Kibuye Hope Hospital

We finally got a chance to spend about 10 days up in Kibuye visiting our sister team that works  at a teaching hospital about 2 hours outside of Bujumbura.  While the reason for our stay was not all that pleasant – it was a a really good time.

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local ingenuity at work

Even though we were there only 10 days – it did seem like a quite a bit happened.  We toured the hospital, went for walks, the kids still did school, there was an earthquake, Susan made rounds with Dr Alyssa on the paediatric ward, we had meals together, almost daily security meetings, the kids played outside for hours on end – and so much more.

KIbuye Hope Hospital is out in the middle of nowhere – at least it seems like it in one sense. There is nothing around – yet there are people everywhere. Burundi is the most densely populated country in Africa- yet is almost completely un-urbanized. So instead of people crammed into large cities – the population really is kind of evenly spread out over everyone of the 1,000 hills.

We got a chance to go for some walks  – up to a bit of a lookout where you can see back over the hospital below..and if you’re lucky, play with some goats.IMG_9003

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At one point there were two other families from Bujumbura who also left the city due to the unrest – who also happened to be Canadian. In fact at one point there were 44 Americans & Canadians there – meaning that we were for sure the largest contingency outside the city…if not remaining in the country. At one point during a phone call from the Canadian consulate I suggested to just tell them that all remaining Canadians were together up here – and Micah suggested they could just send a chinook helicopter for us..but it never came. Budget cuts I suppose. We were joking that we kind of had a Canadian refugee camp, but then at one point when we had a communal meal of beans and rice as a bunch of the girls were getting de-loused (luckily, we managed to avoid the lice) – I was saying that we were pretty much one case of disyntery away from being a UNHCR recognized camp for internally displaced persons.

Canadian refugee camp
I”m not sure why Greg (anesthesiologist) had a UNHCR bucket at his house..but it sure completed the scene

Our time up at Kibuye Hope Hospital was a fantastic chance to see what rural Burundian life is really like.  Since 90% of the country is outside Bujumbura (the only real city) it is a much clearer picture of what life is like.  Since we basically (AKA: “almost”) got everything straightened out with our car registration before we left – this was our first chance to ever get out of the city.  So the kids got to have local treats: goat kabobs, and a stick of sugar cane.

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Matea decided she didn’t want any – she was convinced that the goats walking past were looking over at us – and at the goat carcass…and silently judging us I guess. I did tell her that it was unlikely that this goat that was being cooked was the same one she was holding the day before…

However a 50cm stick ‘o sugar cane for the equivalent of a few cents is too much to pass up.

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Since we are still home-schooling our kids (one of the best decisions we have ever made..since we can continue with pretty close to normal school, while others are struggling with schools closed in Bujumbura for who knows how long) – we try to integrate little field trips in whenever we can. The kids were studying the eye in science class – so Susan asked John (ophthalmologist) if we could come up to his eye clinic.  Thinking – perhaps they can look at some of his eye-models, perhaps look at each other’s eyes, etc.  He told us to come up the next day – as he would be doing procedures.  Well lets just say that within a minute or so of us being in the room with all our 4 kids – plus one more – the glaucoma surgery started. John did put it up on the screen so they could see every gory detail.  It was just at about the time that he cut into the eyeball to release the pressure, declared something along the line of “whah…I’ve got a bleeder here” – that one of ours went down. Boom – out cold, head on the concrete floor. So now we gained some pleasant memories (that can never, ever, ever be unseen) a minor concussion, and some kids I’m pretty sure were able to strike one more career option off the list.

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It was a great 10 days or so – allowing us and our kids to spend more time with our dear teammates up there at Kibuye.  It gave us a chance to see what they do, how they live, and just hang out with them for a while.  Hopefully next time there will be less evacuation plans and security meetings.

BONUS FEATURE:  If you’ve never seen the videos that were put together outlining the work done at Kibuye – check them out here:

 

So, what’s next?

I think it’s safe to say it has been a bit of a week or so for our family. Almost two weeks ago on Wednesday we drove out of Bujumbura to get what we thought was a few days of respite from the tension of the protestors clashing with security forces, the roadblocks, and the general disruption to life in the capital city. As we were driving up to visit our sister team at the teaching hospital near the village of Kibuye, a general in the Burundian army announced a coup – which was then countered by forces loyal to the president. Heavy fighting followed in Bujumbura and eventually forces loyal to the president prevailed. In the few days that followed (once borders and the airport re-opened)  the numbers of refugees fleeing the country has drastically increased. the US, the UN, EU, and many NGO’s have either evacuated all nonessential personnel, and some like the Canadian Consulate, have evacuated all staff and dependents and temporarily closed completely. One question that keeps seeming to loom over our family is simply: so what’s next?

DSC00749We stayed with our sister team in Kibuye for about 10 days (during which time we experienced our first earth-quake…because things were just too dull) – while some of them who were due to leave soon (or soonish) bumped up their plans and left early to avoid losing the chance to leave should things get worse again. We tried to discern what to do next, and on Saturday we drove up to the Rwandan border – and stood there for about 2.5 hours with many other Burundians who were also trying to get over the border to the north. The rest of the trip was uneventful – except for the spectacular scenery of sweeping tea fields, hills covered with coffee – and a few hours driving through a rainforest where the speed limit is reduced due to chimpanzees (although…we never saw one..)

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We are now staying at a guest house at a mission hospital in western Rwanda, with a beautiful view over Lake Kivu. It’s peaceful and calm – and it just feels like a certain level of stress and tension is gone not being in Bujumbura. Yesterday there was what turned out to be a soccer game not far from here – but my reflex reaction to hearing a loud crowd-like noise – was to nervously wait for the automatic gun-fire that I was expecting to follow. Similarly the other day  someone was beating a rug outside – and I assumed it was a rapid succession of grenades and anxiously looked out.

DSC00825We are doing fine here – but are mostly just trying to figure out what is next for us. When will we be able to return to our home in Bujumbura? When will university classes start up again? What do we do in the mean time? Where do we stay?

Honestly – we don’t really have an answer to pretty much any of those questions. However – we are very aware of how fortunate we are to be asking these questions, instead of what many Burundians are questioning.

Most all Burundians would lack the resources to even think about taking their private car and driving over the border. Almost none could even dream of purchasing airline tickets should they need to. More Burundians are asking questions like: “am I safe here?” or “where will our next meal come from?” or “when will our family be reunited?”

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Many Burundians appear to be living in great fear. It seems that for Burundians – it’s hard to interpret the events of the past month or so without viewing it through the lens of their nation’s history. This makes sense – as it is what they know.  Coups, civil wars, ethnically based atrocities, political assassinations are sadly part of the history of this country – so it’s hard for most people to assume these kinds of things could never happen again, as they have lived through them before. These disruption to transportation, people not being able to work, the economy in general, and so much more is making it harder for many citizens of what was already the hungriest country on the planet to find what they need to eat. There are many who now have even less of an idea of where their next meal will come from. There are many who appear to be just plain scared that the worst thing (whatever that may be for each person) could come to pass. Which probably explains why so many have fled the country in the past month. The official UN tally of refugees has exceeded 105,000 – and that is only those who have registered in UNHCR camps in Rwanda, DRC and Tanzania. Add on to that all those who have also left with enough resources so that they don’t have to leave as refugees but have gone to stay with family somewhere, or who have resources to temporarily relocate. There have been a lot of busses and even planes that have left full and returned empty these last few weeks. Bear in mind the country has only 10 million people to start. That is a significant percentage of the populous that has decided they’re better off somewhere else – at least for the time being.

So in some way it makes our question of what’s next for us seem much more trivial.  I am not worried that the things we left with may be the only material possessions we now have.  I am not worried about when our family may be reunited again. We do not have the same kind of base level concern about survival, the same deep fear, nor do we share in the collective memory that is bringing up so many horrible images for so many people right now.

So for now…we wait.  We try to learn patience. We wait on what God has for us next. And we enjoy the situation we find ourselves in now.

Burundi – military coup announced yesterday.

Everyone,
As I’m sure many of you have already heard, there was a military coup declared here in Burundi yesterday afternoon.
Susan, the kids and I are all safely with our Serge team 3 hours outside of the capital.
Miraculously – we left Bujumbura what turned out to be just before the coup took place – as things were still agitated in the capital, and out security team thought it best for us to come up here for perhaps a week.
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You can probably get better/more info than we can at this point as we have a bit more limited internet up here – but as of now it appears that the Bujumbura airport (the only international airport in the country) is closed, as are all borders. A general in the army from the President’s own party declared the coup – and the President is said to still be in Tanzania where he was attending an East African Committee meeting of heads of state to discuss the political unrest here in Burundi. (BBC has tended to have pretty solid info on this since the beginning -as they have people on the ground in Bujumbura)
Please pray.
Pray for this country – as the next hours and days will be critical for its future. Pray for the people here – many of whom were gripped by fear in the past few weeks already.
We are incredibly thankful that we made it safely here -and are with our extended team. We drove through a bit of a skirmish between what appeared to be soldiers/police/protestors on our way up here – and we thought that the protests had spread outside of the capital – but once we arrived here we found out that in fact the coup had been announced during that time.
Our team leaders in Bujumbura – Randy & Carolyn had already been making plans to bump up their planned leave for the summer- and as of yesterday Carolyn was supposed to be leaving today – however her passport is currently in immigration waiting for an exit visa, and of course, the airport is -as far as we know- closed. Please pray that she would be able to make it out and Randy as well.
We are obviously being very cautions – and our team leaders, extended team and our security committee (established when the situation in Bujumbura started 2 weeks ago) are gathering as much and as good information as they can from all relevant sources and are trying to make decisions for what’s next.
For now – we sit tight.  Foreign embassies right now are telling people to ‘shelter in place’  – so we are incredibly thankful we made it up here and can shelter in place with our team. We are really out in the middle of nowhere, it is calm, quiet, cool and a welcome break for us.
Please do not be in fear for us – for we still believe that God called us here to this place – and that we are in His hands. Perhaps more than ever there is now work for us to be doing to help this country develop the capacities for a more peaceful and healthy future where it’s people can be provided for.
Please pray for a peaceful outcome to this situation. Pray that all those who now hold power would use it for the good of the people and the peace of the nation.

Strange week in Burundi

The last few days we have been laying low. University classes were canceled, as it seems most other schools are, in light of security concerns in the city – it’s been a strange week in Burundi.

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To be honest – I guess I’m not sure to explain how it feels right now. I’m sitting at a small desk in a bedroom in our house. The same place that over the past few days I have been hearing explosions and gunfire, and seen the smoke from burning barricades in parts of the city. I am sitting here at my computer working on my next class on New Venture Creation. A class aimed at helping the MBA students have the capacity to start new companies that can meet the needs of their people and to help create jobs. As I do so, I have my web browser open – a few tabs on various innovation labs and business plan competitions that I hope to use to encourage my students to dream/plan/build the future of their country – a few tabs open to live streams of the current state of affairs in this city this morning, which really looks like anything but progress towards stability and prosperity.

I’m not sure I have any more reliable information about what’s going on  – other than what is currently being reported by the larger news agencies: that for the past week protestors, police and the army are out on the streets facing off. Some radio stations have been shut-down, and many here in the city are claiming that multiple social media and messaging apps (which has now also been reported  by AFP and others) have been shut-down/hampered on the mobile telecom networks. There are rumours….oh so many rumours. Plenty of things being reported that stir up fear, mistrust and anger.

Some of the more in-depth pieces that i’ve seen are this op-ed piece in the NY Times co-authored by a Burundian peace activist, and  this WashPost piece by a couple of political scientists. TheUN Sec Gen has condemned the violence, and has now sent a special envoy, as has the African Union, and now the US. And while numerous governments have given their opinion – the Burundian government has asked them to kindly keep out. There are reports from the UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees) that some 25,000 have crossed the borders into Rwanda & DRC in the past 20 days – a large number of those in the past few days.

I don’t claim to understand exactly why the protesters are as upset as they are, why they feel that this is their only way to have their voice heard, why the government is responding as it appears to be. I am merely a guest in this country – and a complete newcomer at that. I don’t speak Kirundi, don’t understand the culture, and have no idea of what it is like to have been raised in a country with a history such as this. But to me there are a few things that seem more clear. That shots are being fired, fires set, teargas used, rocks thrown – and people on both sides are getting hurt. All reports seem to confirm that  at least 9 have already died. What is clear is that no one really wins when it becomes this – but there are definitely those who lose.

The week before the announcement – at the end of our church service, everyone was told – leading up to potential problems- that if you are going to ‘fight’ – then fight for the rights of your opponents. Ensure that those who disagree with you have safety and freedom to hold their opinion. Make sure that those who agree with you are not causing problems for the others. If you are going to ‘fight’ – do so for the sake of those who disagree with you.

‘Love your enemy’ is a powerful stance to take. Standing up for those you don’t agree with takes courage. Ensuring the rights of those against your position is hard.

It is unfortunate that the news about the current situation is the only time this nation will make headlines in most of the world. The country has struggles, it has issues that it has to deal with  – but as anywhere – there are stories of hope.  So I’d like to leave you instead of pictures of burning roadblocks and injured police – as tempting as that honestly is (sad but true)- with this story of hope, compassion, and love:

Saving Leo

A boy, badly burned by fire, travels from Burundi to Boston in an extraordinary journey of resilience and devotion.