Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bujumbura, Burundi

Burundi is one of Rwanda’s neighbor countries and it’s roughly a 7-hour bus ride south from Kigali. Claire and I woke up very early Friday morning to meet our friend Charles, who works at EDD, to catch a bus to Burundi. We thought that arriving at the bus station half an hour ahead of time would be enough to ensure us good seats (this entire continent is in a perpetual state of lateness so “on time” can mean anywhere from 20 minutes to hours later). However, it appears that buses to Burundi are the exception.

We got stuck with aisle seats. When I say aisle seats, I’m sure you are picturing something reminiscent of an aisle seat on an airplane. This is not what I mean. Buses in Africa are ALWAYS packed to capacity (I’ve been packed into a minibus with 22 other people before) so they’ve invented these seats that fold up when people need to get out and fold down when people need to sit. Since the bus is my main mode of transportation here, I can say that the vast majority of these types of seats are broken. Either the seat itself is lopsided or the seat back flops around. So for 7 hours, we sat on the bus, trying to get some sleep in between the unintentional elbows we received from the people sitting next to us.

We finally arrived in the capital Bujumbura late in the afternoon. The heat was a bit overwhelming and a drastic change from the cool weather of Kigali. Claire and I were in desperate need to a good nights sleep. We had nearly pulled an all-nighter hanging out with our friends Pervez, Kate, and Bret from Catalyst Rwanda because we didn’t want to say goodbye and were running on 2 hours of sleep. As I tried to fall asleep, I could swear I heard people talking with British accents.

The next morning the British accents were gone and I was feeling much better. We wandered around the city, finding a market where I bought Obama strawberry flavored gum. After this first purchase, Claire and I were on the hunt for Obama gear and Bujumbura did not disappoint. There is a company named Obama Vodka based in Burundi, which packages vodka in tiny plastic pouches. It was definitely one of the best discoveries we found. We spent the rest of the day walking around the lake where we spotted a hippo eating some grasses near the road. On Sunday, we visited Saga Plage on Lake Tanganyika. The waves and the white sand beach made it feel like we were on the coast.

Charles, Claire, and I at Lake Tanganyika

Charles and I

The crew on the beach

I feel as if Burundi is a raw place compared to Rwanda, but they are so closely tied together. The wounds of war and political tensions are fresh and there is still a battle for security and stability within the country. Hutus and Tutsis have been battling for power ever since the Belgians left, staging coups, assassinations, and civil war. Although Rwanda is infamous for the 1994 genocide, many people forget that the President of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira, was in the plane that was shot down on April 6th, 1994. This crash sparked the systematic killing of Tutsis in both Rwanda and Burundi. In Rwanda, the killing has stopped. In Burundi, people still feel as if they have a score to settle. Attacks have continued, even as recently as September of this year. It’s examples such as this that make me marvel at Rwanda’s reconciliation process. Seventeen years after the genocide, Rwanda remains a peaceful country while neighboring Burundi continues to fight a never-ending battle.


Mom said...

I'm glad you and Claire brought Charles along on this trip - given the unrest in this country!

Happy Thanksgiving Day Elena - we will miss you but we are glad that you have this amazing opportunity to follow your dream! Aunt Jeannette sends her happy holiday wishes also!

Elena said...

Not to worry, Mom. Bujumbura has a high UN presence and is one of the safest regions of the country.

Thanks for the Thanksgiving wishes. Claire and I will be having turkey here in Rwanda!

Aunt Lina said...

I agree with Mom... we will miss you on Thanksgiving and I freaked too when I read about this trip. You are experiencing some amazing things..and its so great to share them with you in this blog. Keep it up!!

Uncle Andre and Aunt Sue said...

Hello Elena,

Thinking of you. Your stories are amazing. I have read every word and looked at every picture; you do a wonderful job of conveying the beauty and resilience of this land and its people. I think their Bureau of Tourism and Developement should put you on the payroll.

Is there anything we can send you for your upcoming birthday? We will defintely send a gift to Les Enfants de Dieux in your name. Those boys are precious. But let us know what you need for yourself, just give us the address and we will put it in the mail.

Uncle Andre and Aunt Sue