Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Taking the Good with the Bad

Every experience has its ups and downs, and I have compiled a list of some of the best—and worst—things I have experienced while I have been in Burundi. Here goes:

The Good

The beach. It really is paradise. (Just watch out for the crocodiles and hippos.)

Lake Tanganyika. I never imagined the water could be so aquamarine, and that a shoreline could be so picturesque. It’s like being in the Caribbean, in the middle of Africa.

People here are active. It’s amazing to see the groups and individuals of all ages running down the streets, doing push-ups by the side of the road, and playing soccer at all hours of the day. I have never seen anything like it anywhere else.

The monkeys. I love that they surprise you here. They are at work, at home, everywhere. It’s amazing how comfortably they live among people.

The Baguette Magique, the go-to bakery in town. Everyone loves this bakery, and while their cookies all taste the same to me (and leave a greasy residue on my hard palate), I love that the name, in English, is The Magic Stick. Like the 50 Cent song. And I can’t get it out of my head whenever I see their products.

My Burundian supervisor. Full of life and energy, he is a go-getter that actively disregards the red tape and bureaucracy that too often hamper progress. You have a problem? Go straight to him, and he’ll make a phone call to fix it. None of these month-long processes requiring formal letters with stamps and flourished signatures. If only more people were like him!

The Burundian drummers. My office is not far from the stadium, and every day around 4 pm, I hear the rhythmic beats of the drummers as they practice their craft.

Peas and lenga-lenga. This is my lunch every day, and I usually eat it with white rice. The peas here are excellent—really well seasoned—and seem to be more omnipresent than beans. Lenga lenga, a spinach-like vegetable, is also really good, and much better tasting than isombe, which is made of cassava leaves. (No one has been able to tell me what lenga lenga really is, though.)

The t-shirts. Really deserves its own section, because I’ve seen so many good ones. This is where shirts go to die, which is why I saw a guy wearing a shirt from my own hometown the other day. Other good ones:

Nothing Runs Like a Deere (Worn by a man running by the road)

Just because I’m up doesn’t mean I’m awake (Worn by an old woman at 7 am)

Big Johnson’s Weed Whackers (Illustrated with a flesh-colored appendage wearing a hat. Interpret at will)

And my personal favorite:
Worn by an elderly farmer on the side of the road to Makamba: Cheerleading is Life. The Rest is Just Details.


The Bad

The Immigration Office, which, after losing my file for a couple of weeks, continues to refuse to give me the visa I asked for, insisting I pay for one that is more than twice as expensive. They have now had my passport for a month.

The dust of the dry season, which has aged my laptop considerably…my advice: don’t bring a Dell or Mac—bring an IBM Thinkpad! Those computers are like tanks.

The mosquitoes. While not worse than other places I have been, every third person I know seems to contract malaria, making me think that the malarial rate here is quite high.

The traffic…and the accidents. New traffic lights were installed at one of the city’s worst intersections, but a car plowed into one of them, and now none of them work. The irony is overwhelming.

Isombe (cassava leaves). Never was a huge fan, but it makes the list of bad things because 1) it tends to be bitter, and 2) without fail, I always find a pebble in my isombe. I have no idea whether to attribute this to lack of cleanliness, or the mode of preparation, or what, but my teeth can’t handle it anymore.

The phone network. Maybe your friend will get your text message, maybe not…or maybe in three days. And when the network is down, an annoyed Burundian woman reprimands you for trying, because your call obviously cannot be completed, you jerk.

The ants. Even though their brains are Lilliputian, they seem to always outsmart—and outnumber—me. As soon as I put down my plate, they swarm it and try to carry it away. Now, after realizing that they live INSIDE the table where I prepare my food, I have been left with the dilemma of spraying them with poison--and in doing so, poisoning myself. As a result, I’ve resorted to pouring boiling water on the counter to wipe them out, or wiping down the counter with a thin layer of Rwandan pili-pili oil. In addition to adding a tasty flavor to my food, it repels pests! How versatile.

10 Comments:

Blogger E. Griffin said...

"The Immigration Office, which, after losing my file for a couple of weeks, continues to refuse to give me the visa I asked for, insisting I pay for one that is more than twice as expensive. They have now had my passport for a month."

So am I going to have to put together an extraction team to get you out?

8/20/2009 9:25 AM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

Success is mine...got my visa yesterday. Finally. Granted, I think it's not a standard one (i.e. I think they made it up for me because I threw such a fuss), but I'm not complaining.

8/21/2009 4:12 AM  
Blogger Don S said...

My wife and I are enjoying your blog very much. We are going to Rwanda next January for a school project in Gitarama and would like to visit Bujumbura for a couple of days; we are wondering about travel between Rwanda and Burundi. How did you get from Kigali to Bujumbura - by air or by road?

8/25/2009 7:27 AM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

Don, thanks for reading! You can get to Bujumbura easily from Kigali--either by car (or bus), or flying there. (Driving is obviously cheaper...and takes around 5 hours.) If you fly, it takes 45 minutes! The two towns are very close. I'm posting more hotel options and restaurants on the "Stuff To Do in Burundi" section of the blog, if you're planning a trip!

8/25/2009 7:50 AM  
Blogger Luke said...

I have been reading a few of your entries (in jumbled order, as somehow I wound up in 2006 three entries in) and must say I find your dedication fantastic. I spent the first 18 years of my life in Kenya, and while I feel more a citizen of the world, I was reading with chagrin your experience of the refugee camps. Being half-foreign I got the same kind of treatment fairly often, and it still makes me a little sad even today that well-meaning visitor and volunteers are considered as mere 'cash-cows' too often.

Keep up the good work! My girlfriend and I will be visiting Kenya for safari in October, so if you are in Kenya at the time we would like to buy you a round or five as thanks for being such a fine being.

8/25/2009 12:44 PM  
Blogger Don S said...

Thanks for the quick reply. I guess the question that I should have asked about traveling between Kigali and Bujumbura is how safe is the road, both with respect to traffic safety as well as carjackings? You'll laugh, but our kids (who are probably your age) are worried about us.

Murakoze.

8/25/2009 12:56 PM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

Luke, thanks for the kind words! They mean a great deal. Being in the camp was a real learning experience, partially because you realize how development actually works, and that it's hard--aid should not be seen as a gift, but rather as an act of partnership. That's something you really learn when you're in the field. :)

If I am in Kenya in October, I'll take you up on the drink offer! Thanks! :)

Don, as for road safety--you should be fine. The road between the two cities is fine--you don't have to worry about carjackings or anything. Theoretically, the army patrols the main roads. In terms of driving safety, just watch out for the motorcyclists, who can be unpredictable at times. The general safety of the roads may decline around the election next year, but for now, it's perfectly safe for you to drive down to Bujumbura.

Cheers, M

8/26/2009 6:03 AM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

As an update, my fabulous supervisor has just been poached from the government ministry to work at the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Mixed feelings about this...great that they have him, because he's an outstanding person, but sad that the Burundian government has lost one of its brightest stars!

8/26/2009 7:12 AM  
Blogger Brynn Champney said...

Morgan hon, I feel like we must have met:-) I was living in Rwanda in the summer of '08 and up until April '09. I remember meeting a handful of young american (are you?) women at the usual places...Bourbon (UTC and MTN Center), Papyrus, Nakumatt, la posita- but failed to write the details down, especially during the last few months. Before I forget, your blog helped a ton in b/t my 1st and 2nd trips, and I support any work you're doing with Kinyarwanda-English, as I'm trying to bust through the limitations of the current resources myself. Do you have the 1952 Betty Allen Cox booklet? Murabeho! Brynn Champney

3/17/2010 7:40 AM  
Blogger Muzungu Family said...

I love the t-shirts here in Kigali as well. My favorite so far was seen on a man in his 20s, a bright pink ringer-neck shirt with sparkly '70s lettering: "Material Girl".

5/19/2010 8:03 AM  

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