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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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!