Today is July 1st which is Burundi’s independence day. They had reserved special seats for us at the stadium where a parade and festival was held. Our seats were fantastic, especially since most people did not even get seats. The festivities started with at least a half-hour worth of microphone testing as they attached loud speakers to long poles and erected them for a PA system. After approximately 40 minutes of steady high-pitched feedback whine and a man saying “Aloo, Aloo, Aloo,” at about 40 decibels louder than needed for a deaf man to hear him, we were set to go.Before the parade could start some announcements were needed and some dignitaries needed to arrive. The announcements were conducted at the ear-drum-piercing level as the test “aloo”. The announcer would yell into the microphone causing feedback and distortion, but my ears had already started to bleed so I was getting used to it. I didn’t understand the announcements except when he was saying “muzungus” (white people) and America. Apparently our presencewarranted an announcement…several times. As the only white people there, it was pretty obvious who he was talking about. The dignitaries, which included the chief of police, a military big wig, and a mayor or governor (I don’t pretend to understand their political system.)This special cadre of officials necessitated some patriotic music, which, of course, was pre-recorded so it could be played over our excellent loud speakers. I thought my ears had known pain prior to this, but I was just a hacker up to this point. I stood right next to a runway one time as a Harrier jet did a vertical take off with less ear pain. It was not merely the volume of the music, which was excessive by any head-bangers standard, it was the quality. Imagine going to an elementary band concert where all the kids were on crack. Now crank up the volume to the point where the speakers begin to tear themselves apart (either from excessive vibration or the speakers are committing suicide to escape what they are being forced to endure) and you have a rough idea of the music.
I am struck by how few spectators there were. My bewilderment was answered by the parade. By parade I do not mean floats, marching bands, and drunk shriners riding undersized mini-bikes. The qualification for entry into this parade is the possession of legs, any size will do. For the next two and a half hours every person from Gitega walked past us waving their hands while grouped into mysterious groups identified by homemade signs they carried. After they marched in, they took a lap around the track. Under the best of circumstances I would rather light my hair on fire than go to a parade…this was not the best of circumstances. There were drummers and dancers later which were only marred by the use of the PA system to scream the songs over. Subtlety is not a strong suit in Burundi.