Last day in Burundi

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

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Flag of Burundi  , Bujumbura Mairie,
Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I'm back in Bujumbura after a long day up north. And this day will not be over soon.

Mo´se arrived at the hotel as I was checking out of my room this morning. I left my luggage with the desk and we started north once again. We picked Nathan up at same place on the outskirts of Bujumbura and moved on.

Nothing unusual happened on the way, but that doesn’t mean nothing interesting happened. We had the usual pot-hole close calls, detours around construction areas, abrupt stops, cows wandering onto the road, children sitting on the road unaware of any danger, young guys in sunglasses daring us to hit them, boys who had filled a pothole or two with dirt holding their hands out for a reward, men carrying 10 mattresses piled on their heads, and so on. And of course ubiquitous bicycles carrying bales of grass, rolled sheets of corrugated metal, pineapples, passengers, beds, desks, cabinets, milk, bananas, banana beer, bricks, crates of coke or Primus - a locally brewed beer, and I’m sure I’m forgetting other items.

Just short of Ruziba, I spotted some shelters and what looked like tents on a mountain side. I asked what they were. "War refugees" Mo´se told me. They are Burundians, who were living in Congo or other countries and had to leave, so they have no land where they can live. I had noticed another tarp camp near Bujumbura. I asked if that was the same kind of thing. He said it was. I said I hadn’t noticed them before. He said he had heard that someone important wanted the land where they had been camped, so they were moved to less valuable areas. There are many sad stories in Africa.

Rather than stopping at Ruziba where Nathan lives and where we would hold the seminar later, we drove on to Rusiba (not to be confused with Ruziba) so I could have a look at the ongoing finishing work on the church building. We sent some money recently so they could put a concrete plaster over the mud brick to protect it from the elements. I was a long drive up very poor roads, the only reason we made it was because the roads were dry. Had it been raining, I doubt we could have gone the distance. We parked the car and hiked up a mountain ridge to reach Rusiba, so I could see the progress. There is still quite a bit to do, but the plaster in on, and the doors and window shutters have been purchased and will be installed soon.

We hiked back down and took the car to Massango, another village half an hour away where we have a hall. We also had a hike to make to reach this site. As we parked, and started out, I began attracting a trail of children fascinated by seeing a Mzungu up close. Some would call out to me “Mzungu, how ah you?” When I replied “I’m fine how are you?” they laughed, baffled by the next part of the conversation they were repeating by rote. One girl, about 10, really wanted to talk. When I asked her how she was she said “I fine.” Then I asked “what is your name?” She replied “His name is Serena.” I tried another simple question or two, but we had obviously reached the outer limits. The spirit is willing but the grammar is weak.

The church hall in Massango is made of fired brick, so there is no need of plaster. The metal doors have been installed since my last visit; the next step will be to purchase and install shutters for the windows.

After having a look around and taking some photos, we started back the car. The path included walking the plank, literally. The bridge over a 8-foot deep crevasse, was a 10-foot plank about 10 inches wide; not hard to negotiate but requiring concentration. I led the parade of 30 children (I did a rough count only since they were all bouncing around and making enough noise to be in a pinball machine.) When I finally got into the car and I said goodbye to them in Kirundi, they clapped and cheered. I believe I have been adopted.

We arrived at the church hall in Ruziba right at noon, so we had lunch right away. I say lunch, but it was probably their only real meal of the day. The menu was the same as yesterday.

We spent three hours in the afternoon discussing, at Nathan’s suggestion, the subject of tithing. We went through the Old and New Testament examples and instructions. Then I took questions: does one deduct expenses before calculating?, what if you hire someone to work your field while you do mason work, do the employee’s wages count as a business expense?, what about gifts? They thought it must be really easy for Americans to tithe since we’re all so “rich”. I replied that the practice of tithing took faith in every society, and that the amount of the tithe increases as one’s salary does. They thought about it and realized if it were a larger sum, it might be harder to give.

As I talked, a terrific rainstorm began, I had to raise my voice to be heard, and we had to move our chairs. There numerous leaks come down in various places (we really do need to get them a decent roof). But we moved and carried on, and within half an hour the rain stopped, though it came back through again a while later for several additional minutes.

I told them a humorous story about tithing that they really enjoyed: a man comes to his pastor and says “Sir, I have a problem. When I was only making a salary of 5000 francs, I had no trouble tithing. But now I’m making 50,000 francs and it’s hard for me to tithe faithfully. Will you pray for me?” The pastor agrees, and prays “Father please reduce this man’s salary back to 5000 francs so that he can faithfully give you his tithe.” The humor connected with them right away and they had a long and good laugh. As is often the case when I use this kind of humorous illustration, someone asked me “and what happened then?” He was disappointed when I told him I didn’t know, and that it was just a humorous illustration. He was not satisfied and seemed to feel I really should know the rest of the story….

We wrapped up with general questions they had, there were a few, and then it was time to leave. We shook hands all around with genuine warmth and looked forward to seeing each other again as soon as it will be possible. The dirt roads were slick as we made out way back out to the pavement, but we made it without problem.

The rain had the advantage of keeping the dust down on the way back to Bujumbura. All traffic (including us) was stopped for 15 minutes at the airport exit because the President of Burundi was leaving for New York to participate in the General Assembly of the United Nations. As his cortege roared by, I could see motorcycle policemen, many pickups full of squads of soldiers, several dark sedans, and a “technical,” a heavy weapon I couldn’t make out clearly, mounted on the back of the pickup. “Only the President gets that one” I heard someone say in French from the line of stopped cars.

Finally back at the hotel, we did out accounting work and paid expenses and talked about my next visit and upcoming work we need to do. I told Mo´se I would take a taxi the airport since it was the middle of the night. He said “yes, I cannot take that risk; it is too dangerous for me to go out in the middle of the night.” He would have to come from his home on the outskirts of town to pick me up, whereas I just have to make the more straightforward run from the center of town to the airport.

So now I’m at the hotel, about to have dinner; they have a wonderful restaurant here. Then I’ll work and read to stay awake until it’s time to make the airport run.
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Judy Dane on

Thank you so much for letting us 'come with you' on your trips. I very much enjoy getting to know how our brethren are doing and the hardships they endure. It is a bit shocking to see refugee camps there too. May God continue to protect and keep you.

Clyde Kilough on

Hi Joel - as always, thanks for the intriguing updates, always fascinating to read. Please give our greetings and love to all the members along the way. You're in our thoughts and prayers. Travel safely - we have some things to talk about with media when you get back!

Dave on

Hello Joel! I really appreciate the time you take -- not only to go on these amazing, and no-doubt exhausting journeys -- but also to provide us with such details that touch our hearts, encourage our prayers, and also bring us smiles and sometimes "chuckles" as we read of your experiences with our brethren, most importantly, and the world you deal with along the way! Please pass along our love to all the brethren, and keep up the great work! God be with you!

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