Burundi 2017: Immediate Retrospect

The night before we caught our planes back, I sat down with Bain once again to ask him intrusive questions to post about on the internet.  We’d been roommates the whole trip, so the second interview was much more personal than the first one (not to mention all the lifechanging experiences we’d just shared).  I basically used the same questions as before, now with field experience.

The way that Bain characterized for me how Africa, in concept, was different for him now was by saying, “It’s like before, I had an outline on Africa, and now I’ve written the essay.”  He found it more modernized than the media led him to believe, an experience exacerbated by sitting in traffic as we drove past Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.  Rwanda has received a relatively large amount of aid from the U.S., particularly when compared to the amount that Burundi has seen, and it shows.  The terrain in and around Kigali is hilly, and at night, artificial lights dot the hills and valleys that make up the city.  Gubganeza, outside Gitega proper as it is, only has power because they have a generator they can run for about four hours a day.  The city of Gitega has pretty reliable power, though, and western style gas stations are popping up all over.  I don’t remember seeing any on our last trip.

Another thing that suddenly became incredibly real to Bain is the starving African child.  He spent his afternoons playing with a growing number of kids, many of whom came from the Twa village across the valley.  It made “The Third World” become a very real thing for him over the last few weeks, what with the kids all wearing the same color.  You’ve seen that color, it’s the color of the ground and the bricks and the path in the image above.  Most Twa kids only have one set of clothing, so it inevitably gets stained that color.

Despite the poverty, there’s a spirit of life and joy that pervades the population.  I asked Bain if anyone had overhyped Africa and whether it was worth all the anticipation and preparation, and without thinking, he gave me an emphatic yes, it was worth the hype.  Many people, he said, reminded him of family.  Beni and the other kitchen ladies reminded him of Aunts, David and Felicite too felt like family to him.  He found everyone warm, welcoming, and friendly, which rings true for Africans just about anywhere.  Many locals talked to him in Kirundi as they would anyone else, and found themselves baffled by this normal looking guy who only spoke English.  Bain picked up a fair amount of Kirundi, but hitting the point of conversation takes much longer than two weeks for any normal human.  Many didn’t have any idea that there were black people in the U.S., and Bain fielded the questions as to how they got there.  I still cannot fully express how it felt to listen to him explain his people’s history in our country—to Africans.  A little girl in Rwanda, after hearing this explanation, asked whether he was here to stay, now that he’s back.  He said no, his life in the States needs him, but he’ll be back again.  It’s impossible for him, now, to stay away.

Once he was there, it became very clear (at least to me) why it was that he was called to be on this trip.  He’s a teacher, and a man of God, and a guy who plays hard, and all of that came in handy.  The kinship that he felt with the locals was palpable.  He taught the daily morning devotion a couple times, and one message in particular resonated strongly with everyone who heard it.  Bain Manley spoke to a room full of Africans and Americans about oneness in the Church.  Denominationally, culturally, racially, we are called in Paul’s letters to be of one body and one mind, with Christ at the head.  Bain has quite a fascinating ability to find connections between scriptures across the Bible that I’ve never heard before.  In retrospect, it seems obvious to connect the Tower of Babel with James’ New Testament teaching on the power of the tongue, but I’ve never seen it done before.  He said he’d never considered being a pastor before this trip, but I know the idea’s kicking around his head now.  In my opinion, he’d kick butt up front on Sunday mornings.

It’s always weird to be back; the adjustment period is very real.  The power went out yesterday, and Bain immediately texted me about how nice it was for things to be back to normal.  A trip like this is lifechanging; there’s no way around it.

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