Tuesday, 28 October 2008

premiership football, Rwandan style

October 26th

Feeling a bit better, but as the day goes on my stomach tells me that it doesn’t seem to have been just giardia that I’ve been suffering from, and there’s still something else awry.

I go down to the internet café but it’s closed. I try the alternative one, but it’s so slow I nearly go to sleep waiting for yahoo to load, and it’s also expensive. After two emails the connection is lost and nobody can do anything. An internet café without a connection is a sad place, and even sadder when you’ve got a series of angry Rwandans who have lost all sorts of data in the middle of downloading it.

We spend the morning putting up Tom’s new bed. It’s an interesting design, like mine but with six foot tall posts on each corner and cross beams from which you can drape a mosquito net so that it forms a rectangular enclosure. It’s much less claustrophobic this way than beds with conical nets like mine, and Tom desperately needs a better arrangement. His existing net is so small that he always wakes up with his face and arms bitten where they’ve rested against the netting and mozzies have got at him through it.

Tom has two visitors coming on Thursday, and getting this new bed is timely. He’ll yield his room to the visitors and sleep on his old bed in the lounge. We can’t decide whether to have the old bed permanently made up in the lounge (and use it as a sofa), or dismantle it unless we really need to use it. Eventually we decide to leave it dismantled until Thursday, and then see how the lounge feels when we’ve put it up. It’ll obviously restrict the amount of circulation space in the lounge.

I take advantage of his having decent spanners and tighten up all the nuts and bolts on my bed. Sure enough, when I’ve done that I find it doesn’t creak and sway every time I get onto it. I think that if had left it for another month or so it would have come apart under me one night.

We finally decide on what we’re going to offer Karen and Christi when they come to dinner on Wednesday, and we start making carrot and coriander soup, and a rich tomato salsa ready for it. (Cooking a big meal is always a problem on a working day, and the more we can prepare in advance, and freeze until needed, the better).

At just before 3 in the afternoon we set off to the big stadium and meet Janine outside. We’ve come to see a first division football match between Rayon (from Nyanza) and AFP (from Kigali). Our local Muhanga team isn’t playing today, it seems. These top team fixtures are normally held in the big national Amahoro stadium in Kigali (Rwanda’s equivalent of Wembley), but Amahoro is having alterations made to it ahead of the Africa nations cup which is coming up soon. (We understand there will some matches taking place here in Rwanda, but they are likely to be the under-21 events rather than the full scale internationals).

The stadium is absolutely packed; everybody is here and half of Kigali and Nyanza too, of course. The result is a 1-1 draw. I wish I could say the standard of play is excellent, but I can’t. Half the pitch is bare earth, baked rock hard by the sun. The players spend much of their time trying long airborne passes, and they have this mania for fancy over-the-head bicycle kicks and such like. It’s very entertaining for the crowds, but any respectable English premier division boss would hang his head in shame. The defence on both teams is good, but nobody seems to have any attacking flair, and the two goals are both almost accidental. AFP has a German manager, who doesn’t seem too pleased with his boys.

Janine’s an ardent Rayon supporter, and too late we find we’re in with a mob of AFP fans. So we end up a little clique cheering on the blue-and-whites among a crowd of others giving their all noisily for the black-and-whites. It doesn’t matter; there’s no history of violence in Rwandan football games. And perhaps the heavy armed police presence is a further disincentive, too. That’s regular police, in black uniforms with shotguns, military police, regular army with automatic rifles, and red uniformed civilian security guards with canes and staves. You’d think they were preparing for an armed invasion rather than a sporting event.

There’s absolutely no alcohol, or food of any kind allowed in the stadium. So the sellers of bottled water and still orange juice do a roaring trade. We’ve paid for seats in the grandstand so we’re protected if it comes on a deluge, and we’re out of the sun, too. Throughout the match there are massive cloud banks piling up all around us; everyone knows it’s just a matter of time before it rains. On every ledge, every balcony and every tree within hundreds of yards of the stadium there are people who can’t afford to pay for tickets. The trees in particular have so many people in them that their branches are swaying under the weight. Part of me wants to see if they consider moving down if we have another massive lightning storm like Friday’s….

By the end of the game it is indeed starting to rain, and with about 20,000 others we’re hurrying along towards Karen and Christi’s house to seek shelter and wait for evening meal time. On the way some little thief manages to get the zip undone on my rucksack (and he must have been quite a contortionist to do that without me feeling anything), but fortunately the only thing he pinches is my receipt book. I’d like to see his face when he discovers that all he has taken is stubs for money I’ve already been paid. And thank you Janine and an anonymous Rwandan who tipped me off that somebody was trying to rob me. I had my identity card and “get-me-home” money in that pocket. Equally, he might have ended up with a bottle of hand wash gel or a tattered toilet roll!

Soraya is there at the muzungu meal, after being in Kigali pretty well all week staying with her Phillippina friends and working on her English training sessions, and we spend most of the evening catching up on what each other’s been doing. Too much to write here, but after so much time spent on my own in the flat it’s great to be with everyone and catching up on gossip.

Ah, gossip; it’s the staff of life here!

At just after eleven tonight there’s a minor earth tremor, just enough to rattle the metalwork outside on the balcony. But I’m snug in bed, with roaring indigestion. For the first time in history I not only couldn’t finish my meal (it’s gone home in a plastic bag for Hayley’s puppy), but couldn’t finish my fizzy Primus either. Now that’s a sad state of affairs.

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