Thursday, 31 May 2007

Galleries Lafayette or Bust!

With JK participating in a conference at the "Sciences Po" university, MK decided she would join in the fun and take the Thalys to Paris for a little adventure! The whole experience was made even more enjoyable with ER there, who was also going to Paris the same day for business.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Chatelain is the place to be on a Wednesday evening!

Place du Chatelain is THE place to be on a Wednesday evening. Place du Chatelain is the most trendiest market in Belgium, if not Western Europe! What could be better than buying fresh cheese, bread, olives, and cured meats in one area and then establishing a position at the wine stand. Amid a congregation of uber-Eurocrats, you can purchase a bottle of wine for 5euros - complete with proper wine glasses - to accompany your amuses-bouches. Place du Chatelain is also where you meet the most interesting characters......

Monday, 28 May 2007

Titillating Tournai

OK, perhaps the title is a slight exaggeration :) but we found our experience in the town of Tournai to be yet another illustration of a tendency we have noticed in Belgium: that the country, for one reason or another, undersells itself. Sure, we all know about Bruges, Antwerp and increasingly Ghent, but many other places in this country don't get the attention they deserve. We felt the same way about Mechelen, Dinant, Namur, Ypres, Mons: all surprises and underated.

Tournai is near the border with France, about a 1 hour train ride from Brussels. Mel and I went for one of our typical weekend day-trips to celebrate her (alas, temporary) return from Rwanda. The UNESCO World Heritage city centre was the obvious highlight, with the not two, or three, but five Romaneque towers of the Notre Dame cathedral being the standout. The main square (pictured above) was also a classic showpiece of Flemish architecture (the city is francophone, but the look is decidedly Flemish). More pics here.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Final observations from Rwanda

MK: Now that I have left, I thought I would share with you my final observations about Rwanda that might not necessarily be evident to an short-term guest or else found in Lonely Planet!
  1. Rwandans LOVE to give long speeches. I am not exaggerating or talking about 10 minutes. I mean hours!
  2. Rwandans - like their Ugandan counterparts - switch "l" with "r" and vice versa. So, in Rwanda, I am known as "Merani". When John came to visit me at UNDP he informed them that he was "son mari" but what they understood was "somali".
  3. Rwanda has the highest percentage of females in parliament in the world.
  4. Plastic bags are illegal and you can get fined for carrying one.
  5. Rwanda is a small village. Everyone is linked and everyone knows everyone. So watch what you say and do!
  6. Rwandans have bad cell phone manners. This is made official when the President bans all cell phones at any event he is at (cameras are allowed). When a cell phone rings in a meeting, it is usually followed by the person bending down, covering their mouth and speaking which actually amplifies their voice!
  7. Women and children feel the need to pull my hair out of its roots. Then when I turn around they act like they have no idea what just happened!
  8. Finally, while walking by some less well groomed locals with a stench that turned my stomach in a million ways, I realised I must have extraordinary olfactory glands.

Goodbye Rwanda, Hello....

....Equatorial Guinea!!!!
MK: After much ulcer-inducing events that occurred over a series of four weeks in Rwanda, I packed all of my personal effects into 2 boxes and had them shipped to what I thought at the time was… a black hole, a mystery to most people in this world (Africans included). This obscure abyss was to be my new home for the next year. But before I embarked on my latest escapade, I was first to be rewarded with fourteen days and fourteen nights with my beloved husband. The next few posts will reveal how our estranged relationship makes us go on interesting adventures when we do get together!

Sadly our time together was to be a fleeting sparkle in our hearts. The Government of Equatorial Guinea was ready to issue my visa so that I could travel to an unknown island (for the most part) in the Gulf of Guinea in Central Africa. I was about to embark on yet another journey. I was going to Malabo, Equatorial Guinea to work with the UNDP as the Programme Manager of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Have fun with the links!

Sunday, 20 May 2007

JohnnyK does Kigali

JK: It was short but sweet. Just days after I got confirmation that Mélanie was leaving UNDP in Rwanda, I found myself on Rwandan soil. How is that for doing my husbandly duty? :) (OK, Mel paid for the ticket, but still...)

Getting down was easy enough since Brussels is the only European city with a direct link to Rwanda. The week flew by, with plenty of social events (I had to meet all of Mel's posse), and work (I was given a little office at the UNDP), but less touring (it was tricky because Mel was working the whole time and Kigali, while a nice city, has virtually no "classic" tourist attractions).

I did, however, take a day trip to the countryside to see Rwanda's Volcano National Park. The weather did not cooperate (but that is on par with Mel's entire time spent in Rwanda), but I was amazed by the beauty of the landscape nevertheless. It truly is the land of the (very lush) thousand hills. Other highlights included a "farewell Mel, welcome John" party at Melanie's place, meeting her hyperactive pootch Nala Shani, visiting the Genocide museum/memorial and spending time with Mel herself.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Mombasa Mama!

MK: I was fortunate enough to attend a Sub-regional Environment Cluster (SREC) meeting in Mombasa, Kenya the week of 30 April to 4 May. About 60 of us attended the meeting from UNDP offices in Eastern and Southern Africa. Our conference took place at the Sarova Whitesands Beach Resort and Spa. I don't think I have ever really been to a resort before but was shocked at every meal. The food was unbelievable! Every day there was a different theme and live music during dinner. I didn't get to see much of Mombasa this time around. I forgot that the Eastern Coast of Kenya is like a sauna! Living in Rwanda and Belgium over the last few years, I forgot what the sun and heat were like! Mid-week, we went on a field trip and saw some GEF projects in action. The highlight was trying honey from sweat bees! Despite the fact that my days were fully packed from 8:00am to 6:00pm including meetings while eating lunch, I still managed to fit in a Kahawa Scrub (coffee grains), a facial, an ayuraveda massage, and a pedicure! What a treat! On the last day a small group of us went for an afternoon snorkel in the Marine Park. To see photos, click here and here.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Bundles of joy!

A belated congratulations to our friends on the birth of their children:

It's a baby girl!

Jaclyn Linnane Leask, weighing 7lbs, 3oz. Congratulations to proud parents Michelle and Jason and older brother Braeden.

It's a baby boy!
Mateo Seth Namer was born on Wednesday, April 11th at 9:38 am, weighing 8 lbs, 11 oz. Congratulations to proud parents Eban and Mercedes and older sister Camila.