buj-toi ton cul, merde!

I have a departure date; I leave for Africa on the night of June 16. I arrive in Kigali on June 18 in time to see the full moon.  Then I will bus down to Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, where I will be based for the next year.

So my aim was a little high with trying to go to Sudan and Chad, both of which are imploding astoundingly fast. I wouldn’t have lasted a week. Instead, Burundi. The idea had been kicking around, I didn’t want to go to grad school yet and had been wanting to get out of the U.S., the details of what I would do were sketchy – I accepted the offer on the spot.

I am trading one Great Lake (Michigan) for another (Tanganyika). Continuity, 10 extra credit points. My new title is ‘Great Lakes Regional Coordinator’, still (forever) for the Heartland Alliance. My first task is to implement a project so that I will have something to coordinate. Here’s the plan: “network” (booze and schmooze) my way into the good graces of international and local agencies so they will help me establish a residential shelter for female child soldiers who need assistance to reintegrate into their communities. Simple. In addition to this imaginary shelter that I have to set up from scratch, I also have to take numerous trips to Eastern Congo to do…something? Eastern Congo is up there on my list of shittiest places on the planet (Somalia, Haiti, Darfur, etc etc), but it also may be one of the more accessible (and beautiful). It’ll be worth seeing. Again and again and again.

Here’s some of what I know about Burundi: it’s a former Belgian colony with a population comparable to Chicago’s; by some measures, it’s the poorest country in the world, although that’s misleading; it’s where the source of the Nile is; Kapucinski was jailed in Bujumbura once when it was called Usumbura; and it’s got the hugest Nile crocodile ever seen – a prolific man-eater, it’s the size of an adult great white shark. So even though I’ll be based in Bujumbura, which has great beaches, I’ll probably spend a lot more time in its famous central market, looking for strange and delicious things to consume. Eat, not be eaten.

Burundi is technically a ‘post-conflict’ zone, which is why development money is going there. And I guess why I’m going there, because I only go where the money is. But ‘post-conflict’ is kind of hard to assert when the main rebel group never disarmed and is shelling the crap out of the capital. I’m hopeful this bit of bloodletting will lead to renewed peace iniatives, which will, I’m sure, all wrap up in three weeks.  (As of this moment, a new peace agreement was just signed.)

Giant crocodile in the water, unruly rebels in the hills, Eastern Congo just next door, Hutus, Tutsis…and me. ‘Cowboy’ doesn’t really begin to describe this, and I think ‘soldier of fortune’ is already taken by my friend MLE (http://mledavis.mailbolt.com/). But I’m not seeking thrills; this actually makes some sense. Take some of the worst human rights abuses, many of which I’ve learned about during the last two years working with asylum seekers, add it all up and that’s a female child soldier. The persecution, the gender-based violence, the trauma and maybe most important, the complete obscurity of the issues.

The more I talk about this, the crazier it does seem, but finding out my departure date barely two and a half weeks out is a nice palliative. I don’t have time to get anxious. I do wonder occasionally where this puts my intelligence though (“somewhere between a rock and a frying pan”). At least, I read that more than 80% of the country has been cleared of landmines. I also have a photocopy of somone else’s business cards of people he kinda knows. I was told I should find a doctor through my networking. I’m not making this up. I can’t wait…to find a place to live. Awesome.

One of my bigger concerns is depression about the work and the solitude, but I think spending two years working with asylum seekers and comng out a reasonably well-adjusted person was one of my main qualifications for this gig.

This doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to work. Or, I don’t have to be perfect, I just have to work. My two years in Chicago have been magical and very comfortable, but now that I’m committed to leaving, I feel less hung up about things and more able to discern what’s little and what’s important. I am really looking forward to the opportunity to make good decisions on my own. I am probably not ready for this (could I be?) but I’m ready for anything.

Wish me luck.


1 Response to “buj-toi ton cul, merde!”

  1. 1 Marie
    June 3, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    Good luck.

    I was going to say you’re not going to need it, but then everybody could do with a little sparkle dust worth of good luck all the time.

    Safe travels. Hopefully will get to intercept you en-route in London!

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