Next stop: Bujumbura

Trip Start Sep 27, 2008
Trip End Oct 22, 2008

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Flag of Burundi  ,
Saturday, October 4, 2008

This morning I was up at 5:00 to get ready for departure. I wanted to wait until 6:00 am, the opening time of the Fairview's wonderful breakfast buffet, included in the price of the room. But even early traffic can be heavy going to the airport. In light traffic the trip takes 20-30 minutes, but at other times it can take over an hour. So pushing the thoughts of their eggs florentine out of my mind, I took the taxi at 5:45. The sky was lightening over the Athi River plane as we drove. Hundreds of people were already walking, dark silhouettes along the side of the road, going to work, going to school, going who knew where.
The traffic didn't slow us down but for some reason the emigration formalities took a very long time, so it was good I left when I did.
Shortly before 8:00 we were guided out of the departure lounge by a Kenya Airways agent, down the steps and onto the tarmac. The morning air was still pleasantly cool and we walked among the planes to our 737. The deep blue of the sky contrasted with the bright white clouds edged in silver.
The flight left on time and we arrived in Bujumbura on time as well. No one was there to meet me, but such things happen: cars break down, police checkpoints are time consuming, someone falls ill. I caught a taxi to the Novotel. On the way in, I asked the driver about the situation in the country. "Everything is calm" he assured me. "No rockets falling on Bujumbura?" I asked. "You were here when that was happening?" he asked with a big grin. "No there is no problem now" he went on "in fact the leader of the rebels is in town negotiating a peace deal. He only wants a lot: the ministry of defense, the foreign ministry, the ministry of the economy...."
I asked about Chibitoke province. He said there was not fighting there but lots of crime and violence at night. "It has always been that way there, since the war began" he finished.
The Novotel is really showing its age now. I checked in, and took my baggage up to a room which I gave the once over. The window was broken and would not close and latch. That would mean more noise and mosquitoes so I went back down and asked for a different room. I was given a room where the window closed almost entirely, but which turned out to be right across from the elevators, only one of which was working. That can mean noise at night as people come and go, but as it turned out I needn't have worried, the other elevator broke down shortly thereafter. That made my 5th floor room a little less endearing; on the other hand I need the exercise....
While waiting for Moïse to come by, I put in a call to the US embassy to ask the regional security people about the situation and any travel advisories. I had a bite of lunch and since Moïse had not come by that time, I called his cell phone. He hadn't received any of my e-mails about this visit. Everyone else had, but for some reason the messages were lost in cyberspace. "I'll come right over" he told me.
He arrived about an hour later and we talked for quite a while about the situation in Burundi, progress in the Church group and plans for the next two days. The Sabbath tomorrow is a civil work day. Everyone is supposed to spend the whole morning working on various community improvement projects. The police and army put up roadblocks all the country to prevent people from circulating; they're not supposed to be circulating they're supposed to be working: cutting the grass along the edge of roads (with machetes), clearing drainage ditches, filling in potholes with mud (doesn't last long but the labor is free!), etc.
Moïse said we'd have to leave early to be able to get out of Bujumbura.  So we agreed to leave at 7:00 am for the two-hour drive north to several little villages near Cibitoke, in the province of that same name. I gave Moïse some money to change and to reserve a car for the next day. He went to make the necessary arrangements.
I had an early dinner during which a gigantic thunderstorm opened the skies and torrents of rain fell. A French group was hosting a reception in the gardens by the pool. Guests had to be escorted under umbrellas to tents where they could mingle, while a local drum band played. Probably a large part of the non-military, non-UN expatriate community was present. Some men came in suits, some in jeans, some women in nice dresses, some in safari pants. For some reason it reminded me of Rick's café américain in the movie Casablanca. The setting was different of course, and they weren't refugees, but it was a hodgepodge of people from all over the world - together for different reasons in a very foreign part of the world, and happy for a reminder of something more like home.
I'll try to get to sleep early; tomorrow will be a busy day. The US embassy never called back.
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