Imyaka Itanu | Cinq Ans | Five Years

{NOTE: this is also another post that was supposed to go up before the events of 3 weeks ago kind of side-stepped or lives from normal. I will post an update on what happened, and how we’re doing now, but I think it’s good – even if just for us – to focus on the memories we have made living here for the past five years. }

We have now been in Burundi for five years. We landed late on Friday, March 6, 2015, in what I remember as a hot, sticky evening. We boarded our first plane from a cold and snowy Alberta winter, and walked down the stairs onto the rough and patched tarmac of the Bujumbura airport in the dark about a day later, greeted by a strange combination of tropical humidity, the smell of jet fuel, and nervous anticipation about what would come next.

We have now lived in Burundi longer than either time we lived in France. The kids have all gone to school here more than either France or Canada

When we first arrived, we spent about one year in Bujumbura, and the past four up here in Kibuye.

Living here has definitely changed all of us in significant ways, there’s no way a place like this doesn’t. The life we have is fundamentally different than even what we thought we were getting into when we planned to move to Bujumbura. When we landed there we were debating between the two school options where a lot of the ex-pat kids were. Here there is the missionary kid school outside our kitchen door, and nothing else (and even those schools in Buja have essentially no ex-pats left). There we were choosing a church community, here there is one option. There we were starting to meet people, find the restaurants, and those two places that make decent coffee. Here there is the cantine at the hospital, which makes rice and beans…and meat…if you give them advance warning. When we arrived in Bujumbura we were shocked by how underdeveloped and in some ways almost rural it felt, (animals grazing along the sides of the road, no tall buildings etc) and now we find ourselves amazed at how wealthy and developed, and even western it feels compared to here.

That in itself is strange since we never intended to be here in Kibuye. We didn’t come to work at this hospital, we were not going to be part of this team. Our kids were never going to go to RVA. This was never our plan.

Of course we also never planned on living through a military coup attempt within the first two months of arriving, nor the evacuations, the violence and all that came with that.

We also never imagined becoming part of a community like the one we are now in, where we live more like an extended family than a team. We never anticipated relationships that blur colleague/neighbour/friend in ways almost unknown in the West.

We never imagined the peaceful beauty of this place, where our kids can run and play outside, where there are always kids outside, trees to climb, places to explore.

We never imagined the utter heartbreak we would experience, the horrible things we would hear and see, or the frustrations we would experience.

We also never imagined the joy, beauty, and compassion we have been shown. The kindness we have been offered, the welcome, the sacrificial care.

We never could have imagined the beauty of the lush green hills that surround us, the way the red soil of this place gets not only into your skin but also into your heart.

We never imagined this kind of rural life where we find ourselves visiting mud-brick homes with thatched grass roofs that we can only get to with the Land Cruiser in 4-wheel-drive, and even then, only if it isn’t raining.

We never before had seen this kind of absolute and abject poverty, children starving to death, widows who can’t fend for themselves, and people so desperate for change.

We also could never have imagined that in this short of a time we could see a place grow and develop, watching life-giving change occur so drastically. Watching a hospital over double in size as it moves away from unreliable water and electricity to a modern solar electrical system, reliable clean water, and internet connectivity that works. A hospital that has probably tripled the number of doctors, including some of the only Burundian specialists in several fields.

Of course, seven years ago this month, moving to a place like this was not even on our radar. March 2013 we were living in France where I had about one and a half years left to complete my Ph.D. We were starting to look ahead to moving back to North America, and starting to consider where we might want to live and work.

Six years ago this month we were just returning to France from a trip to Philidelphia where we were accepted to join Serge and its team in Bujumbura, and it started to feel real that this was what we were really going to do.

Yet a mere five years ago, we arrived here.

But of course, it was not a mere five years, as in many ways it feels like so much more.

The grey hair on my head is one indicator that the five years here have not been easy. And of course, they have not always been. But they have been good.

There has been beauty and joy that have created great memories. There have been hardships and difficulties, but they have drawn us closer to God and strengthened us as a family.

I think that looking back over the time that we have had here so far, I can honestly say I would never, ever trade it for anything.