Pardon Our French

(and Kirundi)

Washing Feet

NOTE: this is a cross-post from our team blog www.wordanddeedafrica.com that was written by our intern Alexis. Since it’s about Susan and her work at the feeding program I thought I’d share it here …but you really should be reading that blog!

Every Monday and Friday women and children from all over Gitega province walk to the hospital, sometimes from homes that are many hours away, to receive a meal and a 1kg bag of busoma from the hospital feeding program. And each Monday and Friday from 10-12:30, Susan and Annick set up a station in the corner of the feeding program pavilion to meet with people. Mamas (and a few Papas) come with problems and questions of all kinds. Susan shakes each person’s hand and listens to their concerns. She measures tiny arms and checks for other signs of malnutrition such as blonding hair and eyelashes, puffy cheeks, swollen bellies. Many of the people have questions about topics besides just malnutrition. Their eyesight is failing – can she get them in to see the ophthalmologist? Their baby has a bump on his head – should they see a doctor? Their child has been having constant diarrhea – can she give them de-worming medication? Sometimes people tell her about how their roof leaks in rainy season, that they are unable to buy notebooks for school, have no blankets to keep their child warm or no ability to produce milk for their infant. As Annick translates, Susan responds to each person to the best of her ability, knowing when someone really needs to see a doctor and when there are other ways to help. She gives out a blanket here, a jar of milk there, buys a hand-woven basket from a widow who needs that money to get through the week. She listens and responds, and even when there is nothing she can do to help, still at least someone has listened to them with a compassionate ear.  

Annick and Susan meeting with people at the feeding program
Susan with a baby that she helped to relocate and support after the baby’s mother died



The other aspect of what she does is basic wound care. Sometimes others from our team come and help with this, like myself, Stephanie, who is a trained nurse, and some of the older kids on the team as well. Susan has visitors bring Band-Aids, gauze, disinfectant spray, and antibiotic cream over from North America. Equipped with these items in her first aid kit, we do our best to clean, disinfect, and cover the various wounds that people present us with. Some of the wounds are terrible to look at, dirty and infected, caked around with dust from the roads, still unhealed from the time of injury many days or even weeks prior. 

A few weeks ago I was feeling discouraged about how much our wound care was actually helping. That day I had peeled off a Band-Aid from a wound I had cleaned and dressed the week before, and seen that it had barely healed. This is not at all an uncommon occurrence. Later that day, I shared my discouragement about this lack of healing progress with Dr. Rachel. She informed me that malnutrition is a large contributor to why many of these injuries heal so slowly. She told me that some of these injuries are systemic and that our care will not cure them without the underlying cause being remedied. Yet, Rachel also encouraged me by reminding me that the wound care that we are providing has more purpose than just treating the wounds themselves. It also demonstrates to the people who come that there is someone out there who cares enough about them to touch their dirty feet, their sores, and their imperfections. To clean them. To tend to them. Having someone take the time to care for them in this way can provide a different kind of healing to many of these people who may not receive that kind of interaction regularly. Susan told me once that one of the main reasons that she provides wound care is to build relationship. I can see now how caring for someone’s wounds can build relationship and trust even without using words. This is huge for those, like me, who can’t yet speak much Kirundi. 

Much of what I end up doing when helping with wound care at the feeding program is cleaning people’s feet. For these people living in desperate poverty, shoes are uncommon and they work daily in rocky fields and walk long distances down hard, dusty roads. Thus, many of their injuries are on their feet and it is very hard to keep those injuries clean. Using saline and gauze we clean out each wound and proceed to wipe away the layers of dirt around it before applying a sterile Band-Aid. About a week ago, while cleaning around an ulcer on someone’s ankle, an image came clearly to my mind. Can you guess what it was? The image of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. I heard a Tim Keller sermon recently in which he said that in Jesus’ time touching someone else’s feet was considered a task that not even servants were allowed to be told to perform. From poverty and the dirty, dusty roads of Israel, people’s feet became so mangled and filthy that it was beneath the duty even of a slave to have to wash them for someone else. Yet, Jesus does it. 

John 13: 2-5 and 12-17 (NIV) says:
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him…When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

In this passage, the king of the universe stoops down and washes the feet of those that he loves so much, even though they are about to betray him. And he commands us to follow his example and to do the same. The wound care that Susan and others are doing at the feeding program is a very literal way to follow that command. Though in most situations, “washing someone’s feet” may not look like physically taking their foot in your hand and scrubbing, in the case of the work that is being done by people providing wound care at the feeding program, it does literally mean just that. What a beautiful and concrete opportunity to physically do for others what Jesus has metaphysically done for us.

kids we(a)re home

The two older kids are were home from Kenya on their Christmas break.

As of yesterday, they’re back at school in Kenya. The time really does go by fast when they’re here. We had a great time together, We got away to Tanzania to the same place we’ve gone camping for the 4th year in a row (!). Mostly though, they kind of have this sort-of-vacation-but-others-are-not kind of existence. They are a huge help – not just for our family, but for the team at large. A number of people seem to have projects that get left for “when the big kids get home on break.”

Anyway, here’s some shots of what they seemed to be up to in the month they were home. To be honest, I forgot about a lot of this until I found the pictures….seems they were actually up to a lot!

helping out with the nativity play the kids did up at the hospital..and at the feeding program, and the church. Sometimes that help means riding on the roof of the Land Cuiser to keep the cardboard set from blowing off
sorting things in the storage containers
decorating Christmas cookies.
coming with me on bikes to get the Land Cruiser unstuck…
because when you get driving directions from someone who has likely never been in a car before…things don’t always end well.
building a cotton candy machine. It was made up of: a cordless drill, pieces of a broken fan, and a bunch of other stuff…actually kind of worked (kind of)
building a new house for the chickens
fixing up the ole 1979 Honda
helping teach …which somehow seems to involve Lego
snuggling
building the frame for the nativity backdrop
being a human slide for their little sister in the living room
oh yeah…worked on my bike too

abana

hey everyone… umwaka mushasha mwiza….happy new year.

Just a quick post to share some pictures I took the other day when I accompanied Susan to visit the home of a widow who attends the feeding program. She lives in an IDP camp (Internally Displaced Persons…basically refugees who never cross the border) not too far from Kibuye. It’s been there since the war in ’93. Susan was looking into what could be done to help her. Her roof is currently loose-fitting scraps of rusty tin, and there is so much water that runs through her house in the rain that she finally just dug a bit of a trench, and removed a few bricks from the wall on the downhill side. If she can’t keep it out….at least she can try to contain it a bit.

Anyway – I snapped a few pictures of some kids who were standing around, quite interested in why we were there. So here you go…some kids, abana in Kirundi.

Noeli Nziza 2019

setting-up-the-Christmas-tree night

This year is our fifth Christmas in Burundi. If I’m counting right, since we were married that makes: 8 in France, 5 here, 1 in Kazakstan, and the remaining 9 in Canada.

Despite being here several years, there are definitely still parts about it that feel odd. It still feels strange to go camping at Christmas and have hot days swimming in the lake, with monkeys pestering us as we cook. Seems like we should be skating on a lake, and pestered by…icy roads.

From what I can gather, it doesn’t seem like Christmas is anywhere close to as big of a deal here, even in Church. There is no mention of Advent, no leading up to Christmas. Our local church will likely put up a coniferous tree in the corner of the church for Dec 25, but my guess is that probably is heavily influenced by the fact that there have been Americans living on this hill on an off for the past 30 years or so.

The last Sunday before Christmas there was a Christmas song or two, and it was definitely a ‘special’ Sunday – judging from the number of pastors present, and how they were dressed. But it’s still a long cry, at least to my western eyes, of Christmas preparation. I’m sure there are many things that point to Christmas here that I just don’t see.

cookie decorating….when the power goes off

The same way that a Burundian even after a few years may not notice that mandarine oranges in Canada or revillon chocolates in France are a clear indicator of the season, there are definitely things that get past me here. Perhaps the (in normal non-disastrous climate change years) tapering off of the rains. Maybe its the casava being harvested?

Perhaps this is the constant reality of living in a culture so different from the one(s) I am more used to. The things that seem apparent aren’t’ so to me. That is, after all, essentially a definition of culture: ‘the things that seem so obvious to a group of people that they feel no need to explain them.’

So I guess it’s more accurate to say I am not aware of the things that indicate Christmas is coming. In some ways, I’m kind of thankful for that. It has stripped away all of the purely cultural holiday things and forced us to look at Christmas for what it really is.

Although, I still do miss egg nog.

Micah is 13

{PART OF THE MEA CULPA SERIES OF POSTS _ where I post things I should have written a long time ago. yeah…that’s on me.}

So we now (yes…months ago) have 3 teenagers in the family. Micah turned 13 just before the kids headed back to school.

Yes, every kid changes a lot every year..but his year one of the shocking things that happened is just how much Micah grew.

Judging from various photos it seems that from around his birthday in 2018 until his birthday in 2019 he probably grew about 10cm. And honestly – the majority of that was probably all after Christmas. Hard to find pictures where there is any gage, but these pictures below of Micah standing close to Susan, about 12 months apart

Since his birthday is in the summer, that means his 12th year of life also coincided with his 7th year of school. That makes K,1,2,3 in France, 4 a combination of Canada/ Bujumbura, 5 a combo of Bujumbura/Kibuye, and 6, 7 & 8 here in Kibuye.

He still loves reading, loves building (forts etc) and climbing trees. Playing ultimate frisbee, bike rides, and his most recent activity… motorbike rides.

trip to Rwanda to see the dentist
he tried out some rather varied looks over the year
birthday treats last year – dropping off J & M in Kenya

Micah is a kind soul, and it’s been great to watch him grow, learn, and change over this past year.

Happy Birthday (4 months ago)!