Banana-leaf balls, making friends and a bitter falling out

The twin pillars of passion in Rwanda are Christianity and English Premier League Football. The sides of the small buses, the mutatus, are adorned with colourful reminders of this: Wayne Rooney; a picture of Christ; Steven Gerard; sayings from the Bible; a picture of Didier Drogba; the Virgin Mary. Strangely the juxtaposition isn’t incongruous on…

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…

Letters from the Heart of Africa

A few years ago I spent six months volunteering at the Genocide Memorial Centre in Rwanda. This serialised post is based on letters and emails sent home to friends during my time there, and from notes in my personal journal. Names of people have been changed, employer’s confidentiality preserved, but all of the facts are…

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…

Retracing the Footsteps of Our Paris Engagement

I had always said to my then girlfriend Sarah that I would never propose to her in Paris; ‘it’s too cliche,’ I had said, but it was a ruse, a little white lie, that ensured a certain element of surprise. I wanted it to be a surprise for Sarah had hardly dropped any hints about…

My friends, the survivors

I settled in to my role as an adviser at the Kigali Genocide Memorial – I got a desk, there was wifi and I had a workplan agreed with my boss Freddy. My colleagues made me feel at home as soon as I was introduced to them at our Monday morning meeting. What struck me at…

The Chatter of the Raindrops

Continuing the series Letters from the Heart of Africa.  My first few nights in Rwanda brought me shallow, dreamless sleeps; when I awoke I was unsure that I had even slept at all. My new home was so different to my home in London. The birdsong, distant voices from the street in unrecognisable tongues, the…

The Revenge of the Typo: How a Print Error Nearly Ended My Career

We all make typos don’t we? Of course we do, because we bloggers are human and proofreaders are luxuries. Nevertheless, they’re so annoying, the way they play hide and seek, like little germs, taking refuge in our blogposts till  we hit the big blue ‘Publish’ button, after which point they come crawling out of the…

The Shimmering Lake in the Shadow of the Volcano

In the very heart of Africa, between Rwanda and D.R. Congo, is a silvery, majestic lake framed by breezy palms and sandy shores. Beside her sits an angry old volcano, at his top sits a lake of red hot lava. Because the volcano’s lava would now and again spew down his slopes and swallow forests,…

Stolen socks and missing underpants

One morning I phoned my friend Thierry. “Someone’s stolen my clothes.” “I can lend you clothes,” he said. Thierry was resourceful and full of solutions to problems – he could get things and repair things, and looked after the centre’s building and maintenance. “No but they’ve stolen my socks. Even Peter didn’t see anything.” He…

We Need To Talk About Why People Kill Each Other

Continuing the series, Letters from the Heart of Africa No narrative on Rwanda can really ever avoid the genocide. Its magnitude and barbarism is unfathomable. In 1994, one million people were murdered in a hundred days; neighbours and friends turned on each other; the nature of the killing was especially cruel with the majority killed by…

Cambridge blue and the red herring

Last weekend we went for a long punt in Cambridge; we glided on the glinting River Cam in a  flat-bottomed boat, a punt, pushing ourselves with a pole, drifting lazily past ancient sandstone colleges and perfect lawns which spilled in to the riverbank. The University of Cambridge is my alma mater so we popped in…

The Little Fish Mystery 

This is a true story that happened in my kitchen – it involves multiple murders, male-only breeding, a sex-change and suspected cannibalism. It’s also about my pet fish. It had all started so well: a glass fish tank, pure white sand, aquatic plants, ornamental rocks, a bubbling filter and a small heater that kept the…

The importance of memory 

Continuing the series, Letters from the Heart of Africa. We all want to go places, forwards, like a car, pressing on the gas, looking out of the windscreen; but to be really safe, we need the rear-view mirror. And so it is with memory in Rwanda, for there, memorials, like the Genocide Memorial Centre, take…

The blue hill and the temple of the goddess of love

Assam, in India’s north-east, is known as the Land of the Red River and the Blue Hill. The Red River is the Brahmaputra, by now on its course from the Tibetan plateau it’s rich with red silt and keeps the valley fertile; its slow glide seems to set the pace here, for Assam is also…