September 12, 2018 chartreusian

close and far

One of the strange things about living in a place like Kibuye is that so much of our daily lives take place really close. I mean – like measured in several hundreds of meters from our house. The kids’ school is about 30 m away – we can see and hear the kids in their class from our kitchen window. The hospital is about 200m up a dirt road. The space between the residential area, the hospital, and the village around it are where the vast majority of our lives take place.

Other than running on the dirt trails over the hills around us, we really do live, work, play, right here on this hill. Driving to Gitega, a 30 min journey, honestly seems like a bit of a trek, and you better have a good reason for going there.

But then there is the other part of our lives. The parts that mean for most of our family or friends to see us, or us to see them requires several days of travel, thousands of dollars, covering a not insignificant portion of the earth. 

There is no orthodontist in Burundi, not even a dentist in the country. Want or need those services, and you have to cross at least one border. Two of our kids are now attending high school two countries away from home. Travelling seems difficult as visas, border crossings, logistics make things more complicated than one would think they would need to be. When we arrived 3 years ago there were quite a few flights in and out of the capital (we didn’t’ think so at the time but in hindsight…)

The one airline that flies directly from here to Kenya just dropped 3 of their 4 daily flights. That means that the one airport in the country now has about 5 flights a day, with options of 3 or 4 cities in the region, except for Sundays when there is a once-per-week flight to Brussels.  That sometimes makes it feel like things are far.  That we are not really connected. 

Living in France, there was a strong sense of connection to other places. At the small train station at the bottom of the mountain, we could catch a train to Geneva. The airport in Lyon had flights all over the place, the French high-speed train network could get us to Paris in a few hours, and the autoroute system could have us at the Mediterranean in just over 2. You had a feeling like things were close, or at least, accessible.

But part of the charm of living in a place like Kibuye is this kind of isolation, the remoteness. The challenge of driving Land Cruisers over dirt paths to get places. The challenge of washed out roads, police barricades, and border crossings that are always a surprise. The hills covered with small subsistence farms tended to by people who very possibly have never been more than 50km from where they were born. 

We are the connected ones here. We can afford internet access, international phone calls, and plane fares that are unfathomable for almost everyone in this commune. Those luxuries make the far seem a bit closer. And it does teach something about community, about ‘home’ and about real connection.