I’ve never been here at this time of year. Normally I’m in the US on my R&R visiting family. This year of course is different. I pushed my leave back to be here during the elections. It sort of worked. With the postponement of the election dates I will only have been here for the local and parliamentary which was on Monday.
I suppose I should be flattered that there’s been this big fuss around my leaving for a few weeks. It almost didn’t happen. There have been loads of discussions around when and if I should go given what is going on in the country. As director I'm sort of the last one standing. I am currently the only expat here. I agree that my presence has probably been a positive thing. I’ve heard on number of occasions how staff are appreciative that I have remained though most other expats based in the capital, including heads of NGOs, have been gone for weeks. At church last Sunday a couple of people told me the same thing. Many feel that the international community is abandoning them during this time of need.
Having your leave approved is no small feat during times like this. I spoke to someone from the US embassy on Sunday and she was scheduled to leave this week to go to the US to her son’s wedding. At that point they hadn’t approved her leave and she was getting a bit tense. Understandably so. My leave was just approved on Wednesday.
But to be honest, I have a solid team and they know what they are doing. Though my presence might provide some comfort – the confidence that someone is that the helm. But in reality when things unravel, these guys are good. I know because we were all tested during the attempted coup d’état back in mid-May. Amidst the sound of gunfire, grenade blasts and heavy artillery, the key staff maintained composure and did rather well. At one point I was talking on the phone to my operations coordinator and his house happened to be just a few hundred meters from the area which was sort of the epicentre for the conflict. Though I was hearing the battle from my house, the sounds coming through the phone were deafening. I can’t imagine the stress he was going through. Clearly there are some things that we learned and changed but it generally gave me more confidence to step aside for a few weeks. Lord knows I need it.
Two attack helicopters were flying overhead on Wednesday, Independence Day. Tension has been high. Gunfire and grenade blasts occur nightly and sometimes even during the day. I don’t think anyone feels that the opposition is going to take the current situation lying down. The question is what they are going to do and when. I figure the helicopters are trying to send a message that the govt. is ready for whatever may come at them. One warning on Twitter the other day from a shopkeeper was to stock up on food for your children. One does not know what may happen.
I did go for a run this morning. I also went on Wednesday, the holiday. I hadn’t seen the schedule for the Independence Day commemorations (and I wasn’t invited – I think it normally it’s for heads of diplomatic missions which I am not). I assumed they would be doing something at this monument area on the hillside near our house, a place where some former presidents are buried. However I didn’t think it would start so early. About 7:15 I headed up the hill on this loop I normally run. Suddenly I was engulfed in heavily armed police and military. They were quite nice though as I snaked my way through the crowd. I even received a couple of thumbs up. I tend to draw a bit more attention these days when I run since it’s known that so many people, and their families, have left the country for security reasons.
So we press on. I will stick it out here in Bujumbura through Monday at which time I will go to Kigali. Looking forward to seeing my wife and daughters. I see them on skype occasionally. It’s killing me. My situation is far worse than most since I have the cutest daughters on the planet.
I will be in Rwanda for just a couple days and then we’re off to the US for a much needed break. Now that my leave is formally approved I can start to enjoy some of the anticipation.
"No drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we're looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed, and love of power."
- P.J. O'Rourke, writer (b. 1947)