Arrival in Burundi

Trip Start Apr 02, 2014
Trip End May 07, 2014

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Where I stayed
King's Conference Center

Flag of Burundi  , Bujumbura Mairie,
Thursday, April 17, 2014

Today was a travel day. Daniel and I had breakfast at 8:00, then worked in our rooms until 11:00 when it was time to take the shuttle to the airport. I had settled accounts for our rooms last night, but as we turned in our keys we were told I hadn't paid for everyone. I retrieved the bill and we went over it, and in fact they had not included Daniel’s room on the bill, so I had to add some more. The hotel we used is very close to the airport, so it takes only five minutes to arrive there by vehicle.

The security formalities in Kigali are frustrating. Before entering the check-in area one must go through a complete security check: suitcase and carry-on through a scanner, laptops and liquids out, shoes and belts off, pockets emptied and the walk through a metal detector, the whole 9 yards. Then after checking in and checking luggage, one walks up the stairs, passes emigration, and then does the whole security screen again: carry-on through a scanner, laptops and liquids out, shoes and belts off, pockets emptied and the walk through a metal detector. I’m not sure what they think can happen between the check-in counters and the boarding area, but apparently something.

Because we had lost some time at Chez Lando having to pay additional charges, we didn’t have long to wait for the flight to board. When the time came we walked out onto the tarmac and to the Ethiopian Airlines plane, complete with the Lion of Judah painted on the side near the door. It was free seating, so we took aisle seats near the front and settled in to wait through the short hop to Bujumbura. I continued reading Theodore Rex, finishing all but the very last chapter.

We came straight in from the north and landed lightly in Bujumbura. We deplaned and walked to the small airport terminal, where Daniel who already has his visa, moved quickly through immigration while I, not having a visa (long story) waited in line to get one. A question came up: did I need a three day visa ($40) or a longer-than-three-day visa ($90). We were arriving on Thursday at 1:00 pm. If I counted Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, that makes 4 days. But if I counted hours between 1:00 pm Thursday and 1:25 am Sunday – when our flight should leave (ouch), that makes well less than 72 hours. However, in countries suffering from corruption, any possibility that you might not have obeyed the rules will likely be interpreted that you did not obey the rules and so must pay a hefty "fine" to the scrupulous and vigilant government official who discovered your treachery. Attempting to negotiate such things at zero dark thirty in order not to miss a flight puts one at a distinct disadvantage. The two agents behind the counter asked me if I wanted a three day or a longer visa. I told them my departure time and asked them what they thought. Their response: “four days”.

Then they noticed from my entry card, that I was a pastor. They changed their approach: “let us try to help you” they said. They began laboriously counting hours between my arrival time and my departure time and came up with 60 hours or so. “Three days” they announced triumphantly, and even wrote me a note to show to the agents on my departure. This was very kind of them, especially since they didn’t ask for a tip. In fact one of them followed me to the counter where I was to pay the $40 and told the teller something in Kirundi. He then looked at me “I told her you were my uncle, and to hurry up.” I didn’t see much family resemblance between us, but I thanked my new nephew and moved into the luggage carousel area, thinking on the brevity of life. Only yesterday I would have been his brother, now I’ve moved into the uncle category. Ah well, at least I’m not yet a grandfather….

Our luggage arrived quickly and we walked out into the arrival lounge where Moïse was waiting for us. He led us to his 4WD vehicle, which he uses to supply the medical clinics he established and manages. He greeted Daniel warmly for the first time, and we chatted during the drive into Buj, as Bujumbura is sometimes called locally. We drove to the King’s Conference Center, where there are clean, simple and inexpensive rooms which include air conditioning (barely but still) and wifi (barely but still).

We checked in and talked with Moïse for a few minutes. He needed to get back to work and wouldn’t be available today, but would be ready to drive us north tomorrow at 07:00 for our day’s activities. Ten people have asked to be baptized and working with them will likely take all day. Because our flight today was delayed a day, we likely won’t have time for any leadership seminars on this trip.

We let Moïse go so he could get back to work and Daniel and I had a light lunch, it was 2:30 by this time. Then I flagged down a taxi man named Jo-an and negotiated his services until 7:30 pm. He would take us to the Musée Vivant (Living Museum), then for a drive through the center of Buj, then to a little place I know on the lake with a nice lake view and good food, and finally bring us back to our hotel by 7:30 pm. I negotiated the driver down 60% to about 13 dollars for the package, and he was happy to get it; that made a very good day for him.

By the time we started we had three hours of daylight to  use and this was my one chance on this trip to show Daniel a little of Bujumbura. We drove first to the museum. A guide took us to see a number of crocodiles ranging from small and cute to huge and frightening. On our way to see them, we passed cages of rabbits and guinea pigs: future meals for the crocs.  As we walked from pen to pen looking at ever increasingly sized crocs, we were offered the chance to buy a rabbit or guinea pig and see it fed to the crocodiles. This must be a major source of revenue. A rabbit costs 13 dollars, a guinea pig half that. Out of curiosity I asked if the food was supplied to the crocs alive or dead. Sensing a possible client, the guide answered, “However you like….”

I don’t know what Daniel was thinking, but I was facing a minor moral conundrum. As a Theodore Roosevelt type of man (play along with me), fascinated by the wonders of nature, I was curious to see what might happen when a crocodile went for supper. However, as a husband and father, I knew that if my wife and especially my daughters learned that their loving paterfamilias was actually a sadistic monster, who would pay money to feed a cute, cuddly bunny rabbit to ravenous, cold-blooded crocodiles, I might never see them again (the daughters not the crocodiles). So I let the occasion pass. No really.

Then we moved into the snake room. There is enough venom in this room to kill quite a few people. A Gabonese viper, puff adder, spitting cobra (which very accurately spit venom into the eyes of their prey, which causes blindness if not promptly washed out, and their bites can kill a human in 15 minutes or so), a boomslang, and more. Daniel held the spitting cobra (just kidding Cindy…), he held a long but non-venomous snake and looked as if he had done this before, giving the snake a good purchase on his arm so it wouldn’t fear falling to the ground (snakes are afraid of falling just like we are).

Leaving the snakes, we walked by the pen of a local antelope, and then to the reconstruction of the king’s house, the compound where the king of this region would have lived prior to Western arrivals. While there we heard some drumming and singing and walked over to see a group of young men playing “tam-tams” as they’re called in French and chant-singing along. Daniel is an experienced drummer and was allowed to join in and play with the group (for a small fee….), and he did his country proud.

Back at the taxi, we headed into the center of Bujumbura so Daniel could get a feel for the city. Bujumbura has a very provincial feel to it. It really doesn’t seem like the capital of a country. Driving through the center is like going back in time 80 years to the colonial period. Many of the buildings still standing, date from that time.

Then we drove out to the lake where we had a beer and watched the dimming light of the sun set through heavy clouds. To our left we could see Bujumbura and behind it, mountains. To the right we saw the dark, rather ominous, mountains of the Congo on the other side of the lake. As the sun set, we ordered dinner. I had a few mini-brochettes of Nile Perch (a freshwater fish from this region that can grow to 6 feet in length!), and Daniel, at my suggestion, had mukeke, the local name for what in English is officially called sleek lates (that helps a lot doesn’t it?) which is only found in the Lake Tanganyika. Both were very good, and the view of the lake was fascinatingly exotic.

We were ready to head back to the hotel at 7:00 and we plan for a 06:30 breakfast and a 07:00 departure tomorrow morning.
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mary on

Wow, what an exciting day. To be an uncle with such a helpful nephew, to sightsee, although the snakes and crocs don't make the top ten favorites for me. How encouraging to have 10 people wanting to be baptized. Thanks for the photos. It's amazing to see a Nile perch. What a monster compared to the little perch we see locally.

danielandcindy on

Wow, what a day! I am glad that you both had a little down time on a busy trip, and that Daniel had a chance to do some drumming. Hmm, he didn't mention the spitting cobra on Skype tonight...

Sara Hawk on

Thank you so much for taking us all along on your trip with you and Daniel.
I laughed out loud at the helpful nephew! And I'd have to agree with your wife and daughters about feeding the animals to the crocs... ew!

Tess Washington on

It is quite amusing the airport encounters! It sounds like being a pastor has its benefits! Glad to hear about the people who are requesting baptism! 10 would be a great addition to the Burundi congregation. Enjoyed the sights and sounds of the area as you described it! I enjoyed the humor you made me laugh again!

Janel Johnson on

Thanks so much for this humor-laced blog. Like Tess, I also laughed out loud. Thanks for bringing us along on with you and Daniel on this heart-of-service trip.

Tatiana on

Your blog made me laugh, and you might be slightly correct about the possible croc feeding results. ;) Love you Dad!

Ken Treybig on

I sure have enjoyed reading all your entries--and this little bit of "down time" to let Daniel get a feel of snakes and native drums really got me laughing. Then I saw that picture of the Nile perch. Wow! What a fish!

Linda Morgan on

Uncle Joel, what a great day the two of you had. Love the way you are bringing our brethren into our lives. You and Doc will have us knowing their area so well.
We appreciate the time you take to do this. Thank you for the ride-along. God certainly softened your nephew's heart this day. :)

Cecil Maranville on

Well, I have my personal opinion on what might have been called "research" in feeding wild beasts--seeing how the Millennium needs to change the nature of animals? But you were probably wise to err on the side of caution!

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