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Africa » Burundi » West » Bujumbura
July 18th 2011
Published: August 1st 2011
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I'm lazy. The result is that I haven't blogged in a month... but I'm back!

It's been an interesting few weeks, here in Bujumbura. One of the most fascinating things about my interviews is how people construct Burundi's past. I could probably group people into current political affiliations based on their renditions of history - who was responsible for most of the killing during the war, which rebel groups were better, who were the best and worst presidents, when the division between Hutus and Tutsis began... And, believe me, there are some very different ways to tell the history of Burundi. That's not so different from any of us, actually - the details we highlight from the past shape how we see and understand the world today.

"A man's called a traitor or a liberator. A rich man's a thief or philanthropist. Is one a crusader or ruthless invader? It's all in which label is able to persist."

Wicked, anyone? Am I revealing an embarrassing love of broadway music and actually making it more embarrassing by relating it to current political conflict? Yes. Perhaps. But I have to keep things light. Plus, I think those are creative lyrics.

Anyway. In short, I love my 'job.' Though, I'm glad to have finished with interviews for the summer. Certain things are easier to tell to a stranger than to your closest friend, and frankly, being the stranger that people talk to is not always that easy. More than one person I've interviewed has described the experience of talking to me as 'going to confession.' They talk, and I listen... to how they became part of a rebellion in the 90's (or the army), or how they survived as refugees. Learning about the present has been more draining, though - time provides a mental barrier that falls away when people begin to talk about their current experiences with political violence. Somehow, it's much easier to hear about casualties of a past war than to hear how someone's friend was killed last week. This rings even more true when talking to people who participated/participate in violence. Suffice it to say, I'm not entirely sorry to have finished up my interviews.

Outside of my research, I don't really encounter violence in a personal way. Everyone knows where not to go (outside the city at night is not recommended), and conflict remains more or less in those areas. We all know about what's going on, but it doesn't directly affect our daily lives. By that, I mean that expats aren't the current targets of violence. If I wasn't doing my research, I'd only hear about violence on the news and through the grapevine. With that said, I don't know many people who are unaware of what's going on - most everyone I know is interested in development, politics, economics, health, and so on... conflict affects those topics, so people pay attention. Bujumbura isn't a place for the politically apathetic.

For the rest of the summer (and continuing into the year), I've switched modes from research to working at a nonprofit organization. I'm now a program officer for Baho Burundi, a local NGO that works with women and children in Mpimba - the largest of Burundi's prisons. The justice system in Burundi is... overwhelmed. And overwhelming. If there were more resources, I'm sure there would be separate prisons for women, men, and juveniles in Buja. There would be more than 350g of maize and 350g of beans for everyone to eat per day, and people would not spend years in jail waiting for a trial. Alas. The fact that women, men, and juveniles are all in one prison and can interact with one another (though they do have separate quarters) creates enough problems on its own. There are currently 34 children in Mpimba and 8 women who are pregnant. Right now, I'm working on advocacy for women and children - trying to help them access health care and legal assistance and creating a food budget to supplement their diet. For the children, we're also working on programs to reunite them with women's families outside so that they don't have to grow up in prison or an orphanage. And so on...

The problems in Mpimba mirror the challenges Burundi faces as a country. Poverty. Gender inequality. Political... stuff. With so much to do, I can't say I blame the Burundian government for not prioritizing the well-being of criminals. It could be argued that this isn't the most deserving population to help; but then, how does one decide who's deserving? Anyway, if I can manage to be less lazy about blogging, I'll keep you all posted on our progress.

In other news, I believe most people I know have heard about how much the mosquitos love me here. One of them gave me malaria, which was not a great experience. Fortunately, I had good friends who took care of me, kept me in high spirits when I was awake (I slept between 18 and 20 hours a day at first), and made me eat and take my medicine. They also helped me find a good doctor. Going to a clinic for the malaria test and then getting a prescription from jolly Egyptian doctor at the French School worked out pretty well for me. People say you should get multiple malaria tests at different clinics to be sure it's not a false positive. I didn't - one test was all I could manage. Who knows? Maybe I had a false positive... maybe I never had malaria at all. And for everyone who thinks I am going to have malaria for the rest of my life: I'm not - the recurrent one is located in West Africa, not here. I am fine.

For now, that's all from Buja. I've attached some photos on this blog of Tanganyika Blue Bay Resort, in the south of the country. If you want to get away from everything and have a blissful relaxing weekend, that's the place to do it! We went there for the day to celebrate a friend's birthday. My favorite part was eating dinner on the beach next to a campfire. I've also added some photos of the monkeys that hang out in the garden at my friends' house. Note: If the biggest male monkey in the group comes towards you, I'd say it's a good idea to back up slowly. If he keeps coming towards you, I think it's perfectly reasonable to squeal as he chases you back into the house. Best not to take any risks, in my opinion. Until next time!

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