How to survive Bujumbura

I was talking to a friend who lives abroad the other day, trying to convince her that she should come home, but she was telling me she isn’t ready… not ready to deal with the life and especially the people here (hah).
It had me thinking and wondering how (apart from missing a few ‘first world’ luxuries), I’ve made it to almost six years here with (almost) no complaints at all. And so I came up with some ‘tips’ for any Murundi out there who has the same ‘problem’ but doesn’t really have any other choice than to return home (sort of like me when I came back).

1. It’s really a question of personality

Before you read any further, you should know that I’m one of those boring types, as far as “having fun” is concerned (the livability of a city depends heavily on available entertainment right?)

I’m one of those people who don’t need much to enjoy life anywhere. One of those who prefer to spend their evenings indoors instead of going out. As much as I enjoy good music (and er, dancing… although I don’t think I’m a good dancer), I don’t really enjoy clubbing because people here club so late I spend the whole of the following day exhausted (and I’m miserable when I’m exhausted). If only clubs could open at say, 10PM, and we could go home at around midnight… Anyway…

On the other hand, as contradictory as this may sound, I tend to get bored with doing the same thing over and over. So my appreciation of this city may heavily be influenced by this behavioural flaw. You are therefore advised to take everything you’ll read from this point onward with a pinch of salt… And it’s not like there’s only one way to enjoy Buja… everything really depends on what you (are) like as a person.

2. Be creative

Truth be told, there aren’t that many things to do around here. But complaining about it doesn’t help. It’s better to accept the facts and try to come up with creative ways to improve the situation.

For example, I have friends who used to organise monopoly nights. I hear some bars and restaurant have been doing quiz nights. Others have realised that most of us have had enough of Céline Dion playing in the background and have thus introduced live bands (locally knows as “Karaoke”) to entertain customers. There are places that do real Karaoke too.
We’ve also been seeing cafés and lounge bars (with free Wi-Fi) opening here and there, which gives a larger variety of places to go to if you’re into bar-hoping. And once in a while we have comedy shows and music concerts… Let’s not forget to mention the creative minds that thought about converting some hotel conference rooms into Cinemas over weekends.

I’d say Buja has come a pretty long way from visiting friends, chilling at a pub/brochette spot, going to the beach and going clubbing, which were the only available activities a few years ago.
There are also a few more shops around town than there used to be, which makes window shopping sort of fun if you’re into it…

And there are other things a person can do as well…
For instance, the renovation of Place de l’Indépendance with the benches in and around it turned it into a pretty cool spot to watch traffic from… Or are you (like my friends) too cool for that? 😏 Murishiiima! SMH
Anyway there’s this other spot just above Prince Louis Rwagasore’s Mausoleum where I used to go chill with friends… the views of the city are fantastic, especially at night. However, since Al Shabbab and other security threats, the police/soldiers over there have become quite paranoid, if you know what I mean. I think it’s a shame people can’t quite enjoy it anymore. Maybe somebody (from the Ministry of Tourism for example?) can do something about it because that spot is really awesome.

Ceteris paribus, I think Bujumbura can be fun if you put your mind to it.

3. Make friends

…I mean real friends. I’m also including extended family members in here. I’m sorry to sound mean but it isn’t written anywhere that a relative is de facto a friend…

Allow me one cliché and I’ll say there are two types of “friends” in this city: people you hang out and share a drink with and it ends there, and people you can really count on when you need help, say, in the simplest of cases, when you have urubanza, people who will actually get involved and not just stand/sit around bambaye neza like they’re at some fashion show.
Now let’s put those two groups back together and split them again into two other types of groups: people who don’t have anything else to talk about other than other peoples’ lives (negatively, most of the time), and those with whom you can discuss things that will actually make you feel smarter when you go to bed every night (it could be somebody else’s live but in a positive way)… Na’mean?

We can further divide the population into other groups and sub-groups (abababilon vs. the rest of the world for instance, haha), but my point is, if you want to enjoy this city you’ll need to surround yourself with people who will allow you to enjoy it, depending on what you expect from life of course.

But hey, I’m not telling you to pick some and discriminate others. That’s not very mature I think; plus I don’t think it’s healthy to always hang out with people who think and behave like we do.
All I’m saying is pick well whom you spend most of your time with. If you spend your time with people who, day in day out complain about “the system”, the news and many other things one can complain about here, don’t be surprised if you’re always depressed. If you only hang out with peeps who would have enough material to fill tabloid magazines for centuries, don’t complain that people in this city are shallow. I’m just saying.

4. Prioritise

Now this, to me, is the most important part of this “guide”…

One of the things that comes with living in Bujumbura is an incredible amount of social obligations one has to honour. These include visiting (extended) family, hanging out with your friends, meeting acquittances, being present at most if not all imanza (include things like kwibarutsa, kugandara, kugenesha and random parties like housewarmings) of your friends, parents’ friends and sometimes relatives of friends…
Unless you have some kinda super power to make time elastic, it is impossible to combine all these “obligations” with full-time work, part-time activities (for those of us who have side jobs or belong to associations or clubs), spending quality time with loved ones and finding time for yourself. So you have to prioritise…

You have to decide who and what to give your time to. It’s so easy to get lost between socialising and/or taking advantage of the different opportunities available out here if you’re the type of person atagira programme. There are only a number of things a normal person can handle at the same time and be good at each of them. It really takes serious decision-making and planning to put everything together and still be able to enjoy life! Like my mama loves to tell me, ntanumwe yagutumye kuba incungu y’igihugu! If you don’t have time to enjoy the fruits of your hard work, maybe you’re working more than you should… and maybe you’re giving too much of your time to people or things that don’t deserve it. You can’t please everybody.

Prioritising is key!

5. Get over it!

Sure there’s a lot of sh*t to make one’s life miserable here, like everybody getting into your business, “Burundian time” (two hours past the actual hour), too many social gatherings, cr*ppy services in administrations and businesses, lack of electricity, sh*tty internet, ATMs that don’t work half of the time, bad quality products, reckless driving, corrupt policemen, deteriorating security, bad news everywhere… but complaining about any of these things, especially if you’re not doing anything to fix or make sure the problems are fixed, will only make you more miserable. I say expect the worse (as bad as this sounds), get over it and always have a plan B.

For example, buy a power bank so that your smartphone never runs out of juice; leave town or switch your phone(s) off when come summer and there are more imanza than you can handle; anticipate that queues in banks become longer and most ATMs die around payday; if you don’t like people knowing what you’re up to, stop updating your social media with every little detail about your life and stick to house parties with close and trusted friends instead of large social gatherings; if you know you’re meeting someone who’s never on time, tell them you’re meeting a few minutes/hours earlier than the time you can actually see them (if they actually show up at the time you agreed and you’re the one “late” you can say you wanted to show them how annoying it is to be kept waiting)…
If you live in a neighbourhood where it isn’t safe to be going around at night, when you go out till late, wait till the morning before you go home, or find a place to stay that’s safe… Unless you have a contingency plan if something were to happen to you on your way home i.e. you transform into some sort of unbeatable superhero when there’s a full moon…

6. Get out of town when you can

I personally believe that most of the people who hate living in any place are victims of the stress associated with living in those places (having nothing to do can also cause stress). You need to let the stress out, and getting out of town every now and then is an excellent way to do it.

And I’m not saying book the next flight to the Bahamas (but if you can, hey go ahead!), I’m also talking about visiting other parts of the country. You’ll be surprised how two or three days in the countryside can make a huge difference. There are so many beautiful and interesting sites out there. And it doesn’t have to be expensive, especially if you travel with friends and have relatives (or relatives of friends) who live in the places you’re visiting. It really just takes good planning…
Something people don’t realise is that you can even plan a trip outside Burundi on a small budget. Last year I went to Kigali for a weekend with some friends and we each didn’t have more than 200.000 BIF in our pockets. Although we’re not very high maintenance, on that budget we managed to stay in a hotel and even rented a car for a day. The next trip I want to plan will be to either Goma (DRC) or Kigoma (TZ)… Anybody wanna come? 🙂

Travelling will also make you appreciate how awesome our little city and the people that live in it (in Burundi, actually) are. I promise you!

The bottom of the line is, Buja really isn’t the worst place to live on this planet. If you ask me, I’d say it’s way better than most places I’ve been to that are deemed more “developed” and fun… but maybe that’s just because it’s home… and you know what they say: there’s no place like home 🙂

 

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