Burundi 2017: Hitting Our Stride

Well, it’s time to start the work.  Training began Tuesday, with Ginger and Judi taking turns talking about a couple of subjects.  Thirty participants were there just for that class, all professionals from various parts of Burundi.  These participants will remain here for the rest of the week, going through different workshops and hopefully learning a whole lot.  So far, they seem to be very invested.  I sat in on a bit of teaching Judi was doing that involved a fair amount of audience participation, and she was impressed by their answers. They’re professionals here, after all, so it’s good to see that their foundation of knowledge measures beyond what we may have expected.  I spoke a little bit to a couple of participants before lunch, and they both said they were very interested and learning a lot.

Chris, Heather, Bain, Kirk, and Lydia saw the first group of kids Tuesday, too.  I’m always taken by the amount of energy and glee they bring to Gubganeza (the THARS campus; it means “Hill of Restoration”).  This time around, the kids have been divided up into two groups.  There is no real difference between the groups, but they will be coming to Gubganeza on alternating days—the group that came Wednesday received the same lessons as the group that came Tuesday.  Each of those groups, however, is divided again.  The older kids come earlier in the day and receive more structured teaching in leadership, while the younger kids come after lunch and play, play, play with our team and the older kids.  They’re also led through other activities, including improvisational drama.  We hope to instill a sense of unity and responsibility for each other in the next generation, and they’re willing and eager participants.

Bujumbura’s nice, but even my Barundi friends agree that Gitega is Burundi’s real treasure.  Since leaving in 2013, I haven’t stopped thinking about it here, and I was still blown away by the breathtaking vistas that happen relentlessly on the road to Gitega.  Burundi’s mountains seem so old, low and round as they are, but they’re very close together.  They’re still mountains, though, with steep sides and narrow valleys separating them.  RN1, the road connecting Buja with Gitega, clings to the sides of mountains and snakes over and between them, through villages at the tops and bottoms, but never on the slopes.  Landslides are common during the rainy season, though they rarely cover the road.  The last time that RN1 was totally blocked was in 2014.  There is another way to Gitega from the capital, but it adds a solid 45 minutes to travel time before traffic.  Since then, conservation efforts have began to crop up, and I have noticed many more trees looking out from Gubganeza than I remember.  A good sign if ever there were one.

It was our pleasure to meet the Governor of Gitega himself.  A youthful, smiling man in trendy glasses, he worked hard to welcome us to his office—and indeed his city—in English, which he did a splendid job of.  He didn’t have enough to continue the conversation, though, so David began to translate.  He told us of his efforts to make the residents of Gitega more self-sufficient.  It isn’t good for much of his citizens’ income to come from begging and peddling wares to passersby.  To make money working for the community, or a taxed store, benefits everyone involved, and it seems to be working.  Lydia remarked in the car after our meeting that she notices a rather big difference between the number of beggars and floating vendors in Gitega and Buja.  In Buja, one almost has to fend them off with a stick, though usually a firm, open-palmed “stop” gesture and a serious “oya” is enough to cause them to move on.  Frequently, it’s with a surprised smile; they don’t expect to hear “no” in their country’s language from some white people fresh off the plane.

Spirits here seem high.  The governor expressed to David (in Kirundi) his desire for us to attend Independence Day festivities, and David told him he should invite us in English.  His smile turned unsure, and he seemed to start thinking hard.  David gave him the English words, which he took a moment to internalize before telling us “I invite you to come to Independence Day,” with very little shakiness in his voice. I was impressed by how quickly and firmly he applied the new words; it shows, I feel, why his efforts as governor have been successful: he’s clearly a capable politician.

If I stay in the wi-fi any longer, they’re probably going to make me buy another Coke or Fanta, and three is plenty for today, so I suppose it’s time to sign off.  Things are going smoothly so far; we thank you for the prayers you’ve sent already.  Even still, more thoughts, prayers, and good vibes are greatly appreciated; we’re certainly thinking about you.

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