Monday, March 18, 2013

Burundi Part II: Into the North and Onward to Rwanda

By necessity, my time in Burundi was short lived.  The visa was only one month (although I believe it can be extended), and with a long ways to go to get to Cairo in just a few months I didn’t have time to relax too much.  Despite the countries minuscule size, it is a beautiful and fascinating place I could have spent a great deal more time if I weren't operating on a deadline.  I have a bit of regret that all of my time was spent in the capital of Bujumbura and in the towns rather than exploring the rural areas that make up the bulk of the country and where 90% of the population still lives and farms, but at this point compromises have to be made and I need to find a way to accept that fact, haha. I could sit and complain about what I missed out on but what’s the point in that, instead sit back and I’ll tell you about what I did do in Burundi. 

Monday morning I said goodbye to Aude, my excellent CouchSurfing host in Bujumbura and met my next CS hosts: Valentin and Brian.  They live in the northern part of the country in the town of Ngozi where they work at the University of Ngozi along with Andre, the third house mate in the group.  We piled into Brian’s VW Golf and began the drive out of Bujumbura.

On the edge of town we stopped at a gas station for snacks and to put some air in the tires.  Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a curious sight; an intricately and eccentrically painted shack, part way down a dirt road.  As I walked closer to the creation I saw it was a tiny shack, made of cardboard and repairing and selling shoes and sandals.  The creation was made up of flowers on the left, two tiny rooms (you can see the guy crouching inside the right room) and a sort of fenced in ‘garden’ with a built-in lawn chair.  Unfortunately he spoke no English (like the bulk of Burundi) and the rest of the group was ready to go, so I wasn’t able to ask him about this wonderful little thing.

This kind of artistic expression is extremely rare in Africa.  Coming from Seattle I am used to seeing the things like murals, sculptures, unique architecture, well designed gardens and so on with some frequency in both the public and private spheres.  In much of Africa, this is rarely the case.  Things are usually plain, utilitarian and almost impossible to differentiate from each other.  I’ve read many times that art generally thrives when there is abundance.  

For example, the favorable growing conditions and tremendous amount of salmon in the northwest United States allowed for the native people to have time to create beautiful totem poles, masks, baskets and other forms of cultural expression.  In contrast, the native peoples of the plans had to spend much more time working for their food and do not have such a rich material history.  I am certainly not saying that there isn’t artistic expression out here, there absolutely is; especially in the form of song, dance and drumming, but at least to my untrained eye, I see almost zero visual art.  All I see is the same house design again and again, and the same alcohol or cell phone company banners painted on the walls.  It really makes something like this stand out as truly unique.  (being made of cardboard, I had to wonder what happens when it rains…)

Heading up the treacherous road out of Bujumbura.  The steep hills and lush greens up here are really stunning.  When you look a little closer, you can see the patch-work of crops growing on the hillside.  Burundi has one of the highest population densities in the world and as a result the whole country looks like this, almost any land that can be cultivated is but despite this, there is still a large amount of hunger in the country. 

This is how cyclists get up the countless hills of Burundi.  Unsurprisingly even in my short time, I watched many near crashes while doing this.  It’s especially scary looking when there are like 10 bikes holding on the back of the truck, and they can’t all hold onto the truck itself, so instead one guy on a bike is holding on to the truck and another guy is behind him holding on to the bike, creating what must be the world’s most dangerous ‘train’.  Returning to the subject of art for a second, the bike on the left has one of the few ‘common’ forms of art I’ve noticed out here, that of decorating bicycles.  This is usually done with paint, lots of reflectors and mirrors, and is pretty fun to see.  

The drive from Bujumbura to Ngozi took about two and a half hours and behind the usual high walls (recently made higher after someone climbed over and stole one of the guys’ bicycles) and gate was the house, a pretty large 4-bedroom place with a small yard and nice covered area outside.  

The flower of the maracuja plant on the security bars.  I just did a google image search for others and wow, they are really stunning flowers, some of them make this amazing one look outright dull.

After putting my things in the spare bedroom (I even had my own bathroom!) and checking out the house Valentin, Brian and I went to one of the hotels with a nice view of the area for lunch.  It was a fairly big and empty place and as usual there was no actual menu, you just had to ask (in French) what they could make.  I ended up with a very common Burundian meal, a goat brochette and fries.  It was a little hazy due to a lack of recent rain, but looking out over the area I was able to get a better feeling for the landscape and felt glad to be out of the city and into a smaller environment.

Ah yes, the hotels.  So first off, Ngozi is the provincial capital; and second, the president of Burundi was born in a village about 10km away, and has a big house in his home village as well as in Ngozi.  The obvious result of this is that there is more money flowing through Ngozi than there is in similar towns.  Politics as usual really.  

One result of this has been a few successful higher end (by African standards) hotels in the town.  I mentioned how many new hotels were being built in the area and Brian and Valentin began with a familiar discussion.  Here is what happens: someone has an idea and starts a business, a hotel in this case.  Being the first and only business of its kind to fill the demand, it does well.  The result is other people rush to copy the idea, there is a huge boom in hotel construction and by the time they are all finished there is a huge excess of supply but the demand is too low and the customers are often so spread out that after a while no one is doing well and these new hotels go out of business left and right.  

As I said, this is a conversation I’ve had many times, with many people bringing it up, in numerous parts of the continent.  So what is going on here?  I’m no expert (on anything!) but here are my thoughts:  Burundi (in this example of a wider trend) is a developing market and among those at the top is full of the ‘new rich’ with new money.  They have embraced the idea of creating a business as an investment which I think is great and critical for the development of the country, but they have jumped into the field without doing any market research first and without offering anything new and different from the competition.  The result is both predictable and common.  I’ve had this discussion again and again, about everything from these hotels here in Burundi to restaurants in Botswana, to the local markets in Zambia.  To be fair though, I think it is one of the natural growing pains of moving into a new capitalist model and I’m sure it isn’t unique to African nations.  People are simply not yet experienced with the best way to do business in this new market economy and while the problem and solution are obvious as an outsider, I guess it is a lesson that one can only learn from experience and teaching themselves.

Here is some of the new development I was taking about.  This is a government office though instead of a private business, and I’m guessing they don’t look quite like this in provinces where the president isn’t from (but to be fair I haven’t seen to confirm or refute this assumption).  

Along with the three guys I was staying with who are teaching at the local university, the handful of other foreigners in the town are working at the regional hospital.  As I was walking there with Andres he warned me about how it was dirty and disorganized and generally not a very nice place.  I guess it’s because I’ve been much deeper in Africa and for a much longer time than him but my first thought when I came onto the grounds was that I was quite impressed with how nice it was!

I thought it seemed pretty clean and organized; the grounds had grass and flowers (flowers!!), there was lots of signs pointing where to go for what service, the buildings looked pretty new, the paint wasn’t peeling, staff was well dressed and I saw plenty of equipment that I’d never seen in any other hospital/clinic I’ve visited.  Naturally a great deal of the funding, as well as a few of the doctors themselves are coming from Europe, and the above photo of the brand new physical therapy wing is a perfect example of this, but I think it is a step in the right direction.  

Dinner with my hosts, (from left) Valentin, Brian and Andres.  

The next day I set out to do my usual thing when I arrive in a new town or city: throw on my backpack (which always includes a jacket, water, a book, spare camera batteries and toilet paper, among other things) and just wander around.  Being one of the only white people in town, I attract plenty of attention of course, and as soon as I’d walked out of the gate and onto the street, the school boys across the street ran over shouting the usual ‘mzungu, mzungu’ and wanted me to take photos of them as they played with their improvised soccer ball and made faces.

As I continued my walk, I saw a mosque down the hill and started off towards it to have a look.  After sitting and people watching for a few minutes, I took a photo and began walking.  Shortly after taking the photo, an angry local man speaking French came up to me and began causing a scene.  Of course I had no idea what he was saying and while I probably could have simply walked away and left him angry, I wanted to resolve the situation.  I showed him the photo I’d taken (to prove I hadn’t taken photos of him or any other people, as that tends to offend people who don’t approve beforehand) but he wasn’t satisfied.  He kept ranting and raving at me, and eventually a young school boy came past who spoke some English.  Using him as a translator, the boy informed me the man wanted to know why I had taken the photo of the mosque.  My reply was simple, I told him I was just a tourist passing through the area and that I took the photo “Because it is beautiful.”  The schoolboy relayed my message to the angry man and almost instantly the situation calmed down.  I said thank you and went on my way.

Continuing on my walk, I found a guy who spoke English outside of a shop and sat on a bench with him talking for about 10 minutes before heading to the Marche De Ngozi (Ngozi Market).  The market is very new, just completed last year I believe, but so far is mostly empty.  The downstairs has produce sellers filling much of the space, but the enclosed shop spaces downstairs were nearly empty and the upstairs level was totally empty as far as I could see.  I imagine this is because the ‘old’ market is just next to it, a collection of the type of wood and tin shacks that make up most markets across Africa, where there is still enough space and rent is cheaper, but at least there is the option to upgrade to better facilities when the need arises.

Before I went in I asked the guy on the bench how much I should pay for eggs and was told 250-300 franc each, so when I went to buy eggs I was going for the 250 range.  I tried to ask the price, and when it wasn’t working out verbally or with signs I pulled out my cellphone and typed in 250 on the screen.  Showing numbers in a situation like this is just one of the many reasons to have a phone on you when traveling.  She indicated ‘no, no’ and put in 220.  Sure, it was only a savings of about two cents an egg, but it is probably the first time someone at a market has given me a lower price than I’d asked about.  I appreciated her honesty, bought 10 and went deeper into the market.

I’d planned to meet the guys and check out the school, and when I asked someone on the street where the school was he lead the way.  

The entrance to the University of Ngozi.  I met Valentin and Brian in their office at the university and received the short tour.  

The school itself is a collection of brick buildings and court yards, and offers degrees in agricultural science, computer science, foreign language (Andres is a Spanish teacher for example), business and a few other things.  It gets a great deal of funding from French organizations, such as its brand new computer lab, and from USAID (“From The American People”), such as the new agricultural science wing currently under construction.  Of course there is still a great deal of need though, and the books in this photo make up almost the entire library of the university.

After eating dinner at the house, the guys and I walked into the Muslim neighbourhood to watch a soccer match at a local shop where they were friends with the owner.  The shop owner charged the locals a few francs to watch, but it was on the house for us.  I’ve written about this before, but while some people will try to take advantage of you as a white foreigner, usually in the form of overcharging for goods and services, other times it gets you special treatment without even asking, such as a good seat on the bus, or in this case ensuring we had a seat on the counter where we could see the TV and letting us in for free.  

Andres asked me who I was rooting for, and I said I honestly I didn’t care, I’m not really interested in professional sports, but if I had to pick I’d root for Real Madrid because I liked the color of their uniform better than the other team (I forget who it was) who had a white jersey.  This brought up an interesting comment from Andres who said one of his local friends had told him the same thing happens with the locals here.  Because it can be difficult to keep a white shirt clean in Africa, many locals prefer Real Madrid jerseys, and as a result support for the team becomes greater than it is for the team with white jerseys.  

The next afternoon I met the guys at school to get lunch together at a local place but first they had to have a key copied.  We went to the ‘key and lock’ part of one of the streets where a handful of guys were sitting surrounded in disassembled locks and loose keys.  Brian handed the guy the key to be copied, he studied it quickly but carefully, found a similar key in his pile of stuff and grabbed a file.  By simply ‘eyeballing’ it and using a hand file, in a few minutes he created a working key copy.  Very cool.

I’d noticed the sign for a sauna with surprise when I first arrived in Ngozi and was pleased to find Valentin was a weekly visitor and joined him.  After paying a little more than a dollar and changing into a simple cloth wrap, we entered the sauna.  It was actually a tiled steam room with two levels of benches, hot, dark and so steam-filled you can hardly see a meter in front of you.  The steam also blew into the room through a pile of eucalyptus leaves, giving off a pleasant smell.  There were a number of other people, local men who tended to be overweight and much to my surprise spoke English to each other rather than French.  We took three rounds of going in and coming out to drink cold water before eventually taking a cold shower and getting dressed again.  It was certainly unexpected to find something like this here in Burundi, but it was very enjoyable.

An excellent lunch at the house the next day.  The two new people are Marta and Guy, two great people who I’d met and talked with a bit at a party back in Bujumbura.  Marta had been involved in a very serious car crash while in a taxi a few months back and was up here in Ngozi to visit the hospital for some physical therapy.  

As I mentioned earlier, because the president was born in a village about 10km outside of Ngozi, he did a little of what we call in American politics “bringing home the bacon.”  Or more accurately, a lot of bringing home the bacon (though I question if it’s actually providing much in terms of jobs and improving the life of the community).  

In this case, what the leader of one of the world’s poorest countries decided to do was build himself a huge new presidential palace and right across from his palace, an international standard, 25,000 seat stadium.  Remember, this is in a tiny little village, 10km down a dirt road and nearly 30 minutes outside of Ngozi, which is only the provincial capital, and almost two and a half hours from Bujumbura, the national capital and only real city in the country.  

We wanted to see this place, and hopped on motos and set off.

Just before arriving at the palace and stadium I noticed a big, brand new “tourist center.”  I haven’t done any research on this, but I can only assume this was done to try and defuse criticism about putting a huge, expensive stadium in the presidents’ home village, in the middle of nowhere, by claiming he is building up the nation’s tourist infrastructure and the stadium here was part of that.  The fact is though that Ngozi and this town well outside of Ngozi remains a small place in the middle of nowhere that almost no tourist will ever go.  I was just reading a book called “Why Africa is Poor’ and the main argument given by the author was ‘it is because the leaders make poor choices.’  I’m going to guess this is probably one of those poor choices.

Anyways, we showed up hoping to get into the stadium and have a look.  We spent 20 minutes waiting for the right people to talk to and then trying to persuade them to let us inside to see it.  We even pointed out the tourist center and how if they want to attract tourists to the area they need to start by actually letting tourists in.  They were not swayed by this logic and told us we were not able to enter ‘on orders of the president.’  The stadium is behind the fence to the right, the presidents palace is behind the wall to the left.  This is the best photo I managed to get because I had to sneak it, they didn’t seem too pleased to have us around.  You would think the road between Ngozi and the stadium would be paved to ease the task of actually getting there but nope, this section between the two places was the only pavement until you get back to Ngozi.  

A church on the way back to Ngozi.  That evening Guy and I stopped at the officers’ mess, a bar for the army and filled with soldiers and paintings on the wall of various firearms and military insignia, met up with a large group for dinner and called it a day.

One of Marta and Guy’s friends was flying home to Switzerland a few days later and they were returning to the south of the country in order to hang out on the shore of Lake Tanganyika and have a little going away party for him.  I’d planned on heading straight into Rwanda after one more town in the north rather than heading south again, but they invited me to tag along and it sounded like fun so I said yes.  

Brian and Valentin usually go into Bujumbura for the weekend, so we got a ride south with them again and got off at the turn to Muramvya, which is one of the highest parts of the country and just before you start heading down the crazy road into Bujumbura.  As we stopped we got some food, and I have to say it was one of the tastiest local meals I’ve had.  I forgot the name of the items (I really should write these things down…) but it was basically a type of cold ugalli, cooked banana and perfectly seasoned lamb as opposed to the usual goat meat.  Washed down with a Bock and it was a first class meal.  

Marta and Guys’ house, where they have lived for something like three years.  They had a nice spare bedroom for me to crash in and we spent the remaining hours of daylight enjoying their excellent view of the hills and valley below.

The next morning we took a taxi into Bujumbura.  I’d been getting familiar with this road after having traveled it a few times by now and one of my favorite things about it (other than the overall insanity of the whole thing) has to be the cyclists.  These guys are riding this incredibly steep and windy road, filled with cars and trucks driving like absolute maniacs.  This guy only has a bunch of sugar cane, but I’ve seen people on bikes with entire dressers, mattresses, and what must be 150 pounds of bananas, tearing down this road on these very low quality bikes that as far as I can tell seldom have working brakes.  Honestly, you could put this in the X-Games and it wouldn't be out of place at all, in fact it would be one of the most dangerous of any of the sports, and these guys do it as part of their daily life!

After switching to a different taxi, making a stop in Bujumbura and catching another minibus, we arrived at Tanganyika Blue Bay Resort, which is near Rumonge.  The day was spent relaxing, swimming and having a few beers, and I have to say it was nice to be back on the lake again, even for a short time.

The resort is of course an expensive place to sleep, so as the sun was going down we caught a minibus to a nearby town where we got rooms at a local hotel and had a feast of delicious local fish, straight from the lake.

I’d been told about the fish market the night before, so I set an alarm and woke up early to walk down to the shore and have a look for myself.

Other than the usual scene of fisherman loading and unloading boats, the thing I most enjoyed seeing on the trash-strewn beach was boat building.  I’ve spent a lot of time on the lake by now, and have literally travelled the entire length of it, all 650km, but this was the first time I’d actually seen the larger of the wooden boats being built.  

The fish market. 

Everyone packed up their things and we headed back to Blue Bay Resort again.  This is a fairly fancy place, we are probably the only ones who get to and from via minibus and hitchhiking, haha.  It was another afternoon of relaxing and swimming, and being a bit of a splurge weekend for me, I had an excellent pizza.

The crew.

We hitched a ride back to Bujumbura as the sun was going down and when I arrived I met up with Valentin at one of his friend’s house to spend the night.  It was an unexpected stay in the city, but as I was heading there I texted both him and Anna (who I’d met earlier through CouchSurfing).  They both offered me a free place to crash for the night, which was awesome

This looks like a comfortable place to sit, yah?  Brian picked up Valentin and I and we drove back to Ngozi, hung out for a while and then I took off to find a way to get to my next destination, Kirundu.

A while back in Bujumbura I met Charlotte when I was out to dinner.  We got to talking and she invited me to stay with her up in Kirundu.  She was very friendly, I’d been told it was a nice area and it was right on my way into Rwanda, so it worked out very well.  I climbed into a taxi, piled my bags on my lap and had an uncomfortable ride.

Green, green, green!  It really is fertile land up here

My arrival in Kirundu.

I met Charlotte (right) and her housemate Anne Sophie at a hotel restaurant.  After a nice evening of getting to know each other, and trading stories, we walked the short distance to their huge and fancy house that lacks reliable electricity, and called it a night.

If either of you are reading this, please email me (my details are on the ‘about’ page), I lost your email address Charlotte!

Told you it was a fancy house!  However because apparently the town doesn’t have a working power grid, the house gets electricity through running a generator a few hours a day, which charges a few batteries in the home that pass through an inverter to power the lights and fridge.  Both Charlotte and Ann Sophie were away at work and I was hoping to get a lot of reading and writing done, so I spent the bulk of the day at my computer or with a book in my hand.  There was a nice break when they returned for a delicious lunch prepared by their cook and cleaning woman, but it was a low key day all around, I’m not sure I even left the house, haha.  

Yep, laundry day, big time excitement, I know.  

Since I didn’t get out to explore Kirundu the day before, I set out for a walk.  My original goal was to see the nearby lake, but due to a combination of bad directions, miscommunication and what looked like an imminent rain storm (but turned out to be nothing), I didn’t make it.  But you know what’s awesome?  Buying a delicious avocado at the market for 6 cents, that’s what’s awesome (and another time I used my phone to ‘discuss’ numbers/prices with the venders).

Having some time to kill, I headed to a local bar to get myself a Primus beer, read my book and do some people watching.  As usual this resulted in many of the people watching me, staring and pointing and saying mzungu,  mzungu… every day is the same, haha. 

I’m always on the lookout for Seattle related clothes and have seen and photographed quite a few so far.  When I was walking to the lake I got some bad directions from a guy wearing a Seattle SuperSonics hat, and while I was at the bar I looked out the… bars… and saw a guy with a Seattle Mariners tshirt!  Two Seattle sports teams in one day is a new record.  

The road back to Charlotte’s house takes you along a row of extremely large homes currently under construction.  Most of the country may be poor, but it seems the people at the top are doing just fine.

Breakfast the next morning, not bad for about 50 cents eh?

One of the big reasons I came to Kirundo in the first place was to visit the lake nearby.  Unfortunately I was running out of time and had a minibus ticket to cross into Kigali, Rwanda that afternoon.  If I wanted to see this lake, I’d have to get moving and fast.  

I left town, this time on the correct dirt road and between checking the time and checking out the scenery I set off to the lake.

As I tried to ask for directions to the lake (turns out they are pretty much ‘just walk all the way down the road and turn right at the correct path down’) and wound up with a drunken local guide who didn’t speak any English.  I did my best to indicate that I was in a hurry and could only see the lake and turn back but it wasn’t an easy message to get across.  Eventually I began to get some nice views of the lake over the fields and began thinking about skipping my bus and staying another day or two.

After an hour of rather fast walking from town I reached the shore.  My guide went to a mud hut and grabbed a canoe paddle, as he thought I wanted to be paddled around the lake, and I did want to do that, it’s supposed to be nice and I am told there is excellent bird life around the lake, but I decided to stick with my original plan and bus ticket I’d already bought.  I looked around for a few minutes and then thought I might have to start running back in order to catch my bus.

Luckily I eventually managed to communicate to my guide I was looking for a taxi-velo, (bicycle taxi) and found one among a group of idle youth.  Sure we had to walk up every hill, but it cost less than a dollar and saved me a huge amount of time.  But ugh, I hate being in a hurry.  It’s one of the things I try to avoid most and a slower paced life is a big part of my travel lifestyle, but sometimes it happens.  I’m worried it’s going to be happening more often now that I have so far to go by June…

This is where I picked up my guide.  The banana leaf on the building means that it sells the fermented banana ‘beer’ and when I’d first showed up there at about 9:40am, everyone standing around was already drinking and asking me money to buy more.  

I walked quickly back to Charlottes place, grabbed my bags, said goodbye and thanks for being an excellent host, and walked back into town to catch my 11:30am.

The ride was uneventful, the road was surprisingly good (probably the best I’ve seen in Burundi actually) and in less than 45 minutes we reached the Rwanda border.  Everything I’d read said that US citizens get into Rwanda for free but it seems like you can never be sure of anything until you get there and hear it for yourself.  Because I’d had problems getting cash in Burundi and had to trade in the last of my dollars for francs to get by, I literally had $5 US on me and $5 worth of Burundian francs, that’s it.  If there was in fact a charge for the visa, I’d have to bus it all the way back to Bujumbura to get money, which would take me another two days and a lot of hassle.  This was the first time I’d ever run into money problems like this and felt a bit stupid, but it wasn’t really my fault.  Luckily it was in fact true, and after filling out the small entry card got my 30-day Rwanda visa for no charge.  So far, so good.  

The other thing I was worried about was their plastic bag ban.  Rwanda has banned plastic grocery bags nationwide as they are a  major source of litter, and Kigali has been awarded ‘The Cleanest City in Africa’ title by the UN or something (in my experience, this is true).  I’d been told they actually search your belongings looking for plastic bags and give you a fine for having them, which seemed absurd to me.  I actually use them for organizing some things (and don’t just throw them on the ground!), and didn’t want to have to deal with that kind of nonsense.  Well I was sitting in the minibus waiting to actually cross the border; someone came up to me and said “They need to look through your bags.”  I actually had a brief moment of panic in my head thinking “Shit, they are going to find my plastic bags!”  They had me take a few items out of my bags, but it was a joke of a search as usual, and while they even saw one or two of my plastic bags (gasp!) they didn’t say anything about it.  Whew, bullet dodged! Haha…

It was pretty interesting crossing over the imaginary line into Rwanda (after all, there is no such thing as a national boundary; it’s just something humans dreamed up and scribbled onto a piece of paper).  Right away you saw how much more developed it was.  As I said, the road from Kirundo to the border was remarkably good, and the good road continued all the way into Kigali, but on the Rwanda side, you start to see much higher quality building, more cars, bigger businesses, and things like street lights.  It’s nowhere as near as extreme as some other boundaries I’ve crossed (South Africa-Mozambique comes to mind), but the difference is very clear.  

As we entered the outskirts of Kigali I was really beginning to be blown away.  Like, ‘Holy shit this place is big, and so modern!’ blown away.  At this point I hadn’t been in a big city since Lusaka, Zambia nearly three months back and it was a big shock to me.  

Yah, I even took a picture of the grocery store.  A real grocery store!  And it’s open 24 hours!  I don’t think I’ve seen a 24 hour shop since South Africa.  

The Union Trade Center (where the pretty expensive Nakumatt grocery store above is located) is a modern, western shopping center in almost every sense of the word.  Other than the metal detectors and armed guards at the door, it could be in Europe or America.  One benefit of this is the Bourbon Coffee shop that has free wifi!  I got a grande latté, and joined the mass of expats hunched over their laptops.  It’s funny, I never used to drink coffee even though I come from Seattle.  Along with texting, coffee drinking is something I’ve done more out here in Africa than the entire rest of my life combined!  (though I was still only buying it to use the wifi)

Back at the bus station when I’d first arrived, I met a German guy named David who told me about St Pauls, a Catholic mission where you can get a room for 8000 francs, about $12.50. While even that is more than I wanted to pay, Kigali is a pretty expensive city and I’m told this is as cheap as it gets.  Anyways, the room was nice enough, the shared bathrooms had hot water and the location, just below the downtown, was about as good as it gets.  

That evening I spent a few minutes staring out over the illuminated landscape, still trying to adjust to my new urban surroundings.  While my views used to be filled with the kerosene lanterns of fishing boats bobbing along Lake Tanganyika, it was now filled with porch lights, stop lights, headlights and the rest of the things that come with a modern city.  I can’t say it was the city that caused it, but I had a lot of trouble falling asleep that night.  

Whew, so that wraps up my time in Burundi.  It’s a country that if I’m honest I’m not sure I’d ever even heard of before, but one that I really enjoyed and become curious about.  As I said at the beginning of this post, I wish I had more time to explore, especially rural Burundi, but that’s just how it is sometimes.  It is a fascinating place that will no doubt change a great deal in the coming years so I’m happy I was able to catch this small glimpse of it over the past few weeks.

As I write this I’ve been in Rwanda for 10 days and am having a great time.  I’ve been to both a wonderful local art studio and a tragic place where 250,000 victims of the 1994 genocide are buried; I’ve stayed with a CouchSurfing host from Russia and spent Sunday morning in church dancing with the villagers; I can look out the window of my current hotel and see Rwandan townspeople growing their own food hoping to have enough to eat and look across the water to the Congo side and the huge mansions built on conflict and tremendous mineral wealth.  Yes, I’d say Rwanda is an interesting place, so check back in a week or so and see what happens!