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!

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The *Stella Express* to Nakumatt!
September 25, 2010

I have timetabled visits to both my schools twice per week; Nyamateke (Mon/Weds) & Nyabitare (Tues/Thurs). I intend to use Friday as an admin day to write-up reports and plan for the week ahead. This can be done either at the Nyakarambi District Office , where we have one VSO designated desk between three of us plus intermittent access to mains electricity and unreliable wireless internet, or at home.

The latter is the more comfortable option, but we have told to show our faces in the office from time to time so that our ‘boss’ Telesphore, the district education officer, knows we are round and about and putting the hours in.    

Occasional Fridays can also be used to travel into Kigali to carry out any necessary business at the VSO office which unfortunately doesn’t operate at weekends. This can prove quite difficult for volunteers who are placed in the furthest extremities of the country.

Dorothy is having her ‘leaving do’ at Zaaffrans, an Indian restaurant in Kigali, this Saturday evening. The Kirehe district ‘new recruits’ have all been invited, so having accepted I decided to make a weekend of it.

I secured a pre-booked ticket for the Stella Express bus service, ‘scheduled’ departure from Nyakarambi at 10.00 am. As I walked up into town I became aware that after just two weeks my face is becoming an accepted part of the local scene.

Groups of youngsters, rather than standing and staring, now call out, ‘Good morning, how are you?’ and ask, ‘Where are you going?’  When I reached the town centre a couple of local businessmen we have come to know, Nasim and Innocent, hailed me, ‘Phillip!’, stepped from their doorways and shook me by the hand.

I’m known as Phillip here as, apparently, Phil is a difficult concept. The whole meeting and greeting process is a very important part of Rwandan street culture and I quite enjoy it.

The Stella Express was running 30 minutes late (not too bad). I was travelling with John and we managed to draw quite a crowd of onlookers as we awaiting its arrival.  A young lad went out of his way to be helpful, scrutinising our tickets before scuttling  into the ‘ticket office’ to ensure that our bus was indeed due and that it was on its way.  

Two and a half hours wedged in like sardines, sitting on top of the wheel arch, knees tucked under my chin and cradling a rucksack and laptop was not the greatest travel experience I’ve ever had but that’s how it is here and it did only cost 2000 RWF (£2.00)!

We scrambled out at Chez Lando, a short walk from the VSO office and arrived during the lunch break, so it took and hour or so of hanging around to complete our business. We had come in search of copies of our contracts which are held in the office but needed in Nyakarambi to secure a green card, which is proving a bit of a mission!  I also needed to submit a claim for my recent moto expenses.

Next stop was the Traveller Cafe a down town balconied establishment perched above the street, across from the Kigali Tower (under construction), where it is enjoyable to sit and watch the world go by. We treated our selves to omletti fromage n’ifiriti  washed down with a much-needed Primus iconje (chilled).

Omlettes can be a welcome change from the routine melanje and goat kebabs. This one was served as expected i.e. an omelette topped with cheese and a side order of chips but back in Nyakarambi it is an all together different experience. The chips actually come inside the omelette mixed with a selection of vegetables from the daily melanje and a few chunks of goat meat as a chewy bonus!   

After checking in at the Isimbi Hotel , a fairly central, clean basic room with a mosquito net and shower (21,000 RWF per night) I set off in search of the BCR Bank. Having negotiated the armed guards, there are soldiers in camouflaged uniforms and Rwanda Police (literally boys in blue) toting guns on ever street corner, I managed to cash my first VSO pay cheque.      

Having resolved my cash flow problem I set off post-haste for the air-conditioned Union Trade Centre shopping mall and the prestigious Nakamatt, ‘You need it, we’ve got it’, 24 hr store. It belongs to a Kenyan chain and is the best stocked retail outlet in Rwanda. Urban legend has it that ex-pats wept for joy when it opened!

I was sparing with my new-found wealth but indulged myself in a few treats to keep me going until my next visit. A tube of Colgate toothpaste, a Rwandan Gouda cheese, a large packet of cashew nuts, and a jar of peanut butter and large bottle of water came to 7,870 RWF.

I was sorely tempted but balked at breaking the bank for the taste of Marmite at 6200 RWF for a 125g jar!