October 7, 2018 chartreusian

#NotHowIGrewUp

Of course it’s true that the more time we spend living and working in a place like Kibuye, the more things that once seemed strange become commonplace. Despite that, there are still many things that cause me to stop and appreciate the difference between how I grew up, and the childhood our kids are having. Every once in a while, something really strikes me, and I post a picture, tagging it #nothowigrewup.

On numerous occasions, I’ve heard teammates referring to patients in our hospital, or their parents –  identifying someone as ‘clearly having some money’ or ‘not that poor.; The indicators:  ‘wearing shoes’, ‘had some hair’, ‘she had a bracelet’. The ones who drive up here from the capital are the ‘obviously rich’ as some even come in privately owned vehicles to get treatment here. While all of that may seem harsh, or extreme, it’s just the reality of living here.

When you are surrounded by a population where most people can’t afford shoes, and many can’t even afford used flip-flop’s, the bar is set at a very different level than in other parts of the world. 

Our kids see this and internalize all of this in ways that are natural to them. It’s the water the fish is not aware of, the same way my growing up on the Canadian prairies was something I took for granted. I assumed cold, snowy winters are what half the year looks like. That having access to some of the best health-care, education, and hockey in the world is just what life is like.

I also held views about other places that were based on that narrow understanding of the world. While I lived in a fairly rural place, America, by contrast, was all big cities, as that’s what the media I consumed taught me.

Matea has now joined Jonah at Rift Valley Academy in Kenya. Again, that is strange to me every time I write it. If she finishes high school there, she’ll essentially have spent: 4 years of school in France, 4 years in Burundi, and 4 in Kenya. Actually, kindergarten was in Canada, and 5th grade was home-schooled –  half in Canada, and the other half a combination of Bujumbura and evacuated to Rwanda.

I remember when our family moved to Alberta, the day before school started in 1985. I began 6th grade in the ‘county school’ which was a combination of farm kids, and kids who lived on acreages outside of the city limits like we did. While I’m sure this wasn’t true, I remember feeling like all the other kids had been together since birth. I had spent 3 years in Saskatchewan, 2 in BC, and then Alberta. I was some strange foreigner, a long-lost voyager. Yes, I realize that many, many people had childhoods where they moved around a lot. There are people on our team here that spent their childhood in 10+ states, or 3+ countries. But that wasn’t me. Nor Susan. She spent essentially 12 years in one Alberta town, 6 in another.  Our little Alma had lived on three continents when she was still three.

What’s the point? To be honest I’m not sure. Perhaps this is something that every single parent experiences. My mother grew up in a tiny town in the middle-of-nowhere southern Saskatchewan. She remembers the town collectively having one telephone, the power turned off every evening, and the roads were dirt, not even gravel. (which is perhaps why she likes Kibuye so much!) So my childhood of computer games, and TV, and travelling on a jet plane was probably equally as shocking to her. 

So maybe this is not much different than the usual generational gaps that exist. I know friends in North America and Europe have similar disorienting feelings towards their kids’ world, as it’s so strikingly different than how they grew up. 

But in order to give you some insight into our kids lives here, as the vast majority of you probably experienced a childhood not so dissimilar from mine, here are – in no particular order – some aspects of our kids’ lives that still strike me as odd. 

Rural

By that, I don’t mean the kind of ‘rural’ that I grew up with, where we lived on an acreage, 2km from the city.  I mean Kibuye is an incredibly rural region of an incredibly rural country. The vast majority of Burundians work as sustenance farmers, and outside the capital city, almost exclusively so. This place has zero light pollution so the night sky is breathtaking. Nights are essentially silent. The dirt road that leads off the highway here to our village/hospital dead-end’s here. The road doesn’t’ go anywhere else. There is really nothing else. (OK – so I guess I have proved that wrong, by driving the Land Cruiser out through the village when we went camping, but most people consider it a walking path) There is one and only city in this country that is even anywhere close to a million people, and it’s half the country away from us. The bean harvest is not just something people talk about to make conversation, it’s truly a matter of life. We are surrounded by scattered clusters of mostly mud-brick houses in every direction. ‘Downtown” Kibuye is that same dirt path, with a few shops, a small stand selling goat kabobs and scratch cards for mobile phones, but that’s pretty much the extent of it.

Tough Realities of Life

Our kids come face to face with a lot of things, that honestly, I never really faced until we moved here. Abject poverty. Starving children. Armed violence. This is just part of the fabric of life here. The life expectancy is low. We live in likely one of the poorest regions of one of the poorest countries of the world, so we see a lot of that. Plain wooden coffins being carried out of the hospital. Kids being abandoned. Grenades. 

Our kids see children who are very likely being kept alive by the food they receive at our feeding program. They’ve seen orphanages where kids are left because their parents have died. When we pray as a family, they often have things that are honestly pretty weighty issues. Part of my privileged upbringing in the West,  like so many others, is that you are insulated from these realities.  This is definitely one thing that while it often is hard to see them wrestle with these realities, I’m glad that they have a much more holistic and correct understanding of the reality of this world than I certainly did. 

Close-knit Community

While some may say we slide closer to cult-like than tight-knit – it is a close community. I wrote about this a while ago, as it is definitely a defining part of our life here. Suffice it to say, this kind of family-like community has now become to the kids a normal upbringing. Which really, is pretty cool.

Travelling

Our kids’ relationship to travelling is kind of strange. One one hand, they can easily go weeks and weeks without ever even getting in a car. They walk around Kibuye, and if you don’t count bike rides or motorbike rides through the hills, they don’t really leave our little village here for a long time. A lot of our supplies and grocery shopping happens when we’re (usually I’m) driving back from a trip for something else. So even though the town (OK, technically the second largest city in the country I think, but it has more of a real ‘small town vibe’ to me) is only 30 minutes away, they are honestly rarely even there. 

But then when they do travel, it’s for things like driving to Rwanda to see a dentist, overlanding to Tanzania to go camping, flying to Kenya for a mission conference and drop off your siblings at school, and of course, flying to Canada for 3 months to see family and friends.  Kind of feast or famine on the whole travelling thing. I guess that’s not so uncommon, but I think our kids just have a much more extreme version of it. 

Not Fitting In

As a kid, I think being in control of this was one of my goals. Yes, often I liked to be the center of attention, but that was under my control. If I wanted to blend in, I could. Here, that is simply not an option. The kids on our team are literally the only white kids in our entire district, which is over a quarter of a million people. And honestly, they are part of a very small number of white kids living in Burundi outside of Bujumbura. So yes, they stick out. While sometimes they find it annoying to be the center of attention, and other times they revel in it, it is undeniable. There is no escaping it. 

Weird Medical Conversations

I didn’t grow up in a family with anyone who was medical. We never really had any friends who were doctors, not even as adults. So having dinner conversations that can shift in an instant to pediatric burn victims, abdominal tumours that grew teeth and hair, the intensity of this malaria season are still strange to me. The hospital, doctors, sicknesses, specific patients and weird and strange surgical cases are all part of our normal household conversations for our kids. 

I suppose these realities that our kids’ experience will be as foreign to their children someday as these ones are to us. Whatever continent or culture they’re raised in will likely seem strange to our kids by that point. I pray that this particular version of the human experience is one that will help our kids have a better sense of this world, what God is doing in it, and how they are a part of that.