(I've changed the name from "Rants" given that I can't really rant about many things that frustrate me here, at least not without getting into some sort of trouble. As such, you'll have to wait for the book.)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

First Trip to the Field

After a few days of staff meetings, signing billions of documents and house hunting, I escaped for a couple of days to travel to the northern part of the country where we have a field site and loads of interesting activities. The reasons for the trip were to attend some meetings, visit a refugee camp where we will begin working soon and also visit some of the projects that we are working on in the region.

the hills of Burundi
Traveling in Burundi is very different from Tanzania. Given the small size of the country you can get to most anywhere within a half day. An added advantage is that there are good tarmac roads that connect all the major areas. This is very cool since the bumpy roads in rural Tanzania have a habit of bruising all of your internal organs during the long, dusty treks from one place to the next.


So Monday morning we headed out with six people crammed into a Toyota Prado. The late dry season haze blurred the hills that border Bujumbura to the west. Our route would take us up through this rugged terrain which remained hilly all the way to our destination. In fact, Burundi is entirely made up of hills and one of the most beautiful places in Africa – at least from what I've seen. I say this having been told by my Burundian colleagues that I haven't even seen it at its best which is supposedly a clear day during the rainy season. Well, I'm looking forward to it and I'll have my camera ready.

having a look at a new bridge
Speaking of camera, you'll notice in this blog that I appear in some of the photos. This is rare in that I had a guy with me that was shooting pictures of our projects as we moved from one location to the next. Though I had my camera with me, most of the time I didn't pull it out.

life in the camp
We arrived in Muyinga around noon, visited the office, had some lunch and sped off to one of the refugee camps for a "town hall" meeting with refugees. The head table consisted of heads of a handful of organizations that work in the camp as well as the UN and the head of the local government. There were a few speeches and then we broke up into smaller groups to meet with various refugee committees on a variety of topics. Our group focused primarily on the protection of women and girls – a topic of special importance when working with Congolese refugees.

listening to speeches

That evening we had a drink at a local watering hole and then dinner at our guesthouse. The house is an architectural nightmare that adds insult to injury in the form of pink tiles, pink and orange curtains and topped off by my favorite pasty white fluorescent lighting. Having said that, the essentials were there. I had a hot shower (shared with a number of creepy, crawly things) and a comfortable bed (hopefully not shared with the creepy, crawly things).

visiting a new school
The next day we were off to an early meeting with the same organizations as the day before. I was a marginally relevant addition to the meeting until around mid-morning at which time I left things in the capable hands of a couple of my staff and I went off to visit some of our projects in the area. The schedule was quite tight and I had to cram in as much as possible.

With the exception of some small meetings and some email time, that was how I spent the rest of the day. The following day consisted of more project visits until mid-morning and then the half-day drive back to Bujumbura. The return, though I was a bit dirty and weary, was nothing like the arduous treks back and forth from Dar to the refugee camps in Tanzania. Not only does the latter take additional time and modes of transportation, you and your belongings are covered with red dust that seems to find its way into every nook and cranny including ears, pockets, keyboards, nostrils, etc.

roadside kiln for making bricks
Back to Buj

And the house hunt continues. I'm told it's normal for it to take some time to find the right house. Given that realization and the fact that the agreement ended on our tiny guesthouse, we just moved into a new temporary house until we find a place of our own. We were able to get a cool place near the lake that would be too small to live in for longer term but at least now have a bit more space and it no longer feels like we're living in a hallway closet.

hitching a ride
No real complaints though. We've been blessed in more ways than I can count. Happy to be here.

another way of hitching a ride




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