Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Goat legs in Gitarama

January 11th

I wake up feeling odd and realise it’s because I’m using Tom’s “four poster” bed. Épi and Janneau are using my room. Apparently I was too tired and drunk last night to pull down the mosquito net when I crawled into bed (the light bulb had blown and I was thrashing around trying to undress and sort out my sleeping bag by a teeny little torch – not a pretty sight). So I’ve got bitten.

I introduce the others to English style porridge and finally we go to Soraya and Hayley’s to collect and return stuff. Everybody’s saying their fond farewells, and soon I’ve got the flat to myself and get on with making soup. Tomato and lentil is a breeze – I’ve at least got that sorted! I’m almost making myself sick of avocados at lunchtime, but they’re too nice to throw away and won’t last beyond Monday. I’m just getting started on a second batch of (green) soup when Tom arrives, absolutely tired out.

His journey out has been long and traumatic, but at least all his luggage has arrived intact. When he left Gatwick it was so cold that the pilot asked for the plane to be de-iced. Unfortunately every other plane was demanding the same treatment, and as a result his flight missed its slot and was extremely delayed. He missed the onward connection at Brussels. The flights from Brussels to Kigali only leave three times a week, so he was transferred to Ethiopian Airlines. That meant a long wait in Brussels airport, then a flight to Paris, then an even longer wait at Paris. Following this came a long wait at Addis Ababa and by the time he arrived at Kigali it was 32 hours after he checked in at Gatwick.

So Tom arrives at the flat and we have a very quick “catching up” on essentials, after which he puts himself to bed. He even misses the evening muzungu meal, which is most unusual.

I finish making my green soup (cabbage, peppers, imboga, Rwandan celery, potatoes, onions etc) but it comes out really bland and isn’t a success. Unfortunately it’s also amounted to a massive volume of stuff (I’ve nearly filled the freezer with soup). It’ll need things like pasta and some hot spices adding to give it more body. But I assure you it won’t go to waste!

That reminds me, I really must get hold of the VSO Rwandan cookery book – it sure would make things a lot easier.

Tom has brought lots of sauces, tins of meat, and the long promised oven. We’re not sure where to put the oven; at the moment we don’t properly have room for it, but we decide we need to get some shelves put up along part of the kitchen wall. They would virtually solve our storage problems overnight.

Soon its evening and I go to see who’s eating at “Nectar”. As well as Hayley and Soraya we have Marin and Ulrika and Eduardo, the Cuban doctor. And, hey there, Eduardo and Ulrika are an item, arriving and leaving hand in hand. Aah! So the conversation is in a mixture of English, French and Spanish, and the brochettes (cow meat) are among the best I’ve had in Rwanda.

The dinner table conversation ranges widely, including a discussion of offal. The Rwandans love offal because it’s often cheaper than “proper” meat. Eduardo explains that they have a thing about eating stuffed goats’ intestines, for example, which we all think is gross. As a rough generalisation among our friends, the younger the volunteers, the less likely they are to eat meat like hearts or tongues or kidneys. There’s only a few of us who will eat liver in brochettes and we always have to check what we’re given so that people like me can swap with others who can’t stand the texture of liver. This can easily cause offence in Rwanda because liver and heart are some of the most highly prized parts of the goat carcass.

Hayley’s dog dines on goat legs. These have so little meat on them that she is given them virtually free by local meat stalls, and they come with fur and hooves still on them. I think they get boiled up for the dog, but I’m sure its Théogène, the guard, who gets the grisly job of preparing the food! Anyway, they make the dog’s breath so foul it’s virtually unbearable. A pity, because Pappy is all over every visitor wanting attention….. Honestly, who would keep a dog?

We also talk about salsa dancing; Marin has given up doing salsa lessons because so few people were bothering to come. I feel very guilty at this, because I really enjoyed the session I went to and would like to do some more. It would be really good to do it with a crowd of the other volunteers, and it would have transformed Hayley’s party if we had thought to get Marin to come. Marin’s prepared to do more sessions if we can guarantee sufficient dancers. I’m filing that info away for future use. There’s my birthday coming up soon; if we don’t do a joint venture with the Irish crowd then I’m minded to do a spicy salsa evening. It would work!

In just two days, since I arrived home, they’ve built a mobile phone mast about a hundred yards behind the flat. Four men, climbing up and down the mast with minimal safety gear (though at least one of them was wearing a safety harness). Over the muzungu meal all is revealed. At last we have competition for the telephone company MTN who have had a virtual monopoly of the market for years. Now Rwandatel is challenging them, and price war has started (when you buy MTN phone credit you get so many Francs worth of “bonus time”). The new mast behind us will be a Rwandatel installation.

A side effect of all this fun is that a lot of Rwandans are going over to Rwandatel because they are making cheap deals to break into the market. It means now that we can’t guarantee that any phone number for a school will still be valid. As I’m only here for another year I think I’ll stick with MTN and enjoy the extra credit while it lasts. In the two days since I got back I’ve already made far more calls and texts than during the entire time I spent in England.

Early-ish to bed tonight because I’ve got an early start in the morning!

Best thing about today – cooking, feeling at home and at ease back in Africa.

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