(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, May 15, 2012

Odds and Ends


The Witch is Back
Life in Burundi goes on. Last week an armed gang kidnapped, killed and dismembered an albino girl in what was Burundi's 18th such slaying in less than four years. Albinos have long been the target of discrimination in several African countries, particularly in Tanzania. It’s likely that this body was meant to be sold across the border. Beliefs attributing albinos special powers exist in the region and the victims' limbs are generally sold to witchdoctors. Usually the parts are dried and ground into powder. The belief is that if you ingest some of the albino you will become wealthy. In the latest overnight attack a week ago Saturday, seven men armed with spears, a rifle and machetes went into a home near Bujumbura and kidnapped a 15-year-old girl. The group then killed her and chopped off her arms and legs, which they took with them. Before one thinks that these are primitive, historical tribal beliefs that the region can’t seem to shake, an article in a local newspaper written by a Tanzania historian stated that while there have been a variety of different beliefs pertaining to albinism over time, there is no evidence that these current wicked practices ever existed until recently. Sad that a population, many of whom are well educated, can believe in such things.  A few years ago a statement by the Tanzanian president criticized the greed that led to the killings that were on the increase in his country. While it was commendable that he condemned the acts, he refrained from dismissing the practice as nonsense.

In Yo Bid-ness
One of the first things I realized when I began working in sub-Saharan Africa is how much people observe what I do. Initially I dismissed the idea as it was brought to my attention by an Australian colleague when I first arrived in the Côte d’Ivoire. I figured he was just a bit paranoid. Over time, however, I began to realize through some of my national staff colleagues that this was in fact true. People generally know a lot about how I spend my time, what church I go to, who my friends are, etc. Guards, cleaning staff, etc. can be conduits of information about everything from what time you get home on weekends to what type of underwear you have. One thing people do is go through our garbage every day (I often see things I’ve thrown away resurface in various places). Foreigners in all cultures can be objects of curiosity. It’s not unique to Africa. If you’re of a different culture or religion in certain neighborhoods in the US or Europe, you’ll also have people watching your every move (though they will likely not be yelling “Muzungu”, going through your garbage and asking for money).

Not More about the Baby…
Given that I travel about 50% of my working life, I am obliged to deal with a considerable amount of time away from my family. The other morning as I was leaving the house to go to Rwanda for the week, my cute little daughter crawled on her hands and knees up to the door just after I closed it. As I looked back, I saw her standing up against the glass, about the same height as my kneecaps, smiling. I have to say, that’s tough, particularly given that I wouldn’t see her for the next few days. I’m doomed.

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