(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.)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Crazy Stares



I’m sitting in a restaurant on a lunch break. The place is near the lake with a nice view of the mountains in the Congo. There is a cool breeze as I sit outside under the shelter of a large thatched roof. In front of me are two rather large hippos roaming about in the shallows of the lake. A crested crane is strutting near my table, angling for a beef skewer sitting on my plate. It’s a scene that is unlikely to be reproduced during lunch breaks later on in my career.
crappy photo with my beat up phone

It’s the rainy season and I hear the rumble of a storm heading in this direction. The rain usually comes from behind the hills that surround the eastern side of the city and they’re generally packed with thunder and lightning. And yes, I do like a good thunderstorm. The down side is that the heavy rains often dislodge homes and sometimes entire communities from their hillside perches. Deaths and/or injuries are almost a daily occurrence this time of year due to these storms.

the crested crane
Yesterday I left work a bit early to fit in a run before dark. We normally make a loop up the hill from our house, through some rather rich neighborhoods and back down the main road to the house. While I was on the top of the hill it began to dump on me. Lightning was crashing and it made the run far more interesting than usual. As I ran in front of the compound where the president lives there was a guard sitting in a guard tower with a metal roof. I felt a bit exposed running out in the open with the lightning flashing all around but he seemed to be asking for trouble way up there. He stared at me, amazed that this foreigner would be so crazy as to be jogging in the middle of a tempest. Seeing that he was particularly interested in watching me I waved, all the while thinking he was far crazier than I was.

It’s not unusual as an expat to exchange crazy stares – two strangers looking at each other thinking the other one is doing something a bit wacko. A few weeks ago we were dropping Kiran off at school. I had to move a child car seat from my vehicle to hers. Car seats are obviously not common here and it’s likely that most Burundians would see it more as an excessive comfort thing that expats do rather than a safety thing. For Burundians, due to large families (or multiple families sharing cars) and not-so-large cars, people usually pack a ton of kids in the back seat, the seatbelts stuffed far down in the crack of the seat much as it was when I was a kid. As one such car was driving by, slowing to a crawl as it crept maneuvered speed bumps, the driver and passengers stared as I unfastened the seat and carried towards Priya’s car. I looked back at them – amazed that one can fit the equivalent of an entire junior football team in the back seat of an old Toyota Corolla. Two different realities.

After nearly a decade on this continent, I’m obviously not as surprised by things as I used to be. Nonetheless, nearly every day there is something interesting that catches my attention. It’s one of the joys of working and living here. 

As the hippos have wandered off out of sight, I should sign off and wander back to the office. 

And just for fun...