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.

Seeds of Peace at Lake Muhazi
October 18, 2010

Lake Muhazi is 60 km long but nowhere is it wider than 5km. Its serpentine shape is broken by numerous spidery tendrils stretching along former tributaries. It is a pretty, if not beautiful, lake with abundant bird wildlife (or words to that effect so says the Bradt Guide).  

The eastern end of Lake Muhazi is just under two hours north-west of Nyakarambi by express  mini-bus and about  three  hours  normal service as Mark and I  found to our cost on the return journey.

Saturday morning dawned dull and threatening but we set off around 8.45 and headed for our appointed rendezvous, with four fellow volunteers, at Kayonza bus station, about 8km from our final destination.

The Bradt Guide is less than flattering in its description of Kayonza; “this small, rather scruffy settlement …situated 78km from Kigali” which “serves as a passable base for exploring Lake Muhazi and Akagera National Park.”     

I would agree that it falls into the unremarkable category but ‘scruffy’ is harsh. Rwanda is an incredibly clean and litter free country and I haven’t been anywhere that warrants that epithet.

Our weekend companions were running late (the ladies had problems with their packing!) so there was time to discover the small unprepossessing but clean Café Al Rahmaan, run by a very pleasant and welcoming Muslim gentleman.

We ordered a late breakfast of tea and amandazi. Amandazi approximate to doughnuts but without any sugar-coating or jam in the middle. Let us say they are substantial, suitable for dunkin’ and fill a hole. 

African tea is an acquired taste and not to my liking. It is made with hot milk, sugar and ginger served in a huge thermos, as do all hot drinks. Some flask manufacturer with an eye for the main chance made a killing out here.

It took me three attempts to get unadulterated tea made with hot water, no milk, sugar or ginger, but we got there in the end. When the bill arrived it was itemized as dry tea!   

As soon as our friends clambered off the bus from Kibungo we immediately hopped on board another for the ten minute drive to the lake and our accommodation at the Seeds of Peace Centre. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but the centre had come well recommended and it didn’t disappoint.

It was situated directly on the lake shore. Mark and I shared a well maintained, recently decorated rondawel style chalet, with a large living area, separate bedrooms and a bathroom with a hot shower.  A veranda offered extensive views across the lake and was ideal for bird watching. One night with breakfast cost us the princely sum of 10,000 RWF (£10.00) each!

Lake Muhazi is a twitcher’s paradise and during the course of the weekend we saw kites, a grey crowned crane, pelicans, numerous pied kingfishers, and bright yellow weaver birds that make the most delicate of nests which hang from the branches like Christmas decorations.

We also spotted, spotted neck otters gliding and diving backwards and forwards from the reedy shoreline.

The ‘Seeds’ or ‘Pipes of Peace’ as we rechristened it, after a memorably dodgy number from the McCartney catalogue, is run by the Episcopal Church and the people were extremely friendly. Unfortunately it was dry.

However we had done our homework and a couple of hundred yards down the road was the Jambo Pleasure Beach where we were welcomed by two large wooden giraffes framing the gateway to a lakeside bar and restaurant with a penchant for country and western music. I lost count of how many times I heard Joline and Coward of the County!   

The weather could have been better. There were several downpours but Sunday morning was bright and sunny for a couple of hours. It was long enough for a leisurely walk around the fringes of lake, where the locals were fishing, doing their laundry, or following the strange muzungus and trying to engage them in conversation.   

Finally, there was just time for a Jambo special toasted cheese sandwich with chips coated in spicy tomato sauce and one last ice-cold Mützig before we made tracks back to Nyakarambi. It had been a very pleasant, and indeed peaceful, weekend, enjoyed by all.