Friday, March 8, 2013

Tanzania to Burundi: Classrooms, Cargo boats and Crocodiles Oh My

I’ve been away from Lake Tanganyika for about two weeks now and it still feels strange to no longer have this amazing body of as a part of my African Adventure.  From the time I first arrived at the lake in Mpulungu, Zambia more than two months ago on my single speed bicycle after riding through the country it has rarely been out of my sight and never out of my mind.  But all things come to an end, and by now I have in fact reached the very end of the world’s longest lake, in Bujumbura, Burundi.  It is time to shift gears again but this is something I’ve been doing the whole time out here, so I can and will do it again.  In the 14 months I have been in Africa now I’ve yet to have two months that are alike, and it’s made for a hell of an interesting adventure.

With that said, the end is near.  Ok, so I don’t actually return home to Seattle until July 3rd, but that is only four months away!  I am flying to Germany from Cairo to visit Stefan on the 22nd of June. So that gives me less than four months left in Africa.  Right now I am in Burundi.  I still want to see Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Sudan on my way to Egypt.  That’s six countries in less than four months.  I spent three whole months in South Africa, another three in Botswana, yet another three in Zambia, and it still wasn’t enough time in those countries!  I think I said it in my last post, but I could have easily turned this Cape-to-Cairo journey into a three year trip and still missed out on countless things… It really feels like I’m living under a major time crunch already and it’s a little tough for me.  I was talking about shifting gears, and I think this will be my most difficult shift yet, one I wish I didn’t have to make, but certainly one I can manage.  It is possible I won’t be able to go to either of the Sudan’s due to visa issues and that in a way makes my life easier, but would also be a disappointment because they are countries I am extremely curious about… argh!!!!!!  Then again, when this is the biggest problem in my life right now, life must be pretty good, so I guess I can’t complain.  Just focus, pick up the pace and move on. 

(and I don't know why blogger is changing text sizes in my posts, I can't seem to fix it....)

When I first contacted Insun through CouchSurfing asking to stay with him in Kigoma, Tanzania he asked me if I could give a short presentation at the school where he works.  It wouldn’t be my first time doing such a thing (I gave a presentation to a class at the American International School in Lusaka, Zambia a while back), and obviously I am happy to share my experiences, so I said yes. 

When the day came, we woke up, ate breakfast and were out the door before the sun had come up.  We walked into town, hopped on a mini bus to the neighbouring town of Ujiji and after a 15 minute ride on a good road lined with houses, shops and offices (I was surprised how big and populated the Kigoma/Ujiji area is) we arrived at the end of the line where we walked another 15 or 20 minutes on a dirt road.  Initially the road was lined on both sides by modest homes, a mosque, an Islamic school and a few shops, but eventually it gave way to agricultural land filled with corn, tomatoes, peppers, cassava and the other staple crops of the area. 

Eventually we arrived at Kichangachui Secondary School, a spread out collection of long classroom buildings arranged around a sand, grass and tree-filled courtyard area and with a beautiful view of the surrounding hills.  After talking to the very young looking headmaster and going through the usual introductions, we went to Insun’s classroom to setup. 

While in the headmasters office, a dark room filled with rusty filing cabinets, well-worn notebooks and piles of paperwork, I noticed the school register, a notebook filled with names and the number 10,000 next to a handful of them.  It was clear this was a list of students and who had paid their school fees, and for some reason I got the feeling that keeping this list of which students had paid up and which hadn’t was the headmasters primary task.  I asked Insun about this as we were returning home and was told some interesting facts:  The school has around 600 registered students, kids from the area who are able to attend the school.  About half actually pay to attend class, and of that number fewer still actually show up to school on a given day.  So what was the number 10,000?  That is the price of one semester of school, 10,000 shillings, less than $7.  For many, this $14 a year for school is simply too expensive, for others, they simply don’t see the value in school and keeping their children in school instead of working the fields even if they are able to pay it.  It is an in your face example of the poverty faced by many in this part of the world and the priorities those kind of conditions create.  And while it seems easy as a westerner to say “Hey, $14 for a year of school is only the cost of a new album, a dinner out or a movie and soda, we could easily set up an NGO to pay students school fees,” if my time out here has taught me anything, it is that it’s just not that simple, and that may not even be a good idea.  It sounds crazy but it’s true. 

I’d made a sort of ‘best off’ collection of photos from my entire time traveling Africa up to that point, so after firing up a very loud generator to power the computer and projector (the headmaster said the school would be getting electricity soon, the computer was mine and the projector was Insun’s) I began telling stories about my travels and sharing with these students a glimpse of what Africa outside of their town looks like.

At this age the students are supposed to be able to speak and understand English, but the truth is few are at that stage.  I did my best to talk slowly and using simple English, but it was clear the bulk of what said wasn’t understood.  I’d sort of expected this and let the images speak for themselves as much as possible, trying not to take it personally when everyone was talking and laughing with each other while I was trying to say something.  I’m not sure why, but out of all the photos that I showed, the ones that got the biggest reaction were always the photos of the food. 

After class was up a few students came up to me and shook my hand and say thank you, I had tea and chapatti in the staff room and Insun and I walked back to the road towards home.

Because I wanted to figure out a way to get to Burundi by boat so as to travel the full length of Lake Tanganyika on the water itself, I had to find a boat going from Kigoma into Burundi.  My insistence on taking a boat confused many people, who simply didn’t understand why anyone would want to do such a thing.  They kept telling me I should take a bus, but I had dismissed this option long ago.  In search of a boat Insun and I went to the ‘local port’, which is technically in the town of Kibirizi , but really it is just an extension of Kigoma and located on the opposite side of the bay a few minutes away.  As near as I can tell if your boat is metal or fiberglass, you can dock at the proper port, if your boat is made of wood, you go here to Kibirizi.  We walked the beach for a little while asking about boats to Bujumbura and while mostly met with blank looks eventually found one guy, David, who said he could help.  We exchanged numbers, he gave me one of the classic self-hatred “Africa is a lost cause, black people are useless” talk I’ve heard from a surprisingly large number of black Africans, and said he would get back to me with some answers about the boat.  I was a little skeptical this was actually going to work out, but didn’t have much choice so decided to just hope for the best.

That evening Insun and I went to one of his favorite places, Coast View Resort, a two minute walk from his house.  We ordered dinner and began chatting with a young Canadian couple who had also showed up.  We watched the sunset, the lightening over Congo and as darkness settled in the lanterns of the fisherman filled the lake with countless points with a soft paraffin glow.  An hour and a half after ordering, they were even kind enough to bring me my food!  (yah, service isn’t very good…)

The next morning was a lazy one, and I was scheduled to meet David to discuss the boat to Burundi.  I eventually met him around 2:30pm at a local bar and he was very drunk, but also very friendly and generous for the moment.  He promptly began buying me beers and telling me about all his “white friends,” especially some Australian guy he had met.

It’s really weird.  I mentioned it above, how he had a very negative view of Africa and blacks, but I guess I will expand on the thought a bit.  There really does seem to be a belief of white/western superiority among a rather large group of black Africans.  I remember a black teacher in Botswana flat out telling me white people are smarter and better than black people and I have come across this attitude to different degrees and in different forms countless times since.  It really drives me crazy.  Coming back to David, it was like he wanted to prove to me that he was somehow “worthy” of having white friends and that blacks were not good enough for him.  While I believe his views on blacks and whites, although completely wrong, are his honest beliefs, I was immediately suspicious of his motives.  This was later confirmed when he asked me to buy him a computer…

Just to expand on the scene a bit, Drunk David asked me something I didn’t really understand.  I tried to figure out what he meant but his English isn’t perfect and his accent was a bit strong.  Failing to decipher what he was saying, I just said ‘yes, sure’ and followed him.  It turned out what he was asking was if I had to pee, and when we got to the toilet and I realized what he’d been asking I said I didn’t actually have to go.  Now this upset Drunk David quite a bit, and he began ranting about how I had lied to him and he could no longer trust me.  Yah.  Anyways, after about two minutes this passed, and he invited me to his home and said his wife (married 6 months ago) would cook me food!  I wasn’t about to get in a car with him driving, but luckily he flagged down two motorcycle taxies, paid my fare and we rode the 15 minutes to his house.  It was fun, the food was nice (ugalli and fish, as always) and I am glad I went, but I also know the only real point of it was probably that David wanted to show off his ‘white friend’ to his family and his village.  Although to be fair, I guess all I was trying to do was find a boat to Burundi, so maybe we were using each other…

We returned to the port, he talked to a few people, told me what he had figured out and what the schedules were looking like, and we parted ways. 

One of Insun’s favourite activities on the weekend is to visit Jakobsen Beach, a sort of lodge/backpackers/weekend chillout spot just outside of Kigoma.  We walked down the hill to the main road, and Insun began trying to flag down a ride. 

It really made me smile to see him doing it, because he was so comfortable with it.  He and I had this conversation a number of times, about how strict and rigid and conformist Korean culture can be, how non-adventurous, and certainly how hesitant it is about living in Africa, so to see him simply sticking out his thumb in an African town to catch a ride was great.  We all have our own moments like this.  I’ve grown in more ways and had more new experiences and become comfortable with more unusual situations than I can count, but it is always great to see how travel changes another person as well.  If you have an open mind, it can take you from living within the rules and mind-set of your original culture to expanding it beyond what you ever thought was possible.  It doesn’t simply let you, it forces you to question and challenge your own culture and your own assumptions about the world. 

The beach was nice, and as I was sitting down to relax and read my book, I noticed a familiar logo.  A guy with a Seattle Mariners baseball hat walked past me and naturally I had to go up and ask him about it.  It turned out his sister lives in Seattle and works at Seattle Prep school, she had taken it from the lost and found (after an appropriate length of time I’m sure!), and for some reason given it to him.  So that explained that.  He went on to tell me he has been living in Tanzania for something like 30 years and was here doing missionary work, helping to translate the bible into some obscure local language, to ensure these poor little Africans had the great white Jesus in their lives…. I think my feelings on the subject are obvious enough, but yah, any time I meet someone new and they tell me they are a missionary I immediately feel disappointed and annoyed.  Maybe I have an unfair bias against them, and honestly I probably do, but while I’m sure some of them are doing beneficial development and educational work, as far as I am concerned being a missionary is just a form of cultural imperialism, destroying the diversity of cultural and spiritual beliefs in the world and creating a bland Eurocentric monoculture.  It is simply the idea that what these people believe about the world is all wrong, and that these (white) missionaries need to come in and tell these (black) people what they should actually think and believe. 

Anyways, the beach was nice…

Sunday morning it was time to go.  Thanks to David, I had been connected with a boat going into Burundi, and although it wasn’t going all the way to Bujumbura like I’d hoped, it would take me most of the way and was a sure thing.  I said goodbye to Insun, thanked him for being such a great host during my week long stay, told him to meet me in Seattle some day and hopped on a moto-taxi to the port.

Mmm, trash. (and the goats and chickens that feed on it…)

I met David, we checked out the boat and then we sat down to a lunch of goat and ugalli in a smoke filled shack, which was delicious and cost less than $1.

Much to my surprise the boat actually left at the promised departure time of 2pm.  I thanked David for his help finding me a boat going to Burundi, and with a lot of strange looks from other locals wondering what this muzungu (white man) was doing on a boat like this, the motor was fired up, a tiny 75 horsepower outboard, and we set off northward. 

The scenery was beautiful as expected, but rather different from the southern end of the lake.  There were the same types of small fishing villages and the foliage seemed very similar, but the hills that ran up against the lake seem to be larger and it lacks the boulders and cliffs I saw in the south. 

Just like the MV Liemba, this boat, the MV Sina Mikosa, made many stops in villages along the way to pick up people and cargo as it moved up the lake.  At each village the boat accumulated more people and more bags of fish.  Unsurprisingly, I was the only foreigner around and my presence caused quite a stir, with children leading the charge as usual.  They would gather into groups, climbing and jumping off the boats, making poses and asking for me to take their picture while constantly shouting “Muzungu! Muzungu!” After half an hour of this game I got tired of it, and hid in the bottom of the boat where they couldn’t see me. 

At one point we changed to a different boat, and the men spent about an hour moving cargo from one boat into the other, one bag at a time.  During this process, I noticed many people seemed to have no reservations about tearing small holes in other people’s bags of dried fish and taking handfuls to eat. 

As the sun was starting to go down we were going back and forth between villages for the last of the cargo we would be loaded with.  It was a model of inefficacy, going north, then south, then north, then south, then north again.  At one point the boat anchored itself about 50 meters away from the actual pile of goods to be loaded, greatly upsetting the men on shore who would have to carry it the extra distance, despite the fact there was an open space directly at the shore next to the cargo.  Maybe there was a reason behind this ‘system’ but I sure couldn’t figure it out.

The boat was eventually fully loaded, and I mean fully loaded.  There were some bags of rice, peanuts, woven baskets, a few pieces of furniture and plastic ware, but it was mostly bags of dried fish.  The boat was piled so high that you could easily fall and roll off ‘fish mountain’ into the lake if you were not paying attention.  All this on a 75 horse outboard… I made myself a somewhat comfortable little nest to sit in at the front of the boat and after the anchor was pulled up the boat set off again.

By 8pm we were motoring in total darkness and with no moon out, the sky was again filled with stars while the lake filled with the lanterns of fisherman.  It was beautiful. 

Shortly after 11pm we reached the border between Tanzania and Burundi and the boat went to shore.  All the passengers disembarked and most sat down next to a grass hut where someone was cooking food to sell (I’d planned ahead and brought my own).  I was then led to a dark building that was apparently immigration.  I explained to them I was on my way to Bujumbura and was then told I shouldn’t take the boat the rest of the way, it was dangerous.  Instead, I should sleep in the town (he offered to let me sleep in the immigration station) and take a bus in the morning.  I spent the next 20 minutes trying to find out why it was ‘dangerous,’ why I shouldn’t continue on the boat with everyone else, talking to one guy, waiting for another, and so on.  Again, no one understood why in the world I would want to take the boat.  Oh well.  Eventually one of the guys said I could continue (what changed his mind I have no idea), gave me my Tanzania exit stamp and I returned to the boat to settle down for the night.

Bags of dried fish would be my bed tonight; crammed onto ‘fish mountain’ with other people all around me and no room to stretch out.  I have to say, this probably tops my list of interesting places to sleep in Africa!  I tried to catch a few hours of sleep and hoped it wouldn’t start raining.

Due to rather poor sleep (but no rain), I woke early and watched the sun rise over what was now the hills and shore of Burundi.  The lake was still full of the night fisherman, but by now they were packing their boats up and heading into shore to sell their catch.

Around 9am we arrived in the town of Rumonge and all passengers climbed off into a walled-in area of idle men trying to make a few francs loading boats, soldiers with AK47s and curious children who quickly surrounded me.  I kept my camera hidden.

I was still trying to take a boat to Bujumbura at this point, and those last 80km or whatever would complete the journey, but after being told a few more times there was no boat to Buja (short for Bujumbura, I’ll probably use it again…) I gave up and resigned myself to the bus. 

I was lead to the immigration office and was met by the most incompetent immigration officers I’ve encountered so far.  It was like they had never done this job before.  I handed them my passport, and after looking at it for a few minutes asked me what country I come from.  I had to walk around the desk and show them ‘United States of America’ was printed in big letters right on the cover.  Then they told me I needed to pay.  I said no, I didn’t, I already paid in Kigoma.  Once again I had to take my passport back and show them the Burundi visa I’d already paid for.  Then came the part where they tried to input my information into the computer.  This was even more difficult than figuring out what country I was from, and after they sat flipping through the pages and eventually trying to input the information from a long-expired Indian visa into their computer, I once again had to go behind the desk and show them how to do their jobs.  Eventually the matter was settled without me having to pay any extra money (though to their credit I don’t think they were ever looking for a bribe, I think they were just clueless), I got my Burundi entrance stamp in my passport, and set off for a bus into Bujumbura.

With my newly acquired Burundian Francs (traded at the port) I paid for the mini-bus and was treated to the front seat.  It’s strange really, being white you often pay a little more for things, say, an extra 60c for the bus ride, but at the same time you are also frequently treated better.  I don’t really understand the thinking behind it, but then again I’ll take the front seat any day over the overcrowded back any day, so I’m not going to complain. 

Right away I began noticing differences between Tanzania and Burundi.  The first and most obvious of course is that this is a French speaking country, my first.  I know zero French, and I was feeling pretty damn useless trying to communicate with people.  Other changes are more subtle.  Burundi is an extremely small country with a population of nearly 9 million people as a result it has a very high population density and this shapes the way many things are done.  One example is what you can see in the photo above, multi-level agriculture.  Due to such limited space for agriculture, the people were actually growing cassava, coffee and other crops under the palm trees which are used for producing palm oil.  It doesn’t sound like a revolution, but it is just about the first time in Africa I’ve seen it done. 

I arrived in the capital city of Bujumbura after what was a nearly two hour bus ride having no idea what to expect.  Everything I’d read about the country seemed to focus on its long history of war, two genocides and its status as one of the five poorest countries on earth (although to be fair I did almost no research other than reading a few pages in other peoples guidebooks).  From all this dark news I guess I was sort of expecting dirt streets filled with beggars, crumbling buildings and donkey carts lazily rolling down trash strewn roads.  After all, I’ve seen all these things again and again in other countries; if Burundi is so poor shouldn’t it be even worse than that? 

Instead, I was met with was, as far as I am concerned, a fairly modern looking and westernized city, cleaner than many/most in Africa, with a few tree and grass filled parks and new construction taking place along every street.  I was surprised. 

In trying to understand this I have come up with a few things.  First and most important is that without a doubt Burundi has a small formal/international economy and corruption is a major problem.  Decades of war and instability have kept industry from growing because they simply couldn’t operate and grow effectively under such conditions.  This combined with being landlocked and filled with steep hills make transportation of goods difficult.  Next, due to fairly poor education, few people have been able to integrate with the modern world economy.  When you look at all these factors, the small GDP makes sense and compared to the large population gives a number that puts the GDP per capita in the bottom rankings on the world.  Yet I’ve been countless places that are poorer than anything I’ve seen in Burundi, even outside of the capital.  There were plenty of fishing villages I passed while paddling Lake Tanganyika that were nothing but mud and grass huts; there are no shops, no roads, no bicycles, no phones and as far as I could tell many of these people are living lives almost absent of money in any way. 

Without a doubt the people in Burundi are poor, I’m not disputing that fact, and due in large part to the limited agricultural land in such a densely populated country full of subsistence farmers, people certainly face food security issues (development-speak for ‘failing crops’ and ‘going hungry’).  I am just saying that the numbers on a piece of paper and a countries ranking on a list don’t tell the whole story, the reality is far more complex and difficult to generalize on a national scale. 

From Tanzania I’d arranged to stay with another CouchSurfing host, Aude, so I knew I had a comfortable place to stay in Bujumbura when I arrived.  She picked me up in the center of town and we drove to the neighbourhood where she lives, a well off area filled with expats, high walls and security guards.

Aude (left) and Fabien, one of her two housemates.  They, like many of the foreigners in Burundi, are from Belgium, the colonial power that controlled Burundi before independence in 1962.  I’ve been trying and failing to remember meeting any other Belgians in my travels, but here in Bjua every foreigner seems to be either Belgian or French.  (Sorry it’s not a very good photo you two, it’s the only one I got!)

The next morning I set out to do what I always to in new cities: throw on my backpack and wander around aimlessly.  The downtown area isn’t too large, but the surrounding neighborhoods are growing rapidly.  One of the most interesting things in African towns is usually the central markets, unfortunately about two weeks before I arrived, Bujas burned to the ground.  The whole thing is rather suspicious, and rumors fill the streets.  I’m told some venders connected to the government moved all their goods out days before the fire, I’m told that the government signed the land away to build a Toyota dealership before the fire, and so on.  People tend to be full of crazy theories out here, but the thing is out here, sometimes even the craziest theories turn out to be true.  I don’t know what the truth is, people may never know, the only sure thing is in a poor country, a lot of people lost their shops, all their goods and all their money in this fire.  If the fire was intentionally set it was a horrible evil, but at the same time not a very surprising one.

I walked to a café for lunch and after getting a disappointing burger, wound up talking to a guy named Jean.  He was born in Burundi but during the war received refugee status and has lived in Sweden for the last 12 years, getting a master’s degree and working as an environmental consultant.  We talked for a while and he ended up inviting me to a wedding that weekend!  (long story short, something I ate made me sick, I couldn’t meet up with him later on and was not able to attend the wedding, which was a big disappointment). 

Independence Square.  I really enjoyed seeing this, because you almost never see public parks in African cities, especially clean well maintained ones like this.

That evening I joined Aude and a bunch of other expats at a bar called Bamboo for a swing dancing night.  I have to be honest and say I didn’t dance, I spent my time and energy talking, drinking beer and eating meet on a stick.

(Just a little warning, the next few photos show guinea pigs being fed to crocs and leopards, and extremely unsafe interactions with dangerous reptiles that would be illegal in the western world.  If this makes you uncomfortable, skip ahead.)

Buja doesn’t have a lot of tourist attractions, nor does the country as a whole.  One of the more well-known ones, for good or bad, is the 'Musee Vivant', the ‘Living Museum.”  Hearing about this place, I knew I had to go, and with an Italian woman named Marta we set off to check it out.  I already wrote a bit about this when I posted photos on Facebook, so I’m going to share that here as well:

“This is the 'Musee Vivant', and it has a bit of a reputation. The simple fact is this is a very poor African nation and standards and values are different out here. It wasn’t long ago that this nation was in the middle of civil war and genocide where a few hundred thousand people were killed, this isn’t Switzerland.  Yes, the 'zoo' is run down, the enclosures are small and some even have garbage in them, and the animals don't have lives like those in multi-million dollar western zoos.  Burundi is one of the poorest countries on earth, that’s the way it is. Yes, the animals are harassed to some degree for people’s entertainment. His repeated poking and prodding of the crocs and of some of the snakes did make me a bit uncomfortable. Apparently you can smoke a cigarette with the chip.  You can feed guinea pig to the crocs, snakes and leopard, but these are predators that eat meat, for them to live, another animal must die. That is the circle of life and it is the same in the wild or in a cage. By my paying the admission (less than $4) you can certainly say I 'voted' to help keep such a place around.

The simple fact is that if you travel the world and never experience something that may be difficult to see, never see something that challenges your own values and viewpoints, and never see something that is not allowed in your home country, I believe you are failing as a traveller.  You are depriving yourself as well as others an opportunity to think about and reflect on your own beliefs and your own cultural standards and I believe that is one of the most important lessons one can learn. 

Where the line between acceptable and unacceptable lies is different for everyone and I wouldn’t presume to tell others what to do, I can only share my experiences.  For me, visiting the 'Musee Vivant', paying a few dollars to feed a guinea pig to a croc and leopard, getting up close and personal with a croc and chimp and seeing some of the most poisonous snakes in the world in shoddy cages and even outside of those cages was an interesting and probably once in a lifetime experience I am glad I had.”

Marta and I walked through the grounds with our extremely friendly guide as he showed us around and told us about the place.  He quickly asked if we wanted to watch him feed a guinea pig to the croc for 4000 francs, a little more than $2, and naturally I said yes.  He walked back to another building and returned a minute later with this little guy, squeaking away. 

He tossed it in a concrete enclosure to one of the crocs, but for some reason it wasn’t interested.  After calling over a younger and faster man to jump in the cage and grab the guinea pig, he dropped it into a second enclosure and this croc was hungry.  Crocs move fast when they want to, but man are they stupid.  This one kept missing the guinea pig and chewing on a plastic water bottle that was lying on the ground.  Eventually it caught it’s snack, and we moved on.

Next up was the leopard.  It is a young one, fairly small but a really stunning creature to see up close. 

I wanted to see this one hunt as well, so our guide grabbed another guinea pig and tossed it on the top of the cage.

The leopard pulled it into the cage fairly quickly and caught it in his mouth, bringing his new ‘toy’ to the other part of the cage which is much larger and more open.  From there he proceeded to play with the guinea pig, chasing it around, catching it, letting it go and chasing it again.  It was exactly like a domestic house cat and a mouse and was pretty amazing to see really.  The big cat did this for a whole ten minutes, then brought it to the smaller part of the cage again, held it in its paws and literally ripped its head off and began eating it. 

Next it was on to another croc and all three of us climbed into the cage to get up close and personal.  Our guide told us it was OK to touch, sit on it and hold its tail.  I was not convinced this was actually a good idea or safe in any way, but it still didn’t stop me from doing it, haha. 

He spent a few minutes poking this one with a stick.

The ‘zoo’ had another species of croc, one with a long pointed mouth (can’t look up the name right now, no internet), and because he wanted to show us how it can climb up the fence, he left and came back with another guinea pig.  He hadn’t intended on feeding this croc (and I wasn’t going to pay for a third one) but when he was hanging it over the fence to tempt the beast it lunged, he got scared and dropped it right into the crocs mouth.

Crocs finished, it was on to the chimp.  She lived in a small cage and had a sad look on her face but was excited to see people coming up to her.  Apparently she lived with an American family in Tanzania from birth and was always fed with a spoon.  As a result, she doesn’t eat with her hands and has to be spoon-fed every meal now.  I’m not sure why they gave her up or how exactly she ended up here, but the whole thing seems rather tragic to me and I wish people wouldn’t try to keep animals like this as a pet in the first place. 

She seemed rather despite for attention and loved holding my hands and touching my hair.  I was told that normally you can go in the cage with her, but they had lost the key three days ago and couldn’t open the door…

A new friend.  She didn’t want to let go of my hands when I began walking away, the whole thing was pretty sad really. 

On to the snakes.  This consisted of a good sized building with shoddy cages filled with some of the most poisonous snakes in the world, vipers, mambas, cobras, adders and more.  Our guide reached into one of the cages and grabbed a gabon viper and brought it outside to show us.  This snake had recently eaten a guinea pig and as a result was very slow and non-threatening, but still packing a dangerous bite if you got too close. 

Me and the python.

There was also an antelope, a few birds and two other monkeys at the zoo, so not everything there can kill you, haha. 

Somewhat strangely, there is also a traditional chiefs house to show visitors and we made a quick walk through it while our guide explained the different rooms and items.

Feeling like I certainly got my monies worth at the 'Musee Vivant,' Marta and I walked out and back towards home. 

Buja, packed between Lake Tanganyika and the hills.  Even in the city, any open areas seem to be fair game for planting food.  That night was dinner and relaxing at home.

The next day I relaxed in the garden, finished the book I was reading, went to town for lunch with Marta before returning home.  It was the definition of an uneventful day and the day after was much the same.  I must have eaten something bad because I wound up with diarrhea again and spent the day between the couch and the toilet.  Maybe I’m not 100% better after my serious food poisoning during my paddle trip and was more susceptible than I normally would be, but I can’t say for sure. 

In the evening I joined a large group to a concert at the French Cultural Center.  It was a disorganized event as is typical out here, and featured a backing band with a rotating cast of singers and dancers.  As I expected all the singing was done in French, and although short, I enjoyed the performance.  Afterwards we all crossed the street to some new super modern looking restaurant, but because I was still not feeling great I didn’t eat or drink anything. 

Modern Bujumbura.

Not sure why UN Peacekeepers were in town, maybe because it is close to where there is some action going on in Congo right now?

Through CouchSurfing I also met Anna from the Czech Republic.  She wasn’t able to host, but we agreed to meet up for breakfast at Café Gourmet, one of the numerous ‘high end’ cafes catering to the European expats in the city and serving good European food.  Prices are actually pretty reasonable and the food and coffee is very good so we had a nice breakfast as we talked. 

One of the numerous churches in town, Orthodox I think?

Another look at the burned out central market.

Walking back to Aude’s house.  This is what ‘nice neighborhood’ look like, walls, barbed wire and guards at the door.  Africa. 

I suppose Anna and I got along well at breakfast, or at least enough for her to invite me to a house party that night!  We drove out to an industrial area across from the Primus Brewery, Burundi’s cheap locally brewed beer (they also brew Amstel, including Amstel Bock that is one of the only good, flavorful beers I’ve managed to find in Africa) and eventually found the house.  The party was for the birthday of the guy whose house it was, there was plenty of food and drink and I think I was the only non-French speaker there, haha.  Luckily for me plenty of people spoke English and a few drinks later I had plenty of new friends. 

It wasn’t in the original plans, but I ended up sleeping on a couch at Anna’s house after all because the party went to late and I was joining her and some other friends in the morning anyways to head out to the Parc National de Kibira (Kibira National Park), what I am told is the last natural and untouched forest in Burundi.  The area also has some tea plantations, so I was curious to join them and check it out.

Leaving Bujumbura and heading into the north of the country is quite an experience.  Right away you find yourself on a narrow, twisting two lane road with no guard rails, huge drop-offs leading to certain death, people walking along both sides of the road and bicycles, cars, buses and trucks driving like it’s a special stage in a rally race.  No matter how carefully you drive, due to the insanity of the other motorists on this road you will likely be looking death in the face once or twice before you reach your destination.  That said, it is stunningly beautiful terrain filled with steep hills, lush greens and crops planted everywhere humanly possible.  For some reason the people don’t do terraced farming like you see in much of Asia, and I have a feeling erosion and the loss of topsoil is a huge problem out here. 

When we reached the edge of the park the guide and the car guard climbed in with us and we drove through the tea plantations to the edge of the forest, parked the car and started walking, with the guide explaining a few things (in French) about the area.

Most of the rain forest is trees, vines and ground cover, but there were plenty of nice flowers as well.

Serious rain forest.  The foliage here is so thick that travel off trail would be incredibly difficult, you might be lucky to get two kilometers an hour through this kind of place.

The hike was short but nice.  Once we returned to the car we shared a picnic lunch of bread, cheese, avocado and tomato before driving back down the hill (that is Anna on the left by the way).

Looking over the tea fields towards the section of rainforest we had just come from.  Nice eh?

In addition to a short walk in the forest, we also were planning on taking a tour of the factory that turned the raw tea leaves into tea for sale.  This turned out to be a bit of a big deal, requiring a signed piece of paper obtained days before in Bujumbura.  This had already been done, but when we arrived they made a big stink about it, holding us up for something like 15 minutes while they acted important, made phone calls, asked more questions and made us wait around for no good reason.  Eventually we were let in and had no further problems.

Not understanding French I couldn’t follow any of this tour either and they others had trouble translating it for me, but it was interesting to see at least.  On these trays is where the raw tea leaves are laid out before being put in bags that move along a track bringing them to the processing section of the factory.

This long series of machines takes the raw leaves, chopping and grinding them up, then does an initial heating/curing process.

Heat is applied towards the end, changing the tea from green to brown.  After this step it goes into the real ovens (the big silver boxes in the background), where the final step in the transformation from leaf to tea completed.

After the heating process is finished, the loose tea goes through a sorting process, separating the finer bits from the larger bits. 

The final product is put into large paper sacks, where tea exports account for 6.6% of the country’s economy. 

I feel like I’ve yet to take a photo that captures what this country really looks like, that really shows the beauty of the hills, the density of the people the methods and conditions in which the people grow their food and the true colors of everything.  So far this is the best I’ve managed.  I guess you will just have to take this photo, add a bit of imagination and go from there. 

As we drove back to Buja, we made a short stop at a hotel that has a view of the city and of Lake Tanganyika.  Unfortunately it was a little hazy and you could only see the edge of the lake, but it was a nice place to enjoy some scenery and get a sense of the country and its geography despite that. 

After what was a very nice day outside of the city, we arrived in Buja just as darkness was setting in and I returned to Aude’s house for the night.  I just thought this photo was funny, even in a nice neighborhood like where Aude lives, there’s an abandoned shell of a house across the street from her door with crops planted in what used to be a front lawn.  Africa. 

From here my plan is to get outside of Bujumbura and try to see the rest of this country.  I need to start moving north very soon, but I can’t spend all my time in the capital and so I’ve got a few other people lined up to stay with in two more towns in the north of the country.  After maybe three weeks here in Burundi I will cross into Rwanda and as always, just see what happens. 

Safe travels everyone, until next time.