27
Jun
08

documentation

Day 4. June 24, 2008

You can’t tell from the above photo but there are two guns there. One is obscured by the Coke bottle. The other’s barrel is cupped in the folded hands of the man to my right. In the photo, the soldiers do not smile, but afterward, we are talking (kind of), sometimes laughing. We shake hands. I have to reach over to the man on the far left. My elbow, I realize, is directly over the gun muzzle. It’s a strange feeling. I sit back, try my Kirundi : « I don’t speak Kirundi well. » The man to my right speaks a few words of English. His rifle is not just pointed upward now, it’s leaning toward him, pointing directly at his chest. It bothers me. I reach over, slowly, push the gun barrel away from him. Nobody moves, no one tenses up. They all just watch me. He looks at me. He chuckles and lifts the rifle, pointing to the safety. « Strong, » he says. I give him a look that says, in any language, « Really? » He laughs again, restores the gun to its position. A few moments later, he looks down at the barrel aiming straight at him and leans it away from himself, against the wall.

 

On the street. Dust and sun.

A troop of uniformed men jog toward me. Blue uniforms, not camouflage – the police, but they use AK-47s, same as the army; some are ex-soldiers. Less structure, same guns, more dangerous. A van pulls near, it gets too close. The officers shuffle to their right off the street. A parked van to my left, the passage is narrow – the officers and I are going to collide. They run past, one turns to avoid the passing van, bumps against me. I feel a click in the impact. Metal, a bit sharp, protruding. I hit his gun. Did I unlatch the safety? Is the gun live? Does he know? No. He holds his gun by the barrel, his hand covers the muzzle. He rests it on his shoulder, the stock hangs over his back. Is he insane? They all hold their guns like this. 

 

Day ?. June 2?, 2008

I’m not sure but I think I just ate goat. I’m still in discussions about that. 

 

Day 6. June 26, 2008

Now that I’ve moved out of my hotel, you can know I ‘m safe enough to read about this. Ever since my arrival, I’ve stayed at a place called the « Christmas Club. » When I first arrived, there was a monkey in the trees that drape over the front of the hotel. Someone in the taxi said I should take a photo of it but Yaoundé pointed across the street and said it was not a good idea to take any photos around that place. All I saw was an archway leading into a few low buildings with no markers outside. I did note that the men guarding the place were heavily armed and more menacing and numerous then usual. Yaoundé called that place « La Documentation, » a rather benign name so I thought his reaction was curious. I didn’t fully understand what it was and why so many people quickly changed the subject when that name came up. I could guess it wasn’t a friendly government compound but I only really got it when I came across this article (http://allafrica.com/stories/200806240021.html) about a former dictator in Chad, whose intelligence agency, called « the Documentation and Security Directorate»  was accused of mass torture and assasinations. La Documentation, the place where « interrogations » are carried out. So that’s what I had been living next to. I never thought it too big of a deal – the soldiers sometimes waved to me when I waved at them, but seeing a heavy caliber machine gun appear yesterday was less reassuring. More suspect was when two youngish men wearing very non-descript civilian clothes came out of the compound, crossed the street and started chatting with me, asking me all kinds of questions. I knew what they were but I wanted to see how they would respond to my own questions. After a few minutes, I asked one of them if they worked « in there. » I was surprised when he happily said, « Of course! » Now, if you were an informant for the government, would you be so cheerful when you tell someone that? I don’t think he thinks too much about what his information can lead to.

My hotel was small enough that many Burundian drivers didn’t know it. When I did need a ride back to my room, I usually said, « You know  ‘La Doucmentation’? I live there. »

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3 Responses to “documentation”


  1. 1 Lulu
    July 7, 2008 at 8:23 am

    keep up the posts, please! i’m living this exciting life vicariously through you. 🙂

  2. 2 jefferson
    July 7, 2008 at 8:38 am

    Lulu, you fly airplanes! By yourself!

  3. 3 SGmitter
    July 9, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    Jeff,

    As a fellow Chicagoan in Bujumbura I felt I had to say hi. I’m here just for the month helping to do some construction work on a women’s clinic in Kamenge. Your blog came up in my Google alerts and I had to laugh as I was reading accounts of some of the same events I’ve either been to or heard about (was also at the parade, had a friend at the Ambassador’s party).

    Your project sounds really terrific. I started reading Beah’s book just before I left but then got caught up in a flurry of practicing my French and getting shots.

    Now I have to try and figure out how the Cubs are doing.

    Mwiriwe!


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