(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.)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Uno de Mayo

I was reminded that Cinco de Mayo was being celebrated week before last in the US and Mexico – yet another mysterious holiday where few of the revelers even know what it is. As usual, Americans cranked it up a notch and moved it in a different direction from what it was originally. It's not all bad. A toast to the people and culture on the other side of that growing wall we are building.

serious fun
Here we recognized May Day, a few days before. It's also a bit of a mystery as to what it is exactly but it generally has morphed into an international workers day. The US downplays it since they have their own Labor Day at a different time of year (put that in with all the other things America does differently like miles, Fahrenheit, am/pm, calendars that begin with Sunday, writing the date where the month comes first, etc.) though it apparently was a bigger deal at one time. I do remember learning something about it in elementary school in which there was a May pole with traditional dancers encircling it with ribbons. Not sure I ever really knew what the day was about. In any case, Americans find tipping back margaritas more fun than dancing around a pole. Fair enough.

Here in Burundi it's surprisingly an important day. It is generally a holiday for workers and many, if not most, employers host some sort of celebration for staff. Such was the case for us. I should admit that our "union" representative had to send me an email to notify me of this custom. It's sort of like notifying a friend of your birthday and suggesting he throw a party for you. I don't mind, of course, that I'm notified of such things since it'd be a considerable faux pas to neglect to do so and there are still a lot things I have to learn about local customs. I'll bet he helps me to remember next year as well.

So I suggested that staff organize their own party and the organization picks up the tab. At least that way they have something they will enjoy and I'm not good at such things anyway. They chose a rather simple place, somewhere I'd never been, and it worked out quite well. Most of the hundred or so Bujumbura-based staff turned up early Monday afternoon to the outdoor café/restaurant.

There was, however, the Tanzania flashback when I saw that the plastic chairs were oddly arranged around the perimeter of the facility (rather than around the tables) seemingly intended to limit staff interaction. It also made it awkward for people to use the tables for their drinks and to eat. I saw this sort of thing in TZ a lot. The other anti-social arrangement that is common is having the chairs in rows all facing forward. This comes with a head table (or "high table") normally donned with plastic flowers and often times with colored ribbons and, when possible, placed up on a stage. Anyway, we chose to slide our chairs around to make things easier.

I was only about a half-hour late for the scheduled start which meant I arrived before most people. Priya accompanied me, her first time to meet most of the staff, and it was a pretty enjoyable afternoon. I do like the team here and there's a tremendous wealth of character and experience that comes through in conversations. I often ask those who remained in country throughout the civil war what it was like for them and their families given that I've never experienced such a thing. There are so many examples of tragedy but also personal resolve and triumph. The country is moving forward but it is still in a precarious state. So many years of fighting and animosity create a hangover that is tough to shake – particularly with a younger generation that's never really known anything else.

It will take considerable hard work and continued sacrifice to move this country forward. Hats off to this group of people who are doing their part. Cheers.

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