Pili, Politics, and Primus

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July 1st 2011
Published: July 1st 2011
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Peter Piper picked a peck of pili peppers. Yes, I said pili peppers.

The Challenge

I'm not sure where to begin this latest blog, so I think I'll start with the most recent event: the pili pili eating competition. Those of you who know me know that I love spicy food. There's very little that's too spicy for me to stomach, and I'm always up to the challenge of trying something new. So when my friend Seth claimed he was the only American he knew that could eat a whole pili... one question came to mind: are you sure about that?

In many parts of Africa, it's common to be served pili pili (or piment) with a meal... a kind of hot sauce derived from the African chili - delicious on almost everything, in my opinion. However, I'd never actually eaten the pepper itself. Oh, the bad decisions I've made in my life. Sweet and crunchy, almost like a bell pepper, the extreme heat didn't hit me until a few seconds in. Then, all of a sudden, my entire mouth was on fire.

Through my own watery eyes, I saw the tear-stained cheeks of my fellow contestants

At the beginning of the pili eating competition.
turning various shades of pink and red, everyone coughing... looking for the nearest beer to take the edge off. We ate a lot of bread afterwards to get rid of the heat. Luckily, the only part of my body that felt the heat of the pili was my mouth. Following Seth's last pili-eating challenge, the term 'fireslide' was coined to describe the after effects of the pili on one's digestive system. Fireslide. What imagery! Seth claims that we need to redo the competition so that the pilis are prepared correctly for maximum spiciness. Bring it on, Seth. I'm ready. Sort of.

Other food excursions have been less exciting. I still eat rice and beans at home, though Jean-Pierre has begun to make meat, as well. I don't eat it - not because it isn't good, but because I don't really have a desire to. Having been a vegetarian for the past eight years, I just don't love meat the way most people do, and I definitely don't need it at every meal. I still eat plenty of it, though! As in much of the world, the best restaurants here are known for dishes that normally feature some kind of
Tailors in the MarketTailors in the MarketTailors in the Market

3000 FBu (a little less than $3) might be overpaying... but it will get you a very good quality tailoring job. 1500 FBu will get you a pair of pants that rips in the middle of the night. Not that I'm speaking from experience...
meat. I've eaten beef and fish brochettes (cooked on a stick, like a kebab), pork with creme sauce, and even some kung pao chicken at a chinese restaurant. Still, my favorite food to buy is fruit from the market. Everyone gets a kick out of watching the muzungu bargain for pineapple, passion fruit, and tamarillos (amatunda, in kirundi).

The Routine

I know Buja is on the smaller side, as far as capital cities go, but it has actually been quite a fun city to live in, so far. If you want to eat, there are many great places to do so in the city. The beach is lovely. I'm going to miss being so close to a lake that I can stop by during lunchtime, and be back in town by the time I have to do interviews. Even if I don't go that often, I like knowing it's there!

Between the hours of 12-2, most offices shut down here, so there's not much to get done during this time. Most of my interviews occur between 2:30-5:30 in the afternoon, which is the only time people seem able to talk. It's actually quite a nice schedule. My mornings are free for me to run errands or do work on my computer, then it's lunch, interviews, and back home for dinner. Put that on repeat, and you know what my life is like, generally speaking.

Research has gone well, so far. I have a fabulous research assistant, who is quite effective at getting in contact with people from many different political groups with a wide array of backgrounds. We're a funny duo - two women in our early twenties heading into these communities every day to do research on political violence. It's a bit unexpected. However, I could not ask for a better translator. She's extremely reliable, incredibly perceptive, and she's fluent in French, Kirundi, and English - difficult to find in Bujumbura. She also forced me to do an entire two hour interview in French without her help today. I told her to make me speak more French around her - she interpreted that more literally than I anticipated. Afterwards, she said, "Congratulations! You speak French." I still think that's up for debate, but at least she can make me laugh - also a plus.

Research has brought with it a few unexpected turns, as well. For example, I didn't anticipate how difficult it would be to achieve confidentiality in interviews. All of the kids (and oftentimes adults) in the neighborhood want to listen in on the conversation! And since many houses don't have proper doors or windows, it's difficult to keep people out of earshot. In Burundi, people are being killed based on political affiliations - many don't talk about their views with other people, so confidentiality is extremely important. Every once in a while, we just have to pause the interviews and tell everyone to leave again. When the crowd returns, we repeat the process.

And then there's the issue of trying to do, well, anything in the rain. I stood in the market the other day during a torrential downpour (thanks for nothing, dry season), waiting to see if the rain would stop. Our contact decided he only wanted to go ahead with the interview if the rain slowed. Even Gwladys wouldn't leave the cover of the tarp until the rain stopped. It's just rain. Who knew it could have such an impact on my interviews?

The Fun Stuff

When the workday is over, it's always nice
Un Coca, s'il vous plaît?Un Coca, s'il vous plaît?Un Coca, s'il vous plaît?

24 bottles in each crate... you do the math.
to go somewhere with friends to relax and have a good time. This usually involves a few bottles of Primus or Amstel, the country's two main beers. But, where does all this beer come from? Well, it comes from the Brarudi in Buja, which produces Primus, Amstel, Coca-Cola and Fanta products - and we toured the entire factory on Friday. It's a magical place, somewhat like walking into the adult version of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. Beer is brewing, bottles are being cleaned, a Primus river flows through the center of a room where everything is edible and goes well with beer or soda. Okay, that last part isn't true. But at the end, there is a bar where you can have all the free peanuts, cheese, and sausage you want. And, the beer tastings are unlimited. So, it's almost true. You can see some picks from the Brarudi in this post... it's one of the only places I've officially had permission to take photos so far!

Following the Primus Brarudi tour on Friday, my friend Kelly came to visit. We haven't seen each other since we were probably 17 or 18, so it was crazy to see her for the first time in Burundi after so long! Kelly teaches at an international school in Rwanda, and she decided to come down for a few days while she had the time. On Saturday, we got to play beach volleyball at Bora Bora - quite fun, although her team lost miserably in their first game (15-1). Sorry, Kelly! Other than that, it was really great to see her. We had fun hanging out with people at different places in Buja, and catching up on her life in Rwanda. We even made it to the central market, where I had a pair of pants tailored - 10 minutes, 3000 FBu, and they were done. There may be plans in the works to go visit Kigali in August... I hope I can make it!

While Kelly got to see a number of places in the city, one that she missed out on was Kibira Bar. It's a great place to go dancing and play pool, but their most impressive attraction is their amazing Michael Jackson impersonator. This was actually the first time I got to go out with people at night in Bujumbura. Being new here, I used the couchsurfing website (look it up, if you don't know what it is) to meet people. Well, I'm incredibly glad I did, because they are all wonderful people - so much fun to be around. Last night, a few of us got together and watched Top Gun.

Iceman: You're everyone's problem. That's because every time you go up in the air, you're unsafe. I don't like you because you're dangerous.
Maverick: That's right! Ice... man. I am dangerous.

Hm, it might be best to avoid 80's Tom Cruise films, from now on. At least we got to share the experience together - it is a classic, after all.

Until next time!

Additional photos below
Photos: 23, Displayed: 23



That's a lot of Coca-Cola
Francois and GuillaumeFrancois and Guillaume
Francois and Guillaume

Many thanks to Francois, who was kind enough to give us the tour of the Brarudi - we had a great time!
Burundian RomanceBurundian Romance
Burundian Romance

I'm not sure if Seth was more attracted to the man or the Primus, but he loved this ad.

Make me some pants, as fast as you can!
Pili Pili ChallengePili Pili Challenge
Pili Pili Challenge

I was probably saying, "This was a horrible idea, Seth!"

4th June 2012
Un Coca, s'il vous plaît?

Goud publicity picture
I' agreing with this picture

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