Bujumbura, Burundi…what do you hold for us?

In November I travelled to Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi with my good friend Rob for a  scouting trip that we did for our families.

sunrise from the plane over Ethiopia
The sun rising over Africa, viewed from 10,000m above somewhere in Ethiopia

The purpose of the trip was to investigate Hope Africa University and to see what kind of ways our skill sets could fit in with what they are trying to accomplish.  I will be finishing my PhD this year – so we’re thinking about what will come next.  I’ve been in some preliminary discussions with a couple of Universities back in North America – but this opportunity to serve in Africa came up, and we are anxiously very excited about it.

banana for scale
The banana is for scale…no the bun is…nope. I guess the coffee cup shows the relative size of both.
Burundian break-down tow-truck
So….if I have a mechanical problem…”YOU” will come to my rescue. I might explore other options.
Bujumbura skyline towards Lake Tanganyka and DR Congo
View from the rooftop patio of a fantastic French boulangerie / patisserie in Bujumbura. Looking over Bujumbura, Lake Tanganyika and the mountains of the Democratic Republic of Congo on the other side.

I’ll put up some more thoughts on the details of what we’d be doing there, and why, and how – but I wanted to just give you some idea of that this is the direction we’re heading – and give some sense as to what Burundi feels like.

African head conveyance
You know you’re comfortable carrying stuff on your head when you have a wheeled suitcase – that instead of pulling along the ground – you put on your head.
Happyness restaurant
I maybe a bit sceptical but…I’m not sure that’s my definition of happiness. OK -‘Happyness” maybe.

Of course there are similarities to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (where I was last May doing research) – but it was quite different in many ways.  Being 1/5 of the size – it just feels so much smaller. Not  anywhere the same kind of traffic, or noise, or commotion.  ( if you want a quick overview of the country, click here for one from BBC)

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Burundian carb-loading
Kind of felt like I was carb-loading at every meal

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Hope Africa University, Bujumbura Burundi
Sitting in on a marketing class at Hope Africa University
Rob, chicken, baby
Rob buying some greeting cards while the woman next to him with the live chicken adjusts the baby on her back
Riddler on Burundian roof
Not sure the guy working on this roof could have planned out his wardrobe better

 

 

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Chartreuse monastery hike

The week before my mom left in December we drove up into the Chartreuse mountains to go for a hike up by the monastery of the Carthusian monks (the ones who make the Chartreuse liquor) – la Grande Chartreuse -up by the town of St Pierre de Chartreuse.  (Detecting a pattern?)

La Grande Chartreuse monastery
Micah and Grandma on the way up

 

La Grande Chartreuse monastery

It’s not the first time we’ve been up there – we hiked here with before a few times (not to mention taking my sister and family, plus Susan’s mom, {and quite possibly 50 or so other visitors} to the distillery down in the town of Voiron)  – not to mention this is close to where I ran La Grand Duc trail race last spring.

La Grande Chartreuse monastery

La Grande Chartreuse monastery
Finishing her sandwich on our way up to the monastery
La Grande Chartreuse monastery
La Grande Chartreuse monastery

 

It was an amazing day for a hike – it was sunny and above zero -but they had just got dumped on with snow the night before. There was so much snow hanging heavy on the trees that it was actually a fairly dangerous place to walk, as there are massive trees lining the path up to the monastery. The warmth of the sun on the snow caught up in the branches was causing it to fall (what we call ‘treevalanches’).  And sometimes they were HUGE.  For some reason Grandma seemed to get hit more that others of us, and a few times I had to shelter Alma as there would be a clump of snow 3 times my size dropping from about 5 meters up!  No wonder the monks were all nestled safely inside their cloister cells praying…it’s too dangerous to be outside.

La Grande Chartreuse monastery
almost there

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When you get up here you can see how these monks though this would be a good place to get away from it all.  Even now you get the feeling that you are in a place of utter solitude – I can’t imagine how isolated you would have been up here a few hundred years ago.

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The Chartreuse Distillery

chartreuse liquor distillery caves in Voiron France
down in the caves

We drove down into Voiron, where the Chartreuse distillery is. Honestly, we’ve been there so many times I have completely lost track – but I still find it interesting every time.  To me, this story of monks from the Catholic church, who live up in the middle of nowhere in the French Alpes to remain in solitude, who then brew an elixir-of-life based on a centuries-old formula given to them, and from there develop a liquor made of a blend of 150 plants, which then becomes famous all over the world…is a pretty interesting tale.  Plus the fact that you get to sample at the end – likely means that I’ve enjoyed €50 worth of Chartreuse VEP, and 1605 etc…one tiny glass at a time.

chartreuse liquor on the floor of the ageing caves
“Caution: liquor made from a top-secret monk-held formula of 150 plants is dripping out of centuries old oak casks”
not at all slippery…actually quite sticky.

Father of the year.

So this is the shirt I got from my kids last father’s day.

Impressive, no?

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I thought so. It’s me being declared “Papa de l’année” by someone with as much authority as Darth Vader.  It is a feared and respected Jedi Knight telling people that I – am the Father of the Year. On top of that, if you don’t agree with that judgement, you have Lord Vader to deal with.

Then something hit me yesterday when I was wearing it.  Maybe it’s saying HE is le Papa de l’année.  Or maybe it’s saying I”m the Father of the Year….like him.  You know (and I’m assuming and hoping here you do….)

The character who abandoned his twin children, then repeatedly tried to murder his own son.  He lied to his children, hiding his identity, worked for their arch enemy of them. Who hacked off his only son’s hand, imprisoned his daughter then used torture to get information out of her.

Papa de l’année indeed.

Grandma here for Christmas

It’s true that living far from family is often most noticeable around those times of the year that tend to be most full of family.  Holidays are the most obvious, and Christmas – at least for us – is the most extreme.IMG_2811

When we lived in Edmonton, we lived close enough to both our families to have Christmas Eve with my mom, aunt, other relatives, and often times a sibling or two of mine, plus spouses and kids. Then Christmas day with Susan’s family.  IMG_2806Then often we’d get together with extended family – other aunts, uncles, cousins etc a few days later.  This could very well spiral into seeing 100 close family members over the few days between the 24th of December and the end of the year.  However, when you move several thousand kilometers away, that tends to really slow down.  Noel 2013 was our fourth Christmas here in France: the first two we were by ourselves, last year Susan’s parents were here, and this year my mom came.  Mom got here the week before the kids were done school, and left early (as in, 03.25 departure from our house) on the 30th. The time in between was spent hanging out, doing some small outings, and a LOT of treasure hunts.

My mom is pretty much the undisputed queen of treasure hunts.  She will sneak off into the yard and hide a series of consecutive clues all over the place, one giving hints for the location of the next, until the kids finally arrive at the treasure at the end.  I am also sure that her suitcase has some kind of Mary-Popping-magic-carpet-bag power, as she seems to be able to pull out a seemingly infinite number of treasures for the finale of the hunts.

It was pretty great having her here.  She was here when Alma was born, came back last year during the kids fall break, and now this Christmas

We went to the Marché de Noël just down in Grenoble, took in the sights, had some treats, looked at the lights.

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Mom and I and the two older kids drove up to Annecy (yes, as in thisthisthis, and this)  to take in their Marché de Noël.

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We drove up into the Chartreuse mountains to hike by the Carthusian monastery, then drove down to see where those industrious monks mix up their infamous hooch.

We also took some walks around our place, spent time hanging out with grandma, strolled walk around the chateau grounds in Vizille, read stories, made cinnamon buns, played games, and just did a bunch of ‘gradma-y’ things.

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walking / rollerblading / scooting to the end of our road

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It just wouldn’t be a visit from Grandma without cinnamon bun making

 

That also means that Grandma was here for Christmas itself.

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Matea’s new hat – hand-made by her brother

 

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Alma got a doll for Christmas – so it came on some walks with us as well

Auntie Heather and Desmond come to visit

In October, Heather and baby Desmond travelled to France to spend 2 weeks with us.  We had never met Desmond before, and they had never met Alma….so this was a very special trip.  IMG_2668 IMG_2671 IMG_2673 IMG_2663

 

 

Almost every afternoon, George worked from home and watched over our two sleeping babies, and Heather and I took advantage of our time together and hiked.  and hiked.  and hiked.  IMG_2695

 

 

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At the Alpine Troop Museum

 

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Cousins!