Moving is never easy, not even for nomadic me. I always hate leaving…Quebec City more than most places, because I had amazing friends like Didier and my two roommates, a beautiful apartment in a beautiful city, two jobs which I was attached to…and for awhile I actually thought I was going to stay there– I mean, in Quebec. I will go back, but 6 months seems like a long time and no time at once…
I was sitting in a café checking my email last week when Vianney from the paper sent me a “Hi, how are you” message. I was in the middle of typing out, “I’m OK but I’m in Belgium and it’s cold and rainy all the time and I miss my roommates.”
Boy am I glad I never finished typing out that whiney little sentence.
“Have you heard?” Vianney wrote. “The Central Market in Bujumbura burned to the ground.”
Hundreds of people lost everything they owned when the huge market, in the dead center of Bujumbura, burned down. There’s still no exact word on what caused it (although the arrest of the general director suggests either gross negligence or a put-up job) but the value of the goods lost was equal to half the GDP of the country. The loss of life was relatively low considering the extent of the damage, but there were at least one or two suicides as market traders threw themselves into the flames along with their stock. An economic slowdown rippled into the surrounding countries and unemployment spiked, in a country where it’s already damn hard to get a job for the majority (those who have neither education nor connections). Rows of textiles, vats of oil, bottles of alcohol, piles of fruits and vegetables, stacks of paper goods and toys and wooden furniture, tin walls and wooden beams burned, melted or exploded as people scrambled to get out. Goods burned, work burned, lives burned.
Over the last week, my Burundian friends have been talking to me about that for every available moment, except when we talk about bureaucratic nonsense (Emilie can’t officially interview at any of the three organizations that are headhunting her until she gets $35 to pay her diploma recognition fee to the university, but where will an orphan get $35 without a job? — answer: my parents, who sent me some money to pay off a debt, go out to eat and get new shoes, but new shoes be damned). Except when we talk about the paper (since Damien fired Bosco things have not been going well…Pascal, who got fired with the same cohort, started a consulting firm and has offered Bosco contracts which he hasn’t responded to– and that, coming from Bosco, is a sign of sinking into a
He’s more like me than he knows, our cheerleader-in-chief. We encourage others with constant optimism but always (at least internally) knock ourselves down– our work is never as good as we wanted it. And when someone takes away our feeling of neededness, tells us I DON’T NEED YOU, well then, that’s like the ground itself being hacked out from under our feet. I just hope that whatever has kept Bosco going until now– his religious beliefs? his wife? his daughter? an encouraging inner voice? continues to hold him up. His friend and our colleague Jean-Charles, the king of tough love in the office, is fighting cancer and doesn’t know how long he has left to live. I don’t know exactly what Jean-Charles would respond to the snivelling homesickness post that I almost wrote. If we were in Burundi he’d probably say something very acerbic and direct, like “Cherie, on est en Afrique ici.”
…which is where I wish I was, giving a big hug to Pierre (who’s a full-fledged, salaried staff member now) and helping my friends. When I was in Tervuren I bought a huge poster of a leaping Burundian ingoma dancer, with a look on his face that could only be described as exultant. I put it where I look at it constantly as I work. That is the point, to get back there, to laugh, to cry, to work with these people. This is a stop on my road back to Burundi. What is the point? That is the point.
(That is not my poster. It’s a picture I took back in August of one of the strangest things I’ve ever covered– the ingoma troupe of the Mpimba penitentiary. Almost all of the young men were convicted rapists– according to my friend from the Kirundi desk; none of them could speak French so I could not interview any) in prison for life. But they looked so young, like they could be in high school. Now their lives revolve around cramped conditions, slimy meals..and moments like this. This is ingoma. I need to do a story on these guys at some point if I can interest a magazine in it.)