rules of the road – burundi (hahahahaha), pt. 1

February 25, 2009

Léon is my Logistician. Before I came to Burundi, I would have had no clue what that title would entail, but now I have a decent idea. An example: not long ago, I received a text message from Léon at around 6 p.m. that read, “Please don’t forget the reception at the Ambassador’s at 6:30 p.m.” And you know what? I had forgotten. But what really gets me is that I had never mentioned the reception (for the now-State-side and much-missed Caren – hello, Caren!) to Léon. But because he seems to know just about everyone in town, he knew that 1. There was a reception; 2. I had been invited; and 3. I had forgotten I had been invited. This is very clearly a complicated operation and only someone with a mind for logistics could anticipate all those steps. Without Léon, I would probably be doing something dumb like jumping through windows at a police station. More likely, I would probably be quietly weeping in the bathtub right now, wondering how to get out of it.

Léon does have one weak spot: he doesn’t know how to drive. This is actually an astounding deficiency for a Logistician – he can do everything but he can’t go anywhere. What is even more surprising is that Léon has a Burundian driver’s license. Right. He can’t drive but he’s allowed to. Welcome to Burundi!

(Photo by my House Chief, Léonidas)


So, today, I am giving Léon his first driving lesson. After a quick demonstration and an explanation of all the relevant buttons and levers, I let him take the wheel. We creep back and forth in the driveway, moving in an adequately straight line. Léon does fairly well except he’s a bit nervous about turning the steering wheel, in that he doesn’t. In fact, he’s terrified. Death-gripping the wheel would be fine if the car is perfectly aligned to go straight, but it’s not. One of our passes leaves the car leaning to the left. For every action, there is a note of apology.

“Dear Emmanuel (my gardener),

I am sorry.


You know that moment when you hope a car would slow down, stop, turn away? When the inevitable impact just seems so improbable? If you’ve ever (unintentionally) hit anything with a car at slow speeds, you might know what I’m talking about. And at the last moment, I think about flailing my arms, trying to say stop, brake, freine! I even imagine stomping on the passenger-side brake that car instructors usually have. But I do none of those things. I think, well, surely Léon sees what I’m seeing. Surely he isn’t going to plow into those pretty leaves.

Emmanuel, I am so sorry.


3 Responses to “rules of the road – burundi (hahahahaha), pt. 1”

  1. February 28, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Well, let’s face it. Part of the problem is that there’s far too much landscaping in some of these yards. I’m a decent driver, but our huge, unwieldy LandCruiser plus too many plants in the yard means I’ve written several apology notes to our gardener.

  2. March 1, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    Just passing by.Btw, your website have great content!

    Making Money $150 An Hour

  3. 3 Caren, former resident of Bujumbura
    March 1, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    Hi Jefferson! Thanks for the shout-out. I never had the opportunity to spend more time with you except, of course, to discuss NGO registration!

    The driving license without the ability to drive doesn’t surprise me at all! I often wondered how many of the drivers actually had a license. But with no traffic laws, the legal right to do anything besides talk on the cell phone while driving and no traffic police (those who are looking for violations rather than bribes), why would they bother. Good luck with Leon!

    Caren (freezing in DC!)

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February 2009
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