Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Arrived in Rwanda, but my luggage hasn’t. Its been a while now and the general consensus and feedback from the airline - the useless SN Brussels - is that its all gone. I have to wait 45 days until the Airline write it off, and then start fighting to get reimbursed.

I travelled with my computer in my hand luggage and my field boots on my feet, so I have the essentials for work. Other than that, I estimate I’ve lost £1300’s worth of gear – my field lenses and kit have all gone. I’ve bought a few clothes and am current dressed like a working class Rwandan – in smart but cheap clothes that don’t fit very well. I even managed to pick up second hand C&A shirt for about two quid. Its been a bit of fun bargaining for stuff. A lot of the itinerant traders speak Kiswahili and get a bit of a surprise when they meet a strangely dressed white-man who speaks the lingo. Best purchase so far: fluorescent green rubber sandals - the only pair of size 11s in the city.

My former boss and his Guyanese partner welcomed me to the country with cool, locally brewed Mutzig lager and a plate full of chana (West Indian-style curried chickpeas) with potatoes and roti.

The supermarkets here are great by African standards. I’ve been around a few already in the search for cheap socks and underpants. The influence of continental Europe is fairly obvious – French bread and croissants are baked daily for example. The meat selection is fairly good too, with lamb chops, beef, and chicken, along with smoked ham and salami.

At one place in town I spotted Port Salut, Roquefort, and Mozzerella on sale for reasonable prices (about 80% more than we would pay at home), and there are some local cheeses as well – even a local chevre. Fruit and veg looks good – I even saw a bucket full of strawberries – but I haven’t had chance to investigate the big fruit and veg market yet – perhaps at the weekend. Avocados are enormous, but a bit bland. Apparently you occasionally get large hass variety avocados which have a bit more flavour. The local peanut butter is excellent. The best peanut butter I’ve ever tasted came from a place called Iringa in Tanzania, and the Rwandan stuff comes a close second.

Local ‘Maraba’ coffee is pretty tasty, although brewing facilities are rudimentary. I’ll definitely bring some of that home.

I’ve eaten out at the ‘Chez Lando’ Hotel. I’m currently reading Lt. General Dallaire’s account of the 1994 genocide and it seems that ‘Lando’ was the leader of the moderate Liberal party, and was considered to be a peacemaker.

At Chez Lando came more Mutzig beer, a plate of chips (not bad, Belgian style) and a large tray of chicken pieces. Well, they told us it was chicken anyway, it tasted more like a cat I unwittingly ate in Nairobi, as the flesh was tough enough to break teeth, and the skin as thick and chewy as a pig’s ear. The only tender meat was the neck meat, although ‘neck’ is hardly the choicest cut of a chicken. Can you imagine that at a Sunday roast? Would you like leg or neck?

I'm trying to keep this blog food focused, but I've got an urge to write about Rwanda a little. Kigali at least is quite an unusual city. The genocide still casts a shadow here to some extent, and although people want to move on, there are reminders everywhere. I read up on the genocide and politics of the country before arriving, and it is hard to make a way around the city without recognising the sites of massacres.

They are currently filming another Hollywood movie here about the genocide. Apparently this is based on the UNAMIR mission. It might give a more balanced view of the events of 1994 than Shooting Dogs and Hotel Rwanda, which both seem to imply that it was only tutsis who were slaughtered. It feels strange that, 12 years on, there is this sudden interest in the genocide. America and the UK did nothing - actively did nothing - when it happened, so why all the interest now? Because it makes a good story in the delicate post-9/11 world?

Enough, I've got a whole belly full of bitterness for the aid 'industry' here as well, but I'll save it for the pub.