The mud rally and on to Burundi

Trip Start Feb 13, 2011
Trip End Mar 14, 2011

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Where I stayed
Hotel Dolce Vita Resort

Flag of Burundi  , Bujumbura Mairie,
Sunday, February 27, 2011

This morning James arrived at the hotel at 8:00, and went right back out again to arrange a taxi for us. I had checked out and paid my bill, so as soon as he returned, I loaded my bags and we headed off to visit the Mundelis. It took us 90 minutes to reach their house, about half an hour on paved roads and then an hour on dirt roads. We reached their house without incident, though as we were driving I learned more about our "off road" experience when our car ran half off the road and nearly all the way off. Later the driver confided in someone who told James, that the driver had fallen asleep at the wheel. He had been up all night at prayer vigils and hadn't slept at all before arriving to drive us. Balance and moderation are important in all things, even prayer!

James and I had a long and varied conversation about the meaning of baptism, how young people can find mates in the Church when there are few young people in their congregation, prophetic implications of the unrest in the Arab world, differences between the US and Rwanda, and country music (older American country music is very much appreciated in Rwanda). The time passed quickly.

The Mundelis welcomed us warmly into their home. We sat in the living room and talked about their history in this village. They lived in this house when they were first married, so they have friends and acquaintances in the area, although not as many as they used to. “Many of them have died; I’m one of the old men in the village now. That happened so fast” Mr. Mundeli told me with a chuckle. As hospitality requires here, they offered us a beverage, tonic or Fanta orange. I took the tonic. Then Mr. Mundeli brought out some goat brochettes and baked and skinned potatoes. I thanked her and said I had just had breakfast and was not at all hungry, which was entirely true.

Mrs. Muneli showed us her knitting machine which is what she is now doing to provide for family finances now that she has retired from her teaching job. She can make three sweaters a day, if she works all day, and can make approximately a dollar to a dollar and half profit on each sweater. It’s a used machine but quite well designed though complex to operate. She knows it well already and showed us how she creates different kinds of patterns and thicknesses. The yarn and attachments have to be set just right and then she slides a handle back and forth “it’s like ironing” she told me. She currently has a contract for 80 school sweaters, so she has work for a while to come.

Mr. Mundeli and I discussed the Q&A from the previous day, and told me the church members very much appreciate my coming to see them and had been very encouraged by the service and the Q&A session we had. The entire Giti congregation held a discussion after our departure and decided unanimously that they would be part of the new association. The few other members are still thinking and praying about it and will make their final decisions soon.

I asked about arrangements for the “Remera” congregation, now that Mundelis had moved to this neighboring village. He told me that he wanted to show me a “field house” he owns that is convenient for everyone, and that with a little modification (a suspended ceiling) would be quite serviceable for a meeting hall. He asked if I would go see it on the way back to Kigali; it was almost on the way.

He also showed me his laptop computer which his daughter who lives in Europe had bought for him when he was able to visit her last year. Using his cell phone as a modem, he can go on the Internet with his laptop even from this rural village. It’s really quite amazing. We discussed Bible software programs (French versions) and Skype and its uses.

It was time for me to head back to Kigali. I had my flight to Bujumbura at 17:30, but I don’t like to cut things close when I’m in the bush. Unexpected things happen: tires go flat, taxis break down or get stuck and so on. As it turned out it was good we left ourselves a good margin of security.  As we left the Mundelis thanked me warmly for taking the time to visit them, and I thanked them for their warm welcome. They are very faithful servants to the church members in Rwanda and their example is inspiring and much appreciated.

It started to rain lightly as the four of us boarded the taxi. As we started driving it began to raid heavily and there was a strong wind. I could see the wind was so strong rain was actually moving horizontally. I always become uneasy driving on mountainous dirt roads in heavy rain. The earth here often enough has varying clay content and roads can get treacherous and taxis get stuck. I’ve been through that many times and I always dread the thought of missing a flight because of being stuck. As we left the main dirt road to head to the “field house” the rain remained heavy and I could also see that fresh dirt had been thrown in the potholes and crevices of the single lane road we were on in order to fill them. Normally that’s an improvement, but in a heavy downpour, the fresh earth just turns to slick mud and limits the traction the car can get. I made a gentle comment about hoping we could get back up again, and Mr. Mundeli took the hint. Rather than driving all the way down to the house, we stopped where we could see it in the distance through the rain, and he described the space and the work he felt needed to be done. The cost would be minimal. I agreed that it seemed a good solution.

Mr. Mrs. Mundeli got out there with umbrellas. They would walk down and do some work in the fields when the rain stopped. The driver and James and I turned around and started back up the track. Sure enough after a few hundred meters we lost traction and the wheels of the Corolla spun, throwing mud all over. I suggested we back down and take a run at it. He did and we did and with much slipping and sliding we made it past the slick muddy spot and tried to keep moving, but another hundred meters up we lost traction again and there was no way to back down for a run at it. Several young men showed up in grimy clothes, several bare chested in the rain and offered to push. They tried and the driver tried, but it wasn’t enough.  One young man got a hoe and pulled out the mud and fresh dirt. Other boys and men came. Mr. Mundeli had heard about our plight and had come to offer advice and umbrellas. After 15 minutes of preparation it was H-hour. James and I got out in the rain and stood aside under an umbrella while the boys pushed and grunted, the driver revved the motor and the tires spun searching for traction. It caught and the car went fishtailing up the muddy track with muddy boys behind, and children who had come to watch, cheering them on. They made it to hard ground and we walked up behind a bit muddy ourselves. There was water and mud everywhere and no way to stay dry. Even the car leaked around the windows and I found later my bags in the trunk were wet and muddy too. I kept my cameras in their cases which is why I can’t documents our mud rally.

I asked Mr. Mundeli to negotiate a little thank-you gift to the boys. They asked for 50 cents each, which Mr. Mundeli found to be rather outrageous. “If we had more time, we could negotiate them down” he told me, but I was happy to hand over a pocketful of coins that had accumulated during my stay.

We shook hands again to say goodbye and then started down the mountain back toward Kigali. We sang along with Kenny Rogers on the way. We had lost one hour of our safety margin. Thankfully we lost no more. On the way down, I was struck again by the size of the Yucca-like plants along the side of the road. They always look slightly menacing to me, like something from Jurassic Park.

Back in Kigali, I asked the driver to stop at Chez Lando so we could have a quick lunch. If we didn’t do so then, it would be a long time until dinner. I invited James to have a bit too and he responded “there is no problem.” After the late lunch (brochettes again the national dish), we drove to the airport, stopping along the way at a bus stop where James could get transportation home.

Check in and exit formalities went smoothly. The Rwandair plane was Dash-5 a small (two seats on either side) prop plane. My seat number was 5B, but when I go there I saw the seats were numbered 5A, 5C, then on the other side of the aisle, 5D and 5F. There was no 5B, when I started to turn to ask the obvious question, the stewardess knew what was coming. Before I could say a word she said “open seating”.

The flight took off on time and in 30 minutes we were in Bujumbura. Nathan and Mo´se met me at the airport and after greetings and questions about friends and families; they drove me to my hotel. I’m trying a new one this time to try to keep costs down. It’s called the Hotel Dolce Vita, which sound very nice.

I had a bowl of chicken soup for dinner and won’t be up much later. We plan to visit the main congregations in the north east of Burundi tomorrow.
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N.Osorio on

Thank you again Mr. Meeker.
As I read your blog. I feel like I'm right there with you on on this wonderful journey. Great pictures I enjoy them very much.

Jason Hyde on

Great story about the mudding adventure! Thanks for all the work you're doing and for sharing the tale with us.

Lee Dolby on

Very nice that you've had a productive last couple of days. I'm always a bit apprehensive reading these travel blogs ...... I know Satan has not ceased in attacking God's Church. But I also know that God is so much greater, and in control ... and He has set his angels about you (and all of the brethren).

Every time I read stories from Africa I am reminded how amazing the vast natural resources are there. (and in many places in the world; (some not so much so, though.)) Just think what will be accomplished in the Kingdom when we humans are all working together, and building up ... instead of competing, conspiriing, in conflict, and tearing down!!

This is also why a new COG magazine should be an INTERNATIONAL magazine. There are so many CYRSTAL CLEAR examples of poor nations and spiritually destitute people throughout the world that can demonstrate to those God may be calling, what -- in this age -- we are squandering ....... and what BOUNTIFUL fruit will be born in the age to come ... when we are all one family, all on the same team, working together towards a common goal.

Loma & Roma on

Wonderful news. We thank God for the blessings He bestows.

Dolores Linda Presgrove on

You are still in my prayers. God be with you and keep you safe.

mary hendren on

Hi Joel.
What an exciting day with the muddy departure, but you made it! Thanks for including the pictures of Mrs. Mundeli, her knitting machine, their house. What a blessing that she has a good contract for school sweaters. We're inspired by their service and the thoughtful topics you, the Mundelis, and James discussed. The visit must be an encouragement to the brethren. Your commentary helps us experience just a bit of what it's like--my anxiety and concern were aroused as the tires lost traction.


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