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Saved: September 3rd 2015
The bus winds thought the mountains and I sit and stare. The border was easy and twenty dollars has bought me a three-day transit visa. The bus has collected a lot more passengers and is now full of singing Christians. I’m pinned against the window by the lady sitting next to me and her unbelievably large arse. The group is in full swing and the sound of voices is almost deafening. The girl sat opposite is very interested in me and keeps talking to me in French. I tell her several times I can’t speak French but she continues nonetheless and I look back blankly. She continues talking. One of her singing group comes over and asks if I speak English.
“She wants you to give her two thousand francs as you are muzungu”. And I think - welcome to Burundi!
The bus continues, as does the singing. Most of the group has tired of the singing but the two thousand girl is continuing on her own. She’s obviously too tired as her singing has now fallen into shouting. She occasionally will shout “Hallelujah, Hallelujah” and everyone will reply “Amen”. It noisy, slightly chaotic and has gone from a
Le Doyen Hotel
My home for 5 weeks
nice if not stereotypically authentic African experience, to a slightly bloody annoying experience.
The countryside looks poor. We stop timeless times at police roadblocks. Kids come over to the bus and shout erratically at the passengers. People throw out empty plastic drinks bottles and the kids scamper to get them. It’s nice to feel the safety of the bus, the detachment from the kids and the comfort of the seat. I know if I was on the bike I would be the main attraction for the kids and I don’t feel like I could cope with it. The road continues winding through the mountains. It has the features of Rwanda. The over farmed sloping fields, the rectangular mud huts and those beautiful thirty-nine shades of green. The road starts to drop and drop and drop. The lake appears far far below and the mountains of the Congo stretch upwards on the other side of the shore. The road continues to descend and I’m temped to ask be let off so I can jump on Harvey and free wheel all the way to the city. We wind down and down, and with every hairpin bend the temperature raises until we
finally enter the hot and humid city.
The bus stops in what seems like the centre of town. Scruffy teenage porter’s board and I get ready for the total chaos of alighting the bus. I’m dreading unloading my stuff, and then trying to load my bike up. It’s sure to be a dodgy bus station, full of beggars, pickpockets, harassing porters and aggressive taxi drivers. I grab a porter and tell him to carry some bags outside. I carry Harvey outside and tell the teenage porter to watch my stuff. There’s a large crowd around, and with my four bags lying around and a bike, albeit with only one wheel, I’m scared something can easily go missing. I jump back on the bus to grab the front wheel. I’m hoping the porter doesn’t realize its much more profitable to run off with my stuff than accept my twenty cent tip. But I’m back off the bus, wheel in hand and all my bags are still there. The crowd is getting bigger, crowds always encourage crowds, but they keep some distance and someone holds my bike as I fit the front wheel and pack the bike up. When everything is
fitting the crowd gives out a small cheer, its a great introduction to the country. A taxi driver comes up and asks if I need a lift, he sees my bike but I ask him to drive to the hotel and I will follow on the bike and pay him. I do not want to get lost in this city, especially as darkness is not so far away. But the taxi driver is nice and tells me the hotel is just around the corner and points me in the right direction. So I get on Harvey and cycle four hundred meters to the Hotel le Doyen. It’s a nice building. I kind of 1960’s art deco rip off thing. It’s the tropics and feels very different from anywhere I’ve been for a while. Frangipanis trees grow in the hotel grounds and everything has that lush tropical feel to it. I like it, it feels like the new start I need after the horror of my malaria week. I get a room and contrary to what I’ve been told the receptionist does speak English.
I’m outside my room when a guy walks over to me. He’s fat, brash and speaking
French. I tell him I don’t speak French but he continues. He very excited as he talks, “Antique’s? Ivory? Congo!” He makes a sign as if firing a gun and says “Congo” a few more times. Then he’s gesturing with his hands and from what I gather he’s basically saying. “Would you like to buy some Congolese antiques which have been stolen from them during their bloody civil war”. I say no and he goes onto to say “Ivory, ivory” and looks quite excited. I shake my head a few more times before he gets the message and walks off. And I think - Welcome to Burundi!
Darkness is falling and I’ve been told not to walk at night. I am more scared than normal. Burundi has just come out of a twelve year old civil war. More ethic tensions, again between Hutu’s and Tutus’s. There was no genocide but three hundred thousand people have lost their lives in over a decade of fighting. The last rebel group are currently holding talks with the government and a cease fire has been signed and held. But the country still scares me. The Foreign Commonwealth Office advises against all but essential
travel to Bujumbura and a complete no go in the country side. I wonder what the vibe will be like, jovial because the war is over - or maybe depressed, desperate, scarred and bitter from too much fighting.
I walk across the street and find a cafÃ©. I’m not expecting the minimalist aluminum tables, the funky fish tank nor the decent salad and mayonnaise which accompany my fish kebab and chips. But I don’t hang around after my fantastic meal, as I’m eager to be back in the hotel before its pitch black.
I sit outside my room in just my shorts and drink a large bottle of Amstel. I like the tropical air it feels good on my skin, good in my lungs. Like stepping off the airplane in the tropics and feeling the heat hit you. Like walking into a sauna they say. But the heat, that difference in temperature, that humidity represents so much to me. The allure of travel, the hours of hard work put into saving to go away, the dreaming and excitement of leaving the damp shores of my island nation, they all come together when you feel that heat, and that
warmth. And something about the heat here makes me think about the first days of other travels and something makes me think that this is a new beginning to the rest of my journey. I finish my beer whilst listening to the thousands of frogs that fill the sticky air with sound.
I’m munching down a cheese omelet and drinking real coffee for breakfast the following morning. The Belgium’s left a good legacy of food - cheese, causonets, mayo. It’s the first African country I’ve been to since Ethiopia where a coffee isn’t just Nescafe and bread isn’t just white and plastic. The place is packed with people and I’m tempted to stay for another breakfast but decide that just looks a bit too greedy so I head back to the hotel.
What is immigration in French? I ask the receptionist. “Immigration” she replies in a French accent - reinforcing the British attitude that to speak French all you really need to do is speak English with a French accent. I wander on up the street looking for the immigration office. The tar roads are covered in potholes, the other roads are made of dirt. Clouds roll over
and the sky blackens, people rush in doors, other find any shelter they can. The rain pours and pours the streets are flooded in seconds. The downpour doesn’t last for long but the flooded streets take much longer for the rain to drain away. The dust has now been turned to mud. The location of the city is beautiful. Sitting on Lake Tanganyika and surrounded by mountains on all sides it easily has the best position of any African city I’ve seen.
I head to tourist information. I’m amazed that one exists, as tourists aren’t a common sight in Burundi. As I walk I have a nagging pain down below. The office is filled with well faded posters of national parks and sandy beaches. They’re all at least twenty years old and probably looked dated even then. The man in the tourist information is helpful and tells me that I can get a boat down the lake to Tanzania. There are no passenger boats but a freight company will take passengers. I’m happy with this, as I don’t particularly want to cycle through this country. I head to the freight office the tourist information has pointed me to,
but they say they have no boats to Tanzania. I guessing they do but refuse to take passengers.
Bujumbura has a nice to feel to it and I’m enjoying wandering the street. I head past the market and venture over for a look at the second hand clothes stores. I bump into a guy and nearly trip over, it seems weird but I let it go. A moment later the same guy is grabbing my right arm and I turn to shake him off, I then realize another man has his hand in the top pocket of my shirt and has pulled out the few very small notes I’d stupidly left in there. I turn to grab my money but he holds his hand higher “Give me back my fucking money” I shout. He drops it on the floor and I bend down to pick it up. I realize a crowd has gathered and decide to make a hasty exit. I then notice that the crowd is pointing at the pickpocket who’s now about twenty meters away. There’s some shouting, general confusion and I don’t like it. I guy gestures for me to leave asap. He does it in
a friendly way and looks concerned for me. I walk off quickly, with everybody staring at me. I don’t want to see the fate of the pickpocket. Mob justice is the African way of dealing with crime. Newspapers give daily reports of people beaten to death, burn alive. People are sick of the corrupt useless police and sick of the crime - and I really can’t blame them. I’m not sure whether people will be that angry with a muzungu being robbed, but I want out asap. I walk as fast as possible. The same thing happened to me in Ethiopia but for some reason I’m more shook up this time. Maybe this is why there are government warnings telling people not to travel to Burundi. I’m walking home and that strange pain is getting worse, a nagging in my right testicle! Weird, very weird I think. Maybe I bruised it, banged it somehow. I’ve never had any problems downstairs and being a man decide on ignoring it and hoping it will go away.
I lie in bed reading for the rest of the day, but each time I get up to do something the nagging pain is getting
Not a hotel in sight
worse. I come back from dinner and the pain seems to be getting stronger and stronger by the minute. I decide that I best got to hospital tomorrow just to make sure everything is ok. But my 9pm I’m in serious pain. I’m getting scared; the pain is ten fold what it was just one hour before. I get up but can’t stand and have to lie down and curl up in a ball for the pain to subdue. I’m scared and a thousand thoughts are going through my mind. Lance Armstrong was younger than I am now when he got testicular cancer! What if I need a serious operation? Shit I’m in Burundi, what will there health service be like after 12 years of war? I decide I need to go to hospital now. I try to get up but as I stand it feels like someone is repetitively smacking me as hard as possible in the testicles. I just about manage to stagger, bent double, to the hotel reception. “Taxi, hospital” I say to the receptionist before lying on the floor in a ball. She sends a guy to get a taxi and asks what’s wrong and I
point to my groin. She looks confused and asks if it’s my stomach, “No my fucking bollocks are killing me” She looks confused. “Testicles” she understands neither word. I point a bit more graphically and she looks a little embarrassed. I taxi pulls up and I get off the floor and stagger over and lie on the back seat. One of the hotel security guards comes with me. The clinic is only a few hundred meters up the road and I’m glad at such a short journey. It takes me a few minutes to walk the hundred meters to the accident and emergency room. I stop every few meters, as the pain is just too much. With every step it feels like someone is hitting me as hard as possible straight into my bollocks. Then there’s a burning feeling which builds up and up till the only way for it to go away is to lie down and curl up - and scream a bit. I manage the distance and lie down. There are very few people about but a couple of nurses come over and talk to me in French. I tell them I don’t understand. I’m taken from
the waiting room to a room with a few beds. I lie down and curl up as water pours from my eyes. An English-speaking nurse has been found and asks me what the problem is. “I have the most incredibly horrendous pain coming from my right testicle”. She smiles and tells me I’ll be ok. I look up and she puts her hand on my forehead. It’s such a kind gesture and something about that touch calms me. Apart from the pain I’m scared something could be very seriously wrong with me, but her touch and smile and reassuring face takes some of that worry from my mind. She says she’ll give me a pain killer and then to come back tomorrow to see a doctor. I drop my trousers and a large needle is stuck straight into the muscle of my right thigh. “AAAAAAGGGGGGHHHHHHHH”. It’s by far the most painful injection I’ve ever had. I drift off to sleep. Thirty minutes later I walk out of the clinic. The painkiller has worked wonders. The pain has gone and my mind is calm. I head back to the hotel and sleep well all night.
I wake up the following morning the painkiller still in effect. I take a cab back to the clinic and ask to see a doctor. I see a doctor who refers me to another and gives me another painkilling injection as I wait. I know how painful the injection is now, and my legs shakes with fear before the needle is stuck in. The painkiller is working and I can walk ok and feel relatively well. I see the doctor and he prods about at my bollocks. It’s hard to say where it hurts, as I can’t feel anything, except maybe a slight feeling of prodding. His English is very limited but he tells me I’ve twisted a tendon that holds my right testicle to my body. He doesn’t actually use the word tendon or twisted but try’s to explain using drawings and hand gestures. I just assume that’s what he’s getting at. He gives me some oral painkillers and anti-inflammatory’s and tells me once the inflammation has gone down all will be ok. He says it’ll only take a few days. I’m happy at the diagnoses and walk out of the clinic a happy man. I go to have some lunch in a nice cafÃ© feeling like I deserve a good meal. While I’m munching down my cheese salad and cousoant I realize I have a big smile on my face and I’m kind of giggling to myself at the whole situation. I take a look at the doctor’s notes and see what the shots I was given actually are. No wonder I feel fine, happy and slightly euphoric about things - I’m completely whacked out of my mind on morphine.
I head home and sleep. The following day the morphine has worn off and I feel awful. I can barely stand, the painkillers I’ve been given aren’t much help and standing still feels like being punched repetitively in the bollocks. I can just about manage to get up to piss in the sink three meters from my bed but even that creates so much pain I’m curled up screaming afterwards. I’m in and out of consciences all day. I can barely move and when I finally wake its dark already. I now have a bad fever and am pissing with sweat. I haven’t taken any painkillers since this morning as I’ve been asleep and I really need to take some but have no water. I try to stand to go and get some water but can’t. It takes every bit of energy to sit up. I try to stand but the pain pushes me down and back into a ball screaming to fight the intense burning pain coming from my bollocks. I’m scared, my fever is bad and I just need some water to take my tablets and I’ll be ok. I manage to get up and stagger out of my room. But I still can’t stand so I curl up on the seat outside my room in tremendous pain. My breathing is erratic, my fevers bad and I’m close to tears. I can see two security guards twenty or so meters away. “Bonsoir, bonsoir” I shout. I use all my energy to shout as loud as possible but they don’t hear and then the pain builds up and up and I stagger the three meters back to bed and curl up screaming. Two guys walk past my room. I scream "Bonsoir, bonsoir, pardon, pardon". But they just say Bonsoir as they keep walking. Fuck I’m scared, really scared. “Somebody fucking help me”. I scream but no one hears. Tears are running down my face and I’m screaming in pain. I just need water to take my painkillers, someone to tell me I’ll be ok. I feel like I’m starting to panic and I try to control my breathing. I think of Jess sitting next to me. My head is on her thigh and she’s stroking my head. She’s brought me water and painkillers and is telling me I’m ok. The thought calms me down and if I don’t move I can just about control the pain. A guy walks past, “Excusez-moi” he stops and stands in the doorway. I ask for some water, which he doesn’t understand but says he’ll get the receptionist. Louise the hotel girl comes and asks if I’m ok. She gets me water and I take my tablets. Just the fact that someone has come to help me makes me feel a thousand times better. She’s kind and helpful and sits on the end of my bed looking concerned. She encourages me to take some random pink tablets, which she promises will fix me up. I decline her offer, but thank for her help and kindness. As the painkillers start to take the edge off the pain and the fever subsides I wonder about the doctors diagnoses. The painkillers he’s prescribed are only 200g of ibuprofen, which is nowhere near strong enough for the amount of pain I’m in. I’m scared he totally got it wrong and there something much more seriously wrong with me. I have insurance and could flight to Nairobi and get checked out. But I don’t want to. If I am seriously ill or need an operation that’s the end of trip. If I have to flight to Nairobi I’ll never get back on the bike. An operation would probably take months to recover from and the trip, the goal of Cape Town will be over. It upsets me and I actually feel much worse about not finishing my trip than the fact I maybe quiet seriously ill.
I head back to the clinic the next morning. I tell the doctor about the bad fever the previous day and that I’m in a massive amount of pain and need much stronger pain killers. I can only manage to walk about if a put my hand in my pocket, grab hold of my bollocks and hold them up. It’s so obviously what I’m doing and everyone gives me a strange look. But I really don’t care, and I think I’m trying to be fairly polite about it by first putting my hand in my pocket instead of just walking around with my hand on my genitals.
The doctor recommends blood test and gives me stronger painkillers. I want to ask whether I should go to Nairobi for better treatment. But how can I ask that? That’s like saying, “I don’t trust you because your just your just a silly Burundian doctor who probably knows nothing”. He’s a nice guy and has been very helpful and I really can’t say that to him. It feels wrong, heavily patronizing and stinks of western superiority. It’s also feels too privileged. Like I can come to Africa to see it, but I still have that safety net that if anything goes wrong I can get out. I’m a muzungu with money and I can just leave and go home and all will be ok. So I try to word it differently and just ask if he thinks I should go to Nairobi. He says I should wait for the blood test results. I give the blood and have to wait 36 hours for the results. I sit in my taxi driving back to the hotel, looking out of the window there are plenty of women begging on the street. Their babies are tired to their backs and they sit in the filth on the side of the road. None of it seems right. I sit in my taxi, after going to my private clinic, which, if it isn’t up to my standards I can flight to somewhere which is. But these women have nothing. They can’t even afford to feed themselves let alone think about medicine.
I venture to the clinic several times over the next few days. Blood tests, urine tests, results to be collected etc. Each time I take my taxi I see the same women sitting on the street. I walk past these situations almost everyday in Africa but for some reason this one hits me harder. Maybe its because I also feel vulnerable and weak I’m not sure. I never manage to pin it down why those women viewed from my cab have such an impression on me. Maybe its obvious why they have such an impression on me and its why I’ve got so used to seeing this which should worry me more.
The blood tests come back and everything is negative. I’m starting to feel a lot better and although I still have my hand on my bollocks each time I walk anywhere the stronger painkillers are working and the fever hasn’t returned. I can manage to walk to the hotel restaurant and occasionally the good cafÃ© across the street. As long as I’m not on my feet for more than thirty seconds its just about ok. I realize my visa is due to expire, as it’s only valid for one week. There’s no way I can stand in immigration to get an extension. I decide to call the British embassy. I give them a call and Melchoir comes over a few hours later. He’s a really nice guy and takes my passport and tells me he’ll fix up the extension no problem. I ask him if he has any English books, and he says he’ll ask one of the British folk in the office. I’m worried about my mental health. I’ve been sick for one week now and all has been ok but its only two weeks since I got over my malaria and total insolated hell. I’m scared the same thing will happen again if I’m not careful. I look at busing it back to Uganda. I could stay on the lake for a couple of weeks and its only 6-7 hours by bus. The only problem is I really couldn’t stand in the queues at the immigration posts. If I can get a stream of books to read maybe I can manage my isolation.
The following day Jenny comes round. She a British girl working in the embassy. She’d heard I was ill and came to see if I was ok. I tell her that apart from struggling to walk all seems to be getting better. Then she says some of the nicest words I’ve ever heard “Would you like to borrow a TV and DVD player”. I can’t believe she just said it. All my worries of loneliness taken away by avid movie watching. She asks if I’ve eaten and then invites me over for dinner. Her driver drives us around to her house and I sit in ore of my surroundings. It’s the first time in a very long time since I’ve been in a “proper” house. There’s a nice couch and shelves full of books and DVD’s. A CD rack and stereo, lamps and a coffee table. We eat queue and Brie and crackers and its heaven. The driver takes me back to my hotel armed with a TV, DVD player and enough DVD’s to keep me occupied for a month. Jenny not only has lent me loads of movies but she also has great taste and has given me loads of British comedy. One of the few things I really miss about being away is watching decent British comedy. I sit up all night watching TV and then spend the following few days constantly watching TV and ordering food from the hotel restaurant and eating it in bed. It feels like the most luxury I’ve been in since the beginning of the entire trip. I really am in heaven. The comedy takes my mind from my hurty bollocks and my situation and I don’t feel a single pang of loneliness.
The day’s pass and the pain has all but gone away. It’s left me seriously weak though and I realize I’ll be around a while before I have the energy to leave. Jenny invites me out for the evening and I’m looking forward to a night of company and socializing. I’m picked up and driven around to a friends house. He’s a Frenchman working for an NGO’s. Everyone here is an aid worker. The house is massive and we sit on the veranda drinking beer. Its great to be out and I’m quite taken by the invitation. Its far more than she needs to do. Its been about two weeks now of being in bed and although I’m still weak the pain has gone and I feel ten thousand times better. It’s nice to talk to a bunch of NGO folk and different from the normal conversation with backpackers. I get chatting to an Italian and German girl who live in the Congo. There just in town for the weekend seeing friends. We chat and they tell me they’ve been working overseas in the NGO field for the last ten years. I ask how it is and they both complain about being jaded and cynical. I ask whether they’ve always been like that. They say not and I think it must just be me then. But they say that after so many years your mindset changes. The Italian girl says you just put everything in boxes.
“What kind of boxes I ask”
“Black and white” she reply’s.
And as I look around, of the ten or so people sitting on the veranda, every single person is white.
We venture out after a few beers and end up in a club. It’s a good night and I’d happily carry it on till dawn.
The week continues. The pain is all gone but I’m weak. I go for a swim in the Novatel hotel next door to mine. Its Bujumbura’s only 4 star hotel but really it looks like a eighties council office building which should be condemned. The swim is nice but makes me realize how weak I really am. I head back to bed and watch more and more TV.
The days are now turning to weeks and getting long. After I’ve watched all the good British comedy, endless films and even the entire first series of Prison Break I’m getting a little bored. I try to walk a little further and further each day to build my strength up. But the distances are short, I walk one kilometer and it kills me. I’d lie by the pool all day at he Novatel, but although its hot, it’s the wet season and the days are a amalgamation of sun and torrential down pours. I very randomly find “Yes Prime Minister” on a pirated DVD and spend two days watching every episode ever made. It’s a great show but really I’m staring to get sick of all of it.
I go and see Jenny at the embassy and we head out for a few beers. It’s a nice evening and I’m really glad of the company. She says she’ll give me a shout at the weekend and we’ll go out for dinner and beers or something. But when the weekend comes she doesn’t come round. Every time I go out and come back to the hotel I’m hoping for a message has been left, but it hasn’t. I’m started to get really down. I’m not taking this personally, she’s a very busy woman, but I really need some company. My conversations talking to Eric, the hotel receptionist, are short as he’s now studying for his exams, so instead of sitting about chatting to me in the evening he’s busy with his books.
I head around to see Jenny on Monday. It’s been a shitty weekend and really left me a bit down. She’s been sick all weekend hence not coming around to see me. I try to shrug it off and say all was ok but really I want to say “I’m so lonely the weekend was hell”. I decide to leave Bujumbura. Malchoir at the embassy makes a few phones calls and says he’s found a shipping company that will take me to Tanzania. I head down to their office at the docks. A woman tells me that there’s a boat leaving tomorrow in the afternoon and arriving in Kigoma, Tanzania the following morning. Its perfect. Its means I can connect with the once a week passenger ferry, which will take me all the way down to Zambia. I ask the price. She wants between fifty to one hundred dollars for it. It’s crazily expensive but I don’t have the energy to cycle and I’d checked out the buses, which had refused to take my bike.
I turn up the next day at 2pm as she told me. But she’s not there she’s on lunch. Her 4X4 Mercedes pulls up into the car park at 3pm. Why did she tell me 2pm when she knew she’d be on lunch? She tells me the boat has been delayed but will sail tomorrow. This will just about give me enough time to connect with the ferry to Zambia. I’m pissed off but as long as I can get the connection all will be ok.
I return the following day at 3pm, she’s back from lunch but tells me the boat is still not leaving today. This means I’ve missed the connection from Kigoma to Zambia on the passenger ferry. I’m really pissed off. I’ve had enough of being in Bujumbura and I now really just want to leave. I need to get moving, to stop mopping around. We chat and she tells me that I can connect with another fright boat going all the way to Zambia. It’s not really what I want. Three to four days on a freight boat would be along time. There won’t be any facilities onboard, like a bed or food, and it’ll actually cost me more than the passenger ferry. I cycle back to the hotel, check back into my room and hope that the next day I can get a boat.
I’m back at the office at 3pm the following day. This is the third time I’ve turned up. I walk into the office. We go through the normal pleasantries, but something about the look on her face doesn’t look good. “We have a problem with the boat”. She goes to tell me the boat will not be sailing today. I ask about tomorrow but she’s not so sure about that either. What I then realize is that there was obviously no definite time for the boats departure anyway. Why couldn’t she just tell me the truth? That the boat will sail, but she’s not sure when. I’m really really pissed off. Why can’t African’s just tell you the truth? Why do they just say yes to please you? I don’t think I’m asking for much. I’m not asking for a timetable or a schedule or anything definite, just the truth, and not to be lied to. I cycle back to the hotel. I check back into my room for the third time. Louise the receptionist comes over to see me.
“You come back?”
“Why do Africans just say yes when really they mean that they haven’t got a fucking clue?”
“There is no boat”
“This woman drives a fifty thousand dollar car. What the fuck does she get paid for?”
Louise looks at me like I’m a bit mental. “Maybe you leave by bicycle then”. I try to smile. “Yes maybe I do”.
I jump in a cab and head down to a bar on the lake side. I order a beer and sit and watch the sunset. I’m so annoyed, I really just want to leave. I don’t think I could cope to cycle through this country. Apart from the obviously security risks I haven’t cycled in over seven weeks. With all my sickness I’ve done nothing in all this time. I just don’t feel mentally or physically that I could do it. I know the road remains flat along the lake but after that there’s a thousand meter climb back into the mountains and then over to Tanzania. I’m feeling low. I spent so much time alone doing nothing it’s just got to me. I sit a drink another beer as the sun goes down and feel so lonely. The bar is getting busy with ex-pats, as they finish work and come to socialize with their colleagues. I’m hoping maybe I'll see someone I met at the party the other week and could have some company, but all the faces are those of strangers. There are two young English girls sitting on the table in front of me. I tempted to go and say hi, but feel I need a reason to disturb them. “Can I please talk to you, as I’ve been in bed for the last five weeks and for the two weeks before that I had malaria and was in bed again going mental and I’ve only had about three evenings out with company in all that time and I’ve been so starved of human interaction and conversation its starting to eat away at me and its getting so bad that now I’m so so lonely its fucking killing me and I really need someone to talk to” I can’t really say that can I? They’re both smoking and I’m tempted to ask for a cigarette as an ice breaker, maybe there’ll feel sorry for me and invite me over. But I haven’t smoked in months and the last thing I actually want is a cigarette. So I let them be and order a pizza to cheer me up. But it costs US$10 and isn’t even that good. I stagger outside jump in cab and head back to the hotel - again feeling lost and lonely.
I’ve a bit of a hang over in the morning and try to sort my head out over breakfast. I realize I have to cycle to get out of this country. I have to cope with being on my own and I have to pull myself back together. But its easier said than done. I find a small stone in the bottom of bag which I’d forgotten all about. It has a salmon carved into it. It was a present from an ex-girlfriend before leaving on the trip. It’s to represent strength and determination. I remember her giving it to me and telling me I’d need all the strength and determination in the world to complete my trip. I’m far too old and cynical to cling to such sentimental nostalgia but I put the stone in my pocket that day and every time I think “fuck it I just want to give up” I hold it and think about how far I’ve come. I go for a bike ride. I climb the hill outside of the city and am in ore of the beautiful view stretching across the lake to the mountains of the Congo. I’m not quiet as unfit as I thought I might be and this short journey has done wonders for my spirits.
I go and see Jenny and tell her I didn’t leave and I’ll be leaving by bike in a few days. She looks worried. Due to the government travel restrictions she or any of her colleagues aren’t actually allowed to travel outside Bujumbura. As the her office says its not safe to tavel there it won’t let its staff go there either. I ask how they know its not safe it they don’t go there. Reports from the UN and NGO’s agencies I’m told. But the UN is prone to exaggeration as they get paid more money the more dangerous the area is. Everybody’s is telling me I’ll be fine, the war is over and all will be good. Either way I have no choice. Jenny invites me to a party on Friday night which is really cool, and with something to look forward to and daily bikes rides to improve my fitness the next few days fly by as I get ready for my departure.
I’m picked up on Friday night and driven to the party. Its big. Maybe a couple hundred people, lots of locals and more muzungu’s than I’ve seen in a long time. Its nice to chat and drink beer and stand in the warm air of some NGO’s huge garden. I get chatting to a young English guy who’s working for the UN. I’m kind of taking the piss out of the UN but he’s really defensive about it all and I start to feel a little uncomfortable, like I’ve actually offended him. I get into another conversation that could quite easily end up in an argument as I get passionate but drop it quickly and remember to be on my best behaviour. I decide to tell my bollock story but people look a little disturbed by this. Then someone says something which I think really weird. Were talking about the UK and going home and one guy says he wants to return to the UK soon as it’ll be “Good for his career”. It’s a perfectly legitimate thing to say, but it really reminds me that for so long I haven’t met people who say things like this. Its seems like I’ve surrounded myself so much in the traveler backpacker culture I’d actually forgotten what normal people are like. Normal people do things that are good for their careers, they buy cars and houses and get stressed and go to work. They have friends they met more than three days previous and see their families on a regular basis. It all seems incredibly surreal. It’s a good night and I end up in casino drinking large scotches and meet an incredible drunken Canadian Consulate. I’m dropped off at home realizing that all night I spent exactly zero money.
Two days later I’m pulling out of the Hotel Le Doyen and down the pot holed streets of Bujumbura. Ten miles later I’m out of the city and cruising along the lakeside. It’s a beautiful sunny day, the sky’s clear and the mountains green. There’s a smile on my face. Small sandy beaches line the lakeshore and in any other country hotels and campsites would litter the lake. But here there’s nothing, just the crystal clear waters and the reflection of the mountains.
I stop in a small town and eat a beautiful barbequed fish for lunch. An old guy in a gleaming white tracksuit comes over to talk to me, he’s friendly but obviously hasn’t realized that trying to dress forty years your junior just makes you look silly. I push on, the roads flat and easy going. There’s plenty of stares but friendly faces and no obvious signs of war. I arrive in Nyanza Lac in the late afternoon. The town has big dot on the map and even I sign saying airport, but there’s nothing there. It’s a dusty, dirty and very run down. I look around for a guesthouse but see nothing. I guy pulls up on a motorbike and asks if I need help. I ask about lodging and he points me over to a guesthouse. There’s no sign but out the back on an empty bar are some rooms. The owner shows me a room. There’s no mosey net and its really pretty grim. The price - Seven dollars! I barter him down to $4 and head out to eat. Darkness has fallen and most of the town doesn’t appear to have power. Candles burn away in little huts and bicycles nearly hit me and I wander down the black street. I see a place grilling brochettes and order three. A plastic chair is pulled out and a make shift table is put in front of me. I buy a warm Amstel. The streets busy with life and people which I’m guessing shows is fairly safe after dark. A guy sits down opposite me with his two young kids. He’s well dressed and fat and his kids stare wide eyed at me. “They never see muzungu before” he says in English. I often think that in lots of places, but it still weird to be told it. We chat as I chew my brochettes and drink my beer. I then I head home, stopping only to buy some mosey coils.
The rooms hot as hell and I decide to open the window for some air. With two mosey coils burning I hope that that will keep the beasts at bay. But I find it hard to sleep and can hear moseys buzzing past my ear. I cover my hands and neck in repellent and pull the sheet over me. I toss and turn all night and feel like shit when I awake in the morning. I haven’t slept a wink and my head hurts like hell. I’ve a cold. My head is totally blocked and with the heat the pressure is killing me. This is not what I need. Anywhere else and I’d go back to bed and stay another night. But not in this mosquito infested hole. I get up and have breakfast. I’m hoping to feel better the longer I’m awake but its working the other way around. I assume after so long of being sick my immune system is right down. That’s why one night’s bad sleep can trigger such a cold. I get on Harvey, I know I have a big big climb today but think that maybe I’ll get into it. Three flat miles later I can barely go on. I have absolutely no energy and a banging head. I have to make a decision what to do. I decide I’ll try to see if there’s another hotel and stay the night. I cycle back into town and have another look around. There’s nowhere else to stay except my sauna mosey pit. I stop near some mini buses and ask about the bus to the Tanzanian border. Within moments there’s a huge crowd gathered very close around me. I’m not in the mood and physically push one guy back who has his face ten centimeters from mine. The crowd thinks this is hilarious and I try to make gestures for them to move back, but none do. A fat guy in a suit tells me this mini bus will take me up the hill about twenty km’s from the Tanzanian border. I start to cram Harvey into the back of the mini bus and the suited guy asks for some water. I take a bottle from my carrier and past it to him. I expect him to just take a few swigs and hand it back, but he just walks off with my bottle!
I’m sitting cramped in the mini bus, my eyes closed my head slouched on my bag. I feel a prod in my side. I guy starts to make conversation. I can barely keep my eyes open let along talk. He’ll stop talking for a while and I’ll shut my eyes and try to sleep but then there’s another prod and another question for me to ask. The bus winds up the hill. There’s no way on earth I’d of every of managed it. Its must be a thousand meter climb at least. Forty-five minutes later I’m climbing out of the mini bus and into the cool mountain air. There’s a crowd around and I ask about a guesthouse. I’m not expecting it but I’m told there’s one a couple of km’s from town. I load Harvey back up and head off. The town is beautiful, completely surrounded by mountains all lush and green. Pine trees grown along the side of the road and I think if this was a town in India or SE Asia it would be absolutely packed with backpackers. But its not, it’s in Burundi, a country forgotten, ignored and scarred with war and poverty. I find the guesthouse and am shown a simple room. Its clean and has a double bed. I strip off and climb straight into bed and fall instantly asleep.
I awake hours later and walk into town. Darkness is falling and I realize I’ve been sleeping all afternoon. The cool air of this mountain town has reduced the throbbing in my head and all day in bed had made my cold a thousand times better. I eat more brochettes while talking to a woman who tells me her less than glamorous life story. I head back home with my torch through the blackness, climb back into bed and sleep another twelve hours.
I push out of town in the morning. Get stamped out of Burundi a good twenty kilometers before the border and head over the mountains towards Tanzania. The track rises high showing beautiful views of the mountains and pine forests. I push on till I reach a few small huts. I eat a bowl of rice and beans, change some Burundian Francs to Tanzanian Shillings and head through a makeshift barrier and into Tanzania.
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