Pardon Our French

(and Kirundi)

la France…encore…

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wandering the streets of Grenoble

Since we were already in Europe for our Mission’s conference, we took a side trip to France. There are so many things that we love and really missed about France: wine, cheese, friends, the sea, bread, family, cheese, the alps, pastries, wine, the weather, fromage, families dear to us, du vin, hiking, museums, food, sitting in the park eating pizza, chateaux, boulangeries, du pain…..

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pizza Raviol from le Carrillon. Does. Not. Disappoint.

We flew into Geneva after our conference rented a car..and spent a few weeks of holidays, catching up, sharing the stories of what we’ve been doing in Burundi,  seeing people, and just enjoying la belle France.IMG_9896

IMG_9916For all us  – and in many ways especially for the kids  – France feels a lot like home (and yet of course, never would ever really feel like home). Micah started school in France, Alma never left Europe before she was almost 3 (except for a trip to Israel), Matea and Jonah were (in hindsight) really little when we left Canada.… They all still have friends, and strong memories of living here in France.

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fortunate to be able to meet up with Dutch, French and American colleagues.. unfortunately Germany, China and others were not represented. In hindsight- we were a very international group…

We had a fantastic opportunity to spend some time in some of our favourite places. While in Grenoble we were able to meet up with quite a few of my colleagues from PhD studies there.

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back in le parc d’Uriage

We drove down south to visit Uncle Milton and Aunt Sharon, which for us is as close to a family holiday tradition as we have. We first visited them in Pezenas back in 2000 or so, and our kids loved our trips down here.

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One of Jonah’s first trips to Pezenas (he’s the baby in Susan’s arms)

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…and this trip (Jonah is the person towering over Susan at the table)


 

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…ahhh the bead shop…spent many a trip to this place

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someone was pretty pleased with her new (to her) kitty shirt from the market



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Now I admit – living in a very rural and impoverished part in the middle of the poorest country in the world with really bad/show/unreliable internet – I never really considered that I was totally up to date with everything. But there were several occasions when I would say something, and be shocked at the response. There were several occasions when I would mention a feature in our rental car – couched in a firm manner of shock, awe, and almost disbelief – only to hear “that’s actually a required feature for all cars starting this year” sigh.
It was a great break for our family.  Saw so many old friends, and places we love, and the mountains, and the sea, and the food, and the wine.

Au revoir la France – et a bientôt.

España

IMG_9846In June we had a fantastic time in Spain at our organisation’s triennial conference. This conference brings together our workers from all over – who do an incredibly wide variety of work. Southern Europe is kind of central for us collectively – well, as central as it can be for people in Africa, Asia, North America & Europe (and as of now…South America). Serge has people who work to bring clean water to villages, people who train and support local pastors, people who teach medicine, people who run businesses to help raise people out of poverty, people who provide counselling to those in need, doctors filling the gap in places where they are desperately needed. We are  teachers, engineers, doctors, pastors, entrepreneurs, medical professionals, and more. We have people overseeing the finances of our organisation so we can continue to do these things, people who care for and support the educational needs of our kids, and on, and on, and on. So it truly is at the same time a widely varied, and uniquely focused group of people

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apparently someone took our picture. Appears to have been a day I was giving a presentation – which would explain why I’m so dressed up

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the location made for some pretty nice early morning runs along the beach

We ate a lot of food – and some really good food. (yes, I realize our standards may have dropped while living in the land of rice&beans…but still…)   The kids really enjoyed being able to dish up their own, go back for more, and the presence of ice cream 2 meals a day was not lost on them. There was a pool, there was a beach, and lots of kids, and lots of really good times together, etc.

“since we can buy chips & candy…why don’t we just have that for lunch”

It wasn’t all fun and games – on top of all the sessions, and workshops that we attended, I gave a few workshops on using business to transform communities. We (everyone in the family)  had appointments with counsellors (some of us multiple) to try to work through some of the things that we’ve experienced over the past year. That was good. Not easy, but good.
To be honest – it’s a shocking group of people. I think for many people it’s hard to not have some lingering sense of “well if you can’t make it back home…” when thinking about people who volunteer to go overseas for work like this.  That those who go overseas are those who can’t make the cut.  There are so many people on Serge teams around the world who are skilled, qualified, talented, certified and smart enough to do a lot – some people I think could be doing almost anything they wanted. But the collective sense is – this is more important, more fulfilling, more urgent.  Not only that – but it’s a lot more interesting, a lot more fun, and makes for some great stories.
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There were many tears shed for and by our co-workers – many of whom are enduring incredible hardships in their work and or lives right now. We heard stories of teammates who left too early, business that just don’t work out, kids being bullied at school, family issues, illness, etc etc. But to me there were two things present  was in the midst of all this,  in spite of them, perhaps even more so, because of it: humility & hope.
There was a degree of honesty amongst people there like I don’t think I’ve ever experienced. From newcomers to the organisation, to 20+ veterans, from short-term interns to our executive council, there was transparency and vulnerability. This can really only happen amongst people you trust – so obviously the level of trust was very high. It was a breath of fresh air – and something that is all too rare.
There was also hope. Despite all the hard things that were shared – there was hope. Perhaps even because of the hard things -there was hope. There was a sense that things won’t always be this broken -and we can do things now to play a hand in the renewal of things.
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We’ve only been gone from Europe  for about two years – but there were sure some things we loved getting back to.  Some things were noticeable – and then shocking that they even seemed different (one example was driving at actual ‘highway speeds’ on a highway…and watching km after km just whistle by.  Around here, there is that one place between here and Buj, if you take the back way, where you can shift into 5th gear….)
We were able to spend relaxing time with people we know from our Burundi teams, people we met at our East Africa conference (also triennial – but due to some scheduling peculiarities – ended up being only 14 months prior, meaning we caught it just after we arrived on the field), people we met at our interview/orientation with Serge when we came on board, and lots of new faces.
 Overall it was a great time, a really welcomed break that I think we needed  much more than we realized, and incredibly re-energizing and encouraging.

April in Kibuye

It feels like there hasn’t been anything significant to mention lately – but in some ways that’s nice. So here’s a rundown of a rather uneventful past few weeks:
The kids really are thriving here in their new environment. In many ways it’s a kids dream. Free reign for you and a pack of friends running around, in a place where essentially every day is beautiful, IMG_9545temperatures in IMG_9601the mid to high-20’s, and even when it rains, it’s usually rather intense, and short. You can see your friends bedroom windows from your own –  so you make up codes and signs to communicate. Gathering eggs from the chicken coup.
Their time away from school is a lot of climbing, running through gardens, playing in dirt, making up games, helping in the workshop, capture the flag, swinging, and more recently… band practice.
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Lots of grasshoppers, frogs, butterflies, plus chickens and chameleons and the cat.  Jonah is now the resident lawn-boy (with a brief slow-down while his broken arm was in a cast). Oh yes – Jonah broke his arm – so I guess there was that.
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Before…

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…during…

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first repair

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fiberglass upgrade

 Easter was a great time here – we had a brunch in our garden with almost everyone who lives here in our little community – and a few guests. Our Burundian colleagues found the entire concept of Brunch quite funny (if I were them I would probably be thinking something like: “you people eat so much you are literally making up new meals”), the word itself quite humorous, and the fact that it seems like an excuse to eat sugary dessert as a meal in the middle of the day – all quite amusing.  And it’s hard to argue with their perspective.DSC03922DSC03957IMG_9411IMG_9413
The kids put on an Easter pageant – that involved LOTS of memorization – and they did great.
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There was a wedding between someone who works at the eye-clinic, and the daughter of the kids Kirundi teacher – so we went to that.
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Family Picture. (wait…don’t we have four kids? oh well..close enough)

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Susan has been getting more involved in helping out with the malnourished kids up at the hospital.  For me at least it’s a complete sensory and emotional overload up there. The rooms in the pediatric service hold 31 beds. Over the past several weeks there have been a lot more than that – I think it peaked at 89. Bear in mind that every child admitted has a care-giver (usually their mother) staying with them. And if the mother is there – that means that if the admited child has a very small younger sibling that needs to stay with their mother, then they are there also. So there are at least two, sometimes three people for every admitted child. So those 89 pediatric patients really means there is probably more like 200+ people – in those 31 beds in four rooms. It’s hot. The smell is overwhelming. The sight of twins (who are actually the two surviving of a set of triplets)  who are 15 months old and still weigh less than any of our kids did at birth is almost too much to take in. Yet she goes up there essentially every day – to play with kids.  And when there discharged she brings them bag of dried beans, BUSOMA porridge flour, soap, and an outfit for every. It really is a meaningful as these kids often are in families that are so poor that the children are starving in the first place – which is how they ended up in our severe malnutrition ward. IMG_9561

We had to go to Bujumbura to be registered (along with all foreigners) at immigration so we got a weekend of the Buja heat
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Someone I used to work with at Hope Africa was here this weekend to oversee the customs paperwork for the container to arrive – and she told me that we should come back to Bujumbura, as everything is calm “only 1 or 2 grenade attacks a week….next to nothing.” Literally ‘presque rien’ was how she phrased it.  It’s all in your perspective I guess. Seems there have been 3 assassination attempts in the past 24 hours down in Buja, at least two successful. A grenade in front of a church Sunday morning. One at the bus terminal the day before. Shooting in several neighbourhoods. Over 31 killed in the month of April.  I think the perspective of our security committee which made the decision for our family to leave the city will not share the sentiment of ‘presque rien’.
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that time someone brought a monkey to the kids school to sell. spoiler: we do not have a monkey

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Going to visit someone from the kids joint English-Kirundi class

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Buying clothes for the kids in the peds malnutrition ward

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Kids watching our kids watching kids drumming.


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One Year In

It’s been a year since we moved here to Burundi as two weeks ago was the exact day one year ago that our family touched down at the retro-futuristic international airport  in Bujumbura.

IMG_5736It sure seems like it’s been more than a year – and I don’t think that’s just because it was a leap year.

We landed in Bujumbura March 6, 2015 –  and it sure feels like we’ve seen, experienced, and learned a lot since then.

We stayed for one month in a temporary place before moving into our house. We basically brought over our bags and then left for our Serge East Africa conference. Looking back we were actually pretty hesitant about going – it seemed like a fairly big, expensive trip so soon after we arrived. It was a fantastic experience, and we are so glad we were able to get to know the rest of the East Africa team, and what we learned, expeirnedced and shared there  were much better prepared in many ways for much of  what was gong to happen over the next 12 months.

 

Then a few weeks after we got back the ruling party announced that the President would run for a third term, and the protests started.

In May there was an attempted coup, and we left for what we hope would be a few weeks in Rwanda.

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The violence continued, and escalated and things got pretty bad in the city and we stayed in Rwanda for most of the summer. We finally returned as a family at the end of August.

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I got back into the swing of things at Hope Africa University, moved classes to our house for security reasons,  the kids got into their school – and we settled in to what everyone seemed to refer to as “the new normal”

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We had to leave again after a day of intense fighting in December, and ended up spending Christmas up here.

Now we’ve moved up here to Kibuye and the kids have settled in to their new school routine, I’m working with administration at the hospital, and Susan has started helping out with the malnourished children.

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While at the time, it often seemed like a bit of a random even chaotic ride – it has been amazing. We have been able to get involved at HAU, and now here at the hospital, and help out a country that has some of the lowest levels of medical care and university education in the world. Both HAU and Kibuye Hope Hospital are part of the local church that we partner with – and so we have had that common link, and ability to work with others who also are attempting to better this country because they are compelled by the love that they have received from God, and want to both share it and show it with others.

 

 

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One-thousand-two-hundred-and-four.
A little over a week ago I travelled back to Bujumbura to take part in the Hope Africa University graduation ceremony.
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Someone has to sign all those diplomas..

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oh…I see. that would be me.

It was a very significant event for several reasons.  Firstly – the graduating class was huge – double what it normally is. One-thousand-two-hundred-and-four students who have received their training, been equipped, and are now ready to head out to impact their communities, their nation(s). These students will become: engineers (of various types), teachers, business leaders, nurses, doctors, mid-wives, community development workers, and so much more. In a country, and part of the world, where post-secondary education is still quite a rarity, these one-thousand-two-hundred-and-four graduates stand a chance at making a significant change in their world. The sheer size of this made the graduation noteworthy. The parking lot was mostly covered in tents, but that was only enough seating for the graduates, faculty etc…the other 4000 or so people were squeezed in all around us, looking down from windows in the building, even climbing up on fences, standing in the shade behind the tents. There were a LOT of people there.
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lining up just before we start

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Secondly, this has been a tough year at HAU. The violence in Bujumbura these past 10 months or so has not been evenly distributed throughout the city for various reasons, and the neighbourhoods around the HAU campus have seen far more than their share of violence. At one point during his opening words, the Rector (~president) read the names of a student and a staff member who were killed, and asked everyone present to stand in a moment of silence for their memory, and to thank God that we are all still alive. It was very moving, as I can’t imagine there was anyone there who wasn’t keenly aware that it’s not a given that we’re all still alive. The fact that ‘only two’ members of our community were killed I think makes it seem like it has not been that big an impact. Just living in the city means that almost everyone knows someone personally who has seen something, been way-too-close to something, just missed something. There is no way to avoid the impact that the violence has had in the city.
For everyone at HAU, I think it was hugely important to have this graduation successfully take place – partially just to be able to stay: “We’re still here. We’re still educating people. Students are finishing. We haven’t given up.” So in light of that security was tight…very tight. From where I was standing on the platform, I could see at any time more automatic weapons than I had ever seen in my entire life growing up in Canada. (OK, bad comparison, as that number was zero…but still)
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The other thing I’ve learned is that you just roll with things here.  If the graduation is supposed to start at a certain time, it maybe will not. If your secretary asks “do you have the words for your speech ready?” about 30 min after said start time, she is, in fact, not joking. The event will take place. Someone will hand you a copy of what your supposed to say. Things may seem kind of chaotic to a western mind, but honestly, they seem to always pull things off. Sure maybe I was already standing on the platform just prior to the start of the awarding of diplomas, and in my role as Directeur Pedagogique (~VP Academic) I was the one to say the “can the head of the ______ program please come forward and present their candidates …” (in French of course) – yes, on the platform with the microphone in my hand in front of thousands of people when I was told what I was to do, what to say. But, you know what, maybe everyone else didn’t even notice (note: Dr Alyssa said that in fact they could hear me saying “what order do I read this? When do I say it?” in the mic…oh well, c’est la vie).
The whole day was a great celebration. The rain held off, it wasn’t too oppressively hot, and there were no security issues. It really was a great day. I think in some way my mind-set makes it hard to comprehend what a university degree means to these students, to their families, to this country. This is not a place where basically everyone goes to university, and a bachelors degree is the new high-school diploma. This is more like a Bachelors degree is our graduate degree. When HAU first started about 12 years ago there were less than 8,000 students enrolled in post-secondary education in the entire country, meaning on average, somewhere around 2000 graduates per year – for the entire country. So if you go back even one generation, you can see how rare post-secondary education was, and how it is considered such a precious, rare, and treasured thing by these students, and their entire extended families. These one-thousand-two-hundred-and-four students getting degrees – including MANY of them masters degrees in Business, International Law, Theology, and eleven medical doctors – really is a very big deal.
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That would be: Minister of Higher Education, Bishop of the National Church, Chairmen of the Board of HAU (and current senior government official and former ambassador to Kenya), Rector of the University…..and me.

The day was a great testimony to what Hope Africa University is, what it has become, and what it represents.  In the midst of seeming chaos, students still end up learning. In the midst of violence, they still show up, and they graduate. In the midst of economic and security problems, they persevere.
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So much celebration and joy. And to me, it felt like it came at a time when it was greatly needed.