Burundi Impressions I and II

I am in Africa. Burundi to be exact. Taking advantage of the chance t write because today is one of the days my neighbourhood has electricity. Yep, I said “one of the days my neighbourhood has electricity.” A major regional capital as Bujumbura is, the electricity rotates from day to day. Even in the hospitals, although according to my TA’s cousin Honorine (name changed as usual although it’s a normal Burundian name) the residences of ruling party politicians and senior civil servants remain lit up like Christmas trees. “Why doesn’t someone say something?” I asked. “Burundians don’t know their rights,” said Honorine, with pulsating disgust. It sounded exactly like something one of my Russian friends would say. Whie we’re on the topic of Russian, the dean of communication, Alexis, lived in Moscow for four years and speaks Russian better than I do…all of the software operating manuals which lined his desk were in Russian. Another thing about Alexis surprised me, which was his age. I would be shocked if he’s over forty. “Chez nous”, deans and department heads and the like are gray-haired matriarchs and patriarchs, not bright-eyed people younger than my parents who are on a first name basis with everybody and brimming with excitement to give the guest lecturer the Grand Tour. My first lesson was not as cohesive as I would have liked, but I did get them talking, I did make them laugh a few times and my TA, Pierre (name changed as usual) gave me a very good review. My next agenda item is to get them talking in anything above a whisper. I think tomorrow, first thing, I’ll make them shout. Who cares about any tests other lecturers may be trying to give? ūüôā Alexis, Pierre, Honorine and Antoine (the assistant to my department head who is out of the country) could not be nicer. They are totally involved in making sure I have everything I need including company. Yesterday night we ate goat brochettes (it’s basically shashlik, or for people who have never lived in Russia, skewers without the stick) in the garden of a pub under the stars, and then went dancing and bought lots of cheap Kenyan, Rwandan and local beer. I finally have a working cell phone (Antoine found a charger to shoot some life into my old two-colour Motorola from Russia, which Lena found when she was cleaning and brought when she came to visit) So I am no longer cut off from human civilization. People in Burundi are at least as dependent on cell phones as the other countries I’ve lived in. Here’s a story that I consider only mildly amusing, but since Pierre thought it was hysterical (Pierre reminds me of Robert, the French guy who was the fourth person in my, Simon and Faridah’s team at work– an intelligent, colourful aesthete who laughs at anything remotely humourous): I have a five-minute walk to work on a wide, asphalted road with no real sidewalks Every mode of transit coexists on a Burundian street– private cars, van-buses (which look like Russian marshrutki but are more beat up) moto-taxis (which are exactly what they sound like, you negotiate a fare, put the helmet on and hold on tight), people of all sizes and ages usually carrying something on their heads…and all manner of animals. Even in an upper middle class suburb where high walls surround every building. And everything motorized moves recklessly, as if there is nothing else in the road. The amount of assorted roadkill on the streets bears evidence to that. So the sight that greets me as I’m walking up the hill is three things barreling down the hill on the other side…a van-bus and a moto-taxi, both going full tilt, and a flock of terrified baby goats sprinting to try to keep abreast of the other two, with their frantic owner waving his hands all over the place. Pierre thinks this story is hilarious, because while I’m raving on and on about “goats in the road! goats in the road!” for Pierre, well, they’re just goats. We ate their cousins for dinner. Shrug. It was one of those “Welcome to Africa” moments. Another one, far less funny, was when I went into my first Burundian house, the place Antoine and Honorine share with a few other people. There was a calendar of beauty pageant winners wearing long elegant gowns. Antoine jabbed his finger at one of them, a beautiful young girl in a white dress. “That the dead one?” he said casually. “Oui,” said Pierre. “What happened to her?” I asked. “She got malaria with renal failure,” he said. “There are medicines to treat malaria but, well, when you get renal failure that’s pretty much the end of you. She was 17 years old. She hjad just finished secondary school. What a shock to her family.” All that beauty and promise gone in a mosquito bite. It reminds me how fragile and unfair life can be in Africa. Maybe that is why people here are so open and intense. And makes me be that much more careful about applying mosquito repellent and taking the vile medication which makes me want to puke up my breakfast every morning. If it works it will be worth it. There is one thing that is bothering me. I don’t know how much longer I will be able to keep up with traveling like this. Because every time I leave somewhere, I feel ripped in two. Ripped away from all the friends I’ve made and forced to start over again. Devan. Melissa. Rrrrrip. All my Russian friends. Rrrrrip. All my Ottawa friends. Rrrrrip. Emily, Phil, and everyone from Kelowna Rrrrrip. Cameron, Mbonisi, Eugene, J-S, Devan, Chris. Rrrrip. Claudine, Simon, Aissa , Stella, Adrian and my friends in the translation department. Rrrrip, rrrip, rrrip. And I’m sure it will be the same with my Burundian friends. Every time I change locales and leave my friends behind, I feel like I’m being ripped in two. That’s it. La prochaine entr√©e sera en fran√ßais, but right now I’m going to take this time to get under the canopy of mosquito netting that surrounds my nice, big bed, and read. Need to enjoy this electricity. — Je suis dans la salle multimedia de l’universit√©. Ca ressemble √† une garage vid√©e avec une dizaine de vieux ordinateurs gris et une connexion Ethernet extante mais tr√®s faible. C’est un peu comme dans le temps de nos ancetres, ou il a fallu attendre des heures, kilobyte par kilobyte, pour qu’un ficher se t√©l√©charge. Cette entr√©e sera aussi long que le temps de t√©l√©chargement, car je ne veux as trop longtemps embeter Alexis, qui m’a ouvert la salle de multimedia, et j’ai beaucoup d trucs √† faire, comme planifier des le√ßons et faire des notes sur les devoirs de mes √©tudiants, et laver ma linge √† la main. Hier je suis all√©e au march√© avec une de mes √©tudiants. Je vais changer son nom comme d’habitude. Je l’appelerai Emilie. Emilie vient d’un village √† l’int√©rieur du pays. Ses parents ont √©t√© tu√©s pendant la guerre. Elle a du lacher l’√©cole s√©condaire parce qu’elle ne pouvait pas payer les frais. Apr√®s plusieurs ann√©es elle a √©t√© adopt√©e et elle habite maintenant √† Bujumbura avec ses deux fr√®res. Le gouvernement burundais finance ses √©tudes universitaires. Elle est parmi les √©tudiants les plus d√©di√©s de mon groupe et elle a d√©j√† travaill√© comme interprete. Son reve num√©ro un est d’aller √† Montr√©al. Elle en pare constamment, elle qui n’est jamais sortie du Burundi. Elle y a √©t√© invit√© pour une conf√©rence sur la d√©veloppement et le billet d’avion a meme √©t√© subventionn√©, mais elle ne pouvait pas y aller parce qu’elle arrivait pas √† payer le fais d’inscription– 98 $. 98 $, c’√©tait mon salaire pour une journ√©e du travail en Suisse Etonnant, non? Etonnant et si triste. Hier j’ai eu la chance √©norme de voir Eug√®ne avant son d√©part. Nous √©tions dans un bar et nous avons achet√© un quart de poulet pour moi et Marie, qui ne mange qu’une fois par jour. On √©tait si heureux de se voir que ce petit gars m’a enlev√© quand je l’ai embrass√©. Et son pote est entr√©, un autre blanc qui s’appelle Greg. Il est blanc mais vraiment africanis√©, il fait tout seul et tout le monde lui connai, il est devenu une institution ici. J’ai une fin de semaine charg√©e car je vais a une mariage avec Honorine et le jour apr√®s, Gregoire et moi allons au zoo!

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About msmarguerite

Young Quebec City-based freelance journalist. once and future nomad. I blog about life, about travel, about things I notice and every so often about work. I enjoy language learning, singing, swing dancing, skating and...other stuff, sometimes. My heart is somewhere in East Africa, Haiti or Eastern Europe. English, fran√ßais, —Ä—É—Ā—Ā–ļ–ł–Ļ, malo slovensko, un poco de espanol, um pouco de portugu√™s ndiga ikirundi, mwen ap aprann krey√≤l...
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