Sunday, 15 June 2008

My evening with the Queen.......

June 13th

Slept badly; whether as a result of dehydration or after banging my head yesterday evening, I can’t be sure. The knock to my head certainly rattled all the fillings in my teeth! And my back and neck are tender after all the pounding from various motos over the last few days.

Determined to make the most of today. Call at the post office and lo and behold there’s a letter from dad, a parcel from Teresa with Marmite amongst other things, and a packet for Tom. Good start to the day.

At the Office I find all the secondary census sheets waiting for me, so can get straight on and start entering up the data. At long last I can make progress on the statistics again and get a proper grip on what’s happening in “my” secondary schools! Get more than half way through when the power goes off! Work on until my laptop battery is almost out, then decide to call it a morning and return home (It’s virtually lunchtime, anyway).

Get well on the way to setting the mock P6 exam for all of the Muhanga schools – about 4,500 pupils will be taking this exam so I’ve got to get it right! Then it’s time to pack a rucksack and set off for Kigali.

At this point my luck runs out a bit; I have a long wait for a matata from Gitarama (like that phrase, sounds like the refrain of a song. Replace “The Girl from Ipanema” with “The Matata from Gitarama”….. (stop rambling and get on with it – Ed).

When I get to the Mu Muji bus station there’s rows of buses, but none to Kimironko. So by the time I find one and eventually arrive at Kersti’s to drop off my bag and freshen up, it’s already time to be going to the British Embassy for the Queen’s Birthday orgy.

Épi’s at Kersti’s but there’s no sign of Kersti for quite a while. By the time we’ve said all our greetings to assorted boyfriends (not mine, obviously), brothers and hangers on, we’re getting quite late for the party.

When we arrive at the Embassy the security is much less severe than last time I came there. We’ve all phoned in our RSVPs, but in true Rwandan fashion the Embassy has managed to mislay them. But since we all have our invitation cards we’re all admitted and find more than half the other VSOs tucking into wine and nibbles as if there’s no tomorrow. Tom’s unhappy – last year there was fish and chips for all the guests and he was looking forward to a good fill-up; this year it’s little tasties with dips. But there’s draught Mutzig beer and somehow our glasses just keep getting filled up……

There are only about 400 British Nationals in Rwanda, and when you take into account the wider VSO contingent we make up a sizeable proportion – probably the biggest single element. It’s always nice to meet some of the people from the “far east” of Rwanda who I don’t often see. Hester and Joe from Rusumo and Chris and George from Nyagatare are all there, and once again we all invite each other to come and stay for a weekend. The east is stonking hot at the moment; I think Gitarama must be at least ten degrees cooler than where they are. Tom is at the reception with some of his FHI pals. He’s in Kigali all weekend; his parents fly in on Sunday and he’s taking them more or less straight to Akagera before bringing them back to Gitarama. I won’t see him again till Tuesday night at the very earliest.

I thought there would be speeches by the Ambassador, or that at the very least we’d all salute the flag and sing “God Save the Queen”, but no – there’s nothing else to do but eat and drink. So that’s just what we all do. By the time we finally leave we’re all tipsy or beyond.

There’s the usual half hour deciding where we’re going to go; nobody wants to make a move in case it turns out that all the others go somewhere better. Just like students…..!

In the end we decide to go to a bar called “Car Wash” (because it’s located right next to a car wash with a very prominent billboard advertising it). And there’s me thinking this was some really original, off the wall name for a club…..We spend ten minutes haggling with taxi drivers right outside the embassy gates. This infuriates the embassy security guards; no vehicles are allowed to stop anywhere near the embassies in case they have bombs on board. But you’d have thought that with twelve or more muzungus obviously on the point of boarding the guards would shut up about it!

Anyway, we all get to Car Wash in time to see the last half hour of the Holland versus France football. The French are still very unpopular in Rwanda, the so the final result – Holland thrashing the French 4 : 1 – is wildly popular. Cue even more drinking by everybody there.

In a corner there’s a reggae band; they give up while the footie’s on because nobody’s listening to them. When the football’s over they start again and it just so happens that some twenty or more VSOs are in the mood for dancing. So we take over the dance area. This acts like a magnet for crowds of single Rwandan men who just can’t resist the sight of white girls dancing, and reckon every white girl in town is just dying for a beefy Rwandan escort. In a few minutes there’s barely room to shake a leg and the air’s thick with beer and B O fumes……

By this time most of us realise we’re well past the safety limit with drink. Épi’s already been taken home to Kersti’s, and all but the die-hard clubbers decide it’s time to call it a day. It’s not much after one in the morning, but a lot of us have got either events to go to or even trainings to do the next day, so it’s definitely time to leave.

When I get back to Kersti’s I find Irene is sleeping on the spare room mattress, so I take the big sofa in the lounge. It’s not too bad a place to sleep, even though her house seems to attract mosquitoes and I have to squirt Deet over myself at intervals during the night.

Best thing about today – everything. Friday the 13th turns out to be another great day. Parcel from home, work to do at the office, free beer care of Her Majesty and partying with my friends. What more could I ask for? Also, today I’ve confirmed bookings for Teresa and co at Kibuye; Nick’s confirmed I can hire his car, and Samira’s offered her house when I bring the family down to Gikongoro. That’s what I call a good day!

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