Expedition to Mugina

Trip Start Sep 15, 2011
Trip End Oct 21, 2011

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Flag of Burundi  , Bujumbura Mairie,
Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Last night and this morning I checked the security advisories for Burundi. There were no new or updated travel warnings, and other than the attack on Sunday which was meant to send a particular message, the most recent violence had been several months ago. The French government warns to be especially alert in Bujumbura and in Cibitoke province because of criminal activity. The American State Department has a general warning about Burundi all together, and hasn't advised coming here for many months. I weighed the situation and decided the risk involved in traveling up country today was not considerably worse than before and therefore acceptable. We travel in an unobtrusive vehicle, a car not a big 4WD which would attract more attention. We don’t look like a plum target (which in truth we are not), so we wouldn’t be a first choice in any event.

This morning Moise was at the hotel around 07:30 as we had planned. We drove to place in the center of town where I could inexpensively print my notes for the seminars. The location was in the center of town, and after the massacre of day before yesterday, I wasn’t surprised to see an obvious police and military presence. From where we parked I could count multiple soldiers on the sidewalks each carrying an AK-47, which much of the world call the "Kalashnikov" after the Russian inventor. I noticed they were each loaded with the usual 30-round banana clip, but that two other clips were attached on either side of the center clip. So each soldier had around 90 cartridges on the weapon, and more on his belt. They appeared ready for action and obviously wanted to appear that way. I had mixed feelings about seeing so many of them in the center of Bujumbura. I wish I could show you a photo, but in much of Africa you don't ever take a picture of a person with a gun; it's taken as a threat - as if you're planning to make them a target of some action. Even asking to do so makes them very unhappy - which is it best to avoid.

We started out north on the road to Cibitoke, stopping to pick up Nathan on the outskirts of the capital. The first section of road was worse than it was during my last visit. That was no surprise, there is little effort at maintenance. It was stop and go driving as we slalomed around, or slowly down into and up out of holes large enough to blow a tire or even wreck a car entirely if hit at speed. We shared the road with hundreds perhaps thousands of bicycles, and motorbikes, cars, van taxis, buses, and trucks of all ages and sizes. They were all doing the same crazy road ballet as we.

When we arrived at the provincial line and entered Cibitoke, the road improved. The World Bank has financed the reconstruction of the road starting at the border with Rwanda. The first phase will go to the Cibitoke-Bujumbura line and the second phase will go all the way to the capital. The road is under construction in a patchwork sort of way, I don’t see the logic, but at least it’s getting done.

We arrived in Mugina around 10:00, and started right away. We sang a hymn, Psalm 1, and Nathan asked an opening prayer. He made some introductory comments, and handed it over to me for the seminar. The topic I chose today was the character needed by Church leaders. It’s a presentation I have given several times and I present it in an interactive way to help people think more concretely about the topic. Answering questions and expressing one’s opinion helps to engage and also, I believe, remember what is covered. We went through definitions and seminal Bible passages, and discussed the topic pretty thoroughly.

At 12:30 we broke for lunch. Several church ladies had been working in the newly built mud-brick kitchen preparing the meal since before our arrival.  I had taken their pictures as they were at work when we first arrived and they laughed happily and then covered their mouths when I showed them their photos.

It was the usual menu: rice, beans, fried potatoes, boiled cabbage, beef, sauce, and a coke or fanta. The beef is a real treat for them, even though it is tough and grisly by Western standards. They can afford to eat meat only very rarely, a few times a year.  I stuck to my usual: rice and beans. They need the meat more than I do, and I find rice and beans rarely cause me intestinal after-effects. Keep it simple, stupid.

It was a pleasure to see these men and women eat a very hearty meal, and eat until they were full. They had very satisfied expressions as we started the afternoon section.

We really need to upgrade their meeting hall, something I hope we can begin soon. The walls are now of mud brick which require lots of maintenance especially during the rainy season. The roof is of banana leaves, which doesn’t keep all the rain out, and which, as they dry out, shed very fine particles. Every time I speak there, I soon begin scratching my head: the banana leaf particles make their way through my hair to my scalp with distracting results. I can also tell I’m breathing them in; I feel them on the back of my throat. For me it is only a few days every few months, but for some of these members it is every week, several times a week.

We finished in the middle of the afternoon. The day’s subject had been covered in some depth. We had been sitting on hard wood chairs and benches all day, and the seat of intellect can only absorb as much as the lower seat can withstand.

I asked them if they had found the discussion useful and they replied with large smiles that it truly had. In the West we might easily take such presentations for granted and some might even find them tedious. But it has been rare for these sincere Christians to have this kind of time and study available to them. They are very thankful and asked me to pass along their thanks to those who have helped make these visits and presentations possible.

We said goodbye until tomorrow morning when we’ll be back for one more day, and then we started back toward Bujumbura, where we arrived about 5:15. We plan to leave again at 07:30 tomorrow morning. I’ll need to have checked out by then since my next flight will be Thursday morning at 02:30 (no I’m not kidding you….). Tomorrow will be a long day, and night.
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