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?
We 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..)
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.
We 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?”
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.