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!    

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‘High Noon’ at Nyakarambi & Glaws gun down Tigers in Kingsholm showdown!
October 31, 2010

Weekends are the quietest part of the week in Nyakarambi. On Saturday a number of businesses are closed because the owners are Seventh Day Adventists and similarly a lot are also closed on Sunday due to the call of church.  

This Saturday, being the final one of the month, was umuganda so it was even quieter than normal and I had to wait until 12.30 for the first Kigali bound bus of the day.

As I hauled my suitcase up the main street it did occur to me, not for the first time, how similar Nyakarambi is to those out posts of the old wild-west depicted in Hollywood movies.

As the midday sun bore down I had a sudden flash back to the Gary Cooper character in the classic western High Noon (which really shows my age!).

Shop fronts line the main street with their covered walkways, the Auberge Ikirezi does a good impression of a saloon bar, with its fair share of all day drinkers, while the moto drivers coral their machines in the shade of a tree at the edge of the town or cruise around, like latter-day cowboys. There are even, off stage sound effects, with the occasional long-horned steer lowing in the background.

In fact all that was missing, as I waited for the International ‘stage coach’ to pull in, was a piece of tumbleweed cart-wheeling along the road!

Meanwhile, back in the 21st century, it was a tight squeeze on the bus. My suitcase caused a bit of a problem and had to be wedged under a seat whilst I was show horned between a guy snoozing in a window seat and a sister of generous proportions who spread over most of  my seat as well as her own.

The sun soon dissolved into pouring rain and for three hair-raising hours the driver had one hand on the horn and the other clasping a mobile to his ear.

I knew Rwanda had joined the Commonwealth but I hadn’t realised they had switched to driving on the left hand side of the road, which is where we spent most of our time – swerving back to the right at the last-minute to avoid on coming traffic!     

Luckily the rain had abated by the time we reached Kigali and I was soon ensconced in the bar at my hotel of choice, the Isimbi  (where I’m becoming recognised as a bit of a regular) settling my nerves with a much-needed beer whilst watching a similarly edgy Gunners sneak a 1-0 win over the lowly Hammers at the Emirates.   

Game over and I went straight on-line to find that Forest’s recent recovery had stalled as they suffered a touch of the blues with a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Pompey, apparently conceding two soft goals and converting just one of 13 chances that came their way!

However in the ‘egg catching’ game Gloucester, who seem to be going from strength to strength, tweaked the Tiger’s tail, to steal the points with a last gasp try from Lesley ‘the Volcano’ Vanikolo.

This type of final flourish is usually reserved for the likes of Leicester, not Glaws, particularly in televised games, but this young Cherry & Whites side seems to have a bit more steel about them than last year and just maybe they might surprise a few people, come the end of the season!

News & Views from the UK
October 3, 2010

Thanks to all of you who have been keeping in touch either by email or posting messages on the blog. It is very much appreciated.

I did temporarily have an email virus so apologies to any of you who received unsolicited messages from my address advertising Viagra and the like! I seem to have resolved the problem now.

Although I have got regular internet access via the MTN dongle it can be terribly slow and it takes up most of my spare time accessing and responding to emails, keeping the blog up to date and keeping tabs on Forest and Gloucester.  

It’s a waste of time trying to get on the BBC website as it takes forever to download, so I’m feeling rather out of touch with regard to current affairs, which is rather frustrating.

I did receive a chatty email from Gem the other day informing me that Geeky (Ed Miliband ) had won the Labour leadership contest, surprised but pleased about that, and that the Pope’s visit had been annoyingly controversial, not surprised about that!

Gem also tells me she got the double page lead in last week’s Love It, plus a couple of smaller features inside – good girl, well done!

The tom toms were beating in deepest Rwanda with news of Gloucester’s 18-3 victory over Baarf at  ‘the Wreck’. Thanks for that Keith. I think that’s only their second league win there since the Rugby Premiership began and even better it was in front of the Sky cameras. I bet Stuart Barnes was full of praise for the Cherry and Whites! Interestingly no news from Solihull on this one, Steve!  

Forest continued their unbeaten run with an apparently hard-fought draw at Donny Rovers yesterday following their mid-week point at home to the Blades. I’m not quite sure where we currently stand in the Championship but if we could turn a few more draws into wins I’m sure we wouldn’t be too far off a top six place.       

Msafiri  tells me he’s showing Chelsea v Arsenal  this afternoon so I might settle myself down with a bottle of Primus in front of his giant screen.

Intore Dancers and Kimironko Market
September 12, 2010

VSO family dinner was arranged for Saturday evening. It provided an opportunity for the new recruits to meet serving volunteers already well into their placements.

There are currently 43 VSO volunteers in Rwanda and everyone enjoyed the evening. There was an extensive melanje and a bar, with two free drinks per volunteer!

However the highlight of the occasion was the performance of the Intore dancers. This type of traditional dancing stretches back centuries, before the arrival of the Europeans.

Selected young men at the royal court received a privileged education and choreographic training in order to entertain their master s and perform at special court occasions.    

The name intore means ‘best’, as only the best of them were chosen for this honour. Traditionally they performed warlike dances with spears (ikuma) and shields (ingabo). Both of these were on show last night.

Towards the end of the evening, after a few drinks, there was an opportunity for some enthusiastic audience participation!   

Today, Sunday, was a day off after a very intensive six days of training. An optional outing to Kimironko Market was on offer. We made our way by matatu (mini bus taxi) out past the Amahoro Stadium, scene of the presidential inauguration earlier this week, to this large covered market.

It was all very orderly with stalls set out in rank and file order, and well defined areas for meat (including live chickens), fish, vegetables, fruit, hardware, fabrics, handicrafts etc.

The locals were very friendly and it was an opportunity for us to put our Kinyrwanda lessons into practice by exchanging greetings and rehearsing the vocabulary for common fruit and vegetables.

Bananas (imineke) are very plentiful out here, as are Irish potatoes (ibirayi) and sweet potatoes (ikirayi). In fact the range, quality and quantity of the produce on sale was very high and the market was also very clean and tidy, in keeping with everything we have seen to date.  

Plastic bags are banned in Rwanda as part of their environmental policy and it has had the desired effect. On the last Saturday of every month, Rwandans are also expected to spend time doing jobs to help improve their community, such as litter picking, and general land and property maintenance work.

It has been overcast all day today, with regular sharp downpours. This afternoon I took a short walk around the local district taking some photographs and meeting a few locals! 

It was great to be able to log on first thing this morning and catch up with the football and rugby results. It seems Forest snatched a last gasp equaliser against Milwall, in a game they dominated (again). A win would be nice, any time soon!

Coincidently, I found out last night that the VSO country director, Mike, is also a Forest enthusiast!  

Gloucester nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in a game they had bossed from the early stages but they let Leeds Carnegie back into the game and had to rely on the last kick of the game by Nicky Robinson to see them home by one point!

Last of the Summer Wine!
September 4, 2010

It has been a last of the summer wine type of week all round. Glowing late summer days have been followed by chilly autumnal evenings and the nights are certainly drawing in. This year I will miss  ‘autumn days when the grass is jewelled…….’  in more ways than one!

This is the week that was:

The BBC series Last of the Summer Wine took its final bow  after an incredible run of 37 years and 31 series. To be honest, despite its endearing gentle northern humour and quirky characters, I felt its sell by date had passed some time ago but I do look back with some fondness on the early series with Foggy, Compo, Clegg and dear old Nora Batty.

Tony Blair was conveniently away on a journey to the States when his book of the same name became the fastest selling autobiography of all time. Mind you most outlets had it on sale at half price from the outset. Could that be because the proceeds are going to the British Legion not lining the pockets of the author?

I haven’t bought the book but having seen the newspaper coverage and listened to Mr Blair on a number of pre-recorded programmes I feel like I’ve read it!

In a nutshell, the reviews have concentrated on Blair’s difficult relationship with Gordon Brown , who he describes as ‘brilliant’  but lacking ‘emotional intelligence,’ and the  not unsurprising lack of an apology over the invasion of Iraq, despite his ‘anguish’ over the UK deaths in the war.

There has also been reference to Tony’s revelations that he turned to drink whilst in office and his apparent obsession with proving he is a red-blooded alpha male – too much information!      

With the return of the political hacks from their summer hols, Blair was quickly followed on to the front pages by Foreign Secretary William Hague, sporting a tight-fitting, long sleeved white T-shirt and baseball cap. This not a good look when your sexuality is being called into question!

Mr Hague has vigorously denied rumoured accusations, started by Guido Fawkes in his political blog, and claims he has never had a gay relationship. He then rather misguidedly, in my opinion, attempted to back up his defence with reference to several recent miscarriages by his wife Ffion.

I’m not sure what that has to do with anything! He might have done better to have kept his head down (and lost the baseball cap!)   

The tabloids have also been to work on Fabio Capello following his complaint that they had turned him from a god to a monster.

Big mistake Fabio, huge! He was immediately portrayed on several back pages as Frankenstein’s monster, an image (reminiscent of Turnip Taylor) that I’m afraid he will have to learn to live with!  

Never the less Fabio’s new look England team answered his and their critics, in the best possible way, with a 4–0 win over Bulgaria in last night’s Euro 2012 qualifying game.

Jermaine Defoe helped himself to a fine hat trick, Rooney began to find his feet again, Walcott injected the turn of speed that was missing in South Africa, Milner was at his industrious best and in Joe Hart we look to have found a secure keeper at long last.

The only disappointment was seeing Forest old boy Michael Dawson’s full international debut ending on a stretcher.     

The Premiership Rugby  season kicks off today. Gloucester have had a good pre-season beating two strong Welsh sides, the Scarlets and Ospreys, and narrowly losing at Munster.

World Cup winning England centre, Mike Tindall, has been named as captain and if he stays fit will have a big part to play in Gloucester’s continuing development. I’m quite optimistic about their chances of a top four place this season and hopefully they will get off to a flyer this afternoon, away at premiership newcomers Exeter.

Whilst the Pakistan spot fixing saga rumbled on Kevin Peterson, having been rested  from England’s forthcoming one day matches, had to make a public apology for venting his disappointment by tweeting an expletive!  

Meanwhile the Notts cricketers seem to be stumbling their way to the finishing line, having lost fairly emphatically to Durham yesterday. However they are still 22 points clear at the top of the County Championship with just two games to play. Hopefully, this will be their year and they can make the step up from being seemingly perpetual runners-up.

So, that was the week that was! My last in the UK for a while.

Last night there was an enjoyable  last supper, and last glass, at The Railway in the nearby village of Ripple. They do the best home-made fish and chips in the area!   

Thanks to all those who have sent cards, emailed, and called this week with best wishes. Next time you hear from me, internet permitting, will be from Rwanda.

I fly out  from Heathrow at 21.00 and hopefully should be met by a VSO representative in Kigali at mid-day tomorrow.  

It’s time to check my bags, take my malaria tablet, and enjoy a final piece of toast and Marmite before the great adventure begins. Murabeho!