Monday, 21 July 2008

How to almost travel in Rwanda!

July 19th

A lazy morning watching BBC world news on telly – Saturdays in Kigali always seem to start like this. Kersti and I take Buffet the dog up to the shops to get some bread and things. It’s so funny watching all these macho Rwandan men cower at the sight of a big dog. Useful, too, especially to Kersti when she’s on her own with him.

I’ve managed to buy better quality porridge oats and also split green lentils. These are unavailable outside Kigali, and in the capital you only ever seem to find them in the Indian run shops. It’s one of those aspects of Rwandan life where you’ve just got to know where to go to get certain things.

We have a slight misunderstanding at one shop where I buy proper steak haché thinking it’s for Nick and Kersti; what she actually wanted was the cheapest mince to use as dogfood. Oh well, Buffet’s in for a gourmet tea tonight!

Nick’s gone off to the garage to make sure they’re bothering to service his new car properly. He and Kersti are off to a wedding reception late in the afternoon, and it’s clear they’re determined to arrive in style. As Kersti herself puts it, after two years here you get jaded with the endless squashes into matatas and just want your own comfortable travel, whatever the cost!

It’s a scorching hot day and round about mid-day Irene and I take our leave to travel home, her North and me South. We part company in the seething mess that is Nyabugogo bus station, and I’m jammed tightly into a really old matata. Irene’s bus to Byumba will be bigger and with far fewer people in it. It’s one of the few journeys in Rwanda which is more expensive in one direction (uphill) than in the other. And funnily enough, there always seem to be fewer people in the bus for the uphill run than for the downhill one.

Twice on my journey we have to stop to repair the bus; there’s something very wrong with either a blocked fuel line or a malfunctioning carburettor. Finally, just past the “Great North Road” and only about three hot miles from home, the bus expires. We all have to get out. The convoyeur collects our money for the full trip, and then flags down a mate in another matata who takes us on to Gitarama. Never a dull moment.

Back at the flat I find Cathie’s reclaimed her mattress and portable mozzie net, and discover that she’s booked to fly to Canada for good on Monday. Wow – if I’d gone off to Cyangugu or Nyagatare I would have missed her and not been able to say goodbye properly. She’s also left me some Rwandan woven baskets full of spices to use in cooking.

For some reason I feel really weary and doze the afternoon away. In the evening Tom and I try another newish café in the town centre. It looks for all the world as soul-less as a factory canteen, but the quality of the food is really good. The woman in charge must have worked in a posh hotel at some stage; I have fish in a rich western-style sauce quite unlike anything else I’ve ever found in Rwanda, and at the end of the meal we are given complementary little sweet bananas with the bill.

We amble up to La Planète and meet up with Karen and Christi and natter, amongst other things, about wedding anniversaries and absent partners. Karen’s just coming up to her 16th and her husband can’t get a flight out to Rwanda to join her. Neither Tom nor Christi can envisage being married for 33 years, though!

It’s late when we get home, so there’s no time to watch a video before bed. My big wooden tangram is waiting for me, and Tom and I check it out. The cutting isn’t perfect, but quite adequate provided you do it “right side up”. Apparently it caused quite a stir – not to mention a distraction – in Tom’s FHI office during the day!

Best thing about today – being with friends. Kersti and Irene are good friends to have in Kigali and the North, and Karen and Christi always make us feel welcome back at Gitarama. I think I’d feel very lonely and isolated if I were posted out on my own at one of the extremities of this country. And just imagine if I were in a huge country like Ethiopia or the Sudan, with most colleagues a plane ride away…. Lucky me.

Worst thing about today – my original plans for travelling this weekend are all shot to pieces, and it’ll be a quiet Sunday. But having said that, I think I’ll go down to look at Cyangugu next week, on my own if necessary. Visiting the “Far East” seems to need to be one weekend in term time when everybody’s still in Rwanda. And I might yet find someone who wants to come down to the Congo and Burundi border with me!

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