After a six hour bus ride with a driver who was having a love affair with the horn, Bryan, Laura and I arrived in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, for the next part of our journey. Bujumbura was so similar, yet so different from Kigali. The people speak Kirundi – which sounds like Kinyarwanda to an ear that understands neither – and French – the language from which Rwanda is trying to move away. The streets, like Kigali, are packed with women carrying fruit baskets on their heads, motos that pay no mind to pedestrians, and adorable children asking for amafaranga (money). The city itself is what I imagine Kigali looked like a few years after the genocide; far from developed, but making impressive progress after years of war and ethnic strife. The security situation, unlike Kigali, is still quite unstable and we were given strict instructions not to remain on the streets after dark.
While we only had a day and a half in Bujumbura, with Laura as our trusty tour guide, we had a chance to see the best of what the city has to offer. After we got ourselves oriented (and of course, fed), Laura took us for a walk down to Lake Tanganyika. We positioned ourselves at a fancy hotel for the best Primus I’ve yet to taste and some hippo watching, followed by a delicious pizza dinner.
The next day, Laura, had a full day in store for us. We visited the Musee Vivant, a small zoo-like facility where the rules against cruelty towards animals have clearly not been enforced. Caged crocs, snakes, leopards and monkeys greeted us as our guide poked them with sticks. They also had a replica of a traditional village hut, where I got to grind maize and Brian could barely fit inside without knocking off his head. I guess this explains “Big Man,” the nickname given to him by the Burundians. Follow Musee Torture – I mean, Vivant – we visited the Bujumbura market where we were tossed through the crowds and yelled at for taking pictures. There was only one place left to go, la plage. So, off we went to Bora Bora, a little slice of heaven in the middle of Bujumbura, where we enjoyed some serious R&R, Primus, and a dip in the Lake for Bryan.
Before dinner, we got to meet up with Robert, Survivor Corps’ Africa Program Associate, and Mendi – the Advocacy Project’s Africa Director. We chatted about our fellowships and got a chance to hear a bit about what they are doing. Finally, we took off to Khana Kzana to celebrate Laura’s “birthday.” Minus a somewhat eventful cab ride home, it was a great day and an exciting trip! Our time in Burundi (and a USHMM podcast with Peter Uvin that I listened to before visiting) sparked my interest in the country. Thanks to Laura, I’ve got a few new books on my wish list, and I am looking forward to learning more about how its complex history compares with Rwanda’s and how it fits into the overall region.
**Unfortunately, I can’t get my photos to load today, but you can check out my Burundi album here.
Posted By Lisa Rogoff
Posted Jul 26th, 2009