Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Tom's birthday bash

October 3rd

Up and off to Kigali today. First port of call is the travel agent to pay for my flights home at Christmas. Hooray! – the amount in Euros is within my cash stash so I’m able to walk out with my ticket in my sweaty palm, and enough Euros left to be able to change some for ready cash to buy more souvenirs, and still have an emergency reserve in the flat.

While I’m waiting for them to process my ticket I drift over to Blues Café and meet Ruth, one of the new people who were at Giudhi’s party last weekend. I thought Ruth was Rwandan, but she turns out to be from Sierra Leone. She’s a fascinating person, doing a high powered consultancy job here in Kigali. She’s a classic example of the new breed of highly educated, work driven, dynamic Africans that this place so needs. What really surprises me is that she says she gets constantly stared at by Rwandans who perceive that she’s “different”. Now that’s amazing. I can understand how I stick out like a sore thumb here, but to all of us Europeans Ruth is just as black and just as African as any of the Rwandans or Congolese here. I can’t for the life of me work out how they can tell at sight that she’s not “one of them”. And she finds all the attention just as distracting and wearing as we do.

Up to the VSO office next, and I collect my plane ticket for tomorrow. Suddenly I’ve got the best part of £2000 worth of tickets on me and I’m terrified they’re going to fall out of my rucksack! I’ve some stuff to hand in to Mike from Soraya, and then I go upstairs to send my blogs.

Now while I was on the bus coming in to Kigali I had a text message from Soraya, and as I fished my phone out of my trousers I heard something fall to the floor. I thought it was my comb, but my comb was still there so I thought I must have been imagining things.

It turns out that what fell to the floor, and is now lost for ever, is my flash drive with all sorts of data on it. So no blogging for me today! Serves me right; must remember in future always to have flash drive either in breast pocket or in my rucksack.

Fortunately there is nothing on the flash drive which isn’t backed up on my laptop, so I haven’t lost any data, and also nothing which is sensitive or can be used to trace who I am or where I live. But it’s annoying.

As chance would have it, one of Tom’s work colleagues is selling 16gig flash drives for RwF20,000 which is seriously cheap for that amount of memory. So I quickly text Tom to ask him to get me one!

Soraya’s feeling stressed to the limit with her training courses about to start, and has asked me to buy her some comfort food, so that’s what I do – Pringles and crisps! There’s no point in hanging round the VSO office now that I’ve got my tickets, and as it happens the internet connection is down so even if I had my flash I still wouldn’t be able to send any messages. Frustrating or what!

Back into town, changing money underneath the mosque (God and Mammon obviously have an understanding here in Kigali), and a bus back home.

In Gitarama I stop off at the craft centre and buy yet more goodies to bring home – the lovely Rwandan nested baskets with conical tops which are absolutely typical of this country’s cultural tradition. I also get a big circular banana-leaf notice board as a birthday present for Tom. It might encourage him to decorate his room! As I walk home with this huge banana creation tucked under my arm, and thunder getting ominously close all around me, I bump into Janine. She’s bought Tom a picture for his birthday. And why? – because she, too is fed up with his room looking like a temporary hostel and she wants to encourage him to decorate it. So sorry, Tom; no pressure, really………

In the evening it’s Tom’s birthday “do” up at Landos. Christi has made the usual chocolate birthday cake for him. Now Landos is this new restaurant-cum-bar-cum nightclub which charges Kigali prices but certainly adds a touch of glam to Gitarama. Tonight there’s a comedian and a live band. We know about the comedian because apparently he came down from Kigali on the same bus as Tom this afternoon.

Soraya has a huge houseful. The new VSOs were planning to go to Kibuye this weekend, like my group did after a couple of weeks. But they’ve decided at the last minute that it’s not worth going for just one night so they’re going to stay with Hayley at Soraya’s She’s got at least eight visitors! We offer cushions and floor space, but they’re not needed as things turn out. (But when I leave for home tomorrow I’m making up my bed with clean sheets so tat one of two of them can use my room in the flat and have a comfortable night’s sleep)!

The band turns out to be a Congolese style soukous band, and they’re very good, too. We’re sitting out under the stars until we realise we’re all shivering with cold, and adjourn inside the bar where the music is loud (as opposed to ear shattering), and we can talk and listen to it at the same time. Lots of Rwandan men are dancing, either on their own or in pairs (no cultural undertones with that at all), but very few women. Two men are pushing and shoving each other; we can’t decide whether they’re jostling for floor space to show off to the women or whether there’s a real fight developing. The band’s lead singer moves in to separate them and they end up strutting their stuff competitively at opposite ends of the dance floor.

Its gone midnight when we all decide to drift home. Bish is with us (Tom’s new Kenyan FHI intern), and he offers to walk Janine to her house which saves Tom and I a job. So we walk all the girls and new lads home through the town centre, across the market (very sinister at night with skeletal stalls and thousands of dark corners where muggers could be hiding), and up to the transmitter which guards her house. Even at this time of night the street children are huddled in miserably cold groups around the market. Lorries deliver all through the night, and these boys are always trying to scrounge money, food, drink or drugs from the drivers as they unload.

Best thing about today – getting my tickets home. My enormous pile of Rwandan crafts which I have to somehow pack into my case so that they don’t break or rattle or cause mayhem at airport security.

Worst thing – losing my big flash drive. But never mind, the replacement one is eight times as powerful.

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