Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Last Days in Burundi

Although I’ve already left, I wanted to post quickly about my last few days in Burundi, which in many ways summed up why I love the country so much. On Thursday, I was able to meet Marie Rose, one of only two female ex-combatants who are Members of Parliament (on which more later), and she told me more about the country’s reconstruction plans and what the government is doing to help women ex-combatants. Positive point one: the country is small, making it easy to access its movers and shakers. Later, Pierre Claver tells me that she donates most of her salary to help women ex-combatants access training or set up mutual assistance schemes, and works very closely to help CEDAC’s women’s programme. Positive point two: people really care about establishing peace and developing the country.

Thursday night, I went to a movie night at the marine house and had some beers, then stayed up late playing drinking poker. Positive point three: good beer, lively ex-pat community. Friday I rushed round like crazy trying to get stuff finished, including a trip to the market with Huy, Morgan and Carol to buy pagne, followed by a cheap lunch in a local eatery near the market. I also met up with Eric, who presented me with a carved wall plaque; it’s fair to say that it’s not something I would have chosen myself, but I said I would treasure it and meant it; I almost bawled when he gave it to me. Positive point four: Burundians are unceasingly welcoming and generous. Then Friday night I had the best party I’ve had in Burundi; started out with beer and brochettes with Pierre Claver, followed by a awesome party at Barbara’s house – very chilled out and met some cool people, including some members of Burundi’s gay community – awesome people who I wish I’d met earlier. Then on to another party at the house next door to the Marine House.

The party was allegedly organised by someone called Pierre, who worked for the EU, but no-one there seemed to know Pierre and no-one seemed to care – the doors were open to all. At the party I ran into several people (muzungu and Burundian) who I knew already – a couple of people from Iriba, where I’ve been working, and my friend Olivier, who works for UNHCR, and who poured me a gin and tonic so strong I literally couldn’t drink it. We danced beside the pool, then, almost inevitably, in the pool. As Isaac pointed out, it was like a particularly debauched scene from Emergency Sex. Positive point five: Burundians are party animals.

Saturday, I had breakfast with Pierre Claver during the travaux communitaire; like Rwanda, Burundi has regular ‘community works’. A lot of ordinary people seem to do them, digging drainage ditches, etc, but literally none of the people I knew ever did. Claver claims that it’s a waste of time because you just listen to political speeches; I’m sceptical about this – there seem to be an awful lot of people on the streets doing stuff – but it leads to positive point six: willingness to criticise the government. As I walked into town I was greeted by Amable, working as a security guard, and Eric Uwimana, who I interviewed on my first day of profiling. They wished me luck, and send me on my way. Positive point seven: a small town where you regularly run into friends.

Having been to say goodbye to Nana and retrieve my sleeping bag, I headed to Bora Bora for a final visit (positive point eight: the beach), before heading back to Pierre Claver’s to collect my stuff. A coke with Huy, a cup of tea with Morgan and a movie at the marine house completed the evening, before I grabbed an hour or two of sleep and headed off to get my bus at 5am.

In the spirit of honesty, I should point out that there were a few negatives as well, that also reflected my time in Burundi; Peace Exchange trying to rip me off so I had to walk to Face a Face, the fact that the buses leave when full, so the only place you can get a bus from the town centre is the bus station, meaning that you have to walk 10 minutes from Aroma, to get a bus that passes right by Aroma again 20 minutes later, having to wait ages for the bus to fill, people having no sense of urgency, not showing up when they say they will, and never returning calls. But although these things drive me crazy, they are more than outweighed by the positives, and on the whole it was a wonderful few days, a wonderful goodbye to some great friends, and to a country that I’ve fallen head over heels in love with, and that I hope I will be able to come back to soon.

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