Unpredictability - Good for your health

Our modern life is based on organising an environment free from the unexpected. The house needs to be as stable and reliable as possible. The job as safe as possible. Nothing should break down. Nothing but what we predict, should occur.
This is the life of the zoo animal. Let's explore the life of the Nomad. Let's live the life of the Nomad.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Rwanda - And Daily Life

Having lived in several different countries myself, I am aware that a couple of weeks is not really enough time to determine the measure of a daily life.  Perhaps six months might be a better period of time.  On the other hand, I was fortunate to have visited my partner's family and friends as well as Rwanda itself.  And so I did receive some insight.  And so I shall share these observances in this, my final post on Rwanda for this visit.

Rwanda and Medicine

The mattress on the bed, in the hotel, was quite firm.  I awoke the second morning with a tender cramped shoulder.  It did not improve much during the day.  Here in the UK we have the National Health Service.  It is free to the consumer, although it is paid for by everyone contributing part of their salary to a welfare tax. Rwanda is similar in that it follows a universal health care system. There are regional based health care organisation into which citizens pay insurance contributions.  This covers approximately 45% of the healthcare costs, the remainder coming from international donations and government funds.

There are a handful of national hospitals and hundreds of health centres.  I wondered about how I would get to visit one of these centres.  I decided to live with the shoulder pain.  Time was precious and the shoulder only pained when I lifted my arm.  My partner's brother however, on observing my discomfort - led me to one of the many street pharmacies in Kigali.  I described my condition to the pharmacist and he returned with some medication called diclofenac.  I thought this rather odd that I could simply purchase a medication without a Doctor's script.  I paid the fee and a couple of days later my shoulder was pain free.  I took advantage of this convenience to also purchase some asthma and indigestion medication - without the inconvenience of having to visit a doctor. Perhaps unwise - but while in Africa, might as well do it the African way.

Rwanda and Shopping

My partner's family are members of the mercantile class, owning several phone and material shops.  I spent a good amount of time in these shops observing the retail world in action in Kigali.  There are a couple of modern type shopping malls but mostly Rwandans buy their wares from independently run shops, or street vendors.  The government discourages individuals from selling goods from plate or a hat.  Officials often round them up and take them away for prosecution.

Foreign goods can be expensive.  Rwanda is land locked and thus goods from abroad need to be air lifted into the country.  Locally produced goods such as clothing are very good value.  I purchased some magnificent clothing and even some materials for my sister in the UK, who has a talent with the sewing machine.

A nomad's jewellery shop 
Shopping all hours

Be prepared when entering the shopping malls - they will usually be protected by guards and you will be required to place your metallic goods into a bowl and to step through a metal detector - not a lot different to the security in an airport. These type of things can be a bit disconcerting, however, I certainly had no reason to feel unsafe while in Kigali.

There are no regulated shopping hours.  In fact Kigali never appears to close down.  Even late at night shops can be seen doing business. And if you enjoy your shopping - don't forget to haggle for a good price.

Rwanda and Civic Pride

On every last Saturday of each month Rwandan citizens are obliged to take part in Umuganda. Each citizen participates in community work such as street cleaning and infrastructure repairs.  Rwandans are very proud of their country - and there is good reason.  It is a delight simply to drive through the streets of Kigali and observe how clean and orderly everything is.  You will not see discarded plastic bags.  They are not permitted.  I did not see any fly tipping.

I did see much development and economic activity.  Rwanda is like the Lazarus of Africa.  It is hard to believe that only 22 years ago this country was virtually destroyed by civil war.

To have visited Rwanda was indeed a great privilege.  I experienced nothing but the finest of hospitality.  I was able to witness a people blessed with an inner sanctum, in spite of the bitter past.  I hope you have enjoyed reading about my experiences of Rwanda in the last posts.  I am looking forward to a return to Rwanda, and hopefully this will not be too far away.

Peace To All

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Rwanda - And the Introduction Ceremony (Gusaba)

My partner raised the option of conducting the Introduction while in Rwanda. Initially I thought this would be a simple meet and greet type arrangement with perhaps a few speeches and exchanging of presents.  A dozen or so attendees. I was wrong.

It is the occasion where formally the bride to be presents the groom to be to her parents, friends and relatives.  The ceremony requires a presentation of a dowry.  This is normally a cow or two and is given to the bride's parents.  In our case I would gift the equivalent of a cow in liquidity.  There are presentations of gifts to the elders and food and drinks to everyone.  There would be in total over 120 attendees at this event.

The elders from both sides negotiate mischievously before agreement is reached - agreement that both families accept the new couple for a future marriage.  This is all ritualised and in fact all the representatives from my side of the family were friends and relatives of the bride and her family.  The event is coordinated by the master of ceremony and this person performs this role professionally - that is, he is paid for his services at multiple Introductions. Towards the end of the formal part of the ceremony there will be traditional dancing parties and again these are professionally paid performers.  And as with a normal wedding, the last part of the ceremony involves dancing and drinking in less formal attire.  The first part of the ceremony takes place with very traditional African attire.

The day started with a trip to a local hair dresser. I was accompanied by my partner's brother, Fred.  The barber was under quite some pressure to ensure the cut was perfect, and Fred supervised this rather important trip to the barber.

After this the representatives of my side of the family gathered at the hotel and dressed to the African standard.  My best man, Safari, instructed us on what we needed to do and how we needed to be dressed.  He even coached us in how we were to march into the location in the traditional way.  This is a slow walk with a walking stick motion not unlike seen in many military parades.  Safari would also be my translator - the ceremony would be conducted in Kinyawandan.
A quick gathering for prayer and we exited the hotel.  Onlookers were astonished as we walked to the waiting cars.  I suspect a white man in traditional African ceremony attire is a rare sight.

The ceremony was organised at my partner's sisters house and in the garden. There were three tents. One for the bride's family, one for the groom's family and one for the bride and groom to seat after the formal ceremonial negotiations are completed, and the engagement ring given to the bride.

On entering the garden I was amazed.  The tents and flower arrangements, the costumes and the tables and the chairs.  A huge effort by many people had gone into this and the presentation was incredible.  I sat down with my best man and the rituals began.  Safari did a great job of translating everything into English for me.

Once the negotiations were completed I stood up and waited for the bride to enter the garden. Olivia and her entourage looked amazing. We were all rather self conscious and nervous with so many eyes on us - thankfully the ceremony's formal aspect went without mishap.

This was followed by the traditional dancing, after which there was much pressure to change as quickly as possible out of our African outfits and into more western clothes.  The eating could then begin for everyone after my partner and I had our plates piled up with the foods of Africa.  There were quite a few Muslims at the party, and it was the period of Ramadan.  As you can imagine - many empty stomachs were craving the food.

The sun had set by the time the food was consumed.  The display at night was equally impressive. I rather self-consciously danced in the way I know how to: clumsily.  A celebrity Rwandan hip hop rapper put in a great performance for us. His singing name is Jay Pol and we were all thankful for the live show.

This was a Sunday and so the event finished around eight in the evening.  I felt humbled by all the efforts put in by everyone to make this ceremony special and unforgettable.

Peace to All

Monday, 25 July 2016

Rwanda - And the Beach

I wanted to visit somewhere a Rwandan family might go to for their annual holiday. We had the Toyota four wheel drive to get us there.  And so we decided to complete the two hour trip to Lake Muhazi which is east of Kigali.  On this lake there is the Muhazi Beach hotel.  We would spend a pleasant afternoon at this resort.

Driving there itself was an unforgettable experience. There is a life of itself along the edges of the highway.  Elegant ladies with bright hand crafted dresses sliding along with fruit and vegetables balanced up their heads.  Bicycles loaded up with huge bunches of green cooking bananas called ma-toke.  In one village dozens of children and teenagers surrounded a pedestal.  On this pedestal was a laptop. I wasn't sure whether it was the laptop itself that attracted the crowd, or something running on the laptop itself.

Not far from the lake, the vehicle turned off the tarmac and onto a dusty red trail leading to the resort itself.  Children playing their games, whether it be football or catch or hide and seek - these vibrant children would stop and gift us with their huge smiles and round eyes. They would wave and hop back into their world of rags, dust and make-play. My mind was was back to my younger years.  A time without electronic gadgetry and predatory fear; and a place with wide open spaces, parks, rivers and sand banks.  A time when children were able to play outside. These young Rwandan children would probably desire an Xbox console and a smart phone - but they seemed happy playing with their friends in the old fashioned way.

The resort itself, the Muhazi Beach Hotel, looked a little run down from the outside. But it was not without tourist appeal.  I am told it is owned by Rwanda's president - Paul Kagame.  And the service provided by staff was indeed presidential.  Prompt and courteous.

Passing through the entrance and you are greeted with a stunning vista of lake, forest and farm land. The view would not be out of place in Switzerland.  We climbed down to the lake's beach.  My partner's brother, who had driven the vehicle, stripped down to his bathers and spent the afternoon in the water itself.

I was happy to sit at a table under the shade of an old acacia tree and read my book.  The weather was hot and I gave some thought of a swim myself but decided against it for some reason.  It was only recently I discovered that 10,000 victims of the genocide were dumped or drowned in this lake.  At that time onlookers noted the water was a mixture of water and blood.  Also, in 2014, a boat was attacked by a hippopotamus and four people were killed.  I am sure it would have been quite safe to go for a swim on that afternoon: but there are no regrets for staying dry.

After our lunch and after the swimming we headed back to Kigali.  I made a promise to myself - next time a hotel room would be booked and more time spent at the resort. There was not a lot of free time on this visit to Rwanda.  There were many people to visit and there was preparation for the ceremony that is called The Introduction.  The Introduction is a formal engagement ceremony: being the shy chap I am there was more than a little nervousness concerning this coming celebration.

Peace to All

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Rwanda - And Genocide. Warning: this post is upsetting.

On the day of arrival into Rwanda my partner and her niece took me to a church service. It was the Christian Life Assembly church in Kigali. The building was huge and there must have been at least five hundred in the congregation. Five hundred mostly Rwandese but also many other nationalities, all singing together in praise of the Infinite Spirit.

I couldn't help but give some thought to the Rwanda that was - twenty two years in the past. Where had God gone then? When every day at least 8000 Rwandans had the life literally ripped out ot their beings with machetes, clubs and axes. Innocents - women, men, boys and girls and infants and babies.

And the social fractures that brought about these atrocities: the anger between so called Tutsi and Hutu ethnicities; this was largely the result of meddling by colonial powers. And what did these foreign powers do when the killings began?  For the most part completely nothing.  They evacuated their expatriate communities and abandoned the Rwandan people. They left behind a country whose everyday life must have been so hellish, every other complaint in my life I can think about seems almost pathetic in comparison.

The United Nations had a small peace keeping force in place in Rwanda at the time. It was so small that in fact any real peace keeping was impossible.  Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire lead this force - a force that could do little else but stand witness to this monumental tragedy. He wrote about in in his book titled 'Shake Hands with the Devil - The failure of Humanity in Rwanda.'

Dallaire describes the daily horrors of life in Rwanda at the time and it is upsetting reading to be sure. He describes a journey through an unnamed village.

"We continued along lanes and paths that often took us through the middle of villages that did not appear on any map. In one village, we stopped to wait for all the vehicles to catch up to us. The path we were on had been one of the exit trails used by people fleeing Kigali. There were remnants of a barrier here, and many people had been killed and thrown in the ditches and on the sides of the road. Just as I glimpsed the body of a child, it moved. I wasn't sure if it was my imagination, but I saw the twitching of the child and I wanted to help. I leaned down to pick the child up, and suddenly I was holding a little body that was both tingling and mushy in my hands. In a second I realised that the movement was not the child but the action of maggots. I was frozen, not wanting to fling the child away from me but also not wanting to hold it for a second longer. I managed to set the body down and then stood there, shaky, not wanting to think about what was on my hands."

Dallaire later would try to commit suicide. He failed and went on to write this book as way of exorcising the scars.

We visited the Genocide memorial in Kigali. As expected it was a sombre experience. You can purchase a book here called "We Survived Genocide in Rwanda". This book contains the testimonies of 28 survivors.  It is a shocking book to read.  The horrors of the time are described by those that experienced them. But the horrors remain even today in Rwanda. For instance one poor lady describes her experience of being raped multiple times. And to survive. And to be diagnosed with HIV resulting from the sexual violence.

As we were walking through the exhibitions I heard a wailing from another room. This wailing will never leave me. The cries came from a lady who appeared about my age.   She was on the floor. Counselors were at her assistance. Her screams chillingly venting the trauma of her past experience.

During my stay in Rwanda we visited a family member of my partner. She also was a survivor of the Genocide.  This young lady took us into her house and I asked her how she had survived the slaughtering that was surrounding her. In perfect English she told me her story.

'Whether you survived or not', she said, 'it was a simply down to God's will'.

And the lady said of her escape:

'My mother told me that I must go away and that she will take my six month old brother. It would be too hard for me, she said, too look after the baby by myself.  I was only twelve years old. So I went away and this is how I survived .  But my mother and my little brother, they were killed'

I listened to this with stunned silence. Even now my brain has not digested the horror of this testimony - given to me with grace that I do not deserve.

Peace To All

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Rwanda - And dining

Today the wary food eater can travel to most locations and eat at a familiar restaurant - this could be a McDondalds, Pizza Hut, KFC, Burger King or whatever is your favourite chain eatery. This will not be the case in Rwanda. I did not see an internationally recognised eatery. Instead I dined in family owned restaurants eating traditional African food.  And it was very good food indeed.

Rwandan staple foods will be bananas, sweet potatoes, beans, ugali and plantains.  If you are not vegetarian you will eat these foods with goat or lamb or perhaps beef.  Generally prices are ridiculously cheap.  For example, four of us shared a dish of goat ribs and a leg of goat for five UK pounds and we were barely able to eat half of the meal.  This was the Master Grill restaurant located at KG113 Street.

The waiter may bring a tub of water to wash your hands before eating.  Often the hands are used to eat and if a utensil is offered it is usually only a fork.

The Fantastic Restaurant at KN 70 street should be visited.  Again the price for a buffet meal was very cheap at only two UK pounds  This restaurant is combined with a bar area and there are many television sets for the sports enthusiast.  I spent a couple of hours here watching England defeat Wales in the Euro football tournament.  You can stack your plate up with as much food as you desire. The local diners were not shy - their plates contained mountains of food.  And the food was eaten completely - a testament to a strong stomach and a hearty appetite.

Visiting friends, acquaintances or relatives in their homes will always involve a meal.  And it is considered impolite not to eat what is offered. This can be quite a challenge if you need to visit many abodes in a day.  You will not be hungry - you will be applying strong will power to ensure more food gets absorbed into an already well fed stomach.

I did not drink any alcohol in the time I was in Rwanda.  Fanta and Coke were the main refreshments on offer.  These are mostly sold in glass bottles and you will be expected to return the empty bottle to the vendor - or perhaps pay an additional amount to the bottle away from you.

There was so much eating and it was all very good food. Finally a caution: never drink water out of the tap. You will end up with a stomach bug.  Be careful with ice in drinks - again this may cause sickness.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Rwanda - And accomodation.

The horizon in all directions was an abundance of hills and mountain peaks layered with lush forest, woodlands and farms. The air was hot and dust floated over a city vibrant with colour, sound and movement.  After a cordial, if rather inquisitive, discussion with the custom's official I was with Olivia's family in a Toyota four wheel drive and on our way to the Champion hotel.

The traffic was chaotic and I had no sense of a highway code - rather the imagery of a hoard of elephants plunging through the thick foliage of a jungle left to it's natural laws of growth. Motorcycles carrying fee paying customers whizzed across and around the vehicle as we slowly made our way from the airport to the hotel. 

Ladies in colourful dress meandered gracefully along the roads and some balanced fruit product upon their heads. Some even had little infants wrapped in shrouds across their backs. Men too were everywhere to be seen and also observant to notice everything to be seen. I was white and completely conspicious. I never lost my sense of whiteness. And I never lost this sense of awe. I was in Africa and in Kigali and the sensitivity of my senses elevated and tuned to this wonderful city.

The hotel was located only a few miles from the airport. I had booked the hotel on a popular booking site on the net.  There was some concern that this would not be the most thrifty way to ensure accommodation was in place for my stay.  Some money may have been saved by waiting until arrival before booking a place. I would not recommend this however. You will be asked where you are staying before they allow you through the immigration checks and so an address is required. Also Rwanda is developing and progressing in Africa and there will be world conferences and exhibitions. You may find accommodation difficult to find. I paid 800 US dollars for 11 nights. Any concern that I had overpaid was cast aside on seeing the room - or rather rooms. It was more like an apartment than a hotel room. There was a reception and lounge room separated from the main bedroom. The accommodation had an impressive spa type bath and a great balcony view.

The hotel industry is developing in Rwanda. Those accustomed to western standards of service may be amused but overall we were happy with our stay at the Champion hotel. Don't expect a kettle, biscuits and coffee to be supplied to your room - perhaps this omission was peculiar to this hotel but I do suspect this is normal for hotels in Rwanda. On the other hand you will be supplied with fresh bottled water each day. Don't be tempted to drink the tap water unless you have a fondness for a bout of dysentery.

After such a long flight I was in need of a shower. Although the tap suggested warm water should be available only cold water flowed out.  It took a few days and a few threats of finding alternative accommodation to get this sorted. I felt a little embarrassed about making an issue of this later when I realised that most households don't have freely available running water all day, and certainly not hot water.

The price included breakfast each morning. Breakfast however is no different to lunch.  Don't expect bacon and eggs on toast - I did however have some lovely meat curry dishes for breakfast. You can also order an omelette with a range of ingredients. Fruit and cereal available also. 

The eating and bar section is a great place to relax also in the evening.  There are televisions and often a DJ providing the latest in African popular music. There are outside areas as well as indoor areas. The service was always good and the prices for food and drinks very reasonable.  Security was very good and there was always a guard positioned at the entrance of the hotel.

In the bedroom a huge net hung above the king sized bed.  The net's purpose was to keep mosquitos away. It felt odd - a bit like sleeping in a tent inside a bedroom. I never did quite get used to this sleeping arrangement and quite often I would wake with my head outside the net. One evening before switching the lights off I noticed a little lizard upon the upper section of the net. On closer examination I could see the lizard was actually inside the net. My partner quickly jumped out of the bed, with a squeal. The lizard was removed and we slept soundly.

Overall I felt this hotel was very good value and I would certainly recommend it to anyone desiring a holiday in Rwanda.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Rwanda - And getting there.

I had never been to Africa. My partner's past lay interwoven with Rwanda's recent history.  The intensity of my working life had left me dry and drained. It was time for a holiday. It was time to travel.  It was time for Rwanda.

Getting to Rwanda is not as simple as getting to Barbados, Switzerland or Spain. Firstly you will need to prepare your body. This starts with a vaccination against Yellow Fever. You should get this jab at least ten days before departure.

I suffered no side effects at all. You will also need to consider anti-malaria tablets. I booked a session with a nurse from Boots and she did well to clarify all the various options. The tablets were not cheap at 48 pounds.  I was instructed to start taking them two days before departure and to keep taking them for a week after the end of the holiday. I did feel light headed for a few days when taking these tablets. Better some mild discomfort than to suffer from Malaria.

You will need to buy a visa on arrival. This will be 30 US dollars.   The Rwanda currency is the Rwandan Franc. You can withdraw this currency on arrival from the many guarded ATM machines positioned throughout Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. You should purchase some US currency before departure. This is ideal because it can be used at any intermediary airports you may have to stop at on the way.

Make sure you spend whatever Rwandan currency you purchase before departure - getting it exchanged back to your home currency may prove difficult.  Rwanda is not exactly your average tourist destination.

My journey started at terminal four from Heathrow airport. As usual with this busy international airport you will need to arrive with plenty of hours to spare.  Check in and security went smoothly and with time to spare I visited the observation deck. Turn right after security and proceed along to the end of the terminal - you will climb some stairs to reach the viewing arena. A great place for the plane enthusiast.

The first stage of the trip was an eight and a half hour flight on an Airbus 788 operated by Kenya Airways. I had not specified a seat location when booking the ticket. This was quite a mistake. I was right in the middle of the centre row shouldered by two strangers in a rather narrow seat. Thankfully this rather uncomfortable position was countered by excellent service from the staff of Kenya Airways.

We arrived at Nairobi airport in Kenya and disembarked for transfer to our final short flight. Just over an hour away from Kigali. We had to pass once again through security and then waited a couple of hours before re-embarking on an Embraer E90. While waiting a wall display captured my attention. Here is a native instrument called a Lyre. It was positioned next to a carpeted area reserved for Islamic prayers.

Long haul trips flying economy are only great when they are over. It was a delight to board the aircraft for the final hop into Rwanda. Sitting there in the window seat and looking over the night skies of Africa I wondered about the next couple of weeks. I knew little about Rwanda. I knew it's recent past was turbulent. I was quite intrigued.  I was most naive. I had no idea I was entering a land whose people had born witness to both the furnace of Satan's hell, and also the grace of God's precious salvation.