(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.)

Sunday, August 21, 2011


So the relationship with my family has been reduced to this:

Now I'm not complaining. Seeing my wife and baby for weeks and weeks via my computer screen is amazing. I compare it to when I first left the US and my communication with family was a short once-or-twice-a-year phone call and letters which usually would take two weeks to arrive. A video call back then would have been science fiction. But I'd still like to have the real deal.

Sad Story, To Say The Least

I went to church this morning. One of the things this church does is call the children up to the front before the sermon. Then they are released to go terrorize their Sunday school teachers. You have all sizes and shapes. There are a couple of white kids but the rest are mostly Burundian. As I looked at them I wondered about the future of the children in this country. Often when we're tired of the bad news we hear or read about, looking at children gives us a bit of hope. As I looked at these kids, I have to say that I wish I were more hopeful.

Towards the end of last year I was informed that a girl had been raped in a community where we work just a few kilometers from here. She was 9. Tragically that's not necessarily rare news here. Even more tragically, that's not the worst part of this particular story.

The alleged perpetrator was arrested. A sick footnote is that he happened to be in a relationship with the girl's mother at the time of the rape. Apparently he's not a nice guy but since the mother is single, often women are desperate for some sort of financial support. Your choices in this situation are limited. I was also told that, though he is in jail, he may not stay there if there is no solid case brought against him. For poor people here, that's not an easy thing to do. You can't just put a case forward to a state-appointed attorney and just sit back and watch the system do its thing. Moreover, power and/or money can easily make things go away. 

Then in May the girl disappeared and no one has known what happened to her. Until last week.

I was informed on Wednesday that the girl was found dead just a few kilometers from Bujumbura. She'd been decapitated and left in the woods not far from her village. Because there is no embalming or refrigeration, funerals generally happen quickly. They held this one on Friday. According to the mother, the rapist's brother is allegedly responsible for the killing.

a girl similar in age to the victim
(my colleague Felix took this)
I normally don't use the blog to go into the dramas that are the realities of life in the developing world. I hear tragic stories on a daily basis through my staff, counterparts in the government or other organizations and in my security reports. It's quite messy here and it's not my intention to depress people in the developed world as they are sipping their morning coffee. I normally discuss these things in general terms, possibly to let people know about the context in which I work but also to remind people that there are some nasty things going on and a broken dishwasher just may not be the end of the world. This situation, however, struck me as one that shows the dysfunction of so many aspects of this society. It's ugly and sad and I felt compelled to write about it.

I'm sure that the psychoanalyst in some of you might say that he just had a daughter and therefore such things are striking a chord that they didn't previously. Maybe. One thing is for sure, though I have far thicker skin now that I did many years ago, I always want this sort of thing to affect me. I never want to get to the point that I am numb to such tragedies no matter how often I hear about them.

So as I looked at those children this morning (girls all standing straight and boys punching each other), I felt a cautious smile come to my face. The vast majority of violent crime in this country, including the above case, is cause by people who were in their formative years during the 13-year civil war that officially ended in 2006. Encouragement can be drawn from the fact that those children have no conscious memory of life in wartime (instability of course but not war). Maybe, just maybe, that will make the difference.

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