How to Celebrate Burundian Independence Day for Beginners

  1. Take your AK-47 out to the street and hold it up with both hands.  Glare at everyone passing by.
  2. Go to the flower market.  Buy several plastic bags of ground nuts.  Shuffle back and forth outside the T-2000, the Chinese convenience store, while eating said nuts.  Glare at everyone passing by.
  3. Open a fresh box of grenades in a vacant lot.  Let the kids play catch with the dummies.  Those are the ones with the red plastic tabs on them.  Aren’t they?
  4. Mumble bad French to the aged, syphilitic Belgian who runs the only café with internet.  Get seated immediately and order something in a bottle.  Try to connect to the internet for 2 hours.  Fail to connect.  Glare at everyone in the café.  Realize it was a bottle refilled from the tap.  Go home and vomit for 6 hours.
  5. Take a walk in the public gardens.  Witness people healthier than you with better attitudes and better immune systems.  Go home and glare at yourself in the mirror.
  6. Go to bed early, vowing to sleep in.  Wake up an hour later with a giant cockroach in your hair.  Scream for a while.  Drink heavily with all the lights on in your house until dawn.  Produce a 15-page handwritten short story that you cannot understand the next day.
  7. Talk to the house guard.  Learn how to say “good evening” in Kirundi.  Come away feeling that you’ve finally met one of the best people alive today.
  8. Attend a Marine Corps pig roast at the US Embassy.  Come away feeling that you’ve finally met some of the worst people alive today.  Decide that they aren’t really alive after all.
  9. Visit Rwanda.  Return with a suitcase packed as follows: 1 jar boric acid; 1 pack candles; 1 pack cockroach glue traps; 3 40oz bottles of Primus Lager; 5 bars “Genital Wash” brand lavender soap; 3 cartons mosquito-repelling citronella incense; 1 small bird carved out of white stone; 1 bullwhip; 1 Chinese good luck medallion for Year of the Ox covered in red foil.  Pour boric acid around baseboards by candlelight.  Set up glue traps on kitchen countertop.  Light some of the incense.  Put bullwhip on nightstand outside the bed’s mosquito netting.  Drink the beer. Wake up the next day and realize you did it all wrong and lit one of the curtains on fire.  What happened to the medallion?  Bad luck.
  10. Sit in the living room, trying to train a mustard-yellow gecko to fetch a piece of grass.  Do this for hours.  Conclude that the gecko is actually training you to throw the piece of grass and fetch it.  Wonder about the hidden world of geckos.

June Bujumbura 023

The Blue Hills of Kigali

Blue Hills

The city of Kigali is built on a series of ridges, with the geography mirroring the relative affluence of the city’s districts.  Downtown, which is in the center of the city (whOutlying District of Kigali from the Airere I’m sitting as I write this), is on one of the higher ridges (about 5k feet above sea level).  Mt. Kigali looms blue-brown in the distance and can be seen from most of the nicer neighborhoods.  The poor, shanty-like areas down between the ridges show the breadth of economic stratification here.  Still, it’s a pleasant place to be after the dust and entropy of Bujumbura.  The espresso is drinkable, which is a tremendous plus.

It’s raining today.  So instead of walking around like a muzungu fool, bothering people and taking pictures, I’ve found a quiet corner in an upstairs café where there is a great view of the distant hills.  In spite of its horrific history, Rwanda seems—at least in my Suburban Kigalioutsider’s perspective—to have worked hard on recovering.  The sense one gets in Kigali is similar to the nicer areas of Tijuana.  Yes, the streets are sometimes unpaved or broken; yes, the cars smell bad and the crows are noisy; but, all these urban characteristics are relative.  I imagine even the highest-maintenance North Americans, would find Kigali pleasant much of the time.

I’m enjoying my few days here before I return to Bujumbura.  And I can only hope that the political situation here does not degenerate.  People here, like people anywhere, are trying to lead their lives in peace, trying for something a little bit better.  Let it continue.

The four ridges of Kigali.