Night fishing on Lake Kivu in traditional fishing boats

Since my first trip to Lake Kivu, I’ve been fascinated with the beautiful wooden fishing boats that set out each night in search of sambaza, the little fish. I didn’t expect to end up on one of those myself, but there I was, a few months later boarding a traditional boat in the middle of the lake in pitch black darkness – yet again, this was all thanks to VAYANDO. My partner in crime was Marybeth, the Ghana Kiva Fellow!


We decided to start the day in style, enjoying a pitcher of wine, fried sambaza and fish brochette at the Cormoran Lodge in Kibuye. As the darkness set in, we headed to our motor boat that would bring us to the traditional fishing boats, which had already made themselves comfortable in the middle of the lake.


We gracefully (not) got ourselves from the motor boat to the fishing boat without falling into the lake and sat down next to the captain, Aphrodite.

The guys set off every night at 6pm and stay on the lake until 5 am – each night they put their nets in twice. The boats come in sets of three and each boat has 3 guys on it, manning the nets. The captain is in charge of choosing the destinations for the night, refilling the petroleum lamps and managing the crew throughout the night.


The guys pass time by taking naps and having some beer, so the general mood was nice and merry. Not to mention the petroleum fumes, which will get anyone slightly tipsy! These lamps are used to attract the sambaza; additional halogen lights are also dropped in the water to attract more fish to the nets underneath the boat.


Pulling out the nets was hard work as they go well into the depths of the lake and even after a solid 30 minutes of watching the guys do it, I still don’t understand how the boat operates! After all that hard work, the guys ended up with a modest 3 kilos of sambaza, which would get them roughly 4000 RWF (that is about £4!).


As Lake Kivu is a methane lake, fishing can sometimes be tricky – some men have day jobs for additional income and look for further work during the week off they get every month. It is however a beautiful tradition that is passed on from father to son and the captain proudly hopes to see his boy take over his position in the future.

As we left the boat to head back to solid ground, we wished them luck with their next destination for the night – I hope they got more kilos that time!





My day with the talented embroidery ladies of the Ibaba co-operative

I didn’t know how much free time I would have in Rwanda before I got here, so I thought I better find myself a hobby. This was long due since one of the reasons I needed a sabbatical was the realisation that I hadn’t had a hobby since I started working at EY (and I thought that was a very sad position to be in!).

I decided my hobby should be traditional Estonian embroidery (since I am rock’n’roll like that…) and I was so happy to find an embroidery co-operative here in Rwanda, bursting with amazing talent!


Thanks to VAYANDO I had the pleasure of spending a day with the Ibaba ladies – an embroidery co-operative that has been going since the 70s. The ladies patiently helped me and my friends through some simple designs, whilst practicing their English and having a good giggle. Imagine a fun conversation involving ‘What is your name?’ *giggles* ‘Sandra’ *giggles* ‘Where are you from?’ *giggles* ‘Estonia’ *giggles* ‘What do you do?’ *giggles* ‘Volunteer’ ‘OOOOOH’ *giggles*. It was perfect!

So what does it take to ‘master’ embroidery in 2 hours?

  1. Choose your design


2. Choose your colours


3. Get cracking


4. And keep on going


5. And going


6. With your patient teacher sweating next to you as you consistently take too long of a stitch…


7. And voila… with our fingers hurting from the needle but our little geeky hearts full of joy, we ended up with great goodie bags that had a hand made design on them.


I want to say it was 100% made by us… but honestly, the ladies did about 70% as they are true perfectionists and very proud of their trade (plus, we’d probably still be there, embroidering away…)

Thank you Ibaba ladies, you are absolutely brilliant!





Fun times in Uganda – white water rafting, rhinos and pesto pasta

Sometimes you need a holiday from your sabbatical… Luckily for me, I had some friends from London going to Uganda to run a marathon (!!!), so I decided to join them for a week of adventures. Here is a snapshot of some of our fun times

White water rafting on the Nile

My dear mum didn’t realise that I slept on top of a volcano until she read my blog, so this time I prepared her a bit better – basically… mum you’re not going to like this! I haven’t experienced anything quite like it – the fear, the adrenaline, the complete lack of control. And yet somehow I still managed to have the best time!

We did eight rapids on a stretch of a few kilometres on the Nile. Throughout this, we managed to flip twice and I had to be ‘saved’ by a safety canoe during one of those times as I slowly waved bye to my fellow rafters as the current swept me off.

The crew was a amazing – a special shout out goes to Juma – he really knows how to handle a group of 25 screaming mazungus!

Getting our TOWIE on

Who knew all you needed for a Tango-tan was to ride a bicycle through Ugandan villages for a couple of hours… and hey presto – your skin is a beautiful shade of terracotta. Our Jinja village bike tour was absolutely brilliant with a  couple of firsts for me – I had never seen how passion fruit are grown (its a vine!); also I saw my favourite creative kids toy yet – a maize cob turned into a wonderful doll with a bit of plastic wrapped around as a dress. By the way… these legs aren’t mine – just had to mention it!

It took a good rubbing to clean off all the dirt… luckily no one cares how Tango you are when you’re drinking Nile on the Nile!

Getting up close and personal with rhinos… and chimps… and elephants… and giraffes… and crocs… and hippos

Yes, we really went for it with all the animal experiences and it was so worth it!

Being less than 5 metres away from six female rhinos is just a little bit daunting. The Ziwa rhino sanctuary only started with a handful of rhinos and have now grown to 16 rhinos in total – one of which is called Obama as his mum is American and dad Kenyan! The long term aim of the sanctuary is to get to 30+ specimen in order to release them back to the wild

Our chimps visit was a bit bitter sweet as it truly demonstrated the devastating effects that humans can have on the animal kingdom. A group of 40 chimps are forced to live in a 150m stretch of forest, surrounded by sugar cane fields, which previously were all beautiful lush forests. They are becoming hungry and frustrated and keep on attacking village kids who collect water from the well in the chimp forest. I was left saddened and frustrated… Greed just isn’t worth losing these beautiful chimps over!

Unfortunately my iPhone camera isn’t good enough to capture the chimps – I have a lot of pictures of dark forest with some black blob in the middle of it.

Our loose cannon driver Moses fashioned himself as a bit of a tour guide, so we ended up on a short game drive throughout Murchison before our Nile boat cruise. We ended up seeing herds of elephants, buffalos, giraffes… and my favourite – warthogs! But the real treat awaited us on the Nile – never have I ever seen a crocodile smiling or a hippo yawning before. I felt like a little kid again, giggling away!

Getting soaked in the Murchison falls

Picture the entire force of the Nile trying to squeeze itself through six metres worth of space… and you get the magnificent Murchison falls! We got absolutely soaked by the falls as we were hiking alongside it, amazed by the beautiful rainbow right in the middle of the falls!

Oh and a random fact for you… Hemingway’s plane crashed near the falls as well

My final destination – Kampala – and its air-conditioned malls

It was time for another Kiva reunion, as I joined Sravya in Kampala. I was so pleased to experience another Kiva fellow’s life! And when I say experience her life, I mean eat pesto pasta, ramen, chocolate mousse, tiramisu… drink red wine… have air-conditioning… enjoy a power shower!

I did manage to squeeze in a couple of cultural experiences among the eating galore… For example, I visited the second largest mosque in Africa, the Gaddafi mosque. I also climbed the mosque’s 100m tower – as I clung to the tower walls, my guide Yussuf suggested I don’t look up or down but only at my toes… I am definitely not a fan of heights!

Uganda, you have treated me well – I shall see you again in a few days at Lake Bunyonyi for another adventure!