Nan and I are ready to return home – we miss our families. However, we are facing the realities of life without Gaspar, the cook, and Fede, the maid. We are looking forward to salad, ice cream, ice cubes, cheese, and hot water. It has been a healthy challenge to live without electricity part-time and hot water full-time, and no water sometimes!
Dogs in Burundi: The ones we have seen are very different breeds than what we have in the US. These are long-legged, scrawny, and skittish. They howl and attack things in the night that we choose not to identify (goats? other dogs?) and I have yet to meet one that is friendly. A few follow their obvious “masters” around – I have seen 2 such dogs, and have seen 2 on leashes. Some people do keep them as pets, or as guard dogs, but these are people who can afford to feed themselves first. So I understand why Aline does not care for animals. I have seen NO cats in Burundi. A few highlights since the last email:
We had lunch last week at the home of one of Aline’s friends. The mother of the family works for the UN. Her German colleague who has been in Burundi for 6 weeks joined us. It was our first interchange with an umuzungu since we had arrived!! Nan and I bombarded the poor man with questions about the UN and the situation in Burundi. He had just come from 2 years in the Congo, where things are really terrible, and gave the impression that Burundi was more like a vacation for him than work! He speaks fluent French and English, is a lawyer by profession, and both he and his wife work for the UN.
I had written the US Ambassador to Burundi prior to leaving, and she gave us an appointment last Thursday afternoon at the Embassy. Pat Moller is a 60+ yr old tiny spitfire of a woman, with a commanding presence and a twinkle in her eye. We met with her and another woman who was interested in our literacy program. Meeting with the Ambassador was a real treat! We had such a great time talking about Burundi and the plight of education that we (Nan, myself, Aline and Chao) are invited to a luncheon at her personal residence before we leave. We received personal invitations at Mamman Lyse’s house for this event!
Our other umuzungu experiences have been with a retired couple who arrived this weekend with Aline’s Aunt (Rinilda) from the Philadelphia area. The husband was a public school administrator and the wife was/ and I think still is a social worker. They will be here for almost 3 weeks. Nan and I clued them in on the important things to know while in Burundi: 1. You may wear the watch, but the Burundians keep the time (the Ambassador told us that one); 2. Bathrooms (outside of your personal dwelling) are a luxury, so plan accordingly; 3. Get ready for starch, starch and more starch in the diet! We (10 of us from Mamman Lyse’s, the retired couple, and 2 drivers) are heading up to the Source of the Nile today for another “rural” experience. The roads, drivers, bicycles, pedestrians, goats and chickens are an experience alone!
We taught our “students” Thursday and Friday mornings of last week, and will be with them Monday and Tuesday, then we depart on Wednesday. Aline and Chao will continue to teach them through mid-August. We had 30 students on Thursday, and 20 on Friday, and just being with people so eager to learn is encouraging. Ages ranged from 11 to 24, most on the older side, and about ½ are studying in the local universities. Here’s the kicker on post-secondary education in Burundi: To attend the public universities, you must pass an examination. If you pass, you may attend for free. However, the professors are not paid well and are constantly on strike, so what should take 1 year of studies might take you 2 instead. Regardless of whether or not you pass the entrance examination to get into the public university system, you can always go to a private school (assuming you had high enough grades in secondary school), where tuition is $180-200/year, the professors are well-paid, and education is good. Most families cannot afford that tuition, and students go to school all day Mon-Fri and Sat morning, so juggling a job with school is usually not an option. We are teaching in a classroom at a Catholic primary school, where Thursday and Friday were the last days of the term, so we had hundreds of little children trying to get photographed by Nan and pressing up against the bars (that serve as windows) to listen to what we were saying in English to the students. They, too, are eager to learn. It’s heart-wrenching to see these little ones whom you know will most likely never leave Burundi, and live a life of day-to-day existence… but what can you do?
On Friday evening, Aline’s Aunt Rinilda, a high school teacher who lives in the Philly area, hosted a small housewarming party at her new “vacation home” in Bujumbura. It’s in a new “wealthy” neighborhood, she has been building it for several years, and it is finally finished. But Nan and I were appalled at the quality of the construction. It is SO bad! Rinilda’s husband (a chemist) is from Kenya, so their retirement plan is to move to Kenya and do some farming, then vacation in Bujumbura. Rinilda had invited a local Catholic priest to bless the house, along with a group of 20 orphans who are part of a dance/song team to provide us with entertainment. The children (ages 8-15) were great – they all looked like UNICEF poster children, but they, too, were so eager to learn English from us and to teach us Kirundi and French. We wanted to take them all home with us. The little girls clamboring on Nan’s lap to try to get to the camera was a sight to behold. The children’s group coordinator had failed to negotiate a ride back for the children in Aline’s Uncle’s van (which had brought them there), so the Uncle left without the group, and there we were, with 20 hungry children until after 10pm. They eventually piled everyone into a bus around 11pm and they all got home.
We took a 2 hour ride to the Source of the Nile on Sunday, which was, as you might expect, a pipe sticking out of the ground at the end of a goat path. We had hauled 20 people (family and friends) up and over the mountains with 2 Isuzu trooper style vehicles (yes, 10 in each vehicle) and 2 drivers who were from another planet. I think they were NASCAR racers in a former life. It was very scary, mostly for the sake of the people and cattle walking in the road as we whipped around corners. Nan has excellent pictures of the cattle from the window seat. The bovines were being walked to Bujumbura from the Tanzanian border, which is a 4-hour car ride (at ridiculously high speeds), so one can only guess how long the animals and herders had been walking. One irony is the beautiful paved main road system in the mountains contrasted with the rutted, dusty roads in the city.
The other destination at the Source of the Nile was marked as a pyramid on all of the maps of Burundi, and labeled as such. Did the Egyptians come all the way to Burundi? NO! The Italian surveyors built a little 12-foot tall pyramid as a dedication marker in 1938 on a peak adjacent to what they determined was the Source of the Nile! We had to laugh – and we will remember to tell folks at the US embassy that this landmark is not a travel destination of choice, nor should it ever be a tourist attraction.
We just finished lunch at the US Ambassador’s residence. We were joined by Canadians and a Macedonian working for a USAID contractor, the director of the English Language Center in Bujumbura, a representative of the International Language Center, and an English professor at the University of Burundi. There were 13 of us at lunch, including the Ambassador, and it was a GRAND affair! WOW!! We had any drink you could imagine and delicious snacks, followed by excellent wine, most excellent gazpacho, real French bread and butter, followed by grilled fresh fish, real spinach, a baked tomato stuffed with rice pilaf, followed by a delicious fresh fruit salad that included passion fruit and pineapple that was the best I think I have ever had. Then good coffee and chocolate covered espresso beans. It was a gastronomic orgy – compared to our usual Burundian diet of rice, beans, bananas or potatoes, and smashed green leaves with lots of grit. Nan and I had a few enlightening discussions during this luncheon about the security in Burundi. We have been slightly naïve, although safe, during our stay here. However, Americans working for USAID do not drive to the places we have visited. They travel by air to a “safe” destination close to the desired location, where their driver picks them up.
The people attending this luncheon will excellent contacts for Aline after we leave, and for ourselves should choose to follow up with any financial aid ideas for the hospital or schools in Kiganda. It was good, once again, to be in the company of adults with agendas, goals, ideas, actions, and time management skills.
This will be the last email before we return. Nan and I will MOST LIKELY not miss the dust, Primus beer, the lack of efficient organizational skills, the ever-present negotiating, the miscommunication (really, really bad between everyone), the lack of fiber in our diets, the mosquitoes, and the driving. How could I forget the heat?? But we WILL miss the eagerness to learn that is present in all ages here, the beautiful (although mostly all were sick) children, the straight white teeth that shine in the smiles, the incredible fresh fruits, the landscape, and the joy of not being busy. It has been a tremendous experience. Peace ~ Amahoro ~ Beth