Wednesday, 3 December 2008

upside-down cake and proper coffee!

November 30th

Today it’s nice to have a lie-in. Neither Tom nor I are going to church. The morning is grey and threatening rain, but no rain actually arrives until the afternoon.

We decide to have a cooking morning. There are two tubs of raw meat in the freezer and we are going to cook them up to last us through the week. When Tom goes home on December 23rd he will disconnect the fridge-freezer and let it defrost thoroughly, so we are beginning to run down our stocks already!

We amble down to the market, and manage to find an internet café which also sells electricity via our card system. So at a stroke we have solved our shortage of electricity and can luxuriate at the thought of a hot shower tomorrow morning. Ah, the little things in life….

We do the market thoroughly and come home laden with fruit and veg. Avocadoes are especially beautiful at the moment – twice the size of those sold at Tesco and about 5p each. There’re so creamy they just taste like butter – nothing at all like the ones at home. On the other hand it seems to be an “off season” for onions. Most of the ones on sale are very small – more like shallots or overgrown spring onions than the ones I’m used to at home. They’re fiddly to prepare, but taste very nice in a stew if you leave them whole. For the first time since either of us got here we buy a load of dried beans and put them to soak. As with all the other vegetables on sale by the market traders here in Rwanda, they mix beans from all sorts of different varieties, and the colours of the beans as they plump up in a tub of water are extremely beautiful. Let’s hope they taste as good as they look!

Back at the flat we scrub up and start trimming fat and gristle off a pile of meat; the good stuff we’re going to use to make a boeuf bourguignon; the scrappy bits we’re going to mince and make a Mexican style hot spicy dish. So after doing the meat we’re peeling and chopping veg as if our lives depended on it, and the whole flat is filled with the smell of cooking and spices.

By lunchtime we’re done with the cooking, all except for the beans in the Mexican dish which we’ll cook tomorrow and add to it. Each dish will probably last us two days, as well.

We lunch on cold left overs – cheese, hot salami sausage, peanut butter; but with avocadoes and bananas to give us vitamins.

In the afternoon we’re just about sat down and started to watch videos. Tom gives me a couple of toffees and I’m sucking merrily on them when I manage to pull a crown off one of my front teeth. Curses – good job I’m about to go home. I’ve been dreading this happening all year.

Fortunately I have a dental kit with me, and I start mixing up cement to glue the crown back on.

Just as I’m doing this there’s a knock at the door and in comes Tinks. Outside, by the roadside, are Michael and Piet in Piet’s hospital car. Do we want to come with them to see Piet’s house and have coffee and cake? Yes, of course we do. Given a choice of watching old DVDs or eating good food, it’s a no-brainer!

So here we are; Tinks is standing in the doorway waiting for us; Tom’s putting his shoes on; the others are in the car outside. Meanwhile I’m holding a tooth crown smeared in dental glue in one hand and trying to contort my face in front of the bathroom mirror so I can make the thing fit tightly in place. Everyone has to wait a few minutes while I glue my tooth crown back on. They’re all laughing at my discoloured stump of tooth over which the crown must fit; it looks like an animal’s fang. They’re all highly amused that “fang” is doing do-it-yourself dentistry. Fortunately the crown holds well, but I end up wiping surplus dental paste away from my gums for the rest of the afternoon.

Piet lives out on the Kibuye road in an absolutely beautiful house. It’s large, airy, and there’s an upstairs balcony reached by an exterior spiral staircase which reminds me of being on the bridge of a boat. The views are lovely – Mont Mushubati in one direction, and the Chaine de Ndiza in the other.

In his lounge he has an electronic piano – a really good quality one – and for the first time since leaving England last January I’m playing music. Michael and Piet are both music lovers, and we all like Bach, and it just happens to be Advent Sunday, so I have to play “Sleepers Wake”.

The food is amazing – Piet’s housekeeper has been trained by a Belgian. We have pineapple upside-down cake, and proper Rwandan coffee. We can’t believe we’re really here, eating an English “high tea” in such comfortable, clean and pleasant surroundings. His house is absolutely huge; there are about 5 bedrooms, and there’s an old guest house next door – a completely separate building – which has two bedroom, lounge, bathroom and kitchen. We could easily base a couple of VSOs there if it wasn’t so out in the country! The house was built in 1992 (just before the genocide) and was hired by a group of Spanish nuns until they were driven away by the atrocities all around them and it became unsafe for them to stay. The place is owned by a very rich local man who seems to own half the hill around us.

After tea we go out to inspect the garden. None of us are botanists, but between the five of us we manage to identify a few of the plants we see.

Then we decide to go for a walk up the lane. Piet’s lived here for such a short time he doesn’t even know where the lane leads, but we venture out nevertheless. There’s a thunderstorm banging and crashing away to the south, but it appears to be avoiding us and we’re not venturing a long way from the house. I’ve got a pretty good idea where we’re heading because one of my schools is just up the road from Piet, and sure enough within a few minutes we’ve arrived at Karama secondary school. The path goes through the school grounds and is closed off by a gate, but within minutes of five muzungus standing outside it, the caretaker appears and opens up for us. It’s a clean and nice looking secondary with a speciality in accounting for its 650 pupils,

After the school we wander around the countryside for a while, collecting the usual collection of curious children and adults. The path eventually peters out at a brand new Pentecostalist church, still under construction but with pews and chairs set out round the scaffolding poles. These people aren’t going to let a minor thing like a church still under construction get in the way of their worship! On the way back the views are just super – the others all take pictures but I think I’ve already got most of what you can see from this place, but taken from different angles.

As it gets dark Piet drives us all back into Gitarama to Nectar for our evening meal. We really are living like the idle rich this Sunday! Hayley arrives from the East; she’s been to see Heloise and help with an HIV/AIDS training session there. Arlene (Momma) from the orphanage is there, and also Christi. It’s a funny meal because at least four of us are leaving for home during the week, so it’s like an end of term staff dinner. Christi and I have to make various arrangements about accommodation for the new VSO short term placement people coming out in January; I’m one of the first arrivals back in the New Year so I’ll have a lot of sorting out to do in the first few days.

When we get back home we discover there’s no electricity in our little section of town. A local transformer has broken. At this time on a Sunday night nobody will be coming out to fix it, so we’re off to bed more or less straight away at nine o’clock. It’s ironic really – all through the last few days we’ve been trying to save electricity in order that it doesn’t run out, and then the minute we get more juice on our account the power goes off at the mains!

Best thing about today – relaxing, and enjoying Piet’s hospitality

Worst thing –I hate it when the power goes off unexpectedly. There’s a lot of things I’d have liked to get ready for tomorrow but there’s no point trying in the dark. I’ll just have to get up a bit earlier.

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