Archive for July 29th, 2008



If Danny DeVito played Don Corleone from The Godfather, you might come up with Enzo, the Italian priest. He is something of a myth in these parts – the Italian priest who has been in Burundi since 1971, before the the 1972 genocide, before the 1988 reprisals and the outbreak of civil war in 1993. He speaks Kirundi perfectly and in the absence of an Italian consulate, he is a de facto consul, bringing together Italians of all stripes and ages to his rooftop for a home-cooked meal. Because what kind of Italian would Enzo be if he didn’t grow his own basil, make his own cheese or have his pasta brought to him by friends from Italy? Enzo probably has the only promegranates in Burundi, because he grows those, too. Many people have heard of Enzo, but I’m not sure most people know that he has been quietly building a Tuscan village up in the mountains about an hour out of Bujumbura. These photos probably don’t look like they were taken in the poorest country in the world (not Italy). Maybe this first photo could be Burundi with an Italian cloister photoshopped into the background.

It is actually chilly in the mountains that day, so Enzo dons his « mountain hat. »

Photo by Sean Casey

Photo by Sean Casey

I first encountered this site through my friend Eric, who is the ex-combattant mentioned in the previous Ministry post. A couple weeks back, I took a few trips to the Interior (20 minutes out of Bujumbura in any direction), and one of those trips was to this site in Bugarama. Eric talked about this facility that he has been helping out with in the mountains that might be a good fit for my project (residential shelter for female ex-child-soldiers), so I decided to take a look.

At the site, I walk around on the cobblestone and take inventory of the facility: clean living quarters with bathrooms to fit 20, a computer room (with computers!), a solar panel to heat water, a large meeting room, a fireplace, a fully-functional terrace bar-and-grill that sells homemade strawberry jam – this really is a perfect match for my project.

My Chicago-based colleague Sean was in town for a visit last weekend and we stopped by the site so he could see it. During the visit, which takes us to other Enzo projects (a mega-church, a fromagerie, a sculpture workshop), Enzo prepares us a meal of fresh tomato salad, bread and homemade cheese. I think it’s one of the best meals I’ve had in Burundi, and that’s saying a lot given the quality of the restaurants in Bujumbura.

After the tours, Enzo drives us back to his house while Sean and I think of how to discuss collaborating with him. So Enzo leads us inside, chats with us a little, talks about how the much of the food in his house comes from his projects and then, naturally, we start making dinner together.

No, really.


Photo by Sean Casey

Photo by Sean Casey

A few nights prior, I had watched Munich, directed by Steven Speilberg and one of the few DVDs at the house where I’m staying. There is a scene where the main character, an Israeli intelligence officer trying to track down terrorists, is invited to the home of a secretive Frenchman who has been passing on information. Thinking that he broke a rule about how he used the information and is about to be punished, the officer is instead asked to cook with the Frenchman for his family. It’s a strange scene, but one that does well to emphasize the relative importance of work or « business » in relation to friends and family (and food).

Sean and I realize that Enzo wants to know us better through cooking rather than pore over the details and numbers of our project, and it makes us appreciate him a lot more. Cooking with him is perhaps his way of evaluating us and seeing if we can work together. It’s definitely novel and interesting, and I think we do all right.

If admitting that opening cans is the extent of his ability, then Sean passes that test brilliantly. And if peeling miniature garlic with a butter knife is my test, then I think I do pretty well. Garlic, I learn, is sacred in the Italian pantry, and must be prepared with reverence. I’ve never been that good with knives in the ktichen (nor outside) so this is a real test of my patience and dexterity. It isn’t everyday that it dawns on me that the success of my work might hinge on my garlic-peeling ability, but I’m glad it does. Burundi is such a funny place.

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July 2008
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