By Gera Tsahalin, Burundi Coordinator
The river winds through the dense flora and flows into the stunning delta of a deep blue lake, its waters sparkling under the sun. Its banks are shaped by steep, jagged peaks- to the west, the Congo and to the east, the capital city of Bujumbura (“Buja”). That is the view that greets visitors to Burundi as the plane lands.
“The end of the world”- a tiny airport, just 20 brave passengers who came all the way from Ethiopia and didn’t get off at the stopover in Nairobi. It’s the only plane in the airport.
That is Burundi- beautiful, small, and off the radar.
Cosmo-political and pleasant Buja, with its night life, beaches, amazing food, luxury neighborhoods right adjacent to rundown slums doesn’t represent the rest of the country: hills and more hills, sustainable agriculture that does not sustain everyone, very little transportation and vibrant street life. Bike riders, carrying heavy loads, racing downhill and pushing their loads up the next, their sweat dripping onto the asphalt roads built with the same sweat and some European, Japanese and Chinese money over the past decade. Alongside, women and children are selling a variety of goods: fruits, vegetables, meat, coal and more. The people travelling in private cars and public transport are good customers.
Along the lake, lake Tanganika, the Kirundi language makes way for Kiswahili- the trade language in East Africa; the religion changes from the Christian hegemony to a new medley, with a significant Muslim presence, and the atmosphere reminds me of vibrant Mombasa.
In the rural setting, the asphalt turns to dirt, the electricity cables disappear and we are as if transported back in time. There are almost no centralized villages, people and houses are dispersed along the hilly ranges, and there is plenty of water in the rivers and streams. Other than the morning hours, when dozens of children (the lucky ones) are rushing off to school while their parents head off to work in the farm, and the afternoon when both return back home, life goes on idly, under the wide equatorial skies and the sun hung at an angle so straight, that all shadow of the self is lost.
The level of violence is significantly lower than any other African country I have visited. The majority of the people are polite and respect others personal space. Tourism does not exist, and never did, and the commercial orientation in the entire country is very low. In my opinion, this adds to its magic- waterfalls, beautiful beaches and many more hidden gems exist, some known to all and others only to very few…
There are many organizations, but very few white people outside of Buja. It is clear that the local population is not used to the company of outsiders, and it will be fascinating to see what this new unconditional meeting with the Tevel staff and volunteers will create. Time will tell, as the Burundian proverb goes: “Buke buke Bushikana Umusiba Kumugezi” – slowly slowly the worm finds its way to the water source.