There Goes The Neighborhood
I am definitely the only muzungu, but I admit that I kind of like it. I work with Burundians, and I live in a thoroughly Burundian neighborhood. In that way, I feel like I’ve really jumped in.
It’s a gorgeous place, set on the hill, with a magnificent view over central Bujumbura and Lake Tanganyika. The streets are paved with cobblestones, the streets are wide, and children play on the street corners and kick balls down avenues. Most of the houses are one-story, but there are a surprising number that have two levels (including my own). Rising above the skyline, these two level houses are a sign that someone around here is making money. They’re impeccable, with fine details, columns, and scrolling balconies. The single-story houses aren’t shabby, either—they look freshly painted and their small gardens well-kept. (Since I live on the second floor, I can see over the walls of some of the neighboring houses.) Along the skyline, single papaya trees, whose long necks and tufted canopies look like they belong in a Dr. Seuss book, pop up over the rooftops.
All of the houses in this neighborhood are a stone’s throw apart, interspersed with an occasional snack-bar (a bar where you can eat brochettes) or alimentation (a mini-market with fried donuts, cigarettes, candles, soap, and Magic Obama strawberry gum). The neighborhood has its own Catholic church (a massive, modern compound) and high school. The teacher training school, built by the Chinese and resembling a space colony, is across the main road.
I asked our driver if this was the neighborhood where all the rich people lived. “Oh, no,” he said. “But these are people of high standing.” By this, he meant that people who lived here were generally government workers, or were officers in the military. (Since many people here were officers in the military, it is known as a predominantly Tutsi neighborhood.) In effect, the middle class. The rich people lived in other places, he said. I suspect that most of the muzungus tend to live in those areas, too. In the neighborhood across the main road, Kigobe, massive three-level monstrosities are being constructed, whose gates are elaborate and impressive (and fairly tacky). The residents of Kigobe are thought of as the "new money" population--I have been told that they are mostly Hutu, and work for the government, although there are some businessmen who live there as well.
In the middle of the Kigobe neighborhood is a large, fenced in parcel of land that was purchased by the U.S. State Department and will be used to construct a new embassy. (I stopped by the current embassy to let them know that I am here, and with its concrete barriers and miles of razor wire, it’s pretty ugly.) Everyone I know currently pokes fun at me for living "in the middle of nowhere," but once the Embassy is constructed here, I imagine the area will develop very quickly!
Without realizing it, I’ve also acquired a pet. The owner’s dog, which lives downstairs and is theoretically to be used as an extra layer of security, is sweet and jumpy. Her name is Kiara, and I have no idea what her breed is. She’s black, with a long nose and legs that are a little too short for her body. I am starting to think that my bug spray has pheromones in it, because she likes to hump my leg and smell my toes. Every day, she welcomes me at the gate, accompanies me up the stairs to my apartment, and jumps all over me (and humps my leg) until I manage to squeeze my way into my front door. When I close the door (which she has managed to open a couple of times), she whines and sits on my front stoop until I emerge. Sometimes, she sleeps there. In the morning, she meets me at my door and accompanies me down the stairs, only advancing when I advance, and jumps on me before I leave, usually leaving dusty paw prints all over my pants. I’ve never given her any food, just a little affection, and now I have a new friend!