Arrival in Burundi
Trip Start Apr 02, 2014
33Trip End May 07, 2014
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Where I stayed
King's Conference Center
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.
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.
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.