Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I learned something in Swahili although the people here speak Kurundi and French. “Sawa” means “good,” and yes, today was sawa.

We left early this morning to go to the northern province of Ngozi to check out a couple primary and one secondary school. The road to Ngozi is like traveling up San Marcos Pass (for those of you that know this road) for 2 hours. The road winds back and forth with people walking, cycling, and trucks trying to pass one another. Along the way you pass little villages and other provinces with people lining the street holding out bags of fruit and whole branches of bananas to be sold. The countryside of Burundi is beautiful. The forests are dense and green but many were cut down to prevent enemy forces from hiding out during the war. As we drove, our companion Nazir who was born and raised in Burundi told us amazing stories of the people and their courage. There seems to be no sign of unrest between the Tutsi’s and the Hutu’s for there is representatives within the government for all people…even the Twa who are the pygmy people.

After two hours of dodging trucks (literally running us off the road) watching young men hanging on to the backs of trucks on their bikes to take them up the mountain at speeds upwards of 70mph, we arrived at the private university in Ngozi. This university was established during the war in order to give people a safe place to study. Students who would attend classes at the University of Burundi (in the capital of Bujumbura) would be shot while sitting in their desks. Other students would arrive and just openly shoot one another. The university in Ngozi is working on a shoestring budget and a heavy debt. They have been in operation for 10 years and do hope to continue. We met faculty with one being from Spain and another…from Tennessee! When she walked in and started talking I was blown out of the water for there was a familiar accent in the room. From here we were escorted to the Buhiga primary school located within a barrio (for lack of a better word) within Ngozi. Again, there were kids running to meet us as we climbed out of our cars. The kids surrounded my colleague and started to touch his skin and his arms. Turns out there are not many “muzungu” (white person) in this area. The kid’s smiles, again, enveloped me. Again, as my colleagues and those from the university entered the classroom, I was still outside trying to talk to and play with the kids. The classroom was a whicker sided room about 15x15 feet with a thin blackboard hanging on the thatched wall. Kids were learning math as the teacher engaged them. After watching the lesson, we spoke with some teachers and they stated they do not have the necessary materials to teach the children. Books are needed. Just regular, reading books.

The second school was St. John Bosco, a secondary school. This school is in the town of Ngozi about a mile from Buhiga. This is a beautiful campus. As I walked, I heard beautiful singing coming from a hall. It turns out a mass was being held but the singing drew me in. I recorded these students singing and clapping. I guess I stayed a bit long for my colleagues needed to come and get me. Notice a theme here? Some of the students were watching me as I recorded. To them, I was probably just another person stopping by, but their reverence in the manner of their singing put something on my heart. After, I spoke to a student who spoke English very well (better than my couple words of French) and he shared that he wanted to go to the university. Bosco has a library, but not many books. They desire literature in English and French.

The last school was another primary school. This parched school with clay dirt (the entire country seems to be in clay) had kids interested once again in my camera. In one classroom I was allowed to take pictures and I noticed one kid who seemed disinterested. So, I did what I naturally do in these situations. As I left, I put my shoulder on this young man and shook him a bit. Immediately I got a huge smile as his friends started laughing. This school needs books (surprise), but water. The director stated he wishes he could receive tanks to place on the rooftops of the school to catch rainwater.

The drive back down the mountain was wonderful. We spoke of the schools, the kids, and stopped off at a little hotel tucked in the mountain. The meal was excellent. I always enjoy fresh chicken when I can get it! The scenery was beautiful as we looked over a deck and saw the tea and banana fields along the slopes.

Tomorrow we leave for Nairobi, Kenya where we will visit a friend of my colleagues and visit his orphanage. I will do more touristy things like sample game animals (sorry to your vegetarians…but as Andrew Zimmern says, “If it looks good, eat it!”), try to do a walking safari, and see as much of the culture as I can. As I do this I hope to reflect on the kids, the directors, the teachers, the Ministers of education as this nation tries to do what is best for their people through their schools. This morning I read Isaiah 58 for I am going through a personal study on justice. In the chapter it reads that people often say, but don't do. My understanding of this visit is much needs to be done here and elsewhere. Hopefully much will be done.

As I sit on a balcony far from home I see trees and a man cleaning the hotel pool. But then I look at the pictures on my camer and see the faces…it’s all, sawa sawa.

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