Making a List, Checking it Twice

Burundi's flag
Africa » Burundi » West » Bujumbura
May 31st 2011
Published: June 3rd 2011
Edit Blog Post

The Blog

Hello, hello! I've been in Burundi for two days, and I believe it's time to begin blogging. I am typically an unreliable blogger - I skip details and post pretty rarely; but, this time is different (I can feel it). I hope this site will serve as a way for me to share my impressions, and experiences, among other things, while I'm in the great country of Burundi.

Josiah and I are living just outside of Buja while we begin research for our PhD dissertations - it's the first trip for each of us, but won't be the last. We live here with Jean-Pierre, our guard, and a dog named Burton (Bwegu, in Kirundi). Another PhD student and her husband (Cara and James) used to live in this house, and set us both up to live here for the summer, helped us get contacts for our research, gave us tips on where to go/what to do, and changed money for us... all before we got here! They. Are. Fabulous.

In addition to providing a mild form of entertainment for my friends/family, I want to make this blog useful for anyone who is actually traveling to Burundi. Why? Because aside from the travel warning, there is almost no travel info on this country. The Lonely Planet guide to Burundi is both so inaccurate and inadequate that I seriously wondered if it was worth the time I spent reading it (more on this in my next post). I tried to get a travel agent to help me apply for the visa, and they asked me 'what' Burundi was. By the way, the visa application for Burundi is fairly simple, and they process it within a week. Unless you need it rushed, you don't need a travel agent (I was totally fine).

Let's begin.

Why am I here?

I'm sure there will be days where I ask myself that very question - especially if I get a botfly. Gross. I am here doing my dissertation research for my PhD in sociology. I study how community organizations and resources shape the reconciliation process after civil war.

In 2006, the last of Burundi's rebel groups signed a ceasefire, signifying the end of their 13 year civil war between Hutus and Tutsis (the country's main two ethnic groups). Since then, Burundi has been in the process of disarming combatants, repatriating civilians, and rebuilding what's been torn down by decades of political violence. This process has had its hiccups (understatement), but not all communities respond the same way.

My question is: Why? Why do some communities manage to make progress with reconciliation while others return to the use of political violence, even when they are facing similar issues regarding poverty, overpopulation, and political representation? And, what role do local organizations and community resources play in shaping these outcomes?

I'll be doing a comparative case study to find out, which means this summer will be spent looking for two communities in Bujumbura and two communities in a rural province that are experiencing similar barriers to reconciliation, but progressing in very different political directions. This summer will be spent mapping out the various local organizations, conducting preliminary interviews, meeting people who can help me meet more people... that sort of thing. This summer is also a chance for me to learn about Burundi in a way that books don't have the ability to teach.

Okay. That was for those you who are never quite sure what it is that I do (which is okay, because I'm never quite sure how to explain it), or those of you who have a nerdy interest in social science research.

The Packing Checklist

I've updated this list since my last trip to Burundi - I've learned a few things from experience. If you aren't planning on traveling to Africa, you can probably stop reading this post now.

When it was time to pack, I was a little bit lost. Unless you want to go on safari, it's hard to find packing advice for Africa. For those who have other reasons to go to Africa, I'm posting the checklist that I made (based on my prior trip to Rwanda, and talks with Josiah and Cara). I was told to 'assume you can't get it in Burundi.' For example, it's difficult to get pain killers here - so if you sprain your ankle, you'll be much happier if you packed them. I also packed for maximum variety, since I need to be in rural areas and city centers with all different types of people while I'm here.

A few bits of general advice: Anything that's valuable goes in the carry-on bag(s), and put a lock on your checked bag (I put my large pack in a duffle bag so I could lock it up). Also, pack your carry-on so that if your luggage is lost, you can survive with just your carry-on. I put a change of clothes, all prescriptions, and travel-size of some toiletries in the carry-on. Oh, and I really did check the list twice, to avoid that "crap, I left it on the dresser" moment. I checked everything off once when I knew I had it, and once when I put it into a bag. I have never been this prepared for a trip in my entire life.

Everything on this list fits in one large pack (that I checked, 60 liters, 29 lbs), one backpack (carry-on), and one very small day pack (which isn't necessary - I only put research related stuff in it like notebooks and pens, and I had room in the other two bags). There's a lot you could cut, and I've gone to Africa with much less (my bag to Rwanda in 2007 was 17 lbs, I believe). So, take the list and make it your own!

Also: A word on anti-malarials, because everyone asks me if I'm going to bring them. Well, they're not guaranteed to work, and they can have some crazy side effects. They are also expensive. This is something that everyone needs to make their own choice about. I once took Malarone with me to Rwanda - no side effects from what I could tell, but EXPENSIVE (like, over $800 for three months). Doxycycline is cheaper (around $20/3mo), but I once burned my esophagus by not taking it with enough water. I brought some with me to Burundi anyway, but when I started having heartburn everyday, I stopped. If you're staying for a short time, take the anti-malarials, but be very aware of what they're doing to your body, since they effect everyone differently. If you're staying for more than a few months, get tested in Africa if/when you get sick (and be on the lookout for symptoms - the biggest reason people die is because they don't get treatment in time), or bring a small dose for treatment if you are traveling places you might not be able to get to a doctor. You can trust me on this, because I got malaria. It was terrible. And I would prefer it to a burned esophagus any day.


• Large pack (60L)
• Carry-on
• Small bag/day pack

I love my pack. If you're like me, you're going to be in a lot of different kinds of places in your lifetime. Get a good pack that will go anywhere with you and last for years. If you're staying in the city, suitcases are fine.


• Passport/Visa (don't forget! Pack it last to be sure you have it)
• Yellow Fever Vaccination Sheet
• Money - Bring cash. All bills should be after 2006, and $50 or higher will get the best exchange rate. Make sure there are no rips, marks, or tears in any of them, or they might not change them. From what I can tell, there is only one ATM in Burundi, and there are significant fees for taking out money at banks (plus, it's a huge hassle). I'm bringing cash with me, putting it in different places on my carry-on bags. As for traveler's checks: I've never used them, and I haven't heard how they would work there.
• Debit/Credit Cards - I'm keeping some money in the bank, since I can't risk bringing my entire budget in my pockets.


• Books - The ones I can't put on my Kindle are coming with me: Lemarchand's "Burundi" and a copy of "Machete Season," by Jean Hatzfeld, for my translator.
• Laptop
• iPad/keyboard - I wanted something ultra portable so that I could easily do work outside my house. I originally went with a netbook, but that's a long story. I ended up buying and iPad instead, and it's working out well so far. This will allow me to type up documents and do a lot of work without having to constantly pack up my older laptop and put wear-and-tear on it.
• Pens
• Notebooks - These were important for me, because most respondents don't want their interviews recorded. I brought 6 large moleskines last time and filled them up. They were durable and worked great - I'm going to look for something similar but cheaper for my next trip.


• Swiss Army Knife
• Electrical Adapter
• Step down transformer
• Sunglasses (and extras, because I lose things a lot)
• Ziplock bags (surprisingly hard to find things like this in Burundi, but they can be useful)
• Headlamp/extra flashlights - very useful when there's no power
• Water bottle
• Snacks - Luna/Cliff bars, or other. These are good for two reasons: if you get sick, they're high in nutrients and energy, and they're relatively easy on your stomach. Also, they're good to take into the field. I mostly ate them when I had long interview days.
• Small sleeping bag - I have a lightweight summer bag, good for traveling through rural areas when you don't know what your sleeping accommodations will be like
• Yoga mat/towel - for my mental and physical health. I decided after my last trip that it would be a good idea to keep my mind clear, and have something I do that's totally separate from my interviews

ELECTRONICS (carry-on)

• Kindle - I love my kindle! Books are great, but not to pack.
• Chargers for: Kindle, Camera, Computer, iPad
• USB for: Camera, external hard drive, iPad, iPod
• External hard drive - back-up, back-up, back-up! After having two hard drives crash on me, I've learned the importance of this.
• Headphones
• Extra batteries (AA and AAA, for flashlights and film camera)


• Camera (digital)
• Camera (film)
• Extra rolls of film
• Extra digital camera battery

I like taking photos, so I'm bringing my film and digital camera. I have a compact system camera, which I love. It's endured my abuse, takes quality photos, and is easy to take everywhere - though, after my first week in Burundi, I learned that taking pictures everywhere is not a good idea (see other blog post about getting my camera taken by the army - my bad).


• Toothpaste
• Toothbrush (plus an extra)
• Soap
• Small Towel (quick-dry)
• Facewash
• Sunscreen
• Babywipes, for rural areas and when water runs out
• Lip balm
• Deodorant
• Shaving Cream/Razor
• Shampoo/Conditioner
• Other necessary things


• Anti-malarials (prescription, if you want them)
• Cipro (prescription, for serious GI problems)
• Insect repellent - Close-toed shoes, long sleeves, pants. I give up - damn mosquitoes always found the places I missed. Definitely don't bother with deet. It makes you feel like your skin is melting off.
• Aspirin/Tylenol
• Anti-histamine (cream and pills)
• Tape/Ace Bandage
• General first-aid
• OTC stuff for stomach issues
• Emergen-C/gatorade powder to add to water - can double as rehydration fluid
• Visine (I have sensitive eyes)


Advice on clothes: Bring clothes that feel good and fit right. Wear what makes you comfortable. Example: button-down shirts don't normally fit me right - they have to be the size of a small tent for the buttons not to pop open all the time. So, even though a lot of people told me they were great for doing research (lightweight, conservative, practical), I'm not bringing them on my second trip.

Also, be conservative. It'll be better at night anyway, for mosquitoes, to have more skin covered. But women should also consider the unwanted attention they might get from wearing short shorts or tight-fitting clothes, particularly in rural areas. In the city, you'll see more diversity, but it's best to be aware of how you might be perceived. I was always particularly careful if I was going somewhere alone or dressing to go do interviews/work (basically as I would in the states - but just know that there are different cultural standards by which you're assessed).


• Day shoes - toms or converse shoes... great for running around town and keeping mosquitoes off my feet.
• Sandals/flip-flops - great to have a pair. you can also get leather sandals made fairly cheaply there.
• Running shoes/lightweight hiking shoes
• One slightly nicer pair of shoes, because you never know


• Pants (4-5) - I've changed my mind about jeans. I used to say don't bring them, because they are terrible to handwash. Now, I've decided it's not a bad idea to have at least one or two pairs. My other pants are lightweight cotton or cotton/linen blends.
• Shorts/Skirt (1-2) - Unnecessary, but maybe I'll pack one or two - as long as they're at or past the knees.
• Leggings (3) - For yoga, and maybe under a dress


• Lightweight pullover/hoodie (1)
• Shirts (5 or 6) - Fitted ones, not t-shirts, because that's a bit casual for interviews. I don't want to look like I'm wearing something I could have worn to bed the night before. I like that you can dress a plain crew-neck t-shirt up or down, and they're really airy and comfortable.
• Tank tops (4) - To wear at the beach/around the house... sometimes I wore them out with friends, too.


Dresses - I'm a fan of dresses. One piece of clothing, and you're dressed! Mine are jersey material - nothing too fancy, easy to pack. But they can look cute if I get invited to another wedding (I was invited to two on my last trip).
• Bathing suit - for the lake!
• Rain jacket

I recommend them. Consider that they'll most likely be hand-washed and air-dried. Bring enough so that you don't run out.


3rd June 2011

Hey, Adrienne! It's kinda unbelievable to read this - it feels like you were here in Providence just yesterday. It was definitely interesting to read this first post from the trip - so keep it up! Write more - and you're guaranteed at least 1 regular and committed reader :) Good luck with the beginning of your research! Hugs.
3rd June 2011

You did it! I'm so proud :) I enjoyed reading it...keep up the good work lol. My favorite line: "this is not the place to bring to bring sexy back."

Tot: 0.156s; Tpl: 0.01s; cc: 5; qc: 67; dbt: 0.0643s; 1; m:domysql w:travelblog (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.2mb