Falling into you

The first time I fell into you I was a bit stunned

The cold water and dust knocked some of the excitement out of me

The hypervigilance drained me of energy

I spent my long WiFi-less, bookless evenings thumbing through postcards of Switzerland and France, of Chincoteague and the Okanagan Valley, anywhere but here

places that seemed as far away as Pluto

And here I was on the moon, counting the days until the ship would come to take me back.

I would spend my afternoons in expat cafés, reading the BBC News and brooding instead of planning my lessons.

Then I realized that when I fell into you, you were never supposed to give way beneath me like a big feather bed

That wasn’t it at all

I had to sculpt the key to fit into your lock

You wouldn’t speak to me in my language, so I learned yours

You wouldn’t let me start my day with warm showers, so I learned to enjoy the cold

You wouldn’t let me sit back and read while my clothes washed themselves, so I rolled up my sleeves and learned to hand-wash.

You wouldn’t let me carry a dozen things with me, so I learned to leave them behind.

You wouldn’t let me plan, so I learned to improvise.

I had a curtain of thick, sweaty brown hair that was totally inappropriate for the climate

So I chopped it off and felt free.

My instincts, which stuck out like French wine at a corner kiosk in Buterere

(50 times the price but not even as good)

eventually resculpted themselves.

Every moto-taxi ride became an adventure

Every meal a joy to be shared

Every power outage a party

And every misfortune, misunderstanding, bâclage, cafouillage, fuck-up

A story to be told and laughed at and washed down with Amstel beer

In the bottles as long as my arm.

I left with the memory of your eyes

staring across from me at that table in the neighbourhood bar in Mutanga

along with the stray cats who chased after whatever pieces of goat meat, liver and cow heart that fell from our plates.

I left and I felt like I was falling all over again

not into the feather bed I’d waited for and idealized

but into a whole other kind of hard, dreary existence

and when I cried, it was for you.

I came back two more times

and especially the last time

I leaped into your hot, thick, humid, dusty, diesel-smelling air

and felt like a fish rediscovering water

like  a thin-lipped briefcase-carrying Western fish

rediscovering what it felt like to be hugged and loved and supported by people who weren’t blood kin.

The third time I left

I knew there was going to be a fourth time

You get used to these sorts of things.

Especially when you have an address and a SIM card full of contacts.

I was going to come back last month

when I heard your father died

But I had sprouted these annoying things called roots

which take some time to un-dig.

In that time, who would have thought

that the fragile peace you had built for ten years

would explode

That the smoky pall of cooking fires that covered Gihosha like a blanket

would be darkened with the smoke of burning barricades?

that the beat of the ingoma drums

would be replaced by the popping of gunfire?

that roads I knew well

would be criss-crossed with barbed wire

and the jogging songs that woke me on Saturday mornings

would become protest songs?

That “my” radio, its office as familiar as my bus stop and its jingle regular as sunset

Would be taken off air in the night, computers bashed in, mixers melted

a shell of a studio patrolled by armed guards

and all of the studios torched one by one

until old men, market women, visiting relatives and students home from school

stood in silence, heard the far-off guns

and wondered who was shooting at whom?

They thought that killing the radios would reduce the people to silence

but they were wrong

the songs of protest spread slowly but surely into the bush

and roadblocks, like tides, lapped up the privileged hills of Mutanga

leaving withered businesses, abandoned homes, closed schools and youth centres in their wake

Each side fighting for a country that the life is slowly being squeezed out of

I want to come right now

with a shipping container full of gently used sound mixers and foreigners’ good intentions

but I have to wait, to see when it can do the most good

If all our tools were burnt and torched again

then we’d be right back where we started

I have to wait until the flames have died down

That could be two days, two years or ten years

Your tiny nephew could be old enough to vote by then

I have to wait, but there will be a fourth time

Buja, my Buja, will I even recognize you when I come back?

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, français, русский, malo slovensko, un poco de espanol, um pouco de português ndiga ikirundi, mwen ap aprann kreyòl...
This entry was posted in bujumbura, burundi, poetry, reflections. Bookmark the permalink.

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