I don’t know what to call this.

It’s 6.00 on a Sunday morning here in Bujumbura.  The weather is expected to be sunny and hot, with a threat of thundershowers – which seems to be typical for this time of the year, as the rainy season has not yet ended.
However, this is not a typical weekend – at least it doesn’t appear to be. But I’m not quite sure what exactly it is, I don’t know what to call this.
Burundi is – by global standards – a fairly new democracy, having gained independence from the Belgians some half-century ago. Over the past 50 or so years there have been several shall we say ‘bumps along the way’ – growing pains, if you will.
On Thursday evening in my MBA class, we were discussing management ethics, and the question I posed was “where do people get their ethics from?”  Most of the answers were expected: parents, teachers, church, etc. However, one woman said “the forest.”  I wasn’t sure what she meant, perhaps being out in nature gives you a sense of right and wrong?
No, she explained that she was referring to all the people who spent time as militia, living and hiding among the trees during the last war. “they learned some very bad ethics…in the forest.” It took me a few seconds to know how to respond to that.
I really don’t know enough about the history of the country that we live in right now to know what exactly this weekend represents to so many here who have seen so much – I really don’t know what to call it.
Yesterday morning there were various reports about people leaving the capital, for fear that things will turn bad quickly. A local newspaper reported that there were busloads of people leaving the capital – simply because they don’t want to be here this weekend. There are reports from the UN that in the past week some 11,000 Burundians have fled parts of this country, and claimed refugee status in Rwanda.  About 10 minutes ago the sounds of our neighbour’s roosters, the birds in the palm tree outside our window, faint church bells, and the otherwise calm of a Sunday morning was punctuated by the distant sounds of a rally downtown. The din of yelling into a megaphone indicated that what the opposition party and others had called for – protests today starting at 6.00 – was happening.  There were also protests yesterday after the president’s party made its announcement that he was going to run for a third term. The constitutions allows two terms, many people claim the Arusha Accord which transitioned the country back into peace some 13 years ago reads similarly – but the ruling party reads it differently.  Yesterday at the state University, students turned out to make their unhappiness known, and the government responded by sending in what was reported to be heavily armed military. In the end, it seems they had a stand-off, soldiers and students, face-to-face. Two groups of people – that my brother pointed out yesterday as we were talking during the stand-off  – not particularly well known for always making good decisions. It appears to have ended peacefully and was dispersed without incident. So what is going on en centre-ville as I sit here looking over downtown towards Lake Tanganyika and the mountains of D.R.Congo? A protest, a march, a manifestation….?  I don’t know what to call it I suppose.
So where does that leave us? What about a family from Canada who landed in this country a mere 7 weeks ago with intentions of helping to develop a new generation of leaders for this nation?  We knew the lead up to and the elections this summer could be tense. We are learning every day that things here are so much different than any place we’ve lived before. We have local contacts, from our weekend worker who is in our yard right now, to contacts at Hope Africa University, to others who have concern for our well being and are our eyes and ears who understand the local language, culture, and history. We have a network of other ex-pats – some who have been here for a long time – who are also trying to negotiate the current situation. We have the information that gets released from our respective embassies and consular networks – Canada for us, the US for our team, Belgium for all the EU citizens – which we can consolidate and compare. (who have all said – in case you are wondering -stay out of downtown and be home or able to get home) We have our Serge team here in Burundi, and our extended team in East Africa, and back in Philadelphia – which has experience in dealing with difficult political situations (including our team in South Sudan – which is currently evacuated due to military action connected to political unrest).
However, over and above all of that, we have faith in a God who we believe truly called us to work here. We believe that there is no safer place for our family to be than in the middle of His will for us. So am I concerned – yes. Worried – perhaps. Scared…no. I guess I’m not sure what to call it. I have confidence that God did call us here – but I also know that His call on a person’s life never comes with promises of safety, well-being, or success in the eyes of the world.
So please – pray for peace for this nation. Pray that people would respect the rights of others to disagree with them – and that violence would not be seen as the de facto method of convincing others you are correct.  Pray that those Burundians who identify as members of the church would be the ones to show love to their opponents, respond to violence with peace, and show the power of forgiveness and mercy.

Our First Month in Burundi

walking in faith into our new life here


It’s hard to believe it – but we have now been in Bujumbura for a about a month. We are back in our place after a week away, and it seems like it is one of the few places with a stable enough internet connection to get a blog post up  – so here it is, a quick recap of our first month in Burundi.


One month is sure not a sufficient amount of time to start to gain a real understanding of someplace new – especially a city so different from what we are used to – but it is enough time to get some first impressions of what life for us might be like here.
Our trip here was about as smooth and uneventful as one could hope – for a trip like that. Our kids just don’t sleep much in moving vehicles – they never have. So despite the fact that we left the house in Edmonton about 8.00 Thursday morning, and got to Bujumbura a bit after noon on Friday Edmonton time  (8.00pm here) – Jonah still did not sleep at all, Micah slept the last 1.5 hrs of the last flight, and Matea maybe a few hours on two flights max.  {sigh}
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US Embassy Land Cruiser on the left – long-horn cattle on the right. Such is traffic in Bujumbura
First meetings at HAU
I have had a few meetings with people over at Hope Africa University – and am starting to get a sense of the role that I will be playing here. The MBA program especially seems to have great needs.  I had anticipated being part of the teaching faculty for the MBA program, and helping to give some direction. So far it seems that although the semester is already well over a  month in, there have been no classes for either the first or second year – as there is no one able/available/willing to teach.  So it appears that their needs are greater than even what I had imagined.  I am due to start on Monday…so we shall see how it actually pans out.
“Boing-Boing” and “Meow-Meow” drying in the equatorial sun


First attempts at buying a car

Cars are expensive here – partially due to the actual cost of importing, partially because they are still much more of a ‘luxury good’ than a widely found commodity, and also due to a government import tax/duties that slap an extra 30%-100% (you never seem to know until it’s done) onto even used vehicles coming into the country. Trying to find something for six (where for us “six” means seating AND seat-belts for 6…in stark contrast to the typical way capacity is measured here) is proving to be hard. We have some leads – and are hopeful we’ll have it sorted out in a few more weeks…but since there is a nation-wide gas-shortage, we’re not really missing out on as much for right now.
traffic on the road to the airport
First Malaria test.
Alma started running a pretty good fever after we had been here about a week  – and it lasted about a week.  IMG_5788We were watching it and trying to keep it under control – but Dr. Randy (our team leader) though it be best if we brought her into the clinic so he could check her out and run a few tests.
(Side Note: if you move to a part of the world that has some of the most underdeveloped medical care in the world, make sure you go on a team whose team leader is a pediatrician, plus you have a sister team a few hours away which collectively gives you direct access to the vast majority of modern trained doctors in the country).
Dr.Randy checked her out for the usual suspects in this part of the world, and said that we should probably run some tests just to be sure.  Alma had just told me she had to go to the bathroom – so this was a good chance to get a specimen for the lab.  We tried a few bathrooms, they were either locked, or out-of-order.  Finally we found one at the other end of the clinic and I tried to help Alma pee into a cup in a bathroom with no light and no seat on the toilet.  Suffice it to say that my arm was rather wet when it was done.  So I was quite glad there was a sink there.  Unfortunately there was no water.  Apparently the clinic doesn’t always have water. (by ‘clinic’ – I mean really what most would call a hospital: delivering 15-20  babies a day, pediatric ward, lab, pharmacy, operating room etc.)  I am no medical professional – IMG_5787but I would think that water may be advantageous.
We are already starring to grow accustomed to the fact that things just don’t work the way we are used to – and often – they just don’t work.  We are weeks into this nation-wide gasoline shortage which seems to be caused by a conflict between the petroleum companies and the government as they argue about taxes and prices. Also, the internet didn’t really work for the first two weeks we were here. Then there was one day last week during all this when we had no water for the day, the power was off for quite a while, and our phones didn’t seem to work either.
car fire just down from our temporary house
So far everyone seems to be adapting pretty well to life here. We did feel like we were in a bit of a holding pattern for the three weeks at our temporary place – until we moved into our house. The lack of a vehicle made for quite a bit of walking for groceries and getting Tuk-Tuk’s (a.k.a.: Baj-Jaj, Tiki-Tiki, Moto-rickshaw etc) on the way home. With 6 of us, that meant getting two of them – but the ride back uphill from the grocery store was usually 1000BiF (~$0.65) each…so we figured it was worth it to avoid the extra sweat. We start our days much earlier here, as the sun comes up and the streets jump to life at 6.00 or so. At our temporary place, the noise of people and motorbikes, and trucks and cars and TukTuks and just general commotion,meant that with open windows facing the streets everyone in our family is up.  It was actually nice, as it is really a very pleasant temperature to sit outside at that time. We had a nice view of the street from a small balcony off our bedroom. Through the banana trees behind the neighbours we could watch bikes, soldiers, kids in school uniforms, women balancing loads on their heads, busses and moto-taxi’s stream past. Our place now seems to be actually a lot more quiet. And, it does feel nice as it’s the first time we’ve been in a place of our own since leaving France last July.

First Trip Away

After 3 nights in our new house,  we headed to the Kenyan coast for a retreat with the Serge East Africa team.  These regional retreats only take place once every three years – so we were very fortunate that we were able to be part of this one so quickly after our arrival.  There were people who volunteered to take care of our kids during every morning and afternoon session. They had a fantastic time – and it was really healthy for them to meet and hang out with other kids who are in a similar circumstance to them.  It was also great for us to be able to meet the extended team working in this part of the world. There are doctors, engineers, teachers, pastors and many more of all kinds working in teams in Burundi, Kenya, South Sudan, and Uganda. There are some incredible people doing some amazing work in some very, very difficult circumstances.

So that is a quick overview of our first month in Burundi.  In some ways it feels like not too much has happened – just a lot of adjusting, trying to get settled in, land on our feet and get ready for what’s next.