(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.)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Workers' Day

Over 80 countries in the world recognize Workers’ Day as a national holiday. I looked up the May 1 on Wikipedia to see if I could find out more about the day. One interesting thing it said that the “earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian times”. Given that the Christian calendar didn’t exist pre-Christ, I find that a bit odd. I’m going to assume that they meant that there were spring celebrations which were later associated with what we call today May Day.

In Burundi each year it is a rather big day. So many people do not have employment and those that do are grateful. Some areas have parades in which staff wear the matching shirts from their organization, carry a flag or banner and march with pride. They usually congregate at rented restaurant or reserved table (depending on the size of the organization or company) for food, drinks and speeches. 

Since I’ve been in Burundi I have celebrated the event with staff here in Bujumbura. Though it’s a day off, most staff are happy to join in on the festivities, fun and, of course, free food and drink. This year, however, I decided that I would make my way to one of our field sites and join in with the team there. Because staff in some of the more remote areas often feel neglected, I thought this was a way to demonstrate to them their importance. I also was due for a visit to the field since I’d been in Rwanda and Entebbe so much the last couple of months. But to avoid being away from my family yet again, we decided that they would join in on the 3-day, 2-night journey which would also include a trip to our other site in Muyinga where I could attend the inauguration of our new office there.

Bujumbura to Ruyigi
We left around midday that Wednesday. It’s about a 3-hr drive and the road is mostly good. We stopped in Gitega at a decent grocery store before pushing on to our site in Ruyigi. We arrived at the restaurant just in time as staff had already assembled in the usual socially awkward seating arrangement – a single row of plastic chairs around the periphery of the room. It was standard in Tanzania as well. It doesn’t facilitate personal interaction since you’re stuck with only a person on each side of you. Consequently, after people have exhausted the conversation opportunities with their neighbors, they proceed to bury their noses in their cell phones.
our small Ruyigi team
As we entered, attention was immediately drawn to the little 21-month-old who was relieved to be out of her car seat and start working the room. The standard head table was awaiting us at the end of the room with the padded chairs. No plastic flowers adorning the table – probably a good call given that Kiran would have had her way with them.

The evening was nice. Drinks. Conversation. Speeches. Photos. Food. We then bid our farewell and headed to our hotel.

Kavumu
The next morning we were up and off to another brief event. The head of UNHCR for Burundi, a colleague and friend, was in the area and conducting a visit of the new refugee camp in Kavumu with the local governor and other partners. I was invited to participate given that we are their largest partner in the country and the largest organization working in the camp. I also had wanted to meet with our staff and see the new facilities as all the basics were in place and we were starting to welcome new refugees from violence in the Congo.
Kavumu - just like building a new town

The only hesitation I had was that I had my family with me. I was hoping that the visit would be relatively short and efficient. In the end it was. But it did get a bit hot while Priya and Kiran waited and the latter generated a rather large mob of curious toddlers so they had to seek refuge in the vehicle from the refugee children. Eventually my tour of the facilities with the Rep. and the governor concluded and we were able to head back down the rather nasty road back to the main road towards Cankuzo. From there we would cross the Ruvubu National Park towards Muyinga.

Cankuzo to Muyinga
This was a road I’d never taken. Since I arrived in Burundi the area has mostly been off limits for security reasons (i.e. banditry). The road is horrible and the armed bad guys had the habit of hanging out near the worst spots as drivers slowed to navigate the mud, ruts or whatever and they would jump the vehicle. Lately however the security situation has improved and we decided that it was safe enough for travel.  In the end that was the case. We were in a convoy of four-wheel-drive vehicles which included the Cankuzo governor so it added to the chance that we would make it without mishap. It didn’t make the road any smoother however. My poor pregnant wife was uncomfortably jostled around in the back seat and she made it clear she didn’t appreciate it. Fair enough. I didn’t realize that it would be quite as bad as it was. 
the amazing colors of the Ruvubu River

I should say that it was particularly beautiful and, once they build the new road, it is a drive that I would highly recommend. Though there are supposed to be all kinds of wildlife, we certainly didn't see much. I suspect much of was poached during and after the war. 

After what seemed like forever, we arrived at the ever-elusive town of Muyinga. As we pulled into our new office compound, the last ribbons and other decorations were being put in place. After the long drive and with a restless toddler, we agreed that it would be wise for Priya and Kiran to skip the inauguration even and go to our guesthouse. I would join them after more drinks, conversation, speeches, photos and food.

Muyinga staff assembled for the speeches
Muyinga to Bujumbura
The next morning we had breakfast and headed to the office for a quick hello, download emails and pick up our driver. I have a lot of talented and interesting staff in Muyinga and I enjoy going there. This visit would be very short but I assured them that I would be back before too long. So we bid farewell and headed off for the capital. 

The return seemed to go quickly. I was able to get some things done in the car and, given that it was now Friday, take some work pressure off my weekend – something I’ve been able to do better this year than in previous years. With a job like mine, a child and another on the way, time management is key. And spending time playing with my daughter is good for both of us.

“Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.”
-Heraclitus, philosopher (500 BCE)


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