home, church, and ministry


I have a detail of four guards at the house. They’re very nice and have been with the house for several years. Mostly they hang out in the paillote (the straw hut, which has electricity and a concrete floor), read the Bible in Kirundi, do their laundry and come up with money-making schemes with the other house staff. The last one, a moto-taxi, was a winner until the ‘moto’ part was taken away at gunpoint. I think the next one involves micro-lending.

Sometimes the guards study French, sometimes they teach math and the French alphabet to Prosper, the 14-year-old pineapple vendor. He’ll get his own post later on.

I check out the guards’ equipment, presumably the tools they have to ensure my safety. There is a Motorola walkie-talkie that they turn down when they’re conducting business. Occasionally, the person on the other end plays music through the handset. There is also a billy-club, which I picked up to inspect one day; the handle was loose, probably wouldn’t withstand a strong breeze. I looked for other items but there were none. I stopped bothering to lock the door at night.

I’ve also stopped using my alarm to wake up. At about six every morning, LP the cat hops up into bed and walks all over me, purring/rumbling like a ’57 Chevy. Sometimes, I wake up to find him already there and I have to wake him instead. Apparently, the mosquito net is occasionally mosquito-proof, but never cat-proof. I had a dream one night that I produced a TV show along the lines of « When Animals Attack! » called « When Mosquito Nets Fail! » I woke up and was very relieved to realize it was just a dream as I scratched the new bumps on my cheeks.

A typical day goes like this: I wake up at 6:45ish and feed the cats. Then I boil water for the guards’ tea while going over what I have to do in my head. I lay out a schedule: 

By 7:45-8ish – Eat breakfast, leave instructions for the house staff (if needed), and go to the office.
By 8:30 –Arrive, check email, read news.
At 9 :00-9 :30 –  Confirm appointments for the day and check on finances/bank matters.

The rest of the day is a mix of meetings and reading up on project-related materials.

Here’s what actually happens: 

7 :45 – Ready to go.
7 :46 – Guard asks if I want tea. I want tea.
9 :12 – Talk to gardener, discuss seed choices and possible projects.
9 :29 – Leave for work.
9 :41 – Arrive at office gate, speak to security guards.
9 :47 – Get into office, clear ants* off desk.
9 :48 – Clear ants off computer.
9 :49 – Read news, check email.
9 :54 – Find out appointments are either in the afternoon or rescheduled to later in the week.
10 :12 – Go to café to have croissant and coffee and to talk to Gabriel, the baker. This is a strategic decision.
10 :14 – While at the café, meet some dude from the World Bank/government/UN. Conduct « business. »
10 :28 – Finish croissant.

Then the meetings and errands, maybe. So far, Bujumbura has not met my enthusiasm for this project with comparable diligence. I also haven’t adjusted to the rhythm of work here yet, meaning, I’m totally flummoxed by the midday two-hour break when everything is closed and nothing gets done. Most places open at 9 a.m. and close between noon and 2 or 2 :30 p.m. Then they’re open for another two or three hours. I can’t stand the disappointment (and frustration) of going to some office or to the bank just to see the door close for several hours, so I often tell myself, I better wait.


Waiting sucks.


* – the ants here, they don’t really gather so much as circle, and they’re circling now.


Here’s one of the cats:

Here’s LP doing what LP does best:


Day 17. Sunday, July 6, 2008.


It’s 9 :30 a.m. and I have just found my Sunday morning activity. I’m on the soccer (football!) field, the same one from a couple weeks ago. The other team is lining up against my team – boy, everyone looks big. The referee blows the whistle to start the game. I’ll have to write a separate post about this.


Day 19. Tuesday, July 8, 2008


The first official step toward implementing a new project is to get my organization registered with the Ministry of Foreign Relations. It’s a critical step; without approval, I can’t partner (legally) with any local organizations. The registration process involves submitting a set of documents including a statement about the organization, the project outline and its objectives, the proposal budget and so on. After I did that, I realized I would never see my nice plastic folder again. That was about a week ago.

I went back yesterday to check on the file. I was told that « Conseiller Félix » was now in charge of my dossier and that I should call him later. So I did and I set up an appointment for this morning at 10 :30.

I show up right on time, which is rare for me and kind of pointless in Burundi. I speak to the woman from the day before and ask if I could see Félix. She says, « You can’t see him until you fix our printer. »


So I think back to yesterday, and, slowly, it comes to me. Yes, I did step on some mass of cables that was on the floor, and the printer seemed to gurgle and choke for a second, but I waited, gently patted it and made sure nothing was on fire. Everything looked okay.

The woman points lazily at the USB cable port, from which protrudes a jagged metal stump. The cable connector had snapped off. Did I really do that? I think about the stories I’d heard of people in China throwing a chicken underneath someone’s car as he or she is backing out, then demanding the driver pay compensation. But, I don’t think that is what’s happening here. The woman tells me, « Without our printer, we can’t do any work. » What a pathetic start to my attempt to get registered. I can’t believe it. With one mighty stomp, I had put the Ministry of Foreign Relations out of commission.

Luckily, I was prepared for this kind of thing. « This kind of thing. » The phrase enters my head and I think about it wryly before reaching into my bag, sliding my hand past the majestic wad of Burundian francs I had just exchanged, and pulling out my Swiss Army knife. With the pliers, I yank out the remaining nub of the cable. I’m seeing Félix today, I think to myself. No sense of triumph or accomplishment – I would have to find a replacement cable, which probably means overpaying someone for a cable and then making another trip back. While I pick up the dead cable and pocket the broken connector, I ask, « Where is Félix’s office ? »

Conseiller Félix is probably in his early-forties. He wears round spectacles and an ochre short-sleeve shirt that makes me want to call him Comrade Félix. He’s looking over my file when he starts talking about how things work around here, how it’s necessary to do things right by applying the proper « lubricant. » I vaguely imagine to myself that we are talking about fixing cars. With a smile, I hand him all the documents (papers only!) that he had requested over the phone, and he cuts his speech short. He smiles broadly and says that yes, this was what he wanted to see. He looks over the program description and asks me a bunch of questions. With each answer, he nods with his eyes down and says, « Yes, then you will need to talk to the Ministry of such-and-such. » Even though I talk my way out of seeing the Ministry of Defense, I keep thinking, No! What’s the point of registering with you if I have to see everyone else? We must be having a problem with the gearbox: we’re in reverse.

« Come back with more copies of these documents and try to see the other Ministries, and the process should move along. »

I see tires spinning in a sandbank. I have no ideas; I ask for directions to the other Ministries. So ends round one of a process that Félix assures me will go quickly. In my head, I start making a list of automotive vocabulary words.

As I gather up my stuff to leave, Félix spots the dismembered cable. He asks me, « Oh, do you have a computer problem? »

No, I think, but you do.



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