Burundi 2017: Until Next Time

It’s been over a week since we’ve been back.  Readjustment is always a process.  The jetlag hit me harder this time than it normally does, though I was able to right myself before work started.  It’s such a different world.  It’s a different process every time.  I’m very glad I didn’t work in the food service industry when I went the first time; the sheer amount of food waste that a restaurant produces would have been a serious emotional struggle.  That, and I was eleven at the time (it’s amazing how much quicker I recovered from the time difference twelve years ago).

This time I find myself going back to the difference in the value of the American Dollar.  Because we exchanged money through THARS and not a money changing business, we got a slightly better exchange rate.  Twenty-five hundred Burundi Francs to the American Dollar.  A 10,000 FBu note is worth $4 American.  The value of the money is one thing, but it’s what things cost that truly describes the conversion.  A small, beautifully handmade backpack cost me 30,000 FBu, or $12.  They were selling handmade baskets for around 10,000 FBu; baskets that could be resold in the States for upwards of $70 American.  One of the biggest problems with the industry is that you can’t sell Burundian souvenirs to Burundians, and even if you could, there’s not enough disposable income around to reliably sell to the locals.

It’s even worse up in the hills, where groups of nomadic Batwa continue to live as they always have, making pots from the clay they find in those hills.  The village we visited is a little better off; they quarry stone straight out of the ground outside their village and sell it as gravel, but it’s still not much.  The trouble, David told us, is that the pots they make are obsolete, and as we’ve discussed, souvenirs don’t do well with the locals.  Despite this, the Twa insist on sticking to their ways.  I find myself trapped between the value of preserving their culture and the importance of feeding their children.  It’s frustrating for me, and I get to go back to my air conditioned, single family home in suburban Delaware.

Rather than being bothered by it, I suppose the course of action is to be grateful for the things we do have.  The Bible says to let tomorrow worry about itself, and in the spirit of that, wasting time and energy worrying about things outside my control is pointless.  I should revel in my WIFI and hot showers, enjoy disposable income and food whenever I want.  I should use my wealth to put myself in a position to help more on the next trip than I could this time around, but I must never forget the things I saw and the people I met.  To lose sight of them would undermine the experience completely.

Thank you all for the attention and support throughout this endeavor; we couldn’t have done it without you.  It’s been an honor to relay what’s gone on, and I look forward to the next time I get to do so.  Until then, I implore you to remember our brothers and sisters across the pond in your thoughts and prayers.


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