Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Earth Moved!

We had a significant tremor just after midnight - it came with a strange rushing sound and the roof creaked and rattled. I lay awake, petrified, waiting for more, thinking of the people in Pakistan. But nothing fell or broke, the cats, dogs and chickens all slept on, so I dropped off to sleep again too. Rwanda is volcano country, and like the Big Island of Hawaii we get frequent tremors.

For today, I'm in the mood to post another peaceful shot of Lake Kivu. First prize to anyone who can identify the birds! (Click on the photo to enlarge it).

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Could this pass for Hawaii?

Today's photo: the beach at Gisenyi. Seriously, the lakeside road in Gisenyi made me think of Kona village and what it probably looked like about 80 years ago. One day Gisenyi will be discovered by the rich and famous, and then it'll turn into another Kona. Come and visit before it's too late! (Don't forget to click on the photos and see them full-size!).

Monday, October 24, 2005

Another Monday!

Thanks to the fact that I don't have internet access from home at the moment (well, haven't had for some time now!!), and in any case, I was off enjoying myself in Kigali over the weekend, posting up all my Gisenyi photos could stretch to cover a few weeks at this rate! Today I'm posting another one from the civil marriage ceremonies - three older women, who are attired in a manner that is typical for ceremonies, with a piece of cloth (often white, but doesn't have to be) draped across the body and tied at one shoulder. They must have seen a great deal during their lives in this region of Africa....
Am happy to report that after eight days without power at the house (thanks to a power-greedy welding machine brought in to mend the gate that was about to drop off its hinges), the electricity was restored last Friday (eight days with no hot water, no fridge...). The fridge, however, isn't happy and isn't keeping anything very cold, so yet one more item to be repaired. The problem with power and fridges is probably a strong contributing factor in the many food poisoning cases here. I enjoyed two good meals out over the weekend - now I'm waiting to see if I ate more than I intended, like the last time I was in Kigali!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Gisenyi sits on the edge of Lake Kivu (the sixth largest lake in Africa), in the northeast of Rwanda, directly on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, formerly Zaire). I was there the weekend before last (8/9 October) to attend a colleague's wedding. The civil ceremony took place at the town hall, and two couples were getting married at the same time. The other couple were evidently Congolese - as they finished their vows, family and friends erupted with loud whoops and cheers: sounds of celebration that are quite foreign to the reserved Rwandans! I couldn't resist taking photos of the happy Congolese couple - here's my favourite:

Too much going on!

Well, I was going to write a long piece about my wonderful weekend in Gisenyi for a colleague's wedding, and then I was going to write about all the power and internet connection problems at the house, and there are loads of super photos I want to's all going to take a bit of time, as it takes for ever to upload the photos. But I'll get them there eventually - be patient!

This photo is taken in Gisenyi on the shore of Lake Kivu. The buildings in the middle distance are in Goma - Democratic Republic of Congo. Note the mountains in the distance!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Visitors, books, and beautiful places

One of the pleasures of being here is getting to know interesting people. Not just some of the wonderful local staff I work with, but also fellow expatriates who have led fascinating lives elsewhere, and adventurous travellers passing through. This week a young couple from Ireland stopped by the office to learn more about our work, and after chatting for a few minutes I invited them to stay at the house – for the pleasure of having good company (I live alone). We enjoyed a couple of delightful evenings fixing dinner together, relishing the fresh carrots, beetroot, and green peppers from my garden, and talking about their travels, Ireland, and life in Rwanda. They are taking the same route (albeit decided on before reading the book) as Paul Theroux in his latest work Dark Star Safari, in which he travels from Cairo to Cape Town. I’ve met several people who’ve read the book, although I’ve yet to meet anyone who really likes it. Yes, he’s a pretty good writer, but can be mean spirited (a bit too honest?) And he has some extremely damning things to say about NGO workers! Maybe some of them are justified, but he makes me determined to “do different” as my diploma from the University of East Anglia says! Before I get side-tracked onto books, my visitors’ travels can be tracked via their website: I haven’t had a chance to see it yet, thanks to internet access problems at home (nothing new there!), but am looking forward to taking a look.

Another good book with a focus on east Africa is Aidan Hartley’s The Zanzibar Chest. Hartley is an astonishingly good writer, with among the most eloquent powers of description I’ve ever come across. He was born in Kenya and lives there now, and in the late 80’s and 90’s was a journalist covering wars in places like Ethiopia, Somalia, and Rwanda. His writing is so powerful that I have to taste it in small pieces, so I’m only half-way through the book. In addition to writing about his life as a correspondent, he also writes lovingly about his childhood in east Africa, his parents, and his father’s work in Yemen.

As an antidote to Hartley, I’m also reading (for the second time) Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. Her frankness is hilarious, and along with some good advice on how to write, her stories about the agonising difficulties of getting words onto paper also turn into advice about taking a lighter view of life. I recommend it to everyone, aspiring writer or not!

I shall end this piece with photographs of a beautiful place where I spent a couple of days working last week. At the end of each month our various programmes gather for a day to present reports of our work during that month. At the end of each quarter we hold a one and a half or two day meeting to present more in-depth reports, learn about new policies, and discuss other issues. This quarter it was my team’s turn to make the meeting arrangements. A few miles outside of Butare there are, quite close to each other, a convent and a monastery, both offering meeting facilities. Both are set in beautiful grounds, wonderfully peaceful, filled with ancient trees, flowering bushes of bougainvillea, trim lawns, and colourful borders. We chose the monastery, whose gardens you can see in the photographs below. Imagine the peace and enjoy!

Gihindamuyaga monastery, Butare, Rwanda

The name means 'windy' - there are plenty of fresh breezes here! Mont Huye, a Butare landmark, can be seen in the background.

Gihindamuyaga monastery, Butare, Rwanda
Daily routines

I sat down and wrote this piece early last week after a weekend without mains electricity or water. I’ve only just been able to post it, due to internet access problems. Our power problems at the office are now solved thanks to a fabulously impressive new generator with a reassuringly deep purr. I love it! At the house, water and power are in greater supply than this time last year. Work on the town’s water supply has continued all year, and the authorities are making efforts to improve the amount of electricity available. I am fortunate to have a generator at the house which I use in the evenings – it runs the fridge and lights, but not the hot water heater. However, only around 5% of homes in the country actually have access to electricity.

Some of my daily and weekend routines revolve around water and harnessing solar power. Drinking water is first boiled, and then filtered. This involves lots of filling up of large pots and then pouring the cooled water into the filter, and later filling up water bottles to carry upstairs. There’s running water in the house most of the time, although every so often it dries up. Sometimes it’s off for a few hours, sometimes for days. To deal with this there’s a large plastic tub of water in each bathroom, several yellow jerry cans of water kept filled just outside the kitchen door, and a large (2500 litre) “fast tank” or water bladder that sits on the back deck. So there’s always plenty of water, even though it might not be “running”.

This all involves plenty of lifting and carrying. For my bathroom upstairs, if I’ve heated water for washing – either due to lack of power or no running water – then I carry an extra large saucepan of water upstairs. The storage tub is usually filled by the housekeeper, although I’ll occasionally need to carry up a jerry can if the water runs low over the weekend. A jerry can full of water is terribly heavy!! I see both women and men carrying them on their heads and just can’t imagine how they do it.

The water filter is kept in the kitchen. It’s a wonderful stainless steel, two-piece tank, with ‘candle’ filters in the top half, and a tap on the lower half. I fill up water bottles from the filter which I then carry upstairs. I always keep a supply of several litres upstairs for drinking and brushing teeth. All that boiling of water, filling the filter, filling and carrying the bottles seems to take up quite a lot of time!

Another early morning task is setting my solar-powered lamp and solar-powered radio out in the sun. These are essential objects. Most nights we don’t have power, and even though I often run the generator in the evenings, I need the lamp for the 30 minutes between when I tell the guards to turn off the generator and while I read in bed before going to sleep. The radio is for listening to the BBC world service which puts me to sleep every night and keeps me feeling connected to the world when I wake up at 3 am and can’t get back to sleep. Every time I hear of budget cuts at the beeb I worry about the world service disappearing. It is very much superior to the Voice of America (VOA), whose presenters seem to think that their audience has the intellectual level of my cat. Actually, I think the cat prefers the BBC too. My solar powered radio is also a wind-up radio, and when there isn’t enough sun, and I’m too lazy to wind it up (it takes more energy than you might imagine), then I use my battery powered radio. Horrified at the amount of batteries I was using for everything, I quickly bought (over the internet, of course: a battery charger attached to a solar panel. It only works when there’s a cloudless sky, and I have to keep a close eye on the batteries, as the first charger I tried soon melted when I wasn’t paying attention. So that’s a weekend task – putting the solar panel and battery charger out in the sun. At the weekends I also put out my duvet (down comforter to the Americans in the audience) and down pillows in the sun. They’re not solar powered, but the sun makes them fresh and fluffy again. And yes, it’s cool enough at night here that I need my duvet! It’s a lightweight one, and some nights it gets so cold that I have to put on my winter pyjamas and wriggle around a lot trying to keep warm! (Which is also why I find the water too cold for washing with in the mornings).

Whoops! I got so carried away with writing that I almost forgot to fix tea for the gardener; and I need to make lunch for a friend who’s arriving in an hour – bye!