My First 3 Days in Bujumbura, Burundi.

Sep 27, 2021 | Gilbert's Journal

My First 3 Days in Bujumbura, Burundi.

 

For a trip that began with me being refused to board the flight from Kampala, Uganda to Bujumbura in Burundi,  I stand in awe of the beautiful surprises God had kept in store for me on this trip.

After spending extra unbudgeted money to pay for a change of date due to no fault of mine, my arrival in Bujumbura was marked by a warm welcome by Tom Akello (the church leader) and his and Didi’s three kids who had just been picked up from school. A sister in the Church volunteered to take care of my hotel bills and that was simply incredibly refreshing. The amazing thing is that her parents have also been my hosts. It truly runs in the family.

The first impression of the capital city and its surrounding beautiful hills was that of a quiet place with lots of green. The first people I did encounter at the airport immediately made me think of the need for a growth mindset in the midst of life’s challenges.

After a restful night, I went on a two-hour walk from my hotel in Bujumbura Mairie (central town) to and from the Kiriri University on the hilltop with an elevation of over 1000 metres. Little did I realize that I was going to have one of the greatest encounters with culture in the process. One of the reasons walking around a new place has become one of the first activities I embark on upon arrival, is because it allows me to get in touch with the “soul” of the place.

I was met with hundreds of athletes of all ages, shapes and sizes. These are ordinary citizens, family members, employees, sports club members, and many more who engage in personal fitness on Saturdays and in the evening during weekdays. The closest I had ever come to a similar experience was during my stay in Yaounde, Cameroon as a first-year university student in 1989/90.

If there was ever a place for me to commemorate the past 8 months of keeping fit, going on a diet in search of a healthy lifestyle, Bujumbura is clearly the surprise God had reserved for me. Having lost over 15kg during these past months, I thoroughly enjoyed the steep climb, making new friends in the process.

This experience reminded me of one of the differences between the English-speaking and French-speaking cultures. Whereas the English seem to focus on specialization early in their development, the French are excellent in what they call “culture generale” which seeks balanced knowledge and personal development – sports and health is part of that quest. That’s what I believe played out on that Saturday morning with congregations of people doing aerobics, walking, jogging and chanting great motivational songs. It also speaks to the communal nature of the Burundians.

After some great conversations with new found friends, recording some videos, visiting a few places during the walk, the rest of the day was characterized by time spent with beneficiaries and trainers of a Hope project that focuses on sponsoring 110 secondary school students, 50 primary school children and 8 university students. Only 6% of children here get the opportunity to get school education. I interviewed and heard individual stories of how this project has and continues to transform individual lives from abject poverty and despair to a life of confidence and profound hope. There’s still a lot to be done.

It suffices to say it was a teary day for me. It’s amazing what a difference a few willing and giving hearts can make in the lives of the needy. I am glad to have captured some of the stories in pictures and videos. Jesus’ ministry wasn’t just one of preaching and teaching but also a ministry of healing (Matthew 9:35). As we reclined for a meal and great fellowship thereafter, it was obvious that the day had been spent in one of the most fulfilling of ways.

After a successful PCR test in the morning for my return flight , the rest of Sunday was filled with heartfelt worship, fellowship and time spent in the Word as I spoke about God’s very great and precious promises – the most stable of currencies! We also had a leadership meeting and lesson, followed by family time around amazing food, games and conversations – this was hospitality at its very best by my amazing host.

A brother who is visiting to spend a month with the Deaf ministry in Bujumbura, arrived from Abidjan – I had been privileged to be involved in Romain’s conversion some 27 years ago. Back then, we could communicate mainly through writing and he is now a source of inspiration to many others in the special needs ministry on the continent.

The concluding part of the day made me ask myself at several instances if I was really in Burundi – I was treated to a visit to the Tanganyika Lakeside – the beauty is simply exquisite!!! This is an invitation for as many as possible to plan to visit this incredibly beautiful country. The closest this reminded me of, were previous visits to Cape Town in South Africa and to parts of Spain and Switzerland in Europe.

Africa has everything in terms of natural beauty and resources. This trip has so far been a true revelation for me!

 

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