Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Valentine's Day in Kigali

February 14th

Valentine’s day; it feels as if half of Rwanda has chosen today to get married. I decide to work in the morning and go up to Kigali for party time in the afternoon. Tom’s out trying to sort out accommodation for a group coming out to visit FHI; his intended venue has let him down so he’s got to scramble around Gitarama with Janine and get things resolved by the end of the morning (which he does).

I get an afternoon bus to town and go up to the VSO office to check mail and read my emails. There’s a fair bit of post for the other Gitarama volunteers so I collect it all to dish out at Sunday night’s meal. One of my items of post turns out to be a Christmas card from the Dorset VSO support group. Over seven weeks late but, hey, the thought’s there!

At the “wedding roundabout” at Kacyiru every single segment has a group having their wedding photos taken, and there are parties queuing up patiently waiting their turn.

I decide to do some shopping; we’ve been out of honey for quite a while, and then I reconnoitre the roads around Remera to find out where the party’s going to be held (Charlotte’s house). I manage to find the place, but take a wrong road on my way back and end up walking round half of Kigali in stupefying heat. Anyway, serves me right for being mean and not paying for a moto….

Eventually I find the AEE guest house (African Evangelical Enterprises). It’s the first time for ages that I haven’t been able to stay at Kersti’s, and it’ll do me good to have to fins my own accommodation. (It comes recommended by Soraya, and sure enough the man at the reception desk remembers her well). Rooms are basic but cheap (RwF10,000 for a shared twin, 7,000 for single occupancy). There’s no water in the rooms, but the washrooms are clean and wholesome, albeit with cold water only. It’s just off the end of the airport runway; at Heathrow it would be a nightmare but there are so few flights into Kigali that it doesn’t matter. There are no night flights at all. Like most church guest houses they don’t officially allow alcohol in the place, and they don’t allow unmarried people of the opposite sex to share a twin room. That means both I, and also one of the girls, have to pay the full single occupancy rate which is really annoying. (For goodness sake – if we come in at 3 in the morning absolutely shattered from a night’s clubbing do they really think we’re going to be capable of making mad passionate love for the couple of hours left until dawn)?

There are already some VSO’s booked in – Tom from Kibungo; Heloise from Nyagatare and her sister who is visiting en route to doing voluntary work at Moshi in Tanzania. Then Els arrives with Kerry and Mary, two lovely American girls working at a secondary school in Nyamata, and Chris from Nyagatare.

We all drift up together for the party; what took me at least half an hour of hard walking in the afternoon takes just fifteen minutes when you know where you’re going…..

Charlotte’s house is beautiful; modern, airy, spacious and clean. The walls are decorated with blow-ups of her photos; she’s pretty good with a camera. There’s a wonderful balcony with panoramic views across to the airport and beyond.

This party is a joint one for Mike (the country leader), Charlotte and Sonya, whose collective ages come to exactly 100. There’s a huge crowd of people there, many of them not VSOs. The food is lovely – guacamole, home made hummus and three beautiful birthday cakes, one of which seems to be almost solid chocolate. It tends to disappear fast!

Mike has to leave his own party early; his partner is going into labour with twins and they’re arriving a bit early, so he’s off back to London on the Brussels flight and we can see his plane take off and disappear into the African night as we chat and drink on the balcony.

After the party a huge group decamps to KBC to go clubbing, me included. KBC is jam packed; it must be a good 100 degrees inside and the noise is so loud you feel it as much as hear it. I thought KBC was supposed to be better than Cadillac, but tonight you can barely move for crowds of people. I’m dancing with about eight of our girls and two or three of our men. Rwandan men keep cutting in on the girls, but after a while they start getting too up-close and personal and the girls come back to me to get away from them. It’s funny to watch. Tina’s dancing with an installation artist we met at the party; his name is Innocent but his dancing style is anything but…

Eventually by three o’clock we decide we’ve had enough and leave the club. That’s when weekend disaster number one strikes. As I weave my way through the crowds to the exit I’m pick pocketed. I feel it as soon as it happens, but the place is so dark and there’s so many people and the thief is so professional I haven’t got a hope in hell of recognising who has dipped me.

They’ve only got a small amount of cash because I was running low and intending to go to the bank on Monday. There’s a couple of phone cards and my VSO identity card which is out of date. (It the wallet is thrown away it might make its way back via the ID card). The annoying thing is that I had both my credit cards inside.

I feel angry with myself – when I’m in the clubs I check my pockets every minute or so, and yet this person has managed to get me. I think they must have been watching me and even tailing me, waiting for an opportunity when I’m so pressed against people that I can’t react. I’m especially cross for having left my credit cards in my wallet – I never use the things here and I’ve just forgotten to take them out and leave them in Gitarama.

Vicky has to lend me some money for a moto back to the guest house, but I have emergency money in my rucksack so all in all I get off very lightly.

A pity – it leaves a sour taste in your mouth after what has been a good day and a really excellent party.

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