I take my job seriously. I work hard. I try to work smart. I’m available 24/7. I’m as prepared as I can be for an emergency. I’m no slacker.
But all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, so every once in a while, I hand the Health Unit Duty Phone off to the local nurse, with the local doctor as back-up, and head off for adventures unknown.
Our first adventure was carefully chronicled in this previous post, Road Trippin’ To Rwanda: http://mcqueenmisadventures.com/?p=251. And since then, I’ve managed a few more, though all in Burundi, and none as epic as that one, nor as epic as the next one is likely to be. But more on that one later.
[Note: In a stroke of pure brilliance, I hired Randy as photographer and photo-inserter. So the blog should A. involve a lot more and a lot better pictures, and B. frustrate me, the non-photographer, far less. Thanks, Randy, for your excellent work here.]
The Cries of a Child
One Saturday, not long after our arrival, our CLO (Community Liason Officer) organized a day trip to a nearby orphanage, The Cries of a Child. (You can read more about what they do here: https://thecriesofachild.org/.)
It was a great day out for any number of reasons, (not the least of which was handing off the health unit duty phone). For starters, it was fun to see, up close and personal, one of the many, many organizations doing good here in Burundi. Secondly, I felt privileged to contribute, even if in a tiny, hardly life-changing way. It was just plain old good to give. Thirdly, leaving Bujumbura, means going ‘upcountry’ and there’s a reason for that. Bujumbura, nestled on the shores of large, lovely Lake Tanganyika, is one of the lowest places in the country, so leaving means gaining elevation, and while hardly mountains by Colorado standards, it’s always nice to go up. The air is cooler, clearer, cleaner, fresher. It’s just about always good to get out of the city. And fourthly, the people that participated included a number of Burundian embassy staff. And since my interactions with them are limited, it’s always fun to spend time with them and get to know them, especially outside of the embassy environment.
After touring the small campus, and hearing the story of how Isai and Samantha Torres founded The Cries of a Child, we set about to accomplish the small tasks they had organized for us. We painted the outside walls of the future clinic, painted a mural in one of the inside rooms, painted signs, built pig pens (for real) and played with the kids. All in all, it was a peaceful, wonderful, refreshing change of pace from embassy life. Like our very own mini-mission trip. I can’t wait to return and see the progress they’ve made, and bring Megan for some more work projects. I know she’ll love it!
Here we are: the work crew, some of the children who live there, and some traditional Burundian drums.
As an added bonus to the day, before heading for home, we walked down the road and visited one of Long MIles Coffee Project’s (http://www.longmilescoffeeproject.com/) coffee washing stations. Another great organization doing good in Burundi. So fun to get out and see it in person.
We saw these kids just hanging out in the trees along the way:
Here are some of the fresh picked cherries. One of the local workers gave us a tour of the washing station and we got a tiny glimpse into some of the steps between that luscious coffee bean and my much loved cup of joe I enjoy every morning.
Here’s a view from up on the hill of the rows and rows of cherries awaiting whatever happens next at the Long Miles Coffee Project washing station. (I hesitate to use very definitive or technical language about the coffee bean processing process, as I have several friends who work in the business and I might get the details wrong and they’ll be insulted! :-))
After the Fourth of July event, which in the life of an American Embassy overseas, is often a Big Deal (and Bujumbura is no exception), we all felt the need to get away. So several of us loaded up in a couple of cars in search of Blue Bay. Now we had heard this was a worthwhile destination, only about an hour south of Buj, and very resort-like. We had high hopes, but low expectations, given we were still going to be in Burundi and all.
I don’t know if it’s just that we’ve all been in Bujumbura too long, or we were just all burnt out from Fourth of July ridiculousness, but the weekend, and Blue Bay itself, exceeded all our expectations. If you closed your eyes and conjured up all your imaginative powers, it could have been any beach resort anywhere, except without the hype. There was the requisite lovely breeze off the water. The sand was clean and white. The accommodations were lovely (meaning they were clean, there was electricity, running water, including some hot, and, as an added bonus, there was air conditioning). The food was good. We enjoyed grilled fish on the beach with a huge bonfire for ambiance. What more could one ask for? It was quiet, relaxing, restful, just what the nurse practitioner ordered. (And needed.)
You can actually rent this little thatched-roof hut complete with hammocks for sleeping. Maybe that’s what we’ll do next time.
For being just a lake, it has quite the tide and wave action.
We ran into some other embassy folks getting away for the day and here we all are enjoying a few colds ones on the beach together.
OK, we aren’t exactly supposed to get in the water because of the risk of schistosomiasis, but you won’t tell, will you?
Fishing boats, catching our dinner, I suppose.
A good sunset on the beach is hard to beat.
Our beach-side, bonfire-lit dinner. (I think someone dared me to kiss the fish…)
I’m so glad they put up a sign saying it was strictly prohibited to swim in the lake if you can’t swim. I wouldn’t have thought of that on my own.
Beaches all over the world ain’t got nothin’ on Blue Bay.
Rusizi National Park
In mid-July, we had the distinct pleasure of welcoming our fourth guest in three months, right here in the Middle Of Nowhere, Africa. Britta Erickson, a young friend from Fellowship Denver Church, was working and playing in nearby Kenya, and stopped by on her way back to America. I managed to wiggle around some rules, and took two days off in the middle of the week during her visit. We wanted to show her all the best Burundi had to offer, so we headed north to Rusizi National Park. Now please don’t think national park like as in Yellowstone or Rocky Mountain or anything like that. Here, we were given a choice of two boats, at two different prices. We asked what the difference was between the two? In the less expensive one, we get to help the guide bail water. We splurged and paid for the dry boat.
Rusizi is home to the mythical Gustave (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustave_(crocodile)) but alas! we did not enjoy a Gustave siting. We did however, see more than our fair share of hungry hippos, up close and personal. Man, those things are big. Did you know that they rank sixth in animals that kill humans (http://www.viralnova.com/animals-that-kill-humans/)? Way in front of lions, tigers, and bears, so don’t dismiss our adventure here.
Here is where the brown water of the Rusizi River meets the blue water of Lake Tanganyika, at it’s northernmost point. If you look closely in the distance across the lake, that’s the mountains of the Congo.
In addition to the hippos (and Gustave), the park is known for the incredible bird life. I’m no birder, but we had a great time watching this kingfisher.
Before I arrived, this is what I always thought Africa would look. So glad to see it really does.
My favorite upcountry day so far was definitely our hike in Igenda. In late July, my state department mentor came and spent a week with me. On Friday, after a pretty intense week of question and answer after question and answer, we headed out early to stretch our legs and clear our minds before we put her on the plane back to Berlin.
After some pretty expert navigating by Randy based on information from some former embassy hikers, we found the old Belvedere Hotel in Igenda. (We’d actually been here once before, but without the maps, and were unsuccessful in locating it.) With limited language skills, we somehow arranged for a young man to lead us on a hike through the tea plantation and the eucalyptus fields. Perhaps when compared to some of the awesome things we’ve been privileged enough to enjoy, this was nothing out of the ordinary, but it was just wonderful to be out hiking again, and wonderful to be at 7500′. We strolled leisurely around the hills for a couple of hours, then enjoyed beer and brochettes (what else??) at the hotel before heading back home. And Quandary was a hit, as always.
We’re always such a hit wherever we go. Between our Mzungu white skin, our strange habits (we walk for pleasure?? they walk for necessity), and Quandary, we never cease to draw a crowd.
He’s my favorite hiking partner, for sure.
I totally get that this photo looked staged, but I swear it’s not. Machetes are just commonplace around here, despite the fact that they are the scariest looking things. An AK 47 (of which there are plenty in Buj) scares me less than the site of a machete. Thankfully they were not threatening my mentor, Pamela, here. Randy just happened to catch this great shot randomly.
A good hike always includes a few stream crossings.
Amidst the tea plantations and the eucalyptus, there was plenty of bamboo, too.
And there you have it, Adventures In Africa, Burundi-style.
Stay tuned. Next up, Adventures in Gorillas, Congo-style!