We visited the zoo in Bujumbura. They call it a living museum (Museé Vivant). It is not for the faint of heart. The conditions for the animals are deplorable. We will not dwell on this so you are not depressed by my blog. While very small, this is the most memorable zoo I have ever been seen. This was my third visit to this zoo and there have been a number of changes since I was last here.
Suddenly, safety is a concern. On previous trips we could walk up to a cage and reach through to touch the creature inside. Previously I would pet a leopard, scratch a monkey under the chin, and play with full grown chimpanzees (think planet of the apes to picture these big guys). Apparently, the chimp I used to play with bit someone’s fingers off so secondary fences were installed to keep us a little further back.
To compensate for the downgrade from a petting zoo to a watching zoo they added a little drama. At the leopard cage the zoo keeper threw a guinea pig on top of the cage, twelve or more feet in the air. The leopard sprang to the top, reached through the grate, and had the pig in his claws in less than a second. A spectacular display of athleticism. What followed was one of the most gruesome and fascinating displays of wildlife I have ever experienced. Apparently leopards like to play with their food. I won’t give you the details, but you will never see this aspect of animal life on Animal Planet.
A highlight of the visit was the addition of a baby chimpanzee. For 5000 Burundi francs (about $1.50), you can hold the chimp (apparently he has not yet developed a taste for human fingers. One of our team was holding the chimp when he decided he had enough, pushed away and jumped down. The zoo workers started to frantically grab at him as he scampered through the legs of the group. When he came near me I held out my arms and he launched himself into them and held on for dear life. Is it wrong that at that moment I really missed my grandkids? The chimp nestled in like I was his savior. Now I want a pet chimp for home.
Traveling to Burundi was fairly uneventful…if you don’t count the lack of air conditioning in the plane. I don’t want to over-state the conditions on the plane, but if there was an oven near by I would have put my head in it for a breath of fresh air. I had a small concern that the plane had crashed and I was now in hell just hallucinating the plane. The heat combined with my lack of a shower had me feeling like a link of sausage left in the sun for a week ready to burst through the casing. I imagine that is how I smelled as well. As a bonus, the heat prevented sleep. I was able to get a good thirty minutes, broken into several smaller chunks, of sleep.
May 30th, 2:30 am. I have almost everything ready for departure to Africa, but I’m exhausted and I need to get some sleep.
3:30 am. The alarm on my phone is making an unholy racket as it terminates my one-hour nap. I wake up Judi and announce it is time for us to get ready to meet the rest of the teem at 4:30
4:25 am. My phone wakes me up again with Vickie asking if we are up yet. An inauspicious start to our trip. We skip our showers as we head out for 24 hours of travel.
Boarding a plane before the majority of travelers is a delightful privilege. The biggest perk is the ability to put your carry-on luggage in an overhead rack. On this trip my luggage was only four rows away from my seat neatly tucked away over head. Far too often I have shoved my carry on under the seat in front of me eliminating my meager allotment of foot space. The secondary perk is sitting back and watching other passengers fight over the remaining over-head storage.
Being in the back row gives a clear view of the entertaining squabbles that inevitably break out. Bob from Philadelphia decides that Bernice from Atlanta stowed her baggage inefficiently and proceeds to rearrange it in order to get his bag in along side. Bernice realizes what is going on and gives Bob an earful for touching her luggage. The ruckus alerts the 102 pound “flight attendant” (she is not a stewardess) who steps between 195-pound-Bob and Bernice, who appears to have had two Bobs for lunch. Employing the skills of a diplomat, marriage counselor, and magician the flight attendant gets the bags, Bob, and Bernice all securely stowed in their respective seats with smiles an all but the bags (they make no expression whatsoever). Moments later a young man is trying to stuff a backpack into a space that won’t fit an empty file folder. Our perky flight attendant demonstrates she also has military training as a Drill Sargent and begins barking orders. She informs the hapless backpacker that not even she can accomplish this feat and that he will need to store his pack under the seat in front of him. The de-neutered young man slinks into the seat across the aisle from me and starts the process of eliminating his foot space. The attendant smiles sweetly as she surveys her neat and orderly domain where she is clearly at the top of the food chain.
To be continued…
Last day of teaching. A crazy-hectic day. Our host has planned some festivities for the end of the day and wants us to finish our teaching a couple of hours early. This was going to be some feat as we were already behind schedule thanks to my day of illness. We shortened their lunch break and eliminated their afternoon break. I taught non-stop for about two and a half hours and crammed in about four hours of material. I had fun, but the class was a little tired by the end. They all stayed awake the whole time, probably in hopes I would talk about sex again, which I didn’t. They appeared quite content with the non-provacative material. One of the great joys of teaching in Burundi is how eager they are to learn. They kept telling me they had never heard these things before and that it was revolutionary. This was particularly interesting since all of my teaching points come from the Scripture. The Bible has only been available in Kirundi for a short time so even the pastors have a hard time being proficient with the use of Scripture, not to mention the complete lack of resources to help understand the Bible. Once again I see how overwhelmingly blessed I am and how easy it is to take it for granted. The Accordance Bible study software on my computer puts more resources at my fingertips than are available in the entire country of Burundi. Teaching and resourcing these brothers and sisters that Christ died for is not optional. If we don’t go, God will raise up someone else and we will miss the blessing as well as the opportunity to be part of God’s plan.
The afternoon festivities were indeed quite special. First we watched as our young team members, (Christopher, Malachi, Lizzy, Julia, and Lydia, with the help of David’s children and under the capable leadership of Chris Champion) performed a drama depicting the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. The seventy plus Burundi children were spell bound by the story and reacted with gasps and verbal empathy at what was happening to this man Jesus. After the drama, they made an assembly line of sorts and washed the feet of the children. A heart of stone would be required to not be moved by this scene. Our children who were shy, intimidated, and uncertain just two weeks ago, were launching into this task without a bit of hesitation. No one recoiled at deformed feet or noxious smells.
The love that had grown in their hearts for these precious children of God who have so little flowed out in their task of humility and service. The Burundi children beamed with delight as these westerners who have been so loving for these past couple of weeks now did something no one has ever done for them. The children were so dirty that the foot washing gave them what looked like an invisible pair of socks that changed their skin color. Each one hopped up from the foot washing and marched over to receive a brand new shirt – maybe the first new item of clothes they ever had. Not one child put their new clothes on, but reverently kept them neatly folded to take home. A couple of children had nothing to wear on the bottom half of their body and they were clearly aware of the stigma that came from being pant less in a clothed society. We put some denim shorts on them and all the children cheered. Whether from empathy or relief at not getting mooned all the time was unclear, but we were happy.
We finished the day with drummers and goodbyes. A few women from the village on the other side of the mountain showed up with pots they had made to thank our team for blessing their children. We gave them t-shirts and they were so excited they spontaneously broke into a dance. I have never been that excited in my life, but it was a joy to watch.
Having resurrected from the dead I was eager to get back to teaching, but a little cautious about food. I went easy on breakfast even though I’m quite hungry and a bit dehydrated. Devotions were fine, teaching went well, and by lunch my caution is trampled under the heavy feet of my hunger. I bury my face in the rice and beans as I ravenously inhale the food. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief – JD is back.
All are glad that I’m feeling better, not out of concern for my personal welfare, but because they know the topic for the afternoon marital session is sex. Everyone feigns disinterest, but by the time the session starts everyone is on the edge of their seats with freshly sharpened pencils and a stack of fresh notebooks – and that’s just my teammates. I can understand the African’s being so eager, they don’t have cable.
Through the first two seminars, Daniella had been my primary translator. She is a beautiful, 23-year-old single woman eager to serve God. When she found out I would be talking about sex she refused to do any translation for me during the entire marital conference. I assured her the material would be handled respectfully and not in a crass way, but she insisted I may use a word that she would be embarrassed to translate. I respected her wishes (which is not to say I didn’t tease her mercilessly – I did, but I used her father as my translator). I had some concern about the reserved nature of the culture if the possibility of a word related to sex was enough to lose me a translator. My concerns were completely unfounded. They took to the topic with the vigor one might expect from people who had so little personal privacy. One older woman asked an extremely long, and apparently somewhat risqué question that had my translator and most of the class doubled over in laughter. The translation was very much abbreviated and undoubtedly cleaned up before it got to me. I got the message loud and clear, “sex is important and we want to talk about it.” After the class I found that Dani was quite embarrassed even without translating. Hearing the topic discussed so frankly by her father (her mother was also in the room tossing in helpful suggestions) may have been worse than saying them herself. She was one of four unmarried people in the room and the other three were engaged to be married soon. Awkwardness is so much fun when it is happening to someone else.
The lost day.
I woke up excited to start the marital seminar. My most frequently taught subject. I’m so eager to start teaching that I ignore the slightly queasy feeling in my stomach. As I am leading the devotions I feel the churn in my stomach go up a notch, but tell myself it will pass. Devotions end and we head over to the training room to start teaching. Before I start teaching, Chris leads the group in a great ice breaker, but I decide to sit out since I wasn’t feeling 100%. I was feeling sorry for myself because the activity was a lot of fun. My turn was soon enough and I started with introductions and clarifying the participants expectations. So as they were explaining how they hoped to use the information they would learn I began to wage war in earnest with my gastro-intestinal system. Ginger saw the range of colors my face was progressing through and noticed my covert belches. (You know the type. We all do them when we have eaten too much or need to release a little pressure, and everyone politely pretends we didn’t just burp at them.) She mouthed to me, “are you ok?”, and I confidently let her know I have it all under control.
Within seconds my eyes were bulging and the pressure within my system threatened to burst me open like an over-ripe gourd. Without a word of warning I initiated my exit pausing to ask Gretchen to take over for me. Oblivious to the intestinal wars, Gretchen turns to me with a doe-eyed stare and asks, “What do you need?” I struggle to be calm as I snap, “Take over.” Still confused by my uncharacteristic surrender of the floor, I was met with dazed bewilderment. The look of desperation on my bloated face launched Ginger into action as she jumped up saying, “I’ve got it. You go.” I don’t know if she was motivated by pity for my desperate circumstances, or a desire to get me as far away as possible before the inevitable eruption occurred. Heedless of her motives, I headed for the door in a hurry, but didn’t make it. I clasped my hand over my mouth in a fruitless effort to keep the nastiness within, but only accomplished directing the trajectory of the gorge onto me – my shirt, shoes and pants were all baptized with the former contents of my stomach. I continued my hasty retreat without breaking into a run because that would be undignified. Instead I proceeded at a safe and reasonable speed as I bubbled over all the way to the men’s room on the back of the building. Relieved to finally be in the appropriate place for my activities, I dropped to my knees and began to worship in earnest at the porcelain throne. Only later did I find out that, due to the nature of construction in Africa, the bathroom which I thought to be a solace for spewing, was in fact nothing more than an echo chamber to magnify all my retching into the conference room where all the students were.
Covered in vomit, kneeling on a bathroom floor, with my face in a location reserved for another part of my anatomy, I notice movement by the door I neglected to close in my rush. I turn to see women from the conference in the doorway peering in with worried looks on their face. Realizing I have set a new standard for undignified, I pulled myself up to begin the cleanup process. Of course, the bathroom only has water I can’t drink and no towel or other means for cleanup. I splash water on my clothes and scrape off the biggest chunks before Daniella, the daughter of our host, shows up with bottled water and a towel – what a blessing she was. Having purged all the evil from within, I felt much better and was ready to return to teaching. I was met with saucer eyes and wrinkled noses as my puke drenched presence completed the morning lesson.
Assuming I may not be out of the woods yet, I decided to go lay down for a bit to let everything settle while Gretchen taught the next lesson. I didn’t know the half of what I was in for. Suffice it to say that it was not a pleasant day. I never got back up the hill to teach that day, or even out of my room/bathroom (apparently not all of the evil was expelled). I laid on my bed with prayers alternating between “God, heal me,” and “God, take me home now.” I didn’t care which, I just couldn’t stay in this state. In the evening I started to wonder if I was delirious or if God was answering my prayer. I heard the beautiful sound of angels singing outside my window. I strained to hear the sound of the chariot wheels, as I was sure he was coming to take my home. Alas, it was the girls practicing for the next day’s worship time. He wasn’t going to pull me out after all.
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.
Sundays are fairly predictable. The first half of the day was spent at church because they have long services. As honored guests who have come from so far away we always get “priority seating.” On this particular Sunday our honored position involved being marched up to the front of the church and sitting on the platform facing the congregation. A lengthy service in a hot building after a long work week with irregular sleep in a language you don’t understand is an ideal environment for napping…and nap I did. Malachi and I sat side by side in the front row of the platform facing the congregation as we snoozed through the sermon. I don’t think we were alone, but we were most visible. I suspect that the biggest problem this caused was arousing envy amongst the congregants who were facing the pastor and felt compelled to stay awake.
After my delightful nap, I noticed that my partners were acting more reprehensibly than I. Gretchen had pilfered a small child from a very young woman sitting nearby. She wanted her picture taken with this cherubic little fellow who had no idea what this crazy white lady was up to. As if this was not bad enough, she passed the little parcel down the row like a tin of mints so that every wannabe mother could cuddle and hold this pass-along treat. When the little guy became tired and ready for his nap (he apparently missed the opportunity earlier), they started passing him back down the row to return to his mother. This process took a while because everyone needed another hug, cuddle, and picture. Before he made it back to his mother he was fussy and traumatized by all the crazy white women. I suspect he will be scarred for life and have a phobic reaction every time he sees a white woman.
We toured the local hospital which was an adventure. I was busy taking pictures as usual, when a woman walked up to me, pulled up her shirt and pointed at her right breast which had a small bandage on it. I was flabbergasted. I lowered my camera and stared stupidly having no idea what she might be trying to communicate to me. Perhaps in response to my idiocy she pulled up the other side of her shirt and pointed at her left breast which had a matching little bandage. At this point my jaw bounced off the ground. I turned around to my team and asked a ridiculous question: “Did you guys see that?” Of course they had all seen it and they were having great fun at my expense. You never know what will happen when you have a camera.
In the afternoon we toured the campus where David and Felicite had to run for their lives and hide when soldiers opened fire on them. It was sobering, but we concluded our tour at David’s prayer hill which he made to be alone with God. All in all a very good day.
No class today. We got a chance to sleep in so I did not get up until 6:00am. The days are very consistent here. The sun rises at 6:00am and sets at 6:00pm every day. It is an artifact of being so close to the equator. Most days I have been up by 5:00am and many days earlier. My bucket of water for bathing does not arrive until about 6:30am so I stay in my room until I can bathe. Ginger is the other early riser so she goes out to watch the sunrise in her pajamas. My pajamas, or lack thereof, are not appropriate for sunrises, so I wait. Once in a while I take a shower in the evening and can get out early to watch the sun. It is a great way to start the day.
Today we hiked across the valley to the Twa village where I tormented children with my green laser. It was very eye opening to see how these folks live. Most are illiterate and their life consist of making pots to be sold in town. The pot making is primarily done by the women, while the men quarry stone by hand. They carry huge stones out of a deep pit to load on trucks for sale in town. The ones that don’t go to town are manually broken into gravel and carried to town on their heads for sale. The village has no stone buildings or gravel roadways. Mud huts with thatch roofs and dirt floors are the standard.
I showed up with my ubiquitous camera, taking pictures of everyone and everything. There was one feisty lady, who appeared to be the village shrew. Everyone seemed to be afraid of her, myself included. I took a picture of a small child near her and one of the villagers told on me…tattle tale. She assumed I took a picture of the pot that she was making (presumably so I could learn her secrets and go home and make my own pots, instead of paying her the six and a half dollars she charges for the days of work and years of experience she has poured into one of her pots). She hopped up off the ground, pulled herself up to her full five feet, and came straight at me. I thought we were set for a battle, but she looked up and saw that I was a giant compared to her, stopped dead in her tracks, and shook her finger at me. She told me “No more” and sat down. Boy was I relieved. Even though I towered over her, I’m not sure I could take her. I was about to be beat down by an 80-pound 5-foot Pygmy woman in front of my friends. Boy was I spared some humiliation.
Later in the day we went to visit the source of the Nile. Many countries and locations claim to have the source of the Nile, but to Burundians, this is it. It is the source that is farthest south so it may be the earliest source or first contributor to the Nile, but the word “source” is a bit presumptuous. One of the locals who was part of our group explained to me that they had the power to cut off the source and the Nile would dry up in Egypt causing the whole area to die of thirst. I didn’t have the heart to disabuse him of his delusion by explaining that there are many other sources that contribute, and that the small flow we see coming out of the ground here is not enough water to fill the Nile by itself. I just smiled and admired the power of this little country. The water was cool and sweet and the only place that the Nile is fit for consumption (at least by westerners). We had a lot of fun drinking from the source and taking pictures of each other getting so excited about a spectacle remarkably similar to a running garden hose that children play in.