A few weeks ago I returned home from what I call an “academic world tour” that lasted about three months. Well, it was really just a trip that took me to South Australia for two months and South Africa for about a month, through Dubai International airport. It was fun, stressful (the academic part), and well, educative. I got to chill with kangaroos, hike the cliffs of the Cape of Good Hope, and return home with two certificates. I’d say it wasn’t bad. 🙂
The highlight of my trip however has to be the people who contributed to make the trip amazing: from the 20 other Africans (from 10 different countries) I spent the three months with, to the academic staff, and the Burundians I met in the different cities I visited. If you are one of these people and you are reading this, I just want you to know that you are awesome! I am happy to call you friend. 🙂
And I’m not even mentioning how awesome the people of Australia are. I’ve seriously never met nicer ‘white people’ (generally speaking) in any of the places I’ve been (white South Africans are actually quite snob). I used to hear people complain about Australians being racist, but I guess I only went to the places with the good people? Seriously.
Anyway so Australia was my first stop. Precisely, the city of Adelaide in the State of South Australia (I didn’t know Australia was a federal country like the USA until I landed). It was winter over there but temperatures rarely go below 5 degrees Celsius so it was okay. I didn’t know anybody in Australia when I left Burundi – well, except for a former high school classmate who lives in Melbourne (which is further from Adelaide than Nairobi is from Bujumbura, meaning it’s far!).
When I arrived in Australia, a good (Burundian) friend of mine tried to hook me up with some of his (Burundian) friends not realising that we were two hours away (by air) apart from each other. But in the good Burundian spirit, these friends of his called me and tried to hook me up with a (Burundian) friend of theirs who lived in my city. We talked on the phone, agreed to meet… but it never happened. Hah!
On the other hand, two Burundians ladies I had travelled with also got hooked up in the same manner, and fortunately their contacts actually showed up. Wait, they didn’t just show up: these guys took really good care of us!
Our first contact invited us to his house for diner, and when we got there, there were like four other Burundian and Rwandan families that had been convened kutwakira. Obviously, because Burundi is a small country where everybody (almost) knows everybody, it wasn’t hard to discover links with most of them. After a great night of friendly conversation, wine, dining and speeches (duh!) à la burundaise, each of the families present requested to have us for diner at their homes as well. Not only that, they also offered to occupy us on weekends.
Our other (Burundian, still) contacts live in Sydney, which we visited on one weekend. One of them is the older brother of a very good friend of mine, which I have actually never met in person (he’s an online friend… I know! LOL). Now, I don’t know where to start to explain how well these guys (and their families and their friends) treated us, starting with the free accommodation they provided. I can only say thousands of dollars were easily let go just to entertain us for the weekend. Whenever I’d try to take my wallet out to “chip in”, I’d get an authentic Burundian frown followed by a “eka reka!”. I actually sat down one day and asked God how human beings can be so generous towards people they barely know, and of course asked to be blessed with a heart just as big.
South Africa: same thing happened. We were taken care of by friends of friends (well, I also got to hang out with some actual friends). At some point the other guys in our group were like, but you guys?! Do you know people everywhere?! You should have seen the look on their faces when I explained that we had only just met most of these people we had been hanging out with every other day.
There is something truly special about Burundians. It hit me when, at Johannesburg airport on the way back home, three Burundian ladies we didn’t know (we figured they were Burundian when we heard them speak) agreed to put our excess luggage on their tabs. In other circumstances I would have taken this gesture for granted, as it’s something that I’ve also done multiple times, naturally. However, a few days before that, one of the ladies (non Burundian) in our group had requested the same favour from a compatriot; and do you know what answer she got? “Didn’t you know your baggage limit when you went shopping for so much stuff?”… Ibaze!
I’m not saying all Burundians have big hearts, but allow me to say that our hearts are bigger than average, especially when we meet mu mahanga. I know most societies develop a stronger sense of community when the find each other in foreign land, but I can say without doubt that our sense of community is, again, higher than the average! I’ve heard stories of how, not so long ago, our grandparents used to travel across the country for days and spend the night at “random” peoples’ homes where they would be welcomed as if they were family… Although some may claim that Burundians are not as welcoming anymore, I can testify to have found that spirit of hospitality among many burundians I’ve met during my trips abroad.
There is a text that I wrote some time ago that never got published speaking of, (in my usual “sarcastic” way) the “Burundian” personality traits. I showed it to a friend and one thing he told me is: we may have many flaws, but don’t forget to mention our sense of solidarity and how we’ll stop our worlds to help friends (and sometimes friends of friends) in trouble. It’s in our culture, embedded in our DNA. We’ll use all our contacts to help an acquaintance in need, and put on a show to impress foreigners visiting our country.We’ll cancel all our plans for the week to be by the side of a friend who has lost a loved one, and empty our bank accounts for a friend who’s getting married. Even if we sometimes complain that some of our traditions are insanely time and money consuming, if you ask, most of us will probably tell you that we do it from love of our hearts. Ngo, “tradition has nothing to do with it, I’d to it anyway” 😉
I know it is a bit late (wait, Umurundi is never late, just held up) to contribute to the #BurundiGratitudeChallenge, but I would like to send this one out to all the Burundians out there: Nibabahe ama prix! Our spirit of community and hospitality is priceless!