‘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.

‘Home St Jean’
November 5, 2010

For the last two nights I have been staying at the small town of Kibuye on the banks of Lake Kivu.

Kibuye is about half way down the eastern side of this ‘inland sea’ which runs for almost 100km along the Congolese border. It is the most easily accessible lakeside town from the capital city of Kigali, about three hours by mini-bus.

The first hour of the journey is relatively gentle but the two-hour stretch from Gitarama is something of a slalom course cutting through hillsides and teetering around precipitous valley sides. Despite that it is a well made and maintained road and a tribute to the engineering skills of the Chinese who built it.

When I arrived at the bus depot, looking a bit green about the gills as if I’d just come off a fairground waltzer, I was approached by a moto driver who was not at all phased by transporting my suitcase as well as me complete with rucksack up the steep hill to my lodgings.

I have been staying in what the Bradt guide-book describes as ‘the cheapest accommodation in Kibuye.’ It is called the Home St Jean; a Catholic guesthouse perched on a hill-top at the edge of town which enjoys panoramic views of the surrounding lake.

It has recently been renovated and my comfortable en-suite accommodation (with a very good hot shower) opens on to a shared terrace directly above a beautifully kept hillside garden with a steep path down to a small lakeside beach. All of this for 15,000 RWF (£15.00) per night!

I have been awoken each morning by the first rays of the rising sun dancing on the water and the echoing voices of singing fisherman as they paddle across the lake.

Apparently Home St Jean ‘took a battering’ during the genocide. I’m not quite sure what that entailed but certainly the Genocide Memorial Church, which shares the same promontory a few hundred yards back up the track was the scene of a terrible three-hour killing spree, by a mob fuelled on banana beer and armed with grenades, in which 11,400 Tutsis died.

It seems incomprehensible that Kibuye, with its idyllic, tranquil lakeside location and picture postcard vistas, was the scene of the most comprehensive slaughter of Tutsis in the whole of Rwanda.

There had been a relatively high proportion of Tutsis, about 20% of the local population, totalling around 60,000. When the French arrived, after the genocide, they estimated that 90% of the Tutsi population had been wiped out leaving few witnesses to the crime.

The Genocide Memorial Church remained a broken and desolate reminder of these events for a number of years but has now been lovingly restored, with bright new stained glass, mosaics and wall hangings and once again each Sunday it is filled with the joyful sound of worship.

It still amazes me that so many people have managed to cling on to their faith in the aftermath of such carnage.