My mum, the pilot

Once upon a time, a little girl was told that women shouldn’t fly airplanes … I grew up knowing ‘mum flew planes’. This was one of a series of simple facts in my childhood: my sister and I were born in London; our parents came from India; dad sang; mum flew. She told us stories…

Peter and the soup confusion

Peter, my Rwandan housemate, is a man of many talents – he’s my gym training buddy, my security guard, a law student and a boxing champion for the Kigali Police First Team. I don’t really need a security guard, Kigali is the safest city I’ve ever lived in, but I enjoy his company especially at…

Varanasi: Notes from the banks of the Ganges

India wakes early and Varanasi is no exception – at dawn the eastern sky above the sandy floodplain shines pink and the ghats, ancient stone steps on the edge of the Ganges, Hinduism’s holiest river, are glowing and already abuzz with life. From the hotel roof terrace we see devotees in the water’s edge at…

The fox in the box

One evening a fox was dying in my back garden. Its fur was patchy, its eyes were sad and watery, and it sniffed pitifully amongst the bushes. I have mixed feelings towards foxes. One part of me, the idealistic, romantic side, likes them. They are beautiful, shy creatures of sharp senses, swift and playful, with…

Help! I’m a businessman going to work in an NGO in Africa

One of my life goals was to volunteer in Africa but I was never quite sure if my career path could ever take me there. What use would I be in an NGO in Africa? Surely African NGOs needed doctors, nurses, teachers, humanitarian workers and engineers – not suited business people like me. How wrong…

Adventures on a chocolate scooter: beach towels and helmets in Formentera

We’re on Formentera, a small island just 19kms across, to the south of Ibiza, it’s the worst kept secret of Europe’s pretty beach destinations; the waters are aquamarine and clear, its sands white. Its beaches are like the Maldives but without coconut trees or seaplanes. There’s a laid back air. No clubs, no loud music,…

A Rough Guide to the Various Forms of Rwandan Handshakes

Rwandan body language is fascinating. As someone born in England,where office handshakes are either hard, soft or damp squib, Rwandans, who love to shake hands, offer a new level of workplace sophistication when it comes to the handshake. The first thing to note is the frequency. Hands are shaken ad libitum and can be shaken…

Going bald: the journey through pain and pleasure 

Once, when I had hair, I revelled in it joyously; I had a quiff that sat up proud like a duck’s bum, sometimes spawning a rebellious love-curl; my side-burns dropped to the bottom of my earlobes; my back and sides were ‘grade one tapered’; the rest, back-brushed in to a bouffant coiffure. I thought I…

A special place of remembrance, hope and beauty

It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever worked in: a creamy-white building with balconies facing the hills of central Kigali, nestled in rose gardens and shaded by palms, in a peaceful air filled with birdsong. But more than just beauty, this quiet, modest site, the Kigali Genocide Memorial is one of the world’s truly special…

The thrill of the motorbike taxis in the hilly heart of Africa

The fastest, most exhilarating way to get round Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, is on motorbike taxis, which go by the rather cute name of  ‘ipikipiki’. I like the way it sounds, like birdsong, it rolls off the tongue, is easy to spell, it’s just hard to stop spelling. If you want an adrenaline buzz,…

Getting to work, Rwanda style

Whoever first coined the term ‘the Dark Continent’ to describe Africa was either wearing very powerful sunglasses, or was nocturnal. The Rwandan sun is enthusiastic, its light is sharp and sunrise is rapid – the sun doesn’t drag itself up; it skyrockets in a steep trajectory and by the start of my commute at 7.30am…

A letter from the heart of Africa: settling in fine

 Dear friends, I made it, I’m here, in Kigali, Rwanda, writing to you from the hilly heart of a distant continent. I’ve been here a week now and I’m settling in fine. On the flight here, just as we passed Lake Victoria, the land suddenly rose to resemble a fairytale kingdom, a mountain fortress, rising…

The flight to Rwanda and getting rid of the contraband

After a short layover in Nairobi airport, the great African plains appeared below us, followed by Lake Victoria, its shoreline edged in pink flamingoes between jealous, grey clouds. (This is part of a series of posts called Letters from the Heart of Africa and a table of contents and background can be found here. This…