Wednesday, 1 April 2009


I’m leaving in two weeks, a fact that excites and depresses.

Last night we went to what is affectionately known as ‘The Pork Restaurant’. I don’t believe there’s more of a lads’ restaurant in the world. The beer is cheap, cutlery isn’t provided and there are two things on the menu: pork (ordered by the kilo) and fried banana. We decided on 4 kilos between 5 of us, a ludicrous amount. We’d all eaten lunch and that’s a lot of meat. Like the soldiers we are, we bravely struggled through it all, feeling just as we finished that our eating exertions had justified the extravagance. There were three very un-Rwandan things about this meal. Most locals don’t feel the need to drink beer, dinner doesn’t usually happen and meat is a real rarity. I can guarantee that late-night branches on our high streets would flourish but, for the aforementioned reasons, the locals don’t seem to have embraced the concept as readily as we have.

Just to prove I’m not spending all my time getting fat and breaking local customs I’ll tell you about our trip to a village called Bweyeye. It’s a four-hour drive south, through the rainforest. The road provides spectacle and struggle in equal measures. Only once in its history has Bweyeye had any real attention, during a brief gold rush 12 years ago. Now abandoned by the miners, all this long dusty street, encircled by wilderness wants is swinging doors and dawn shootouts to complete the eerie feel of America’s forgotten west. Instead of cowboys and girls however, we saw the unemployed and hungry. Us out-of-towners were met, not with bolting doors and local posses but over-excited children. This clumsy simile is designed to illuminate the overwhelming force that governs the town’s existence: its remoteness. The forest path, which begins at the last paved road, took our car 2 hours to defeat. On the way we passed groups of people, mainly men, trudging through the humidity. Our driver told us that their destination was the same as ours. This means a four-hour walk. For many this is their only access to work, no buses dare the jungle road. These young men, returning with the setting sun, had risen before it, traipsed through the dewy morning to catch the overcrowded bus, laboured all day, returning at night’s peak. Imagine this six days a week just to feed your family.

I’ve been to places where aid groups don’t go, but everyone has signs of the outer world. Bweyeye was the first town of size that didn’t sell bottled water, a luxury that only the rich afford, but a necessity for anywhere expecting guests. To a foreigner this was as acute a reminder as anything of the town’s isolation, an almost insurmountable problem. Good work is being done in this place, squeezed between the forest and Burundi’s northern hills, children learn and crops grow but doubt, still, lingers in the air and my mind.

Thank You


  1. Actually, we'd like you to stay put Henry, not that we don't miss you back in Richmond, it's just that you are describing so vividly this once in a lifetime experience which frankly none of us would otherwise have known. So, if you don't mind staying there as our man in Rwanda, that would be great. Thanks mate. Georges. We'll send you the Marmite or whatever other essential you are missing.

  2. Actually we'd quite like him back in Richmond, thanks Georges. And that pork looked disgusting