(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, June 22, 2016

Update



I'm in the vehicle as I type, heading back to Bujumbura from visiting staff and activities in Ruyigi and Muyinga. Over the past decade I've somehow developed a skill of working on my computer in the car without getting carsick. It's an important talent given the amount of time I've spent in Land Cruisers on windy and often bumpy, organ-jiggling roads.

the traditional Burundian drummers at World Refugee Day celebration I was attending
The past few months have gone by very quickly. I’ve made three trips to Rwanda, a trip to the US (including NY and DC). We had a visit by our organization’s president which included a trip to the field (and briefly across the border into Tanzania). I’ve gone from losing almost my entire international team (partially related to the crisis) to successfully replacing each position.

The past year has been one of the most challenging of my career. Fortunately no staff were killed though we did have a few close calls, including a grenade that hit one of our Land Cruisers. We also had some leave the country for their safety. Some have sent their families out of the country as refugees while the head of household remains behind to work. We had a few staff that were arrested but all were subsequently released. 

The good news is that things are better than they were. It's still a stressful environment. But the new team is strong and everyone seems to be getting along well.  The country continues to stumble along. There has been a decline in the sound of gunfire and grenade explosions though we know it’s still happening on a near daily basis.

A couple of weeks ago during our Monday morning meeting (which takes place outside in a round, thatched meeting area) we heard the popping of gunfire not far from our compound. I paused for a second to listen and confirm that it was what I thought it was. There were a couple more shots. A couple of people nodded in confirmation though no one said anything. We just carried on with the meeting. 

making sure the kids don't move any closer
Otherwise, things move on. No one knows where this is going. Negotiations don't seem to be going anywhere. Life is tough for most. As I keep saying, Burundians are very resilient and seem to adjust to the situation as it evolves. It comes from decades of struggle, from colonial times until now. I do believe that in the long run this country is going to pull out of this cycle of nonsense. Just not yet. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Adieu Kigali



I recently returned from Kigali. I’ve been going there on a monthly basis for about five and a half years. Though I’ve never officially lived in Rwanda I feel like I have. I had a house. I had my things in the house including basic clothes, running shoes, etc. When I traveled there I didn’t have to pack much. I knew my way around. I had friends there (Though to be honest, I tended to be pretty antisocial when I was there. Because I could only be there for a week or less per month, I tried to make up for it by filling my schedule with internal and external meetings, engaging as much as possible to compensate for the fact that I was based in another country).
our house

I also had my routines. By nature I tend to be a creature of habit. I had restaurants I would regularly go to, often alone with my laptop. Soon after arriving in country I would generally pop out to go buy some breakfast things at a favorite bakery. I would also go for runs near the Ministry of Defense, taking my phone and listening to BBC news podcasts.

saying a few words at our farewell party
Much of this stuff I did during this recent visit. I’m not entirely sure it will be my last. There’s a slight chance I may need to go again during June but we’ll see. For now I considered it my last and I was surprised at how I felt about it. Though I know some people really like Kigali, I don’t often find people that are passionate about it, including among Rwandan friends. On the other hand, Bujumbura seems to elicit some sort of emotional response from people. I know of so many people, Burundian or expat, who have a deep attachment to the place. It’s sort of like I would imagine an attraction to someone who suffers from substance abuse. You see the problems but you also see through them to something more beautiful. You accept the flaws because you are attracted to something deeper.

Being attracted to Kigali is not the same. It’s way different from being attracted to a crack addict. It’s clean and orderly. It’s moving forward economically. It’s relatively not very corrupt. I’ve heard it described as soul-less. It may be a bit harsh but it certainly doesn’t have the charm that Bujumbura has, again, in spite of the city’s addiction to crisis.

the group photo - former staff, current staff, guests
Nonetheless, as I went through my paces during this recent visit to Rwanda I found myself being more nostalgic than I anticipated. I felt a bit more emotional than I expected as I was saying farewells to staff. As I went for my run Wednesday evening, the neighborhood where our house is located seemed more charming to me. I felt like I saw things that I hadn’t noticed before. I was sort of sad that I wouldn’t be doing all these things anymore nor seeing these people anymore.

There’s no question this will make my life easier. The last time I calculated I was spending 47% of my work days on the road someplace. I look forward to that changing. I look forward to spending more time with my family. I look forward to investing more time in our work in Burundi given the serious troubles the country is experiencing. 

The IRC was one of the first international organizations in the country post-genocide in 1994. It worked with the government and the people to help rebuild over the past 22 years. Now that the country is stable and has fewer acute humanitarian needs, it's time for us to go. Obviously there is still more to do, but that will be the work of the government, civil society,  development organizations and the people of Rwanda. For us, being a crisis/humanitarian organization, our job is done. 

So, adieu Rwanda. I will probably be back to visit at some point. We shall see.