Wednesday, 19 December 2012

No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

Last month someone asked me if I had read the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency books. I of course replied in the negative, as my reading habits are somewhat limited to a certain genre of books. 
My idea of a good book, is one that involves at least one Dragon, generally some Elves or Goblins, and a character that is large, like an ogre.  They are set in mythical lands and usually involve the triumph of good over evil, with a bit of struggle in between. Titles generally include words like Saga or Dynasty or Chronicles or Legacy.
So, No 1 LDA didn't really sound like my cup of tea. But, oh how wrong I was. I love them. I'm on the third one now. Suffering badly with Kindle Shop Online Syndrome, I can't resist just pressing the button and buying the next book, as I finish the last page.
The books are great. They are set in Botswana. Which is not quite Burundi, but many things are very similar.

Sometimes at night when I sit with my two housemates, Mary (Kenyan) and Esther (Ugandan) I feel like I have drifted off and begun to live in one of the books. We sit and chat about life, men, marriage, work and the church. Drinking tea and eating bread and I'm there on Zebra Drive!

A recurring theme that  arises in the books is that of the ants in Africa. They eat everything. Mma Ramotswe is often lammenting thet fact that the ants destroy all the evidence she needs.  There is a string of tiny advent stocking hanging in a house not far from here, that remains 'sweetless' . I have heard a number of enquirers informed that this is not for lack of sweets in Burundi, but for the fact, that the only things who will get to eat the sweets will be the ants, not the children!
I had never realised that ants came in so many sizes until I moved here. There is an ant for every occasion, it seems. Tiny ones you can hardly see, up to great big ones that look like they could take a chunk out of your toe!

So it was with fascination that I took the two pictures below, of a squashed chip on the veranda. I was hoping to get a third picture.
But Deo, wouldn't let me keep the chip for another day, he cleaned it up! Even though in my best Kirundi I asked him not to! Well, I mimed sweeping up and said 'Oya, Oya.' Which means 'no, no'. But he just smiled and shook his head. I got the distinct impression that he thinks I'm a little soft in the head.

Day One: I think they are trying to move it!

                           Day 2: They gave up and just ate it.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Moto Madness!

When I arrived in Bujumbura nearly four months ago, one of the first things to assault my senses was the traffic on the roads. As we drove into the city from the airport, my travel weary brain struggled to cope with chaotic progress of the vehicles that occupied the tarmac (mud, sand, stones) It's hard to describe how different the atmosphere is on the roads here, compared to Hinckley (Leicestershire). One of the glaring contrasts, has to be the presence of Moto-taxis. These small motor bikes weave in out of the traffic, on and off the road, pipping their horns wildly at anything that gets in their way.
Not long after I arrived, I got these pictures of a Moto-taxi with passengers. Yes, 3 passengers, plus a suitcase!
I was convinced the lady and baby would fall off and get squashed under our car. But surprisingly, nothing of the sort happened. They just sped off through the traffic, all limbs intact.

 So, where is all this leading? Yesterday, I had my first ride on a Moto-taxi!
I have joked a few times about going on one, but never really seriously meant to do it.  Yesterday however, I really needed to get from A to B. The choice was a bus into town-walk round the market-bus out of town or a Moto.

Why not? I thought. All I've got to do is, get on and sit there. Everyone else does it, why shouldn't I? The Moto-taxi driver did look a tad amused, when flagged down by two muzungu's. Rachel negotiated a price for me. My language skills still not up to the job, sadly. The price was 1500 fbu (about 75p).
So on I jumped. Rachel, squealing something about, wishing she had a camera!! She didn't, fortunately. And off I went.

My suspicions rose a little, when a series of other Moto-taxi drivers manouvered their bikes next to us. Clearly, with the express purpose of 'having a good laugh' at the muzungu on a Moto-taxi!
Why do they find this such a novelty? I wondered. Is this very unsual?

There then followed a real battle inside my head. Mrs Health & Saftey raised her whittering voice. "Look at you sat on the back of a motor bike. Nothing covering your arms, nothing covering your legs and sandals on your feet. Your helmet is wobbling all over the place. You'll crack your skull open if you fall off."
"SHUT UP!" Wreckless Me, shouted back.
" If you fall off, you'll take all the skin off your arms and legs. You'll loose toes."
"Well, I'd better not fall off then, had I."

No sooner had Mrs Health & Safety finished. Than, Mrs Back Seat Driver piped up.  " He's going ever so fast. Watch out for that car it's slowing down. How's he going to stop, if he needs to? Oh dear we're coming up to a junction and he's not slowing down. Watch out for that lorry! "
Wreckless Me, decided it was best to stop trying to peer over his shoulder and do his job for him. Maybe I should just concentrate on relaxing and leaning with the bike, when we swerved in and out of the cars.

After what seemed like an eternity, of hurtling along a number of very fast roads, the Old Woman began to moan quietly. " My arms are aching, I don't think I can hold on for much longer. I'm 50 years old you know. Maybe I'm too old to be doing things like this."
Wreckless Me, became quite afronted at this point. " For goodness sake, all you've got to do is sit here. If you look at all the other Moto-taxi passengers, they don't appear to be clinging to their bikes, do they?" One lady passenger seemed to make quite a point of smiling sympathetically, whilst sitting with her arms folded in front of her. Doing a good impression of someone resting on their settee at home. It was all I could do not to poke my tongue out at her childishly.

The final leg of our journey took us up one of the bumpiest roads in Bujumbura. This apparently did not require any reducing of speed. It was just a case of weaving in and out of the ruts and bumps. We arrived outside the house, to deliver my final piece of entertainment. Both the house workers, sat on the wall, grinning from ear to ear! I decided to pay 2000fbu (almost a £1) out of sheer relief that I had arrived alive and well.

The strange thing is, that I think I will do it again. But just me next time! Mrs H & S, Mrs B-S-D and Old Woman are not invited.

Sunday, 9 December 2012


What's a Blozzle? It is a Blog, puzzle. I was sitting wondering how I could piece all the different bits and bobs I've got to Blog together, when it occured to me that it was like a jigsaw puzzle. So it has become a Blozzle. And I'll leave it you to put together.

Burundian Drummers at the Market - very loud!
Christmas Shopping in 26 degrees! It's very unusual for me to do any Christmas shopping at all. I can almost hear my youngest son, yelling in agreement. So you can imagine my sense of confusion, when I found myself Christmas shopping at the East African Market. The sun blazing, surrounded by dazzling colours and people of all nationalities. I find the African 'salesman/woman' quite a challenge to deal with. Being a very reluctant shopper, who in England chooses shops by my ability to remain annonymous but not over-crowded. Certainly never knowingly enter a shop where an assistant is likely to come up and say, 'can I help you madam?' My first trip to the market ended with zero purchases, as the pressure was all too much. And my brain shut down. I did however come away with a 'free gift' of pink soap-stone hippo. From a very astute sales woman, who spotted the potential weakness in me and realised that my claim to be returning at the weekend would be so much more likely if I felt obliged to her.
So three visits later, I have 5 pink hippos and an assortment of goods from Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and Zanzibar. One suitcase full and ready to go home for Christmas. I also have two pairs of leather flip flops, that I really didn't want, but got bamboozled by a very persistent Kenyan saleswoman! Should be good for cockroach swatting at least!

Dot - not sure that is how it is spelt, but that is how it is said by most. Dot. It is the pre-wedding dowry party. Happens the night before the wedding day and is the ceremonial agreeing of the dowry between the bride and groom's families. All the staff of King's School (Primary) were asked to go along to serve drinks and be part of the 'brides' party. This meant putting on a traditional costume, an invatanu. The children all find it highly amusing when a muzungu wears African dress. My appearance in my invatanu caused roaring laughter with the children who come for after school lessons to our house. They all assured me it wasn't because I looked ridiculous, it was just very funny!! Hmmm...... perhaps you can read my mind from the photograph?
I don't have a photo of me standing at the front of the bridal party, almost next to the bride! facing around a hundred Burundians. Trying desperately to follow the rhythm and words (Kirundi) of the songs we were singing to escort the bride into the Dot. I strongly suspect that I had my 'rabbit-in-headlights' face on.

Wildlife - I have a butterfly photo to add to my collection. A large grasshopper. A large caterpillar. I would have a live Chamelion. However, Mary my Kenyan housemate saw one in our own garden and decided not to tell me because she thought I might pick it up and bring it in the house. It appears that on the whole, Africans are terrified of chamelions. I have now promised that all I want to do is look and photograph. No touching. No befriending. No pets. So she has promised to tell me if she sees it again! I am also trying to persuade her that chamelions are not in fact deadly creatures, but she is not yet entirely convinced that I am telling the truth.

Sorry no large caterpillar, it wont download!

Family - as I have said before  the hardest part of being in Burundi has been leaving my family behind. It has meant missing out on a number of significant events. The most recent has been, my second son JohnAlex performing at the British Military Tournament at Earls Court. When the children were young a very good friend used to take us to see the Royal Tournament (as it was then) every year. It seems amazing to me that now years later, JohnAlex is there performing in it. So as an extremely proud mum I want to put a photo in of him and say I might not have been there in person, but it doesn't make me any less proud of him and his family. He's the one at the front, with the clubs. Very  kind of them to put him at the front for me. Do you think he said, 'please can I go at the front? My mum's in Africa and she wont be able to see otherwise.' Maybe not!

I could add Cabbage and cold showers to my Blozzle. But I have been trying so hard not to moan about such trifling things. I have been into the centre of Bujumbura a number of times lately, where there are so many people living in such extreme poverty. It seems so inappropriate for me to be unhappy about the food that is put on the table for me and the temperature of the water that comes out of the shower. I have in fact had a cold shower 4 days in a row. And peas are now coming a close second to being my least favourite vegetable in the whole wide world. Peas, swimming in a tomatoey, soupy liquid. But every time I'm tempted to feel sorry myself, I wonder how I would feel if there was nothing on offer!

On Thursday last week, I left the house in pouring rain, and heard footsteps behind me. I turned and there was a little boy of 5 or 6 walking barefoot in the rain. He had dirty rags for clothes and was soaked to the skin. He looked up at me and my heart melted.  I stretched out the umbrella and beckoned him to walk with me. We walked along in silence, as he looked too cold to talk and as usual I forgot all the Kirundi words I know. When we got close to the little shop on our road, I asked (mainly through sign language) him if he was hungry. Bit of a pointless question I know, it was pretty obvious what the answer would be. So I went in and bought him a bag of Burundian doughnuts. I know, not the most nutritious if you are starving. But all I could see that no one esle would steal off him. He had waited outside, I'm sure desperately hoping that I was going to come out with something for him. I gave him the bag of doughnuts and walked on to school.
Who am I to moan about cabbage for lunch more than once a week?

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

A Grand Day Out!

Today has been a 'Grand Day'.
Why?  Yesterday I completed my first term of After school Clubs, Burundi style. I think I was only about 2 weeks into the term when I realised I had potentially made a big mistake volunteering to start an English Club for Years 1 and 2. Basically, I had grossly under-estimated the difficulty of communicating with young children who don't speak English very well. I'm not sure how much English the children have learnt, but I have learnt a great deal about volunteering for After school clubs! Actually, yesterday I found  myself feeling really very proud of the English Club as they all worked together producing model cars. They have come along way from the first week, when it took us 10 minutes to sit down in a circle.
Reason 2: Two parcels of drinking chocolate have arrived. They weren't sent at the same time but the theory is, that they hold on to the post in Nairobi until there is enough to bother sending! Not sure if that is true. Anyway my drinking chocolate famine is over! I would just like the world to know that I have the kindest, most generous, gorgeous daughter on the planet. Thank you Libby, you're my favourite daughter.
So that is reason 2.
Reason 3 for it being a Grand Day. A very kind parent at school who owns a Restaurant, the Taj Mahal (Bujumbura) brought in lunch for all the staff. So we had a really good chicken biriyani and salad, instead of maize ugahli, beans and linga linga. Don't worry no food was wasted in the process of having this treat. We had a lunch date cancelled during the morning, so were potentially going to stretch lunch for two across four. But no need.........! I would highly recommend The Taj Mahal in Bujumbura, if you are ever passing this way. A visit has now become part of my 'things to do' list.
Reason 4. My language lessons have now reached the point where I have the capacity to say sentences like; The man has an ugly goat. or. My house is beautiful. or. The cows are short, fat and ugly. It's great. The only draw back is that it takes me five minutes to get all the words in the right order and decide which rules of adding prefixes to follow. But to quote a good friend, 'the world's my lobster !' now.

Reason 5. The weather today has gone a long way to making me feel like it might actually be December. I have had to put a t-shirt on rather than a vest top, it has been so cold. And the skies have been positively Anglican or is it Anglian or is it Angliful. Whatever, it's been just like home. But maybe not quite so cold. Still 23 degrees.
Nothing like classrooms without windows in this weather!!

Finally, the reason for the title, A Grand Day Out..... I recently introduced my American housemate to the joys of Wallace and Grommit. She had become a little bemused with my tendency to say ' Ah cheese Grommit,' when ever we treat ourselves to  a round of Burundi 'cheddar'! It's definitely not cheddar and actually it's not even Burundian, it's Congolese. They roll it across the border to enhance the flavour. But at the end of the day it's cheese and there is only so long you can go without having cheese Grommit! isn't there. So now we both flap our hands about and say ' How about a little bit of cheese Grommit.' (no crackers)