Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Long Goodbye

Friday morning Jocelyne, Red & I went shopping again for the rest of our gifts for friends and family.  I start to finish bargained for a pair of masks from the Congo all on my own and though I'm sure Jocelyne could have gotten a better price I'm still pretty proud of getting the price down from 20 for one to 17 for 2.  We went fabric shopping in the big market without any further incidents of spontaneous Sara dressing.  This time the woman attempting to sell me a dress tried it on herself.  I was quite exhilarated by my bargaining experience but I think I would find it both stressful and time consuming if I always had to bargain anytime I wanted to buy something.  

When we got home it was time for our farewell lunch.  Claire and Maxim who had not been able to join us on our trip came over along with Jocelyne, Marcelline, Desire, Eric and Samual.  We were given a gift of African cloth and many speeches were made.  Desire's speech was part dance, part game of Simon Says, all funny.  When it was my turn I slowly gave my whole speech in Kirundi.  Much was recycled from the radio show the previous day (recycling- very Burundian of me) and there was a lot of repetitive sentence structure (very Aaron Sorkin of me) but it was full sentences and I was quite pleased with myself.   Then as each person took his or her leave there was hand shaking and picture taking and promises to write.  Unfortunately there was some confusion I think about when I was leaving so some people who promised to see me the next day did not arrive before I left for the airport.  So I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to Eric, Odette, Jonathan or Katia.  I'm particularly sad not to have been able to thank abagisha banje beza (my good teachers) one last time for all their help and patience.  

The next morning on the way to the airport there was one final speech from Marcelline and you know the rest.  I got on several planes and flew home.  And everyone wants to know, the Burundians, my family and friends here, will I go back?  To which I answer, yes.  I don't know when or quite how but yes.  Because Jocelyne says I'm no longer a muzungu but umurundikazi, a Burundian woman.  

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Putting the 'Camp' in Workcamp

Ok, break's over.

Last Thursday we went up country with a bunch of people from the clinic.  Up country, by the way, is pretty much anywhere outside of Bujumbura.  The way I think of it, Bujumbura on Lake Tanganyika is the lowest point in the country.  So pretty much anywhere you go from there is up.  

We got a bus with 18 places and here is who we filled it with: me, John, Red, Alexia, Odette, Jonathan, Katia, Jocelyne, Samual, Marcelline, Jeanne, Adonis, Clovis, Eric, Grethe, Dina, Mireille and a young woman whose name I never got who had been volunteering at the clinic for the past few days.  We were not quite as shoe horned in as on the regular bus to Kamenge- we were 4 to a seat instead of 5 but it was still quite cozy.  

Our destination was Source du Nile, one of several purported southern sources of the Nile River.  I did not wear a watch for my entire time in Burundi so the nearest estimation I can give of how long it took us to get there is about 1/2 the day.  On the way Jocelyne would periodically pull some snack out of the magical bag at her feet and pass it around the bus.  Bowls of peanuts, a bag of cookies, these great doughnut tasting things I may have mentioned before, muffins, bread with jam.  And Fanta.  Of course Fanta.  Katia and I took advantage of some of the time to actually write down the words to the song she'd been trying to teach me.  So now though I'm still a little shaky on the tune, at least I know all the words.

I think my favorite part of the whole trip was Jocelyne and Odette's radio program.  An hour or so into the trip Jocelyne decided we needed entertaining and so she announced the beginning of her radio program with co-host Odette.  It was periodically a bilingual program in Kirundi and English with each taking turns translating for the other.  They had a theme song, they had callers (most frequent call in guest- Jonathan, call in name- LoveYou, very funny), they sang songs on request, gave news reports, did person on the bus interviews.  For hours and hours they cracked themselves up (not to mention the rest of us) in a tour de force performance and I wished for the millionth time that knew more Kirundi because, alas, they did not always translate.  Late in the day's programming they called upon me to give a report in Kirundi.  I summoned up all my vocabulary reserves and managed to make a statement in 4 complete sentences expressing my appreciation for the country's tall hills, its good children and it's many people.  Each sentence was greated with applause which almost never happens when I speak English.

At the first police roadblock (of maybe a dozen throughout the day) the officer decided that there was a problem with the papers of the driver.  Alexia, Samual & Marcelline got out and had an extensive discussion with the officers of the roadblock.  In the end the 'fine' was paid and we were allowed to pass.  As we approached the next roadblock we happened to be singing one of the Kirundi songs I know, "Imana yacu irahambaye" (Our God is an Awesome God) and the officer waved us right through without stopping us at all.  After that as soon as we approached a roadblock, Odette or Jocelyne would launch into that same song and the rest of us would join in and keep singing until we were through.  Though we were still usually stopped, no one had any issues with the driver's paperwork from then on.  

We arrived at Source du Nile which is commemorated with a smallish pyramid on the top of a hill- no water of any kind in sight.  We climbed the hill, some of us also scaled the pyramid, took many many pictures of each other and sat down for a lunch of meat pastry and, yes, Fanta.  We walked back down the hill to the bus and a local man offered to walk us to the place where you can see the water.  Turns out they collect water which runs down from the top of the hill and channel it into a pipe which spouts out of a concrete block onto a concrete slab and then runs down the rest of the open hillside until eventually it finds a stream which joins another and so on, until it joins the Nile.  The point of the pipe, I take it, is to give everyone something to point at and say, "There it is, the source of the Nile."  We all rinsed our hands in it.

Then it was time to pile back into the bus, resume the radio program and head home.  This was easier said than done.  Somewhere fairly early on we took a wrong turn- easy to do when none of the roads are paved, let alone marked.  We drove quite a while out of our way before we realized and after that we stopped at every crossroads.  Inevitably this would draw a crowd of locals- not even because of us muzungu.  A bus of city folk from Bujumbura was by itself an unusual occurrence and cause for pointing and staring.  By the time we reached the lake road which we'd follow north all the way back to Bujumbura it was quite late in the afternoon.  

The officer who stopped us at the next roadblock spoke to the driver for some time.  Not because of any knowledge of Kirundi but simply by reading the universal language of gesture as he pointed to his wrist where a watch would be if he had one, the sky and the road I could tell he was saying he didn't think we'd make it back to Bujumbura before the roads closed for curfew.  And it turns out he was right.

We were about two hours away when the roads closed and we had to stop in the town of Rumonge.  Alexia called a friend she knows in the town to find out where 18 people plus a driver could spend the night til the roads opened in the morning.  Now here's what I find really amazing.  Once we realized we wouldn't get home and our day trip had turned into an overnight trip, there was not one word of complaint or concern or frustration.  This in spite of the fact that we had several mothers among us who had children at home and Odette had an exam- the final exam of her final year at university- at 8am the next morning.  People just calmly made phone calls and alternate arrangements went along with the thing they had no control over anyway.  I think I can safely say this would not have happened on a bus full of Westerners.  And I think the thing is, any of the adults who were alive during the war, most likely had to hide or relocate themselves on short notice for their safety.  (In one informal and admittedly small survey I read 100% of the people said they'd had to hide during the war.)  The benefits of a sense of perspective.  And Alexia told us in the morning too that people were not worried because there was so much more security now.  

Alexia's friend directed us to a guest house run by a Pentacostal church where we secured 3 rooms and the Burundian sense of hierarchy divided us up thusly: John and Eric in one room; Alexia, Red and I in another- each of us in our own small bed; and everyone else in a large room with 5 small beds.  They pulled four of the foam mattress onto the floor to make one large mattress, leaving one bed for Jeanne (an older woman).  All the others piled in together.  Except for Adonis, too abashed or too proud to sleep in a room with women, who after an hour went to John and Eric's room and asked if he could stay with them.  I have to say, I think it would have been fun to be in the big room and was a little sad to be sequestered away from the others.  We all ate together in the big room a meal- as I've mentioned before- pulled together from the leftovers of the days snacks.  Then early to bed so we could get up at 6am to get back into town.  Odette made it back in time for her exam and believes it went well.

So that was our trip up country.  It's strange to think and write of it now, a week later from my Chicago sun porch.  It feels very far away in many senses and also sad to think of how long it may be before I get to hear the next episode of Jocelyne and Odette's radio program.  

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The (insert name of African migratory bird) has landed!

I'm here at the home of my brother and his wife in DC having survived the kajillion hours of flying without suffering either deep venous thrombosis or a pulmonary embolism. However, Step Up 2: The Streets was the most entertaining of the 5 movies I watched on the plane. Seriously. It addressed the major problem of Step Up 1- not enough dancing.
Welcome back to American culture!
I'm not actually awake right now by the way. This message is brought to you by a semi conscious, time zone displaced, culturally disoriented human. And by the letter Y.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Final morning

For the last certain time, I woke this morning at 6am to the sound of roosters crowing, male voices speaking Kirundi, the whisper-scratch of Jean Yves father sweeping up the leaves and blossoms of the plumeria tree which had fallen in the night and the smell of a charcoal fire burning.

Last breakfast of egg, bread and fruit- bananas, alas instead of pineapple. I would have liked one more pineapple. Maybe four more. Last cold shower.

I'm wearing a watch for the first time in a month and have only a few hours before I leave for the airport and have one last set of goodbyes.

I'll try in this time to catch up a little more regarding our trip up country on Thursday but in case I don't finish before I leave I just wanted to say, the blog will continue! I'll post pictures once I get home- it was too hard to do from here and try to finish out the at least several more thoughts I have about all of this. Whether it will continue past that is difficult to say. It requires a rare confluence of circumstances to give me both interesting things to write and time enough to write them. So read on while it lasts and I'll see some of you very soon.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A brief addendum on the subject of trash

I was packing this afternoon and generally tidying up my room here. I had a little plastic bag of the trash I've accumlated which I'll add to the larger plastic bag in the office which eventually Ciza will set on fire. As I was clearing the table of some things I'd used up I became transfixed by my empty sunscreen bottle.

It's one of those completely sealed, post CFC regulation aerosol kind of sprays. Therefore the bottle can't be opened and used again. The bottle is made of metal, which means it can't be set on fire. What is going to become of it? There's no place here for it to go. Then I reminded myself that there's no place for it to go in America either, it's just that where it hangs out while it's going no place is in some landfill where I can't see it and therefore no longer think of it.

Last night as we were cobbling together a dinner for ourselves from the leftovers of our traveling food, I brought out 3 ziplock bags of trail mix bars I'd been advised to bring to Burundi for myself in case I had a craving for something sweet or wanted the emotional comfort of some familar kind of food. Turned out I didn't need either so I'd brought them along on our trip intending to share them around as part of our traveling food. As they were passed around and opened (and in most cases, enjoyed) I became horrorstruck by the amount of trash that was being created by the growing pile of wrappers from each individually wrapped bar. I looked at the other food we'd brought. Peanuts we'd been scooping into bowls out of a single large plastic bag. Itambura- these delicious doughnut tasting balls of fried dough which also came in a clump out of a single plastic bag. Loaf of bread, single plastic bag. Glass jar of jam. Many bottles of Fanta. Three plastic bags in their first stage of life with other stages, previously discussed, ahead of them. Glass jar/bottles all destined to be reused. 18 single use wrappers.

I must leave Burundi before I destroy it with trash. I'm afraid I may pass out when I get home and am reminded of how much we throw away, that really isn't going anywhere at all.

On education- mine & Burundian

Here's what I was going to write on Wednesday night.

I must introduce the newest faculty member at the University of Teaching Sara Kirundi. Her name is Katia, she's Jonathan's older sister and she's been joining us at the work camp for the last week and a half. She has huge almond shaped eyes, closely shaved hair which is the fashion for young girls and though she is much more shy than her brother her extremely innocent face hides a sneaky side. She's the inventor (near as I can tell) and master (certainly) of a game with which we occasionally while away the time we spend waiting for things to do. It involves tossing a small pebble into the lap of whoever is not looking at you. Then when you try to figure out who threw the pebble, all you see are fingers pointing at someone else. All while you're trying toss pebbles into someone else's lap without getting caught. This sooner or later devolves into a tickle off and the exchange of the English and Kirundi words for the phenomenon of tickling. (In Kirundi the infinitive is Kudigadigwa- very onomatopoeic.)

She joined in the Kirundi vocabulary lessons and when she saw that I was interested in learning songs in Kirundi she proceeded to attempt to teach me an entire, complicated song by rote. Fabrice, my other Kirundi song teacher and a grown up has only ever given me the chorus to learn, four or five lines at most and we write them down first. This was a full song and though I started bringing a little notebook with me to keep track of vocabulary, I didn't happen to have it with me the two days Katia was teaching the song.

She's pretty amazing. She'd sing a line for me and I'd try to sing it back. When I got it wrong- and I always did- she'd repeat more slowly. I'd try again and get closer. Not good enough. She slows down even more and carefully enunciates each syllable. She has it down to a science the breaking down and then stringing back together of words and phrases. If I get it right she says, "Encore" and makes me do it again. If I get it wrong and try to laugh it off, oh isn't it funny how I'm making a hash of this line, she never cracks a smile but gives me this total teacher look which says "Laugh all you want missy, we're not leaving til you get it right." Duly chastened I listen to her repeat the line and try again. By the end of our second session I was able to get each line individually but couldn't remember the whole song at once. She then taught me a simpler song, a children's song which is basically various repetitions of "I love you Jesus" in Kirundi, Swahili, French and English. All the songs I have been taught are church songs, everyone we've met is devout to their bones.

Tuesday David Zarembka, the founder of AGLI came to the clinic to visit and meet with the FWA staff and check in on things so Adrien, Jonathan and Katia's dad, was at the clinic all day and walked with us to lunch at the restaurant. On the way Jonathan and Katia showed me off to him like a prize spaniel. I was put through my paces of tree identification (which let me remind you involves not only knowing the Kirundi names but also being able to tell the difference between a mango and a papaya tree- without fruit!). Katia and I sang the easy song and Adrien pronounced it all well done.

Time and time again, Burundians have asked me why I'm bothering to learn Kirundi when I will be here for just a month and it is only spoken in Burundi. There are at least five answers: that it's something to do at night as a change from writing or reading, that I like puzzles, that I like to learn things, that every word I learn is one more little thing to pick out of the conversations going on all around me, that it's something fun to do with Jonathan and Katia. But the real and true 6th reason is that I'm delighted by how happy it makes the Burundians to hear me speak their language even if it's only a few words. And not just the people I've come to know who have watched my vocabulary grow, have tracked my progress and helped to teach me. Strangers on the street to whom I say Mwiriwe instead of Bon soir, even beggars to whom I say Oya instead of No or Non will laugh and ask how I know Kirundi. The effort to payoff ratio is very high.

I want to speak of Burundian education because it is so very important to the Burundians. I think if you ask any given Burundian what their country needs most, 'Education' would come second only to 'Peace'.

So here's my understanding of how it works. Starting at 6 years old in Bujumbura, 7 up country, kids go to primary school. This is free and lasts 6 or 7 years. The free part may only be recent, a program of the current president. Then comes secondary school and here's where it gets different. There are a small number of public schools which are inexpensive, good schools to which a child must apply for acceptance. If he or she is not accepted, private school is the only alternative. It is expensive and sometimes not very good because once they have your money they have little incentive to teach well. It is in secondary school that children begin to learn French, unless they are taught at home. Secondary school is therefore necessary to get any kind of government or service sector kind of job. It also takes 6 or 7 years to complete. University can take anywhere from 4 to 7 or 8 years, depending on what is being studied and is very expensive. Throw a 13 year civil war into the mix and you have a lot of people desperate for education and mostly at their wit's end about how to get it.

Part of what this means is that students both in secondary school and at university are older than their American counterparts. Some because the war interrupted their studies, some because they can only take classes at night or a few at a time as they work for the money to pay for them. It sometimes seems as if everyone we know here is a student. Odette, Jonathan and Katia's mother, just took her final university exam this morning. Marcelline is taking classes, so is Desire, so are both Marie Claire and her husband. Grethe just finished university. Fabrice hopes to go back soon.

Everyone takes their studies incredibly seriously having paid so much in both effort and money just to get in the door. I noticed it even just in our AVP workshop. We were each given a little paper notebook, the kind we use in the US for taking written final exams. The Burundians were avid note takers. They copied every word of everything posted on the wall, drew diagrams- sometimes even staying in through a break to finish- and also of what was said. These are people for whom education- any kind of education about anything- is a gift not to be squandered. And the part that kills you is that once they graduate, even with a university degree, jobs are still incredibly difficult to get. But what else can they do? Just keep putting one foot in front of the other on the path to the only hope they know.

Catching up

Well we've had some adventures the past few days which is why I've been unable to post til now.

On Wednesday night the power went out early in the evening and didn't come back on til well into Thursday. So I got my wish to write by candle light after all. And eat dinner. But since we didn't know how long it would be out, it seemed wise to save the computer batteries for actual work. It wasn't the whole city's power this time, just our compound. It was funny actually. The youth church service was in full amplified swing and didn't miss a note when they lost power. Just kept on singing and playing. Then as soon as that song was over someone ran out and cranked up the generator and they were back in electrified business. But just them, the rest of the compound went about their affairs in the dark but it was deemed essential that the choir be amplified, even though attendence at the Wednesday night service is less than 2 dozen and everyone could sit close enough to hear acoustically. It's something I've noticed in all the churches we've been to. They may have tin roofs or be made of earth bricks but they also have a mixer, speakers, electric guitars and at least 3 wireless microphones. Given Sunday attendence in the hundreds to over a thousand, depending on the church, I guess it makes sense. Just chalk it up to another thing I wasn't expecting.

Thursday we went up country for a day trip to the Source du Nil with a bus load of our fellow workcampers and FWA people. I'll tell more about that in a separate post. The thing was that we made a wrong turn on the way back which took us very far out of the way. This meant we couldn't make it back into Bujumbura before the roads close at 8pm. So we stopped 2 hours outside of Bujumbura in a town called Rumonge and stayed the night in a Pentacostal guest house.

Rather than do one huge long post, I'm going try to do a couple tonight as I leave in the morning. Yes, it's my last night in Burundi. And what better way to spend my last long sequesterment than churning out tales of the last few days?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Creative Reuse

Labor in Burundi may be plentiful and cheap but resources are not so when a thing gets used here, it gets used. And reused, and then used for something else until it can no longer function as any kind of useful object at which point like a dead Viking warrior, it is burned. Without the boat and arrow part.

We could learn a thing or two about resource management here. Take the ever present Fanta. There is a Fanta bottling plant right here in Bujumbura from whence comes the blessed blessed Fanta in glass bottles. When you and or your guests have consumed a case of Fanta, you bring your case of empty bottles to the store and get a discount on your next case. The bottle are washed (one assumes, and why not as there are plenty of inexpensive bottle washing humans available) and refilled and resold. So you'll get a bottle sometimes that looks like its 30 years old, and maybe it is. Even if you buy only one bottle from a street vendor, the vendor will expect the bottle back when you've finished. Really you're only buying the soda, the bottle belongs to Fanta. There also seems to be a bit of a whim factor in the kinds of Fanta which they bottle on any given day. Somedays you can only find Citron, in all of Kamenge. Sometimes there is no Sprite or only Orange and Coke. One terrible day there was no Fanta at all, of any flavor within reasonable biking distance of the clinic. And the people had to drink water, and they were sad.

Many of the caps also live long happy lives after they've been pried off the bottle. They become checkers or poker chips or stand ins for football players in a game scratched in the dirt. I've seen some flattened and used as washers.

The universal water carrying container was, in its first life, a yellow cooking oil jug.

I've already talked about what becomes of empty water bottles in the hands of children though adults too will ask us for our empties. I assume they want them for the more prosaic purpose of carrying water.

On the bus sometimes the metal piece which is welded onto the single seats to act as a rest for the flip down seat is covered with a small car oil bottle (like a Penziol bottle, but not that brand) to protect the passenger's ankles from jagged welds.

I saw another kite today, this one quite successful made from a black plastic bag torn into a diamond shape and stretched onto a T frame made of who knows what. Again the string was made from tied together bits. It flew high enough for us to see it from a block away on the walk home from lunch. It got caught on a power line and we washed the boy who was flying it try to coax it back into the air. The carcasses of 2 similar kites, draped over the same line spoke of this being an ancient struggle.

At the workcamp site they've been using the same pieces of of wood and board maybe since the construction started 2 years ago. The boards that create the channels guiding the cement around the rebar cages are carefully pulled apart once the cement has dried, nails saved and hammered straight and then all are used again to make the staging for getting at the upper levels of the walls. A word about this staging. It would not be OSHA approved. Tree limbs with one nail make one cross piece, another two with another precious nail make another. The short ends rests on top of the wall and 2 boards are laid across them. They bow and bend as we pile bricks, mortar and masons on them. We reuse the bags the cement comes in to carry cement and the mud mortar. Nothing gets wasted. We had a sad moment yesterday when at last the oldest, dullest, most worn pair of wire cutters I've ever seen, wire cutters so done with life even the Lookingglass scene shop would have told them they could retire, they died in the trenches when the head snapped off. Then and only then was a new (used) pair of wire cutters purchased. I wonder what has to happen before they decide to buy a new bucket? The current already has a hole in the bottom so it can only be used to carry thick things like mud and cement. For water we use a separate, sacred, only to be used for water bucket. At night, anything which might develop legs and walk away including the old oil drum we use as a water cistern gets moved into the back room of the clinic and locked up.

When one of the desks in the HROC office split apart, an event any American would look upon as a sign it was time to buy a new desk, a carpenter was called in and over the course of 2 days he repaired the split and restained the desk top. I'm telling you, if something gets thrown away here, it really must be trash.

And speaking of trash. I will also say that there's an attitude toward trash here which would have entire tribes of American Indians crying rivers. Anywhere outside, anything designated as trash is mostly just dropped on the ground. There's not really anywhere else for it to go. Then when it reaches whatever critical mass is necessary to designate it a 'pile' sooner or later, someone will set it on fire. Prior to that moment, however, one steps over a lot of trash in the street. Little bits of wrappers of things and small pieces of paper and toothpicks and plastic bags that have not yet been salvaged into kites. Or bags that have already been through their bag stage, their keeping capati warm while the rest are being cooked stage, their kite stage and are in their post entanglement with power line stage. You know, the one that comes right before the being set on fire stage.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A market day

Well my friends, first let me say that I have the true answer to the question of what I said when I was trying to say thumb. And now I can't even bring myself to write the mistaken word. We'd gotten back on the subject because every now and then Marite likes to tease me by holding up his thumb and saying (correctly) "urukumu". And today I said in Kirundi, "I know, I know urukumu, not (the other word)." And there's Marite dying of laughter again. So I turned to Adonis and asked in French, "OK, what is so funny?" Adonis told me in English, "It's a very big sin to say this word" and then in French tried to explain a little more but was clearly too embarrassed to get further than to say it was a word for a feminine thing. "You understand?" he asked desperately hoping I did so he wouldn't have to elaborate. Abashed me said yes I did understand and I said in Kirundi, "Please excuse me." He told me it was ok because it was not my language. Still. So my advice to anyone coming to Burundi: to be on the safe side avoid speaking about thumbs at all.

After workcamp Red and I went shopping with Jocelyn. We both wanted to get some little gifts for friends and family before leaving so she took us first to the object d'art market. It's a couple of little stands grouped together which basically sell little gifts for people to take back to family and friends. Candlesticks and baskets and wooden carved things and jewelry and dolls and painted maps of Burundi and so on.

Now the majority of the things bought and sold in Burundi are bargained over. I've only ever seen fixed prices in the little grocery stores. Everything else is a process and Jocelyn near as I can tell, is a master of said process. I've even seen her bargain down our bus fare and you'd think that'd be a pretty firm standard. So first of all the merchant tells you a price. It is absurdly high (and we've been told that if a muzungu is the purchaser it's extra absurdly high) and Jocelyn laughs. Then she makes a counter offer which seems absurdly low and the merchant laughs or looks insulted. Then there's a lot of offering and counter offering which gets pretty creative as it's not just a back and forth of numbers but suggestions of other things to throw in and then different combinations of those things and explanations of what the things are made of as justification for price and so on. Then when Jocelyn is satisfied she turns to me and asks, "It's ok?" and I say yes and pay. The part that's hard for me to judge is that even the initial (I'm certain) absurdly high price, doesn't seem that high to me because I'm used to thinking in terms of American money and how long I'd have to work to earn that amount. To have any chance of bargaining well, you have to think of it in terms of Burundian money and how long a Burundian would work for that amount.
While Jocelyn was helping Vanessa bargain for something in another stall I tried my hand going solo. I'd been looking at a couple of things and asked how much (en francais). The man told me 25000f (about 25 dollars) for two. I said this was too expensive for me and was about to walk away. (Being about to walk away, I neglected to mention, is a key component in the bargaining processs). The man sighed a little and patiently explained that first I must make counter proposal- the clear subtext being, "Amateur." So I offered what I thought was an absurdly low counter of 15000f. He came back with 17000 and I knew I had not gone absurdly low enough. But again I have to say, 17 bucks for 2 of these things felt like a good deal even though in my head I knew as only the 2nd counter, it couldn't possibly be. So I was thinking about whether to counter back or hold firm at 15 when Jocelyn came in and put an end to my independence. She said many things to the man in Kirundi, ascertained the state of affairs and told me it was time to go. He tried to argue with her and I believe as we were walking out he said he would take my first offer of 15, but it was too late, the master of the bargain was having none of it.

We then went to the main Bujumbura market to look for cloth. We've been to the market twice before but always right at closing when most of the stalls have already been closed and even today we were only 20 minutes from closing so we've still never seen the market at full tilt. I've got to say, almost closed tilt may be enough for me. Picture a huge open building with a very high ceiling, like for example the United Center where the Bulls play. Now, cram it full of tall, narrow wooden stalls arranged in close aisles, with whole rows selling generally the same things so you've got, Shoe Row, Hat & Belt Row, Toiletries Corner, Wine Row and so on through all the things a person could ever need to purchase that can fit in a shopping bag. For bigger items like bikes or furniture there are other, open air markets. At least I've seen those things in other places but for all I know they DO sell them at this market, they'd just already packed up for the night.

Anyway we wove through the crowds past all these things and past the 4 or 5 kids with hydrocephalus who've been parked on blankets along the wider center aisle in hopes of wringing change from the hearts the stampeding consumers. We went to about the center of the market where African cloth and clothing are sold (distinct from the used Western clothes for sale along the outside perimeter of the market). We stopped a moment at one stall to look at some African shirts which Red wanted to get and in a matter moments we were surrounded with men holding up African shirts and saying things like, "Look at this. It's very nice. This is a nice shirt." Then, and I really couldn't tell you how this happened or what set it off but phalanx of women holding dresses came at me and in 1.5 seconds I was wearing an African print sundress over my clothes. They literally dressed me like a doll, six women at once picking up my hands, guiding them through armstraps and then pulling the dress down over me. There was no asking, I hadn't looked at a dress or even entertained a portion of the thought, I wonder if there are dresses here. I looked to Jocelyn and she didn't seem concerned so I decided, "This is just how this goes."

Now this is very interesting because this growing crowd of women do not work together, they each have different stalls selling similar dresses, the styles each a little different and the patterns. Their first job, which is a joint effort, is to convince me that I want a dress in the first place. They've accomplished this step towards this goal, I'm wearing one. Then everyone agrees, "It's beautiful. It's very beautiful. It's good for you this dress." And it works. I came with the intent to buy cloth and now I've shifted into dress buying mode. As soon as they read this in whatever signal I inadvertently send, it's every woman for herself and each one of the now 30 women around me is holding up a dress saying, "This one Miss. This is the dress for you. This is a beautiful dress. Very beautiful. " The lighting is a little dim so I hold up the hem of the dress I'm wearing and ask "Is this blue or black?" I'm told it's blue and I smile. There's a churning amongst the women and now all the women closest to me are holding up dresses that have blue in their pattern. I look more closely at one with a more squared off neckline and the women churn again and now I'm looking at square necked dresses. A woman holds up a dress to me and I say I think it is perhaps trop grande pour moi. All the women with smaller dresses agree and start up a babble towards the women holding large dresses, "Oui, trop grande, elle est petite. This dress, miss, this dress is the size for you." And again I don't know what starts it but someone decides it's time for me to try on another dress so 5 women pull off the one I'm wearing while 5 others hold down my blouse from underneath so it doesn't get pulled off as well and 5 more put a new dress on me and the whole operation takes about 3 seconds and requires not one iota of voluntary movement on my part. Now I'm wearing one of the smaller dresses. The whole time Jocelyn is bargaining and keeping an eye on me and waving some people away and examining the hem and casting aspersions on the workmanship which the sellers as another joint effort wag their fingers at and point to other parts of the hem. She gets a price of 30,000f for 2 dresses. But I only have 22500 with me so then she starts trying to get me both dresses for this price. And here at last a line is drawn, it cannot be done so I buy one- the 1st dress, for 15,000. 1 second later I'm no longer wearing the 2nd dress and the 1st dress is in our shopping bag. And still there are women holding up dresses as me, each of them saying, "This dress, miss, this is the dress you want. For 10,000 you buy this dress." Even though they know I don't have 10,000 left. I guess they wanted me to give back the 15,000 dress and buy theirs instead. I can only imagine how that would have gone over. But it's time for the market to close so we press out with the rest of the crowd and leave cloth buying for another day.

I wanted also to quickly tell this story from this morning. We're on the bus with Jocelyn and I notice that the conductor- who usually has a huge wad of bills of all different denominations has only a few bills in his hands. And as I watch people pay I notice that many people are giving him very large bills- 10,000 and 5,000f notes to pay a 300f fare. The riders had read the situation and were all pulling out their largest bills in hopes that he wouldn't be able to make change and would let them ride for free. He often couldn't make change right away but would take the money and keep track in his head, who he owed what amount and as other fares were paid he'd pass the money in installments to the people he owed. Everytime he got another 5,000f note he'd sweat a little more but he managed to stay ahead long enough to get to the Kamenge market stop where he dashed over to a stall and made change for 2 of the 10,000f notes he'd gotten. The riders knew the fun was over and after that the fares were paid in the usual clumps of 20, 50 and 100f notes. The games people play.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Failures of expectation managment

With a full three weeks under my belt and heading into the final one I thought I'd write a bit tonight about the things which are not what I expected. Any of my students know that expectation managment is a key theme for me. Before coming to Burundi I talked to people who had been here, read what I could of the news and the history all in the name of managing my expectations of life in Bujumbura. Here are the things I missed.

1. Yes the stars are different but I can't see any more of them than I could in Chicago.
This is maybe one of the biggest disappointments. I thought Africa, developing, not as many lights, many more stars. I was not counting on the haze of a hundred garbage fires burning, mixed with the exhausts of however many hundreds of thousands of cars, buses and motorcycles equipped with maybe not the latest in exhaust technology. And it is after all a city with lights for many of its 800,000 residents. So I have not learned to identify the Southern Cross.

2. Perpetual dance party next door.
I've mentioned it several times I know but you have to understand that in the evenings when I write these blogs it is the soundtrack of our lives. The driving beat of western techno-ish dance music. At least once a night we hear a song sung by Celine Dion, which if you think about the whole French thing makes a kind of sense. John says that last year it was not like this. I guess peace has to have a downside. Ironically, it's more noise.

(I will pause in my list making to tell this story from last night. I was writing an email to my friend Ian about my fond memories of farm sitting for my friend Eva- hi Evs! I was speaking specifically of the charm of evenings lit by kerosene lamps. I typed the sentence, "Now it is time to light the lamps." And everything went dark. The entire city lost power for about 20 minutes. The dance music was silenced. It turns out there are crickets or some chirrupy night insect. I'd never heard them before. John lit a candle, there was rare quiet, just like back on the farm.)

3. It's not that hot.
In fact the weather has been more consistently pleasant than any given 3 week span of Chicago summer. Yes the equatorial sun is strong but that's what hats and shade and sunscreen are for. I listened tonight to Vanessa explaining sunscreen to Jean-Yves. It was pretty hilarious and somehow lead to a discussion of what had happened to Michael Jackson's skin.

4. Omnipresent Internet.
The workcamp handbook talked about internet being available via internet cafe so the way I pictured it, every 3 days or so I'd pop in for an hour, write a quick blog and catch up on any news from home. Little did I know that our digs were about to be upgraded- thanks to a bunch of donated laptops and a wireless router, portions of which we each brought in our luggage. So here we are from 7pm on with hot and cold running internet. Consequently I am blogging more and reading less than I'd thought. We've only played cards once. Hence also my midterm yen for more missives from home.

5. I've already talked about the cooking and cleaning thing.
I will throw into the general category of food that I was not expecting to eat quite so much. The Burundians are very concerned about being good hosts and so we get 3 hot meals a day. And if a Burundian happens to be eating with us and we don't eat mounds of food they want to know if we are not feeling well. Elie talks about the African stomach. He says if you offer food to an African he will keep eating as long as there is still food on the table because he is never certain when he will eat again. Someone else told us the same thing. We were offered Fantas that day we waited out a rainstorm in the park and Vanessa and I both turned them down. Vanessa explained that she'd just had a Fanta an hour ago. The young man said if someone offered him 20 Fantas he could drink them all because what if there was no Fanta tomorrow? Did I tell that story already?

6. Mosquitoes only really bother us at night.
During the day we lead a relatively bug free life. And in spite of what I was told, even the night mosquitoes are not superfreaks impervious to all but 100% DEET extreme condition repellant. Regular old 25% is just fine.

7. I don't actually notice water going the other way down the drain.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The count down begins

A quiet day which is nice every once and a while. To stay close to home where we are known and greeted warmly as friends and not stared at as oddities. (OK I have to say that just this moment I am experiencing a charming, uniquely Burundian moment. I hear coming down the street the unmistakable sound of Burundi drummers probably accompanying a wedding procession and sure enough as it passes the opening of the compound I see them in their red, green and white traditional dress, banging away in the back of a pick up truck as it speeds down the street).

Vanessa wrangled herself a trip up country to the dowry ceremony of Fiston who will be married next Saturday. I'll miss that wedding since I leave that very day to return home. It's very strange to think of my time here winding down. Pastor Elie invited John and I over to his house for lunch this afternoon and asked us if we have plans to come back. And I don't know how to answer. It's bizarre to think that I might not come back, I feel such a sense of investment in these people and the work they are doing. Plus I always want to know, what happens next? So for the moment I set aside practical thoughts about mustering the time and resources to return and simply believe that somehow, some day I will.

Elie and Marcelline have prepared a little surprise for us and when we arrive at their home they unveil a cake, a real, frosted and decorated with our names, cake which they must have ordered at a bakery days ago. Clearly they were still feeling the need to make up for not being able to find a real cake for my birthday. And having seen our disappointment in failing in our own efforts to provide cake for our 4th of July celebration they determined that cake is important to us, so cake we must have. It was quite delicious though I think that some of their family members found it too sweet for their taste. How people who drink Fanta every day could ever find anything too sweet is a mystery of the Burundian taste buds I've yet to solve.

We talked a bit about Barak Obama and Elie asked what I thought his chances were. Being a True Believer from his hometown I of course went into rhapsodies of hope. We also talked about the possibilities for Burundi's next election in 2 years. Elie believes that if things continue to improve Pierre Nkurunziza will remain the president for another term. His government is making efforts toward improving public health and education and Elie say that even if the FNL does walk away from negotiations- which they've been threatening for the last week or so- that they no longer have enough support or large enough numbers to have much impact on the president's standing.

Driving up the hill a bit to Elie's neighborhood it strikes me that there is little middle ground when it comes to housing. If you have any means at all, enough say to build a house, it seems to be just part of the plan, de rigeur that you build a high wall around it as well often topped with jags of broken bottle pushed into the cement. The intent is clearly for security but the side effect is also the creation of privacy. In Kamenge the walled house is the exception (and as likely to be topped with razor wire as glass) and privacy non-existent. All of life it seems happens outside on the patches of earth in front of and behind the houses. We see children getting baths or make shift showers poured from a cup. Hair is braided, laundry washed, meals cooked, a thousand romping children play their games.

I keep darting over to my email account to see if there's news from my friend Jennie who went into labor last night (my last night, her yesterday afternoon). And for the thousandth time since my arrival I bless the technology which has let me stay connected to friends at home.

And now Vanessa's back so I'll go eat dinner and hear her tales of up country.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Lost in Lack of Translation

I can't tell you the number of times I've had deep, meaningful conversations of which I've understood next to nothing. Curse the lapsement of my French studies! Curse my knee jerk listening response of smiling and nodding leaving the speaker no clue that I have no idea what he's saying! Curse my (yes I'll say it) excellent French accent which makes people think I understand as well as I pronounce! The language problem is a problem. There are so many people I want to get to know better, who no doubt have incredible stories to tell- should they chose to tell them- but we're stuck with only broken pieces of language between us.

Today, for instance, I heard Adonis and Theo (or maybe Deo I'm never really sure about the names I just make guesses based on how they sound and sometimes I'm wrong for days. Pink shirt Confise for example is actually Clovis, I think and tomorrow I could find out that's wrong too. I'm starting to see the appeal of name tags.) singing a song together as they worked so I moved closer to listen. Adonis explained to me (en francais and this part I believe I understood correctly) that the song was an old Protestant hymn from America, translated into Kirundi. Then there was something about spirituals sung by slaves in America. He said he likes very much to listen to Theo because he knows many proverbs. He also liked to listen to his grandfather. And here, where it gets interesting, is where I fall further and further down into the spaces between the words I know and can only just get the gist of things.

My sense is that he was talking about how much of his country's history is lost because there are so few people who live to be old. That stories don't get passed down. That even the number of people who remember the time before independence, the days of the Belgians (which was only 40 years ago remember) is small and getting smaller. He has an idea for a project to talk to older people, ask them questions about not just what they remember but what perhaps their parents and grandparent might have told them. And I'm sure there was more and I wanted to ask so questions but didn't remotely know the words and was pretty sure I wouldn't understand the answers.

It's hardest with the masons and other workmen who only speak Kirundi. Study hard as I may in the 4 weeks I'm here I can't possible get to the point of having a conversation. I'll be lucky if I get much past being able to tell them that the woman and her daughters are hoeing in their small field. I can say good morning and see you tomorrow. I can say "I give you bricks" and "I bring small stones over there?" and "I am not tired." But I can't participate in or even understand their long and jovial conversations with each other. My kingdom for a Babel Fish.

But there was also this at the end which Adonis said in his halting English: "To see mzungu here in Kamenge, to see John who is a professor working like we do, to see you working here with us is a good thing. Our country is poor. We need help and you come. We are happy to see you in our country."

It has happened several times walking down the street, and today even on the bus, we are drawn into conversations with people, usually in French, about the state of Burundi. Everyone knows and everyone says, "Our country is poor, can America help our country?" What can we do but say, "Nous essayerons. We will try."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tonight I have no title

No theme tonight, just some moments from the day.

While I was handing up bricks today Samual called me over to him. We'd been listening to some music on a transistor radio. Usually the songs are either in French or Kirundi but we'd just heard a few English songs in a row and there was another on at the moment.
"There are many American songs about love" Samual said.
"Yes," I said, "That's true."
"Why?" asked Adonis who was sitting next to the radio.
I was a little stumped. "Well, lots of people are in love or have been in love so many people can identify with love songs." Then after a some more thought, "What else do we have to sing about?"
Samual translated this into Kirundi for the others who were listening who didn't speak any English. There was much shaking of heads. Adonis told me, "In our country we sing about war, about poverty and being hungry." And sure enough when a Kirundi song came on I was told it was about death. The singer was telling how his brothers and sisters and parents had all been killed and he was warning death not to come for him. I told them there were some American songs which were about serious things but those didn't seem to be the songs that make it to Africa. They did not mention it but there are also a lot of songs about God as well religious programs on the radio. I can tell they are about God because I'm becoming very familiar with the Kirundi words for things like God, Savior, Lord and so on.

The way I study Kirundi in the evenings is to work on a series of lessons written by a woman named Betty Cox who was a missionary in equatorial Africa for about 40 years, starting in 1944. The lessons come in nice bite sized pieces and interspersed among translation assignments like, The man and his sons are hoeing in their field are things like, I have the light of Jesus in my heart and Our God is very great. I also finally got someone to teach me a song in Kirundi which it turns out is actually an English song that's been translated- Our God is an Awesome God.

John stayed home from the work camp today since his hand is still pretty swollen and Red and I came very close to getting to go to Kamenge on the bus by ourselves but Jocelyn came to take us. But then to come home Alexia asked me if I thought we would be all right going into town by ourselves. Yes! I told her, absolutely and enthusiastically yes, I have the money, I know how to pay and I know the way home from the market where the bus ends up. It wasn't a total foray into independence because she still walked us right up to the bus door but I'll take my little victories where I can get them.

Now probably because I felt I had a little something to prove (both to myself and our hosts) about being capable of doing things without an escort I paid particular attention to the change I was given. Jocelyn warns us all the time that people will charge us more for things because we are mzungus and either we won't know the difference or we won't care. She checks in after we pay the fare to be certain we are given the correct change. So when we were charged 300f instead of the usual 280 I polited objected- en francais. He told me I was mistaken, that the fare was 300f per person. I told him it was 280 yesterday. The passengers right around me all said, no, no it's 300. We went back and forth and soon 1/2 the bus was part of the discussion. I was constantly worried that I'd be hit with a barrage of French I didn't know and would not be able to answer or make my point but if there's one thing that foreign language instruction in America teaches you, it's how to buy things. I explained (patiently I think) that I understood the fare to be 300 to go to Kamenge and 280 to come back. They told me the fare had gone up. Today? I asked. Last week they replied. But yesterday I paid 280. Monday and Tuesday, I paid 280. My friends have all told me to pay 280. Your friends lied to you, they said. I don't think so I said and I know I have only ever paid 280 in the past. He must have given you a special price because you are a visitor. Every day? From 3 different people? The same special price? And tomorrow? How much will it cost me tomorrow? That at least made them laugh. Of course in the end, what could I do? It was mzungu vs. abantu and mzungu lost. Now the punchline to all of this is that the amount of money we were discussing was less than 4 cents. But as I said I was fixated on being about to come home and tell Jocelyn I had taken care of everything. Oh well, if only I'd been able to conduct the exchange in Kirundi. They'd have been laughing too much to argue.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

On labor

The rock gospel music coming from the church downstairs is pretty intense tonight. Wednesday is the night for the youth choir service. And when I say rock, I mean, ROCK. Drums and electric guitars are involved. So I'll try to write this in the lull between the end of service and the beginning of the nightly dance party at the Hotel Bouquet across the street.

The problem of labor and unemployment here in Burundi is huge and it's led to us having many weird gray area questions for ourselves. There's a large, disproportionately young population here (what does that mean? According to the CIA Fact book 46% of the populations is 14 years old and younger, about 50% is 15-64 and only 2% is older than 65. So pretend that 1/3 of the people in Florida were all the people in the whole US over 65). So there are not nearly enough jobs to go around. What that means on an observational level is that I see a lot of people everywhere, standing around, not having a job. What it means on a personal level is that 3 people cook our food for us and one of them also washes and irons our clothes. Hence the gray area.

When I thought about coming to Burundi, not as a tourist but to work and to help and to witness I didn't really think about cooking and clothes washing. There are some workcamps where people stay with host families and it makes sense that those people would just fold into the daily life of how that family accomplishes those tasks. For us, we live in rooms in and around the HROC office and I guess I just assumed I'd do what city people do, make my own food and wash my own clothes in whatever facilities were available. But the powers that be at AGLI being far more familiar with how things work here have arranged otherwise. In the first place, the need for jobs is, as I said, enormous, so part of the helpfulness of our being here is that our presence creates and pays for 3 people to have jobs which we're told also gives them good experience and references for getting the next job when we leave. In the second place, when I cook and clean for myself at home as I have done for my entire adult life, I do so with the benefit of a modern kitchen and a washer and dryer so it doesn't take all the live long day to make 3 meals and wash a weeks worth of clothes. So what at home are incidental activities, here are concerted endeavors.

It's peculiar when you think about it. Here we are in a city. There are SUVs instead of horse and carts, AK47 rifles instead of spears or arrows and cell phones instead of... nothing. But the cooking and the clothes washing are still done the way they were done at the dawn of the inventions of charcoal and the wash basin. I don't know of anyone here (maybe some rich people we haven't met) who have a kitchen like we think of a kitchen. Here we have, for example, a room with a refrigerator and a sink and a countertop. How does one cook, you ask? Over a charcoal fire in a metal brazier on the floor is the answer. It gets pretty smoky which is why I think more often in actual homes the cooking takes place outside. The charcoal is not the barbeque briquettes that we think of but wood which has been burnt down. I watched tonight as Mirielle lit the fire- she uses a twisted up plastic bag which she holds burning over the coals until they catch. Then there's a lot of fanning and waving and waiting for enough heat. The pots and pans sit directly on the coals. To adjust the heat she moves a few coals from one side to another. There's nothing like an oven so if you want bread or anything baked you get it at nearby bakery. I imagine there probaby are places too where you could bring things to be baked as well.

All the food is local and of course there's nothing packaged or pre-prepared so what with all the washing and peeling and chopping in addition to the actual cooking, dinner is, on average I'd say, a 2 hour endeavor. That doesn't include the shopping. After dinner Dina and Mirielle wash the dishes and put everything away. Our contribution is to get to clear the table and bring everything into the kitchen. I'd love to at least pitch in and wash the dishes but I guess the point is not to give people 1/2 a job or 3/4 of a job but a whole actually job and all the tasks that go with it because that's what they'll be hoping to do when we leave.

Clothes washing is another intensive labor because it too is all manual (and no John it is not done with rocks on a river bank). I haven't been able to watch the whole process but it involves wash basins and hanging things up to dry which takes about 2 days with no spin cycle to wring out the excess water and then of course, ironing. Now none of the clothes I brought with me have ever seen an iron and if it were up to me I'd say that step could be skipped. But Ciza (pronouced chee-za) is a pro and must do his job to the nth degree or it stops being a job he's doing and therefore something to be proud of and and becomes a charity he's being given and something to feel indebted about. At least that's how it has been explained to me, but I'm still not really comfortable with the feeling it gives me. There's an air of hierarchy about it.

(Man I am getting good at killing mosquitoes. It's too bad they don't live long enough to tell their friends and children that I am not to be trifled with.)

All of which is why it was such a joy and relief tonight when Jocelyn offered to come over and teach me how to make capatis. They are the Burundian version of that age old stand by- flat bread. We'd had some at the restaurant one day which we all really enjoyed and I asked her if she'd show me. So tonight I spent a happy hour in the kitchen, rolling out dough with a Fanta bottle and kneading in oil and then frying it over the charcoal fire. In spite of the smoke I found myself breathing easier, me and Jocelyn and Mireille in the kitchen together.

The workcamp is another labor quandry. Jobs being so scarce I'd feel pretty terrible if I thought my volunteer building was putting someone out of a much needed job. But looking around the worksite each day and judging from the (lately at least) small amount of work there is for us to do, it seems to me that they've hired enough people to do the work, without factoring us in, and then whatever we and the other voluteers do is just that much less which has to be done by the others. So then I get into this whole quandry of the necessity of us in this equation at all.

The times when we're actually working, whatever it is we're doing- like today pretty much all I did was hand bricks up to the masons on the staging- are the times when I feel most concretely helpful. I am helping to build this wall and it feels good. But the point of the endeavor is not to make me feel good but to build the wall and since there are enough paid assistants to keep the masons adequately supplied then am I just being humored in my fanciful mzungu desire to build something in Burundi? I mean in some ways it is exactly the problem you want to have. We have so many volunteers now including some women from the neighborhood who want to help and probably also don't mind the lunch for themselves and the children they bring along, that there are ever smaller and smaller amounts of work for each person. But instead of turning people away, we just each do a little bit less. This in some ways decreases my sense of personal accomplishment at the end of the day at which point I just remind myself, that the walls and the clinic and the community are the endgame so I can feel personally accomplished about that rather than the number of bricks I personally hefted. I'm not 100% satisfied with the answers I've found to the questions we ask ourselves and maybe I won't ever be. But I do know, speaking only from an utterly selfish, Sara-centered point of view, I am so glad to be here, doing any kind of work, with my Burundian friends.

PS. Jocelyn swears that 'urukuma' doesn't mean anything and that they were only laughing at me essentially saying a nonsense word. But really, how funny can saying "thamb" possibly be?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Chicago Connections

Remember how I said the buses have names painted on the back? Several times I've seen the New York Yankees bus and I kept thinking if ever I met someone who was looking for a name to paint on his bus, I'd suggest Chicago Cubs. Today coming home the bus parked in front of us in the Kamenge dock was named Chicago Bulls. This after seeing someone walking down the street with a Chicago Bears sweatshirt and someone else with a Chicago Bulls t-shirt. Now the thing you have to bear in mind about all this is that at least as far as the clothes go, 99 times out of 100 I'd say people here have no personal relationship with the things written on their T-shirts. Or for that matter with the brand names of their other items of clothings. Africa is where your clothes go to die. Huge shipments of cast off, second hand clothes come in and are sold in the markets and are worn until they no longer serve the function of being clothes. I have no earthly notion what decision making process people go through when picking things out but I know it has nothing to do with logos or messages. This makes for some pretty interesting juxtapositions some times. A grandmother wearing a "What Happens in Vegas..." t-shirt over her traditional printed skirt. A young man wearing a 'play girl' t-shirt. A older man wearing (I kid you not) "My grandma went to Texas and all she brought me was this lousy T-shirt." Plus I'm guessing that Eminem doesn't actually have as many fans here in Burundi as you'd be lead to believe by the number of people wearing Eminem t-shirts. Something else I'd read and was reminded of tonight is that whenever there's a big sporting event like a SuperBowl or World Series or whatever they make a gajillion shirts for either outcome and then ship the ones that turn out to be wrong off to Africa's T-shirt market. So it's possible that somewhere here in Burundi someone is wearing a t-shirt celebrating the Chicago Bears as the SuperBowl Champions of 2007. If I find it Lauren, I'll bring it home. It's weird to thing about the whole message of a message tshirt being rendered meaningless along with the finer distinctions of brand. Gap, Adidas, Sean John, Izod, whatever, have all been stripped of their cache or stigma. Generally speaking the men and boys here dress exactly like the men in boys in America. They are in fact, wearing the exact same clothes which were worn by men and boys in America, except that shorts are still a rarish sight. It's just that for them, a shirt is a shirt. Pants are pants. And the variable which has meaning is cleanliness or degree of wear. Women's wear is a whole other story- as is so often the case. You'll see women in full on traditional dress, a large patterned print skirt with a matching patterned blouse with maybe even another wrap on top of that. You'll also see lots and lots of women in the aforementioned oversized T-shirts with a traditional skirt. And more and more now, at least in the city you'll also see women in full on Western wear, including pants which apparently as recently as a year ago you never saw.

My other Chicago connection of the day is that we spent the better part of the evening hanging out with Jefferson Mok a fellow Chicagoan here in Burundi. I came across his blog (which I highly recommend by the way) in my Burundi alerts and had to laugh as I read through his accounts of being at some of the exact same events we'd attended. So we made a Fanta appointment to swap learning Kirundi notes and of course celebrate being from Barak Obama's home town. We did a pretty good job of not entirely monopolizing the conversation with all things Chicago, mostly because the work he's doing is so intriguing. He got here three weeks ago- just a week before we did- and is working on setting up a shelter with programs for former female child soldiers who have now been demobilized. Like I said, check out his blog for further details.

It was a very slow day at the work camp. John had sprained his wrist yesterday from a fall and spent the day inside reading. Workwise, he didn't miss much. The masons in their own special way re-asserted their supremacy in the brick laying and budongo troweling department working so concertedly on one wall section at a time that there was literally no place for us to edge in and help with that part of things. So it was a little bit of brick and budongo shifting to make sure their piles stayed full and a lot of waiting around. Plus new volunteers keep popping up, women from the community who want to help and who then join us for lunch and today a young woman who just finished at university- in social work and community programs- and is hoping to get a job working with FWA in the future. Her English is very good and she was quite happy to help me work on my Kirundi which is great because explaining to Kirundi only or even Kirundi/French speakers that I would like to learn to conjugate the verb they just told me in 1st person singular form has led to some pretty funny who's on first type, roundabout conversations.

Jonathan, taking his role as umwigisha wanje very seriously today did actually quiz me on the way to lunch, which reminds me I'd better know the word for 'door' tomorrow or he is going to flunk me. Not satisfied with simply knowing that 'tree' is 'igiti' he requires that I also know the Kirundi names for the different kinds of trees. I couldn't explain to him that the harder part of that equation was me being able to tell the difference between a mango tree and an avocado tree and an orange tree with out the fruits themselves in evidence, never mind remembering the Kirundi names.

My hilarious Kirundi moment of the day: Maxime was quizzing me on Kirundi for different body parts. I felt pretty confident about this since I'd been working on it with Jonathan. Hand I got, head, heart, ear, nose, finger. And then I said crooking my thumb, "urukuma" for thumb. And Marite who'd been listening the whole time nearly fell over laughing. Maxime was laughing too as he corrected me, "urukumu." And there's Marite still fit to be tied. So I asked Maxime in French what was so funny, why was Marite laughing at me? And he replied that I had said something else. But did not elaborate what, precisely I had said. It is now my mission in life to find out.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A day in the life, largely concerned with food

Well here we are at about the 1/2 way point in our sojourn so it seems like a good moment to describe what our day is generally like. I also hope to dispel a few misconceptions, mostly held by my brother, about how things would be.

We get up around 7am dress and have breakfast which is bread and usually some fried egg and fruit. Recently we also starting having a kind of pineapple juice blend which makes a nice change from water, all the time water (I generally pass on the Fanta). I guess the Burundians, and we're told Africans in general, only eat one meal a day so they don't quite know what to make of this whole 'breakfast' thing. When we mentioned one evening that we really liked the soup, we got soup the next morning for breakfast. And now whenever we have soup for dinner, it usually also shows up for breakfast the next morning. Then we walk to the market where we smush into a bus. Sometimes Jocelyn comes with us- which is nice because then she can translate the conversations going on around us. Many conversations end up involving the whole bus. If you're half sitting in someone's lap, you might as well insert yourself in their conversation too. We get off in Kamenge and walk to the clinic accompanied by the usual children's chorus. We walk the same way at about the same time every day and see pretty much the same kids but they get excited every time.

At the clinic we go around and greet everyone with a handshake. If their hands happen to be full of mud or brick dust or cement they'll offer up their forearm and we shake that instead. See there's even a formality for being dirty. Then John changes into his work shirt and I change into my work clothes. I've been wearing the same shirt and pants at the work site for 6 days now. So I fit right in with the paid Burundian labor who do pretty much the same thing. It makes it a lot easier to remember everyone's name. Guy in the pink shirt. Confise. Every day. Pink shirt, Confise. Now somehow when Claire and Jocelyn and Odette pitch in- usually wearing skirts by the way- they manage while doing exactly the same work I'm doing, to stay clean. I end up covered in red dirt and cement and now mud. They say when you have to wash your own clothes without a washing machine, you learn to keep clean. And I have noticed that the Burundians never sit down on the ground. Even when we were working on the rebar cages for the cement which is all clipping and tying wire really close to the ground they always chose to hunker on their feet rather than sit cross legged.

We work on whatever the task of the moment is- hauling cement or mud or bricks or stones or laying bricks or slinging mud or whatever until about 10:30am when it's time for a Fanta break. Also a little snack, usually bread and margarine. But it's only the voluteers and sometimes the clinic staff (us and Eric and Odette and Jonathan and Samual, etc.) who come inside for Fanta. There's a whole thing we haven't quite figured out about differences between the paid skilled labor and the rest of us. Anyway then it's back to work til lunch time around 12:30. (All times by the way are approximate. I haven't been wearing a watch and few of the others do though I have found that there is more of a concept of time than I was led to believe. Someone always knows what time it is. Just not me.)

And sometimes there's not a lot of work for us to do. When they are working on laying the corner bricks, that has to be pretty precise so the four masons do that and the rest of us wait around, ready to bring them bricks or mud. During these down times I'll try to get Jonathan or one of the others to teach me a new word or two. Since I can't really write things down I need a lot of repetition and very often I find I must be altering the words slightly as I repeat them (like playing a game of telephone with myself) so that by the time I repeat them back to Jonathan an hour later, they've evolved into entirely different words and he shakes his head at me.

For lunch we (again just the workcampers, clinic staff we) walk about 10 minutes to the FWA restaurant. Three months ago FWA opened a restaurant to give employment to women from the clinic with HIV/AIDS. It's very simple, 2 rooms with a couple of tables, a store room and a place for the pots and pans and things. The cooking is done outside over a charcoal fire. The menu is a piece of notebook paper tacked up to the wall which in a combination of Swahili and Kirunid offers: Rice and Beans 400f (about 40 cents) Rice and Beans and Cabbage 500f. There's a meat option and then a couple different combinations of rice, beans, cabbage and meat. The most expensive combo-rice, beans & meat is 1000f. There's no electricity which means there's no fridge which means there's no Fanta, so that's probably hurting their business a bit. We just bring our own water. For us they like to experiment with new food options to maybe add to the menu so though we usually have some combination of rice and beans and meat there's also some form of potato, sometimes the rice is replaced with pasta and sometimes the meat is goat meatballs in a tomato sauce instead of stewed cow in a tomato sauce. While we eat there's often lively conversation in Kirundi which eventually Odette or Claire translates the gist of for us but things must get left out because the translation is never nearly as funny as the conversation itself apparently was. Then after conjugating our way through from I am hungry, you are hungry, he is hungry, etc. to I am full, you are full, he is full etc. in Kirundi, we walk back to work for another couple hours til 3pm. Then we wash our hands and change our clothes if we have them, smush back into a bus and come home.

At home it's cold showers and clean clothes and usually a walk and some errands before its time for dinner and darkness. Dinner comes out lined up in matching matrushka pots- from a big pot of rice, down through potato option, peas & carrots, and stewed beef in a tomato sauce in the last little baby pot. Every night, pretty much exactly the same thing. Every now and then the rice is pasta shells, the peas become a local green spinachy thing or the stewed beef is meatballs. Always in a tomato sauce. Sometimes there's green soup. Oh and fruit. Always some fruit option. So for those of you who have been keeping track the answer is no, no dairy. No cheese, no milk, no actual butter. That day we were up country we did try a bit of a thick yogurty drink which Pastor Sara offered us (sorry Nurse Karen for breaking the no unpasteurized dairy rule). And we tried to buy some ice cream for our 4th of July party but a pint costs $30. Yes, 29500f the equivalent of just under $30 US dollars. So yeah, no dairy for us. Also virtually no refined sugar- aside from the Fanta which as I've said I avoid when I can without being rude. And I have to say I don't miss it nearly as much as I thought I would, probably because of the fruit. I'm not saying I won't be stuffing my face with ice cream the moment I get home right after I take a hot shower for the first time in a month (note to roommates: get ice cream. By the way did I ever tell you guys that the strawberry cheesecake ice cream in the freezer was a buy one get one free thing and please eat it because it will be all freezer burned by the time I get back? Sorry to subject the rest of you to that but I just this second remembered about that ice cream and everyone's so scrupulous about not eating other people's food I just know it would still be sitting there, not good anymore. Anyway if you're not one of my roommates, now you can invite yourself over for strawberry cheesecake ice cream.)

Then after dinner we have many quiet hours of reading and writing and studying and skyping or chatting and then bed to start the whole thing over again. Speaking of which it is way past my bed time.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Personal Space

A shortish (for real this time) entry tonight as we had an unexpectedly long day.

Alexia invited us to the first mass of her cousin who was ordained as a priest in the Catholic Church yesterday. This also included the reception afterwards. Now, once upon a time I myself was Catholic and I recall that mass lasted about an hour. But I guess first masses are different and I'd imagine the Burundian fondness for speech making also had something to do with mass lasting 3 hours and the reception another 3 after that. I will also say that no Catholic mass I have ever been to had 2 dancing troupes- 1 girls in bright colored flowing robes with flowered headbands, 1 boys in traditional dress including tall grass headresses; drum, trumpet and flag waving fanfare for the presentation of the host; or applause. The trumpet, drum and flag waving fanfare was my favorite because a few times early on the trumpet would end on a bit of a sour note which caused the audience to laugh and then every time they played after that the boys sitting behind me would giggle in anticipation of the final note.

The reception was very much like the wedding reception we went to. Audience was split in two and looking at each other. Fanta was offered. Also beer, the Catholics having no problem at all with alcohol. There was more dancing and singing and also some traditional Burundian drumming. Which brings me to my observation about personal space.

I had noticed at the big Independence Day reception with the president that people got really close to the drummers while they were performing. Not really close to watch, really close while they were walking by or chatting with a friend or setting down a drink. Really close while seemingly not paying attention at all. Several times I was certain someone was about to be bashed in the head with a drumstick. Today while the drummers were processing in and while the dancing girls were dancing, people would walk right through them, I mean right through the middle of the dance to go and greet the new priest or set their glasses on the table. On the street too I notice people will maintain their trajectory even if it means brushing right past you. It's as if the entire nation has a personal space index of 0. How else do the buses built for 24 people fit 30?

What's even more unnerving is that this goes for the drivers too. If a car or bus or motorcycle is making a turn where people are crossing, well, it just makes the turn which is its business and expects the people to not get hit which is their business. They'll honk, but they won't swerve and they certainly won't slow down.

And what seems odd to me is that it sort of works. No one did get bashed with a drumstick, the dancers didn't miss a step and rarely, rarely have I ever seen a Burundian scurry out of the way of anything. Sure we see about one accident a day on our way to or from the clinic but given the fact that there are no traffic lights or speed limits and the 3 stop signs I've seen were all completely ignored (and I don't just mean Chicago rolling stop ignored, it's really as if they aren't there at all) and there are no lines in the streets and as far as I can tell 'drive on the right' and 'wear a seat belt' are the only rules at all, wouldn't you think there'd be accidents much more often? It makes going for a walk (or, you know, anywhere) more of an adventure than I'm usually looking for but it all seems to work out in the end.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

And now for something completely different

We had a relatively quiet day, resting up after a week of hard work. The treat for the day was that Adrien invited us to join him and Jonathan at a football game- Burundi v. Cameroon. We then asked Eric, one of our Burundian workcamp counterparts, to join us. After watching much of the World Cup 2 years ago I must say I was very excited to see my first live game. It's quite different from watching, say, a Cubs game.

1. It costs the equivalent of $5.
2. Policemen with guns check your ticket.
3. You watch from inside, essentially, a giant cage.
4. There's only an announcer at the beginning and the end and no place I could see where anyone keeps score. Though considering the kind of scores football usually has, it's not at all hard to remember.
5. No one gets up and walks around during the game.
6. During the entire 1 st 1/2 no one tried to sell anyone anything. At half time 2 guys went around with cardboard boxes filled with a variety of sweets. No beverages were for sale.
7. No one was drunk.

Cameroon won, 1-0, but it was still great fun to watch. There was constant commentary going on all around us- in Kirundi of course so we understood none of it. Occasionally Adrien would lean over and give us the gist of the conversations, people are mad at the coach, the players don't get paid very much so how can you expect them to play well, seriously what is the coach thinking? I like that it really felt like a community event. People weren't just talking to their neighbors but to everyone within hearing distance. There was lots of back and forth like friends watching a game in a bar. If you happen to have 200 friends and go to a bar that serves no drinks, just Tootsie Pops and foil packets of cookies.

After the game all the players on both sides had plastic bottles of water which they drank and then threw down on the field. In minutes the field was rushed by about 3 dozen kids from the bleachers. I thought they were coming to mob the players but what they were really after were the bottles. In about 20 seconds they'd collected them all and then just generally romped around on the field. A bunch were doing cartwheels and I even saw a few back handsprings- clearly self taught. The rest just threw themselves at the ground, I guess enjoying the spring in the grass. Eventually one lone policeman- unarmed- came to shoo them away and I had to laugh at how soundly he was ignored. The three kids closest to him would look like they were starting to walk off the field but then as soon as he turned around to point at someone else, they'd come right back.

On the way home, right by our corner we passed 2 piles of burning garbage. One of the things I will not miss about Bujumbura is the frequent smoke and smell of burning garbage. The first couple of nights I was here I kept thinking someone was standing right under the window, smoking a cigarette. Turns out it was just garbage fires down wind of us (or is it up wind?). There's a haze over the entire city from the hundreds of smoldering piles. That's what you do it seems if there's no public garbage collection service, if you can't reuse it, you burn it.

Once we got back home Jonathan gave me a vocabulary lesson, teaching me the Kirundi words for head, hair, hand, fingers, mouth, nose and of course, butt. I called him umwigisha wanje (my teacher) so I'm guessing I'd better study because he'll probably quiz me when we return to work on Monday.

Friday, July 11, 2008

There are children here

In 1991 Alex Kotlowitz published a book about 2 kids growing up in the projects on the South Side of Chicago called, There Are No Children Here. I haven't read it yet- though I hear it's great- but I gather that the premise behind the title is that children who grow up in poverty forced to face very grown up issues like death and violence, are robbed of their childhoods. I've been thinking about this a lot lately as we walk each day through Kamenge.

If I said it at the beginning of each and every post I still don't think I could convey the full weight of the following statement: There are a lot of children here. In Burundi, in Bujumbura, in Kamenge, there are a lot of children of all ages. From babies tightly wrapped to their mother's backs (Someday I want to see how this is done. It seems like it would have to be a two person operation but I know the mothers can do it by themselves.), to toddlers teetering like drunken sailors, to all knees & elbows adolescents, there are a lot of children here.

When we go anywhere in Kamenge, children call out to us from all sides, from down the street, from blocks away, "Mzungu!" Often there's a chant, started by a few and picked up by others, "Mzungu bon BON! Mzungu bon BON!" You must be able to tell we're coming for half a mile. Santa Claus walking down Main Street in July would not get more joyful and excited attention than we do. And though their chant is a plea for candy, and though they'll also ask us for cake or cookies or sweets, they never seem disappointed when we say no. They seem happy enough just to shake our hands. Each child must have his or her hand shaken, must be told Jambo or Bonjour or Hello, a wave and a general greeting will not suffice.

Here's the thing. I could tell you all the awful parts about being a child in Kamenge. I could tell you that every other child has a runny nose and a cough. That most only have one article of clothing and it's filthy and coming apart at the seams. That I saw 2 sisters sharing a single pair of shoes, each with one shod foot. That I saw a four year old doing her own laundry in a tub in the front yard. That I saw an 8 year old with a baby strapped to her back and a huge bag of onions balanced on her head. I could tell you about mysterious conical protrusions from stomachs and white patches on scalps. I could tell you about scabs and scars and the smells of the gutter. But it's too hard to write that when I know I'll be back on Monday to see some more. Someday I'll try to describe that part, but not today. Instead I want to write about how these children still, still manage to snatch a childhood from the jaws of poverty.

With all the thousands of kids and all the nothing they have you'd think the sound of Kamenge would be an incessant wail of wants and needs. There is a constant soundtrack, but whenever I pause a moment from our work at the clinic what I hear is the sound of permanent recess. Children talking, children laughing, children shouting for other children to come and join them. Primary school doesn't start until kids are seven and it's summer anyway and their parents are working every moment which means the children are mostly left to their own devices. So here's what they do, when they aren't running after mzungus to ask for candy.

The other thing they always ask us for is our water bottles. A water bottle is an incredibly versatile item. They can be flattened and crumpled and bundled together to make a ball suitable for playing football (that's soccer for the American impaired). It can be filled with sand, tied with a string and hung from a tree as a kind of tether ball. It can be blown like a flute or beaten against anything like a drum. Today Jonathan taught me a game kids play which is like jacks but they use only stones and the left hand crooked like a croquet wicket. There were other kids who had scratched into the dirt a model of a football field with stones standing in for the goal posts and bottle caps for players. They also know how to make a ball out of scraps of fabric or plastic bag tied around some other hidden piece of refuse. There's a game which looks something like checkers, also played with bottle caps. And, proving that all children everywhere throughout all of time know a good game when they find it, there's always rolling a semi inflated much patched bicycle inner tube down the street by running along side and knocking it with a stick.

Two more pictures. As we were leaving today I saw two little girls with red ribbons clutched in their hands, those thin plastic ribbons you most often see tied to balloons. They did not have balloons but the other end of the ribbons hovered in the air beside them. They were each tied around the abdomen of a live dragonfly. I was somewhat taken aback and a little apalled but also intrigued by what a strange and delicate labor that must have been, to catch and tether a dragonfly.

Two days ago I saw a child (impossible to tell if it was a boy or girl, so many of them have the same close shaved hair and boys and girls shirts are worn interchangably by either) trying to fly a homemade kite. The kite itself was a piece of notebook paper, the tail a strip of something lighter and crinkly- could have been a piece of plastic bag or even toilent paper. But the thing that got me was the string. A piece of string long enough to fly a kite is hard to come by and is far more likely to be put to a useful purpose- like keeping the lines of a brick wall straight as you build it. So this child must have collected every little bit of string he or she could find (I imagine it taking a week, or at leat all day), 20 bits tied with 40 knots to make frayed and fringing string. It didn't get very high but the way this child was laughing on the run- and it didn't just drag on the ground this kite, it flew, however low- it seemed to be worth the effort.

I don't understand how they keep smiling, how they keep laughing and playing and making kites unless maybe they don't know, it's not supposed to be like this. Or that it is possible to become accustomed to that which no one ought ever be subjected. And I don't know if it's a blessing or a tragedy that in spite of poverty and deprivation, in spite of the worst that war can do, there are still children here.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Another Brick in the Wall

Well my friends, a number of you have sent emails to say hi (thanks by the way) and have mentioned that you are behind in your blog reading. Can't imagine why. It's not like I go on and on for paragraph after paragraph about, oh wait. I guess I do. So I'll spare you the blow by blow account of how I learned to make a brick wall today. Here's the short version.

A lot of us were sitting in the shade watching the bricklayers work and waiting for the exciting moment when one of them would say "Amatafari" and then we'd all leap up and ferry a bunch of bricks for about 10 minutes and then sit back down to wait some more. Fortunately Red, probably with visions of us sitting around listening to the Burundians chatting in Kirundi for hours, boldly went where no one had gone before. To ask Samuel if she could learn how to lay bricks. Now laying the bricks on the ends was clearly a precision operation requiring 2 levels and lots of little taps here and there. This part could only really be done by the professionals but laying the bricks on the wall between the two ends is a little less exacting. They'd stretch a string (umagoze) taut from one end to the other and use this to make sure things stayed straight. Ultimately most of the actual brick laying was still done by the professionals but the rest of us could plunge our hands into the mud (budongo) and throw small blobs at the cracks between the amatafari and then slather more budongo all over the top once that was done. Along would come the bricklayers with their trowels poking and tapping at things, up moves the umagoze and the whole operation starts over. I wonder if the Masons will come after us now. Certainly Nurse Karen at the Northwestern Travel Clinic will probably have things to say about spending hours digging around bare handed in budongo made from Kamenge dirt and Kamenge water. A person might as well go swimming in Lake Tanganyika. I know, I said it would be the short version. And you believed me. House of Lies opens its first international franchise.

My Kirundi accomplishement of the day was learning how to conjugate I am tired (we are tired, you are tired, he is tired) even though I felt less tired than any other day this week.

Once we got home and cleaned up I took my journal out to the giant tree on the corner (an acacia? Andrew the amateur plantiologist thinks?). It has these huge gnarled roots that come up out of the ground like little walls and a few worn boards have been bolted to some of them creating little seating areas all around. I sat for half an hour or so and watched the traffic go by. A coulple of times men who'd seen me at Kamenge church came over to shake my hand and say good evening. Greetings and how are you's all being safely in the land of Kirundi I pretty much understand and can say.

Here are a couple of things I saw.
A man with a double decker crate of chicks balanced on his head.
A man with an armload of folded 2nd hand clothes in his arms. Stopped by another man who picks out a pair of pants and holds it up to himself to see if it will fit.
A dozen different white Land Rovers and Land Cruisers with the logo's of NGO painted on the doors and etched into the glass of the windows.
A bicycle, its gears squeaking as it toiled up the hill loaded with manioc.
A big group of fancy dressed folks- men in sharp suits, women in bright national dress, wraps draped over one shoulder, wait on the corner til they can cross. Nearest thing I've ever seen to Burundians hurrying when they cross the street.
Dozens of motorcycle taxis, drivers in helmets, passengers not, the helmet they're supposed to wear still tucked between the handlebars.

I really will stop now.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

How many guns have you seen today?

Me? I saw 12 in the half hour it takes us to walk to the bus and then ride it to Kamenge. All AK47 rifles held by policemen, usually in a casual way. Slung across the back, laid crosswise in a sitting lap, upside down by the handle, stock on the ground, barrel against the leg. They may be used to it but I'm still not. The other day we were in a craft market and I almost bumped into a rifle carrying soldier and still had a moment of thinking "Hey that guy's got a huge gun" as if I hadn't been seeing men with guns ever since we arrived in Africa.

There are police everywhere, usually in pairs, recognizable by, well, the guns and their cobalt blue uniforms which are essentially the same as the army uniform without the camoflauge pattern. You see them on most street corners, walking down the street, at the entrances of government buildings and riding around in those converted pickup trucks with the two outward facing benches. You know the kind I mean, for when you need to deploy 8 men with guns at once. I have also seen them riding buses, bicycles and motorcylces. I will say too that not all of them have the rifles. Some have nightstick/batons. And I wonder as I look at all these policemen, what do they do? Most often I see them either sitting or standing, just watching, waiting for something to happen I guess. Sometimes they say hello to us if we say hello to them. Most look young and some have a kind of inaccessible expression on their faces. Maybe its the naif in me which makes me think these are the men who have killed someone. Foolish I suppose to think I'd be able to tell. It reminds me of a line from a play. The character says something like, "I thought everything would change if I killed a man but the only thing that changed, was thinking anything would change." I want to believe that's not true. And I suppose it's not really the policemen themselves or the fact that there are so many of them that makes me think of it. It's those AK47 assault rifles.

On the trip up country we had to pass through 2 police roadblocks. There'd be razor wire coiled across the road and we'd stop. Fidel would hand over his papers and then he'd have to go through a test of the car. Right blinker, left blinker, hazards, windshield wipers, horn, lights. First with the officer standing in front of the car, then behind it. We were always able to go through and had no problems at all but there's something about being asked to follow instructions given by a man carrying a rifle that just can't possibly feel routine.

I say men with guns by the way because the very few female police officers I've seen in Bujumbura were of the nightstick carrying persuasion. During the Independence Day parade the police processed in troops just before the army. I saw 4 women among the hundreds of officers. Eli tells us they come from the bush where they were soldiers. There are also some women in the army, same story but I didn't see any of them in the parade. Eli says they're probably still out in the bush.

The work camp update is that the bricks arrived yesterday! And what a production it was. A huge truck backed up to the clinic gate and 1/2 a dozen men from the brick factory started unloading stacks of bricks. By the time they were done maybe an hour later they were all covered with a fine white dust from the bricks. While they were unloading Samuel would keep an eye on the stacks and count to make certain there were 30 bricks in each. Sometimes I'd see him add 2 or 4 bricks to the top if he found it short. Then a minute later I'd see one of the men unloading the bricks pulling 2 bricks off the top of a pile to start the next stack. A constant battle of perserverance. Nor was it over once everything had been unloaded. Then the counting of the stacks began. The Florida recount of 2000 was not conducted with more negotiation and accusation of wrong doing than counting these15,000 (or16,500 depending on who you ask) bricks. I wasn't watching the whole thing, I only saw 2 counts including the last one in which each stack was marked with streak of charcoal to prove it had been counted. John says there were 2 other counts prior to the ones I'd seen. I'm not even sure what the final result was but I did get a lot out of hearing someone count that many times in Kirundi. Now I can count to 10!
I also had my first successful communication of a non greeting/leave taking with Martin who only speaks Kirundi. To him it probably sounded like this: "Stones street, stones (gesture to indicate 'here')?" I'm like the Tarzan of Kirundi.