(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, February 25, 2013

And the New Year Begins

From the time we returned from the holidays, it’s been a bit hectic but manageable. I’m not complaining. I’ve certainly dealt with far more than this during the first months of the typical calendar year. Last year it was the integration of the massive logistical support operation. The year before it was our debut in the Burundian refugee camps. Always something. This year, for the first time since I can remember, there is no major crisis or organizational change. It’s just the normal frenetic pace of work.


In January the big event in Bujumbura was the central market fire. It’s hard to overstate how much of an impact this fire has had not only in the capital city but also for Burundi as a whole. In a small country such as this the central market has a reach that, like a spider web, spreads out over the entirety of the country.  With the market now destroyed, the heart of trade for the non-rich (i.e. 99% of the country) has been in turmoil.  
the view of the devastating fire from our house

Those who took to the streets to continue selling their fruits, vegetables, second-hand clothing, shoes, etc. have been under pressure from the police to refrain from trading illegally by the roadside. Prices are rising due to lost inventories and profiteering. Rumors circulate that some important people were responsible for arson. Some have openly said that the market should have been relocated to another area so as not to “clutter” the heart of the capital. Whether it was by tragic design or not, those people are apparently getting their wish as the new market is already under construction far from the city center. 
later in the afternoon a helicopter from Rwanda assists - too little too late

It will be a tough adjustment, not only in the time lag between the fire and the completion of the new structure but the masses using the bus transportation hub at the city center will now be seeking other more modern shops to serve their needs. Once again, people at the lower end, the traders at the market and their customers, are further marginalized.

Kathy’s Visit
Also in January we had a visit from our friend Kathy, our neighbor when we were living in Tanzania. Much has changed since we lived across from each other in our Dar es Salaam apartment building, going for runs around the peninsula, etc. She is now living and working in Mozambique. We have since moved to Burundi and have a daughter. It was great to see her and we sort of picked up where we left off. 
Kiran is still figuring out the yoga thing

We don’t get many visitors here since Burundi is not on the way to anywhere. In addition, Kathy was one of the few non-work-related visitors we had when we were living in Kibondo, Tanzania. She has a sense of adventure and, I should say, in spite of the fact that our countries are not far from each other, it’s no easy feat getting from one to the other.
Kathy, me and Kiran on the iPad

About two weeks ago Priya, Kiran and I headed to Nairobi. We had some doctors appointments (Bujumbura is not a good place to see a doctor) and I had a meeting on Monday. In between all of this we had some planned time for hanging out together as a family. In addition to staying in a decent hotel with a pool, gym and spa, we took advantage of the adventure opportunities near the city.
To be honest, I haven’t had a high opinion of Nairobi. I love it for the access to better health care, climate and shopping but otherwise it is traffic hell. I realize that traffic should be a relatively small part of life but it is telling how much it affects the conversations of my colleagues that are based there. Dar was no picnic when it comes to traffic and I have pained memories of hour-long traffic jams. I appreciate my 10 minute commute across Bujumbura and for now I’m happy to keep it that way.

We were limited on time so we skipped on the game drive in the national park and limited ourselves to the rare giraffe and orphaned elephant sanctuaries. While they weren’t very riveting after living in Tanzania for several years and being regular partakers of the big parks, it was still a nice morning out and Kiran seemed to enjoy it. 

We returned from Nairobi Tuesday night and the next morning I had to board a plane for Kigali for work. In addition to my normal meetings I was to participate in the launch of a new project in partnership with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Rwanda Ministry of Justice. We’d invited the Minister himself but up until the last minute, we didn’t know for sure if he was coming. The event was being held an hour and a half or so outside Kigali, where the project will be taking place, and it is more of a commitment for someone of this stature to attend. Everything was in place. People were arriving. And we waited. Finally we received a call that he was in a vehicle and on the way. Okay, so we’d have to wait a bit but having him come was a huge boost to staff. It was also a nice boost for the project’s credibility for someone like the Minister himself to attend the launch.

As usual, a head table was set up with flowers and some nice office chairs for the important people. Once again I pretended to be one of the important people and took my assigned seat to the right of the Minister with the district mayor on the other side.

The event was late but we made up some time here and there. The Dutch were unable to send someone from their embassy so there was one less speech and I got second billing after the Minister. As luck would have it, the power went out about two minutes into my speech cutting off my microphone.  I took advantage of it to skip some sections, probably to the enjoyment of the audience.  I was informed to do it in English since most of this particular crowd would not be strong in French or English. Plus the government is pushing things more and more in English and it is politically correct to do so (so long as they are translated in Kinyarwanda so that people actually understand). Fair enough. After I finished, the master of ceremonies did a brief summary of my abbreviated words in Kinyarwanda.
I give to the Minister and he gives to the district; that's how it works
Then the Minister spoke. Smart guy and I really like him. We ended up having lunch together and we talked about all kinds of things from unrest in the Congo, the designing of the Rwandan legal system (pretty fascinating actually), our families and even his salary. It cracked me up that he brought it up but since it’s in fact public knowledge, he wasn’t shy about it. He is correct that it’s relatively modest by the standards of most countries. Nonetheless, he still makes more than I do and he has a lot more guards.
a rare sighting - she's sitting still

By Friday evening I was back in Bujumbura with my family. Happy to be home. Saturday we returned to our routines. Early morning run and gym for me. Off to the pool/beach with Priya and Kiran. Lunch there and then Kiran falls asleep in the car on the way back home early afternoon. And so it goes. Pleasantly mundane.

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