine margins between success and failure.

Trott threw himself full length to avoid being run out, by Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting, when he had scored only 46 of his eventual 168 not out. Another wicket at that stage might have brought Australia right back into the game.

‘Punter’ of course, is having a nightmare series with the bat and is about to become the first ever Aussie captain to lead his side to three Ashes series defeats.

He has been a great player and competitor throughout his career and his current frustration is understandable but his behaviour towards the on field umpires, following an unsuccessful referral, was totally out of order. He was extremely lucky not to receive a ban from the next Test, in Sydney. But then again it’s quite likely to be his final game in the Baggy Green!

Finally, I would like to announce the arrival, at Orchard House, of Christmas Monkey.  He emerged from a seasonal package of PG tea bags  on Christmas morning  and we are now a two monkey family. 

A Monkey is not just for Christmas!

Advertisements

The Wintersmith takes grip in the Shire
December 20, 2010

The Wintersmith has well and truly taken a grip in the Shire, with an overnight temperature of minus 19˚C recorded in Pershore during the weekend.

Yesterday, as I trudged across the blanketed  fields down by the river, I half expected to catch sight of the Nac Mac Feegles,  with their  angry blue faces emerging from beneath the big snow, grumbling “Ach crivens!” and  “Oh waily, waily, waily!” .

All of which will mean absolutely nothing to you unless you are au fait with the wonderful Wee Free Men from Terry Pratchett’s stories of Discworld!

As I made my way via the footbridge over the frozen marina and eventually skated along the treacherous footpaths of Upton to pick up a few essential supplies from So Near so Spar, I couldn’t help wondering what my African friends would have made of it all.

I also admit to feeling just a little envious of my VSO Rwanda colleagues, who anytime soon will be setting off for their Christmas break on the spice island of Zanzibar. Even their 36 hour coach journey from Kigali to Dar es Salaam suddenly seems quite appealing!  

Early on Saturday morning I had risen early and watched as England’s bid to wrap up the Ashes, as an early Christmas present for a nation embarking on a winter of discontent, had been derailed down in Perth. It was bizarre watching the players toiling in temperatures of around 30˚C while snow flakes tumbled down outside the window.

It was never likely to happen for England at Perth, given England’s poor track at the WACA, and once a paper like the Guardian (who should have known better) began to indulge in premature gloating, having variously described the leading Aussie fast bowler as shocking, awful, mediocre and a malfunctioning liability, then he was virtually guaranteed to come back with a vengeance!

Mitchell Johnson, in that kind of form, and particularly on that wicket, is capable of dismantling any team in the world. His match winning performance has certainly lifted the Aussies and revitalised the series.

Although there is less between the teams than appeared to be the case in the first two Tests I’m still confident England can do enough at Melbourne and Sydney to retain the urn and I look forward to spending the early hours of Boxing Day morning watching, wrapped up in my dressing gown with a hot water bottle, watching the opening throws of the next instalment.   

On Saturday afternoon I had intended to make my first visit to the City Ground since the end of August but cried off due to the icy road conditions and forecasts of further snow.

The match survived the freezing conditions and Forest, playing their first game in three weeks, secured a comfortable 3-0 win over Crystal Palace, with new signing Marcus Tudgay scoring a brilliant debut goal, lobbing the keeper from 30 yards out. Let’s hope there will be more to come and, weather permitting, that the Tricky Trees can get their promotion push back on track over the Christmas and New Year period.

I did manage to catch the Cherry & Whites on Sky TV last night. Despite sub-zero temperatures at Kingsholm the  Amlin Cup game against La Rochelle went ahead, but Gloucester will wish it hadn’t. I’m still not quite sure how they contrived to lose a game (18-24) where they enjoyed 75% possession and territory.

Unfortunately their lack of precision at key moments lost them the game and  puts paid to any hopes of European success this season. 

It was also a game the players were desperate to win as a tribute to club owner and motor sports legend, Tom Walkinshaw, who sadly lost his battle with cancer last week.

All eyes will now be turning towards the eagerly awaited Boxing Day Aviva League clash with high-flying Northampton Saints. An ideal opportunity to bounce back in front of a sell-out crowd.   

Saturday was also Chris’s birthday. Like me she has reached that stage where she is less than enthusiastic about celebrating the annual reminder that she isn’t getting any younger.

 But she was somewhat cheered to find that she has the same birthday as Brad Pitt. I was more impressed that she shares the date with Christina Aguilera!

The 18th December also marked the 67th birthday of Rolling Stone, Keith Richard. Unfortunately time has not been too kind to the oldest rocker in town, who looks about 87, but then again he’s packed a bit in.

It was also a year to the day of two famous retirements; Sir Terry Wogan’s and mine, both of us having spent a lifetime in the entertainment business!   

The last year has absolutely flown by, particularly with spending five months in Africa, and that old cliché of the newly retired, “I don’t know how I found time to go to work,”  has certainly been true in my case.

Saturday afternoon at ‘the Cottage’
December 15, 2010

It has been a busy week or so since returning from Rwanda. Over the last ten days I’ve caught up with family and friends in Bristol, Nottingham, London and Birmingham.

I spent the last weekend in London. This enabled me to visit Gem in Balham and catch up with her journalistic exploits. She has penned the lead article for the bumper Christmas issue of Love It!

It was also an opportunity to attend the annual Book Bus reunion, held at Adulis – an Eritrean restaurant in the Oval area, and meet up with the colleagues I worked with in Zambia during May.

In between morning coffee on the Balham High Road and an evening out on the Brixton Road I spent a chilly winter afternoon in the Johnny Haynes Stand, at Craven Cottage, watching the Premiership game between Fulham and Sunderland.

In truth it was a disappointing game (a nil –nil draw), so much so that the reporter in the Independent on Sunday awarded the man of the match award to referee Neil Swarbrick!

I have to say it did cross my mind that if  the level of play I saw on saw on Saturday was typical of that in the middle to lower reaches of the Premier League then perhaps the current Forest team wouldn’t be out-of-place should they gain promotion.   

I first visited Craven Cottage for the opening game of the 1976-7 season. It was a warm and sunny August day and Fulham were entertaining a Forest side in the old second division. It finished 2-2 and Forest’s scorers were the lively winger Terry Curran and old stager John O’Hare.

Little did I suspect at the time that this would be the first game of an incredible four-year period that would see Cloughie’s Forest team win promotion to the 1st division  followed by the league championship and back to back European Cups!

Craven Cottage is always a  joy to visit, even in the fading light of a grey December day. From Putney Bridge tube station there is a lovely walk through Bishops Park to the riverside stadium which has managed to successfully merge early 20th century architecture with 21st century amenities.

The Johnny Haynes stand, named after ‘the maestro’ – an elegant midfield player for England during the late 1950’s and early 60’s, still sports a classic gable, labelled Fulham Football Club, and my seat was an original of the wooden tip up variety.

The players still enter the pitch from the unique pavilion building, referred to as ‘the cottage,’ which stands in the corner of the ground between the Johnny Haynes Stand and the Putney End.

I have always had a soft spot for Fulham, a homely club in a fashionable part of London. When I first started to follow football they were permanently in the lower reaches of the 1st division. 

Their chairman was music hall comedian Tommy Trinder and the star player was the afore-mentioned Haynes.

There was also a promising attacking full back, George Cohen, who would go on to pick up a World Cup Winners medal.

Bobby Moore and George Best briefly illuminated the Craven Cottage pitch in the twilight of their careers, and Malcolm MacDonald began his goal scoring exploits on the bank of the Thames, but as the years passed by Fulham began a slow descent towards the basement of English football.

Fortunately for them, under the ownership of the Harrods boss Mohammed Al Fayed, they once more returned to the top-level, in 2001, where they have gradually re-established themselves over the last nine years.

Last year, under manager Roy Hodgson (now at Liverpool), Fulham enjoyed a fairy tale run in the Europa Cup reaching the final, in Hamburg, where they eventually lost to Atletico Madrid.  

Al Fayed was at the game on Saturday. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly and too many more performances like the one I witnessed could lead to current manager Mark ‘Sparky’ Hughes being shown the door.

Fulham are perilously close to the relegation places, only goal difference separating them from the bottom three, but I hope they will survive.

Hakuna Matata!
December 6, 2010

Last Friday evening was my last in Nyakarambi, my home for the last three months. It could only be spent at KMC especially as Msafiri had promised me one final ‘special omelette’ on the house.  

A week or so before I had been chewing the fat with him whilst sipping my Mützig and  somewhere along the way I had suggested a number of marketing strategies that I thought he could usefully introduce at KMC to increase his turn-over. He listened politely and thanked me for my input.

As  Mark, Abdel-Illah and I arrived on Friday I was amazed to find Msafiri had not hung around when it came to implementing the ideas we had recently discussed.

At the entrance my eyes were immediately drawn to a hand written notice proclaiming ‘Happy Hour’ prices! We were then shown to a single table laid up with a red and white gingham tablecloth and finally our drinks were served with a bowl of home roasted peanuts – bless him!

We all ordered special omelette, salad and chips and during the evening drank a couple of beers each. On asking for the bill we were told there was nothing to pay – a generous and much appreciated gesture.  

As promised, Msafiri did not let me down either when it came to my get away on Saturday morning. He turned up as planned with a car belonging to his friend Napoleon (a doctor from the local medical centre who not surprisingly could only speak French!).

Msafiri drove the Toyota saloon while Napoleon fed compilations of dodgy French pop songs into the CD player.  I sat in the back drinking in the passing Rwandan countryside for one last time. Three hours later we arrived at Kigali Airport and over a final coffee Msafiri and I exchanged email addresses.

I shook him warmly by the hand, thanking him for his hospitality at KMC over the last three months, his generosity the previous evening and for organising my airport transfer. Being a Tanzanian he replied as always, in his native Swahili, “Hakuna Matata” and as we parted he thanked me for being such a good customer and friend. I’m sure we will keep in touch.

Twenty eight hours after leaving Nyakarambi, including six hours between flights in Addis Ababa airport (at least I can say I’ve visited Ethiopia!) I touched down at LHR terminal 3. It was 07.30, an hour earlier than the arrival time printed on my e-ticket, which meant I was able to catch the 08.45 National Express coach to Cheltenham.

As I headed north a foggy, grey Sunday morning soon gave way to blue skies and a wintry English landscape bathed in sunshine. It was so different from the Rwanda I had left behind but it was home!

Chris and I were reunited at Cheltenham Spa coach station, thirteen weeks after saying our goodbyes at the same spot. By 11.45 I was back in the Shire and being welcomed home, quite unexpectedly, by Nicci who had travelled across from Oxford.

Sunday afternoon was largely spent catching up, by the warmth of an open fire while savouring the welcome taste of real ale, at our local ‘The Bluebell’. I couldn’t help thinking it was a million miles away from KMC and wondering what Msafiri would have made of it!     

Brochettes, beer and fond farewells
December 3, 2010

And so the end is near and yesterday evening I hosted a brochettes and beer evening at KMC. There were a dozen of us present; head teachers, teachers, moto drivers, members of the Nyakarambi business community and of course VSO colleagues.  

The invited people, I had worked particularly closely with or got to know well socially over the last three months. John and Mark kindly shared the cost of the evening with me and a great time was had by all. The Primus and Fanta flowed and there was a lively atmosphere as we all tucked in.

Given the short-term nature of my placement I was completely taken by surprise when the guests started to make a series of heart warming speeches of gratitude and Flora, the head of Nyabitare School, presented me with a lovely piece of imigongo art work and a traditionally crafted basket to take home for Chris.

During the evening Daniel, the moto driver who I have ridden with most of all, extended an invitation for me to visit his family at lunchtime today. He called to pick me up with Bonnet, his 16 month old daughter, perched in front of him on the bike and the three of set off on the short journey to their home.

I was introduced to Claudine, Daniel’s delightful wife, his elderly mother who lives nearby and four of his five children (three boys and two girls who range up to12 years old ) including Mujisha who is four and the spitting image of his father.

I was shown through into the back yard to meet the family cow, goats and hens whilst Claudine was serving up a huge plate of rice and beans.

The beans were fresh from the garden where Daniel tells me he also grows sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes and a range of other vegetables together with his banana plants, so the family are pretty self sufficient.    

Daniel, Claudine and I ate from a communal plate and were soon joined by Mujisha who helped himself to a few large spoonfuls of rice. I was provided with a bottle of Mützig while Daniel drank Primus.

Over the meal I learned a bit more of the family history. Daniel and Claudine were both born in neighbouring Burundi although Daniel’s father was from Rwanda. They also lived for some time across the border in Tanzania before relocating to Nyakarambi in 1994.

Daniel had previously traded in rice and flour but seven years a go he bought a bike and became a moto driver which he says provides him with a good living. He is doing well enough to be considering updating his moto, which is an Indian make, in the new-year.

There was just time for a family group photo outside the house before I took my final moto ride back home with Daniel and Bonnet.   

I have spent the afternoon packing. Late this afternoon I said my goodbyes to Claude our domestique and tonight I intend to take Msafiri up on his offer of one last special omelette on the house!

Tomorrow I set off for Kigali Airport at around 10.00 am. Msafiri informs me that the owner and driver of the vehicle will be Napoleon. I wonder if he’ll be playing Abba’s Greatest Hits in the CD player!

This will be my final posting from out of Africa and next time you here from I should hopefully be safely back in the Shire!

Pulp Fiction …… & non fiction!
December 2, 2010

Yesterday afternoon I made my final bus journey to Kibungo, forty minutes up the road, to say goodbye to Cathy and Louise, two young education volunteers who have become good friends during my time out here.

I actually first got to work with Cathy during the VSO pre departure training in Harborne Hall, back in July, so it was nice meet up again in Rwanda.

They seem to really enjoy cooking together as part of their daily routine and are very good at improvising dishes using the fresh produce readily available at Kibungo market. Last night they knocked up very tasty pasta with pesto and peppers dish accompanied with home-made garlic bread.

We even had the luxury of a bottle of cheap red Spanish plonk I had sourced from Simba at the weekend, actually the first drop of wine I’ve had in three months!    

Louise has a huge collection of movies stored on her portable hard drive so after the meal, following a bit of deliberation, we settled down around her laptop to watch Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.

It probably wasn’t a good choice given that Louise went ashen at the sight of a syringe and Cathy is pretty squeamish about bloodshed and violence, so between them they spent at least half the movie with their eyes averted!   

Talking of pulp fiction there has been plenty of opportunity for evening time reading, often by torch or candle light, in between power cuts!  I managed to cram four books into my luggage allowance and with a bit of self-discipline managed to eek them out until about a week ago.

I enjoyed them all: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – the final page turner in Stieg Larrson’s Millennium Trilogy,   the latest humorous diaries of Sue Townsend’s, now middle-aged,  Adrian Mole  – The Prostrate Years, a Jo Nesbo thriller – Redbreast, featuring Norwegian cop Harry Hole, and A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks with its cleverly interwoven and satirical storyline, set in contemporary London, having been  described as Dickensian in scope and style.  

With a lengthy return flight and six hours or so to kill in Addis Ababa on Saturday night I went in search of reading material while in Kigali last weekend. I wasn’t spoiled for choice but came up with a copy of William Boyd’s  A Good Man in Africa.

I’ve read a number of his books and remember listening to the author at a Cheltenham Literature Festival event some years ago, coming away with a signed copy of his latest novel at that time, the epic Any Human Heart . I saw recently in the online Guardian that a C4 adaptation, with the screenplay written by the author himself, is currently being screened back home.  

A Good Man  in Africa was Boyd’s debut novel, from way back in 1981, and it won him the Whitbread First Novel Award while he was still an English lecturer at Oxford.

I haven’t been able to resist dipping into it and have enjoyed what I’ve  limited myself to so far. It is set in the fictitious western Africa state of Kinjana  and its descriptive passages appear to draw heavily on the author’s early life out in Ghana and Nigeria.

They really struck a chord with me and in many ways encapsulate my own experiences of rural African life here in Rwanda’s Eastern Province.  

The humorous narrative surrounds the hapless Morgan Leafy, a member of the British High Commission, over weight, over sexed and seemingly over his head in political bribery. I look forward to seeing how it pans out.

Finally, on the non fiction front, I noticed Cathy and Louise have a copy of Long Way Down , the book of the TV travelogue featuring Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s motor bike journey to the southernmost point of Africa.  I managed to read the chapter on Rwanda, an episode I had missed on TV.  

It includes their mountain  gorilla trek in the Virungas, coffee at the Bourbon Cafe in Kigali and a meeting with Paul Kagame in his country residence above Lake Muhazi – all locations that I have mentioned in my postings! It’s well worth a read.

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!

  

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.