So you may not fully appreciate this - even with context given, but here goes.
It is really hard for me to do any business here. I have a hard time buying bananas.
I have a toddlers vocabulary in Kirundi, and less in French. I can count the fingers on one hand in either language but I often get stuck on Four. Money comes in denominations of hundreds and thousands and millions. Even street sellers negotiate in French.
The price of anything negotiable, which is almost everything, triples or more when I look at it. Because I am Mzungu. Since I do not know what it OUGHT to cost all I can do is roll my eyes, cut the price in half and hope. At the end of the day I check my purchases with the children. They laugh a lot and beg me to send them, and not try and buy things myself. Daniella is a great bargainer and for anything important, or expensive, I send her.
There is not really anything that requires much more skill than that. All my needs are supplied by my generous hosts.
But once in a while I just get a bee in my bonnet.
Last Sunday morning we were on our way to Kamenge. Feli was driving. David was is Nairobi for the week. I was quizzing her on the cost of the basics; A taxi to downtown? don't pay more than 3500 francs. What do the motorcycle taxi's cost? "Oh, Peggy, please don't ride the motos - they really are not safe." And then the voice of the Yoyo in the back seat "Unless, of course, you are driving!" and everyone in the car laughed. And a bell rung in my belly. That evening I sat on the terrance watching the nightly Kibenga Sunset, made all the more spectacular by the terrible summer air pollution. And I had a little chat with Jesus about motorcycles. The conversation ended with me telling him that if He did not want me on a bike in Buja, that I would submit to that, but that I was going to make a few inquiries and see if way opened.
The first problem with my plan was that I could not make inquiries among any of my friends and aquaintenances because, except for Yoyo, there seemed a clear sense that Peggy should stay in Taxis.
The next problem was money. I knew I could not afford to buy a moto, even the little chinese 125's that are the entire market here, but I was pretty sure that I did not have budget for a lease or rent either. I had a visa card, but it had failed at an ATM in Kenya. Businesses don't take them here, but you can go to the big bank and withdraw a cash advance, if they recognize your card.
So the next morning, I walked up to the main road, and besides getting a moto ride downtown, I managed to find out what the moto boys pay per day to rent their bikes. (yes, they are really all boys - teenagers) We did this by writing in the dirt, and a combo of Kiswahili, French, Kirundi, drama,charades, and one sharp moto boy who finally grocked that I did not want to rent a bike and boy for the day, I wanted to rent a BIKE for the day. When I asked if any of them would rent me their bike for a day, at a small mark-up - they laughed me into the dust - but I did get a ride downtown and a piece of information. They pay 10,000 frc a day (about $8.50)
Arriving downtown, I had a few other errands, and I intended to just walk into a few bike shops and make some inquiries. I went one block and looked up the street. And there was "MIRACLE MOTORS - SUZUKI MOTORCLES - RUE de la REVOLUTION" Jesus chortled. I walked in and they had real Japanese bikes assembled in India. One million-eight to buy. The proprietors looked bored, and the Owner one Mr Muni Raju, greeted me. Indian - God bless the British Emprie - long may she stay dead! I told told him my situation. I asked him if he thought it was conceivable that I might lease a bike for 6 weeks. He looked me up and down, smiled a small indulgent, wicked grin, and said. "See this one, my friend just bought it to rent out as a moto, the six weeks needed for documentation should be finished in a day or two, perhaps I could call him and see if he would like to rent it to you?" Mr Muni
Raju received the kiss on the cheek with great dignity. I told him I could pay 10k bfu for 38 days with maybe a little for insurance. He told me to come back in the morning and he would let me know.
And I walked out and considered these things in my heart, with only the small occasional smirk.
The next day, the moto boys greeted me with mild derision. Still walking? Madame?
I told them that they needed to have more faith. At Miracle motors, the news was solid and good. Mr Benjamin Mutua, a Kenyan and a teacher at Hope Africa University (where David teaches and Feli and Dani study) had agreed to rent to an unknown American lady. But he asked to be called down to meet me. He received the kisses on both cheeks with great dignity. He told me it was all insured, docs paid for and that it should be ready the next day after a visit to the DMV for an inspection. He called his wife and told her the news of his novel sponsorship and took pictures of me and us and the bike. We agreed that if I wanted to take riders that the fee should be 5 times the normal - ten if they wanted to hang on tight! He promised me there would be a line. (we were kidding - I was not getting the commerical license)
I walked to the bank and had $500 fresh USD in my hands in no time.
I slept with a smile on my face, but told no one, for fear that a call would be made to Nairobi to get the only human voice in Africa with the power to command me.
The next day the moto boys were kinder - as I had obviously failed. At Miracle Motors the bike had a new shiny license plate and the mechanic drove her to the DMV while I waited - four hours later she came back. As a final little funny - they had covered the commercial moto sign with a rainbow sticker - the angels giggled. Mr Mutua arrived for the Christening. My Raju finally got a little nervous and asked me if I needed driving lessons. I declined. I did practice the kick start but she lept at the first chance to start for me.
As I rode back to the house I made sure to stop and visit the moto-boys. Who in great Burundian form immediately swallowed their skepticism and shouted an Africa HUZZAH! HAIL the great Mzungu Moto Madame of Bujumbura! I am their new patron saint. I expect small plastic statues of a white lady moto on moto dashes as soon as they can be ordered from China.
When I got to the house - I beeped - several times until YOYO finally looked out the gate. The look on his face said it all. "Be careful what you speak - Yoyo - The Lord seems to want to make you into a prophet!"
Last Year, I sold a motorcycle to get here. Didn't really want to, but it seemed needful. A big Bruiser 1000 cc. I cast my bread upon the water and in due time it came back to me divided by ten if you count cubic centimeters; multiplied a thousand times if you are counting joy. Here she is, my little Milagro.
So Peg, What are you actually doing?
Waiting, of course; The Institute starts August 9. (use the search this blog function if you don,t know what that means.)
Living - it is a full time job here.
Writing a curriculum of 60 lessons that integrate a post- modern, orthodox theology with Quaker History, Conflict resolution, trauma Healing and environmentalism. Nuff?
They that Wait - deux
No one and nothing in Burundi works every day except for Jesus. It is one of the reasons that they love Him so. He is so dependable. The power does not work 24/7 so the fridge defrosts itself every night. The water dries up at a predictably irregular rate - so you fill your water jug and teapot every day just in case, and do laundry when you can. The internet to the whole city is prone to going down - "maybe tomorrow Madame" The police are shutting roads all over town in an attempt to thwart Somali terrorists that the rest of us are pretty sure are not here. When Baba Niyonzima is out of the office for a week everything slows to a crawl. And a Burundian crawl makes plate tectonics look fast.
Outside my Window
Shelob the spider plys her trade in my window casing. Her body is two inches long. Her Legs which are striped red and yellow, make her six inches across. With great gratitude I can say that she is OUTSIDE my window casings and that I can find no holes in the screens. Her web is cottony and not at all fragile. When she catches something she wraps them up for later. She has three hanging prizes at the moment. The last one is still wiggling. My fear is that they might be hobbits.
They That Wait upon the Lord
You have to slow down or you will lose your mind. Church is 4.5 hours. A trip to the DMV takes 3 days. Immigration takes 5 days. Order food in a restaurant and the wait starts at one hour. Realistically, don,t try and do more than one thing in a day. If you get lucky then you can serendipitously add something else into your schedule. Click "send" and take your hands off the computer and wait the 60, 90, 120 seconds ... it will go. This gives you lots of time to think and talk to Jesus.
I know something new about miracles today. A miracle is 50% capacity and 50% courage. You say you believe and then God calls your bluff. Jesus walks among us and we call his name or reach for the hem of his garment or he sees us in our helpless need and is moved by compassion. But there is always that moment when he says "Take up your bed and walk" Then the choice is yours. Will you put your feet under you and move? Will you grab hold of your miracle and ride?
The curse of sound amplification
So who should I blame?
I know, I can count, all the ways that sound amplification is a boon and pleasure to my life and all of you. But seriously, enough is enough. It starts at 4am with the Imam and the loudspeakers on top of the neighborhood mosque. And this means that Allah has blessed them with either a generator or a miracle because the power to the entire city is turned off from Midnight until 6am.
Soon after the call to prayer, all the TV's and radios in the area are on full blast. Since all the houses are plastered in and out with concrete the sound bounces and carries well. Don't like your next door neighbor blasting the Shakira - Waka-waka song for the 100th time today? Blast your Yesu praise music even louder and score points for Christendom.
We hear church long before we arrive - Kamenge's worship crew has 3 electric guitars, 6 mics, 8 feet of Peavy speakers plus sub woofers and monitors. The volume controls are all at the top all the time. You can feel it in your head in the parking lot and in the core of your body at the back door. Lucky for you the elders bench is in a position of honor right in front of the speakers. They crank it up at 8:30 and church starts for real at 9am. It was a special day so extra choirs and we worship until after 1pm.
Praise God, we are having mostly peacful elections, so the ruling party has pick-up trucks with massive speakers traveling every neighborhood all afternoon. It starts to wind down about 10pm, and at Midnight The Quaker Power Company cuts us off to silence - for four blissful hours.
Where the streets have no name
Trying to direct a taxi driver when you share no language can be challenging. When neither of you can anme a single street in the city by name it gets interesting. The streets of Buja have names. There is occasionally a sign here or there, but no one navigates by street names. They navigate by lanmarks and if you don't know those either, you have to get creative. I know the names of the major areas of the city - our house is in Kibenga - The church is in Kamenge. I have French words for left and right, and a Kiswahili word for "keep on going." I am looking for a Kirundu word for "Stop" We get there.
My friends are pretty hard to upset here - they are masters of understatement - so it is good to know what things mean - FYI
Kama Kawaide = "the ways things always are" the normal troubles
Challenging = will require persistance and possibly assistance
Interesting = a level of obstruction mystifying even the locals
Activity = trouble, threat to security, possibly involving hand grenades
A Situation = war, threat to life and limb, mass refugees
"The Crisis" = Genocide, presidents assasinated, millions killed.
There was small activity at my favorite internet cafe, the Tropicana this morning. Good thing I am at THARS at the internet cafe Gertrude (meaning I have commandeered the secretary Gertrude's computer during her lunch hour)
ONe USD gets you 1,237 burundian francs; Bills come in denominations as small as 20 fbu to 10,000 fbu. When you change a hundred dollar bill - known as a Bennie here - you get an impressive stack of bills. Money is only taken out of circulation by some god of naturel destruction. You must produce a perfect unmarked brand new US bill but you will get money sometimes that is too filthy to read the denomination. At that point it becomes a game of hot potato to pass it before it deteriorates;
Note/ the keyboard is french - the letters are all in the wrong places - I am paying francs pêr minute - so no editing - work with me; ok?
It is hot today, especially downtown - Buja hot - I don,t know how hot, because no ones knows how hot it is. There are no thermometers here - public or private. The evening local news does not have a weather segment. It is July. It will be dry and hot. Everyone knows this. Even children know this. Why would that be news?? They have no fixation with numbers. who cares if the number is one more or less than yesterday. Noon is hot. Three PM is awful. We sweat. We survive.
That is the city's actual name. I need to find out the story behind it. There are about a million people here in an area very much the geographical size of the Salem/Keizer area. The downtown is just about the same size with residential areas going north and south along Lake Tanganyika. The slums are on the north and south edges. The air quality is dense, and deisally. I know my way around. Which is a miracle in itself. There is not a single traffic control device in the city. But as compared to last time the traffic is denser but simpler, not only no cows, but I have not seen a lose goat or chicken in the city since I arrived. Our house is on the the south end of town 5 kilometers or so. Too far to walk in the heat. So I can walk a km to the main road and take a taxi cab, for 3,000 burundi francs, or a taxi-moto (125cc motorcyles) - quick little hummers. You can guess what I favor. There is no helmit law, so most don't, but worse, the ones that do almost never tie the chin strap. They believe deeply in personal magic here. They do like to look like "bikers" so they tend to wear a long sleeve jacket - often down or fake down - 1st world handme downs from Green Bay Wis near as I acan tell. This in heat that is volcanic in its intensity.
I close now - The good woman whose desk and computer I am squatting on has come in to work - more later -
I am at the Okapi Hotel in Kigali Rwanda, The computer is actually quick so a brief post. The challenge is the keyboard which I think has the french arrangement of the letters although it is hard to tell because most of the letters are worn clean off!
Mombasa was fabulous
The transit has been rigourous.
Visit in Western Kenya with David Zarembka and Mama Gladys was nigh unto rivendell.
I have found Chrissy M and she is getting me for worship in the morning and will give me a lift out to Ruhengerhi MOnday to see Habimana Augustine and Louise.
The break from travel is good.
I am keeping a journal so the writing will come later.
Thanks for all the prayers