Arrival in Burundi

Trip Start Mar 26, 2012
Trip End Apr 29, 2012

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

This morning we were up at 3:00 so we could catch the hotel shuttle to the airport at 3:45. I had checked out and settled account last night to make sure we wouldn't be delayed in the morning. It was still pitch black as we drove the short distance to the airport, where we arrived just before 04:00. They now have a western style coffee shop in the airport, so we were able to have a welcome cup of café latte.

Jim Franks is doing all his flying on South African Airways, and I’m flying a combination of other airlines – this flight would be on Rwandair. This meant that our flights would be about an hour apart. He was able to begin the check in process right away, while I had to wait an hour. I had a second cup of coffee and a piece of banana bread, while half watching a Nigerian soap opera on the overhead TV. Nigerian soap operas are apparently set around the same themes as American soaps: failed marriages, adultery, delinquent children, dishonest gain, unrequited desire; it was Dallas set in a dusty African village in the hinterland. Thankfully I was saved from having to sit through the whole thing by being allowed to go to the check-in area….

My flight took off at 06:00. I had a window seat so I had a good view of the misty mountains of Rwanda and Burundi during the 25 minutes flight. Entry formalities went quickly so I was able to quickly rejoin Jim Franks along with Moise and Nathan, our two local leaders in Burundi, who were all waiting in the arrival area. We greeted each other and headed out to the car for the drive into town. We arrived at the hotel Botanika, and were happy to be able to check in right away and get our rooms even though it was early in the morning.

We decided then to show Jim what there is to see around Bujumbura, which to be honest isn’t very much. This was the one day we would have any free time and it also gave us time to spend with Moise and Nathan to allow everyone to get to know each other. Jim was interested to see the bustling streets of Bujumbura with all the single story shops, which is a little like going back in time in some ways. Kigali used to be like this, but has progressed so much in the last 15 years that there is no comparison any longer.

We drove to the Bujumbura zoo and cultural center. Two French-speaking college students were on duty to show visitors around. The zoo is a forlorn affair: a lonely monkey and chimp in separate cages, several crocodiles of different ages and sizes in their tanks, a snake house with a collection of cobras, vipers, a boomslang (the venom makes you bleed to death on the inside), all in glass tanks where the glass is alarmingly cracked.

Also on display is a cage of gerbils waiting to be fed to the snakes, and rabbits which will be a meal for the crocs I suppose. Of course they have to eat, and they’re carnivorous, but prominently displaying the cute furry future dinners did not enhance the visit.

The other attraction is the reproduction of the king of Burundi’s house. It is a large dome-like structure covered in grass, which reminded me of a Beatles haircut. The structure is made of a woven rope coiled around on in successive layers. There are several small chambers on the inside, for the queen, the king, visitors etc. It was quite small, but I’m sure must have been impressive in its time.

We then visited a wood carving shop where Moise presented Jim and me with small tableaux done in various colored woods, depicting scenes of African life.

From the cultural center we drove to the Rusizi Natural Reserve just a couple of miles from the Congolese border. This small reserve boasts hippos and crocs as well of hundreds of varieties of birds. We paid our entry, and signed the visitors book (where I noticed we were the first paying customers in about a year), and walked into the park with a guide named Bosco. We ended up walking about 4 miles along a muddy road that led to areas along the river where we could watch for wildlife. We could hear hippos in the river only yards from us, but we heard them more than saw them.

Hippos spend their days in rivers or lakes, where they feel safe, coming out at dusk to graze on huge quantities of grasses during the night. They are actually the most deadly of African animals, killing more people than any other because of these nocturnal habits. When humans go down to the river to get water at first light, a hippo returning to safety feels threated by having his way blocked and can easily attack. But during the day, observing them in their watery habitat where they feel secure is a safe activity. We ended up seeing several hippos up fairly close. We also saw several colonies of weaver birds with their fascinating nests carefully woven and suspended in colonies.

By the time we finished we were a little muddy and very sweaty. We thanked Bosco and drove back into Bujumbura, along the lake shore and back to the hotel for lunch. Over lunch we discussed the history of the church group here in Burundi, what has been accomplished so far, present needs and hopes and plans for the future.

Then Moise and Nathan left to complete preparations for the next few days. Jim and I rested a little in the afternoon and worked on office work both for the work we have here and other general responsibilities we have.

We need to get caught up on as many things as possible today because the next few days will be extremely full. Tomorrow we will head up north to Cibitoke province for a day of leadership training seminars with local church leaders.
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Margaret Villaescusa on

Hello Mr. Meeker,
I am continuing to enjoy your daily travel blog. I am sure the brethren and ministers greatly look forward to these personal visits. We also benefit, learning a little about the different countries and the needs of the brethren.
I hope you wife is doing well, It occurred to me today that you have been gone quite a long time and I am sure she misses you. You are both in my prayers.

Tess Washington on

We are glad to read that you have a little time off and enjoy the creation in the Bujumbura. Thank you for the hippos and weaver birds pictures and descriptions! God's work must continue on...our prayers will be for both of you, our brethrens in Africa, and your families. We appreciate you both very much!

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